Saturday, October 31, 2009

Role Play: The Shriver Report

The subject of societal "roles" has seemed to rear its ugly head more often than I have had a tolerance for in the past few weeks. What exactly is a "role" and where does it come from? Culture? Society? History? Upbringing? DNA? I had an older gentleman say to me, "Well, Desha, I am old-fashioned and maybe I'm sexist, but I think the woman should stay home and the man should work." Lovely! I thought to myself, If only... I of course had to let him know that today's young men (and women) have what I consider a warped view of, well, everything. "Unfortunately many men these days are fearful of a woman who wants to stay home. They think she's trying to use them for their money." He grinned. He knew exactly what I was talking about, to which he replied: "Seems like the young men of today would just as soon let the woman go out and make all the money." And again, I thought to myself: and STILL not do anything around the house! That last bit was perhaps slightly exaggerated. I am young and unmarried, have no family and no home to be able to complain that my man just doesn't do anything. My man and I don't live together, and he works for his money and I for my own. Maybe I am slightly bitter about this. Maybe I wish he worked for his money and he for mine as well. How selfish of me!

I was watching a segment on C-Span about "The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything." http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/10/womans_nation.html In "The New Breadwinners," Heather Boushey discusses how nearly 4 in 10 women are the primary breadwinners in their home. This, they say is revolutionary. Someone even said, "we've finally made it." Ahh, but Boushey goes on to say the following, which is sad but undeniable:

These gains are by no means an unqualified victory for women in the workforce and in society, or for their families. Most women today are providing for their families by working outside the home—and still earning less than men—while providing more than their fair share of caregiving responsibilities inside the home, an increasingly impossible task.

I have to say I found this fascinating, watching it on C-Span. My boyfriend noticed me watching it and said, "C-Span, baby? Really?" Boushey goes on:

Social patterns also are changing, and rapidly so. With women now half of all workers on U.S. payrolls, there is no longer a standard timeline for marriage and raising a family—if women even choose to marry or have children. The assisted reproductive technologies industry has blossomed as women—especially professional women—invest in their careers and delay motherhood into their 30s and 40s. And the share of women who are unmarried has skyrocketed: 40 percent of women over age 25 are now unmarried and a record 40 percent of children born in 2007 had an unmarried mother.3 While divorce rates have fallen, many women delay and some never even enter marriage.

Why, America? Why? Are we so obsessed with money that dinero has become more important than family- the true fulfillment of a lifetime? Or is it recognition? Challenge? Proving that, yes we can? I would like to think that we could do it all. Have a career, have a family, and live a comfortable life. The C-Span segment had many who spoke about the needs of women because of all of these changes. Paid maternity leaves, improved childcare, etc. I pondered.

And so, this morning, la mujer cubana in my life, my boyfriend's grandmother, commented over breakfast that "the woman should spoil the man." She said women complain these days that the man doesn't help around the house. "Soy una mujer cubana," she said. She doesn't need any help around the house. I asked, over my fried yuca, grits, eggs and bacon, "then what does the man do?" Everyone was quick to tell me that the man works and brings home the money. I pondered this too.

I think everyone forgets that, these days, many men don't do that. I look around, and I see a youth afflicted with video-game syndrome and some sort of disease that makes them lazy and disinterested in enjoying the outdoors. I see my own generation afflicted with alcoholism and too many hangovers to wake up on time for work. When does the party end? When does everyone realize that, "mama never said it would be easy?" Maybe all of the parents have decided that they want their children to have it easier than they did. Not me. When I have kids, I want them to learn to work for everything they have. Call me a slave-driver.

Oprah says, in the epilogue of this report:

Forget the idea that being powerful is about how rich or important you are, or whether or not you get your own coffee in the morning. What I find powerful is a person with grace, with courage, with the confidence to be her own self and to make things happen. We have earned the right to celebrate the kind of power that isn’t about landing the corner office, but about stoking an internal fire.

I like this quote. But I have to say, if I were as rich, famous, succesful and as powerful as Oprah, maybe that "grace and courage" would be easier to expect of myself and others. Women, we do need grace and courage, but (please don't gasp in horror) we also need men. We need men to support, protect and take care of us. Let us not get so fixated on what we can do that we forget to share the load. Men in this country are quickly falling by the wayside. Many can't change your oil, fix a leaky faucet, or lead a family spiritually. Why can't they? Because we're doing it all, or at least paying for it! And let me tell you, this is not new. Remember? La mujer cubana has been spoiling her men for decades! Almost three generations of them!

I asked my boyfriend, after breakfast, "why doesn't anyone ever talk about what men should do these days?" It seems like I hear from C-Span and Oprah that women should work, inspire, make change, lead households, be courageous. And then I hear from the other side, the families, the "old-school" among us that we should cook and clean and make our men feel taken care of. We should raise families and be just plum tickled to do so. I don't even care that these views seem to oppose each other. I'm quite certain I can do it all. But why don't I ever hear anyone talking about what men should be doing? I would find that discussion much more interesting- and I think people would find that there is a lot more confusion in this category.

My boyfriend didn't have an answer for me. Thank God he can change my oil and fix a leaky faucet!

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