This isn’t a story of my whole life, and it isn’t even about part of my life (even though the title might give that sense). It’s about a recent experience, and some recent discussions I’ve had, all about women in the workplace and some of the issues we face as a society. I’ll start this with a small glimpse into what drives me to care about this, and it comes down to one thing. I want to live in a world that feels fair. Period. I guess I’d settle for a country that feels fair, or maybe even a state or maybe even a community, but I want to be somewhere that feels fair. I know the saying “Life isn’t fair,” but I disagree. I think we define fairness differently, especially when bad things happen, but I think in many ways, life is, or could be fair. And I am happier when things seem fair. I recently attended a workshop on women in STEM. It included an excellent lecture and some good discussion after. I didn’t count, but I think there were about 40 people in the room, and about three of us were men. That’s unfortunate, but not the point I’m about to make: after it ended, and a few of us (me and three women) stood outside and talked more, at least four women leaving the room looked right at me, ignoring the others I was talking to, and gave me an enthusiastic “Thank you for coming to this.” I appreciated the acknowledgement, but was taken aback that nobody thanked the women I was talking to for coming. And I’m certain that I benefited more from the lecture than the speaker did. The speaker already knew everything she was saying. I got some new information from it, and from the discussion after. But the “thank you” comments didn’t end.
The next day, one of the women I was talking to, somebody I’ve known and worked closely with for years, called me on the phone to thank me again for going to the meeting. The conversation was enlightening, maybe even for her, because it was actually the first time I realized why I care about these issues (a punch line that I gave away already). I resisted her thanks, saying that I think it’s wrong to be more thankful that I was there than they were thankful that anybody else was there, and she disagreed. Her point was that I had nothing to gain from a world that treated women and men equally. In fact, as she saw it, I might have something to lose. At that moment, my response, which I uttered without really thinking about what I said until after, was along the lines of, “of course I have something to gain. This isn’t selfless. I want to live in a world that feels fair. I want that, for me.” And that’s a true statement. I’m not selfless. I like helping people. I like that it helps, but I do it because, for whatever reason, it makes me feel good. I would be lying to myself (and now to you) if I said that I did it for any other reason. I’m driven by the same things that drive everybody. I do what feels good. For me, that’s being generous and helping others. For me, that’s trying to at least think about ways that the world can feel more fair (even though I know I’m not in any position that I can make it more fair). I honestly feel like I don’t deserve that thanks, because I didn’t do anything for anybody. I just went to a lecture, and I did so because it was about something that I care about, because it’s about an end goal that would make me feel good. I consider myself very fortunate that many of the things that make me feel good are not things that harm other people, but it doesn’t make me any less selfish than anybody else. It’s still about what makes me feel good.
That aside, the election and a recent hire in my department has increased the number of conversations I’ve had recently about problems that we as a society face in how we support women and families. In the efforts we make to encourage families. In the ways that we punish women in the workplace for being good moms, and at the same time reward men for being good dads. These things are not fair, and I dream of a day, in my life, when they are at least a little more fair. A day when a father staying home for an evening with his kids while his wife goes out with her friends isn’t seen as special, even subtly, by referring to his time as “babysitting.” As if he’s providing a free service (that shouldn’t be free) by taking care of his own children. I guess another way of making it fair is to reward women as much, and talk about their time babysitting when they stay home with the kids too, but somehow that doesn’t feel right to me.
I hope to find time to write about some of this in more detail, with more information about how real these discrepancies are, and what efforts I see, in my role at a University, to make them more fair where possible, but for now, this more personal piece has to be it. It’s probably too long already. Enough about me…even though I just admitted that it’s actually all about me.
P.S. I wrote this as a bit of a stream of consciousness, without editing. There are undoubtedly some bad word choices, and probably even some extra words here and there (or missing words). I may go back and edit at some point, but I’m pressed for time and wanted to get this out while I could.