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Universities no longer offer girls that ‘something else’

  • June 19, 2012

My husband and I come from different backgrounds and we often have lively discussions. But one time I blurted out something that left us both stunned.

We were attending the Ontario University Fair at the Metro Convention Centre in downtown Toronto. Along with thousands of others, we came to speak with representatives from Ontario’s 21 universities. We have two kids in high school and, like most kids, they have multiple options after graduation. At the fair, students trudged from one booth to another seeking an answer to the question all young people face at some point: “What do I want to do when I grow up?”

Over lunch, we had an opportunity to talk to other parents. We reminisced about our own academic journeys, our regrets and successes and also our hopes for our children. It was enlightening. Students and parents were there in droves, from all races, faiths and cultures, huddling in conversations. As I stared out at the crowds, at Ontario’s future right before my eyes, I was suddenly struck by a thought.

What if an intelligent girl in today’s culture didn’t want to go to university, but instead wanted to get married and have a large family? What if she wanted to learn domestic skills, like sewing, knitting, canning, baking, embroidery, cross stitch, ironing, quilting or gardening? Where would she go?

I asked my husband if he thought there may be a silent minority of girls who, in today’s busy society with its high expectations for women, no longer feel they can find a place in the world? Over recent generations thousands of opportunities have opened up for girls, but it seems that one specific door may also have been closed. Could the angst we see among so many girls today be because our culture tells them that, to be of value, they must be sexy, get educated and have a career? What happens to the girls who hear a completely different calling?

The choice to become a stay-at-home mother and become trained for it isn’t even an option any more. The model of the breadwinning father and the stay-at-home mother has all but disappeared for a number of reasons. But what if that model was actually good for the family and the economy? Where are those young women today and how would a young man find her?

My husband, who has three master’s degrees, looked at me incredulously: “Surely you’re not suggesting that girls shouldn’t get educated?”

I explained that, certainly, I value education but we’ve seen examples among many of our friends that suggest not all life’s answers lie in a higher education. What if God has graced some girls with a calling to marriage, domestic life and a large family, and what if she wanted all that? Where could she go to feel validated and find a place to prepare for that vocation? Our culture doesn’t even present that as an option any more. That’s tragic, isn’t it?

In reflecting on my life, I remember the home economics award I won in Grade 8 and the appreciation I developed for things I learned in that course. But home economics has since disappeared from most schools. My sister graduated from the Home Economics program at Ryerson and I have been repeatedly blessed by the fruits of it.

I still remember when the Canadian Home Economics Association closed its doors. I’m not sure what caused its demise, but it probably had something to do with a culture that wants to buy things ready made. Instead of striving to become home economists and learning the tricks of the domestic trade, we prefer to live vicariously through women like Martha Stewart, the Cake Boss and other TV personalities who have commercialized what used to be the everyday talents of stay-at-home moms.

Like the other parents at the fair, we picked up information and left. I’m sure both our kids will go to university, like most of the others. But as I left, I wondered: What if a girl wanted something else?

(Writer, speaker and consultant, Pilarski’s book, Motherhood Matters: Inspirational Stories, Letters, Quotes & Prayers for Catholic Moms, is available by calling 416-934-3410.)

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