October 4, 2005

"I really came out of high school believing I wasn't bright enough to be a doctor."

The NYT article "Miers Known as a Hard-Working Advocate for the President," recounts some of the difficulties Miers had getting started in her career, such as not being able to find a job after graduating at the top of her law school class. This resonated with me:
"I really came out of high school believing I wasn't bright enough to be a doctor," Ms. Miers told The Dallas Morning News in 1991. "Career days at high school, you just got no encouragement.
Maybe you younger people today have trouble getting your mind around that, but, trust me, women growing up in the 50s and 60s were not encouraged to take on careers. I graduated at the top of my high school class in 1969 and yet no teacher ever encouraged me to pursue a career of any kind. I believed law and medicine were out of my reach, meant for a completely different sort of person. I remember meeting a female law student when I was in college -- that is, art school -- and thinking of her as incredibly strange and wondering how she got the idea that she could go to law school. It wasn't until I was four years beyond college that I formed the thought that I could have gone to law school. And, by the way, in art school, the male students were treated as if they were the ones to be taken seriously, though I must say one art teacher gave me a serious piece of economic advice: If I was moving to NYC, I would need a "sugar daddy" and he had some phone numbers to share.

How did Miers get the idea to go to law school? She was impressed by the lawyer who dealt with her family's financial affairs after her father had a stroke.

Also:

Miers goes out on the town with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman.

The NYT choose a fabulous photo of Harriet Miers to illustrate its article.

35 comments:

bearing said...

So when did you go to law school?

Slocum said...

Maybe you younger people today have trouble getting your mind around that, but, trust me, women growing up in the 50s and 60s were not encouraged to take on careers. I graduated at the top of my high school class in 1969 and yet no teacher ever encouraged me to pursue a career of any kind.

I'm just a bit skeptical--I think it was more complex than that. For example, my pediatrician in the 1960s was a woman and nobody considered her particularly unusual. I would suggest that female doctors in the 1960s were a lot more acceptable than male nurses are even in 2005. As for encouragment -- my mother, a Phi Beta Kappa in History, graduated from college in 1959. One of her professors urged her to go on to graduate school. But what she wanted to do was get married right away and have kids -- and so she did, starting with me.

I would say that when I graduated from high school in the late 70s, nobody encouraged me to pursue a career of any kind either -- it was simply obvious that I (and every other male in my class) would do so out of necessity (as the 'Mrs. degree' and 'sugar daddy' options were and are not available).

jau said...

Thank you for being positive about the choice. None of us knows much about her and it's very annoying to me that most stories basically equate unknown with bad. Greta Van Sustern, to her credit, lauded the choice of a non-judge (i.e. someone not in the same mold of all the rest). I love the idea of all these non-starry women achieving high status. Thanks again.

Ann Althouse said...

Bearing: From 1978 to 1981.

Internet Ronin said...

The more we learn about Miers, the more Miers is an interesting choice. One can't help wondering, though, how an attorney with such an impressive resume and client list, after almost a lifetime at the bar, has such a tiny net worth ($566,000).

Sally said...

Ahhh... you're story is coming together. You went to art school! That explains so much, why you are so good at drawing, and why you hate so much contemporary art. Actually, your art school experience resonates with me, and although I went to art school in the 90's, sugar daddy's are still an expected norm. So much so, that I believe from what I have seen, a popular carreer for a female art school grad has become the sex industry.

alikarimbey said...

What IF?

- what if this was the best choice Bush could make after talking with Carrigan, Callahan, Brown, Clement, Williams, etc. (all women)?

- May be Bush wanted to appear to be defeated (weak) in order to do rope-a-dope Democrats.

Bruce Hayden said...

I had to think about this a bit, but Ann is right. I graduated a year ahead of her, and some of the women were going to graduate school, and, starting to go to medical school, but I can't think of any who went to law school. I know 3 female MDs her age, but no JDs, despite being an attorney.

But then, I compare this to today, and things are so different. Half both of those schools are now female.

It is not that it didn't happen before, it was just rare. Very rare. Justices O'Conner and Ginsburg are older than Meirs. And one of the partners in my brother's firm, who is probably in his early 60s now was taught patent law by his grandmother. Indeed, when I was in Business School, I didn't want to burst the bubble of one of my profs who thought she was breaking into this male bastion - because my grandmother had taught in the school 40 years before.

Bruce Hayden said...

Let me add that, at least when I was an undergraduate, a majority of the kids in school were happy with this situation.

I think that the reason that I ultimately didn't end up marrying the girl I went with through college was that, despite tinkering with liberation, she really expected it to be her husband who went on and got the graduate degree - because that is precisely what happened to her. She and the guy she did marry graduated 1-2 in her department, but he was the one to get the PhD, despite her being the one admitted to top tier schools.

When I was in school, the guys pretty much knew we needed to get graduate degrees - usually professional degrees (MD, JD, MBA). And we all did. Most of the women still seemed fixated on marriage.

I didn't figure it out until later, as they women were starting to talk the good talk, but weren't really serious about it yet.

Slocum said...

I had to think about this a bit, but Ann is right. I graduated a year ahead of her, and some of the women were going to graduate school, and, starting to go to medical school, but I can't think of any who went to law school. I know 3 female MDs her age, but no JDs, despite being an attorney.

What I should have said in my earlier comment, but didn't, is that at the time Ann graduated from college (and for many decades before that -- I have my great grandmother's '02 college yearbook), few people thought women lacked the brains to be physicians, lawyers, or scientists, but they did doubt that women had the interest and the dedication to pursue careers -- particularly careers involving years of long, hard hours.

Adam's Rib was released in 1949, and the novel idea of a woman lawyer wasn't the plot device - rather it was husband and wife lawyers on the opposite sides of a case. But most women weren't interested in becoming lawyers and most people didn't expect them to be interested and they weren't encouraged...it was all mutually reinforcing.

BTW, if you watch Adam's Rib again, it's interesting. Katherine Hepburn's character is attractive and leads a glamorous life (did she inspire any schoolgirls to become lawyers, I wonder?), but she's also childless, and her independent streak causes marital troubles (I believe that is the point of view of the movie). In 1949, people were quite aware that such career paths were open to women and some women indeed did pursue them, but the general belief was that they were likely to mean the sacrifice of marriage and motherhood.

PatCA said...

I, too, was an art major, largely because we didn't associate college with future employment. There was no culture of professional women, much less professional women with a family life. Also got the sugar daddy advice.

I worked for lawyers part time, and my dear boss took me to a bar luncheon in the '70s with guest speaker Gloria Steinem. She asked all the women lawyers to raise their hands. Two. Asked for male lawyers, all the rest. She asked all the women secretaries. A sea of hands. Male secretaries, none. The room was buzzing. "That's why I do this," she said.

Still, a professional life is not for everybody and is not an unmitigated good. What we did not have that women have now is the choice to decide for ourselves.

Slocum said...

Still, a professional life is not for everybody and is not an unmitigated good. What we did not have that women have now is the choice to decide for ourselves.

A choice, BTW, that men do not and probably never will have...

paulfrommpls said...

Ann -

My wife, a few years younger than you I gather, says the same thing: she was real smart (I think she's telling truth about that) but no guidance counselor encouraged her to make the choice she made, which was to leave the small town 40 miles south of Madison, travel to the U and go to actual college, rather than secretarial school or something.

Yet I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and I always wondered with some doubt if the girls in my class experienced the same thing. I can remember quite a few girls who were real smart and acted on it.

So what kind of place did you grow up, I wonder. Was there a rural-suburban-urban divide? Is there still? And when girls attack, is it defensive or predatory?

anselm said...

slocum-

Oh please. Did society corral you into a professional degree and career? I am as upset as the next guy that life requires me to work - quite hard, and on a regular basis, no less(!) But no one made me do it.

We can marry rich, wait tables, mix concrete, become porn stars...who doesn't have to rustle up a plan for success and/or survival at various points n their lives?

PatCA said...

...what anselm said!

paulfrommpls said...

Just to throw in here to take a little heat off anslem - I don't think it's totally ridiculous to maintain that if you kind of cock your head and squint a little, it's possible to perceive women these days as having more choices than men. That is, I think it's pretty obvious that women choosing a career rather than focusing on family face way less "What's up with that?!" reaction than an actual stay-at-home guy.

State it another way: in the realm of informal social expectations, in this context, the strongest of all has always been and continues to be that men will have a career. If you perceive not having a career and having a career as equally valuable and worthwhile decisions, that doesn't automatically equate to freedom. (Give, of course, that we're all free to do whatever the hell we want.)

Slocum said...

Oh please. Did society corral you into a professional degree and career? I am as upset as the next guy that life requires me to work - quite hard, and on a regular basis, no less(!) But no one made me do it.

Let me put it this way. I live in a fairly well-to-do neighborhood. There is a group of women living here who have high-paying, professional careers (lawyers, doctors, professors, executives), but there is also another group, about equal in size, who are also smart educated women but who either have a degree in a genteel but not lucrative field (art, for example) or who worked as professionals for a few years but who now, haven't earned any significant salary for many years. The quit work when they had kids and maybe they intended to go back someday, but even though their kids got older, somehow it didn't happen. Instead they go to the club, and they volunteer, and shop, and go to exercize class. If they do have a job, it's fun, and part-time, and doesn't pay much (as much a hobby as a job).

Now there are also plenty of men in the first professional group, but strangely enough, none at all in that second group. The women around here obviously have options that the men just don't have.

Of course no man has to be a professional if he doesn't want to be. But he's not going to be able to live a professional lifestyle if he doesn't. Quite a lot of women, on the other hand, manage to do just that.

WA-mom said...

I'm so glad Ann wrote this post. It's so true.
Another point: This criticism of Miers shows progress of a sort. When Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor, I was ecstatic. We (women) would have taken anyone.

anselm said...

Slocum,

Even accepting your observations as applicable to society at large, correlation is not causation. Each of those women who are living "the professional lifestyle" without having gotten the degree, etc., worked it out on their own and with a specific partner.

Any man is free to do the same. It's dangerous to extrapolate generalities on a single group from societal tendencies, even strong ones. Doing so invites bright ideas about legislating (or otherwise forcing) what is ultimately a failure of individualism away.

Re Miers,

The bipartisan objections are clearly unrelated to her sex. The fact that critics generally don't feel the need to hedge for the sake of P.C. shows how weak of a nominee she is.

I hope it also proves not only that women have gained some equality of perception as wa-mom says, but also that the P.C. that has been bluntly wielded as an enforcement mechanism is fading from use.

paulfrommpls said...

I just realized I was referring to the comments of "slocum," not "anselm." And what's sad is, I was actually trying to be careful about that.

Slocum said...

Even accepting your observations as applicable to society at large, correlation is not causation. Each of those women who are living "the professional lifestyle" without having gotten the degree, etc., worked it out on their own and with a specific partner.

Any man is free to do the same.

Yes, any man is 'free' is the legal sense. Whether he can find a professional woman who will be satisfied with him as a husband if he starts out as a stay-at-home-dad and then transitions into early-retiree is another matter entirely. Chances of a man finding a partner who will find this acceptable are very much lower -- to the extent that such a life plan is really not a male option at all.

It's dangerous to extrapolate generalities on a single group from societal tendencies, even strong ones. Doing so invites bright ideas about legislating (or otherwise forcing) what is ultimately a failure of individualism away.

I'm proposing no legislation - only observing that women now have the option of choosing a traditionally male life-pattern or a traditionally female life-pattern - either is now completely socially acceptable and there are many prospective male partners that will accept a wife who pursues option A, option B, or either one.

Males, on the other hand, are largely constrained to traditionally male patterns. That's all.

anselm said...

I understand you're limiting your point to a social observation. But then that's all it is. I suspect that the main reason men don't play the stay at home role is because they don't want to.

Many of them may not want to because of internal expectations, or from having never considered the option. If a man wants to stay at home, is willing to give up the alternatives, including a professional career, I think he can find a partner with whom he can work this out.

The difference from women is that a man won't end up there by default. All that is required is desire.

Thus, if your observation is just an observation, so be it. If it is a complaint, I take issue with it.

Slocum said...

Thus, if your observation is just an observation, so be it. If it is a complaint, I take issue with it.

It is a bit of both. It started with a comment that said, in effect, isn't it wonderful that women have all these options which they lacked before and which, the attitude seemed to be, should have been theirs by right all along.

And what I'm pointing out is that this freedom depends on males accepting women's right to make these choices and also their own lack of such choices. To a large degree, it is male constraint that enables this level of female choice. The constraint on males is not legal, of course (except in divorce settlements), but neither was the former contraint on female choices legal--it was also social.

If a man wants to stay at home, is willing to give up the alternatives, including a professional career, I think he can find a partner with whom he can work this out.

Yes, clearly there are couples where the man stays home with the small children -- usually, this is not a result of planning by either spouse but results from financial necessity. But how often do any of these men do what I see quite a number of women doing--namely, never returning to work or at least never in any serious way? How many women would accept such husbands and continue to hold them in high esteem? Would such men be socially respectable -- even in the most liberal communities? I don't think so -- I just don't see it. And that is a significant difference.

PatCA said...

Slocum,
What I said was a woman did not have a choice if she wanted a professional career--and it was legal to discriminate: there was no law to stop people from denying me loans without a man's signature or refusing my job application for "help wanted male" jobs. When I applied to law school, they asked me if I was planning on getting married and having babies soon. I chose not to go to law school because I didn't want to put in the time for something I didn't really want to do, but I always worked, as most women do. My career, though, was not my main focus in life.

Men have always had the option to go to law school or be a mechanic. Your resentment of the women in your neighborhood is palpable, but you can't blame them for the choices of adult men.

Slocum said...

Men have always had the option to go to law school or be a mechanic.

And so have women. It went against the grain, but there have been some number of women lawyers for several generations. And in 1944, the country was absolutely FULL of woman mechanics.

Your resentment of the women in your neighborhood is palpable, but you can't blame them for the choices of adult men.

Sigh. I don't resent them--it's nice lack-of-work if you can get it, and some are friends and we get along fine. My own wife works and always has. And I, in fact, have spent the last 10+ years working from a home office and supervising my kids after school and during the summers (which does not put me in category #2 -- it pays a lot more than my office job did and if didn't pay at least as well, I wouldn't have been able to keep doing it). Casual acquaintances do sometimes wonder if I have a 'real' job, but I don't really mind.

but I always worked, as most women do.

I don't believe that it's true that most women always work (in full-time paid employment). A large percentage have absences of significant lengths of time.

My point is this -- women don't just have more options than they used to, they generally have MORE OPTIONS THAN MEN DO. No, they didn't use to, but now they do. New options have opened up and the old ones remain. The greater constraints on men's life options are not legal but social, but they are constraints, nonetheless.

I don't see why anybody is denying it. My daughter's chance of going to school, getting a professional degree, and becoming well-off by her own efforts are every bit as high as my son's (in fact, given current rates of college attendence, they must be counted as higher). But my daughter's chance of going to school, meeting and marrying a smart, ambitious spouse, and becoming well-off while working only briefly and permanently exiting the paid workforce early are far greater than my son's. That's just reality.

Sally said...

Yes, to you all, but women are the ones who physically have babies, and being that they do that, tend to be the ones who stay at home and breast feed and nurture if that is a desire and an option. Men got it hard too - a life of constant work and the drudgery that comes from it can be so Glen Garry Glen Ross or Death of a Saleman. As an uber-feminist myself, I think Slocum has a point - in general, educated married men with children have less choices than their educated wives.

amba said...

Slocum, with all due respect, you don't know what you're talking about.

Of course there were exceptional women who were professionals before, oh, 1968, and if you were lucky enough to have one as a mother, you might have been able to conceive of yourself that way. But -- I totally resonate with Ann's saying this, I graduated from college 2 years before she did -- in the culture at large there was little encouragement, little precedent, and really, much mockery. If you had professional ambitions or intellectual aspirations it cut against you both ways: it damaged your datability, as intelligence was regarded as presumptuous, aggressive, and unattractive (a guy actually said to me, "I like airline stewardesses because they don't think"), but it also was by definition second-rate. You could aspire, but you weren't equipped to achieve the heights a man could reach. It was so very Freudian. (And, of course, the notion of female inferiority became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as we all had so little confidence.)

To this day I cannot hear some male talking head on TV say "the judge, the astronaut, the surgeon, he or she" without a thrill of vindication that it is impossible for a younger woman (much less a man) to comprehend. I'll never get over it.

amba said...

My "Slocum, you don't know what you're talking about" was in reference to his first comment at the top of this thread. To give Slocum his props he's right about the male side of that. You did not have the option to be supported by someone else's work. And to the extent that you do now, it's still an uneasy option.

Mary said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
somross said...

Ann and I graduated the same year from the same high school, and I can vouch for the fact that there was almost no career encouragement for women at that time in our class except for the stereotypical teacher, nurse, and secretary. This is not some projection on our part. It was a good suburban New Jersey high school within the New York City metro area. Although women were certainly encouraged to go to college, the colleges didn't offer a great deal of career encouragement for women either. I'm sure you can look at the stats and find out that while you, Slocum, may not have found your female pediatrician unusual, the percentage of female doctors was tiny. My ninth grade Bio teacher did call my mother and suggest I'd make a good doctor; my mother, a teacher, was flattered but couldn't see how one could combine that with being a mother. The choices started widening in the mid 70s; what Ann did - going to law school a few years after graduation - is a path many women now in their 50s took. Someone like Harriet Miers would have been extremely unusual in her age group. I didn't become a doctor, but one of my sisters did, in her 30s.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Somross. Your comment for some reason reminded me of how I was not just not encouraged, but actively discouraged. I remember one teacher saying to me, weirdly, "I'd like to keep you in a cage." This was a reaction to some comment I made of the sort that I now realize is the sort of thing that would today cause delight and make someone perhaps exclaim "brilliant!" Her point to the extent that she explained it seemed to be that it would be fun to keep me around to say something like that once in a while for her amusement, similar to having a canary in a cage to sing. This was just one of many disturbing signals I received from teachers that I needed to be somebody else.

Slocum said...

Now, even if what your children are being fed in the schools tilts toward the girls, as parents you surely can find books and games with male characters in primary roles: sports heros, explorers and adventurers, political leaders, scientists and discoverers, etc. You might have to actually seek these things out, but they're there as such materials were not available to girls in the recent past. That's the difference.

This sounds like a version of the 'so what if things are biased against boys -- boys are tough and can fend for themselves' thesis. But as a group, boys who in school now (with or without the special help of their parents) are NOT fending for themselves particularly successfully -- if your measure is grades, dropout rates, higher education participation and graduation, etc. By almost any measure you choose, the 'tilt toward girls' has clearly resulted in greater for success for girls than boys.

I bet your son has a greater deal of freedom than you in picking his path after his formal education ends

I doubt it, actually. My son is one of those very bright kids (top 1-2% on standardized tests in math and verbal measures) who is also disorganized. I was similar at his age, but schools then seemed much more accepting of bright-but-disorganized teenage boys and were willing and able to recognize their accomplishments despite their shortcomings. But school has changed, it seems. Homework is now much more important and tests less so. Timeliness and following all the rules are critical. Writing is now judged not on subjective quality but 'following the rubric' (my kids have even had art classes graded by rubric - not is this work any good, but does this work include all the required design elements). The teachers are nearly all female, their systems nearly all non-negotiable.

While my son did not actually fail his courses outright, his middle school GPA, if repeated in high school, would barely get him on to the lowest rungs of higher education.

So starting 9th grade this year, we gave serious consideration to home schooling him and probably would have if we hadn't been able to arrange for to get him out of the classroom for half of his academic courses (he's taking them online instead). He's only a month into the school year, so it's hard to tell for sure, but he seems to be doing quite a lot better. But even if (as we hope) this turns out to be successful, it isn't a good thing to conclude that the best thing you can do for your son's education is to keep him out of school and away from the teachers as much as possible.

Obviously, our son is an N of one, but we know other educated, well-off parents whose sons are experiencing similar problems to lesser (and also greater) degrees.

Schools have spent decades trying to make themselves more girl friendly. If girls were less comfortable with competition than boys, competition was de-emphasized. If girls did better with group projects, group projects became standard operating procedure. If girls did better on homework than tests, homework was given the highest weight. If girls do better with language-centered curricula for math and science and "writing across the curriculum" programs, then we adopt those. Add on top of this plenty of 'girls can do anything' rhetoric, and you might expect to get just the sort of results we now see.

Whatever Harriet Meijers experiences as a girl in the 50's and 60's, that was 40-50 years ago. Things in 2005 are NOT like they were in 1965.

amba said...

From an NYTBR review of a memoir by climber Arlene Blum, a sentence that well describes the attitude toward women and "altitude" of all kinds back in the '50s and '60s:

"As one climber said when asked by Blum to defend his assertion that there are no real women climbers: 'It means that women either aren't good climbers or they aren't real women.'"

This is what those of us experienced who came of age 40 years ago. But Slocum is right: a certain politically-correct overcompensation has set in, even if it remains superficial. Many more males still reach the heights (and one can argue about why: many women have more divided motivations), but girls and women are better at playing the school game: better with words, better at sitting still. This also leads back into another question discussed here recently: whether all this loving cultivation is squandered on girls if they're going to play at work for a few years and then become full-time mothers.

But understand why we d'un certain age see things the way we do. We were subjected to a real, profound, and very pervasive discrimination, that not only denied us opportunities but denied our capacities. It's almost as if women had to prove that canard wrong, through a generation of ferocious careerism, before they could go back and reconsider the value of the other side of their natures.

Slocum said...

But Slocum is right: a certain politically-correct overcompensation has set in, even if it remains superficial. Many more males still reach the heights

But you have to keep the time lag in mind. Those people who are now candidates for 'the heights' (e.g. the Supreme Court) are people who were raised in the 50's and 60's. My son's cohort won't be in that position until somewhere around 2040.

but girls and women are better at playing the school game: better with words, better at sitting still.

But that is so in part because 'the school game' has changed -- it has been modified, by design, to play to girls' strengths and avoid their weaknesses.

It is so striking to watch my son doing his online Geometry work -- all the things that were just hell in 8th grade Algebra are gone. The daily paper shuffle (Did you write down the assignment? Did you bring the sheet home? Did you write down the due date? When is the test? Did you get your paper back? Did you remember to turn in the homework you couldn't find yesterday?) -- all that is just gone. There's nothing to forget or lose. There's no unending stream of artificial deadlines. He logs in and he's right back where he left off. He can sit down and work as long as he likes, and get ahead. When he's tired, he can stop. He can take quizes and tests when he's ready and when it makes sense given other pressures in his schedule. Feedback is instant - if you get a homework problem wrong, you can jump directly back to the relevant explanation in the 'book' and try another problem just like it. This strikes me as highly boy-friendly environment, and in principle, there's nothing at all that would make it impossible to implement inside the school building. But nobody's yet really asking how to make K-12 schools more boy friendly, they're asking how we can get boys to conform to 'the system' -- which system is taken as a given.

Diane said...

Actually,

If you go to school in a small town in Kansas you don’t get much encouragement today (graduating class of 1999). I was told that men wouldn’t want me if I got a job that paid more than $40,000 a year. So If I wanted to be successful I had better resign myself to being single. My guidance councilor basically said I didn’t need any help or encouragement. Affirmative action would take care of me, so he had to spend all his time taking care of white boys who wouldn’t be supported by the system.

Fortunately, though, this was probably nothing compared to what women got in the 50’s and 60’s, though. At least I had TV, books, and the occasional “strange” teacher.

The fifties are still alive and well in small town America, though. Sadly, though, this is mostly a product of Affirmative action. People feel they need to compensate for it by *discouraging* minorities and women.

And the really sad thing is almost no-one believes me when I tell them some of the things my teachers told me. My husband thought I was exaggerating until we went to the wedding of a friend from highschool, and he actually talked to some of these gems.

“Well women *are* dumber than men, so that’s why they obey their husbands,” said a girl who was third in our class. I was first. One two boys were in the top ten. I’ll buy the ‘wives okay their husbands’ part as not inherently sexist. Wouldn’t fly in my house, but for some marriages it works. I refuse to buy the ‘because we are dumber’ part.

“But soccer is a communist sport!” To my husband, the radical libertarian who was also on the team that was first in his league.

“Only F**s like music.”

“Women who exercise loose their periods and can’t have children!” No. That’s women who use steroids. Exercise actually helps your fertility.

And other lovely sentiments like that. Everyone thought I was a lesbian in high school. They were really surprised to see me get married to a man right out a college. I mean, why on earth didn’t I go after some of those prime pieces of manhood in my high school if I wasn’t a lesbian?
*falls over laughing at the thought*