"If American women are so equal, why do they represent two-thirds of all poor adults?....Why does the average female college graduate today earn less than a man with no more than a high school diploma?...Why are nearly 80 percent of working women still stuck in traditional "female" jobs - as secretaries, administrative "support" workers and salesclerks?..."
I myself have labored at many office jobs, as well as retail and other dead-end jobs, earning a barely livable salary. I've never had a professional or "skilled" occupation, although I would argue that the work of a secretary/receptionist is actually highly skilled - it just receives none of the glory and pay.
I've observed many female friends - as well as myself - falter when asked what we wanted to do with our lives, what "career" we wanted, what our dreams were. Most of the women I know are afraid to make a commitment, to believe in themselves enough to do the work it takes to be successful at a career. Most of the women I know "fall into things", work where it is convenient, and return from their jobs miserable, frazzled, penniless.
I hesitated over making a decision about my career choice for many, many years. I knew when I was in high school that writing fiction was the only thing I wanted to do, and I dreamed of writing and illustrating children's picture books. Regarding writing, I was heartily discouraged by my parents and when I went off to college, I knew that, although I had talent as a writer (although most of the time I wasn't even sure of that), that it was a far stretch for me to promote myself. I loved writing literature as opposed to genre fiction but I knew that road was not wider than a needle's head. I was shy and reserved and heard too many horror stories about the publishing world, academia. I felt I needed to stand on a crutch, to earn a degree that would earn me a decent salary, but I didn't know what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I loved writing. So, I left school.
I spent the next decade in and out of colleges, living in this town, that town, traveling North America. I constantly switched directions and committed to none, not accepting the fact that I was born an artist, that creating stories, poems, beauty, color, was in my soul. I didn't commit because of many reasons: one, in the back of my mind I always hoped I'd be "rescued"; two, I had no self-confidence or feeling of self-worth; three, I was always helping others, spending most of my energy supporting boyfriends, needy friends; four, no one was emotionally supporting me.
I finally woke up when a caring friend had a talk with me. I realized I needed to commit to something, to go as far as I could with it, and that if, at some point, I didn't like it, I could always commit to something else. That committing to something was a huge improvement over toying with many things, and remaining too fearful about which was the "right" decision. I feel fortunate about my own life, but there are so many young women that continue to live in a "Cinderella" fantasy - in their subconscious they believe that they will be rescued from their life of petty pay, boring work. This "Cinderella complex" is no longer socially acceptable, so many young women still carry the same fantasy but are too afraid to speak of it or even acknowledge it consciously. Many women are at war with themselves - to break free of the Cinderella complex they must seize their animus, and pay credence to it, integrating their animus into their lives and personalities. But that creates tension in their immediate surroundings. Assertive women that have integrated their animus are often considered "bitches", unworthy of attention from the opposite sex (if they are heterosexual), "cold", etc. Women are caught in a quagmire. It is neither acceptable to be assertive, to put career first, nor is it acceptable to rely on a man.
Women have also internalized a great deal of negative attitudes towards themselves, and often, other women. Most women are misogynists, even if only of themselves. The energy it takes to deal with that self-hate is enormous, and often, it is too much to deal with both the emotional friction that is constantly present and the commitment to a professional career. One has to inevitably choose between either the incessant, critical voice that is present with most women, or choose feeling that one is "good enough" to do a certain job, to be skilled and confident at one's career.
Most women I know are the calm, centered eye of the hurricane of their surroundings. A good friend of mine constantly gravitates towards needy people, boyfriends. Her life is always falling apart around her, although she seemingly does nothing to choose the chaos. She is a great listener, a loyal friend, but has no self-confidence or ambition when it comes to choosing her life's work. She is an incredible writer but when I ask, "Do you want to go somewhere with it? Do you want to write for a living?," she consistently answers, "Well...I don't know...Sometimes I think about it...I'm thinking maybe I should go back to school for linguistics..." Or, later, she will say, "...I'm thinking about going into publishing...I don't know." She works at jobs that have no relation to the written word or any of her interests and is constantly frazzled by her "friends", co-workers and boyfriends. Everyone needs her, and, on some level, she feels good about being needed. Most women are still given many signals, by family, society, media, that they are the caretakers. That they should drop everything - all their aspirations, their dreams, even taking care of themselves - if somebody needs them. Most women play "mother" to hordes of people. But few, if any, will "mother" and be emotionally supportive towards women. Women are usually left to their own devices, their own strengths, to emotionally support themselves, even when the well is so dry from the misuse of other people. Women are strong, so much stronger than they ever seem to know.
I heartily agree with what Susan Faludi says regarding women not earning equal pay for equal work and being discriminated by employers - America needs to change its politics and policies in favor of treating women as equal citizens. But I argue that the more insiduous reality is our social interactions, the cultural and the psychological. What our American culture really needs is a paradigm shift - we need to think of women as not only capable, but as more than capable. When we see women, we need to see someone who will not only be support but someone who is glorious - we need to see women as worthy, as heroines. We need to not only give women equal pay for equal work, if they so choose to be employed in jobs that are traditionally held by men, but we need to give kindergarten teachers salaries on par with college professors - jobs that are traditionally caregiving, "feminine" jobs equal billing, status and pay with jobs that are traditionally "masculine". We need to appreciate the feminine sense of values - listening, relating, cooperating, caring, emoting - these ways of being that most women give freely - as being of utmost importance. Our culture praises fact, black-and-white thinking, quantitative achievement, coldness, competition, and devalues most of what is traditionally feminine. Until this changes, women will not only not succeed or suffer immense amounts of burnout in the workplace, but they will continue to feel insecure, out of place, and unworthy in the other spheres of their lives. We need to appreciate both the masculine and the feminine sides of our nature, and bring it all into balance.