Is It Really True That Educated Women Prefer Careers To Homes?

By Kathleen Thomas··  6 min read
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Women’s education has been a touchy topic of debate, pretty much since a girl picked up a book for the first time however many centuries ago. Questions about women’s intelligence and inclinations have bounced between politicians, activists, and social commentators…but what should we really be asking today?

Discussions nowadays around women’s education are rarely as simple as whether girls should go to school (at least in the U.S.); we have to go into territory that’s a bit more dicey and complex. In many ways, society’s future depends on knowing the answer to this question: what are the characteristics of the “educated woman”? Beyond gel pens, stickered Hydroflasks, and a prepped, soundbite-ready opinion on trending topics, of course. 

Educated, Not Egotistical

All kinds of people enter a college or university, but what kind of person should come out on the other end? How often have we met the gal – or guy – fresh out of some college course, dead-certain that they have cracked the secrets of the world wide open? Eager to demonstrate they are one of The Crowd who read this article or sat in this seminar, they bombard every acquaintance with arguments and excerpts, throwing five-syllable words like grenades. Or they brightly encourage those around them to “Educate yourself!”, sending along pithily captioned Instagram posts or the latest book to top an arbitrary bestsellers list. All too relatable, one 19th-century scholar, John Henry Newman, complains that these folks are more “wearisome” than interesting.

Newman has lots of other worthwhile opinions on what it means to be educated in his book The Idea of a University. Although he had men’s education in mind, his ideal of the “gentleman” emerging from university is still a goal that women can adapt and adopt. Newman describes the results of a liberal education (education for its own sake instead of just professional training) as discipline, candor, and steadiness in your own views. The educated person should be “as simple as he is forcible, and as brief as he is decisive.” 

The educated woman doesn’t back down from what she knows is right.

But it’s not enough to be firmly rooted in what we know. Newman insists that the well-adjusted graduate should be “cordial and easygoing” – even toward people we are sure are completely incorrect in their views. This means the well-educated woman “avoids that which irritates or causes resentment.” She doesn’t back down from what she knows is right, but she doesn’t pursue topics that will implode the conversation. In other words, “Ladies do not start fights, but they can finish them!”

How To Debate Like a Lady

The learned lady is secure in her opinions but doesn’t foist them onto everyone around her. When it's time for a debate, it’s certainly effective (and fun) to break open the arsenal of reading and thoughts amassed over years of study. Those papers and primary source readings can’t have been for nothing, right? I’ve spent plenty of delightful afternoons leaning over plates of fries in the college dining hall, debating about ethics, geopolitics, and everything else we were soaking up in class. There’s always a time and a place for friendly argument, especially if there are French fries involved. But, not everyone needs to hear my whole opinion all the time. 

An educated woman is articulate, with an arsenal of intellectual tools that slice to the meat of any issue.

I personally know a young woman with the best-trained mind I’ve ever met, but she never bores her company with unwanted insights; however, once asked her opinion, she can deliver a clear and cutting explanation, backed with concrete evidence and a carefully, even strategically planned argument. She is the perfect example of an educated woman: not an encyclopedia of terminology and surface-level social commentary, but an articulate lady, with an arsenal of intellectual tools that slice to the meat of any issue. Formidable, to say the least.

Educated Femininity Can Change the World

But how does an in-depth study of literature, philosophy, economics, et cetera, behave when it comes into contact with femininity (or my personal favorite term, the feminine genius)? In an article about women in higher education, Nancy E. Scott wrote, “The most common misinterpretation is that educated women prefer careers to homes.” 

This might remind you of French President Macron’s controversial remarks in 2018: “Present me the lady who decided, being perfectly educated, to have seven, eight, or nine children.” Macron was then lambasted by women around the world who possessed not only doctorates and master’s degrees, but large, thriving families. These superwomen probably agree with Scott’s claims that “education heightens, rather than diminishes, woman’s interest in the home.” Here, then, is another mark of the educated woman: she knows what she wants her life to look like and how to go about reaching that goal. 

It’s completely natural for women to use their intellectual training as a tool to cultivate their home and family.

When a woman dedicates several years of her life to studying how the world works and where our culture has come from, of course she applies that knowledge to her own life. Scott argues that women do this kind of internalization more deeply than our male counterparts: “From the materials of her education she seized upon those concepts which bore directly or indirectly upon the home, ineradicably her supreme interest. It is nature’s way of safeguarding the race.” In other words, it’s completely natural for women to, even unconsciously, use their intellectual training as a tool to cultivate and protect their home and family.

The myth of each educated woman shrugging off all family responsibility as “beneath her” and “restrictive” is just that: entirely mythical. Not every educated woman will get married, and not every educated, married woman hopes to raise a small tribe of children. However, the “mother-spirit” of women is not extinguished by stepping onto a college campus; it can flourish into a deeper understanding of how women guide humanity, whether as professionals or in a quieter, more hidden way. After all, the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

Closing Thoughts

How then can you pick out the educated lady from a sea of women who happened to take a few courses and received a diploma at the end of them? More importantly, how do you assess if you – unique and everchanging you – are an educated lady? The first steps are intuitive: Read. Stay informed. Write things down. Synthesize your thoughts. Talk with – not at! – your friends and family. Read more. All the while, consider: how do I present myself and my views? How often do I find myself talking about myself and my views? Am I applying these principles to my own life, or leaving them to rust in my brain until I need them for an internet debate? Am I giving the world a little nudge in the right direction, or am I shoving people into boxes to conform to my theories? Then… read some more. 

And remember, also enjoying the academia “aesthetic” doesn’t make you a fraud or any less committed to your education. Grab those gel pens (I love the pink ones), and change the world with them.

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