Disclaimer: I’m going to attempt to cover a few topics here. I will try to make it succinct and not convoluted. But I make no promises.
This morning, I was listening to NPR and a story came on about women’s tendency to take lower-paying jobs. Actually, the reporter said women “choose” these jobs and that women make “bad choices” when it comes to their careers. At the end, an economist said it probably has more to do with what your passions are because you’re more likely to pick a job you’re passionate about.
This really got me fuming. I mean not the last part – though that did irritate me, too. Like, why are most women’s passions and thus, career choices so underpaid? And do women really choose badly when it comes to careers?
My answer is, kinda sorta maybe. That’s my answer as stated the way I’m supposed to voice my opinion as a woman. Women are not encouraged to have strong opinions (after all, just a century ago that’s what a husband was for – I mean, who needs a right to vote when you have a man?). If a woman does have an opinion, she must state it in an uncertain, almost apologetic tone. I still do this often despite years of trying to break the habit. So women don’t have opinions – especially not strong ones and we don’t self-advocate and we certainly don’t make mistakes. All of which creates an unsure and insecure individual. And to be clear, I’m discussing stereotypes and society’s gender norms. I have met many women who, despite tremendous obstacles and discouragement, are opinionated and self-assured.
Still. That’s not how we’re raised to be. No, we are raised to downplay ourselves – and our needs – while prioritizing those around us. As girls, we’re given dolls while our brothers are given legos and toy trains. Girls learn to bottle-feed and cradle babies while boys learn to create and be in charge. Oh, just writing that last sentence makes me want to cry, a little 😦 I mean, learning to care for others is a great thing – but why is it the main thing we learn to do?! So, not only are our interests thrust upon us but so are our abilities. We learn our role and our worth is to care for others, make them happy and help them succeed. Furthermore it’s my understanding, through my education, that as babies and children our brains are full of potential and so, we are able to accrue many skills – but only if we’re exposed to them. Connections in our brains form as we play and if we aren’t playing with toys that would spark certain brain development, those brain connections might not develop well, maybe not at all.
And so, girls grow into women who are insecure, scared to voice their opinions and will place anyone else before themselves. This description, sadly, reminds me of a complex trauma survivor. My heart is heavy when I write that I believe girls and women are socialized in a way that makes them behave like trauma survivors. Complex trauma survivors (meaning someone who survives multiple traumas, usually going back to childhood) are often perfectionists who are eager to care for and put others first and do not value themselves. And while these are actually tremendous coping skills that help people survive atrocities – seriously, how different are those traits from society’s stereotype of feminine traits? Not very. And how would such a skill set help you land a snazzy corporate job? Not very well.
But this is not what women choose. This is what’s put on women by society. And these gender roles lead us to fields where we can use the skills we’ve been taught to have. So we become teachers, nurses, social workers – positions that let us show how good we are at caring for others… while ignoring ourselves. Jobs that are really hard but hardly pay us. And why is it that fields that are female-dominated are underpaid? I don’t think you have to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out (and yes, the reference there to a male-dominated career was intentional).
So do we choose these jobs? Well, no one is making me do my job against my will (thank goodness!). But from my own experience and that of many women I know, there is not much opportunity for women to cultivate a passion (or skills) for engineering or business administration. So to then say that women make bad career choices… Well, to me, that just sounds a lot like victim-blaming.