Saturday, March 23, 2013

Gender Equality Starts with us

My mother is in town. Her trip was unexpected and she arrived before anyone had the chance to make any formal plans. But my mother is a simple woman; she was never demanding in terms of outings or material possessions. Her home was always her castle and she prefers an engaging television series and knitting over any excursion.

For the most part, our interactions have been pleasant. There are memories to relive, friends and family news to catch up with. She has been resting, and for the first time in a very long time relinquished control of domestic duties to local friends. I've enjoyed her company and have looked forward to running home from work to spend time with her. That is, until she starts up with the talk. It's the one where she reminds me where my place is as a woman, mother, and wife. Where she scrutinizes my decisions and offers her personal remedies.

As a child, I butted heads with my mother a lot. I was never the rebellious daughter, but unfair treatment triggered a hidden alter ego, one that surprised those who were accustomed to my usual laid back, humorous personality. I had a keen desire for justice and anything perceived as unjust set me off, like my mother's talks of my intended role in society as a wife, mother, and woman. I argued then as I do now in vain with her. She's stubborn and set in her ways. Like the plight of many first generation immigrants before and after her, holding tight to her homeland's cultures and traditions brings her comfort. And hold on she did. Did I mention she was stubborn?

Our arguments escalated when I hit my early teens. I have a brother who is four years my junior and he was given leeway to do just about whatever he wanted. I, on the other hand, as well as my six sisters, needed to ask and receive permission for the simplest requests. It was frustrating. I pleaded, rationalized, screamed, yelled, and a few times I even got away with cussing. She would never budge. The discussions would boomerang right back to the talk: my intended place as a woman, mother, and wife. Thus began the perpetual cycle of pleading, rationalizing, screaming and yelling. The foul language was limited most times to the bathroom or with friends.

Allow me to revisit that rhetorical question I ask when my post seems off topic: What does this have to do with business? Everything.

Consider these facts:
  • Women are still earning less than men in most professions, even when their different lifestyles are accounted for.
  • Women are woefully underrepresented in the executive suites.
  • Women lag behind men in financial knowledge and application.
  • Women are still vulnerable to financial and economic abuse.
And we're one decade into the 21st century.

We have wasted so much time blaming men for our setbacks. Yes, they did their part, but that's been addressed repeatedly over the course of our struggle for equality. We've yelled it loud enough and they finally get it. They're making amends, mentoring, encouraging, empowering. But when do we start addressing the obstacles from within?

Nearly ten decades after the first bold campaign for equal rights, we are still behind in the labor force. Whether we want to admit it or not, the talk my mother subjects me to has a lot to do with it. What is unfortunate is that she's not alone. We experience this talk from women everywhere. We criticize the mother who isn't stern enough, doesn't cook and clean enough. We judge the working mother who misses her child's school play, or can't volunteer in the classroom. We attack the ambitious, meek, and outspoken. We still expect women to choose their families and homes over their career goals. All underhanded tactics that impede our advancement in the labor force. Somewhere along the line, we became our own adversaries.

My mother is not mean-spirited. In contrast, she's renowned for her generosity and kindness. But what she neglects to accept is that her talk is the root cause of our setbacks. Here's a reality check that tests many temperaments: it is this talk that has historically empowered the men our mothers raised to hold us back. Only when we challenge this talk will our goals for equality materialize. It starts with my mother, me, and every one of us. Because somewhere in the background, our daughters are watching our every move and listening intently to the words out of our mouths. When we attack each other, we are delivering a powerful, unintended message - that women should never own their decisions. Including our daughters.

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