Time has always been an enemy of mankind, but it seems to oppose women the hardest. As recently as the past few generations, society has seen an increase in women who are career-oriented, pursuing education for more than a MRS degree (a colloquial term to describe a young woman’s intent to find a spouse while in college), and starting families later. While this new wave for women seems to have become more socially acceptable, the opposition has really just become more subtle.
As an ambitious student in today’s day and age, it seems so easy to plan for a second degree and possibly even a third. The four years of college that most undergraduates experience is a time capsule: It is the beginning of adulthood, and all of your fellow classmates are around the same age and experiencing time similarly, so time-related pressures are virtually nonexistent. However, once the bachelor’s degree milestone has been passed, all bets are off against time.
After graduation, it becomes more difficult for young women to plan the next ten years without worrying about perfectly fitting in the major milestones of marriage and children. I am urged by family and other women around me to consider finishing my years of schooling as quickly as possible to facilitate getting married and having children. With this mindset, gap years seem like a literal waste of time. Taking one or more years off from school to work, travel, volunteer, participate in a fellowship, or relax after four life-changing years of college? It doesn’t seem worth it when I need to rush off to the next life goalpost. This messaging tells me that if I do not carry out my life timeline like my mother, sisters, or female contemporaries, then I am not doing life correctly.
This is reinforced by how we subtly — or not so subtly — shame women who do not align with this acceptable schedule. A woman unmarried in her thirties with no serious prospects is pitied or criticized for focusing on the “wrong things” when she was of a more “marriageable” age, maybe even for being too picky with her standards. God forbid she be past her thirties! Because, of course, a fiercely independent, driven woman intimidates and puts off potential suitors. And if you’re not sitting around and waiting with all of your attention on securing a husband, how will men notice or take you seriously?
Similarly, a woman in the same age group who is happily married, but without children is queried and criticized. Her status as a good wife is called into question because it is selfish and downright unwise to concentrate on finishing school, establishing her career or marriage while her fertility wanes with age. These sentiments imbibe a sense of urgency about womanhood. We are always racing against the clock.
So, how did the incessant ticking begin for women? The idea of the female biological clock does have scientific proof and, therefore, validity behind it. Conversely, in terms of reproductive ability, men do not experience time the same way women do and have less reason to worry if they can conceive a child as they get older. This privilege makes allowances for them. When I talk about the future with most of my male friends, while they may mention that they want a family at some point, the timing of those life goals are often nebulously defined. If anything, their five to ten-year plans center around professional success and financial stability. What’s more is that I never hear men being asked about when they are going to settle down until they are in or around their thirties! This line of questioning typically appears after they have established themselves, portraying marriage and a family as an added benefit as opposed to an absolute requirement for women.
It is clear that men and women are socialized differently, but that is not necessarily what I take issue with. Given that women and men in this day and age both take their education and careers seriously, women deserve the same respect and patience afforded to men. Do not rush us. While we may desire marriage and a family, the reality of planning life around it is, at times, a farce. The reality is that everyone has their own unique path, regardless of gender. We all should be allowed to take our time to enjoy our current season and each subsequent step that makes sense for us. Life is unpredictable, after all.
Ifeoluwa Obayan ’19, a former Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is a Biomedical Engineering and Social Anthropology joint concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.