Posts Tagged ‘women in the workforce’

Are you settling down or just settling?

May 5, 2012

When I was 10 I thought I would be married with 2 kids by the time I was 20. By 15 I thought 20. By 18 I had pushed this back to about 22. By 20 I was thinking about 28. At 25 I thought 30. At 30 I thought 35. Im 31 now. I’m engaged. I will be married right before my 32nd birthday. 35 still seems somewhat reasonable for children, but talk to me in a couple of years. When I think about who I was dating at the above ‘milestones’ (15, 18, 20, 25) above, I wonder what my life would have been like had I in fact gotten married and had kids then. It’s a scary thought. (If any of my ex-boyfriends are reading this, I’m not talking about you of course). I would have been settling. Not because the men I was dating were flawed, but because the relationships were. And OK, in some cases the men were too.

Every woman has a vision for her life. An idea in her mind of how her future will look. This vision will change as the woman blossoms and grows but there will always be a goal in mind. At some point the woman will reach maturity. This is not to say that she will not continue to grow and flourish but that she has found her place in the world and her personality, ideals and temperment are firmly rooted and difficult to alter. Some women at this point in their lives have achieved all of their dreams. They are the lucky few. The rest of us exist on a spectrum. That spectrum goes from those women who may not have everything they dreamed of but are happy with what they have and the choices they have made, to those women that feel that they have settled for less than they deserve. In the middle lie those that aren’t sure they know the difference.

Everybody makes choices in life. There are few people who truly have it all. I moved away from family and a job I loved to be with the person I wanted to spend my life with. Was it worth it? Yes. But I like my current job less and I would prefer to be with my partner AND in the same city as my family and best friends. I have a good friend who was in a long-term relationship with a person she loved but could not see a future with. She was 32 years old. When she broke up with him she said to me “I realize that at my age breaking up with him means I might be losing my chance to have children, but I would rather be with someone that is right for me than have children with someone who is not”. I had never thought this way before, and I still don’t believe she is doomed to be celibate, but it is true that women in their 30’s have to think about fertility issues. With more women choosing to have careers as well as families and establishing these careers before having children the reality is it is not always as easy to procreate as one would hope. Hollywood makes it look like having babies at 40 is the norm and that fertility treatments work 100% of the time. The reality is that these treatments take a huge toll on your body, are extremely expensive (about $15 000 per cycle) and are not always effective. The side effects include fluid retention, weight gain, nausea, diarrhea, pelvic discomfort due to enlarged cystic ovaries, breast tenderness, mood swings, headache and fatigue.The efficacy is about 30-35% if you are 30-35, 25% if you are 35-37 and 10-20% if you are 38-40. Over 40? Only 6-10% effective. And if a woman does get pregnant naturally in her late 30’s early 40’s whether naturally or using fertility treatments, the risk of birth defects increases dramatically. At age 35 there is a 1 in 365 chance of giving birth to a baby with Down Syndrome. At 40 the risk is 1 in 100. There are also women who choose to forgo children entirely for their career. Or women who forgo a career for children. These are all choices. If at the end of the day a woman is happy with her choices, she is not settling for anything, she is simply rearranging her priorities.

The problem is when a woman sacrifices something that is truly important to her. A coworker of mine once announce she was getting married. She said about her future partner “He’s not really attractive or anything, but he wants kids”. It struck me as so sad that she had nothing loving or caring to say about her future husband. In my mind, there isn’t a person alive who wouldn’t want a relationship filled with love. I thought she was settling due to her wish for children and the fact she was 35 years old and had not yet found someone. This may or may not have been the case. If having children was of utmost importance to her and romantic love not important to her, then she would in fact not have been settling. Perhaps I was projecting my happiness criteria onto her. But many women do settle for less than they deserve every day. They settle for men that are beneath them. They settle for jobs that are beneath them and pay that is beneath them. They settle for treatment that is inexcusable. Men settle as well. I once dated a man just out of a 6 year relationship. We didn’t have much in common. He was a vegetarian. I am a carnivore. He likes the great outdoors. I cry after 1 day of camping. After 2 weeks he had asked me on a trip that was to take place 6 months later. He also unplugged my Glade air freshener concerned it would burn down my apartment. At 3 weeks he asked me about our future. It was too much, too soon. Essentially, he was just substituting me into his life where his last girlfriend used to be. I could have been anyone. He was settling. I didn’t want to be around when he realized it. Settling is not just making a choice, it is giving up. And no one should ever give up on what is important in life, because once you do you will have nothing to live for.

If I like to Bake can I still be a Feminist?

April 23, 2012

This weekend I baked. It isn’t the first time it has ever happened. It is the second. The first time occurred after I became so enraged at a frozen black banana falling from the freezer door onto my toe for the zillionth time that I decided to finally but my pristine loaf pan to use. I was told the banana bread was good, but I have noticed fewer frozen overripe bananas in the freezer, and those we do collect are quickly used for smoothies. But I digress. This weekend I came across a recipe for Snickerdoodles, the best cookie on earth. It seemed easy enough, even for me, so I decided to go for it. While I was at it, why not bake a carrot cake I thought, another favorite. Armed with my recipes and my ingredients (who knew cream of tartar was used in baking??) I set out to bake. There were a few hitches along the way. I learned that a blender was not a good choice for pureeing carrots. I also learned why most people who bake have electronic mixers. My arm is still sore. But in the end I had 30 delicious cookies and a wonderful carrot cake. I was giddy with pride. I could almost understand why people would want to do this regularly. I patiently waited for my fiancée to come home so I could force my creations down his throat. After he had tasted both, I heard myself turn into my Oma as I said “Don’t you like them? You only had one piece of carrot cake!” He had also had 3 cookies, but he’s a big boy. The joy of baking had dawned on me. It’s not necessarily the process that is enjoyable, but the end result, a product to share with others, to bring happiness to people you care about and to nurture them. When I think of fresh baking, I always think of my Oma whose cinnamon buns and shortbread cookies are unrivaled as far as I am concerned. Baking had always seemed like a maternal, female oriented and dated pastime to me. I think this is why I have avoided it for so long. I just don’t see myself as a woman who bakes. So then I asked myself: what kind of woman are you?

I have always thought of myself as a forward-thinking, modern woman. I am well-educated. I have a good career. I make a good salary and since I have started to work have always been able to support myself. I am currently engaged and live with my partner, also a successful professional. We split the rent and utilities. We both take turns paying for groceries. We both work full time so we split the household chores like cooking and cleaning and walking the dog. I lucked out. According to the most recent American Time Use Survey: “On an average day, 20% of men did housework-such as cleaning or doing laundry-compared with 49% of women. 41% of men did food preparation or cleanup, compared with 68% of women.” In our household, we try to split things 50/50. At one point we thought about hiring a housekeeper, but if we hate cleaning our apartment so much, why should someone else have to do it? It seems wrong.

My parents divorced when I was in elementary school, and both of my parents worked out of financial necessity. This is the case in many situations today where a family’s financial situation is such that the income from both parents is needed to make ends meet. I am fortunate in that if we have children my partner could support a family on his salary alone. When I have complained about work, he has told me I can quit my job. Since I know he respects my career and work ethic I believe he says this mainly to pacify me when I am worked up, but I also know it is a viable option. However I have always seen myself as a working woman. When the show Mad Men hit the air it triggered a pop culture phenomenon where people everywhere wanted to live like it was the 1960’s again. Websites and blogs devoted to glamorizing the housewife role a la Betty Draper were abundant. But besides the amazing clothes these women wore, and the idea of antiquing all day to turn your home into a retro museum, are these women’s lives all that covetable? Betty Draper seems to sit at home a lot doing housework and chain-smoking while her husband has a grand old time at the office where he doesn’t appear to do a whole lot of work. I think most would agree Don Draper is the real winner in the relationship, drinking and smoking at the office, having business meetings over gimlets, and sleeping around with any beautiful woman he sees fit. It’s no wonder more and more women started to enter the work force in the 60’s and 70’s. Today it is the norm for women to work. After WWII 31.8% of US women worked, while in 2010 69% did. In Canada in 2010 75% of women worked. In the US 80% of college educated women work, 67% with a high school diploma, and 47% without one. It is now much less likely to meet a woman who chooses to or has the opportunity to be a stay at home mother or a full-time housewife than a woman with a full-time job.

January Jones as Betty Draper

Speaking for myself, I enjoy the structure and mental stimulation that my job gives me on a daily basis. It makes me feel challenged and as a result I feel like I am a more satisfied individual. I know many would disagree with me, but I feel that you can be a good wife and mother and also have a career. When you have a life outside of the home, you have something to bring to the table every night.  This is also why I believe it is important for women to have a social life, friends and hobbies apart from their significant others. Believe me, you don’t want to be stuck at their “guys night” any more than they want to listen to you talk about your feelings or how hot Zac Efron looks in his new movie over wine with your friends. Even worse, don’t take him to the movie. You need those nights apart. If you are fulfilled as a woman, you are happier, leading to a happier marriage. I also believe a woman should be financially independent from her spouse. While no woman expects their marriage to fail, the truth is that many do. Do you want to be the woman who after 35 years of marriage, after you have raised 2 children, emotionally supported your husband while he climbed the corporate ladder, did all of the domestic chores, gets left for a younger woman. This woman has no experience in the job market, no marketable skills, no knowledge of new technology, and her alimony cheque will not pay her rent. I know this woman. You don’t want to be her. I want to feel like I have earned everything I have. The traditional role of woman as housekeeper and childbearer and man as provider would make me feel like a kept woman, and I for one am not going to feel as though I have to ask my husband for the credit card to buy myself a new pair of shoes. I already get “the look” when a UPS box arrives containing something I’ve ordered online with my own money. When it’s OUR money? We’ll see.

Based on the above, many would consider my views feminist. But I’m not a feminist. The more I think about gender roles, and my role in my own relationship especially, the more I realize that a lot of my beliefs contradict themselves. For example, I believe both spouses should financially contribute to the household. I enjoy financial independence. But when we go out for dinner, more often than not, my fiancée picks up the cheque. And I am OK with that. Even back in my dating days, when I was asked on a date and a man would reach for the bill, I wouldn’t protest. It might be old-fashioned of me, but I enjoyed being courted. I also find it to be a nice gesture when a man opens a door for me, pulls out my chair, or offers me a seat on the bus. Some would say these actions indicate he believes me to be weak in need of protection, but I just think it’s a nice action that has become customary for some men. I am always the passenger in the car when with my partner, I like it when he drives even though I have a license. If something needs to be hung or changed in the apartment, it’s his job. Similarly if there is something wrong with an appliance it is up to him to take care of it, even though he is just as inept in that department as I am (almost). If there is a bug to be killed, also his domain. I like flowers in the apartment, and am perfectly able to buy them myself, but I am happiest when my fiancée comes home with a bouquet for me ‘just because’, and I feel he should know when to do so. I believe there are such things as “chick flicks” and “dude flicks”. The fact that I am getting married at all is very unfeminist of me. Looking back at the history of marriage, in almost all cultures such as ancient Greece, Rome and Israel it was a transfer of property (the woman) from her father to her husband who then owned his wife. In medieval Europe, the engagement ring came to be. It was the symbol of a successful “bride sale” and it was really just a down payment of the dowry, given to the bride before the wedding after which the full bride price was paid. But even knowing this, I still love my big shiny diamond ring. And I still want to be married, even if symbolically I will become property. I even plan to take my husband’s name. And now, I like to bake.

So, am I a hypocrite? Maybe. But I’m not trying to fit into a box. I am striving for happiness, not holiness.