I am well aware of the statistics that overflow the media and the marchers on International Women’s Day: women are underappreciated and undervalued and disrespected…all the statistics tell us so. I know that in many places in the world, women are truly treated as second-class citizens or worse, unprotected by law and policy and practice. Because women traditionally—and, dare I say, by instinct—care for the family, it is women who unequally assume the burdens of poverty.
However, my experience doesn’t reflect the numbers—I’m missing something or simply not understanding, and I don’t want to be ignorant. In my experience—overwhelmingly, women are shoulder-to-shoulder with me all the time, at times well ahead of me! I’ll start with my mother…she shared the weight of a four-children family with my father; I never doubted their equality nor witnessed an inequality (Did she “wait on” my father at times? Yes. But did he support her steadfastly? Yes…shared service.). At times, I saw her holding my father up with her strength on the few times his strength failed him, just as he held her up when she needed it. They played different roles, they shared the burdens and joys…they were equally invaluable to us and to each other. I don’t know what the statistics might tell me about her, but my mom was unequalled.
My sisters were supported and loved and excelled each in her own way. They both went to college and held jobs and built lives and families with husbands who respect and love and share the burdens and joys with them. I don’t know what the statistics might tell me about them, but my sisters are unequalled.
My wife shared the weight of raising our two-children family (and carries it still)…she carried the weightiest at-home part of the burden because I traveled often for work. She was—and is—always supporting our children; at the same time she supports her family, volunteers to help abandoned or injured animals, and is the truest friend to her friends. She is smarter than I am—she has a Master’s degree—but we stand shoulder-to-shoulder every day. I love her and respect her because her person commands it. I don’t know what the statistics might tell me about my wife, but she is unequalled.
I have a daughter in whom I have the utmost faith and for whom I have the utmost love…she excelled through high school and made the Dean’s list in college and now is starting her career in a city far from her home, demanding the best for and of herself. She is smart and funny/sarcastic and dependable and worth everything that any job will pay her. I don’t know what the statistics might tell me about her, but my daughter is unequalled.
I have a goddaughter/niece who has also created her life in a city far from her home…an apartment, a job, new friends and loves, a daily routine of her own making. She is artistic and musical and funny and generous. I don’t know what the statistics might tell me about her, but my goddaughter is unequalled.
I’ve worked in a woman-dominated industry for 30 years…worked with, worked for, hired and fired, relied on, been overwhelmed by, partnered with remarkable women. Editorial Directors who are accomplished pharmacists, managers, writers, peers; Medical Writers and Editors who are skilled and smart and personable and passionate; Account and Project Managers who carry the weight of whole teams on their shoulders and drive business and keep clients happy; Operations and Finance Directors who are smart and skilled and determined. Beyond knowing them at work, I knew them with their families and understood their tremendous 24-hours-a-day accomplishments. I don’t know what the statistics might tell me about these ladies, but they are unequalled.
In hindsight, I realize that none of these ladies ever felt compelled to demand or even ask for my respect. They never once had to assert “We are equals.” It would have been superfluous…because as “people”—not as “women”—as people, they had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me and that’s where I naturally and proudly met them: unequalled equals.
That has been one of my important realizations, that dealing with someone as an equal means not relegating them to a “type”…a woman isn’t just a woman. A woman is a daughter and perhaps a sister and perhaps a mother and perhaps a business person or teacher or writer or editor or a cancer survivor or any of a million things in a million ways.
If you want a taste of multiple possibilities of remarkable women, unequalled remarkable women, watch A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945); Katie and Francie Nolan are two strong, weak, humble, proud women struggling in poverty, struggling with their male counterparts. Or read about the book’s author, Betty Smith, who rose from the tenements of Brooklyn to become an accomplished author. Or read about Dagny Taggert, the heroine—businesswoman, lover, visionary—of Atlas Shrugged. Or read about the book’s powerhouse author, Ayn Rand, a creative, intellectual dynamo who, I think, never asked to be respected or asked to be an equal. To quote Rand, “The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it is who’s going to stop me.”