Last weekend, Katie Couric gave the Class Day address for Princeton’s Class of 2009, and it was all very Katie, very perky and funny and frequently self-referencing — even, as she describes it on Huffington Post, “saucy and sassy.”
About three-quarters of the way through it, Couric goes all Mother Bear on the females in class, though, and starts dispensing advice about how to approach motherhood and careers.
Here are her words:
I’m sure you are all graduating with big career goals. You may also have a dream of being married and having a family, and at some point the career may take a backseat. There is no more challenging, rewarding or important job than being a mom. I just want to say this — sometimes dreams of domestic bliss are interrupted by reality.
People get divorced. People die. You need to protect yourself. I was very happily married to a wonderful man. He was diagnosed with colon cancer and nine months later, he was gone. I was a single mom with two very young children. This was not part of the plan. Luckily, I had a career and therefore the financial independence to support my children. Many women in my situation are not nearly as fortunate. And while I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, I want you all to be prepared for the unexpected and approach some of the big life decisions you’ll be making with your eyes wide open.
You know, that’s good advice, great advice even. Taking a break from a career, or leaving one all together, should be done with extreme caution. But something about this bit really bugs me.
I think it’s that she laid this all on the women in the class and didn’t address the men and didn’t talk to the entire group as if they could possibly influence change: things like subsidized childcare (making it high quality and affordable), universal healthcare (making it accessible and affordable), paid family leave policies (making opting out a worse trade-off), discrimination against mothers (or fathers, who ask for flex time and fewer hours, etc., etc.).
I wish Couric and others with her concern AND bully pulpit would take on the underlying problem with the career-motherhood push-and-pull instead of just issuing directives and dire warnings to future mothers. She was looking at a class of Princeton grads, presumably a few of whom will be decision makers in public policy, heading companies, employing women and parents, setting examples.
Don’t just tell half of them to be scared.
I want Couric and others like her — successful, powerful, influential, who has seen parenting in a (sort of) challenging light (she was already damn successful when she became a widow with young kids) — to quit talking to women — mothers — like it’s all their fault or like there’s no other way working motherhood could possibly be.
Someone’s gotta change things and talk about these issues to everyone — not just mothers themselves. And who better to motivate discussion and action than Couric? Isn’t she the woman who rallied the forty-somethings to let a doctor stick a camera up their butts?