By Lauren Herber, Editor-in-Chief
I’ve been a lover of learning for as long as I can remember. My mother loves to talk about how when I was little, I would follow her around, always chanting the same line: “Mommy, will you read me a story?” As soon as she consented, I would scamper up to my room and come back down with a stack of 20 or so books, unaware that she had anything other to do than feed my hunger to learn. She read me Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham so many times that I had every line completely memorized as a toddler, convincing the astonished babysitter that I was a child prodigy.
My love of learning followed me into my adolescence. In the afternoons after I got home from school, you would typically find me sitting at the top of my favorite tree reading a book from the Anne of Green Gables series or sprawled out on the floor with my dog, reading about different types of animals in the encyclopedia. I devoured every book I came across and loved working hard and competing to be at the top of my class. I dreamt of roaming the hallowed halls of Chicago’s Northwestern University and going on to be a doctor, a lawyer, a powerful businesswoman, a professor. My career fantasies changed with each passing week. I was so devoted to this dream that I left all of my friends and transferred high schools halfway through my junior year to a more academically reputable school.
While at this college preparatory school, I enrolled in AP classes and worked hard to get good grades so that I would be able to gain admission to a good university. I took SAT prep classes and college essay writing seminars. I attended information sessions and involved myself in extracurricular activities so that I would be a more well-rounded candidate. I traveled around the country visiting schools and going on tours, where I came across my dream school: Boston College. I devoted countless hours and endless energy to achieving my dream of going to BC. The day that I received my acceptance letter, I cried tears of happiness. I had worked so hard, for so long. I couldn’t wait to get to Boston and keep learning, and to eventually launch the successful career of which I had dreamed since I was a child.
One day, as I was working at the family business (my dad is a dentist and has his own practice), a well-meaning patient congratulated me on my success. “Heard you got into BC—congrats! That’s a great school. Very smart students. You’ll have no trouble finding a rich husband there! Your daddy will be happy about that, I’m sure!” A smile. A wink. A chuckle. A harmless joke. Right?
This is just one example of something that is a routine occurrence for women. It has been insinuated, both to me and to many other women that I know, that the only reason we are pursuing our education is so that we can meet a rich husband. To get an “MRS degree.” To “use our pretty face” to find somebody with a trust fund so that we can get off easy and never have to work. To get a ring by spring.
It’s time to stop telling women to marry rich. It’s time to stop insinuating to women that an investment in their education is worth nothing more than the size of the diamond in their engagement ring. It’s time to stop using the information on a woman’s business card to send her inappropriate, unprofessional messages. It’s time to stop using professional events as an opportunity to prey on women who are trying to build their careers.
This isn’t a commentary on the institution of marriage. I’m not saying that women shouldn’t get married, and I don’t have a problem with women who choose to get married. But I do have a problem with the seemingly harmless jokes still widely used and accepted in society that propagate a subtle, underlying message of inequality. Women that don’t fall into categories that we understand (such as daughter, wife, or mother) are often perceived as threatening. We see it all the time: a businesswoman that is passed up for a promotion because she is perceived as “cold” because she is unmarried. A grad student that is scoffed at for worrying about her future career and financial stability because “your husband will take care of that.” A little girl, who eventually becomes a young woman, that is pushed toward certain careers that are deemed “for women.” A female Thunderbird student that faces incredulous questions regarding her educational choices, such as, “What do you need an MBA for?” or, “How will you start a family if you’re always traveling?” Yes, many things have changed for the better. It’s now much easier for women to pursue their education and career than it used to be. But women still face hostility and the pressure to live up to antiquated societal norms on a regular basis.
We don’t go to college or to grad school because we want to find husbands. We go to college or grad school because we want to learn. We go to school because we want to grow and develop and explore. We go to school because we want to be philosophers, scientists, lawyers, teachers, businesswomen. We go to school because we want to become citizens of the world. So, please, stop insinuating to women that the best and only use of our education is to marry rich. We’ve got our sights set on so much more.
I’ll end with this: I wrote this article on a flight from Phoenix to Minneapolis. While en route to my hotel, less than an hour after I finished this article, my taxi driver asked me if I was a student. I told him yes, and that I’m studying international business. He chuckled, shook his head, and said, “That degree won’t put food in your mouth. You should’ve been a housewife.”
And you know what? He’s wrong. The only food in my mouth right now might be Ramen noodles, but it’s worth it. Every minute and every penny that I have devoted to my education and career have been worth it. And I will never make excuses or apologize for the path that I have taken.