A Voice Of Generation Y Heard From: Are Success and Motherhood at Odds?

by Romy Drucker
Ken was a handsome executive-type. He drove a red Corvette and took care of Barbie, who arranged playdates for Skipper and Stacey, adored her baby, Polly Pocket, and fussed with her jumpers and up-dos at least three times daily. As a little girl, I modeled my dolls’ family after my real one. My dad is a handsome executive-type, and my mother’s a gem like Barbie, who is fun, helpful, and employed exclusively as a mother. You might call her a “homemaker,” but I prefer “home engineer.” Few of my friends’ mothers worked, and those who did were only gone during school hours. My world did not demand traditional gender roles, but they were the norm. When I played house, I identified with Mommy and Barbie. It was what I knew best.

It’s been years since I’ve played with Barbie, but I have rarely paused to reexamine the gender conventions I established as a little girl. Then, last September, The New York Times published Louise Story’s now notorious article, “Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood.” Story, a journalist and student at the Yale School of Management, conducted surveys via e-mail to compile a controversial statistic stating that 85 out of a random sample of 138 females at Yale, or 62%, responded that “when they had children, they planned to cut back on work or stop working entirely.” The result was billed as a glimpse into the future of smart young women: At a certain point, a majority will probably want to be mothers, not moguls. The ensuing media frenzy on campus and off saw the article as a setback for women. But for the questions it raised about whether a Yale education entails a professional imperative that stay-at home-moms fail to meet, I thought it was a lead.

For me, this article touched on a particular anxiety that may be personal to my generation—an anxiety prompted by cultural issues that spanned our childhoods in the 1990s. Between Diane Keaton’s fitful exit from corporate America in Baby Boom (1987), the frequent news hour segments that profiled the quickening tick-tock of a woman’s biological clock, and interviews of so and so, a female Fortune 500 powerhouse who still felt unfulfilled, from a young age we were exposed to worrisome press about women in the workforce.

It stirred my fears about the correlation between the privilege and investment of a Yale education and an obligation to society that motherhood alone fell short of. What I was searching for was a Yale-approved paradigm: a model of the modern woman I may want to be.