Family Values and the Modern Woman

For being unemployed, I’ve been strangely busy lately. I have several thoughts swirling around my head, so let’s see if I can arrange some of them in at least a semi-articulate way.

I was having a conversation with a friend earlier today and at some point we ended up on the topic of marriage and family. She was telling me about a conversation she had with her dad about how the value society places on family has shifted over the years. And there has been definite shifts, I don’t think there’s any denying that.

If we look back at say the 1950s, the ideal was a nuclear family. A woman’s end goal a lot of the time was to get married and have children. The husband was the one with the career who supported his family financially. Enter the 1960s, with all sorts of interesting cultural shifts, including the sexual revolution. Things begin to change, but for the most part, women who are getting married are still doing so at a fairly young age. Having children is still the norm. Flash forward a few more decades, to the 1990s. Now the average marriage age is significantly higher. More and more women are career-focused. The concept of the family has changed. If a woman gets married and wants to have kids, cool. If she doesn’t, that’s cool too. Different types of families are now more prevalent – same-sex couples, single moms, single dads, varying assortments of relatives living in one household, etc. And family isn’t just biological relatives anymore – family is whoever an individual values the most, cares for the most, goes through the most with.

Now let’s consider things today. The average age of marriage is still higher, the concept  of family has a continually expanding range of meanings, gender is more fluid and more obviously a construct, and female empowerment and supporting women’s rights is now a global goal. Things are considerably different now than in the 1950s. In some ways, more complicated and confusing. Personally, I no longer feel the same need to get married that I did when I was younger. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, that’s fine too. And I am well aware that this is far from every woman’s reality. The concepts of sex and gender vary so greatly dependent on culture, environment, religion, society, economics and politics – that it’s impossible to ever describe the full reality of what it means to be female. However, if I am to generalize the reality I am most familiar with, I do have to agree with my friend’s dad – the concept of the individual now seems to take precedence over the concept of family. I see examples of this everyday, even within my own household. The environment my youngest brother, who is 11 years younger than me, is growing up in is seemingly more individualistic than my own. And yes there are certain negatives to this, but I do not see this shift as all bad. I like to think that decent people will always invest time and energy into the people who mean the most to them, biological family or otherwise. In some ways, this is a definite departure from traditional family values. The individual first concept is a product of world with less boundaries in all senses of the word – social constructs mean less, open-mindedness means more and the globe is more interconnected than ever.

So yes, as a society, I think we are more individually-focused now than in the past. We are also more globally focused. The concept of family might sometimes be outweighed by the concept of what it means to be human. We live in an increasingly complex, terrifying and amazing world. We never have complete control, so I think it makes sense to value most what we do have control over: how we live our own lives and who we keep close to us while we live our lives.

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Uncomfortable Encounters: A Woman Alone in Public – Part One

I stopped by the mall the other day to pick up some gifts for my bosses. I was just stopping by quick on my way to meet a friend for a hike. So naturally I was in a hurry. And weird things always seem to happen when you don’t have time for them.

I was walking briskly through the mall with my Starbucks in hand when I hear an “Excuse me” from just behind me. I stop and turn around to face a young guy. He says “You seem cool, so I’m just gonna give this a shot” and then he proceeds to introduce himself. He asks me for my name and I tell him. Then he asks me what I am up to and I explain to him my mission at hand, desperately trying to convey that I am in a hurry so he will leave me alone. To back track slightly, I should mention that this guy instantly made me feel uncomfortable. On one level, I know that in most situations I am way too nice and that no person in any situation, regardless of gender, should feel the need to continue to converse with someone who is making them uncomfortable out of politeness. However, on another level (potentially the too nice and overly sympathetic level), I felt like I should at least let the guy finish his first sentence because I could tell he was trying to put himself out there and I know that’s a hard thing to do.

Unfortunately, this was definitely one of those situations were I should not have felt the need to be nice. After I told the guy what my business was at the mall he continued to follow me to the store I was going to, even though I was doing my best to stay slightly ahead of him. I made my purchase at the store quickly while he looked around. I was hoping maybe at this point he would take the hint that I had no interest in talking to him and not follow me as I left the store. But no, he continued to follow me as I left. I was making virtually no eye contact with him and although I answered the questions he asked, I kept all of my answers short. At this point, I am both uncomfortable and running late. To make matters worse, I also have finished my iced tea and really need to use a restroom. But I need this guy to leave me alone, so I decide my best strategy is to tell him I have to go meet my friend and have no more time to talk, which is the truth.

I tell him this and his response is “But I’m not done following you.” I walk as fast as I can towards my car and hope that he is not following me. I feel creeped out and I have a full bladder – this is not ok. I get to my car without seeing him, lock my doors and get the hell out of there.

This is not the first time I have been in a situation like this. There are multiple times that I can remember, both inside and outside of the United States, where a man has made me feel uncomfortable when I am alone in public. And I know I am not the only woman who has been in this situation. If you ask any woman if a man has ever made her feel uncomfortable, more often than not I would be willing to bet her answer is yes. On the flip side, if you ask a man if a woman has ever made him feel uncomfortable when he is alone in public, I think you would get significantly fewer yes responses.

To me this imbalance is one of my least favorite parts of what it means to be a woman vs. a man in our society. It’s unfair that some men feel that is acceptable to make a woman uncomfortable. It’s unfair that a woman is more likely than a man to be a victim of sexual assault or harassment. It’s unfair that there are just different risks a woman faces when she travels alone than a man does.

And I know that there are several woman who are great at calling men out when they start to make things uncomfortable or unpleasant. I am not yet one of them, but I strive to be more like them. For many women though, there is this notion instilled within us that we should be respectful and polite to everyone regardless of whether they make us uncomfortable. We don’t want to be rude, so we end up placing another person’s comfort (often a stranger’s) before our own. This doesn’t make sense. But I’ve done this in countless situations, more typically when the stranger I’m interacting with is a man. On the positive side, at least I am aware that I do this. I may not be able to change the way some men engage women when they are alone in public (at least not right away), but I can empower myself and other women to call men out when they make us uncomfortable. If we are uncomfortable, we should not feel guilty or rude telling someone that. It is everyone’s right to feel comfortable. We need to remember this.

Talking about the Gender Wage Gap (Again)

I was having a conversation with one of my co-workers the other night. He’s been having some issues at work and came to me to vent. Eventually, the conversation turned to money and I told him how I am frequently frustrated by how little I make in comparison to other positions at our company. To provide a little bit of background, our place of employment is a tasting room at a fairly large and successful winery in Southern California. My job title is cashier, while his is wine server. Admittedly, most of my frustration stems from receiving far less in tips than the majority of employees in our tasting room. This is largely because of the nature of my position – I engage with customers for much less time than a wine server does, for instance. Not being allowed to have a visible tip jar doesn’t help either. To get back to my point, my co-worker and I were discussing the pros and cons of serving and he gave me an idea of his projected yearly income. I was shocked. It was over twice what I’ve been making for the past almost two years, since I’ve been in my current position. Granted, we have different titles, so I cannot automatically blame this on the gender wage gap. It did make me think about the wage gap though. After he told me his average income, I was reminded of a conversation I was having with another female server earlier that same day, where she revealed her monthly income to be just slightly higher than mine. Still, since wine servers receive both tips and commission for wine sales, the amount one server makes in comparison to another can vary greatly. And obviously we can’t assume this has anything to do with gender, at least not without examining things further. I couldn’t help wondering though if we looked at all of the incomes for male and female servers in our tasting room, who would make more on average? If it was in fact the male servers, what would this mean? If anything?

Our conversation also made my mind turn to the gendered nature of some of the positions in our tasting room – all male barbacks, all female cashiers, hostesses and wine club administrators. Just with the rough knowledge I have of what each position makes per hour (including tips and commission), I know that barbacks and wine servers have the most earning potential. And one of those positions has essentially been deemed a male-only position. I don’t know that it is crucial that we have a female barback to fix this imbalance (although I think that would be really cool and there are definitely plenty of strong women who could handle the physical aspects of the job no problem), but I do think some aspect of the pay scale needs to be adjusted so that the earning potentials of cashiers and barbacks are more equal. Yes, I understand that these are two completely different positions. And there are definitely other factors involved in how much each position makes aside from gender. But the fact that the three positions with the lowest earning potential in our tasting room (cashiers, hostesses and wine club administrators) are currently all-female doesn’t sit right with me. There’s an imbalance there somewhere even if I can’t quite articulate it fully. And I don’t know that I have a complete solution to address this imbalance. Calling attention to the fact that the three positions that make the least on average are all-female seems like a feasible place to start though.

First Musings

I was on a Pinterest marathon today. Feminist everything. Books, t-shirts, stickers, quotes. Everything spoke to me. I may have been buried deep in my couch at the time, but I still felt super inspired. Hence the birth of this blog.

Anyways, all of my Pinterest marathoning got me to thinking about all of the seemingly insignificant conversations we have with people – both men and women – on a daily basis. Only a lot of times they really aren’t so insignificant. It’s the things you sometimes realize after the fact. Like how certain ways of thinking and speaking are so embedded in our society and culture that sometimes we don’t even question them. But in some cases we probably should, if we want things to be different that is. And If we want to help support women’s rights and equal rights and stop subscribing to the notion that there are fixed gender norms.

I remember a conversation I was having with a guy a few months ago via text message. It was around 9 or 10pm on a week night, so naturally I was in my bed watching Netflix. He asked me what I was watching and I responded “Grey’s Anatomy.” His response back was “Of course you are.” I think my next text back to him was something along the lines of “What is that supposed to mean?” to which he responded “Well you have a vagina.”

This bothered me a little bit at the time, but admittedly I continued to talk to him without calling him out much beyond my initial retort. Yet, I still haven’t forgotten about it. Because really what does my vagina have to do with what I watch on Netflix? Yes, my vagina is one of the anatomical characteristics that makes me a female. And yes I was indeed watching Grey’s Anatomy. But who ever decided that being female and watching hospital dramedys go hand in hand?

The bottom line is what I choose to watch on Netflix or elsewhere should really have nothing to do my sex or gender. I am a female. I am a woman. I have watched Grey’s Anatomy. So have a bunch of other people of varying sexes and genders. And I’m sure the guy did not mean to be offensive with his remarks on my Netflix choice. He probably actually thought he was being quite clever. Maybe even a little bit cute. The point is that there are still deeply embedded notions in our society of what it means to be a woman. And what it means to be a man for that matter. While likely not all of these individually are harmful, the danger comes from the cumulative effect of society expecting men and women to exist inside certain gender roles. If these uneven and often inflexible gender constructs continue to exist how can we achieve true equality for all sexes?