It was only a few decades ago that many women viewed higher education mainly as a way of finding a husband—earning the ol' M.R.S. degree, as it was called. Times have changed considerably since then, so it sounds more than a little odd to hear Helen Fraser, the chief executive of the UK's Girls' Day School Trust, say she believes that schools should be teaching girls how to find husbands. But before you freak out and start setting undergarments on fire, you should know that she's actually proposing that we educate girls about how to find a supportive partner who can help them realize the dream of having a fulfilling career and a family at the same time. Sounds kind of smart, actually.
Fraser, who is 63 and was formerly the managing director of Penguin Books, said she began thinking about this idea after she learned that Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg had said, "The most important career choice you'll make is who you marry." Fraser believes that if girls want to have it all—meaning, in this case, a successful career, a marriage, and children—they are going to need to pick the right person to help them accomplish it. Sure, we all kind of know that in theory, but we're not necessarily as directed in that department as we are in educating ourselves and finding a profession. But Fraser says we should be just as "ambitious" in our relationships as we are in our careers. Huh.
While speaking to a GDST conference in London, Fraser said it's not the glass ceiling that's the biggest problem for women today, it's the "nappy wall," speaking, of course, of diapers and how choosing to have a child can be a major setback in a woman's career. Fraser argues that if we want to get around this, we need the right partner:
It's not just about finding a husband who does the Hoovering and makes the dinner. It's about finding one who really understands it is important for you to thrive and do well in whatever you choose to do. They should be cheerleaders and take pride in their wife's career as they do in their own.
So, that sounds ideal in any romantic partnership, but how exactly would you teach girls to do that? That's not totally clear, but Fraser, who has two daughters and two stepdaughters herself, believes it should be made a priority in schools—along with teaching other life skills.
And, of course, she is right. We should teach our girls how to respect their goals in life just as much as they do the goals of their partners. We should teach them about the challenges they'll face out there in the world and how to overcome them, and we should teach them more generally about how to have healthy relationships. (Although it remains to be seen how doable that would be in the United States, since we can barely agree on teaching kids basic sex ed.) But even if all girls were trained in the art of marrying well and having it all, there's still the other side of the equation—i.e. where are they going to find all of these super supportive men?
Yes, good guys do exist, but as anyone who has ever been out in the dating world can attest, they're not easy to find—no matter how well trained you are at sniffing them out. So, if we're going to teach girls how to lock in good husbands, we'd better institute a similar course of study for boys on how to grow up to be supportive husbands and equal partners. And maybe once everyone is educated on how to help each other have it all, the workplace culture will change enough to make it possible for anyone to have it all with or without the help of a partner.