Dear Lily June,
I mentioned this riddle to you once before, so consider this your pop quiz:
A father and his son are admitted into emergency surgery following a car accident. The father is wheeled to a separate operating room from his child, but a surgeon, seeing the boy patient, exclaims, “I can’t operate on this boy! He’s my son!” How is this possible?
We still live in strange times when it comes to gender equality. Some sources claim, for instance, that women make 78 cents to every male’s dollar. Others claim that figure is greatly exaggerated, claiming the gender wage gap is really closer to females’ 92 cents on the males’ dollar. Still other sources attempt to investigate all the factors that play into this discrepancy, from salary negotiations to gendered educational fields and occupational industries.
The arguments have always felt a little off to me, raising more questions than they provide answers:
- For one thing, why is pay considered the ultimate factor in successful equality (as opposed to, say, job satisfaction or even security)?
- For another, if the figures can roughly be accounted for by job type, for instance, why not investigate more deeply into why our society shies away from hiring and/or promoting females in the STEM industry?
- Or why not, for that matter, question why Arts and Humanities, industries that tend to draw more women in the first place, are undervalued as general fields and thus paid less on the whole?
- If the gap is accounted for by negotiation abilities, why not question why women aren’t being taught to negotiate in their classes, or why employers–both female and male–are less likely to take a woman’s salary negotiation as seriously?
- If it has to do with women using maternity time, family leave, and sick days to care for their families, why aren’t we encouraging more men to take these kinds of leaves, nurturing their caretaking sides?
Whatever you ask about yourself or your society, Lily, it’s clear that the world isn’t yet (and maybe won’t ever be) an entirely fair place to the supposedly fairer sex.
It’s no secret that my mother, your Grandma Raelyn, saved your Grandpa Derrick’s company. She came in and immediately reinvigorated the company’s bookkeeping, paid back taxes and fees that the previous employee had neglected, cut costs so that the company could run more cheaply and efficiently, all within her first year there.
As a result, in an occupation that was all but dead–manufacturer’s representatives for the automotive industry–she was able to support her family, with two teenage children and a baby living in the same home, and one daughter in her twenties living in another state.
Her title is the same as it was when she started: Secretary.
The only things that changed? She makes more, is co-owner in the company, and kindly agreed to marry the boss she saved from certain peril, her damoiseau in distress. (That I couldn’t think of the male equivalent of “damsel” without researching it in French says something, too, about our society).
I have followed in her footsteps, leaving teaching (a primarily female industry) in English (a primarily female discipline) to become an educational secretary. I work 45 hours a week to support a male boss, who has an equivalent terminal degree, but makes 3 times what I do to work less than a 1/3 of my hours. So what do I see as a solution?
Pay administrators, who get all the credit, less than their secretaries, who do all the work. I am only 78% kidding. Maybe then female clerical workers won’t have to endure lines like Soso’s in the popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black, when she scoffs at a fellow prison inmate’s “promotion” from the custodial to the secretarial crew with this judgmental line:
“I’m not saying it’s on par with all the human rights abuses in here, but women fought for a long time to shake the role of desk-ridden secretary.”
Don’t let anyone define for you, Lily, in tones either aspiring or condescending, “women’s work.” In an ideal society, there should be NO. SUCH. THING. There should only be work for anyone in humanity who likes their bills paid, their children safe, and their homes clean.
Maybe I’ve been thinking about all this because of the compliment you were paid yesterday. We went to breakfast at Bob Evan’s, and you walked into the establishment on your own two feet for the first time. Because you still toddle slowly, in some ways, it felt like you were on parade, and a slew of hostesses, waitresses, patrons, and even a busboy commented on how beautiful you were, how pretty, how cute.
But one fellow diner, a woman maybe in her 40’s or 50’s, came over to you after her meal to pay you a different kind of compliment. She did say you were cute to me, but then she said, directly to you,
“Though your body be but little, you will do great things. You could even be president someday!”
Trust me when I say, little Lily, that though you are indeed adorable, in your 14 months on earth, you have never received, in my mind, a more amazing, or more accurate, compliment.
I was so proud, I wanted to do an end zone dance right at the table, a la Ickey Woods:
But considering that I wasn’t going to spike my plate of egg whites, suffice it to say, I simply smiled at the patron, without even stopping to wonder if you might play for the NFL someday.
I am grateful to that stranger for honoring you with those words, even if they didn’t stop the waitress from then setting the bill in front of your daddy, who I was proud to reach across, and you, to pay.
Incidentally, in answer to the riddle above? The surgeon was a woman, the boy’s mother. In my mind, society will be more equal when anyone can guess that answer without taking a beat to hesitate.
- By This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3g05585. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=851583