You’ve come a long way, baby! Maybe…

My fabulous cousin Melody shared this video. I almost cried I love it so much.

I don’t actually care if girls like pink or purple. People like what they like. Whatever. What I love is the tagline: Toys for Future Engineers.

I cannot remember anyone ever talking to me about being an engineer, architect or anything that relied heavily on math and science. Maybe a doctor, but that was mostly a social construct. The doctors in my hometown were considered some of the most successful people. If I was a very clever girl, maybe I could be a doctor too. A few people talked to me about writing. It shouldn’t be a galloping shock to anyone that I was hyper-verbal, even as a kid.

Mostly people talked to me about how my career would compliment my future husband’s career. I could be a teacher, so I could have summers off. Or if I wanted to be a dentist, I could work 3.5-4 days a week, and rarely be on call. You know, so I could spend more time with my children. (I was going to have three or none. I couldn’t decide.)

Let me be perfectly clear, I hold teachers, dentists and doctors in the highest regard. I would rather take a poke in the eye with a sharp stick than do those jobs, so I am immeasurably glad someone else does.

My point is, from a very early age, adults were talking to me about how to bend my life and aspirations around other people. No one was talking to my husband that way. In fact, I know of no men who were then or now being coached on how to manage a career around children or spouses.

This is why talking to girls about being engineers and just stopping there without some maternal corollary is FANTASTIC! Because the message that women should continue to bend their lives around men is still so prevalent.

damagesFor instance, I finally finished watching the FX series Damages on Netflix. The legal thriller was critically acclaimed and won any number of awards. Each season revolved around one major case and the complex relationship between two lawyers: Patty Hewes and Ellen Parsons.

Patty Hewes was portrayed as a power-hungry attorney who would sell out anything and everyone, including her own family, to win. Ellen Parsons was a recent law-school graduate who wants success, but is torn about what it takes to get there. The series is resolved with Patty alone and bitter and Ellen having left the law to raise a family because she didn’t want to compromise her soul for her job.

Now I’m all for the morality of not killing people to win cases. What bothered me about show was that from the very first episode to the conclusion, someone was always bugging Ellen about caring too much about her work. Her fiance was a medical resident for crying out loud. That’s not exactly a low-demand field. But he harassed her constantly about not spending enough time together.

Why was success so important to her? Why couldn’t she be more available to him? Why did it matter so much to win? Seriously?

If the roles were reversed and it was a woman begging for more time together, the audience would have been totally annoyed by how “needy” she was. Honey, get yourself together. He’s just trying to make a living and take care of the family. These are the sacrifices necessary to build a career.

But if a woman makes the same sacrifices, she’s ambitious, power-hungry or a bitch. She must be doomed to die old and alone. With 86 cats.

devil-wears-pradaOr look at the book turned box office hit, The Devil Wears Prada. The book spent six months on the New York Times bestseller list. The movie was among the Top 20 grossing films in 2006, the year it was released. This was touted as a “girl power” kind of movie.

Again a fresh college graduate, Andrea Sachs, begins working for an immensely successful editor, Miranda Priestly. The job is ridiculously demanding, but if she can stick it out for two years, then Miranda will place her in whatever magazine writing job she wants.

And again, friends and family are relentless in their insistence that she should not make the short-term sacrifices for long-term success. She should be spending more time with her boyfriend, you know, when it’s convenient for him because he, too, is pursuing his goals of becoming a successful chef. In the end, she blows off her job to be a better friend and girlfriend.

The audience cheers! because Miranda Priestly will be old and alone and Andrea will have her man. Isn’t that what’s really important?

I can’t name a single movie in the past 20 years that a woman makes big sacrifices for her job and a boyfriend or husband says, “I understand. This is for our future. It’s bad now, but one day it will be good.” I can’t recall a television show where the husband quits his job, or takes a demotion so the wife can devote more time to a career and she won’t have to worry about the kids because he’ll just handle things. I can’t name a book where the husband dropped out, waited tables to put the wife through school, so she can support them later.

I know a handful of couples in real life who did this. These examples are some of the more obvious cases, but I can’t find the opposite story played out in popular culture without total buffoonery. Maybe I’m consuming the wrong media. Please tell me if I’ve missed something important.

I have no problem with a couple looking at their earning potential and career paths and making a decision together which one will be the priority. That’s just the financial reality of life.

I have a problem with the message we send to girls over and over again that their path can’t be the priority, or shouldn’t be. I detest the notion that a girl in school today is still being asked to pick a career that she can mold around other people, rather than the career she is most suited for, and that someone who fits with that career will be the someone with whom she makes a life. Or God forbid, what if a woman decides to pursue a career instead of a husband and children, and leads a full life, rich with friends? What amazing things might she accomplish with no personal entanglements to keep her from it?

We have a long way to go, sisters. So here’s to the next girls! May the engineers and scientists step forward. May the men in their lives know that’s where they belong.

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6 thoughts on “You’ve come a long way, baby! Maybe…

  1. Great post. Have you read Revenge Wears Prada, the sequel to Devil? It delves even further into Andy’s work/life balance. It made me VERY uncomfortable and aggravated.

  2. Lately I’ve been pondering why didn’t I go into computers? I’m finding that I love the inner workings of coding. I’m remembering that I loved physics in high school. The only 100% in science I ever got in my whole life. Why didn’t someone say encourage me to look at those things more. I studied art & theatre. Both things I loved and was good at but nothing that prepared me for a career. It was just something to do.

  3. You have no idea how many people ask me if I’m married, then ask me if I have ever been married, and then shrug their nose like I’m a complete failure because I’m not and haven’t been. Okay that’s tangentially on topic but I chose to go to the east Coast and put a lot of time into focusing on my career.

    It’s pretty harsh out there and this topic is always apropos to women lawyers. Can women be partners? Should they be partners? What about work life balance? Wait, why is work life balance only a topic for women lawyers?

    So yes.

  4. This situation caused a rift between my daughter and her dad 13 years ago when she was a sophmore in college. He wanted her to quick going “to that big school” and move in with him and his wife. If she didn’t he warned she would never see them again. (why did I marry that guy? I was 17 when I did, that’s why) She took the gamble and saw him, his wife and her 1/2 sisters for the first time in all those years at a family party (the rest of his family has been wonderful!) just last month. She has a master’s degree, is the head of IT for a state agency, have been married several years and together they have a 2 year old son who is a complete delight! Her life is hectic and she doesn’t sleep much but it did her heart good to hear her dad say he was sorry for all the years lost. He still doesn’t understand why she didn’t want to be a teacher or nurse or something traditional like that but at least now he understands that his archaic ideas about what his daughter should do prevented him from enjoying her life and the life of his only grandchild. Limited thinking never did any good for anyone.

  5. Great post Kerri! When I was growing up I was told I could be anything but that meant being a nurse, teacher or some such appropriate career for women. I wish I had more attention to my love for science and mastered the issues with mathematics(oh, how I struggled with math) so that I could have had a career in a scientific field. I am a “people person” and was a therapist before retiring but I think I would have really, really enjoyed working in a research lab.

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