After a while, reality intrudes. Sometimes it gets so big, even Yale graduates (yes, like me, Class of '82) can't ignore it.
In a stunning New York Times expose, reporter Louise Story (Yale MBA) reveals that 60 percent of the 138 Yale coeds she talked to expect to cut back on work or stay at home once they have children. Sixty percent is a popular number. Turns out that is about the same proportion (61 percent) of female Harvard Business School graduates who said that 10 to 20 years after graduation they were either not working or working part-time. It is also about the proportion of Yale women who said their mothers had stayed home either full- or part-time.
Top administrators are bemused. "It really does raise this question for all of us and for the country: When we work so hard to open academics and other opportunities for women, what kind of return do we expect to get for that?" said Marilyn McGrath Lewis, director of undergraduate admissions at Harvard.
On the Yale listserv I get, discussion flew hot and heavy: Why did women have to be the mothers? I tried to bring up two important reasons: a) Mothers like their babies, and b) Women don't like supporting unemployed men. On the first point, University of Virginia professor Steven Rhoads ("Taking Sex Differences Seriously") found in a recent study of academics that women scholars who are mothers simply report they get more pleasure from baby care tasks than do male scholars who are fathers.
At this point, Dave Steinberg, an old friend and fellow Yalie who writes screenplays for a living, wrote in "to offer some recent data on the subject, namely my own expectations vs. reality on raising a child (who is now 13 weeks old)."
Dave reports from the field:
"My wife and I both work from home, she as a producer, I as a writer. I expected to be the proverbial sleep-deprived father, sharing in midnight feedings, helping change the baby, etc.
"Here's the reality: My wife does almost everything, and I do almost nothing. Not because I'm a selfish bastard -- well, not ONLY because of that -- but because biological realities are hard to fight. My wife is a well-educated career woman who had movies to produce and agent and writer meetings almost every day. We truly did not expect to find ourselves in a 1950s gender role household, but here we are.
"Why? First of all, we discovered that men cannot breastfeed. Second, economically, we concluded that I was the primary breadwinner, and ultimately, it didn't make sense for me to be sleep-deprived and yelling at the studio executive the next day. And third, as Maggie points out, my wife enjoys raising the baby MUCH more than I do.
"Of course I love my baby. But there is (from my male POV) a weird and primal connection she has with the baby. At this point, she is clearly just a) better at raising the baby; and b) enjoying it more.
"None of this is to say that I don't enjoy the baby, and I do help out a lot, but the connection between mother and baby is one you don't want to mess with. So, while we planned a certain 21st-century liberal approach to division of labor and child-rearing, we found that primarily biology and secondarily economics quickly brought us back to the 1950s. And oddly, we're both OK with it."
Like I said, sometimes reality just gets so darn big, even Yale graduates sit up and take notice.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.