Friday, January 31, 2014

Lean the other way

Last night my friend 'A' sent me a link to an article, this article to be exact. She was understandably enraged. These kinds of articles and news bring out a primal anger in most women I know. It’s similar, I think, to something James Baldwin wrote about in his potent essay, “Notes of a Native Son.” In that essay he remembers his dead father as an embittered man, stuck, by force, in a free-radical world of blatant racism and zero opportunity. Baldwin was headed that way himself, until an eye-opening experience in a night club shattered a tumbler full of whiskey, a mirror, and Baldwin’s growing hate. This was no way to live.

And he’s right, this is no way to live. But, as it stands right now, the doors seem permanently locked. The glass ceiling of equal pay is out of reach, and all I can do is sign petitions, rail vocally and verbally against this bullshit lack of balance, and cross my fingers that legislation will eventually pass that will bring my people, women, closer to equality.

It is 2014. Women make less than men. Period. And we wait. And women like me wonder what the scenario will be for our daughters (and our sons) in 10 years. My girl is weeks away from turning 13. A year away from signing her work papers and then delving off into the working world. One that sits atop a slick ramp. It’s not even ground. How do I prepare her for that? Or do I say nothing at all and let her figure it out.

“Screw this lean in shit,” 'A' said to me after reading the article. “We need to floor it!”

We do. We really do. I’ve been doing a little research for a project far afield of my usual writing life and the numbers for our humble county loom large and irreversible for women. And, being a writer and longtime observer of timelines and such, I know that these numbers, when projected onto the wall of the future, can produce some serious problems. Generations will be affected by this. Whole communities will fall, if we don’t reverse the tide.

Statistics only have meaning if you see yourself, or someone you love somewhere amidst the mathematical equation of human existence. When the equation reads: Women in Massachusetts earn on average, 22% less than men for full time work, women in Berkshire County earn roughly 24% less than their male counterparts. Additionally, Berkshire County reports a significantly higher percentage of female households (no husband present) with children under the age of 6 than the other three Western MA counties and the state average. Aaaanddd Berkshire County girls under the age of 5 have a poverty rate twice the state average (16%), at 34.8%.

The language is clean, practically medical, but the image is of flesh and blood and losing ground. A majority of women are raising kids on their own as the sole breadwinner of the house, yet they are paid significantly less than their male cohorts AND they and their children live in poverty.

Poverty, by the way, sucks. Ask me how I know. As any one of us women how we know. My friend 'B' gave a chilling explanation of how she stayed so thin raising her kids. It was the same story in my house, and in thousands of others across the county.

"Oh my god, who could afford food? The kids ate dinner and basically I ate what was left on their plate."

Can you imagine surviving on the leftovers of a toddler? I can. So many mornings, I'd lap up the last three bites of Cheerios, suck back the milk at the bottom of the bowl, then off to school we went. We kept the apartment at 55 degrees, sometimes cooler, in the coldest winter on record. And have to be thankful that we had a roof over our heads and that we hadn't run out of coffee or eggs or, god forbid, oil.

And none of us, were looking for handouts. Me and 'B' and 'A' reminisce with shame about the WIC checks, the angry people in line behind us at the grocery store, the stupid blue SNAP card that you could see from outer space, the judgment on the faces of the cashiers. Once, someone made a comment about my WIC purchases, and how they were taking too long. (By the way, WIC covers baby formula, peanut butter, cereal, milk, the basics so to speak.) I whipped around in a red rage, not prepared to ignore the comment.

"Would you rather we starve," I asked. "Are there no workhouses, no prisons?"

I finished up my transaction, my blood boiling. I was about to leave, then came back.

"I work," I hissed at the fella in the polyester khakis. "Full time. All the time. I went to friggin' Yale. Maybe if I made what you were making you wouldn't have to wait in line so goddamn long."

Not a proud moment. And not the last time.

Women don't want handouts. We are proud folk, the many that I know, and for all of that pride this system funnels us into prideless measures. The kids have to be fed. The rent has to be paid. We do what we can, knowing that if we made 25% more our lives would be totally different. What we wouldn't do with even $5,000 "extra" a year.

The myth of the alimony-sucking, child-support chasing freeloader is part of the problem. The other part, is simple. Pay us what you pay them. Why is that such a difficult move to make in the legislature? Pay us what you pay them. Free up the healthcare system, save millions on food stamps and subsidies and emergency assistance.

And watch as the next generation thrives because their mothers finally got a decent, fair wage.

Because we've fucking earned it.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Nichole. And people wonder how I do it.

    Jon Swartz