Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Working around the Barriers

I had lunch with an old grad school friend today. It was great to see her, and as always, lunch with a friend did me good.

But there was an undertone of... I don't know what. Sadness? Anger? Frustration?... too. Every time I meet up with a woman friend who is in my generation, I hear about how sexism and gender bias are blocking her progress. This is not because my friends are whiners, or prone to looking for something external to blame for their problems. In fact, the stories usually come out as an aside, to explain a change in course. She was working her way around a barrier, and that barrier was usually a man. If it wasn't a man, it was multiple men.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I've heard a variation of this story at least 10 times in the last year. It is demoralizing to think about this in the aggregate. So much talent being thwarted.

But I'll say this for us: we're all finding a way around. A lot of us won't get what we originally set our sights on, but we're all getting pretty good lives. So that's something.

The other heartening thing is that we're helping each other find our new paths. On my more optimistic days, I think that in another 10 years, I'll look at what my group of friends has accomplished and be amazed. We will have built an alternate universe of success.

On my less optimistic days, I think we are doomed to achieve less than our potential. We will salvage good lives from the wreckage of our ambitions, but we will always know we could have done more.

Probably, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

I see signs of hope. Not in millennial men. Sorry, some of them are awesome. So are some GenX men. So are some Boomer men. But my own experience has shown me that younger men can be just as sexist as their elders. In fact, sometimes they are more sexist because they haven't met the woman who will teach them to be better yet. Seriously, just look at Silicon Valley.

No, I see signs of hope in women. Just as we are individually finding our ways around the barriers in our careers, we are collectively looking for ways around the barriers. I hope that we remember to go back and dismantle those barriers where we can. Because my daughters and their friends are coming behind us. When I sit and watch my daughters' gymnastics class, I am in awe of the joy and strength of the girls out on that floor. I want a world where that joy and strength—and joy in strength—can continue into adulthood. When I went to watch my daughter's spelling bee, I was thrilled to see the kids supporting each other, cheering for each other. Boys and girls cheered for and high-fived their classmates, even when they were clearly disappointed not to be the one still in the running. I see my friends working to raise their sons to be just as feminist as their daughters, and I think, maybe we can fix this. Not for our generation, but for the next one.

I think my generation will be a generation of women who mostly had to find their way around the barriers. What keeps me going is the thought that maybe I can help bring some of those barriers down for my daughters.

So, here's to lunch with friends. And here's to finding our way around the barriers. But also: here's to finding a way to break those damn barriers down.

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