Read on to learn about: How gender inequality can sneak up on you in unexpected places and the painful realizations that force you to question your values.
Today a family member suggested I leave my husband and move back to the US.
You see, my husband, an Opera Singer, has had only a few projects in the past year and so has had little income. Taxes on the arts are up, so attendance is down and private and public sector investment is nearly zero. He does what he can financially, takes care of the house, runs all my errands, constantly applies for and creates projects on top of being a great source of motivation for me. But that’s not enough for parts of my family and they think it shouldn’t be enough for me either. In their minds the man must provide for the family in the only real way a man can: with money.
This made me think of a focus group on women in leadership I participated in last month where I was asked: in which sphere of life is it easier to manage gender inequality? My first thought was the personal sphere. In my relationship with my husband, I thought, there is only my husband and I. Only our voices, our choices and our values. This is something I can control, a safe space where we can share our concerns and decide, together, how we want to balance our relationship. But when I look back at conversations past and present that I’ve had with parts of my family I realize that that is not the case, that my relationship doesn’t only belong to my husband and I. It belongs to me, my husband and the generations of men and women before us who pass down spoken and unspoken expectations of what a marriage is and what our different gender roles should be.
My relationship belongs to the generations of women before me just as much as it belongs to me because it is their voices I hear when the women in my family tell me that a man must take care of his family by making money for his family. It is the voice of my grandmother – one of seventeen wives, a woman who did not marry for love but out of spite, a woman who married one of the wealthiest and most influential men of her time, a man who was forty years older than her, a woman who shared her husband and life with other wives and ten children in a country where a woman is very literally worth half a man. It is the voice of my mother – a woman who was the first in her family and friends to divorce in a culture where women simply do not do that. It is the voice of generations of women in my family who have worked outside the house then have come home and done the dishes, and cooked dinner and continue to do so. Women who have worked incredibly hard and who consider it an achievement to say that their husbands, after forty years of marriage, do the dishes. And I do not mean that condescendingly. I mean that as a reality because considering the history of their relationship that is an achievement. It has been yet one more battle they have had to fight in a world where women do not have the privilege of coming home to safe spaces of equality.
So you see, our marriages do not belong only to us and our partners. And because it does not it’s not a space where we can better manage gender inequality. It is a space that we are allowing to become unequal by accepting this message of the man being the breadwinner.
If we choose to accept the message.
And if we do so, consciously or unconsciously, we are doing even more damage than we could have imagined because deep down in this message there is another one: if the man has to take care of the woman then it means that a woman cannot take care of herself. And what does that message do for me, as a woman, at work where I am the only one who can take care of me? What does it do for me in the training room where, as a corporate trainer, I am center stage facing a tough, no nonsense audience and need the conviction that what I do is valuable and that I got this? It does nothing but weigh me down with insecurities that I do not need and did not ask for. It creates a conflict between the person I want to be and the woman that generations before me were made to be. In short it simply adds burden to my already heavy shoulders.
Gender inequality starts at home. It starts with the stories and the lives of our parents and grandparents. It starts with the values and beliefs that are presented to us throughout the years and that we, unknowingly, ingest and incorporate into our day to day lives. And sometimes even those who instill those values in us are unaware of them.
If we want to stop the inequalities we see in the professional and social sphere we have to first start by examining our values and thought processes that hold us back from achieving equality at home. We need to find and face any contradictory values of I uphold traditional gender roles at home but fight for equal roles in society and work, and then throw them away.
Admitting that you hold the very same values that you try to fight against in others is not easy. It takes time to discover this dissidence and strength to fight and right the retrospective guilt that comes with it. This is why most people avoid doing this inner work. But I personally would rather live a short period of pain then a lifetime of inner conflict.
It's time to get rid of outdated values that we just don't believe in. It's time to get this weight off our shoulders so the generations before and after us can see that we can take care of ourselves, that money is not the only measure of a man and that providing for can go beyond the tangible. But, unless we promote that at home we are taking two steps back with every step forward.
And to finish off, a family secret: who has been the one person who has never once judged my marriage and lifestyle choices?
By: Shiva Roofeh
6. 3. 2
That's 6 countries, 3 languages and 2 religions. Expat, immigrant, refugee, TCK, there are lots of things you can call me, but I prefer Shiva.