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Salient: An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University, Wellington Vol. 24, No. 6. 1961.

Education — "A Burden to Modern Women"

page 10

Education — "A Burden to Modern Women"

"Do women really benefit from a university education?"

I am a non-practising barrister and a graduate in arts with three years' training in psychology, and I have been trying to find the answer to that question.

I have asked those best qualified to reply—the women graduates themselves.

And I have been forced to the conclusion that the answer is very often "No."

Many women graduates feel they have not really benefited by their education.

Indeed, they believe it can prove a distinct disadvantage, both before and after marriage.

Real Problem

How a university degree can prove a disadvantage to women is little known to the general public. But the problem is nevertheless real.

Do not urge any girl to take a university degree unless her desire for a professional career and her abilities are both outstanding—outstanding to the point where she would be prepared to forgo marriage for her career.

Firstly, you are needlessly handicapping her chances of marriage as well as narrowing the field of possible husbands.

Secondly, once she has married, you are presenting her with a mental conflict to which there is no truly satisfactory conclusion, the conflict of professional life versus family life.

Thirdly, in her professional career itself, you are asking her to overcome still lively prejudices against her because of her sex.

In support of these three main points I am going to quote representative opinions and experience of women graduates I have questioned.

To illustrate my first main point that a university degree handicaps a woman's marriage prospects, I quote this conversation between women with degrees representing four faculties.

Mrs A., former economist, now married with two children:

"Your university degree is anything but an added attraction to men. How can it be?

"It makes them think because you are capable of earning a high salary yourself you'll expect them to keep you like a duchess.

"When I met my husband, who is not a professional man, I did not dare to tell him I was earning more than £30 a week—it would frighten him off. So I said I only earned £20.

"He did not like the idea of a working wife, either, and made it quite clear there was room for only one bread-winner in the home."

Miss B., honours arts graduate, now in the teaching profession:

"But I'd be quite happy with an ordinary house. What's wrong with me? Don't men like intelligent women?"

Miss C., a pharmacist:

"Of course not! They pretend to despise you if you're stupid, but they hate you if you're intelligent."

Clearly, all these women believe a university degree has a definite effect in discouraging suitors.

As to how it can also narrow the field of prospective husbands, I quote Mrs E., a former industrial chemist, now mother of two sons:

"After all, you can't really marry a labourer if you are a scientist yourself, can you?

"Nor are there all that many professional men who want to marry you.

"If you can earn as much as they do, you mean competition, both professionally and socially, and that is an affront to masculine vanity.

"They don't call it womanly. Australian men, anyway, still think it is feminine to scrub floors, but not feminine to use a slide-rule."

The author of this thought-; provoking article, a graduate in Arts and Law, claims; that a university education reduces a woman's chances of marriage and, if she does get a husband, confronts her with an unhappy clash between her professional career and family life.

Silly Parties

Place yourself in the position of Mrs H.:—

Mrs H.: "I can't look forward to a future of nothing but housework, broken only by afternoon teas and hit-and-giggle tennis parties.

"I'm prepared to give up my profession till all the children are at school, but surely I can do something then?"

Mr H.: "If you wanted a career, you should not have married.

"Children are your full-time responsibility till they are adults. I should not permit you to work if I considered our children suffered by it in the slightest degree."

Mrs H.: "But can't you imagine how I feel?

"Housework is the most un-stimulating routine, hard on your ego, too. Suddenly you feel you've lost all your status."

Mr H.: "If I had contracted to do a job, as you did when you married, I should do whatever was asked of me, however boring, and to the best of my ability.'

That conversation shows the impasse, the essence of the conflict.

The professional woman is constantly torn between her real wish to be a satisfactory wife and mother on the one hand, and her desire to obtain again the status and independence her profession gives.

To this conflict between her two lives, there is no truly happy solution. Only compromises exist, none of which work perfectly.

The married woman graduate may:
  • Offload her family responsibilities on to relatives or paid help. But should she?
  • Delay return to professional life until her family is grown. But won't her training "get rusty," will she feel too old to try?
  • Forget her university training and settle down to domesticity. But won't that mean admitting her training, long and expensive, was thrown away?

In other words, they should choose deliberately in the first place between spinsterhood with a professional career or marriage and children.

Dreary Housewives

It is made plain that any reasonably intelligent girl must follow some career. In effect, she must think like a man.

This contradiction, which also suggests that marriage and family do not qualify as a career, accounts largely for attitudes like Mrs I's

Mrs I.: "I cannot bear to stay at home. The four walls, the monotony drive me mad."

Miss O., an honours arts graduate, now a business executive:

"The whole problem is like driving a car.

"You may be able to drive like Jack Brabham, but because you are a woman you must constantly prove yourself. Or else people say automatically, 'Woman driver!'

"That is what happens when a woman is in a position of professional responsibility.

"Also in professions like medicine, dentistry, law, you are likely to learn that your own sex is just as prejudiced against you as men are.

"Even socially, you have to tread warily because the average woman suspects you.

"As far as marriage is concerned, I do not think you are much better off.

"Think of the number of girls who would love to marry a lawyer or an executive. Then think of the number of men who would love