It’s a simple question: should girls not attempt a Ph.D. so that she can have a better chance getting married?
You clearly know how to pose a question to QA’s Q&A, asking about two things that I care the most: Ph.D. and girls, not ranked in that respective order. (Mom, just in case you’re reading, I love you too).
It’s amazing that the debate on over-educated females, if such a concept is even warranted, has never really reached a conclusion despite the unmistakable intelligence of the participants (it’s Ph.D. aspirants who are arguing, right?) I will thus hereafter attempt to lay the quarrel to rest, once and for all.
A final note must be made to justify my approach to solving the issue. I can easily write an ornate entry full of rhetoric so flowery, and emotions so contagious that upon finishing you’ll feel that life is not complete until you’ve taken the GRE. But that won’t put us an inch closer to resolving the debate, because if the question is to be raised again elsewhere, we can’t win an argument by proclaiming “But I feel so strongly about it!” Therefore, this entry won’t be crafted to indulge your literary taste buds, but to dissect, and lay bare, the faulty logical anatomy of every single no-PhD-for-girl argument that has been mounted. Of course, being no expert, I may miss one or two arguments, and is thus open to enlightenment. But the point remains: the debate can only be solved via point-by-point assessment. You can always skip to the point that perplex you the most, too.
Here we go, the third installment of the QA’s Q&A series.
So, should girls not attempt a Ph.D. so that she can have a better chance getting married?
Without even delving into the argument, this question has already presupposed an erroneous assumption: girls are better off getting married. There are two ways you can justify this claim, both of which, as will be shown, are problematic.
1) Social constraints: society imposes a certain stigma over unmarried women, which translates into real and observable pressure, such from worried parents, over-solicitous aunts, or just gossip in the neighborhood. As I said, these pressures against women are admittedly real.
However, note that the question at heart is precisely whether we should change the social construct to free women of that stigma. To say that we shouldn’t change the system, because that how the system currently functions, is to support your position with none but a reiteration of the position itself. This is also a classic example of the is-ought fallacy: how things are is not how things ought to be. (Illuminating example: a slave will be killed if he disobeys the system does not translate into slaves should therefore stay within the system.)
2) Some other objective reasons (e.g. biological): some argue that women are better off getting married because they are designed to be so, either psychologically, biologically or in some other objective manners. This argument admittedly circumvent the above fallacy.
And yet, isn’t the question whether women are better off best answered by women themselves? Aren’t they the one that have the most information about their preferences? Who are we to assume that we know the female mind better? Such is the an all-time fallacy in patriarchal arguments since the dawn of society, one that is particularly insidious because it clothes itself under the veneer of wanting the best for women.
Therefore, as demonstrated, the discouragement of girls getting Ph.D. starts out with a suspicious assumption right off the bat. But to stop the discussion here is too easy for the challenge to be interesting, and will also gloss over many interesting points raised by the camp of no-over-educated-girl-please (hereafter referred to as the NOGPs) So I will generously concede to you this assumption, so we can move on to substantive arguments.
More after the jump. Got a question? Email away at anh.le91 @ gmail.com
All of the NOGPs’ arguments can be said to converge in one point: attempting a Ph.D. will limit the girl’s chance of finding a spouse. After perusing the extensive scholarly literature on the topic (read Facebook), I can identify three major strands that support the point above. Please advice if I miss any.
1) Getting a Ph.D. makes you raise your standards too high.
2) Getting a Ph.D. makes you too intimidating to guys (in Vietnam, for the sake of convenience).
3) Getting a Ph.D. makes you miss that 20-something critical period for marriage.
Let’s roll up our sleeves, and dissect, X-ray, C-scan these arguments to see what lurks behind them.
1. Getting a Ph.D. makes you raise your standards too high.
An obvious, easy way to counter this argument is to claim that no, Ph.D. students aren’t snobby elitists that look down on people. But again, that’s too easy (and probably not too false either), so I won’t go down that road.
Now, if we follow the argument, it presupposes that raised standard is something bad. It limits your chance of getting married. So, may I humbly ask, isn’t the logical implication is that it’s best for us to lower our standards as much as possible, so that we can be content with whichever spouse we can get our hands on? Will that not maximize our chances of getting married, which is what NOGPs seem to prize so much?
At this point a NOGP can rightly protest: but that is reductio ad absurdum, man. The point is not to maximize to the extreme, but about a balance between the height of your standards and the scope of your potential match. If you raise the standards too high, the scope will become too small.
Yes, dear critic, it’s all about a balance, which is another way of saying that there is no fixed formula. When does the pool become too small? How do we know? Indeed, he satisfactory level of the scope is not even the same for every female, and yet we claim that everyone should go one way or another.
Honestly, whenever an argument comes down to balancing, it will always be a choice of the individual, who is best situated to know which distribution is good for him or her. Please take note, because this balancing issue will reappear.
2) Getting a Ph.D. makes you too intimidating to guys (in Vietnam, for the sake of convenience)
If we surgically examine the reason why a Ph.D. girl is intimidating to guys, and it turns out once again to be the social stigma, then please refer back to the first point in the assumption discussion. Guys will just be not intimidated any longer if we decide to change the system and remove the stigma. However, this is easy part.
What makes the argument much harder to counter is the reasonable claim that it is in their political interests for guys to not like over-educated girls. Once it is a matter of material interest, and no longer of social construct, then guys will forever not like over-educated women, turning having a Ph.D. into a real negative marital trait.
I will responsibly surrender to this argument. If indeed all guys are forever averse to Ph.D. girl, then, yeah – don’t get it, because having a Ph.D. then is just simply another negative trait like being extremely insensitive or annoying or whatever. There is nothing morally wrong with being annoying, but you shouldn’t be anyway, just because people will hate you.
But if not all, but only a majority of guys dislike Ph.D. girls, then the question boomeranged back to balancing, because the goal of a girl in life is not to be attractive to a majority of guys. She’ll have to judge for herself how widely appealing she’d like to be. Some can be perfectly happy with just the one (or the two – or the ten – depending on whom we’re talking about.)
3) Getting a Ph.D. makes you miss that 20-something critical period for marriage.
Why is that period critical?
Some argue that’s when parents nag all the times, friends get married all over, and you’ll pressured if not getting married. This social aspect has been dealt with above.
Others say that this is when most people are available for courting. I don’t understand why a 20-something Ph.D student is not court-able – I would even contend that she’s the sexiest kind (will do here). Considering the fact that as an employee, you’ll have to exhaust yourself plowing 8 hours a day in your cubicle, I wonder if that’s really the ideal environment for courting (vis-a-vis the lush greenery, ancient castles, and utmost tranquility of a university setting.)
Finally, a few argue that this period is biologically ripe for marriage. What does that mean, biologically ripe? If that’s about looks and stuff, I would say ~18 is the fullest – why not then? If that’s about procreative capability (gotta congratulate myself for coming up with the euphemism), well, I concede.
Final words: As feminist as I sound in the post, anyone that knows me well can (unfortunately) testify against that. I only attempt to settle a pestilent debate here, trying to defend the truth, and not the females (my sincerest apology, ladies.) Thus, I am very open to any criticism about my argument, as well as any points made by the NOGPs that I did not mention.
After all, I care more about learning the truth than being the object of female affection. But that does not hurt either.
Update Nov. 15: A highly interesting and relevant article in The New Yorker, graciously introduced to us by Minh Trinh in the comments below 😀
“Hehe em vừa đọc được một bài rất cute về a PhD marriage. Nhân vật chính là Paul và Patricia Churchland (technically thì Paul là PhD còn Pat là B.Phil at Oxford). Đọc rất thú vị, kiểu hai bác gặp nhau trong academic context, woo nhau bằng knowledge và lấy nhau để complement each other’s studies. Họ nuôi dạy con trẻ bằng science và đối thoại với nhau bằng technical jargons. Tóm lại là as a couple they are both intellectually and emotionally fulfilled.”
The article can be viewed online at: http://thatmarcusfamily.org/philosophy/Course_Websites/Contemporary/Readings/Churchlands.pdf
Macfarquhar, Larissa. “Two Heads: a Marriage Devoted to the Mind-Body Problem.” New Yorker February 12, 2007,58-69.
Got a question? Email away at anh.le91 @ gmail.com