The Village Voice has a no-duh article about the burdens of being a woman -- as a man it's interesting to read, but as a rational human it's hard not to wonder why Anya Kamenetz writes as if she's pondering a profound conundrum.
If you're a woman between the ages of, say, 18 and 30, then chances are good you were raised by a mother who aspired to be an '80s superwoman, a CEO-domestic goddess in shoulder pads—and so, minus the shoulder pads, do you. Creative satisfaction, along with money, romance, and gorgeous offspring, is part of our deluxe have-it-all package. And yet, in the years between college and settling down, we run smack into some harsh economic realities that can leave us sounding like women on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
"Just make me sound not too insane," pleaded one woman who reluctantly agreed to talk about her situation.
"I'm in this really hard place and I honestly don't know what to do," said another.
And, "Is this making any sense at all?"
The cause for much of the confusion is that these women have been told that they can have their cake and eat it too, which is impossible for any of us to do. They don't seem to realize that although they have, as women, more biological options than men do, they don't have any additional time or energy to take advantage of every option at the same time.
On a limited budget of time and money, we have to somehow prioritize making a living, making our mark, and making a family. As hard as this economy is for young adults in general, it's that much more complicated for women, who not only earn less but want more. Both men and women of this generation are taking on unprecedented debt for their educations, but at 76 cents on the male dollar, women have a harder time working their way into financial stability. They're also more likely to take time out of the labor force, which slows the career climb and drags down earnings.
Differences in expectations and ambitions between men and women almost wholly account for the pay discrepancy, and taking time out of the work force to have as child is part of that. Why should a person, male or female, who takes a year or more away from a job expect to get paid the same as a person who doesn't? It wouldn't be fair, and it doesn't even make sense. A person has to decide whether time with the child is more important than a higher salary, and in families with two parents it's generally the woman who wants to stay home. Plus, it's convenient because she has boobs.
Lagusta Yearwood, 26, is a chef with her own gourmet-vegetarian meal delivery service, lagustasluscious.com. She has struggled to get the business up and running while paying off about $45,000 in debt from student loans and from living on credit cards while in college and culinary school. "I was an English and women's studies major [at the University of Rochester], and now I'm a cook," she says. "I'm happy I went to college, but if I'd known I would come out with so much debt and wouldn't be making money from my degree, I wouldn't have gone."
Yes well, many Americans are over-educated. We tend to worship education as the solution to every problem, but that doesn't always turn out to be the case.
Marriage has traditionally been the means for women to provide for themselves and their children. Of the dozens of women on the 2004 Forbes Richest People list, nearly all of them made their fortunes through marriage. But few twentysomething women today are counting on a breadwinner.
"I feel like girls are really brought up to imagine their lives with a partner," says Sara, 27, who is getting her MFA in creative writing at Columbia. "I can imagine myself in a long-term relationship but not in a way that has any impact on the way I think about my economic life."
This changing ambition among women is probably largely due to the failure of men to live up to our responsibilities. A woman would be crazy to become dependent on a man who can't provide for her and who may not stick around very long. Raising a family is, I imagine, hard, and modern men tend to be flighty and more concerned with comfort than with honor and integrity. Women I know who have found honest, hard-working men who really mean "till death do us part" are incredibly happy in their relationships and don't seem to have much trouble trusting and depending on their husbands.
Kemah, 24, approaches the question a little differently. She is majoring in film and theater at Hunter College and will be around $60,000 in debt by the time she graduates next year. She has resolved to have children whether or not she can find the right partner. "My thinking five years ago was that I have to get married to accomplish some of the things I want to do. Now that I'm getting older I think I can do it myself. I didn't grow up with my father and I don't want to depend on a man."
That's a perfect example of how one pathetic man hardened and disillusioned his daughter. As men, we must prove ourselves worthy to be trusted, otherwise it should be no surprise when we're not. Respect is earned through action.
Young women today were raised with clear messages of achievement and self-reliance. They often outnumbered men at their colleges and graduate programs, and are making economic sacrifices for the fulfillment of their own dreams, without waiting for anyone else's permission. They have taken their equality for granted. Yet as they now struggle to establish themselves, they're realizing, for the first time, the betrayals of gender.
Women are not betrayed by their biology; women have more options than men do but only the same amount of time, so they have to make more decsions and leave more roads untraveled. That's only a burden if you count success by what you haven't done rather than by what you have. If a woman's glass appears less than half-full, it's because she has a larger glass.
Dr. Fels says that as women's access to education at all levels has improved, their second-class citizenship often doesn't kick in until after graduation. "Right now the disadvantages are invisible. It's not as clear as being let into a school, but institutions that employ people still ignore families and children," she says. "It's an issue that women feel is their problem, their personal dilemma, but is really a major issue for the entire country." The good news is that we're not crazy; the bad news is that the system needs a major intervention.
And here we must part ways. As they say, the biology of women isn't a bug, it's a feature. Rather than longing to be just like men, why don't women revel in the opportunities they have, in the joys and sorrows that us men will never know? This writer blithely assumes that what men have is somehow better than what women have, but isn't that view itself a product of a male-centered world view?