The Gender Shift

As I write this message, I am on a plane to California with my fiancé. We are relocating from Pennsylvania to California because I am starting a new job at a biotech company. 30 years ago this would have been considered a radical act. To add fuel to this radical act, my fiancé and I have, between us, three university degrees. The majority of which are in my name. And since we have already got the ball rolling, I am an engineer and my fiancé is a financial analyst. We both earn the same amount of money. Breaking your mind yet? 

The reason I wanted to pen down my thoughts, on what now seem to be mundane details about our background, is because this move made me think of my mother. That and I just finished watching the movie, about Ruth Badger Ginsburg, On the Basis of Sex (amazing movie, by the way). But back to my mother. She is an engineer by profession too. However the interesting twist, between mother and daughter, is that my mother moved across countries for my father’s job. Now, she did this willingly and, I might add, happily too. She was never forced as my father is not that kind of man. He is a dreamer who wanted to run after his dreams and my mother was a happy and willing partner. But what always confounded me was why she never considered moving the family for a role she wanted to pursue. She is brilliantly intelligent, more so than my father. (A notion my father would wholeheartedly agree with. In his own words, “I married up.”) She definitely has an engineer’s mind, where she is always looking for improvement. She is amazing at her job. So amazing that when she retired, he boss kept asking her to come back to work for a full year into her retirement. Just a FYI, no one really asked my father to come back after he retired. So why did she never consider moving across continents for her goals? 

Now before I give you my answer to that question, I wanted to clarify one thing. My mother is a dreamer. She has amazing goals and dreams that she wishes to fulfill. Her charitable nature has been her North Star in all her dreams and goals. So, I can promise you that a lack of dreams is definitely not the reason. I think it is because she, unknowingly, has internalized patriarchal notions. Now, dear readers, some of you might be saying how is that even possible! She is a trained and educated engineer. She was a working mother and wife. She took care of both family and career. If anything she should be the poster child of female empowerment. And I can understand where you are coming from. But hear me out. I think women of her generation were told you can be anything, but with a caveat attached to it. Be little or as good as your male counterparts. Now I am not saying these were exact words used, but rather were the unsaid subtext that come from family, friends and colleagues. How you ask were these messages transmitted then? “You shouldn’t be more educated than your husband.” “You shouldn’t earn more than your husband.” “You should consider staying home to care for the kids, instead of having a career.” And on and on the subliminal messages go. No wonder my mother never thought to pursue her own dreams. She was conditioned from a young age to think that her goals would be inferior to that of her husband. Society taught her that she should educate and work to have a job, not a career, because her true career would be her children. And if she did try to pursue a career, she would be penalized with racking guilt. The worst kind of punishment as it is not inflicted by others but done to oneself. So what could she do but survive in the confines of the bars that society had built around her? 

I have not even a shadow of a doubt that if my mother went onto pursue her career goals, she would excel in every. single. one. of. them. How do I know this? Because she excelled in every single goals that confines of society allowed her to have. I have no doubt that she would have made her mark in the world. She would have inspired millions by just being herself. Having done good work, she would have been a trailblazer for other women to know that they can have it all. 

However, I can’t deny that that last sentence still holds true now. She is a trailblazer for my sister and I who are able to set career aspirations that would allow us to be much better than our male counterparts or partners. Thanks to her, I am relocating with my fiancé for my new job, to follow my career goals. I am only able to do this because I was able to stand on the shoulders on my mother and see further. Although sometimes I wish she saw what I could see, it is now on me to push further and break more glass ceilings. I can see one day that gender will not even be an issue, but just a trait you are born with, like having blue or brown eyes. But there is still work to be done to get there. So ladies, continue to question and push further. Nothing is written in stone. In the famous words of RBG’s collar, “dissent.” And one day in the future, our daughters will be standing on our shoulders seeing far ahead of us. But they would have only been able to do that thanks to their grandmothers.