The other day, I was talking to a friend about the latest episode of Mad Men. Besides pining for the wiggle skirts, we agreed that it was a good thing that times have changed since then. Despite the fact that the rights of women and minorities have come a very long way since the ’60s, in the middle of looking for jobs and applying to graduate and professional programs, there’s something appealing about a world in which I am not expected to be ambitious.
“I don’t think I would mind if women were still mostly housewives and secretaries,” I said.
I suddenly felt the people around us go quiet, and daggers were shooting from the eyes of other women around me. “Erm I mean, all I want to do is wear a pantsuit and never cook or clean in my life!” The angry hordes relaxed.
We defend our right to be ambitious fiercely, but sometimes I wonder if we’re still just products of the times. Although the harassment of women in the workplace portrayed in the show, which has undoubtedly been watered down to make it palatable to a modern audience, is something that needs to stay in the past, I realize that I don’t have an innate ambition that draws me to the more prestigious careers that I have the opportunity to pursue in this day and age.
As a black female engineer at Princeton, I’ve definitely taken advantage of the things people before me have fought for my right to do, but what we aspire to be is strongly a product of our society. If the options “housewife or… housewife” were all that were presented to me as the choices for my future, would I wish that I could be a mechanical engineer while I vacuumed the den?
Ambition should be about doing the best you can wherever you are, more than reaching a certain level of achievement. It would take a lot of pressure off of us if being here wasn’t about becoming the most presigious person we know as much as about taking advantage of the opportunities presented to us and committing to doing those well. I am thankful every day for the chance to do whatever I want and the sacrifices people made to make it possible for me to do so, but cleaning and cooking dinner every night in a house dress really doesn’t sound so bad.