I must admit — when I was younger — envisioning a fun night at Penn State did not necessarily equate to sitting around a table at Indian Pavilion with nine other students and Gary Cross, professor of modern history, discussing what exactly it means to be a “grown up” in this day and age.
But alas, there I was sucking up the conversation like a Mango Lassi and spouting off my ever so significant opinions between mouthfuls of chicken tandoori.
And I was fascinated.
While the group pondered the discrepancies encountered when comparing the responsibilities of a “grown up” today versus, say, 50 years ago, I instead considered how the expectations of being a grown woman today as opposed to a man, has changed.
Before you flip the page at the mention of the word “statistic,” I assure you that the rest of my column will not consist of numbers and percentages.
But, this particular set of stats caught my eye. According to “The Factbook,” for a 30-year-old woman in 2000, 46 percent had achieved all of the traditional benchmarks of “becoming an adult,” defined as: leaving home, finishing school, getting married, having a child and being financially independent, in contrast to the 77 percent in 1960.
The difference for men is even greater, with 65 percent of men achieving “grown up status” in 1960 and only 31 percent in 2000, according to the “Encyclopaedia Britannica.”
So, what’s up with that? I don’t think it’s out of the ordinary for someone to move back home after graduating college — my older sisters, brother-in-law and even mother all did the same at some point.
Perhaps it’s even more commonplace today because, truth be told, it seems a little vicious out in the “real world,” and a little help from parents never hurt anyone.
What exactly has caused a lag in traditional maturity alludes me still. Is it technology that’s inadvertently making us wait until later in life to get married or move out or become financially stable? Is it extended life expectancy?
We could blame it on the economy.
Maybe it’s the skyrocketing cost of college tuition.
That isn’t what I find fascinating, though.
I think it’s more significant to note that, statistically, today more women are becoming independent sooner than men.
After an initial wave of feminism during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when women sought to tackle legal obstacles for females in society, during the 1960s a movement known as “Second Wave Feminism” began.
This “Round Two” focused more on sexuality, family, the workplace and reproductive rights.
By now, I personally don’t feel slighted in American society because I’m what my grandmother would consider a “young lady.”
I think gender equality has come a long way for the most part. But I do feel a whole lot of pressure to prove myself as a strong, independent woman.
During our conversation with Cross, the other “young ladies” at the table agreed with me that an immense amount of pressure exists now that women are expected to do a whole lot more than get an MRS degree.
Most of us still have the dream of getting hitched and popping out a kid or two or five.
But as Penn State students, we are also ambitious and looking to create professional careers for ourselves. We want to do it all, and for the greater part of American history, we simply were not given the chance to do it all.
At this point in my life, I have to choose what I want to prioritize — a career or a family. And because of that, I want to waste no time in becoming independent and getting on the fast track to success.
I feel that I need to get my own dreams out of the way before I can settle down and take on the responsibility of a husband and children.
The pressure my “lady” peers and I feel to “do it all” is probably just one reason why more women are becoming independent sooner than men. With an increased amount of expectations, women have been facing a new set of obstacles, and so many factors go in to how the definition of being a grown up has changed.
Regardless, life is short, and we should all — man, woman or otherwise — be living it to the fullest.
Caroline Fenlin is a freshman majoring in graphic design and is the Daily Collegian’s Tuesday columnist. Email her at email@example.com