White Collar Feminism

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My brother’s girlfriend has much higher earning potential than him and he’s comfortable with that. That attitude is not uncommon anymore, as it’s held by several other men I know in heterosexual couples where the women do or will bring home the bacon. But my sample is a biased one. I don’t interact with people who are the epitome of the problem. I can, however, see what’s in plain sight.

Women have entered the workforce and are here to stay, yes – that news is decades old and not worth comment on its own. Women are increasingly becoming breadwinners, although it’s not an achievement of women’s rights when that’s the case because the manly blue collar jobs in manufacturing aren’t around in our local economies anymore. These women, of working class families, are likely to hold devalued pink collar jobs. They’re not outearning their partners because of higher achievements in career and education; they’re merely keeping their families’ heads barely above water by working in unappreciated jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.

Even women who do make gains in higher paying careers are often pressured into acting more like men than the men are. Women work harder than their male counterparts in these prestigious positions, according to [hemorrhages millions of recent studies], in order to make roughly the same (read: slightly less but close enough) as men. Professions like business, finance, medicine, and law still value aggressive authoritarian working styles over collaborative solutions, and those working characteristics are highly gendered as socialized from the moment we’re born. When women work like men to achieve almost-equal status, it is very far from equal and very, very far from feminism.

The gains that women have made in the middle range of earnings and status in jobs have dyed the collars pink. I work in an office that’s 95% staffed by women. It’s lower elsewhere in the department, but on the whole I’d shoot for 80% women, including management roles. But like the human resources field as a whole – unless it’s manly labour relations positions negotiating with manly industrial unions – it’s been belittled as softer, gentler women’s work instead of the keeping-shit-together-and-going-forward-strong work it actually is. The public sector in general, after a few decades of specific programs aimed at narrowing the gender gap (among other victims of systemic discrimination), women are widely represented in fields where they may not be in private industry because of this outreach. And now these jobs are both leeches on taxpayers AND underpaid relative to the private sector equivalents held more disproportionately by men. Women who achieve things in environments where they’re empowered to are somehow not as deserving of success, or the recognition they get falls short of the work they do.

There have been great strides towards making predominantly feminine occupations get more respect than they did previously. Nurses are better educated and have more responsibilities than before, and have made leaps in how much they’re paid for that (although not nearly enough for the literal shit they literally clean up on a literally daily–hourly–basis). But they will never have people kiss their feet as so many do with (or is expected by) doctors. Other medical professionals – pharmacists, mental health professionals, massage therapists, physiotherapists, dieticians – with high women memberships get overshadowed by the egos of doctors who go by the patriarchal values of power and authority more than they do the Hippocratic oath. The value that increases in pay, recognition, and responsibilities of these professions doesn’t change the broader rule that to be successful at anything you must be an overworking asshole. Attempts to further the status of these undervalued jobs falls short of changing what is valued overall.

I’m very happy for all the women I know who are striving to reach their highest potential in challenging fields. In our individual lives that’s what we have to live for – it’s the choices that we can make within the constraints of reality that exist whether we agree with them or not. But let’s not use women-holding-manly-jobs as a symbol of inching closer to equality. Beyond the token value of one women’s success masking the ninety-nine men in the same or higher positions, it’s reinforcing the incredibly flawed basis of analysis that equality is measured by how close women are to becoming men. This maintains the patriarchy, it maintains the class system and further gap of wealth, it maintains the racialized justification as if oppressed people are oppressing themselves. The means we use to measure the status of women is insufficient and counterproductive. Let’s not get too comfortable now.

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The Cowardly Career Path

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I take back what I wrote yesterday about regret over taking a desk job rather than the risks and freedoms of self-employment. That’s what gets people into the mentality of time is money (and by extension of social mathematics, wasted time is wasted money and time spent is money spent; however, and alas, free time IS NOT free money). This turns people into their own harsh and demanding Dickensian employers, and makes buzzwords and expensive webinars about those buzzwords relevant to their work. That would be terrible.

I am a fan of many artists who operate on the business model of “giving shit for free first, asking for money for that same shit later” which is something I respect. I read web comics daily and generally buy books or prints or other merchandise when available, because of my love of paper and the idealistic principles of fans paying it forward that these artists depend on. Some of these artists are entrepreneurial and diversify their products and services. Others complain of problems making their rent…and delivering products already paid for. (I won’t get into that consumer complaint.) Some people can balance their creative self-employment with good business practices. Others can’t, but still stick to their practice because they can’t or just won’t work a steady job.

I don’t have the enthusiasm, determination, or tolerance for bullshit buzzwords that successful self-employed people need. I certainly don’t have the confidence in my work nor the sales skills to pretend that I do. I also don’t have the dramatic eccentricity to live in squalor and die of diseases of poverty, as that takes a lot of effort and mental illness and/or pretending to pull off in this era. I guess I just find it too easy to work like a “normal person” day in and day out. I guess I’m just not that committed to escaping my status quo white privilege comfortable middle class upbringing in either direction.

And I would hate having to talk about my work even more if it wasn’t a boring job nobody cared about beyond half a sentence. What’s more painful for me to bear than talking about a boring life is being asked about an interesting one. It wouldn’t be anyone else’s business what I did if I were self-employed. It would literally be only mine.

The Breaking Point of Compromise

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So. I admit defeat. Mental breakdowns. Bowing down to pharmaceuticals. Being the embodiment of generational stereotypes that I would rather quit a job I have that doesn’t fit my education or lifestyle or principles than continue working for the sake of supporting myself no matter what the emotional fatigue it is to pretend.

I have had to give up so much of my stubborn self over the last couple of years that I can’t even bother to fight the prejudices and stereotypes that I’m that odd eccentric chick who is crazy enough to walk through the cold, reads non-fiction on weird things like gay culture and the current state of waste management, and is too awkward to get a man.

Life isn’t great right now. It could be worse. I see worse. What I could’ve added to people’s smile-and-nod impressions of me above is that I choose to live in the scary city centre, this part of town that doesn’t have driveways or even fences because it’s all apartment buildings – and there are SCRUFFY people there who don’t even bother to walk properly, and they’re darker and sometimes ask for money. How can a vulnerable young white woman like me make it there? There are people with substance abuse problems, domestic abuse problems, and mental health problems that have people not trained and paid to address them – all of these things – ignoring the existence of such human beings on this basis. They can look me in the eye to smile-and-nod as I tell them the seriousness of speedy population growth and urbanization in the developing world and what that means for human health but that’s as much as they’re willing to handle – a white person who took a shower that morning, talking vaguely about what they’d rather ignore. In their neighbourhood there’s that retired person with an array of lawn ornaments and that’s as much as they’re willing to deal with visible differentness in their suburban part of town.

An otherwise unremarkable moment from last year stands out in my memory – walking down a street in my downtown neighbourhood, a not-well native person approaches a well-groomed young man in a suit and asks for change. The man dismissively says “No way, I’m in debt, you’ve got more money than me!” While on some levels this is true, the man in the suit ignores what was required of him to get in debt in the first place – qualifying for higher education and associated loans, and enough earnings or earning potential to get a mortgage, credit cards, line of credit for his own luxury. The cockiness of this man’s strut bothered me enough before he said this.

Despite the presence of these flashy people seeking the status and prestige of a job in the skyscrapers of Portage and Main, working downtown would be an immense improvement on my life and well-being because of material balance and abstract principle. So when I had a waterfall breakdown at work last week and spilled out to my boss how my skills are underutilized and lifestyle compromised in a work situation I’m looking to get out of the weight came off my shoulders of pretending to her, and at least a couple of other people in this bubble building, that I fit in as part of the team.

I’ve divulged more personal details here than I ever have before, as unwise as it is to write things out that can be used against me in exactly what it is that I need to change in my life. Here’s how this is to be generalized: people of my generation won’t get hired in lower-end jobs because of the likelihood, as is our intention, that we will leave as soon as something better comes up. We won’t get hired in the jobs we seek to start our careers in because they’re being eliminated or hoarded or bottlenecked from decisions of older people higher up. We’re turned down for the first hundred jobs we apply for, for either of these reasons, and we’re told to count our blessings when we’re hired for the mediocre middle that’s not on the path of what we strive for, that doesn’t pay enough to at least drown our sorrows, and typically sacrifices other parts of our lives to a tipping point. The part of my life that’s being sacrificed is time spent in my own community, around the diversity of people I’d rather identify with. I’d gladly swap places with someone who’d like to avoid working to pay off their debts in a place where the odd person in different circumstances is left to walk around asking for literal handouts. If I leave a job that’s not compatible, my generation lacks loyalty and shouldn’t be trusted. If I downgrade to something simpler because it’s closer to where I live, my generation lacks ambition and the financial discipline to save for our future. If I stay where I’m unhappy, my generation has been zombified at work with the same habits we developed playing hours and hours of video games.

Darn kids.

There’s No “Fun” in “Professional”

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Last week I received official confirmation of passing the second and final exam to obtain a professional designation. I hope to use this newly attained qualification to get into a better position more suited to my potential, but there are other sides of this that go beyond a job description. The key word here is “professional”.

Being a professional means taking things seriously. I wasn’t raised to take things at face, because it’s never so simple and there’s no absolute, concrete inevitability of the systems and institutions in society that make it, its economy, and its jobs, what they are. I refuse to drop my sense of humour and my critical thinking skills that see right through much of the modern capitalist market. I also claim full ownership over my free time, so I plan to limit the things I do with the letters of this designation attached to my name. I do this to protect my individual right to make poop jokes.

There are parts of this field that I can take seriously – about respect and treating others as humans with open minds and a willingness to understand their circumstances, for example –and parts where I’m happy to play a role in what’s not a game but is perhaps seen as an on-the-job puzzle. I can apply problem solving skills with mental tools that are not poop jokes, and I’m keen on suggesting improvements. I’ve built up a whole new persona that is based on actively doing stuff, which was not there before.

What will be difficult for me beyond the rough edges of my otherwise sophisticated personality will be the requirement to talk about how important my profession is. I have already been asked that many times at parties by people who primarily know me by what my mother has taken creative liberties to tell. Self-importance is not a strong area for me, and projecting that to a field that is struggling to reach certain levels of respect and recognition is even more difficult. And it’s mostly being done by people talking to other people in the field, talking about how mutually they themselves are so important, not getting anywhere sending out a message.

I’m diving into this too deep, with the cerebral pick-apart of what this change in my life means. I’m not in a suiting position and I don’t have as much experience as so many other people do, and I’m not sure if that gives me a better starting perspective that can last as I progress in this field, or if I will sniff the glue and believe the same things the rest of the professional body believes. Watch out. This could include holding my off-work behaviour to still professional standards. This could kill the poop joke.

The Grass is Greener Lifestyle Dilemma

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When I was in elementary school, I had an active imagination. That imagination led me to pretend my classroom was a workplace and my bedroom was an apartment, and I was an adult. Now, of course, I wish I could be in elementary school again because that shit was easy, yo.

Even when I was in university, with a flexible schedule and only 15 hours of in-class time each week, I longed for a future that didn’t require studying and writing papers in off-hours to be coordinated with a part-time job that took evenings and weekends in a varying schedule. That, and I wanted a real income.

When I finished university, I got a shitty job with varying shifts that included evenings and weekends. It met my ambitions in striving for mediocrity for my early-to-mid-20s with just enough pay to get by. Working at that job motivated me to strive for a regular day job so I could have evenings and weekends off.

But now I have that. There is so much that is lost to previous schedules when I could occasionally fit something into the morning or afternoon. Now I have to worry about how my own business hours mirror those of other places, meaning I can’t arrange convenient times for things, or avoid busy crowds by going places when most other people are at work. While I didn’t make much money during university most of it was spending money, and I at least had more flexibility in choosing what I wanted to do when, even with my classes. The length of the working day at my shitty job was shorter, meaning I earned less money but had more time. I got to spend more time at home when working that job, even if my apartment was shitty because my rent budget was lower.

Part of my current time problem is I take the long way home every day, because I don’t work as close to my apartment as I would ideally wish. But having been unemployed for many months of the past few years I know what the alternative is – having so much time but no money to spend, as well as no other purpose to justify getting up in the morning except to look for jobs. On these winter mornings when I have to get out of bed when it’s still dark, and it’s so much colder above the blankets than underneath, so I do think back to when I slept in every morning. I think back to that whenever there’s something I need to do or want to be able to do for things outside of work, but I know it isn’t feasible. When I was unemployed I want what I have now, with perhaps an hour of the time it takes up shaved off, but I shouldn’t be complaining.

Most of the time I’ve been satisfied with where I am, with my schedule and my purpose and my lifestyle as a whole. I think the winter months are getting to me, that I have to get out of a warm bed and that it’s dark by the time that I leave. I wish that I could get more bang for my buck with the rent that I pay by spending more time at home, so any other commitment that I have feels like a burden taking away value from what I have no choice but to pay for. I wish I worked in my community so I could enjoy it more, like that brief period when I could, in fact, walk home for lunch every day. But I suppose if my mid-20s ambition was for a mediocre job and little disposable income, my late-20s ambition shouldn’t yet reach for the stars. I have my 30s to look forward to for that.