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Essay: Gender and Racial Equality
What You See Is What You Get
Recently I was hit with the one-two punch of reality from two diverse sources. One was from the amazing book, “Hidden Figures”. The other was from a humor blog I go to for a laugh called, “Babysideburns.” But first, let me set the stage:
I grew up being told that I could be anything I wanted to be. I knew that in college any major was available to me. My parents openly encouraged me in every aspect. But actions speak louder than words. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the picture in my head of what life looked like as a grown-up was created by what I had witnessed in my youth. My mom quit her job to stay home with my sister and I while my dad ran the family business. When we were old enough, she went back to work. Per the times, the woman was expected to temporarily sacrifice her career for the children and then try to wedge her way back into the work place while her male counterparts had soared ahead, unfettered. I didn’t find it strange, I didn’t find it unfair, it just was what I saw.
And so I followed suit. I graduated, got a job, got married, had children, all in lock-step order. And then I got divorced. A lawyer, acting on behalf of my soon-to-be-ex-husband, appealed to a judge to let him keep the majority of our assets because, after all, he had been the one who earned the money while I was home raising the children. Gut punch. Naturally, his argument failed, but the audacity of even uttering those words! Why do we think that raising children is a pro bono position? What are we teaching our children today? Do we actively show them examples of parents discussing paternity as well as maternity leaves from their jobs? Are there equal amounts of men and women taking high powered positions in corporate America? Do we see pictures from the White House of groups of men and women gathering to solve the nation’s problems or is it just a continuous stream of old, white men?
What you see if what you get. For those of you who live under a rock and are unfamiliar with the story of “Hidden Figures”, it details the lives of three African American women in the 1960s working as mathematicians at NASA. Author Margot Lee Shetterly weaves a tale of strength and fortitude waged by these women as they battled both sexism and racism.
In the first part of the book, Shetterly, who is African American herself, takes time to explain her own story. She grew up in Virginia in the 1970’s. Her father was a research scientist at NASA-Langley Research Center and her mother was an English Professor at Hampton University. She says she was surrounded by black engineers, black scientists, and black professors. She thought, “that’s just what black people do.” She broke tradition a little when she decided to become an investment banker after college. But still, she never questioned her place as a successful woman in society.
"Babysideburns" blogger and author, Karen Alpert’s heart broke a little one morning when her six-year-old son said he didn’t want a girl to be president. It was an innocent enough comment coming from a kid that age. Children like the simplicity of drawing easy distinctions. If you are a boy, girls have cooties, and who wants the President of the United States to have cooties?
But when she tried to tell him that girls can be president, evidence in the form of a composite of all 45 presidents sided firmly with him. Her daughter, Zoey, tried in vain to find an exception:
Zoey: Is that one a woman?
Me: No, men used to wear their hair long in the old days.
ZOEY: What about that one?
ME: Uh-uh, that’s a guy too.
- See more at: http://babysideburns.com/2015/10/girl-president/#sthash.DEXQAfjW.dpuf
The point here is that lip service is not what is needed to convince girls to set their sights on successful careers. We need visible evidence. It is our job to show our nieces, daughters, and sisters the variety of jobs available by demanding employers and institutions provide equal pay and equal treatment. And it will be the job of our nieces, daughters, and sisters to show that they are equal to the task.
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