My future, I hope, will be/ In the home of a brave and free male

As you may know, if you are stalking me and/or following me on Twitter¹, I went to Indianapolis for a conference last weekend. At the conference, I went to a session about why more females than males study abroad, and how this can influence study abroad marketing efforts. This session has been bothering me ever since, because the presenter had interviewed female study abroad students and had discovered that one reason a lot of females (at her university, anyway²) study abroad is that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so.

This is one thing that we try to point out to all students, male and female. After graduation, you may have the opportunity to take your two weeks of vacation time and travel as a tourist, but once you're out in the working world you're less likely to have the opportunity to live abroad for an extended period of time and get involved and integrated into a foreign culture. Not to mention that you take classes that count toward graduation, so you're making academic progress at the same time you're having this international experience³.

But what her research found was that female students considered this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel at all. She asked them about future plans and - apparently across the board - their future life plans involved graduating, working, getting married, having kids and quitting work - all by age 30. Most of them hadn't given any thought to life after 30 - just to all of the things that they had to cram in before that fateful age arrived. Apparently this is linked to a sort of vague awareness of the link between maternal age and Down syndrome.

They also said that while men have the opportunity to go gallivanting all over the world, marriage/children or no marriage/children, women will be busy caring for the children until the kids are out of the house and they're too old to travel anyway (48?).

It was all very depressing for me.

  • First, as far as we've come in terms of loosening strict gender roles, there is still the idea that men and women can't be equal partners in child-raising and the woman is always going to sacrifice her career in order to raise these theoretical children.
  • Second, a lot of these women's life plans depend on outside influences intervening within a short period of time. If they aren't married with children by 30, are they going to feel like they've failed, no matter what else they've accomplished for themselves in other areas of their lives?
  • Third, I don't really have a life-plan at all... even one where my life ends at 30. I suppose I should get one of those.
  • Fourth, I am 27 and apparently I am supposed to get married and have kids in the next three years or I will have FAILED! Even though I don't take it seriously, I can already tell it's just going to be sitting there in the back of my mind, popping up every time my mom suggests that I go catch a bouquet or sleep on a piece of cake.

I am hoping that this is just a peculiar concept that exists at that university for some reason, and that it isn't college-aged women everywhere who have this idea of 30 as a deadline around which all of life's plans must be made. On the other hand, if this is the reason that women are studying abroad, maybe we should be working harder to convince students of both genders that they need to study abroad as a last-ditch effort to have some adventure in their life before they turn 30 and their lives and bodies start falling apart.

¹ Not mutually exclusive.

² Alma mater of a famous gap-toothed TV host.

³ Have I sold you on studying abroad yet?

srah - Thursday, 1 November 2007 - 5:20 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Comments (18)

gravatar Tony - November 1, 2007 - 6:54 PM -

As a guy, I've studied a broad many times. From right here in the homeland, even. (nyuk, nyuk, nyuk) (non-serious part of my post).

Now on with the more serious(?) business. This is an interesting study because I see similar themes come up a lot with regard to women in faculty positions at universities. It's a big concern, especially because tenure-track faculty life is so demanding. It's one of the reasons why, even as a male, I continue to think long and hard about whether I should pursue it.

I think that while efforts to recruit and promote equality in the sexes in these cases will help somewhat, it ultimately boils down to personal choices and what type of lifestyle you envision yourself leading if you wish to have a family or not. Over time, we have to work on changing the culture in society that is entrenched with some of the more 'traditional' viewpoints.

For instance, if I'm fortunate enough to have a family at some point, they would come first. But that's not what society would always tell me as the 'traditional' bread-winner. Having a sound family at home does not magically happen - it takes commitment. I would have no problem sharing equitably in the parenting because I consider that to be the role of a good parent, regardless of current 'norms'. The issue of who limits or (in some cases) gives up their career to me seems a non-issue because whatever is done is in keeping with the goal of the family unit (which unfortunately is often overlooked). I think part of the reason this is challenging is that so many households try to live lifestyles that REQUIRE dual incomes, and dare I say two LARGE dual incomes. If one of the parents (husband or wife) is working from home or working reduced hours, naturally they are going to be compensated accordingly. Then it's up to the family to be wise and live within their means. The joy of having this function smoothly would far outweigh any personal career success that I could achieve.

And as for the post-30 meltdown...I don't think I've turned into a crotchety old man, yet. But seriously, I'm really surprised at that view. I thought more and more people are focusing on careers in their 20s and getting hitched later. I'd think that this would be viewed as more common than ever. My parents were in their late 20s when they got married, and they were revolutionaries for the times (1975) :-P

OK, I'll relinquish my soapbox now, if someone else would like a turn. :-P

gravatar srah - November 1, 2007 - 6:59 PM -

Yeah, hardly any of my friends are married yet, much less having kids. That's mostly because most of my friends went to graduate school and are only now starting their careers and thinking about having personal lives. (Some of you are still grad schooling it up!) And I always understood that to be something of a national trend toward later marriages and children, but maybe it's just me and my friends. Or maybe there's something in the water at BSU.

gravatar srah - November 1, 2007 - 7:16 PM -

My coworker (who believes very strongly that the male/female divide in study abroad is due to the relative immaturity of college-aged males compared to females) also brought up the point that either the women have decided already that they will be the ones to stay home with the kids or they're just assuming that they'll end up with a partner who will refuse to do so, and she said that they aren't giving men much credit, or they're settling for the wrong guys. But, she pointed out, that could be because they look at the college men around them and think "This is what I'm supposed to marry?" and base the perceived maturity/mindset of their future partner on the maturity/mindset of a college-aged male.

Anyway, I worry that these women will get to their 30s and realize that they should have been taking care of their own actual lives instead of some imagined fantasy life.

gravatar Tony - November 1, 2007 - 7:27 PM -

Good points. I agree...being on a college campus only proves the point of maturity divide. While I never (hope) I had the attitudes that elicit the "This is what I've got to work with?!" type of response, my experience has certainly shaped my beliefs. I guess there is benefit to being a wise ol' owl after all.

gravatar Cari - November 1, 2007 - 7:51 PM -

I'm not sure I completely agree or understand that perspective on why more girls study abroad...after all won't these girls be going on honeymoons :p. Also I guess my bf studied abroad during the school year and during the summer and I only did during the summer. Plus, I'm traveling far away in the next few weeks and hopefully again in the summer. I think the general issue is that working in the US, you don't get much vacation time to actually travel to far away and exciting places.

gravatar katie - November 1, 2007 - 8:31 PM -

I'm 28, and while I do realize that time is passing, I'm also not going to spend time worrying about that, because it's not worth it. Much better to enjoy life as it is. :)

gravatar Rachel - November 1, 2007 - 10:56 PM -

I thought more and more people were waiting longer and longer to "get married and have kids and become boring"... but by 30? Wow. That doesn't leave much time for sitting around and pondering the meaning of life. Also, it leaves no time for blogging! If you had a kid, would even exist?

gravatar srah - November 1, 2007 - 10:59 PM -

Good question!

gravatar Elisabeth - November 1, 2007 - 11:02 PM -

Is it weird to get freaked out when I'm only 24(ish)?

gravatar srah - November 1, 2007 - 11:04 PM -

I have created mass hysteria!

("Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together...")

gravatar tiff - November 2, 2007 - 8:36 AM -

I didn't study abroad, but I've been fortunate enough to have traveled to Europe 4 or 5 times in my life, because my parents wanted to expose me to the world at large and show me how many options there are for me, besides getting married young and settling down.

So now I'm 27, most of my friends ARE married, a few are starting to have kids, and all I can say is I KNOW it's not for me, not right now. And I'm okay with that too.

So I guess I'm saying if studying abroad isn't the first time the kids get to go to foreign country, maybe we can break that mindset earlier.

gravatar anonymous - November 2, 2007 - 9:49 AM -

48 is too old to travel? A person needs a PLAN ?? Dang. I was so sure I never wanted kids that I had by tubes tied by 27. But it turns out that there are plenty of ways to get children, some non biological, and that ones plans are usually smaller and less joyful than the Life that shows up. Don't believe all that stuff about age or the negative stuff about men either. We would hate it if men generalized about us that way. Thank goodness we are NOT defined by our bodies or even the limited plans we make for ourselves in the first parts of our lives.

gravatar Trevor - November 2, 2007 - 10:56 AM -

Got married, then went to Jordan for two years. Came back. Had two kids post 30. My brother and his wife met in Japan and spend half their time in different countries. Don't panic. Do what you want to do. Join the Peace Corps. Teach at an international school. Get work at an international NGO. Eat Indian food tonight. You will be fine.
Being married means being a team and working together. Traditional roles are trumped by necessity. Furthermore, some people are happier having jobs than staying home with kids. If this is you, then you work. Being happy when you are with your kids is more important than duration of time spent together each day.
Our lives are not predetermined as far as I can tell, and surveys don't do a good job of showing all the non standard options you have in life.

gravatar Fraulein N - November 2, 2007 - 11:01 AM -

That's scary and depressing, that there are still young women out there who think this way. Even if having children did mean that a woman's life was essentially over at 30, you don't have to have children!! Good grief, how long is it going to take to get these outdated notions of what it means to be a woman and an adult out of people's heads?!

gravatar srah - November 2, 2007 - 8:23 PM -

I appreciate all the feedback and reassurance, everyone!

gravatar alfie - November 2, 2007 - 8:44 PM -

Flower Drum Song.

gravatar srah - November 2, 2007 - 8:44 PM -

One point for Alfie!

gravatar EV - November 3, 2007 - 4:34 PM -

Well I got married at 23 and four years later realized that 23 is way too young to get married and make a real decision about *anything*, so I got divorced and quit my job and went back to grad school in a new field and now I'm 31 and basically in a first job all over again... so the point is, if you think you need to get all of that crap out of the way in your 20s, there's an even greater chance you'll make a mistake and end up starting over even later, which is completely fine anyway. That study is really disturbing.

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