youth development & education

An Open Letter to Tufts Magazine

Dear Tufts Magazine,

The New Girl Order,” an article by Kay Hymowitz in your Fall 2011 issue, is a misinformed and narrowminded article that insults both girls and boys in America today. Hymowitz puts girls in danger by making the argument that there is no more need for feminism and that somehow the position of girls in society today is the best it could ever be. Hymowitz bluntly perpetuates the war of the sexes by looking for point-by-point equality rather than stepping back and asking, given a history of patriarchy, what can we do now to achieve gender equity. Furthermore, Hymowitz’s final messages seemed pinned on hurtful and antiquated ideas about marriage.

Hymowitz cites girls’ advancement in education as evidence that feminism has succeeded and is no longer necessary. Increasing numbers of women in science and engineering must mean that we’re all set. But we are not: I could talk about the glass ceiling, the need for more women in politics and the need for more fair and holistic representations of women in the media. I could talk about how women on college campuses face an epidemic of sexual violence and the “terrible trio of shame, blame, and fear” when they try to pursue their own desires. I could also cite the very research that Hymowitz dismisses—the tradition of Carol Gilligan of listening to voices of girls as they become teenagers, as they silence their own needs in order to become that perfect girl that everyone else wants them to be. Furthermore, I could and should write about so many women who don’t make it to college because they don’t have access to the education or the money they need, or because they were not encouraged to pursue their dreams. So many “American girls” are not the girls about whom Hymowitz writes—the ones who benefit from own race, class, citizenship, and other privileges that remain invisible in this article yet delineate her entire argument.

Another major misconception in this article is that equality and equity are not the same thing. Hymowitz seems to believe that we have reached equity once we have both “College Women’s Centers” and “College Men’s Centers.” She lives in an utterly binary, separatist world. I don’t want to live in that world. I am a feminist, but I do not, as she thinks I do, “worry that if we pay more attention to boys we will take our eyes off girls.” In fact, I heartily believe that the key to improving our education system and transforming gender socialization is empowering children and youth of all genders to explore, express, and embody. Hymowitz lauds a girls’ softball coach who decided to “coach them like men.” But treating girls the way we treat boys will not help anyone. What about the boys who want to sew, cook, care for children, build close friendships, and share their feelings? Where is the room for them in our culture, in our gender system? According to Hymowitz, feminists “could say that the culture of male privilege is so powerful that it can’t hurt for boys to be pulled down a peg or two.” Actually, dismantling the culture of male privilege is essential—for women and girls, for men and boys, and for everyone who can’t live and love within such a rigidly policed, binary system of gender.

Hymowitz, for a moment, would agree with me that girls and women stand to gain a lot from more attention paid to boys and masculinity. But her reasons for wanting to attend to boys are quite the opposite of mine. She says that girls are going to begin looking for males to marry, and will struggle to find males as educated and accomplished as themselves, and will instead choose to be single mothers, which she sees as a crisis. (Of course, in her world, the option of two women marrying each other does not seem to be available.) I find this last paragraph utterly offensive. It proves that her investment in the “betterment” of boys is not because feminism has done its work but actually quite the opposite—she invests in patriarchy because it provides a foundation for normative heterosexuality. Men have to be successful and powerful in order for women to be their subordinate wives.

I’m sorry, but as I finish reading this article, I completely fail to understand why you published this in the Tufts Magazine. Once I have my Ph.D. from your institution, will you be ashamed of me unless I become the wife of a man who also has a doctorate or other advanced degree? Women’s lives do not revolve around wearing a diamond given to them by a man with the right resume. Clearly, we still have a lot of work to do in promoting positive development for all youth and freeing all youth from hegemonic gender ideologies.

All my best,
Mimi Arbeit

Published by Mimi Arbeit

applied developmental scientist, antifascist community organizer, sexuality educator

3 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Tufts Magazine”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Mimi, great response! I've actually been doing a lot of research on womyn in medicine for work and while the numbers are equalizing simply looking at 'how many' does not address factors of quality, equity and experience.

    For example, here's a fun fact I learned the other day: In 1999, new women doctors earned $151,600, on average, compared to $173,400 for men – a 12.5% salary difference. In 2008, that salary difference widened by nearly 17%, with women starting out at $174,000, compared to $209,300 for men. (This is adjusted to account for specialty, hours worked etc).


  2. Anonymous says:

    Honestly I am all for feminism, however I think that you are taking a narrow minded approach to the article published in the magazine. You could reprimand her by saying that we are far from female equality in the work-place – her point in the article is 2 folds….while we are encouraging women to succeed in their career we are ignoring their multi-faceted personality and need for family and marital relationships. To be perfectly honest, a woman wants a thriving career, family and a good relationship with a man who can keep up with her. Therefore the author has two points:
    1) We should teach women how to nurture and care along with pursue a career so when they achieve their careeer dream, they are not cold and isolated b/c it takes a village to raise a child….I can go on more about the importance of a warm nurturing family life and good support a relationship can bring.

    2) We need to educate men to stand up toe to toe with the academic successes of women b/c there is a lot of factoids about single accomplished women in society who can't find a man who can keep up with them…..why should women (successful and intelligent) lower their standards for a mate? Or she is making the additional point that men find themselves above such inputs b/c they are so well-off that they can take the backseat for a while.

    All in all it's a pro-feminist article

  3. Matthew Lowe says:

    This is in response to Anonymous. As a male, I cannot speak for all women (can anyone?), but as a Feminist, I think I can at least say that your statement that "a woman wants a thriving career, family and a good relationship with a man who can keep up with her" assumes ways too much about all individuals. Many people value career or family or relationship but not all three, and I don't think one can say those people are deficient for not needing all three.

    And some women want a woman who can keep up with them…

    My own thoughts on the article: What I found particularly troublesome in Hymowitz's article is her simultaneous decrying and perpetuating of the notion that gender is a zero-sum game.

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