Wednesday, August 18, 2010

An Individual of the Species, who happens to be female

Last month, Ken and I saw a play called “Female of the Species.”  It was an incredibly smart, funny and cutting examination of how Feminism is perceived in present day.  As I watched this play, I was reminded of my own exposure to “the Feminist movement” (from my mother naturally) and what I’ve come to understand the role of women in society today.  But I also left wondering, where is Feminism now?

Just recently, coverage of a dust up at The Daily Show reminded me that fueling the rage of feminism is inflammatory business that is profitable in these days of page views and click through ads.  (From Jezebel, the article asserting that the Daily Show could be sexist.)  The story goes that there aren’t many female staffers at the Daily Show and those who are there are allegedly subjected an old boy’s club. accused Jezebel’s article of being a “prime example of the feminist blogosphere's tendency to tap into the market force of "outrage world"—the regularly occurring firestorms stirred up on mainstream, for-profit, woman-targeted blogs.” And petty jealousy, cleverly marketed as feminism.”

So if the Slate and Jezebel posts are any kind of indication, the attention to inequality between the genders as discussed from the feminine point of view, seems met with a contemptuous “media blogstorm” and accusations of profiteering.  Lovely.  Are we all doomed to highly polarized rhetoric like we get from Senate Democrats and Republicans?

I was raised to believe you could achieve anything you wanted as long as you were willing to do the work.  This was especially true in school leadership and academics where I planted my flag and sought to excel.  I didn’t perceive that gender, race or any other “identity-based” attributes had anything to do with my success or failure.

Feminism struck me as the double-edged sword of empowerment and entrapment.  To me, Feminism defeated its own purpose because it called too much attention (the wrong kind) to the thing that it was trying to overcome. (See, I’m a woman and you should listen to me because I’m a woman). You may get close to what men get but as long as you keep throwing your gender in their face, but there will always be a divide and there will always be inequality.  I felt it better to be an Individualist in the “listen-to-what-I-have-to-say-because-it’s-good/true/smart/useful (regardless that I am a woman).” 

In college I worked shoulder to shoulder with men and women alike.  Pushing the boundaries of broadcast production to the point that it made no difference whatsoever what gender you were.  All of us could direct, produce, shoot, edit, write.  I graduated with some of the most talented and passionate people in their craft.  It was a wonderful microcosm of what could be possible.  And then I entered the real world…

It wasn’t obvious or immediate but I began to see our still “gender-fied” world outside of the protective walls of college and academia.  It was so subtle that I didn’t even see it for years.  I was already working in the male-dominated industries of broadcasting and hi-tech so I could roll with misogynist jokes and attitudes and bend them to my purposes.  I commonly had to prove myself but usually won the respect of my peers through hard work and devotion to improving.  I progressed upward, with full exposure to mid-level and upper-level leadership, clients and vendors.  And it was there that I began to see certain “boys’ clubs” which I could never progress beyond or be a part of.  My shock to their existence was naïve but I convinced myself I really didn’t want to go higher in the leadership chain because of the stress and the demands.  Which is partly true, but it was also just so unsavory and unwelcoming.  Toward the end of my working stint, there came a subversive and patronizing undercurrent which I got swept up in and I just got tired of fighting it. 

When I got married, I soon noticed that my husband was treated differently in identical scenarios.  The foremost example was when dealing with customer service for a wood blinds company that made a mess of our order.  We both separately spoke to the customer service folks, asking for the same things.  But Ken got a lot farther than I did when it came to getting refunds, comp products and special accommodation.  The same held true when we were bumped from an Alaska flight to Pullman a few years ago.  For our trouble, we got not one, not two but three round-trip tickets anywhere Alaska flew—EACH.  I was grateful for his success but I felt for the first time disheartened by the realization that I wasn’t able to get what I wanted and deserved for myself.

To be honest, in the last few years I’ve felt frustrated but more than that, disappointed.  Disappointed in me for giving up and accepting the situation.  When I was on my Individualist kick, I wouldn’t succumb to a defeatist attitude or have a secret gratefulness to have a husband who can talk to the customer service people of the world.  I realize bending to this; I became part of the problem. 

When I found out I was pregnant though, priorities changed.  The daily ego-fueled ideological scrapping and proverbial dick-measuring at work struck me as futile and banal as it always was, but I no longer got stuck in it like fly paper.  My world view expanded while focusing on something so small and fragile.  Funny how that happens.   (Watch now as folks come out of the woodwork, “See, see a woman shouldn’t be compensated like a man because she can’t keep her eye on the ball and give everything she has to her job.  The minute she gets knocked-up she coasts.”)  Such an American, work-yourself-to-death view.  I’ll take actual work-life balance, please.

Currently I’m doing the ultimate feminine job: full-time mothering.  It doesn’t get more female than this, it doesn’t get more multi-taskingly challenging than this and it doesn’t get less paid then this.  I’m sure the original Feminists didn’t intend for someone like me to stop down a 12-year career to stay home raising a child. But I wonder when I rejoin the working-outside-the-home crowd if this experience will have a marked effect on my attitude toward the genders or my role in the workforce?  All I know is that I still want to be judged for what I bring to the table.  But maybe what I’ll be bringing will be a little more perspective, an even better ability to multi-task and (hopefully) some skills to win over customer service people.  We’ll see.

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