I was talking to my guy friend about Caitlin Moran’s book How To Be A Woman, which led us to the topic of money. I said that I am a feminist, but I am not completely resistant to guys paying for my meals on dates because most guys I know make more money than women. (That is my personal experience.)
“Do you really think you make less money because you’re a woman?” he asked. “In 2012, in New York City, where everyone is equal? You really think that’s what the problem is?”
At his work, he said, women and gays made up a majority of the employees, and he hinted at the implication that he was the one being slighted, being in the white, male, heterosexual minority.
I did not mention that according to Census statistics, women’s earnings were 77 percent of men’s in 2011, compared to 77.4 percent in 2010. I did not mention that according to Government Accountability Office findings, men with children earn about 2 percent more than men without children, though women with children earn less. I did not mention that Obama has urged the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act repeatedly for a reason. I know I should have, but I had to Google all that just now. I mean, I didn’t think I’d ever have to arm myself with those statistics for an argument about the gender wage gap. But I did, so you do, so let’s all just memorize those numbers for the future. But now, I want you to forget the stats for a second.
I can say with absolute conviction that my gender has gotten in the way of my career.
I worked in publishing for six years and never got a raise. I have always worked in gender-fair environments with often more women than men. My gender alone is not the problem, but my gender has shaped who I am as a worker. My boss didn’t look at my salary and say, “She’s a chick, she doesn’t need a raise.” But because I am a woman, I have taken a path that has not brought me as much career success as I could have achieved otherwise. And I am partially to blame.
I grew up rather typically for someone my age. When I was born, my mom quit her job to raise me, and my dad went on to build an amazing career for himself, working himself to death, while my mother did everything at home. He couldn’t have achieved what he did without my mom cooking, cleaning, handling our finances, basically wiping his ass, and caring for me.
My mom raised me to be a strong woman. I always knew that I would go to college and get a job. She told me boys were silly and to be myself and cherish my friendships and be the best girl I could be. But even when she was pushing me in school, toward the career of my dreams, whatever that might be (and if I had said I wanted to be a goddamn priest, I swear she would have supported it), it was impossible for her to instill in me the same drive to succeed that I would have obtained were I a boy.
I have an amazing work ethic. Even when I know I’m not the smartest person in a group, I know that I have the passion and energy to do my best because I am tireless at whatever I do. But still, the fact that I was used to seeing my mom stay at home and my dad go into work every day was hard-wired into my brain. As hard as my mom tried to teach me that women should work, the fact that it is not what happened in my home made me think that women in the workplace was nice and good, but not necessary. A man is going to come home with the real bacon. Anything I did was just like extra credit.
I didn’t realize I unconsciously thought these things until I was a 28-year-old woman.
“You haven’t played your career out to its full potential because you didn’t have the stress of making as much money as possible,” my friend told me.
I rolled my eyes, but I realized he was right. First of all, it’s true that being a man who feels wholly responsible for providing for a family is as stressful as it is liberating. My father was fortunate, yet not. I’m sure he fought for raises twice as hard as I have because he really fucking had to. But I don’t have a wife and daughter, so all these years, when I have gone into work it has been with the understanding that I am so grateful to have a job at all, so excited to be in a workplace. I am less concerned with where my career is going or what my paycheck is. I went for years without a raise. (Not that I wanted to, but I did.) I smiled through it all, because I was so thankful for being given a job in the first place. I am not the first woman in my family to go to college (my parents met in college), but I am the first woman in my family to build a career. So even while I’m doing it, I’m just not used to it.
In How To Be A Woman, Caitlin Moran says:
“It’s difficult to see the glass ceiling because it’s made of glass. Virtually invisible. What we need is for more birds to fly above it and shit all over it, so we can see it properly.”
I knew the glass ceiling existed, but I didn’t know where it ended because my mother didn’t shit on it. It’s just like my friend was saying, “You can vote, you can get a job, you can be a man’s boss. What’s your problem? Everything is perfect!”
But hang on! It’s going to take more than five minutes for women to figure this shit out. We are allowed inside the offices, but we don’t all know how to rock them just yet.
Honestly, I’m still not sure I’ll figure it out in my lifetime. I’m working on it every day. But hopefully my daughter will. I might not have made a lot of money or gotten many raises, but I have learned a lot about what goes on in an office, and I can’t wait to share it all with little Google Caracas (the name I have chosen for my future daughter — DON’T STEAL IT!)
The first lesson? You are not lucky to have the job, the job is lucky to have you. And you need to fight for more, and never stop fighting. The flame is under your ass, too, even if you can’t feel it. But also: if a guy offers to buy you dinner, for heaven’s sake just let him do it. It’s not setting us back. We deserve it for all the shitting on the glass ceiling we are going to have to do.