[QA’s Q&A] #3: The Ph.D. Girl Dilemma

It’s a simple question: should girls not attempt a Ph.D. so that she can have a better chance getting married?

– Milkie

Dear Milkie,

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

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13 comments
  1. Minh Trịnh said:

    Cái point 3 có 1 cái vấn đề cần consider là phụ nữ càng lớn tuổi thì tỉ lệ sinh con bị Down syndrome càng cao :-s

    • anhqle said:

      “If that’s about procreative capability (gotta congratulate myself for coming up with the euphemism), well, I concede.”

      – Concede rồi nè. Có điều các em gái không di học grad mà pursue career thì cũng chẳng hiểu more conducive to child-bearing hơn ở chỗ nào 😀 nếu các em vẫn máu chiến climb the corporate ladder.

      • Minh Trịnh said:

        Uhm đúng rồi cần phải có clarification ở đây. Tại em thấy nếu nói đến intimidating thì PhD có vẻ chỉ là indirect, còn direct intimidating factor chắc sẽ là income (which we hope to be reciprocal to education). Kiểu chồng không muốn lấy vợ giỏi hơn mình vì income của vợ sẽ likely là cao hơn. Khi ấy vợ sẽ thay chồng làm breadwinner và điều này khá là phá hoại đến sĩ diện của các anh giai 😕

  2. kt said:

    em a., c nghi~ (c nghi~ thoi, vi c chua bao h trai qua va c dang nhin moi thu’ theo cach’ ideal) rang` neu’ hai nguoi` yeu theo dung’ nghia cua tu yeu thi` luong ai cao hon does not matter.
    and twenty something is right for marriage not 18, because when you’re a teenager your bones are not strong enough to carry a baby (i read it somewhere) and if you wait till, say after 35, then down syndrome so if you want to have a baby then you should do it in your twenty something.
    quoc anh is right, in the argument named “miss out on the twenty something critical period”, why do they assume that the working environment gives a better chance for finding a partner? no it does not but i don’t know what does. 😦
    also, having a phd does not always raise your standards, and some other things may do that too.
    in conclusion, it all boils down to one single question: what are all these for anyway??? why make a big deal?

    • Minh Trịnh said:

      Cai point cua chi ve “luong ai cao hon does not matter” rat la thu vi. Kieu mot nguoi phu nu ideal thi se cho rang money does not matter, trong khi mot thang con trai typical, no less ideal (?!) nhu em thi rat de tu convince ban than rang “trach nhiem cua nguoi dan ong la chu cap cho gia dinh”, cho nen den khi thay vo secure duoc cai trach nhiem day thi bi cham. tu ai. Vi phu nu ideal thi se khong ban tam, con dan ong ideal thi se ponder, tham chi agonize ve khoan chenh lech nen ran. nut la kha kho tranh khoi 😛

      Chi a., phu, nu bon chi bao dung qua, con dan ong lai si dien lam co 😦

      of course, solution for this problem can be very simple: the PhD girl can always marry someone who is at least equally accredited as herself, who will either be (1) hem si dien (2) earning even more than her =P~. I guess doing the PhD does make it easier to access such men.

      • anhqle said:

        Minh ơi Minh, mày bì freshman-nerd syndrome rồi 😀 Ai bảo mày là học Ph.D. thì tăng potential earnings =) Seriously la` giảm đi đấy. Muốn kiếm nhiều tiền hơn vợ thì đừng có mà đi học Ph.D. lol

        Tao thấy bàn về ideal thì khó ở chỗ, ideal đấy lấy standard ở đâu. Trong ví dụ của Minh, cái idealization của wife và husband follows hai cái standard khác nhau kìa. (của husband là traditionally ideal, còn wife là kiểu common-sense ideal)

        Nếu ta subject người vợ cùng theo cái traditional ideal, thi anh would argue that an ideal wife desires just as much a husband who can support her. Nguoc lai, neu ta subject husband to the common-sense ideal, then there are a bunch of guys who love their wives and not make a fuss about the whole education/earning discrepancy thing.

        Anyway, the key point remains: the choice must be the girl’s. We can offer perspectives, recommend examples, but MUST stop short of telling what should/need to be done.

        @Khanh: I write about this because a lot of people make a big deal out of this, and as declared, I’m only interested in settling this debate once and for all.

        • Minh Trịnh said:

          anh vừa crush niềm tin bé nhỏ của em vào cuộc sống đó =) thôi đành tự convince mình là sau khi đã trải qua PhD thì mình sẽ nhìn thấy ở đồng lương nhiều giá trị hơn là số mớ rau mua được =(

  3. ldao90 said:

    just wonder if you guys have read this http://dantri.com.vn/c135/s702-403785/hoi-chung-phu-nu-e-chong.htm

    He made a valid point here 🙂 A more elaborated version of what em Minh said. Yes it all comes down to đàn ông (esp Vnese men) và bàn tính sĩ diện. 😀 And in this socially constructed world, self-fulfilling prophecy plays an important part too: women take that for themselves, and it becomes their reality. There are as few women who want their husband to be less intellectually educated (or at least financially important) than them as there are many men who want the opposite.

    I guess even in the case of equally accredited PhD couple, there’s always gonna be a dominant partner (whether it’s personality, or the qualification of PhD itself). Yet, when it comes to marriage life, there is more to weigh of the relationship between the two partners beside their level of education. You cannot spend the rest of your life indulging in intellectual talks about Socrates with your wife/husband, simply because there’s always gonna be that laundry to finish, that car to repair, that house rent to pay, that kid’s education to care about, and that mother-in-law to visit…ect.. and so on. you get the point.
    In the end, 2 PhDs can perfectly legitimately marry each other, yet still struggle with what every non-PhD candidate has to, to maintain love fire and sustain the marriage.

  4. anhqle said:

    I, honestly and sincerely, in my heart of hearts, hold the belief that yes, in a relationship, the male partner need to be better somehow. But don’t take me wrong – it’s not “better” in the sense of “superior”, but “admirable”. I cannot imagine a meaningful relationship if the girl does not look up to her mate. I hope that’s not too eccentric an assumption.

    “Being better”, or being admirable, in this sense is just another positive trait in romantic relationship, not unlike being nice, or sympathetic, or sensitive. It’s just that. It’s just a well-intentioned attempt to make the relationship more satisfying for your mate. Can’t it just be so without invoking the negative patriarchal connotation?

    Do we really need to always trace the desires of men to be supportive, and women supported, all the way to sexism and discrimination? I hope that on some level, such desires can exist guilt-free and not harshly incriminated.

    Well, it’s either that, or I’m just trying to find an excuse for my “sĩ diện” lmao.

    • ldao90 said:

      yes, I do feel your point strongly. As a Vietnamse girl who’s been raised in traditional thinking, I also find it hard to be in a relationship feeling unprotected by the male partner, and all the times have to be the “strong one”.
      But in terms of “better”, i don’t know. Sometimes boys are just too full of themselves to realize that women actually have to pretend to know less, to act less wisely, to make the men feel that they have made important decisions themselves. Well, maybe not full of themselves per se, but trapped in a socially unacceptable feeling of male inferiority. Why can’t we just take difference in men and women as difference, and not superiority or inferiority? Women can be better than men in a lot of atypical female fields, (and vice versa for men), but that doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship will collapse. Or that shouldn’t mean it.

      Plus, men need to be supported and protected sometimes too.

      There is no point to deny the guilt-free need of male machoness assurance. But there’s no point to deny the opposite either. Just be the way you are in the relationship, and sometimes you will see a nontypical female-male relationship (as in the girl takes the traditionally masculine role and the boy feminine role) would work just fine. I can tell you that from my own personal experience.

      • anhqle said:

        You said it too well for me to not be convinced 🙂 I guess that’s the best attitude in relationship then – let people be.

  5. Minh Trịnh said:

    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.

    • anhqle said:

      Hehe a particularly good read indeed. Mai anh co’ midterm ma van ngoi doc. lien` mot. mach.

      I especially like how the two persons are intellectually fused and united. “At this point, they have shaped each other so profoundly and their ideas are so intertwined that it is impossible, even for them, to say where
      one ends and the other begins.”

      It’s a really romantic idea if you think about it – a complete harmony of the minds. Isn’t that what lovers and poets have always longed for? The burning feeling that holding her in your arms isn’t enough, that kissing her isn’t enough – no, not until you two can melt into one.

      I think It’s the ideal form of marriage too. It’s so lame to be “married” to someone, (not so much legally as spiritually), and yet remain two largely disconnected individuals, and has to constantly worry about the other stop loving you or about you no longer being attractive enough. I got ample of that during teenage dating already – thank you so much. I’d like something else more mature and satisfying for marriage, please.

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