Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fighting the good fight

The US is celebrating Mother's Day today and I just happened to read the op-ed of one of my colleagues which seemed very ambivalent about women and their role in our society. He made a reference to the cultural custom of women not being allowed to sit at the same table with men, which is still enforced by some ethnic groups today. And at some point he says that women's emancipation has been ailing. And that women now think they deserve everything, although they can't perform all the jobs men do and haven't permeated elite fields. And that men have accepted women at their table out of pity and as a compensation for this lack of success in acquiring equal rights.
It's really hard for me to work in an environment where there are only men. It's hard because they feel like they have to "behave" around me and that makes them uncomfortable. It's hard because they talk about women as sexual objects and most times they enforce the double standard when judging them. It's hard because men who work together do act like frat boys, although I've never felt intentionally excluded from their guys time.
But it's going to be even harder to go to work and shut up about all the things I want to say in response to that piece of writing. So I'm saying it here. Women have permeated elite fields. They are in top politics, in the army, they run huge corporations and they are top achievers in academics. I was very proud to read this post on Femisting which shows that women are almost half of the people awarded PhDs in the US. Also, I've read that this year it's the first time women have surpassed men in terms of number of college degrees. In Romania it's already been the case for some time, including the PhD level. Some of the most powerful emerging or developed economies are ruled by women. Brazil has a lady president, the chancellor of Germany has been for quite a while now a woman. They are secretaries of state, members of Supreme Courts, ambassadors or chiefs of Parliaments. The underlying paternalistic character of Romanian politics did not get us very far. It's not that we lack competent women, they just hit a glass ceiling at some point. Tell Sweden, Norway or New Zealand women don't belong in politics. And then some. When women entered the workforce massively, after World War II, the country GDPs rose considerably. Pepsi, Kraft Foods, IBM, Xerox, Yahoo and many more leading companies have executives or chair women leading their worldwide businesses. I'm only ashamed at the fact that women in powerful positions aren't such a mundane thing it would just be superfluous to give such examples.
Some of these women and many more performing in top fields, as well as all the amazing ones we all know, are also mothers and wives and daughters. Men complain about having to be civil around us, about women expecting them to honor and respect their work and care, but is it really such a burden to acknowledge how hard it is to balance a job, housework and care? Reading for my dissertation, I keep remembering all the things I've distanced myself from while working around men. I had forgotten that women not only work harder for a career, but they have to do so while experiencing pregnancy and child rearing and being expected to do all sorts of other chores, as well as care for other members of their family. In some societies it's less the case so, but in Romania most men are offended when asked to take out the trash, help with the groceries or do the dishes, let alone take parental leave. I have some amazing male friends who can take care of themselves and others. They cook, can sew a sock or a button and help their mothers, grandmothers and girlfriends with the housework. But then again, I know so many others who get mad if their mothers don't iron their shirts or if a woman sits at the same table with them and speaks her mind.
So yes, call me a crazy feminist. I'm tired of trying to sugar coat it and I'm tired of avoiding to be antagonized because of it. I don't see why women don't deserve respect and I don't see why they don't deserve equal rights. Change may feel threatening, but it gets better every day.

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