I’m a feminist. The idea that men and women are equally intelligent, equally worthy of self-determination and… well, everything, isn’t new to me. In fact, it’s pretty darn obvious.
I was lucky, and smart, enough to choose an excellent human being for a mate. Also a feminist, but that goes along with the territory. And I’ll say right now, he’s a lot better at remembering household chores than I am. I find exciting new recipes on the internet and make sure we eat vegetables. He actually remembers to go shopping.
All in all, we run a pretty egalitarian household. He’s the breadwinner at the moment, but I’m working my way to a higher salary, so when you factor in the future earnings, it probably evens out.
So you can see where I might consider myself pretty modern-minded about equality in the workplace.*
Then I read this New York Times piece about gender in the workplace. It discusses how couples’ attitudes toward child-rearing are no longer the impediment to equally-shared involvement in home and work life; the balance-unfriendly infrastructure is now the problem.
Eighty percent of the women and 70 percent of the men Ms. Gerson interviewed said they wanted an egalitarian relationship that allowed them to share bread-winning and family care. But when asked what they would do if this was not possible, they described a variety of “fallback” positions.
This kicked off a thought experiment.
If all goes as planned, my higher education should put me in a higher earning bracket and on a career path. And my husband has a lot more patience with kids. So conceivably, I could end up being the primary breadwinner for the family.
Oh, God. I don’t think I can take that much pressure. What if something happens? What if I lose the job?
This must be how working men feel all the time.
Jeez, no wonder they get stressed.
This blew my mind. I’m usually really good about putting myself in other people’s shoes; for a writer, that’s kind of the point. But these… these were really big shoes. Even thinking about it makes me anxious. NTS and I, we don’t need much. We’re grown-ups. But a kid’s future? At the mercy of my perceived usefulness in an infinitely capricious economy?
As I told NTS shortly afterward, I will never earn enough to feel secure enough to stake kid’s future on it. It doesn’t even matter how much money I’m making. That’s irrelevant. Clearly we’re going to have to leave the next generation to someone else, because I’m way too chicken.
This responsibility is what I signed up for with this equality thing. The principle is too common-sense to give up on, so I won’t. But damn, I did not see this coming.
Of course, you real grown-ups out there have probably had this very clearly in mind for the last million years or so. NTS is laughing at me for how much this blew my mind. Which is reasonable, considering that he and my tutoring “income” are all that get us through these grad school years. (Protip: One of these vastly larger than the other.)
With three years of postgrad in a foreign country ahead of us, none of this actually has the least bearing on what we may or may not do in the distant-seeming future. I could even be a stay-at-home mom. Despite my lack of patience, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t eat my offspring. This was just a thought experiment that scared the bejeesus out of me. So naturally, I thought I’d share.
Oh, and breadwinners, male or female? Thanks. You’re pretty awesome.
* If I were popular enough to have trolls, that sentence would earn me some spiteful comments, but I’m not, so it won’t. Ha!