Under Pressure

•April 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Lately, I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure coming from different directions.  I’m starting to get stressed out, and I don’t usually do that.  It’s an interesting exercise for me to look at what pressures I’m feeling and where they’re coming from.  It’s not always what I would imagine.

I feel pressure to:

  • Keep up my physical appearance (makeup, regular haircuts, stay in shape – beyond the desire to stay fit from a health standpoint)
  • Have good fashion sense and be aware of trends (This is very new for me, I sometimes feel like when I’m walking the dog or grocery shopping I should try to look good!  Which is definitely a first.)
  • To be interested in fashion and trends (this is not natural to me – I might be willing to go along with it but please don’t make me really care about it! But I feel like I should care, that’s the pressure.)
  • To be a mother or to want kids (eventually, if not right at this moment.  Again, I feel like I should want kids.)
  • To be social and fun and outgoing all the time
  • To work harder (when at work)
  • To play harder (when not at work)
  • To be more available to my friends (time-wise, especially those who don’t work normal hours)
  • To have a boyfriend (this is pressure I’m putting on myself for some reason, even though I don’t really want one right now, nor do I have the time)
  • To settle down (I keep being drawn to the thought of buying a place, even while I’m dreaming about the places I should move to that I would like living in more than LA.  That’s just stilly.)
  • To make a decision about settling down (so I can stop telling people I won’t know what I’m doing next year and to have some concrete plans rather than daydreams)
  • To care about buying new fancy things or gadgets or something (Or just to care about them.  I don’t give a shit about the iPad.  There, I said it. Also, my car is 25 years old and I still love it.)
  • To be really creative and successful at whatever I’m doing (especially among my super creative friends, of which there are many)
  • To be uber-successful while still young (this is a product of me comparing myself to others rather than something they are putting on me)
  • To have lots of fun stories about things I’ve done and to be generally very entertaining to others
  • To get married soon-ish (maybe this is me thinking I’ve got to get a guy while I can…it isn’t really coming from my parents, thankfully.  I know that’s not always the case.)

This list is focused on LA, which I know is a totally different animal than a lot of other places.  It’s definitely a dream world in some ways, and that really contributes to the tension that I’m feeling.  There’s a push to be this perfect specimen here that probably doesn’t exist in other places.  It’s been a gradual change over the 7 years I’ve lived here, but I feel like it’s finally starting to suck me in.  And I’m getting comfortable with it, and almost accepting it.  Which to me means it’s just about time to skip town.

I guess the crazy thing is that almost all these pressures might be totally imagined by me.  I am blessed to have wonderful friends who accept me (generally) for exactly who I am right now, and wonderful parents who really couldn’t give a shit what I do with my life (in the good way where they actually do care but don’t keep bothering me about it).  So why am I feeling all this sudden pressure?  Is it all inside my head, or is it being quietly whispered in my ear by outside forces?

I can’t help but think it has to do with the lack of good role models today.  Our parents lived in an entirely new generation, and now our futures are not mapped out for us.  It’s true, we can do everything, but how do we figure out what that is?  And how do we accept that we’ll figure it out at different times in our lives, and all have varying levels of quantifiable success in our lives?  It’s a bit hard to be faced with successful friends and to therefore feel out of place and untalented.  I guess that’s where a lot of the self-imposed pressure is coming from.

What do you think this list would look like in another city, that maybe isn’t so centered around typical definitions of “success”?

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Are working women dangerous to society?

•March 4, 2010 • 1 Comment

I just finished reading Committed, the new book by Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame).  In it, she investigates the institution of marriage through periods of history, on her own journey toward accepting it in her life.  I think she makes some really interesting and topical points about the status of women in society and how that informs trends in marriage and family life.  I’ve been noticing this issue come up a lot lately, and not just in my own life.  I think it is one of the truly big issues facing our generation, so I’d like to explore it today as my first post, since it’s especially relevant to twenty-something females.

Here’s what she has to say:

“This change [the likelihood of a working woman to delay marriage and child-rearing, if she decides to do it at all] isn’t always welcomed by society at large, of course.  In Japan these days, where we find the highest-paid women in the industrial world (as well as, not coincidentally, the lowest birth rates on earth), conservative social critics call young females who refuse to get married and have children “parasitic singles” – implying that an unmarried, childless woman helps herself to all the benefits of citizenship (e.g., prosperity) without offering up anything (e.g., babies) in return.  Even in societies as repressive as contemporary Iran, young women are choosing to delay marriage and child rearing in increasing numbers in order to concentrate instead on furthering their education and careers.  Just as day follows night, the conservative commentators are denouncing the trend already, with one Iranian government official describing such willfully unmarried women as “more dangerous than the enemy’s bombs and missiles.”

Now, at first glance, the comment from the unnamed Iranian official seems quite extreme, but let’s look a little more closely at what is going on.

In America it’s often noted that the total number of women enrolled in colleges and universities outnumbers men for the first time in history.  As an educated woman myself, I don’t think this trend is going away any time soon.  Maybe the specific ratio will fluctuate, but I think the fact that roughly equal numbers of women and men are now attending college is not going to change.  As women become more educated and continue to enter the workforce (and this time, not just in typically female jobs, like teaching and nursing, but in other fields like engineering), the population of that, too, will shift toward a female majority.

And that, of course, means that women are becoming more financially solvent.  This is a trend that is starting in the west, but it will spread everywhere, and it’s already started, although it may be at different points elsewhere in the world.  As women become more financially solvent, marriage becomes less and less of a necessity for them.  And as women delay marriage, birth rates drop.  This is already happening, and has been happening for a while.

And this is where I come in.  I’m a well-educated, financially solvent woman in my twenties.  There are LOTS of things I feel I have left to do before I am ready to settle down in one place.  I’m interested in getting married at some point, although I don’t know when that is.  I’m unsure about wanting to have children.  I think that depends somewhat on when the marriage happens, and with whom.  So I am one of the “parasitic singles” as far as Japanese conservative social critics are concerned.

But really, why must I have children to be considered a benefit to society?  And why shouldn’t I be able to make use of society’s prosperity?  After all, as a working citizen, I am helping to create that very same prosperity.

So I feel the critics are way out of line.  Obviously, the number of women in the workforce and the number of women delaying marriage/children will continue to increase.  But how exactly does that endanger society?  I can foresee some men becoming frustrated, perhaps by unemployment, perhaps by not being the sole breadwinner, perhaps just by not being the bigger breadwinner in a family.  Perhaps they will be unable to find suitable women who are willing to marry them, and will be unwilling bachelors.  All of these things could trigger destructive responses in some men, and that would be a danger to society.  Perhaps alcoholism will increase, or domestic violence.  That would be a danger to society.  That can tear apart a country as badly as bombs and missiles, if not worse.  So I see where the Iranian critics are headed, but I still think they’re out of line.

I challenge the critics to tell me specifically why women delaying marriage is a bad thing.  What immediate damage occurs when women don’t have as many babies?  If I don’t have a baby tomorrow, does that mean that California will separate from the mainland and sink into the ocean?  No.  Do women in the workforce somehow bankrupt the government’s coffers?  No.

So I think the key thing here is that the status of women is not the problem, it is the REACTION to the changing status of women that is the problem.  This situation is only damaging if people react badly to it.  Society at large will need to change, and it has started, but I honestly don’t think you can blame women like me for wanting these things that have for so much of history been out of reach to us.  If we are educated enough to know that these things exist, and that they are now within our reach, why should we be expected to part with them willingly?  Especially when it seems the only argument against it is that men might not know how to cope with it.

Just my two cents.

If you’re reading this, what do you think about this trend?  Be sure to let me know where you fall in the demographics.