Monday, June 20, 2011

Yong lady: this is, not quite, your world

Photo by Morning Theft

A few days ago, a friend posted a link to this post from JohnShore.com. I saw the title and scoffed:

"Young Woman: This, Finally, is Your World"

Ha! But I decided to read it anyway. Maybe Mr. Shore knew something I didn't. Or maybe he was just another middle-aged white dude who thinks he knows what it's like to be not a middle-aged white dude.

Turns out, the sentiment of the article was admirable. Mr. Shore was sincerely attempting to encourage young women to refuse to accept others' notions of their inferiority. That's a worth message, right?

But.

But something bugged me about it. About nearly the whole thing. Something I couldn't quite put my finger on. And so I continued chewing on it, trying to figure it out, and I continued to dislike the taste it left in my mouth.

First I had to grapple with whether or not I was reacting to a male author. If a woman had written the exact same thing, would it still bug me? After much thought, I've decided it would.

For one thing, Mr. Shore argues that the whole inequality in the genders can be boiled down to the fact that men can beat women up, which I think is kind of ridiculous. It ignores the fact that once upon a time (when men were just as capable of beating women up) our ancestors valued equally the contributions of both genders. Something happened to change that, though I can't claim to know what. Some blame the advent of agriculture for drastically changing the way we lived and the gender roles assigned; some blame the advent of organized religions, most of which at least hint at misogyny. It doesn't matter really; the point is I'm not buying the "beat up" theory and I wouldn't be any more inclined to if it'd been written by a woman.

Second, I hate oversimplifications. And the suggestion to "smack that shit back where it came from" any time it's suggested, subtly or overtly, that you, young lady, are inferior to a man is a bit of an oversimplification. If that's all it took, we wouldn't still be having this conversation. Women have been smacking that shit for generations. Yes, we're making progress. Yes, we should continue to call men/society/media on their shit. But that's not all there is to it.
"Smack that nonsense back, every time. Don’t give in an inch. If someone, in any way, tries to put you down, call them on it. Make them own that mess. And if you doing that alienates them from you, wave good-bye to ‘em. Life’s too short to spend time with anyone who ever tries to diminish you, however subtly they might do it."
Yes. That's great. In theory. But what happens when the person trying to "put you down" is your supervisor? What then? Most women are not in a position to just "wave good-bye" to their jobs. And that, ladies? That shit from your supervisor? It's probably gonna happen a few times. You're going to have to have a few more tricks up your sleeves than smacking shit and waving goodbye.

Tricks like not having babies. Because, as Mr. Shore so astutely points out, women have a bit of a monopoly on that child birth thing. And the fact of the matter is this: there is a very good chance that becoming a mother will adversely affect your career. Coworkers and supervisors will assume you've become less reliable, even if you don't take any more sick days to care for a sick baby than your non-mothering counterparts take to care for themselves. You'll likely have one hell of a time finding affordable infant care, which could mean that it makes more financial sense for you to stay home - even if you don't want to. And if you do stay home - either by choice or necessity - don't think for a second that you'll be able to pick up where you left off when (if) you attempt to reenter the workforce. Expect to start all over again, from ground zero.

Young lady, if this really was, finally, your world as Mr. Shore suggests, mothers (and fathers, for that matter) would have guaranteed paid maternity leave like the rest of the western world. There would be quality, affordable day care, and it would be perfectly acceptable for mothers to mother without their careers suffering for it. In Canada and most of Europe, women are granted ONE YEAR of maternity leave. In the U.S.? You'll get 3 months if you're lucky. You'll get paid a reduced salary for a portion of that time, if you're lucky. You'll have a job to come back to, if you're lucky. Or you might end up like me. You might have your first baby while working for a company large enough to be beholden to FMLA law. You might take your leave with reduced pay, and return three months later to find that your position has been permanently assigned to the woman hired to cover for you during your leave. You might find that you still have a job with the company, but it might be an entirely different job than the one you thought you had. (If your company is large enough, it's required to hold a position for you, but it doesn't have to be the one you left.) You might have to fight tooth and nail for the next 18 months to get your old position back. And then, because you weren't burned enough the first time around, you might have your 2nd baby while working for a much smaller company - one that isn't beholden to FMLA laws. One that - in fact - is too small (but only just) to be beholden to anti-discrimination laws as well. You might arrange for a completely unpaid 3-month leave of absence (because your company offers zero, zilch, nada by way of maternity benefits) during which time you burn through all of your savings, which is no big deal because you have a job to go back to. Only maybe, shortly before you're scheduled to return to work, you'll get a call from your boss telling you that he's decided to let you go. Maybe it will turn out that you spent 2 months training a woman you thought was going to cover for you, only to find that she's been given your position permanently. And there won't be a damn thing you can do about it.

Did you catch that? Twice. Twice I took time off to have a baby, from two different companies, and both times my job was given away. Both. Fucking. Times. Maybe I'm over-personalizing, but my story is not uncommon. Pregnancy has a very good chance of ruining your career. Also? Your marriage. But that's a subject for a different post.

Okay. Rant over. Moving on.

Then there's this little bit of pontification:
"As any access to about any world news at all shows, men still have much more power in this world than, God knows, they should. But that’s rapidly changing. And, most importantly, things won’t ever go back to the way they were. We really are in a new time; this really is a new world. And in this world, women get to be whomever and however they want."
Well, those are just words. Optimistic and hopeful, but backed up by nothing more than one man's typing fingers. Rapidly changing? Is that why women are still paid, on average, 77 cents for every dollar a man is paid? Is that why a 2010 Catalyst study found that female MBAs make, on average, $4600 less in their first job than men (after taking into account number of years prior experience, time since MBA, job level, global region, industry, and even parenthood)? Is that why a 2011 Grant Thornton study found that women account for only 20% of senior management positions, down from 24% in 2009 (and only slightly higher than the 21% reported in 2004). Is that why 90% of the post-recession jobs created have gone to men (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Is that why over a 10 year period (2001 - 2011), the number of women in U.S. Congress has increased by only 3%, women in state legislatures has increased by only 1.1%, and women in the statewide elective is actually down by 5.7% (source)?*

I'm beginning to think Mr. Shore is maybe talking just a little bit out his ass. Good-intentioned as he is, he's just... wrong. Are things better than they were in the '50s? Sure, thanks to the generation before me. (Thanks, mom!) But rapidly changing? A new world? Pardon me, Mr. Shore, while I scoff again.

But for all that, I think what bugs me the most about the post is the reaction to it. The comments, the "Must Read!" repostings of it on Facebook and Twitter.

As if this is a new idea. As if this is really something women need to be told: "you're not inferior to men."

No fucking shit.

Yet, the reaction would suggest that it is, in fact, something that women need to be told. And that we need to be reminded of such a thing only proves how wrong Mr. Shore is. Young lady, this is NOT your world. Not as long as you have to be talked out of believing that it isn't.

*I was led to many of the studies cited through this Huffpost Women article by Barbara Hannah Grufferman, which I happened to stumble upon just a few short hours after reading Mr. Shores post. You should probably read it too.

3 comments:

Shannon said...

While in Canada we do get a total of a year of maternity and parental leave (35 weeks is parental leave which can be split in anyway between both parents - one can take it all or it can be split in any combination and used concurrently or consecutively), it's not all it's made out to be...

The first two weeks of the 17 week maternity leave is unpaid leave (unless you have an employer with a maternity benefits program that includes top up)

Unless your employer tops your maternity benefits up, you are only entitled to 45% of your pay up to a maximum of just over $400/week.

Regardless of company size, your employer has to guarantee a similar job to you upon your return, and while it does not have to be the same job, it does have to be the same pay scale. But that doesn't mean your job will be there when you go back. I know more than one person who went back to work for a week only to be laid off for "lack of work."

So yes, we have benefits and they are way better than three months, but they still have a long way to go. We only have one child, but if we have a second one there is a good chance I'll have to go back long before the year is up because we just can't live on what works out less than 3/4 of our usual income for very long.

I went back to my old job, not a problem, but I've had to take so much time off to look after my daughter when she's sick that I'm sure my coworkers are wondering why I'm still there...my employer happens to be generous and allows us to take 10 of our sick days (if we have that many, they accrue) as family days, but after that, it's holidays...

I'm not really whining, but it sure sounds like I am...I should probably just go to bed!

Anyway, I think we have a long way to go until we're on a somewhat level playing field...my employer thinks they're making great inroads, but in reality, women are still paid only 63% of what men make...to do the same jobs...

Martini Mom said...

Thanks for the info on Canada's maternity leave! I thought about looking into the specifics before citing it as an example in this post but... erm... honestly, I was being lazy. :) I knew it was a year, and I'd heard something about the parental leave that could be split between parents, but am completely ignorant otherwise.

I agree (obviously) - we've got a long way to go. It's certainly better than it was, but there's plenty of room for it to get even better.

Shannon said...

When I hear my friends south of the border talking about getting ready to go back to work and their babies are still so little, I cringe. It would have been horrible to go back to work before my daughter was six months old - *I* was still taking two naps a day up until then!

I am grateful for what we do have - when I was born I believe my mom got three months and moms couldn't work up to the due dates, they had to leave a least two weeks before the baby was due. So everyone just lied about their due dates! But then my mom had to go for an interview to get her job back - they didn't hold it for her and they didn't have to give her a job either. I think in the 90s it was extended to 6 months and about 10 years ago it was extended to, essentially, a year. There is a provision in the act that forbids employment a certain number of weeks after birth. It dates back to the 20s and I'm sure it was so that women didn't have to return to the factories and fields just days after having a baby...can you imagine?!

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