As I was perusing the Women in the Labor Force Databook to do research for this project, I began to feel dejected and less than. Yes, the stats were for 2008, which (arguably) could be indicative of life before this horrid economic downturn. But something tells me they’re not. Something tells me that I am of a small demographic that is suffering in the throes of unemployment and “settling for the first employer.”
As a recent graduate of a state university, I have discovered that my Bachelor of Arts does little for my job search. I emerge from the structure of college life into the worst job-market this economy has seen in decades. Add onto that horrible circumstance that, 1, my degree is in Theatre Arts (a constantly degraded and “useless” career path), 2, I had loving parents who encouraged me to “simply go to school” instead of trying to develop my career simultaneously, and 3, that I am a woman and VOILA! You’ve got a recipe for your next waitress.
I have been having this circular conversation with a lot of my feminist women friends that pertains to how intelligent and driven we are, how highly educated we are, and how employable our personalities seem. The circle comes full at the point when we all discover that we’re still working food service or mail rooms with a four-year accredited University degree and none of us seem to have enough money for all our groceries, rent, and bills at some point in our pay-period cycles.
And all I want to know is: why?
Is this some phantom phase that all college graduates go through? Is it particular to women? Was it this hard for the people who graduated 5, 10 and 15 years ago? According to the Women in the Labor Force Databook, apparently not.
The stats just don’t seem to reflect the three months I spent unemployed between barista jobs here in Seattle. Or the months my girlfriend spent looking for a job she wouldn’t “settle for” while she lived with her boyfriend for free. I am 23, working almost 40 hours a week, can’t afford my apartment and therefore am moving, trying desperately to start a career in my field of passion, and am lucky enough to still be able to ask my parents, “Hey, can I start paying you for car insurance, cell phone bill, student loans, and health benefits… next month? Or the month after that?”
And what if I wasn’t lucky enough to be born into this lower-middle class family that seems to afford what I cannot? I have a few friends who weren’t so lucky and they are struggling more than I am. Working minimum wage jobs and hating the bastard who doesn’t tip suddenly ends up in Top Ramen for dinner. For two whole weeks. There is a frighteningly direct correlation between your tips and your eating patterns.
The ultimate worst part of all this thinking is realizing that if I try to make this into a feminist issue, every one tells me I’m inventing things. “Hey, the unemployment rate is high FOR EVERYONE, not just women.”
Women have been struggling to equal men in pay, job status, and careers in their desired field far longer than men have been simply earning more, being managers, and working their dream job.
I’m often naturally inclined to be the devil’s advocate for the very article I’m writing. I say that because I want all of you who find my assertions that, “being a woman in this economy is harder than being a man in this economy,” more buyable. I usually think people who speak statements as the one I just wrote are ignorant and not cluing into all the current available information.
But then I stepped back. I thought about it a little bit. Here’s an analogy that explains my theory:
Women are the blue team (and for the sake of patriotism) men are the red team. Red team has a rich team owner—Bill Gates. Because of their money, they were able to afford inviting all the MVP players to the try-outs (flew them in from their home cities, put them up in hotels, etc). They have matching uniforms, top notch training facilities, a line of water with weird chemicals in it that promotes their fan-base, and you get the picture. Blue team held general try-outs in the local community center that consisted solely of the turn-out from the ad they placed in the local newspaper. They’ve got some awesome players. They’re players, however, have full time jobs because this game is only a hobby. Therefore, they can’t train all day (and they’re not getting paid. Yet.). They practice outside in the rain (if at all), and all of them chose to wear black as their uniform. Their coach played all his life but never made it big time. They all know the game, play it well, but just don’t have the history, time, or the resources to beat the Red team.
It’s the day of the big game. Red team bought, built, and funded a huge game at a stadium. They even gave Blue team some better uniforms. The referee was hired by Bill Gates (they’re good friends in fact) and all the fans are wearing red out in the bleachers. Don’t hate on the fans though—they just love the sport. And hey, why blame them? It’s not their fault they’ve never heard of the Blue team!
The teams march out onto the pitch—a sparkling, together, muscled and trained red team opposite a tired, wiry, driven, and desperate blue team. The referee blows the whistle. Play ensues.
Now, given the history of each team, it’s obvious which team has the leg up in this game. Trouble is, there’s still a chance the talented Blue team could win! The fulfill the tragic role of the underdog. But when you’re sitting in the bleachers of the fancy stadium, you forget the Blue team is the underdog. You’re just excited to watch the game and see who’s the best player.
And that’s how the job market is. Sometimes the underdog, though less supported, can win. More often than not, the underdog is talented but just playing on the wrong team. Right? And the player from the Red team… well… they don’t have the same stakes as the player from the Blue team. They don’t need to win as badly, they don’t have a sense of desperation and sometimes don’t even have a sense of luck. They just take for granted the way they play the game.
And I don’t fault them for that.
If I was paid to play my game of choice all day in top notch training facilities and then was told I’d get more money for a win, you bet your ass I’d take full advantage of that situation.
Red team players aren’t to blame here. I don’t want them to be. I just want the whole stadium full of spectators to be a little more gracious to the Blue team. Or maybe have Bill Gates fund both teams—you know… even the playing ground?
And damn, I’d love the chance to play for the Red team. I really would.
Top Ramen, anyone?
We want to hear about the feminist activism happening on your campus! To submit an article for this column, send us an e-mail. Here we will spotlight feminist themes, issues and events, and serve as a hub for individual young women and feminist groups on campuses across the country to network with each other, share information, and organize students around issues and events.