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Gender Series: Women and Education

08/25/2014 12:05:14 PM


By Sydney Levin-Epstein, NCCJ Contributor​

M•R•S de•gree emäˈres dəˌgr"/ (Noun)

1. A marriage as a result of attending a 4-year university with the soul purpose of getting married and consequently not completing college.
2. The attending of college, usually a 4-year university of moderate to high prestige, to get married to avoid independence or responsibility.

It doesn't matter if you pass your finals, as long as your future husband is acing his.

My mother graduated law school with only five other women in her graduating class. She was an assistant district attorney in Springfield, Massachusetts after she worked two jobs to afford law school all on her own. She vowed to be self-sustainable before she would attempt to sustain a family. When her dreams began to become her reality, she married my dad and had me.

I was raised by a warrior who never let a man stop her from accomplishing her dreams. I have always been encouraged to succeed and challenge myself as a young woman, but something changed when I went to college. I was fortunate enough to go to a high school with a high female to male ratio and a clear no-tolerance policy for sexism of any sort. I ventured off to George Washington University with a naive mind and a heart full of ambition. I didn't realize that the social norm wasn't just about pushing yourself to work hard towards your dream job- it was to find the man who would provide for you.

The most valuable thing a girl can get out of college is a diamond ring.

As an eighteen year old college student, I was overhearing young and intelligent young women discussing their aspirations to be engaged before graduation.

Why did you apply to the business school?

Honestly, I'm just trying to be a senator's wife.

Should I be dressing and behaving in a specific way in order to earn a man's approval? This way of thinking blew my mind away. This was not what I had signed up for. I did some research and I discovered that an entire subculture exists that not only believes in this way of life, but strongly encourages it.

Little did I know that the internet loves the concept of a “Mrs. Degree” as well. There are countless articles and blog posts written about teaching girls to engage a man's attention with their appearance and behavior. So, ladies, do you want a step-by-step guide to winning your college man? Check out “7 Definitive Ways To Getting Your MRS Degree.” Amber Estes, college student at the University of Georgia wrote an article, “How to find that perfect husband in college,” that caused a national conversation on how we as a society address women's roles in colleges. Her directions on securing your perfect man begin with a discouraging message that will have any woman like my mother feeling empty inside, “Every true woman knows how vital it is to find the right brilliant babe to father their children and replenish their bank accounts. A Southern belle is nothing but a pretty face and pearls without a man to eat her cooking and appreciate her cleaning.”

Did I read that correctly? A woman referring to another woman as nothing but a pretty face and pearls because she won't have someone to serve? My worth is not defined by how well I cook or clean. This absolutely blew my mind. Who spends thousands of dollars to attend college on anything other than earning a degree? Doesn't that seem like a waste of time and money?  Am I the one doing college wrong?

Growing up, I was told I could be anything I wanted to be but then I went to college and heard conversations of how I should be wanting to be a wife. However, it seems my definition of marriage is different that was the Mrs. Degree entails. I believe marrying someone means you are engaging in a legal partnership with someone you love, not securing your financial future with someone else's success. Granted, wanting a family is something many aspire for; however, paying thousands of dollars to go husband hunting is not the vision I had for myself. I want a family, but I also want to be a lawyer. I want to raise awesome children, but I also shape policy that will help make this world a better place. I want to be empowered to follow my dreams of having a strong professional and personal career, but why must I choose? I knew that it was impossible for me to be alone in my struggle to figure out what my college experience is “supposed” to be.

Otto Raul Tielemans Jr., Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, gave me his thoughts on the Mrs. Degree culture. “By insinuating or encouraging women to pursue a higher degree of education simply for them to obtain a marriage to ensure an income is not only rude, but it reinforces the stereotype that women are incapable of independently achieving their own career, income, and professional dreams. Encouraging dependency on a man, or vice versa, discourages future generations from being self-dependent. It throws society into a whirlwind of insecurity by making women objects, not contributing members of our communities. By having them go to college to get married is not only selfish because we are pushing our desires onto women, but also because we are robbing society from the ideas, innovation, and ingenuity that they could contribute.

Tieleman recognizes the point that it is selfish for society to expect women to live their lives with the expectations to be less than they want to be. Assuming that I am getting dressed to go to the library in hopes of finding a man, rather than studying for a final that is worth over 75% of my course grade is offensive. Those assumptions attempt to disempower me from reaching my full potential. Why is it that the expectations others have of me be less than those I have of myself?

Kaitlyn Buchler, student at the George Washington University and sister of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority, provided her thoughts as well, “I think that it's a really dangerous idea to put into any young girl's head. It [Mrs. Degree] perpetuates the idea that women are dependent on their education to get married and then are dependent on their husbands. As long as this idea is in place and we push our girls to get an education to meet their husbands, women will never be seen as social or economic equals to men. It's kind of frightening that the idea of an MRS degree exists and it's really an injustice.

So, maybe I'm not crazy in thinking that this concept is a little out of whack. Buchler is right, it is an injustice to encourage women to be dependent on anything and everything but themselves and the potential they hold. If energy is being placed more so on aesthetics than books, then why not forget enrolling in classes and just sit on the lawn of the law school watching the boys walk on by?

Promoting the idea that earning a college degree is the only means to finding a husband reverses the progress women have made in society. Rather than empowering young women to further their education in order to better themselves, we are teaching them that their life is defined by the relationship they have with men.

What does a feminist like myself do in a situation of repeating history? After adjusting to my new setting, I made a choice. I rushed a sorority and became a sister of an amazing group of powerful young women. We have study hours, library rooms reserved at all times, and a test bank of notes and study guides of classes all students have to take. I have sisters who work in the White House, attend graduate school, travel the world, and are raising a family. It is incredibly important to surround ourselves with people who empower us to be the best possible versions of who we can be.

Social life is an inevitable part of the college experience that builds character and creates friendships that will last a lifetime. If I meet my future husband while I'm walking to class, then that would be awesome. I hope he's nice and enjoys Netflix, but he shouldn't expect me to stop my life to have a house in Connecticut and begin reproducing before I earn my Juris Doctorate. 

Other Gender blogs:

Monday, August 4 - Gender blog series introduction

Monday, August 11 - Female Gender and Toys

Monday, August 18 - Male Gender and Toys

Monday, September 1 - Male Gender and School

Monday, September 8 - Female Gender and Sports

Monday, September 15 - Male Gender and Sports

Monday, September 22 - Female Gender and Body Image

Monday, September 29 - Male Gender and Body Image

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