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September 20, 2005

Who Will Make Our Foreign Policy?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

In which we take time out from the heady issues of the day to consider where we are going to get a next generation of soldiers and diplomats, when the New York Times is telling us that 50 percent of the candiates will just stay home and breed, so they needn't be hired or even educated.

So let's see:  government and business alike can't hire enough linguists and area specialists.  The Army, Reserves and Marines can't meet their recruitment quotas -- and the Marines say specifically they don't have enough women to guard and search women in sex-segregated societies like Afghanistan and Iraq.

No question that national security is still a pretty male preserve, but it looks lots better than it did when I was in college.  Potential role models boiled down to Jeane Kirkpatrick, who somehow failed to inspire me.

And by the way, what was the first bureau of the State Department to recruit, train and promote women in quantity, while the Service as a whole was still throwing you out when you got married?  (Until 1970)?  Near East.

Now Presidents Clinton and Bush 43 are first and second, respectively, in numbers of women appointed to Cabinet positions.  The Foreign Service is almost 50 percent female, though only 25 percent at ambassadorial level.

In short, the foreign affairs establishment can't afford a future in which the best-educated women believe they can't work, while lower-income women have no choice but to work.  This looks pretty rotten for society as a whole, to my mind.

But is the culture telling us that?  No.  Is anyone suggesting that maybe men have a role to play here, too?  (I found them quite useful in several fundamental aspects of parenthood, myself.) 

Well, this blog is doing both those things.  Herewith, the honor roll of cool mama foreign policy bloggers:  our own Suzanne Nossel and myself, Laura Rosen of warandpiece, and Juliette Kayyem of America Abroad.

Please, if you're reading this and you fit the demographic, or have a daughter -- or son -- who does, combining work and family is an ongoing negotiation, not a once-for-all choice.  Pass it on.



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I suspect that many of these women, when their planned future actually arrives, will find that their ambition, intellectual zest and curiosity, worldliness and public spiritedness gets the best of them, and they will end up making the same sorts of improvised compromise arrangements with the competing requirements of career and family that most women - and men - make these days. It's hard to imagine that all, or even most, of these world-beating overachievers, who have invested so much effort and love into learning about the wide world beyond their doorsteps, will all suddenly retreat back at age 30 into the domestic cave to live out some traditionalist ideal, in an exercise of superhuman matriarchal discipline.

And some of those who do turn to full-time motherhood may only do so for 5 to 7 years, as their 1.7 children grow through infancy and toddlerhood to school age. Once the kids are in school, they may find that being a full-time mom won't be as all-fired important to their kids as they imagine it to be now.

The "supermom or superprofessional" choice is just as much a reflection of an unrealistic ideological agenda as the "having it all" utopianism of the earlier generation. Most people with choices choose an assortment of life's good things. They don't get all of it; and except for a few obsessive personalities they don't confine themselves to a super-perfect form of one of them.

*nod to Dan*


Now, re men and parenting...As a guy, I'll put it this way, just from my cousins.

When kids are in diapers or anywhere close, I do feel...well, kinda helpless and incompetent.

I fit the demographic, although I am a little older than the norm since I was almost 40 when I had my kids. But I am an overachieving national security wonk with two small children (ages 5 and 8). I never considered staying home with them when they were very little; I paid for excellent day care and pre-schools, and I went back to work when each was 3 months old. But now that they are fully esconced in school, with a growing list of extra activities (and a growing list of expectations for parent involvement from the school), I could really use some more time off from work. I don't think I'd be bored if I spent less time as an overachieving wonk. I do, however, think my family would suffer deeply from the loss of income. So they get as much Mommy time as they can, and they understand that mommy works full time so we all can play harder when I'm home.

I feel like I am always the exception to the rule when the MSM publishes articles about the new roles and rules for moms with competitive careers. Almost everyone I know is an exception to these new rules. Who is making and following the rules?

"When kids are in diapers or anywhere close, I do feel...well, kinda helpless and incompetent."

Posted by: John Penta

Hmmm... Would this work on teenagers? The only problem is how to put them in diapers.

Barry: No, I meant the age group.

Once they get to, say, 3, I can actually be of some use, even if its just in being the dopey cousin.

Before that, I feel very inadequate. wife fits the demographic, also: our 2nd child is due saturday. or sunday. maybe monday when the trusted physician is around and lil' bit feels like swinmming out of that warm fluid...

and, like many of the interviewed women, she plans on staying home until der kinder reach garten age. then, it's right back to overachieving [while i slow waaaaaay down... ;' ) ]

personally, i think it's all biology...

What I'm doing for my wife's (musical/academic) career: supporting her working 300 miles away from the Iowa homestead in Central Wisconsin -- including by being the schoolweek parent. What my wife is doing for my foreign policy career: not expecting me to move to WI and be put out to pasture.

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