A few years ago, I was dining alone in a nice restaurant in Irvine that had a cool hipster name like Figs & Branches or Peas & Bacon. I don’t know what it was. I was traveling for work (remember traveling? remember restaurants? *sigh*) and my boss recommended the spot. I got their early in the evening and had no trouble getting a table for one, but by the time I was finishing my meal the waiting area was packed with hungry foodies.
Suddenly, three Indian women appeared at my table. One confidently sat down and the other two hovered for a moment, watching my face for my reaction. The confident one said, “you don’t mind, do you? It’s too long of a wait and you look like you need company.” I was shocked, but also delighted. As an extreme introvert it can be refreshing (if startling) to have someone take all of the “let’s become friends” stuff away and just start an interesting small-talk-free conversation with you. I smiled and introduced myself and the other two women sat down.
They were younger than I was. I’m guessing mid to late twenties to my late thirties. Very quickly, we were discussing our parents expectations of marriage and children. The leader of the group (as far as getting them a table was concerned) was grousing about her mother’s bullying phone calls on the subject. Her sense of humor was wry and she didn’t seem to mind sharing details, so I told them about things my mom has said, as well as some of the questions I have been asked as a childless woman living in Utah. “I wonder who is worse about applying pressure to get married and have kids,” I asked, finishing my wine. “Mormons or Indians?”
“Oh, Indians, definitely,” the confident girl, who was unsurprisingly also the chattiest, said without hesitation. “If your parents are from India, not only to you have to get married and have children, you also have to become a doctor or a lawyer.” The other girls laughed but nodded in agreement.
This blew my mind. “You’re right,” I said. “That is different.”
My parents expected me to go to college, of course. And there was always pressure to do well in school. But I don’t remember there being pressure for me to take on a serious career. In fact, I remember once telling my dad that I wanted to be a veterinarian and he discouraged me. He thought it would be too much science and math and that I wouldn’t be able to handle destroying animals. He wasn’t wrong, but Jesus. I think I was 12. Another time, I was watching Who’s the Boss and I was mesmerized by the character of Angela and the idea that she was so independent and that she made enough money to have both a housekeeper AND and drive a Jaguar! I told my mom I was going to go into advertising. She told me that was a bad idea because it was too competitive. Again, probably not wrong, but I was a kid. Would it have hurt to say, “okay honey, just work hard and I’m sure you will do well!” or something like that.
As I have said before, my parents were actually the most progressive ones I knew in this arena. I knew another girl who, even with a 4.0, was discouraged by her parents to go to college as it would just be “a waste of money” when she didn’t need a degree to be a mom.
This popped into my head this weekend when I read this article from Newsweek. It’s about an early childhood education bill that was defeated in Idaho last week. One Republican representative quoted in the article explained his vote against the bill thusly: “I don’t think anybody does a better job than mothers in the home, and any bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child, I don’t think that’s a good direction for us to be going.” He soon apologized, basically chalking up the speech to stage fright.
I admit that I don’t know what religion this man belongs to, but Idaho and Utah are very similar places, culturally. And anyway, this isn’t a Mormon problem. It is cultural problem. In my experience, growing up in this culture, there is little value placed on women who work and even less encouragement for women to find rewarding work. I hope it is better than when I was a kid, but it is still a problem. Utah has the second-worst pay gap between men and women right now. The worst state on this metric is Wyomming, another Mountain West state.
The most frustrating part of the article is it seems the representatives who are interviewed view women working outside the home as a tragic CHOICE that is a product of pressure from feminists, when fewer and fewer women have any choice about working for a paycheck. How out of touch are you, not to understand that?
Back at the Twig & Apricot (or whatever), I signed my check and got up to leave. The women asked me to stay. They even offered to buy me another glass of wine to thank me for the table, but I was ready to go. The manager stopped me on my way out and asked if those women just did what he thought they just did and if he should do anything to make it right, gesturing to my already settled check. “Oh no,” I said, waiving my hand limply for emphasis. “It’s fine. They are friends of mine. From work.”
As I went back to my hotel, I thought about how lucky I am to have found a good fit with my career. I like what a do, and every once in a while, they put me in a nice hotel, pay for a lovely meal, thereby creating an opportunities to meet new people who give me something to think about. I parked my rental car and went up to my room to do a little work before bed.