Story discusses career balance

One month after sparking controversy with her article in the New York Times on Ivy League women and motherhood, Louise Story ’03 SOM ’06 discussed the article in detail alongside Yale College Dean Peter Salovey at a panel discussion Wednesday afternoon.

Story and Salovey focused on explaining and clarifying the article itself, while four other panelists — Yale professors and students — discussed the broader challenges of juggling a career with raising children. The event, which was sponsored by the Yale Women Faculty Forum, drew a crowd of nearly 100 attendees, most of whom were women.

Story said her survey’s methodology was valid because the students who responded to her e-mail survey were geographically, ethnically, socioeconomically and academically representative of the Yale undergraduate student body, and she received enough replies to be able to draw credible conclusions. Story’s survey found that 60 percent of her 128 female undergraduate respondents — freshmen and seniors from Saybrook and Pierson colleges — predicted that they would take at least two years off from their jobs or work part time to raise their children.

At the end of her 10-minute speech, Story said she stands by the original claims she advanced in her article, despite the criticism she has faced in the past month.

“I make no claims about what Yale women should do,” Story said. “That is for you to debate. Please don’t shoot the messenger … I am a journalist.”

Salovey started his talk by dismissing concerns regarding Story’s survey methods — he said possible flaws in her research procedures are irrelevant to her responsibilities as a journalist. After sharing with the audience an angry letter he received in response to his quote in Story’s article, he clarified his original comment about traditional gender roles.

“The debate is set up as a false dichotomy; either one is a career woman or a stay at home mom,” Salovey said.

Other panel members included Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies professor and panel moderator Laura Wexler, Physics professor Meg Urry, and students Nels Ylitalo LAW ’07 and Maggie Doherty ’07, who serves on the Women’s Center board.

Urry spoke about how she and her husband shared all domestic and childcare responsibilities and managed to raise their two daughters without ever taking an extended leave from their jobs. Children who grow up with a stay at home parent are not necessarily better off, she said. Urry said that attending an elite school like Yale is a gift, and those granted the opportunity to study at such an institution have an obligation to contribute to society.

Meanwhile, Ylitals and his wife took a different approach to parenting — Ylitals decided to become a stay at home dad in order to give his wife more freedom to pursue her career. Ylitals was raised by a stay at home mother, who he said suffered because her talent and ambition were limited by what was expected of her as a woman.

Doherty, the final panelist, disputed Story’s conclusion that most women at Yale are geared towards motherhood.

“The vast majority of undergraduate women I know have career aspirations,” Doherty said.

Eve Fine ’07, who attended the panel, said she thinks an education is as important for stay at home moms as it is for career women.

“What I find disturbing is the implication that an educated stay at home mother does not provide the same returns to society as an educated career woman,” Fine said. “If we value stay at home mothers so much, isn’t it just as important that they receive an education as women who pursue professional careers?”

Alexa Verme ’08 said she was particularly interested in Salovey’s comments.

“Dean Salovey’s remarks on the difference between journalism and social science were very pertinent because you can’t judge the article from a social science standpoint,” Verme said. “But from a social science standpoint, it wouldn’t really hold up.”

The panel, “What’s the Purpose of a Yale Education? A Forum on Gender, Education and Career in Response to The New York Times,” was held in the Hall of Graduate Studies.

Louise Story speaks at a panel discussing her recent New York Times article as well as education and careers.
Daniel Fried
Louise Story speaks at a panel discussing her recent New York Times article as well as education and careers.

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