Monday, February 11, 2013

We Women Get the Short End

We're all equal at birth.

Well, that's not quite true.  Research has shown that baby girls are more likely to survive their first year of life than baby boys.  This is particularly true in the case of premature babies.

Our advantages seem to end there.

We come home from the hospital and we are dressed in pink.  We wear bows.  We look "pretty."  

We are thrust into a world of sequins and barbies and fairies.  We are told we are beautiful and we get dressed up like princesses, and if we're lucky, occasionally we'll get to put on make up and nail polish.  These things make us pretty, you see, just like the barbies and fairies we play with.  We think everyone is pretty.  We don't know any other way.

We play with kitchens and babies and strollers and dollhouses.  Because someday we will be a mom, and we will cook and take care of our children.  We look at boys and see that they don't play with those things (and if they do, that's weird, right?).  No, they play with tools and cars and they wear blue, and God forbid they wear pink, because as we learn quickly, it's shameful for a boy to look or act like a girl.  Their parents cut their hair short so there is no mistaking it.  They are called a "girl" or a "sissy" as a derogatory term.

As we enter grade school, we learn that not everyone is pretty, and the more we veer from that Barbie image that we are bombarded with, the more "not pretty" we are.  We learn that there are "fat" people and "ugly" people, and God forbid, we cannot turn into those.  We start to question how we can avoid that.  We learn that boys like the pretty people.  The ones that look like Barbies.

Then we enter junior high, and at this point, most of us are not looking like Barbies.  In fact, we are looking pretty damn awkward.  And what a shameful thing!  So to make ourselves feel better, we cut down our fellow girls and gossip about them and make them feel just a little less of a person, because doing so makes us feel better.  (Most of us never grow out of this, by the way).  We learn that social stature depends largely upon the interest of boys, and that interest goes directly back to that whole Barbie thing.  To cope, some of us develop eating disorders, others eat even more, and some develop a low self esteem that will last into adulthood.  Some of us rebel, some of us withdraw, and some of us remain oddly unscathed.

Our moms and dads tell us that beauty is on the inside, that we can be anyone we want to be, and that we can do anything we set our mind too.  But the older we get, we are proven otherwise.  We women can play tennis and soccer and basketball in school, but we can't wrestle.  We can't play football.  Instead, we dress in short, revealing skirts, and stand on the sidelines of the game cheering for the boys, or dance during halftime.  We aren't allowed to wear short skirts to school, by the way, but somehow, when it comes to supporting the boys and their testosterone filled activities, that's the way it should be.  If we choose to forego the short skirts and play sports instead, we find that attendance at our games is low.  We don't have the male version of cheerleaders.

Around this time we start to learn about sex, and it becomes very confusing.  We learn that we are there to serve the boys, and that the goal is to get the boys to like us.  But how do we do that? Well, we can start by looking as much like Barbie as possible - that's already been established. But we quickly learn that it's not that simple.  We must dress sexy, but not too sexy.  We can hook up with some guys, but not too many.  We learn words like "slut" and "skank" and "hoe" and "tramp" and "hooker."  We don't want to be these things, but then we realize that the boys actually like these things.  We see it on TV.  We see it in magazines.  We see it in music videos and we hear all about it in songs.  We're not quite sure how we're supposed to be.  Some of us become the "nice girls."  Some of us become the "sluts."  And the rest of us are somewhere in between.

When we go away to college, we are relieved for a fresh start.  It's a new world, and a dangerous one.  We learn not to walk alone at night, to be wary of date-rape drugs, and to never really trust anyone.  We don't really heed this advice, and most of us get by just fine.  An unlucky few don't. We cling to our girlfriends, and some of us join sororities, where the hottest girl gets the highest premium.  We go to frat parties and bars and seek out the hottest guys ourselves.  We have heartbreaks and fun times and spring break trips in Florida, where it is all the more important to keep that Barbie body in shape.  We learn that beer is bloating and that classy girls can drink, but not too much.  Not as much as the boys, at least.  We pick a major and think about a career occasionally ponder our future family.

It never occurs to us that there is a glass ceiling or a gender gap.  This is the 21st century, after all.  That was our parents' generation.  We start our corporate jobs and don't even notice that the upper echelons of management are comprised of a single sex.  We got out on Thursday nights, we find a boyfriend, and we get engaged.  We plan a wedding and spend the year prior starving ourselves so we can spend our wedding night in a tight fitting white dress that weighs a ton.  If there's ever a day in one's life to look like Barbie, that day is it.  We know it, and everyone expects it.  

We move up in our jobs and years go by, and then we realize we have an important choice to make: whether to have children.  We realize that shit, we never really considered how children would fit into this whole career thing, and maybe this wouldn't be the best thing career-wise.

Some of us put it off and are shocked to find out that when it finally comes time, our ovaries are old and our eggs are gone - a time stamp that our male counterparts are able to avoid.  We spend thousands on fertility treatment and some of us get lucky.

Some of us do it earlier.  And then we get pregnant and we realize that this really sucks.  We realize that despite this whole notion of gender equality, there are certain things that only women can do.  We realize that our husbands get to sit by and be comfortable and drink wine while we get poked, prodded, and obese.  We feel nauseous and sick and we go to work anyway.  And when we let our superior's know our "good news," we feel bad about it, because we can see through their smiles - our procreation just isn't good for short term profits.

We give birth and it hurts.  Really bad.  We curse our husbands who get to sit there and watch. And then we see our baby and realize that miracles are real.  We are thankful to be women on that day.

Then our hormones go crazy.  Some of us get post partum depression.  Some of us get the baby blues.  We are all pressured to breastfeed, yet we are admonished for doing it in public.  We get little to no sleep and yet cannot sleep when the baby is sleeping.  Our husbands go back to work almost immediately, and if we are lucky enough for a maternity leave, we are shocked to realize it is no vacation.

When it comes time for us to go back to work, we realize that everything has changed.  We have two jobs now, and we're not doing great at either of them.  Some of us give our all to our work, at our children's expense.  Some of us give our all to our children, at our career's expense.  Some of us have husband's who give up their job.  At any rate, something has to give.  And it's usually we women who give it.  We simply can't have it all.

We realize there is this thing called "mommy wars," and that no matter what we choose, we are judged.  If we hire a nanny, we have abandoned our children and they will resent us forever.  If we quit our jobs and stay at home, we have abandoned our career and are destined to become reliant on a man for the rest of our lives, providing a bad example for our children.  We are told no one will ever hire us again should we want to reenter the workforce, notwithstanding our skills, education, or experience.

We get older, and we get wrinkles.  We freak out about it, because even though it's been a long time since we've played with Barbies, we carry her image with us always.  Our metabolism starts slowing and we abandon the bikini.  Some of us accept it, others take extreme measures through surgery.  Our husbands, on the other hand, are becoming more and more "distinguished" with each passing year.

We go through menopause and hot flashes and are officially labelled "barren."  If we are lucky, our marriages stay in tact.  If not, our husbands can date someone twenty years younger without raising any eyebrows, while we are condescendingly labelled "cougars."  Whoever we end up with, we will most likely end up a widow, because as in death just as in birth, we women are stronger than our male counterparts and consistently outlive them.

It's a wonder we aren't all insane.


  1. Love this! The next time I hear someone say that we don't need feminism anymore, I'm going to send them this post.

  2. Thanks for voicing my continual and increasing frustration. My husband doesn't understand why I feel so hopeless all the time, and this is why.

  3. Sing it, girl. You've nailed the problem; I just can't figure out the solution.

  4. This post spoke to me more than anything recently. The part about having 2 jobs and that we can't have it all. That's exactly what I'm going through right now. Thank you. It sucks but I guess it feels good to know I'm not alone in feeling like this.

  5. hey, good dads share the burden too. you moms are doing a great job, keep it up!

  6. So articulate and well written. I loved reading this - made me feel not so alone. Thank you!

  7. wow, what a incredible post. I loved it. If I have a daughter I will have to remember she is not my doll, but so much more...

  8. Great post! Thanks for being a great voice to corporate women who are trying to juggle it all. I'm a Biglaw NYC attorney currently on maternity leave but going back to work after 6 months off with baby #2 and I am dreading it... At least I know that I am not alone.

  9. Great post! Glad I found your blog. I worked at a big NYC law firm and then in-house at Fortune 500 company. After four years of staying home with my little ones, I am having an extremely hard time finding a job.

  10. You've given voice to what so many of us are going through. It is now our responsibility to somehow show our children -- daughters and, perhaps even more crucially, our sons - that there is a different way.


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