Recently, while I lie on my bed reading, I heard a conversation between my children that went like this:
Son: Men and woman are not created equal.
Daughter: Yes we are. We're different, yes, but equal.
Son: Nope. Men are better. It says so in the Bible.
At this point, I put my novel down and got off the bed. Their conversation continued in the same circle of points: my son saying men and women are unequal and my daughter arguing against it. They were locked in a war of words, and it occurred to me that my son wasn't 'getting' the point my daughter was making, a point I share.
So, I went to my purse, gathered a few props and returned to the dinner table, plonking down the following in front of my children:
I looked at my son and said, "See this? How much is this?"
I pointed to the dollar bill.
He said, "One dollar."
I pointed to the coins, then, and asked how much that was?
He sort of smirked.
I said, "They are both worth one dollar. They are equal, but they're also different."
My daughter got up from the table and said to my son, "Boom. You just got schooled."
My son went back to the Biblical argument, for which I had no appropriate response because I don't know the exactly what the Bible says about gender equality. I'll actually have to ask his teacher. My son attends Catholic school, so apparently they were discussing this in class. I'm pretty sure his teacher wouldn't be teaching gender inequality, but I'll ask what the point of the lesson was to better explain this to my son.
For now, however, he ended up smiling and conceding the point. I think he understood, looking at the money, that yes we are different; men and women have different physical anatomy. But different isn't unequal, and equal doesn't mean the same.
This is a sore spot for me because, as a stay-at-home/work-from-home mother, I feel in a position of vulnerably when it comes to money. Though my husband has never once argued with me about spending or held money over my head, I am well aware that he makes far more than I make when I work, and I have not worked at all for a large chunk of our marriage.
When I have worked, my salary is about 1/4 of his.
Kids pick up on this seeming inequality, too.
And there again is that word; I'm loathe to use it because, to be fair, my husband chose a career that inherently makes more money than mine. He didn't take 2 years out of working life to serve in the Peace Corps, and he earned degrees in higher-paying subjects (like computer science and information management). He also didn't demand I quit my jobs (and put my career in hold) to become a stay-at-home mother. That was all me. Seriously. All me.
While I value the work I do and truly believe that stay-at-home parents bring as much to table as working parents, there is a cultural bias toward anyone who brings home cash. There is power in being able to pay the bills. Parents who don't work for a salary don't pay into Social Security, don't have access to employer healthcare plans and don't have employer-matched or sponsored retirement accounts.
That's a lot of monetary security one gives up to remain in the home, and it would be naive to think there isn't, at some level, a power shift or unspoken dynamic as a result.
I'm acutely aware that my husband's salary makes it possible for me to buy toothpaste.
So, while I believe men and women are equal, I don't know what that means in a society that expects women to give birth, do the lion's share of household chores and childcare (still) and either work on top of that or stay home and exist in a position of financial vulnerability.
A friend recently said, of being a stay-at-home-mom, "I've got to make sure I vacuum the floors really good, don't I?"
Another friend's son was recently thinking about life as an adult and having pets. His mother told him that he'd have to clean up after the pet when the dog vomited, for example, because she wouldn't be there to do it when he was grown up.
He thought about this then said it would be okay because his sister would come over and do it. My friend asked why he thought his sister would do that, and her son replied because that's what girls do.
He wasn't trying to be rude or disrespectful, but my friend is a stay-at-home mother, and her son sees her as the one cleaning up the dog's messes. In his mind, then, women do this sort of work.
I have seen the same thing play out in our home, these subtle lessons on gender and equality that are being taught even when we don't think they're on our kids' radar.
When we were house hunting a few years ago, I said I had chosen what I thought was the best house. My daughter looked at me and said, "Why do you get to choose? You don't make any money."
So, while I can slap down a dollar bill and four quarters and make a solid point about equal vs. the same, I don't know what other points I'm making by the lifestyle I've chosen. Do I want my kids to think women do the domestic chores and men go outside of the home to work? That is what my kids 'see' on the daily. Sure, they know mothers who work outside the home, but their daily reality is that I've been home with them since birth.
I'm not sure what the answer to all of this.
Should all people work and the government provide better social programs for daycare, healthcare, etc.?
Should we value non-monetary jobs more, thereby socializing children to value the role many women play in terms of domestic chores, parenting and overseeing a household in the same way we're taught to value jobs with paychecks, healthcare options and retirement funds?
This article in The Guardian continues the conversation and explores one woman's attempt to address this issue and her own feelings regarding the gender gap in her marriage and life. It's worth a read.
And for anyone who hasn't read The Second Shift, it's a classic and worth the investment. I read it in college, for a sociology course, and I think about it constantly and see it referenced all the time.
At the end of the day, I'm grateful I've made the choices I have and been able to stay at home with my kids, to have a husband who works hard to provide monetarily and also as a parent and to have benefits like excellent healthcare for my family and myself.
I'm not sure, then, why I struggle so much with feelings of vulnerability about a position in life I've chosen and am grateful for.
Has anyone else experienced this?
How do you talk to your kids about gender equality? Or has it come up?
Big thoughts today in this household. On a side note, it's raining all day. I'll say nothing about that be simply be grateful that after the rain I only love the sunshine that much more.