Thursday, October 25, 2012

Career, Independence, and Love

Courtesy of

In spite of my impassioned moments I am a level-headed person. Though I do find myself almost tearing out my hair every time I hear someone say that women are sacrificing their love lives, relationships, and families for the sake of their career. These comments feed into an old-age idea that women's desire are all rooted around family and motherhood, and that women are not desirable when they are independent and self-sufficient.

This week, Tyrese Gibson, the R&B singer, actor, author, and former fashion model tweeted this:

I do not care what Tyrese thinks about women, but he does have over 2 million twitter followers and has the power of media on his side. I can tweet all day long about feminism, but I do not have 2 million followers, so my messages do not reach as many people. I find his tweets falling into the same ritual of warning women of the "consquences" of their single or successful career statuts. Reading this tweet from Tyrese reminds me that only women get the "warning" about independence leading to loneliness. Independent men are sexy, reliant, and make good husband material. Single men in their 40s are never lonely, they are free to do as they please with their time. But independent women? They are just waiting for a man to save them, or in need of someone to take care of them.

Growing up I saw my divorced mother struggle to regain the independence she lost when she got married, because my father refused to have a wife that would put her career before her family. The thought that a family is created by both parents, and that they could both financially contribute to their marriage was never given a thought. While some families can afford to only have one parent work, that was not the case for my family. We struggled financially for years, and although my mother was a college graduate, while my father did not even graduate from middle school, he was the de facto head of the household. He managed our finances, our business, and activities. He decided how much money my mother would get for groceries and back-to-school shopping, while freely buying rounds of drinks for his friends at the local bar.

My father was not the smartest man when it came to managing our family's money, and while he doesn't represent all men, his refusal to allow my mother to be part of the household finances is all too common. I say this all the time, but I almost want to get it tattooed on my forehead so as to make the message clearer: PATRIARCHY HURTS MEN. My father measured his manhood only within patriarchal boundaries.

Bell hooks, in The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love, defines patriarchy as:

"…a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence."
My mother would often refer to my dad as a machista. A machista is a man who domineers, specially the women in his life, to prove his masculinity. Machismo teaches men to show their virility, power, and manhood by being controlling and aggressive. The concept of machismo is heavily influenced by socially imposed gender roles and the idea that anything feminine is weak, and vice versa. While my significant other is considerably more open minded about gender roles than my father was, we both struggle with what society wants from us. In my home I have the most education, a salaried career, and make more money. He is a freelancer, blue collar worker, whose paycheck is directly related to how many hours he works; yet our intimate relationship is balanced. We both strive for success and uplift each other, always with an understanding that success is not measured in money and that our relationship is built by both of us. If I fail, he fails, and vice versa.

Nonetheless, our society is still deeply entrenched in gender roles, which brings me back to the notion of women having too much independence. What some see as "too much independence" in regards to women, is actually women being normal contributing members of our society, which in turn is good for everyone. Women being active members of our society reduces the pressure that men face to build a career, wealth, and family on their own. It just creeps people out because for eons women's place were on the sidelines.

Men and women are very much affected by gender roles and the pressures that come with that. Balancing a career, a family, and ones personal life is not easy, but the onus is always on women to either balance all facets of life perfectly or choose one (career or family.) A desire for independence along with love and protection is a human desire. However, men and women are not a monolith and can choose whichever life best suits them, sometimes doing so at the expense of a lot of social reprieve. Women who choose to be stay-at-home mothers or quit their jobs after marriage might not represent my lifestyle, but they have every right to make that choice for themselves. A woman who is fulfilled by her career and is not interested in marriage or a family has made that choice for herself and should not be seen as lonely; not unless she says so herself. And women who juggle all facets of life also know that at times they might not do it perfectly, and that's ok. Personal choices are just that, personal choices. They do not reflect a gender. So I will not entertain the idea that women are "too independent" when a man's independence is never questioned. The issue is not really about a person being self-sufficient, autonomous, and in control of their own life, it is the notion of a woman being autonomous, and that is unsettling. It is unsettling to men as it is to some women, because it dismantles gender roles that many truly believe in. What is disheartening to me is that women's independence is a talking point.

It is disheartening to me that women's independence is always a focal point for skewed gender roles and responsibilities in our society.