So I had this little dialogue last weekend with some girlfriends where, bottom line, they think I’m some prima donna because my 6’ 1 inch husband and 6’ son carry my beach chair onto the beach. Uh, that’s high maintenance?
I’ve met high maintenance and that’s not it. High maintenance doesn’t work. She doesn’t clean. She doesn’t even do volunteer work. She does her nails and hair. She thinks about what to buy and where to go for lunch. (Okay, maybe lunch IS pretty important to me…but that’s just cause I love food, not being seen at the club.)
So, I have worked my entire life (minus 9 weeks off twice to have some kids), commuted, travelled, and otherwise succumbed to the demands and requirements of corporate America, in general, and corporate finance, in particular.
Early in my career, I was told, “Don’t mention any child care problems you have…the partners are paying you not to have any.” It was fair enough, I guess. It was a small high-end money management firm where partners paid above market in order to have a happy and committed workforce. They didn’t want to hear you couldn’t stay late to strategize on raising fees or how to make the quarterly underperformance sound positive because day care closed at 6 p.m. Consequently, most of us moms had “help” and we, in turn, didn’t want our help telling us they couldn’t stay late so…we paid above market rates. Win – win. Sorta win – sorta win?
Years later at a larger firm, I remember male colleagues announcing confidently and proudly that they were leaving early to catch Johnny’s soccer game or swim meet or whatever other junior athletic event was in vogue. It always amazed me because it was so foreign to me (and my female colleagues). Why are men willing to admit they do this when we never admit this? To us, we would assume it made us look less committed, less professional, less “career serious.” (Oh, and, by the way, it would.)
So, I’m talking to my 21-year-old daughter about the whole, “should I carry my chair thing,” and she says (quite quickly and quite emphatically), “Make the patriarchy work for you!”
Hallelujah! So that’s what three years of a liberal arts education and some women studies at Vassar will get you! While “patriarchy” may be a bit of stretch, I liked where she was going. She argued that since we’re living in a male privileged society anyway, shouldn’t you at least reap some benefits from its inequities?
That gets me thinking about my own liberal arts education and how I took my share of women’s studies classes and even wrote my undergraduate thesis on what feminism in Russia looks like. I had lots of male friends and we did things together like march in Washington for women’s rights, hold signs on Locust Walk demanding equal pay for equal work, and picket Irvine auditorium when it was showing a famous porn movie. We students – boys and girls, men and women – were equal. I didn’t have to say things in a certain way so as to not come across as “aggressive,” or even worse, “competitive.”
And then all of a sudden we weren’t equal. Not in our careers, not in our household responsibilities, not in our ability to express ourselves, and certainly not financially.
And I wonder as I listen to my brilliant, resourceful and responsible daughter – will she stay equal with her male classmates, as they get older? Can she ascend the corporate ladder while admitting to seeing her children’s tennis matches? Will society evolve – as arguably it already has since my own mother entered the workforce — and recognize that her value is equal to her classmates’ and assign that value an equal dose of worth?
“Uh, wait Zoe…you’re not making any sense!” I can hear the sandy crowd now. “If you’re looking for equality, then shouldn’t you carry your own chair?” Well, team, I guess I look at this way…if it wasn’t for me, the cooler wouldn’t be packed, the tuna and cheese sandwiches wouldn’t exist, and the towels would smell like last summer. That doesn’t sound like a prima donna to me.