I was having a conversation with my mother the other day about all the slashing and cutting the Republicans in Congress and in the Statehouses across our country are doing in programs that affect the poorest people. We started out talking about food - there is a fast going on to protest cuts in the WIC program, food stamps, school lunch programs and several others that will have an effect on the nutritional status of particularly children and the elderly. We continued on a tangent and wound up talking about the fact that my developmentally disabled sister no longer qualified for food stamps because in addition to her SSDI check she has a job that pays her $10.00 per hour for 18 hours per week. This job is a supported employment job - in other words, her employer got a subsidy for hiring her, she has a job coach, and there are a bunch of other things that go along with it. Her job consists of picking up trash, doing laundry, weeding flower beds, and other similar menial tasks. She likes what she does, gets along well with her supervisors and performs her tasks well enough that she has earned several "employee of the month" certificates.
So in the context of our discussion, mom and I were commenting on how "rich" my sister is because you have to really be poor to qualify for food stamps since obviously my sister is now rich since she doesn't.
But that got me thinking about something else that happened not too long ago.
Womens work. You know - the stuff women have always done, care for the house including laundry, sewing, child care, cooking, gardening, nursing, that kind of stuff. Someone once added up all this work that women do for a family at the cost it would be if they hired it done: a nanny, a professional chef, a gardener, a registered nurse, a seamstress, a bookkeeper, a personal shopper, a gardener, a chauffer, a professional housekeeper and so on - and a stay-at-home mom taking care of a couple of children is worth roughly $267,000 per year.
Even though it is now 2011 - and this kind of stuff has been supposedly relegated to "equal opportunity" by the invention of washer-dryer pairs, no-iron fabrics, disposable clothing, fast food and pre-packaged microwave meals, and men cooking and nursing, there is still a devaluation of that work traditionally done by women. And some of that devaluation is done by other women. The career types look down at women who stay home to take care of children (if they have a choice, which most do not). The value of the work that a stay-at-home mom does in a divorce settlement is valued at zero. Only a paycheck serves as any marker of value. But even the experience of a stay-at-home mom managing a household and raising children is viewed in the so-called "actual" workplace as no experience and therefore unqualified to do anything at all.
So here's what happened to me. I am a highly trained and experienced seamstress and tailor. I had been working doing alterations for a local tuxedo rental and sales shop in town - these alterations were mostly not of the 'let the pants up or down' variety but of the type of 'take the jacket apart and rework the way the sleeves were set in' sort. One day the manager of the store casually mentioned to me that there was another seamstress who had offered to do the alterations for less than half of what I charge. And I stopped receiving calls.
There are two issues here. The first one is that prior to this conversation she and the customers had been thrilled with my work. I still get repeat business from some of them. And the customers had never quibbled about my prices. But this female manager decided that it was better to have this much less expensive service so she stopped recommending me to her customers.
The second issue is that this other seamstress was so willing to provide her services for so little. Didn't she understand that what she was doing was much more valuable than that? I might add that this other seamstress was charging $8 per hour. And that I already knew about her - mostly from customers who brought me items to re-do after her failed attempts. Even so, as a seamstress (not a tailor), her time was and is certainly worth at least as much as $10, and probably more. I think that she can probably hem a dress and do regular seamstress work. Isn't that worth at least as much as weeding a flower bed and washing a load of shop rags? So why is this seamstress unwilling to value herself more than $8 per hour?
Then there is the whole career thing. My mother was a nurse. A really good one. She has an MS degree, and at one time was the charge nurse for an entire hospital - one of the largest in our area. During that same time period, my late husband, who never graduated from high school, was a long-haul truck driver. My mom was busy saving lives, he was driving a truck. She got $8, he got $13.
Cooking. What is it about cooking that when a man does it he is a chef and gets to own a fancy restaurant and boss everyone around. When a woman does it she gets no respect and works in a greasy spoon for minimum wage and she's called a cook.
So what is it? And there are all kinds of these cases. Womens work. And women in general. The Supreme Court has a case in front of it right now about women and work. About women not getting equal pay, equal promotions. And from the sounds of the oral arguments the women are going to lose. All the men are voting against them. The three women are voting for. The decision will be 6-3 not to certify the class.
Women make up more than 50% of the citizens of this country. Why don't we have 50% representation in Congress? In any Statehouse? In governorships? Why haven't we had a woman President? Or even a Vice-President? Why aren't there more women on the Supreme Court? In all the Courts? Why are there still so few CEOs in the Fortune 500?
Hillary Clinton was right - the glass ceiling is still there. She put a bunch of cracks in it - but they are still only cracks. Women still have such a long way to go here - and the United States is supposed to be the most progressive nation. Every other developed nation beats us in every single one of those statistics. They have all had women Presidents or Prime Ministers. Women are represented far closer to the actual demographic than they are here in every way both in public and private.
I think a lot of it is about self-confidence. I was asked once how I decided how much to charge for my services. I will admit that it was long hard conversation with myself and with a lot of prodding from my daughter that got me where I am. And that's what it is, confidence. I had to spend time coming to the realization that I am worth it! It's not just a slogan for some hair product - it means something. I AM worth it. I have spent the time for the training. I have spent years practicing my craft. I have hundreds of happy customers. I have created beautiful garments and fantastic costumes for the ballet. I AM WORTH IT.
We women are so busy doing stuff for everyone else that we fail to notice who WE are. We are capable. We are competent. We are knowledgeable. We are smart, efficient, managers. We must start living and acting this way. We must demand more - not just of ourselves but of each other. The things we must demand are respect, and equal treatment. And that includes equal pay for equal work. And also an idea whose time has long since come - an equality of pay across careers, professions, trades and crafts that makes allowances for time off spent raising and caring for children, and that raises the status of "womens work" to the same status as "mens work". Finally.
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Please be civil, it adds nothing to the conversation to engage in name-calling.
Please be civil, it adds nothing to the conversation to engage in name-calling.