My realization of how sexism affects my life in both big and small ways.
If you asked me when I was a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, or even through my mid-teens, I would have answered your question without a second thought with “scientist” or “author.” When I was a high school upper classman I started to question why I gave the so little thought, what careers were plausible for me, and what challenges the world would likely present to me. As a college freshman I am more aware of the challenge of sexism within the United States workforce. Now that question brings with it a host of unpleasant thoughts. I am limited in what I can want due to something I cannot change and don’t really want to. am affected by an illness common in the United States – prejudice against the female sex. This illness affects about half the population of the United States and is denied by about half the population, and it takes opportunities from me for no reason. The split between those who believe in my illness and those who deny it is not gender specific, there are many men who are sympathetic to my illness and there are women who insist our illness is a conspiracy concocted by liberals to control women.
I was born a middle class female in the United States. From all the U.S. propaganda you’d think this was a great place to be. That is not true as I found out my senior year of high school, when I realized how badly my ‘illness’ would affect my future. I become more and more aware of sexism’s role in my life the older I get. Contrary to general belief women make up more than half the population on most college campuses and less than half of the stay at home parents. That doesn’t seem to matter to any of the people who tell me that there is no sexism, and that the wage gap is just liberal propaganda and if I want to succeed all I have to do is work hard, oh yeah, and give up on having a family. An insignificant loss. Right?
Unfortunately for them and for me, I want both a career I love and a family I love. With my senior year of high school came the pressure to know what I wanted to be when I grew up. So my friends and I started researching. One of my friends, Natalija, began the year wanting to be a veterinarian. However, when she saw the years of school needed she started to waver. Becoming a veterinarian requires too much time, too much money that she doesn’t have. The moment she threw up her hands and abandoned the idea was the moment she looked at the pay the career would give her. Did you know that female vets are often paid thousands of dollars less than their male counterparts because of their sex? I didn’t until Natalija came to me, so angry her vocabulary had been reduced mostly to expletives with a few choice nouns, verbs, and adjectives. After that I did some research into the wage gap. Partially to help out Natalija, myself, and my other female friends, partially to prove a petty, petulant, conservative teacher wrong. I sat in his class every day for three years and worked hard to learn, and every day he subtly, and not so subtly, reminded me that he thinks I am at fault for my illness.
Sitting with my friends in the front right corner of room 308 at Westwood High listening to Buck as he started to go off on another tangent. Is today going to be subtly sexist or outright conservative conspiracies?
“You know the wage gap is really not a thing. Women just chose to give up their careers to have families or they don’t ask for pay raises. You have to be aggressive. That’s why men get more rises than women.”
So outright conservative conspiracies then. At least he’s not pretending to be talking about something else. That “people get what they deserve. You have to work for what you want,” comment last week made the rest of the class period awkward.
You could almost see the anger in my corner of the room, floating around like the dusty brown smog hanging over the city in the morning when school starts. Our feelings also manifest in the form of tiny red crescents on Kass’s and my hands from where our nails dug into each other from the effort of not telling our teacher what we really thought of him and his politics.
As it turns out women generally have a more serious problem with sexism. A 2012 study out of Yale University about sexism in the hiring process of university science programs that women discriminate more harshly against other women than men do. Applications for a lab position were sent in. The applications were identical except for the name at the top: one male, one female. Both men and women offered to hire fewer ‘women’ than ‘men’. The applicants with female names were offered thousands less than the applicants with male names. You can probably imagine how I felt. Blisteringly angry. I could not understand, still cannot understand, why the world wants to judge me for something that has no effect on how effective I am as an employee.
Universities are not the only one’s guilty of sexism. Corporate America is even more guilty as their mindset still resides comfortably in the twentieth century. They want make me choose between having a family and having a career. Employers wish they could stop me from getting into a serious relationship or start a family because they, my future employers in corporate America and my history teacher, think that a serious relationship means marriage, marriage means children, and children means giving up my career. This isn’t the reality now and rather than evolve with the rest of our country employers turn a blind eye or even participate in sexually harassing female employees, pass women over for pay raises, and fire or lay them off before male employees. Employers do these things in hopes that women will become good little housewives. I will do no such thing. Many women don’t. In fact, the number of stay at home dads in America are raising rapidly, but why would that matter? Even if I gave up the possibility of a relationship and a family in my research I found that the wage equality only lasts from the time I am thirty-four to when I am forty-five. After that I would be considered too old (at forty-six!) and my wage would drop back down. The day after I had my epiphany about sexism I had to listen to a classmate, Gabby, talk about how the wage gap wasn’t real. I was sitting in my senior English class in my four-person group of desks pushed together with my friends. As Gabby talked I looked across the desks that had been the site of many feminist debates between my friends, my teacher, and myself to lock eyes with my friend Natalija to silently communicate my disbelief at her naivety. I wanted to weep. She lived in such a beautiful world, where we were considered equal to men, but at the same time it wasn’t the same world that the job market resides in and she will be the victim of an illness she doesn’t believe exists. She is not alone in her belief, but I cannot unlearn what I know and belief does not make everything real. I wish it did. Her world is far prettier than mine.
The battle against my illness has made progress but we cannot rest, we must continue to push toward a future with more equality between the sexes. The world may tell me repeatedly that I cannot have a career and a family but I refuse to listen. I will not bow to prejudice or sexism. I will fight for every penny I and use everything I have to educate the world and help others suffering from this societal disease. I will live a life balanced between work and family. I will make myself an example for all those who feel the disease defines them.