Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Real Superheroes

Okay, the audience has spoken - or rather not spoken, which sometimes can be just as loud - so I'm departing from my planned trip through Feminism in the 80's since I laid quite the egg with the column on the same topic in the 70's.  Allow me therefore to cut right to the chase: equal rights for women is a fiction because we are not the same as men.  I'll let you pause and ponder that for a moment...

Now that maybe half of you are mad that I said that rather incredible statement, allow me to qualify it.  We're not less than the male of the species, but we are decidedly different.  For the few of you who read the last post where I pondered as a teenager how hard it was going to be to march forward as a modern woman, well at some point I realized that life was not going to be any easier for my daughters.  Now, I might actually argue that as long as babies are not spawned in test tubes and raised in labs ala Logan's Run then it probably never will be.  The bottom line is there is a biological imperative that causes the mother to be, in most cases, the primary parent:  we are the ones who gestate and give birth.  I know there are lots of cases where the mom is in the wind and the dad does the job more than ably.  There are lots and lots of cases where both parents struggle with the job, but let's just set that aside for the purposes of what is supposed to be a fairly short piece.  There is just something in our wiring as children to where we want our mommy when we're sick or sad or amazed or mad or about a million other emotions or conditions we will experience growing up.  And there is just something in our wiring that makes us, as the mommy, to want to be that primary parent.  Therefore, I tend to think we need to cut ourselves some slack and realize that the commercial I used to be subjected to back in my youth was wrong:  we can't make the bacon and then fry it up in the pan too.  Something has to give.  I walk past the urn that holds my daughter's ashes everyday - I know all too well what gave in my house.

But, this isn't really about me. What I wanted to celebrate here is about three other women I know and admire.  Now, I've written about real people in my life before without their advance permission and it's gotten me in trouble, so I do this with some risk, but if you happen to recognize the identity of these women, then go up to them and give them a hug or a high five, because they are truly amazing people.  They are not the only amazing moms I know by far, but they are clustered together in one little department for the same company, so they are not only awesome, but rather convenient to spotlight.

Here's the thing about them:  each is capable of being something way more in the workforce.  They are bright, intelligent, dedicated and honest - an employer's dream.  But, here they all are working as essentially clerks because, while they all need to work for various reasons, they have made the decision that they are moms first.  Kudos to the company for allowing them the leeway to do so and still employ them:  one works part-time, another comes in early so she can leave early, and the youngest mother of the trio has to miss hours here and there, but makes them up in the evenings or weekends.  They all make severe sacrifices not only in their careers, but in their personal lives so they can commit to the most important job of all:  raising their daughters (because, I note, all of their collective offspring are girls). 

There is a long-term risk to choose the path they are taking:  once their daughters are grown and gone and they might be in a mental and physical position to pursue a more "career-oriented" position, they have to realize the reality that the door may be shut on that possibility.  My observation is that women have a smaller window of opportunity than men to advance their careers.  It's one of many inequities in the workforce between the genders that I've seen over the years.  Look at a man at 50 and he is seen to have maturity and hard earned knowledge, picture a woman at the same age trying for the same position, and we're seen as over-the-hill who probably will not work hard (I have heard as much come out of people's mouths).  The short-term risk is mothers are seen as a liability as employees.  If something happens to our company and these three remarkable women were forced to look elsewhere, they would have a challenge, whether it is legal or not.  I know because I've been on both sides of that ledger.  I know full well that, whether you're supposed to think this way or not, you cannot help but try and field your staff with people who are not going to have outside distractions that pull them away from the desk you mentally want to chain them to.  Now ask for special considerations, like an alternate schedule, and you're really putting yourself behind the eight-ball. 

Now, let's talk about the social sacrifices they make:  when you come in hours before anybody else in the office, you're losing that social outlet, but you have to go to bed early every night so you lose another avenue for socialization.  You don't really fit in with the moms who are not working outside the home because your schedule is so off from theirs, so you give that up for now, along with expensive shoes, manicures, lunches out and vacations to anywhere fancier than the coast every so often.  You do all this gladly when in fact you have the moxie to actually have a high level position somewhere because you're that capable.  Some people might think it's a waste, but it's not, it's selfless.

Now, granted, they get a big assist from the spouses who make a choice of any kind even possible.  Like every company, mine is populated with women who are working in more career-driven positions because they have zero choice.  They are single moms many of them.  Life is not easy for them, nor the choices and sacrifices they have to make every day.  But, here's the thing:  I, like a lot of women my age, got propelled almost into the workforce feeling like we owed it to our gender to prove we could work like a man and shatter the glass ceiling.  Mother once said in my earshot that I liked working and wouldn't stay home if I could.  That wasn't true.  I would have loved to be stay-at-home mom, but that was not an option.  However, once I was in the workforce, I was all in.  I worked punishing hours and had burning ambition.  It never occurred to me to make the choices these three ladies make.  They are all younger than me.  They have the courage to make tough choices that I didn't.  It makes me feel some optimism for the children of this generation.  You know, the real bottom line is, you cannot have it all.  There is no scenario where you don't sacrifice something.  Life is hard like that.  I didn't believe it when I was a young mother.  I certainly do now.

So, anyway, in the summer of superheroes - The Avengers, Spider-Man, and my personal favorite, Batman - all the moms I know are my real superheroes.  I hope their children feel the same way I do.

One thing I'll leave from my originally planned post is the video below - let Cyndi Lauper sing you out because every so often girls do need some fun...

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