To the Editor:
Sonya Rudikoff [“Women and Success,” October 1974] takes issue with the work of Matina Horner because “it refers primarily to extremely limited and atypical groups of women . . . whose careers may not be illuminating about anything. . . .” In order to prove her point, she launches into a description of the lives of a small, select group of women which includes Marie Curie, Rose Kennedy, and Helene Deutsch.
As fascinating as these women were and are, it is precisely their atypical careers that are not illuminating with regard to the contemporary female experience. Dr. Horner’s sample of college women would appear to be far more representative of the bright, educated modern woman who is caught between her desire to succeed professionally and the cultural stereotype that tells her that such success threatens her femininity.
Although Horner’s data surely allow only tentative conclusions, they offer more valid insights about contemporary female behavior than do the lives of a highly select group of famous women.
South Bend, Indiana
To the Editor:
I can only add my agreement to Sonya Rudikoff’s perspective, particularly her comment: “Surely there could be further examination of all the easy assumptions about sex roles and sex stereotypes and the manner in which these are inculcated.7/18/2008 Nowhere is there any place for the competence and evidently successful encounter with disintegrating forces that the lives of Margaret Mead or Jane Addams or others exhibit.”
Too much of what has been accepted as women’s-liberation writing amounts to confessions of incompetence (and revelation of it as well). Not only is the writing poor, the research weak, and the thinking deficient, but the author seeks our pity because she cannot cope with many aspects of life—from having a baby to becoming a success. Incompetent people have reason to fear success, since it is not likely that they will be able to handle success any more effectively than other aspects of their lives. As Jean Stafford wrote recently, speaking of the trees that had to be wasted to produce useless books, “Think of the forests that have gone into all those awful striptease acts on the psychoanalyst’s couch—when the last garment is flung oft, there is the same old set of bones, the same old skeleton that belongs in the closet.” She was speaking of publishing trash in general, but I think the idea can be applied to the confessions of incompetence that pour forth in the name of women’s liberation.
Many other women could be added to the list of competent people suggested by Miss Rudikoff. For example, Maria Montessori, who became a doctor in the face of great discrimination and went on to achieve distinction in the field of child development and education. . . .
While the psychology of success is a complex one, I think we will realize that there are many women who enjoy success when we give more attention to those who have earned it by work and disciplined talent. . . .
Shirley de Leon
New York City
To the Editor:
Sonya Rudikoff’s excellent analysis of factors in the lives of outstanding women reaffirms the mature experience that talent and determination will find a way around the obstacles of real or imaginary discrimination. With thirteen feminine Nobel Prize winners, a large number of Pulitzer Prize winners, and hundreds of women in nearly every activity listed in the reference books, the “fear of success” concept must yield to other interpretations.
Matina Horner’s work in establishing the concept has been evaluated by a Harvard psychologist who concluded that though the research is an initial step in understanding an important aspect of sex-related behavior, the work is flawed by insufficient attention to scoring procedures, to the definitions of “motive” and “success,” and to construct validation. An alternative explanation of the data might involve fear of sex-role in-appropriateness.
Psychological counselors find more feminine fear of inadequacy in maternal, wifely, and social roles, which require subtle and complex skills, than in the application of a learned technique in a job or profession. These fears, not the need for “self-fulfillment,” may underlie the drive to career, singleness, childlessness, and divorce. Of worldly “success” unrelated to the rearing of well-adjusted children and the achievement of a stable male-female relation, Henry James observed: “Success is like having a good dinner. All you can say is that you have had it.”
Miss Rudikoff includes a discussion of psychoanalyst Helene Deutsch in her article. . . . Deutsch, still a consultant at the age of ninety, believes that new conditions have only put a new wrapping around the old psychology; further, that the objective world, exploration, cognition, and human cultural aspirations requiring a strictly objective approach are, with few exceptions, the domain of the masculine intellect. Earlier, Darwin postulated the eminence of the male intellect through natural selection. . . .
Both statements are challenging, and perhaps will be modified with time. In the 1920’s, high IQ’s were found on the high-school level in a ratio of eight boys to five girls. In recent years, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation’s annual survey has produced roughly the same ratio of winners. The girls entering these contests are the cream of their class; they are apparently not afraid of success or of alienating males by their intellectual competition.
Women are verbally gifted, not as gifted in the quantitative-mathematical areas and other nonverbal tasks. This accounts for the smaller number of female contest finalists and may support Deutsch’s theory of lesser objectivity and the loss of feminine promise during puberty when it is taxed by awakening femininity and intensification of the inner world.
Despite the forward feminine movement, girls still choose fewer years of higher education and aspire to careers traditionally acceptable for women, and, if they embark on “hard courses,” they later move to easier ones.
In work and professions, women cling to certain basic orientations limiting their upward movement. . . . For many women, given the options, satisfaction may lie in reaching a goal rather than in the work itself. As a successful twenty-nine-year old woman stockbroker put it, “I’ve done what I wanted to do and proved what I wanted to prove. Now I just want to get married.”
Rapid forward progress exacts a price. Among professional women, many are unmarried; among the married, the divorce rate is twice the national rate; many of the married have no children and the child-bearing rate is below the national average. . . . Among women psychologists, the suicide rate is three times the national female rate (for male psychologists, it is below the national rate . . .). Among women physicians, the suicide rate is four times the national rate (for male physicians, it is twice the national rate).
In male-dominated societies, most men are not “successful” beyond rearing a family, and this through dull and unsatisfying work. Do they harbor grievances, yearn for self-fulfillment, and changed sex roles?
Los Angeles, California
To the Editor:
Is it really as incredible as Sonya Rudikoff makes out that young women today should fear success? The trouble with most of the women she cites is that they have somehow concealed from us the price of their success or, what is worse, made it seem as if it would be improper for us to know.
As is often the case in human affairs, women’s liberation is a widely-held belief that this social arrangement rather than that will bring individual satisfaction to people who were previously deprived of it. The move from people in general to individuals in particular is a walk into the unknown, and the young woman who proposes to embark on a career rather than on what is intended to become a full-time marriage is going to find out for herself whether the promised link between the two actually exists.
The manner in which this individual satisfaction has to come about is through a better relationship with a man than women have had before and a better sense of fulfillment in a career than in the work previously available to women. The point of demarcation between a young woman’s commitment to a man and her own need to fulfill herself in her job is left up to her. She knows that the more she commits herself to her work, the more she will need a partner prepared to accommodate her. This requires assumptions about what men in general are going to be like and, in particular, what the man she will marry will be like. To make the proposition work, he will have to see things differently from the way most of the men she has so far met see them. If she makes a misjudgement on any of these things she has to reevaluate the others, and one ceases to wonder if she feels success might impair some other part of her nature.
In this she is no different from a man. Success at a career demands long hours of work, deep personal involvement in the work itself, and often periods away from home. . . . Everyone is perfectly aware of the risks to marriage that are involved. Hitherto it was mainly men who had to make the choice and run the risk, but we do not say they fear success, rather we say that they know the price and are either prepared to pay it or not.
Perhaps if the question were phrased differently, the explicit answer would be that the price of success is higher than many women think they would care to pay. This is the answer most men give, and I do not think it is always a coverup for failure. . . .
Albert B. Purbrick
To the Editor:
. . . Sonya Rudikoff’s fine article contains an inaccuracy which, if left uncorrected, might possibly confuse the uninformed. She states that “millions of Hungarian Jews were not saved,” a statement which implies that they perished during the Holocaust.
I lived in Hungary throughout this period, and time cannot blur my memories of it. It was, however, my personal good fortune to be able to extend a helping hand a good many times and secure the rarest of exemptions . . . for two Jewish families representing seven persons, all of whom survived and I trust are alive today.
I feel deeply that the loss of a single life is an unspeakable tragedy, and the cumulative tragedy of this epoch was apocalyptic in its effects. But I must also point out that in the years 1941-43 there were 465,000 persons in Hungary listed as being of Jewish descent. This figure which, though large, is only a fraction of the “millions” Miss Rudikoff mentions, included not only professing Jews but also those who had converted to Christianity and those of partially Jewish descent covered by the definitions of the Nuremberg Laws. Of these 465,000, a substantial proportion—I cannot give the exact figure—survived. Most of them still live in Hungary; a good many of them are in positions of distinction. That they are alive is due to a large extent to the efforts of many self-respecting and compassionate Hungarians who took the often fatal risk of providing shelter, documents, and safe-conduct to their endangered fellow citizens. It took some selflessness and a certain amount of fortitude to do this. Unfortunately, the common man is not typically a philanthropist, nor is he addicted to heroics; thus the fact that so many were willing to help is all the more noteworthy, and should be remembered. . . .
Alexander F. Karolyi
Santa Rosa, California
Sonya Rudikoff writes:
If Renee Rabinowitz will reexamine the quotation, she will find that I specifically charged “much of the modern ideology” about women, success, and achievement with referring to “limited and atypical groups of women, such as top executives in business, whose careers may not be illuminating about anything else.”
That was the point of looking at the various lives as I did, to see what part this axiomatic “fear of success” played in their lives. It seemed not to play the part assigned to it. And Helene Deutsch, Jane Addams, Rose Kennedy, and the rest are in fact extremely typical—in the sense of being types of women with similar experiences: the type of the woman psychoanalyst with European background; the type of the social worker or early settlement-house organizer, etc. But of course I looked at their lives as illuminating examples, not as directives.
I thank Shirley de Leon, Grace Rubin-Rabson, and Albert Purbrick for writing.
Finally, I am happy to have the opportunity to correct the error Alexander Karolyi has pointed out. According to a 1941 census (cited in the Encyclopedia Judaica), the Jewish population of Hungary was 727,007 (this figure includes those Jews who lived in territories annexed by Hungary in the 1938-40 period). With the promulgation of additional discriminatory laws, this number increased to about 850,000. Of these, the Encyclopedia Judaica estimates, 565,-000 died in the Holocaust and about 260,000 survived.
I was in error in referring to “millions of Hungarian Jews.” I must have been thinking of the millions of European Jews who perished. Many Hungarian Jews were saved by decent, charitable people who did not support the monstrous acts of their own government or of the Nazi masters. Indeed, Hannah Senesh’s mother was among the many Jews rescued by friends like Mr. Karolyi, who often risked their own lives to perform such acts of courage and charity.