March 16, 2010

Care To Play Armchair Psychologist?

I was raised in a feminist household. I don’t think we called it that around the dinner table so maybe I should use a less inflammatory adjective, but as I grew older and became more aware of sociological concepts to my life, it seemed to fit. For the purpose of clarification, how I interpret that label to fit my house growing up is that men and women were equals. (Sidebar: I hate that feminist is such an inflammatory adjective, but that is another post. I’m not really looking to debate it here.) If you asked my father, a man raised by his mother and three sisters, he probably would have told you that our society should get on the matriarchal bus! He was a sweet guy, my dad, and he never let a day go by where he didn’t remind me that other people’s attitude toward gender roles should never be something that dictates what I choose to accomplish in my life. And even though he worked outside of the home and my mom always worked inside of the home, which is pretty darn traditional when you look at it, I never felt like I had to pigeonhole myself because I was female.

My foray into corporate America has surely tested that attitude. I’ve worked in offices where the men who play poker get ahead and the women with the corner offices are that stereotypical combination of bitchy and sterile. I have encountered that irritating type of unconscious sexism – which, in my opinion, is almost more anger inducing that those overt a-holes who think I should be barefoot in the kitchen and want to tell me about it.  An example: I once had a disagreement with another female co-worker (a very respectful one, I might add, that the two of us resolved like adults) only to have her older, male, supervisor come over a day later and pat me on the shoulder and say, “Boy I’m so glad that’s over, I hate to see you girls fighting on the playground.” Thanks for comparing my professional and respectful disagreement to a catty, schoolyard cat-fight, buddy. Us women – we just love to hate each other! But even amidst all that, I think you deal with lots of different types of idiocy in life, and those with a gender bias are just one type, so I don’t generally let its existence really influence my career goals. And I’m in a good spot.

That’s all I really want to say about that, I think. I’m actually I’m starting to get anxiety over the Work-Discussion word count on here, so I will get to my point. (If nothing else this blog has made me realize that I know just how to bury the lede and should probably try to work on that. Thanks for indulging me, guys!) The point is that Garrett is not in the same good career place, and boy it is not for lack of trying, objective hand on a stack of bibles, I swear. Now granted, I am 3 years older than him, but if you put our career trajectories side by side, I have clearly had EXTREMELY better luck. And for no good reason really. It’s like this enormous mystery we keep trying to figure out. Garrett is the guy who never skipped a class in college. Got perfect grades. He was that guy who made friends with his Professors and some of them are even still his mentors today. He walked at graduation with all sorts of ropes and tassels and fanfare and acknowledgment, whereas I just kind of sat in the back with my friend giggling about potentially firing off some spitballs and rolling eyes at the people like Garrett. Yet he is not That Obnoxious Guy. He is well spoken, professional, and is hard working to a fault. He is basically an employer’s wet dream.

Yet here I am – The Breadwinner.

The Breadwinner.  

That word feels like a ton of bricks. 

The emotional fallout of Garrett’s career right now is something that has to be managed daily, and is definitely stressful, but what I am really struggling with is this idea of being The Breadwinner. (Enough with that word!)  We joke about it in a lighthearted way, Garrett and I, but lately and I can’t for the life of me figure out why it's driving me nuts. I was raised in this house where I was clearly prepared for this role. Garrett and I certainly approach our relationship as a partnership and wholeheartedly support the idea that sometimes one person pulls more weight than the other. That's the benefit of partnership!  It's written right in the contract!  And with that in mind, there are areas in our relationship where Garrett pulls WAY MORE weight than me, so the problem isn’t that I feel resentful at all. I think it is just the pressure of it all. The responsibility, you know?

I wonder to myself if men feel this way? Do they struggle with the responsibility of being in charge of the winning of said bread or do they just accept that having this responsibility signifies success? I'm starting to wonder if after all this time, even though I always assumed I would go out into the world and kick ass and take names – if I unconsciously had an expectation in the back of my mind that I would pair up with someone who would have that role and I wouldn't have to worry about it.  I mean, that’s the way it worked in my household, after all. Even though my mom could have gone out and worked, she chose not to. They chose not to have my mom work outside the home. And I wonder if maybe that is what I’m struggling with – the fact that at this point there really isn’t a choice. This is my role, and until Garrett finds something better, it is going to be my role. Or until we have kids it will be role.  I mean, hell, what happens then?  The mind boggles.  My salary does the bulk of supporting us, and Garrett’s salary keeps us traveling, and eating the fancy cheese we like so much.  I’m obviously over-simplifying our finances to the extreme right now…but internet – what is with me and my semantic allergic reaction???

Paging Dr. Internet…

1 comment:

Jessica and Randy said...


This is a topic I could discuss for days, as this has been my life more or less since I have said I Do.

And for many years, I have put all my energy into changing the dynamic. Pushing, prodding, helping, etc....but as hard as he worked - I seem to get the breaks.

Now in our 8th year- I have come to a realization. In my heart of hearts, I am starting to know myself and I think I wouldn't have it any other way. Unfortunatley, it has been easy to find fault with my partner and with the situation when I want a break, or I don't want the weight of my world on my shoulders.

Take gender out of it. If you find a male counterpart and ask him what he thinks about winning bread, I am sure he will tell you the same fears, worries, struggles if he's honest. We only add societies judgement on to our list.

What's wrong with our male partners staying home or getting a work-flex job for the kids? What's wrong with you pursuing a clear cut career path (especially when you rock!) and breaking down walls and poker games? Nothing! Its amazing!

Unfortunately, these insecurities have caused much strain on our marriage as well. And I still wonder can I ever adjust these expectations?

If we can't champion the "ok-ness" of women winning the bread for our families, who will?

For me its like a manic struggle, most days I think I love my life, and then some days that little Gollum fellow sneaks up and wispers all my insecurities on this topic. I wish very much to send him off to find his stupid ring, so I can live my bread-winning life with peace and other-world wisdom.


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