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Are You Equal Yet?

“You’ve come a long way, baby!” was a cigarette ad that peppered magazines some time ago. Born in 1965, I witnessed some awesome, dumfounding, and necessary social changes that occurred over the years. As a child, I saw on our black and white TV bra burning protests featured on the news.

I saw women fight for their equal rights. “Equal pay for equal work,” ERA, the single mother, the working woman, sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, birth control, abortion, and so on, these issues are just as important today as they have ever been. As a result, I was raised in both the “old” and the “new” schools.

The old school is something like this: The man is the bread winner, supports his family and is king of the castle. The woman stays home and tends to the kids, the kitchen, and especially the man. Today it is called Traditional Roles. I had a stay-at-home mom until about 1972. At the point she started her career, both of my parents worked. That was the new school.

The new school, as best as I can tell, is something like this: Work is shared, marriage is a partnership, and the entire family contributes to the needs of the family. Did I get that right, or has it changed since? New school or not, while working, my mother STILL took care of the kids and the kitchen, and tended to dad. Well, we have come a long way, but we still have a ways to go.

In 2004, my fifteen–year-old son invited three very pretty young ladies to lunch. I veered the conversation toward career and education. They were all in high school, and would be graduating sooner than they thought, so the conversation seemed relevant.

I asked about career considerations, about college, and what subjects they might study. Between eating and occasional texting, there was little response.

The conversation ended when one of them said, verbatim: “Ummm, like, we don’t want to get too smart because it, like, ummm, scares all the cute boys away <upward inflection, giggle> …”

Okay, she was only fifteen. Okay, they weren’t really prepared to discuss education and career. Sure, it was only lunch to begin with. And yes, I do have leniency toward teenage absentmindedness because I, too, was young and dumb once.

As a teen, however, I always had some kind career ambition. I wanted to be an engineer as a freshman, despite not knowing what an engineer was. I wanted to be an electrical engineer my junior year, knowing that it involved much math. Other classmates had career ambitions. One wanted to be a roustabout. Well, that’s something. I got nothing from these three kids during lunch.

In light of all that, the “cute boys” comment from a pre-high school graduate female is quite alarming. If at least one had indicated some desire to further her education, or made some gesture toward a career interest, then it would not have been quite as alarming. But when the other two acknowledged her statement with nods of agreement, the Klaxon engaged.

You can blame the parents if you wish. Or blame the public school system. Maybe it’s the TV’s fault. The Internet? Texting? Video games?

You could blame it on children’s movies! Pick any one that features a princess. There’s Princess Fiona of Shrek who just sat in a tower waiting for “true love’s first kiss,” for instance. Children’s fairytales are replete with wall flower girls who manage to marry the prince and then “live happily ever after.” And that’s where the story ends; it ends with marriage, good feelings, and a dancing party. What about childbirth, the screaming kids, the dirty diapers, the cluttered kitchen, the bills, the laundry, etc.? Yeah, you could play the blame game all day long, but the alarm is still blaring.

That “cute boys” statement taunts me. I’ve rolled it in my brain over the years. As a man who was married for thirteen years, divorced for the last ten or so, and having a few relationships along the way, I have arrived at a few conclusions:

Rights, whether they are Civil, Equal, God-Given or otherwise, are not just paragraphs that provide you whatever freedoms. They are not just good ideas or nice-to-haves. They are entitlements. And they bestow you with both privileges and responsibilities. Rights are for everyone including both genders. (I do not intend to be gender specific, but my target audience is women of western culture.) There are many rights, but I want to consider education and career.

You have a right to an education. You have the privilege of attending any school you can afford, and study any subject that suits your interest. A generation ago, you as a woman were simply not allowed to go to medical school. Period. Don’t even ask. In the present-day war-torn Middle East, girls are slaughtered for attending school. It’s ghastly to think that such practice still exists anywhere in the world, but there it is.

You also have the responsibility to actually graduate with a “useful” degree, something that will open one or two career doors for you after you move your tassel. A degree in Home Economics, Sociology, Art History, or English Literature just doesn’t cut it these days. Really! Just ask the waitress who has such a degree.

You have the right to a career of your choosing. You have the privilege of pursuing any career you want. It will almost always involve training, so be prepared to train. Fifty years ago the best a young lady could hope for was to “find a good man and he’ll take care of you for the rest of your life.” Frankly, that was a load of crap then, and it’s a load of crap today!

Right to a career means you have a responsibility to get the best career you can, and work every day to keep it. Your paycheck should naturally tend to the needs of your family, Make sure you sock a little away each payday for retirement, because one thing is absolutely certain: barring your untimely death, you will get old! Who is going to take care of you then? Your ex-husband? Your bankrupt children? Social Security?

These two rights in combination are the Formula for Equality. Do you know anybody who has applied the Formula for Equality? Do you know anyone who has systematically ignored it? Do you know people from each side? Do you recognize the differences in their respective lifestyles?

Do you know anyone who has placed, or expects to place her entire heart, mind, body, soul, and livelihood into the hands of a man in the form of marriage? This day in age, ladies, that’s about the stupidest thing you can do, because despite the depth of your love, despite what is in your heart, or in your vagina, you have no idea what “ever after” is going to bring. If you want a relationship that will actually work for you, then a college education topped with a high paying career is exactly what you seek.

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1989. It has made me “equal,” because I took advantage of the same rights granted to both me and you. The door was placed in the propped-open position, and I walked through.

If you believe marriage is the answer to all your problems, then shame on you! You desecrate decades of strife and unrest your mother and grandmother endured so you would not have to place yourself in the servitude of a man. If you have intentionally kept yourself ignorant and uneducated (“… don’t want to get too smart …”) in an effort to attract a handsome man (“ … because it scares all the cute boys away …”) then, frankly, ma’am, you deserve the heartbreak, financial ruin, despair and hopelessness you are enduring, or about to endure. If you have not applied the Formula for Equality, nor do you have any intention of doing so, then you will never be equal. Regardless of the nature and number of rights that may be written, it is up to you to exercise them. If you do not, then it is the same as never having them in the first place.

Are you equal yet?