The XX Factor

Kinda What We Wanted To Be When We Grew Up

When I was little my mom gave me a book: Girls Can Be Anything , by Norma Klein. It’s a classic ‘70s issue paperback, in which young Marina, clad in a jumper with a Peter Pan collar, is repeatedly told by her friend Adam at school that she must be the nurse or stewardess at school while he is the doctor or pilot. At home, her mother gives her real-life examples of women veterinarians, doctors, and pilots, and she returns to school armed with new knowledge and power and convinces Adam to take turns playing at being president. I still have it.

Preschools probably contain fewer Adams these days, but according to the Economix blog, “girls can be anything” is a mantra that seems to come with a catch. Girls can be anything-but we’re tending, as a group, to stick to the part of “anything” that typically offers a flexible schedule with few nights and weekends. Veterinarian. Pharmacist. Dermatologist. Psychiatrist. Girls can be doctors, sure-according to one of the studies discussed in the blog, 41 percent of physicians under 45 are women-but few choose to be surgeons or cardiologists, which are seen as offering less scheduling flexibility.

The two Harvard economics professors, Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, called their study “The Career Cost of Family,” but even more interesting than the discovery that women with MBAs take a harder “mommy penalty” than doctors (which most of us probably could have guessed) is the fact that the real career cost of having a family apparently starts before little Sally and Johnny are more than a twinkle in our eyes. We don’t just make decisions based on family once the pressure’s on. In college and in graduate school, women are already giving in to the idea that some parts of some professions just aren’t family friendly. Unfortunately, that’s the the best way to ensure that we’re right.

Photograph of a stethoscope from Wikimedia Commons.