Society seems to be subliminally sending today's middle-class and lower-class women a message. We have to choose between having a family when we want to, or getting an education. Not only can we not have both, simultaneously, but whichever one we choose, is what we have to be prepared to be satisfied, stuck with. It's been creeping up more and more lately, but there were two things that happened to me the other day that really brought this to my attention.
A co-worker and I were discussing her birthday. She was bumming out that she is getting close to thirty, and still has no specific family prospects. What she said totally makes sense to me. My husband is the same age as her, and we have recently had a very similar conversation. But, heck, we have the married part down and we still can't have kids now even though we are emotionally there. I mentioned to my co-worker that, since we don't even have kids and struggle to pay the bills, I certainly didn't know how the young families I know make it since most of them haven't been able to go out and further their education. Then, she said, "Yeah, I know what you mean, I also have a friend that chose the family path." That really stuck out to me. What is this? The game of LIFE?
As for the second thing, speaking about personal matters with strangers may seem odd, but I work both in a retail and at a restaurant. Therefore, I am constantly conversing with people I do not know, hoping to make a good enough impression that they'll want to come back. Surprisingly often, either my age or the fact that I am married comes up. One such conversation happened that left me walking away thinking, man, what a double standard! There was a friendly couple at a table I stopped by and they asked me why I decided to work at the restaurant. Obviously, I answered them honestly. I told them there were two reasons, but the main one was that my tuition went up and I had needed another job to try to cover it. So then, of course, they wanted to know about school and they reacted very excitedly to my responses and wished me good luck. Later, I stopped by the same table and they asked me what my second reason was. I admitted I hoped to spend time in an environment where Portuguese was spoken, to help me learn, so my husband had recommended the Brazilian steakhouse. Just like every other time it comes up, they informed me that eighteen is much too young to be married and didn't I know that man was just going to distract me from my education. If I was going to be married that young, my husband should at least pay for my school and not make me work for it. Not wanting them to think me an idiot, I politely let them know that, in fact, next month I'll be twenty-four. I didn't even go into that my husband already has to work overtime just to pay rent, gas, and groceries every month. But, get this, they totally flip-flopped! After asking how long I had been married, they wanted to know why, if I had been married that long, I didn't already have kids! Wait, did they or did they not just tell me that having a husband was going to be too distracting? Are not kids going to be all the more distracting?
This innocent, telling conversation is the perfect example of society's double standard. On one hand, women are supposed to stand up for themselves and show that they are not going to let men define them. On the other hand, there is a certain, indiscernible age that women are supposed to have already settled and begun their families. As my co-worker said, it's like we have to choose the "family path," or the "career path." When it's the older generations, pressing these ideals on us without even realizing they are doing so, that are the ones teaching us and providing our job opportunities, how can we not submit to their courses, at least a little? Even if they are aware and on board, do today's financial situations allow us to do both simultaneously? Certainly not here in the city!
As a woman who is putting her family on hold to finish up her education, hoping to someday be able to have both (Thinking it totally unfair that I can't have a yard, meanwhile, my husband has to put both family AND vocation on hold -thank you Marine Corps for always sending him away in the middle of his semesters.), I ask you, society, what are we going to do about this? Sure, free tuition sounds good and well. However, I know all too many people that have graduated and still are stuck with low-wage, non-career path jobs just like the ones I have. It's already scary enough to think about not being able to get a better job after college; we can't afford the competition. Raising minimum wage will only increase the price of everything else. So, what's the plan?