The sun was finally out, it was warm enough to leave the house without a coat, and I was about to go on a weekend trip to an even warmer and sunnier place with my husband. I was pretty happy that day, and I thought for sure nothing could ruin my good mood. Until something that never fails to make me sad, frustrated, and a little mad happened: I was reminded that my peers don’t necessarily share my views on gender equality. I’m not sure how it happened, but all of a sudden lunch conversation turned from cheerful to decidedly distressing. I can slightly tolerate the belief that a heterosexual relationship cannot work if the man does not feel like the provider by chalking it up to a personal preference that every couple must sort out (though of course we must question where this belief even comes from). But my heart will definitely start beating like a jackhammer at the implication that there is no urgency in changing the status quo of men earning more than women simply because they are men.
I come from a family where it was never hinted that my parents may have different expectations for my sister and I than from my brother. I went to a school where I was encouraged in all subjects, including math and science, and then to a university where I took every opportunity to question the validity of prescribed gender roles in my assignments. I married a man who has no desire to separate ourselves into the traditionally male and female roles of running a home, but rather wants to be my partner in all matters, from financing our household to choosing the home décor. Considering this background, for me it is easy to forget that this experience is not universal, not even within my own age group. I usually go through life believing that we are on the same page when it comes to gender roles and equality – at least for big picture issues like pay equality – so it is always a shock to realize that this is not entirely true. I have been disappointed in this way many times, so I’ve decided that it’s time to come up with a plan to deal with those unpleasant moments that snap me back to reality.
When it happens
No matter how callous or insensitive your peers’ remarks sound to you, remind yourself that: a. the likelihood that slapping someone will make things better is slim to none, and b. everyone is entitled to their opinion. Your peer can think that all women must happily give up their careers when (I doubt the word if would be used in this scenario) they have children, and the most you can do is strongly disagree. I remind myself that a belief like this one has probably been cultivated over a lifetime, so no amount of screaming will change the offender’s mind in a single conversation. To me, the better option would be to simply let the person know that I don’t agree and explain why (admittedly, I can use some practice at this, it is difficult when emotions are running high). If your peer is interested in continuing the conversation, the ball is in their court.
A few hours after it happens
Once I’ve had enough distance from the event to stop replaying the conversation in my head and lower my heart rate, I want to think about what I can personally do to make the world more equal. Since in this particular scenario I am disappointed that pay equality is not considered important or a priority, I’ve decided to find out how the company where I work fares on pay equality. I could see myself making a career there, so it’s important to me to find out how my paycheck will compare to my male peers as I advance. If I do not like what I find, I want to find ways that I can help change the situation, especially considering that I live near the city with the worst gender pay gap in the U.S.
Days after it happened
After deciding what my big-picture course of action will be, I want to move forward without dwelling on the conversation that upset me. You have already explained your position to them and devised an action plan based on the situation; holding a grudge against your peer won’t help you achieve further gender equality. Especially if it is a person you see often, nothing positive can come from letting the mere sight of them put you in a bad mood. It will only be a strain on your daily life.
Though my plan was inspired by an experience dealing with gender equality, it can apply to other scenarios involving race, sexuality, ability, and so on, and situations where inequality intersects many variables. It can be disappointing to learn that your peers are not as open-minded as you thought, especially when it seems like they do not think inequality is a serious issue. Instead of harboring negative emotions towards the people that surround us, I want to use these interactions as fuel to my fire to create a more equal world.
Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve been disappointed by your peer’s views on inequality? How did you react? Let us know in the comments!
Written by Sully Moreno