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Archive for April, 2014

Our Choice

The other day a colleague of mine mentioned that his wife was pregnant with their second child. I casually asked him if he was planning to come back to work after the baby was born.

The conversation around the meeting room stopped and everyone stared at me a little quizzically. Of course he was coming back.

A friend of mine once told me that she hates telling people how much she spends on childcare, because their reaction to the astronomical number makes her feel bad, like she needs to be justifying why she pays someone SO MUCH MONEY to watch her kids so that she can work.

The choice she makes – her, as the mom, her, as the female spouse – to pay that much money for childcare. Framing her work as if it were a vanity project, a thing she chooses to do, with extravagant consequences.

Of course my male coworker will go back to work. Of course. “But what are you going to do,” society asks me. “Is working worth the cost of childcare? Is it? No judgment but is it? Huh? Huh?”

I recently watched a clip of Neil DeGrasse Tyson explaining that when he was younger, being vocal about wanting to become a scientist put him on the “path of most resistance”. People questioned and prodded and wanted to place him in a box that was more familiar to them. “Don’t you want to be an athlete?” he was asked. We could see him, a black man, in sports. Not a science laboratory.

He goes to say that if he did not know with such certainty and at such a young age what he wanted, he’s not sure he would have had the motivation to overcome that skepticism, to push through and become the astrophysicist he wanted to become. And he wonders how many people don’t get the chance to even know they want to become scientists, because it’s so hard to place yourself outside where our culture thinks you should be.

(He says it better than I can paraphrase: 

I saw that clip weeks after I asked my male colleague if he was coming back to work after his child was born, but the two things feel related to me.  Of course I knew that my colleague was coming back to work. I didn’t need to ask. But when I was pregnant, my coworkers did need to ask. And the fact that the question has to be asked of me and not of him means that for all the support and “of course you work, women work, duh, what’s the big deal” means it’s still seen a female choice, a choice that needs to be justified and explained and is not a given.

That’s a daily thing, a constant thing, the explaining of that choice, be it in terms of explaining why you pay for childcare or that, yes, don’t clean out your office, you’ll be back… and it’s not a thing men are thinking about. And like Neil DeGrasse wondering how many kids of color or female gender miss out on the chance to know they want to be scientists because people like them aren’t supposed to be scientists, I wonder about the toll it takes when we suggest that it’s only working women who are deliberately choosing to not be primary caregivers. Think about the message that frames for us as a society, for our kids to internalize, if my participation at work is voluntary but a man’s is expected.  And think about what it must feel like to live with the constant underlying judgment, because no matter you chose to do – work or not – if it’s a choice that’s yours and yours alone, then what is being suggested is that you may be choosing wrong.

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Writer Kristen Armstrong wrote several years ago about how growing older has changed how she viewed her body. Specifically, she writes about “The clothes hanger purpose of her 20s, to the child bearing purpose of her 30s, to the athletic purpose in her 40s.”

 
I read that several years ago – long ago enough that I cannot find the exact article and neither can Google- but I’ve always remembered it. Probably because I was in the clothes hanger stage and had never thought of it exactly like that but that is what it was.
 
Anyway, I was thinking about that in terms of Kate Middleton this week. You know I’ve never heard Kate Middleton speak? I have no idea what her voice sounds like, but I can detail for you exactly which shoes she wore to dinner last night. (Literally.) It must be extremely odd to have your contribution to the world be almost entirely made up of how clothes fit on your body.
 
I’m sure the Duchess is a lovely lady and her husband and child love her dearly. It’s just so weird to think that her job as a state leader is to…dress nicely. It will be so lovely to see what she does with her platform when she is out of her clothes hanger stage, won’t it?

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