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Majoring in Romance: So Why Is It Called A Bachelor’s Degree?

I just finished reading a book titled “Educated in Romance: Women, Achievement, and College Culture,” by Dorothy Holland and Margaret Eisenhart, which entertains the question of whether college women are distracted with romance to such an extreme that it adversely affects their educational attainment. The research for this book was done on 23 women in the late 70s and it focused on two very different colleges with two different female demographics. Nonetheless, when I read it my mind started racing. Could this still be the case today?

Now, I have an advantage on many of you because I have seen the movie “Splendor in the Grass” which gives an adequate depiction of this phenomenon in the character portrayed by Natalie Wood (albeit from the reality of high school). I have also read a follow up article (by Shannon Gilmartin) that challenges/advances some of the research through a more contemporary analysis predicated on interviews of 14 women on a college campus in the year 2005. But, that aside, what is your take on this intriguing question? Do you think that our society has somehow instilled the notion that finding a husband while your attending college is as much a priority, if not more, than achieving the college degree? Do you think the priority/pressure to meet a life mate differs depending on the academic potential of the female student, or is that also inconsequential once the love interest is discovered (upon discovery obtaining the degree becomes less significant)?

Even considering the presence of women studies on college campuses all over the country, I would imagine that most of you would agree that a dysfunctional preoccupation with romance is still the case for some women. Assuming it is sometimes the case; do you have anecdotal evidence of this, or reasons why women’s career aspirations are sometimes restructured once their heartstrings are tugged? What might be some of the reasons it appears as if this wasn’t and still is not the case for as many men? Lastly, how different do you think the consequences would be for women in the survey if they found romance with another woman, as opposed to a heterosexual romance? Do you think it would be quite different if men were looked at outside of the domain of heterosexuality (if gay men’s relationships were considered)?


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Unfortunately women have long been socialized to see their ambitions and aspirations as secondary to “getting a man”. Growing up women face a significant amount of pressure to be desirable and adhere to standards that were never created with their best interest in mind. The right weight and the right look, while having no bearing on intelligence, are used as criteria for success within this model of male approval. It’s not enough for a woman to be brilliant and ambitious; she has to look good doing it. It’s not enough for a woman to be sensitive and nurturing; she has to look good doing it. With such directed values being planted in the psyche of young seedlings is it any surprise, that once in college, women choose boys over books?

You ask many intriguing questions for which I will attempt to engage a few. This posting is of particular interest for me since I’m a woman and began my college experience in 1977. 1977’s socio-economic reality was much different than today’s. A family could subsist with one wage earner. Placing your education on hold or choosing marriage over a degree in order to situate yourself and secure your future was reasonable. As it was, men were still primarily the “Bread-Winner’s.

I would venture to suggest, and I don’t know what the research concludes, that many more of today’s young women who are distracted from academics by romance are not distracted out of motivation to secure a marriage and therefore a stable future, but perhaps more jockeying for power and position.

Women today, I believe, represent the majority of college admissions and are far more competitive in the job market. I wonder if women on average are marrying at a later age than a generation ago? I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case. The “one wage earner” family is, for all intent and purposes, no longer feasible. Maybe today’s young woman has the luxury to be distracted romantically while pursuing her degree, not unlike her male counterpart of a generation ago.

When I entered college in the early 70's I was of 2 minds. The first was to take full advantage of the Ivy League education I had somehow manage to secure, find a job, support myself and make the world a better place (like all of us "60's kids set out to do). The second mindset- was that all of this would be temporary -and that, in college, I would find the man I would marry, be taken care of for the rest of my life and be free to live the life of my mother- wifehood, motherhood (minus the Mah Jongh games and cigarettes).

Fortunately I was saved from living the life of Harriet Nelson by the fact that, come first semester, the only literature class open to me was called "Women in Literature" taught by a brilliant feminist who made me actually think- and saved my soul.

In the fall of my senior year, I broke up with my boyfriend of 2 years, explaining that, although I loved him, I knew that we would not make it for the long haul and thought we should both see other people while we were still in school. Hurt and angry, he lashed out and accused me of being in college to get my "MRS" degree. I was highly insulted, but it did give me pause. Perhaps I wasn't as liberated as I had thought. (Ironically, it would be he who married right after graduation - his next girlfriend. And it would take me another 10 years to find the man who would be my husband.)

In the 30+ years since my graduation, it seems to me that many things have changed. Women have significanly more role models of successful career women who are not reliant on men - financially or otherwise, well, at least financially. Women enter college with the main intention of becoming educated and many expect to continue to build life-long careers. This, I believe is separate from the economic reality that most families require 2 incomes to survive. That is a whole other topic.

But, this blog really speaks to another, perhaps more important issue, which is, I believe, the fundamental differences between men and women. As Carol Gilligan points out in her studies on gender, men derive satisfaction from achievement while women are driven by their need for connection. Thus, men must work to feel successful, while women must focus on relationships. Yes, this is a broad generalization and of course this is all on a continuum, but it speaks to a core difference. Whether this is about nature or nurture - or a derivative of cave man as huntergatherer and warrior and woman as nurturer and procreator - who knows? -(and how this all looks in same-sex relationships is a very interesting question.) At any rate, I believe it may account for some of the differences we see between the behaviors and priorites of men vs women on college campuses and elsewhere.

Now, while I would love to continue to ponder all of this and pursue this intellectual dialogue, I fear I must get back to the kitchen and prepare to satisfy my man.

When I first met my college roomate, in 1976, she asked me what I was majoring in. While I was still uncertain, I shared that it would likely be in the medical/educational realm, as I very much enjoyed both medicine and working with young adults in the classroom. When I returned the question, she said she was majoring in getting her "MRS." degree. I was totally baffled, but quickly figured out that she, in fact, was spending a lot of money to find a husband. I remember thinking, "how ridiculous"..... but then, I was the product of a home where education was valued and one did their best, stayed focused, and attained goals that they'd set for themselves.

And, while I might be inclined to believe that such "attitudes" have evolved and changed over the last 30+ years (given the change in the financial stability of the family at present), I find that many of the young women I currently teach, particularly at the graduate level, are still planning weddings, as they near graduation.

I am not sure that the "focus" is on going to college to find a mate, but it does seem to occur with a high degree of probability, even today. And, to me that seems rather natural. To be honest, as I think back to those college years, I could have accepted marriage proposals twice, and twice again I was offered the 'opportunity' to live with my boyfriend. I think men in this age bracket are also thinking "future", and not just in terms of the jobs they may secure.

The bigger change, as I've observed it, is that women ARE finishing their degrees, and enthusiastically planning careers, versus not graduating (as occured often when I was in college). And, I have also seen women waiting longer, securing their education and beginning jobs, before taking on marriage and family.

As a current college student, I am not positive that marriage is on the mind of many of my age-group peers, male or female. Marriage is a long-term thing, and kids these days (me and my peers that is) are bumbling bafoons in many areas of life, and frankly, when I think about me or my kin marrying, I really wonder what they are thinking.

Marriage aside, I think *sex* is a massively distracting force, male or female. It's not as if women spend hours thinking about how to attract a mate, while men just lay about their cave planning on how to kill the next wildabeest, and women fall into their laps. Men spend time on women too--sex is a great distraction.

I did want to comment briefly on another commenter though. As AMW wrote:

*As Carol Gilligan points out in her studies on gender, men derive satisfaction from achievement while women are driven by their need for connection. Thus, men must work to feel successful, while women must focus on relationships. Yes, this is a broad generalization and of course this is all on a continuum, but it speaks to a core difference.*

That sounds an awful lot like the article Shulamith Firestone wrote--"Women live for love while men live for work" And I think, perhaps, men are beginning to want what women want. I could be wrong though.

What is absolutely telling is how personal individuals take everything you write as seen in their comments.

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