Riesman and Women


To the Editors of The Crimson:

As a member of the staff of the Writing Center, which sponsored David Riesman's lecture on March 22, "Thoughts on the Declining Quality of Student Writing," I appreciate Professor Riesman sharing his thoughts with us. As a former Radcliffe student, and a teacher of Radcliffe women, I must strongly dissociate myself from some of his remarks.

Responding to a question, he credited the high level of student achievement in Japan to the dedication of Japanese mothers, for whom a principal goal in life is the academic success of their sons. So glowingly did he speak, that a member of the audience asked whether he was recommending that American women emulate their Japanese counterparts. He hesitated, then replied with an anecdote. A few years ago, he had asked a group of North House women whether they felt free to choose to be full-time wives and mothers. Their negative response was, he said, a matter of great concern.

As a champion of free choice, he did not question the North House men about whether they felt free to choose domestic work and full-time child raising rather than a career. As a sociologist, he raised no question about social structures that still rigidly assign to women the work of child-rearing, cooking, laundry and cleaning. His concern was that highly educated women might find it no longer acceptable to choose total economic dependency and the channelling of their own energies into the development of their sons.

What does a Radcliffe woman see as her choices? The old "choice" of unpaid domestic work and twenty-four-hour-a-day child care; a career, in some profession that not only discriminates against her sex, but also feels alien to her because its ethos and value system have been shaped without women's influence; the role of super-woman whereby she combines both choices and feels she does justice to neither. The first choice may look like less of a struggle, but she rightly suspects that it is not. The other two choices at least ensure that her struggles will be visible in the world, and that she will have some power to demand changes from society.


This is a time in history when women, in increasing numbers, are expressing their uncensored perceptions in many fields, creating quarterlies and presses, finding confirmation and insight in each other's work. It is deeply offensive that, in a lecture to student writers, Mr. Riesman should suggest that any woman in his audience lay down her pen and take up the diaper and the broom, in order to enable men, once more, to wield unchallenged the power of words. Cynthia Rich