Thursday, February 07, 2008

My Life and Feminism

Southern LadyI've spent my entire adult professional life competing with men in the work place. I've had a lot of successes and a few disappointments. Over the years I learned the truth and adjusted myself to the business world accordingly as best I could.

Women's liberation was pretty well entrenched in our workplace psyche when I started my professional career. I remember starting out with the naive assumption that it was a level playing field. I thought if I worked hard I would succeed. I thought hard competent work equaled success in the business world.

Even back then it bothered me that the women's lib movement made the assertion that in order to be taken seriously we had to dress, look and act like a man. Remember the styles of the 1980s? The broad shoulders, the short masculine hair styles, jackets and scarves that looked like neckties? I wore those things to my job. It didn't make any difference. I was still paid less than my male counterparts. I was still hit on by the men at work. Men still patronized me as a cute little thing rather than as a serious colleague. I still had to be twice as tough as a man to be taken seriously and that only succeeded in getting me called a bitch.

The parts that really bothered me were the pay and the fact that men would work games on me, as a female, that they would never consider even trying with a male colleague. It also bothered me that women's lib didn't seem to value femininity. I thought, and still think, that the feminine has a lot to offer and should be valued equally. I don't believe it's necessary that we are all the same in order to be of value to society.

Another thing that feminists did was increase a woman's work load. I've been accused of being a workaholic. When I've heard people say that about me I wonder where that comes from. I never wanted to work as hard as I worked. I thought I had to. I felt guilty if I didn't. Think about it for a minute. If your house is a mess who is blamed for that? The woman. It doesn't matter if she works 60 hours a week and the man in the house works 40 hours a week. It is still her responsibility, in most people's minds, to keep the house and feed the family. In the past, the man was the provider for the family. He still mostly is, but it has changed so that if the family is struggling financially more and more people blame both the man and the woman. If we are honest with ourselves we do see it that way.

The result is that most of us are chronically exhausted and not much good to anyone.

In an odd sort of way, women's lib devalued both the feminine and the masculine. We were supposed to all morph into some kind of androgynous being that none of us really found attractive or wanted to be. Remember Prince? I never have understood what was wrong with appreciating and celebrating the differences. We both bring important characteristics to the table. Ying and Yang, the perfect circle of completion and all that.

When I look at the feminist blogs in the blogosphere I see self-hate and man-hate. I'd be willing to bet the women who write those blogs have not had to compete with men for jobs and respect in the business world. They couldn't make it with that kind of skewed thinking and complete lack of appreciation for the masculine and the feminine.

After all this time it hasn't changed. Human nature is what it is. You can not make a woman into a man or a man into a woman (most of the time!). The question is whether or not we can learn to appreciate what each brings to the table.

A few weeks ago I had a life changing experience. It was one of those things that happens that leaves you feeling like you've been kicked in the stomach and you're not quite sure where the lick came from. This followed on the heels of another experience that already had me thinking about how I had been living my life.

I learned early in my adult life that life is neither easy nor fair. I don't mean that I learned that intellectually, I learned it at a level that I understood it and quit expecting fairness or an easy road. Once I understood that, my life became easier. I quit being so angry when things did not go my way. I was able to look at events in my life more philosophically and objectively which helped me make more rational decisions about the direction I would take things. I was better able to forgive myself for my shortcomings.

Through the years I learned that I had a lot more gumption and courage that I would have ever known I had. I learned I could go toe to toe with pretty much anyone. It's been a long time since I have felt intimidated by anyone in the business world. I learned I was competent, capable and efficient. I learned I could do it. I could compete, even on an uneven playing field.

I learned that life is still not fair or easy. But that's okay.

And now I know that it's okay not to do that anymore. I don't need to. I don't want to. I've spent a certain amount of time immersed in self-pity and anger. But the bouts of self-pity are starting to be further between and of shorter duration. I have spent a lot of time exploring ways to free myself from the brutally political world of business.

I'm starting off in a new direction, a new venture. I don't have to prove anything to women's lib or anyone else anymore.

After all this time, I'm still standing.

Still Standing