I spend my professional life in an office environment. I spend many of my waking hours in a cubicle, in front of a computer, and under fluorescent lights. There is an actual water cooler near my desk and actual small talk occurs there. The restrooms are shared by too many people, and by the end of the day they smell equally like shit and the cheap floral scented spray that is supposed to mask the smell but somehow amplifies it and makes it worse.
Just your typical office, you see.
However, I like my job. Actually, I love my job.While I have the usual anxiety about spending my one life at a desk job, anxiety which feels especially acute after attending openings and readings done by my artist friends, perusing the Instagram of friends whose profession seems to be full-time traveler, or getting an unexpected day off and remembering how good it feels to own every single hour in my day, I know my job is the right path for me.
I work in the reproductive health care and justice field, and every tedious hour spent in my rolling chair does a small part in helping to ensure that everyone has access to the reproductive services they need and deserve, regardless of their ability to pay. I’m very lucky that my passion also enables me to pay my rent and my bills and then some.
My partner is one of those artists I referenced earlier. He just recently started a MFA track at one of the most prestigious programs in the country. What does that mean exactly? It means that he’s incredibly talented. It also means he is often broke.To be a student and to be an artist is a double whammy of limited income.
Let me be absolutely clear: to be a student and/or an artist is in itself a privilege, and my partner values his opportunities every day. However, the reality of his situation is he currently has very little income.
On one of our last weekends together in Brooklyn, before he decamped to more creative and scholarly pastures, I decided that I wanted to have a decadent weekend. I had just gotten paid and was flush with the recent increase in my checking account and his imminent departure looming. I wanted to make these last few shared New York hours memorable ones.
He was in that difficult spot between his last paycheck and his student loans coming in. The day was to be my treat and happily so! And as you may know, New York City is not a hard town to spend money in.
A few of the shops visited and goods purchased on that muggy summer Sunday:
Local grocer. Goods purchased include bloody mary mix, fresh juice, cold brew coffee, and soy sausage.
Sunglasses vendor. Goods purchased include a round pair of tortoise shell sunglasses that were certainly off trend by the time I made it to the end of the block and a pair of clear-framed sunnies that my partner loved so much he actually fell asleep while wearing them that night. Thank you, Corey Hart.
Neighborhood pet store. Goods purchased include dry food and bully sticks (so named so we don’t focus on the reality that dogs love chewing on cow penises) for my darling dog.
Yogurt stand. Good purchased include plain frozen yogurt with cereal topping for me and a chocolate shake for him.
At all these vendors and a few more, I paid for both of us. I opened up my too-big purse and rustled around its depths until I could fish out my wallet, with its cheap finish peeling off and clasp broken. I counted out the correct number and amount of crumpled bills and paid in cash.
Without fail, the cashier at each of these vendors happily took the money from my hand, placed it in their till, counted out the correct change, reached their hand forward over Formica threshold separating cashier and purchaser…..
….And then held the coins and dollars in the air in front of my partner, entirely bypassing my expectant open palm.
This could easily be chalked up to be an accident. A transgression without malicious intent - well, a half dozen transgressions-without-malicious-intents-in-a-row. You may be sitting at your desk giggling at my interpretation of these interactions as an affront to me as a woman, and maybe you’re ruefully shaking your head and rolling your eyes at my read of the situation, or perhaps you get it.
You, dear reader, get that economic independence is the winning ticket in the fight against inequality (of all types).
You get that women make 77 cents for every dollar that men make (and that black women earn 69 cents for every dollar paid to black men, and Latinas earn just 58 cents on the dollar compared to Latino men). Multiple studies show that even when we control for hours, occupation, college major, employment sector, and other factors associated with pay, the wage gap still exists.
You get that fields that have a higher representation of women are undervalued (often called “caring labor”) so jobs predominantly done by women, such as teaching and home health care, pay less on average than jobs predominantly done by men. You get that women make up a majority of workers in the 10 most common jobs that pay less than $10.10 an hour.
You get that that even in high earning professions, women earn less. Women entering the finance sector earned, on average, close to $22,000 less than men entering at the same level. Women were offered an average $12,300 less by tech companies, and an average $11,500 less by consulting firms than their male peers.
You get that the lack of paid family leave is a relic that stunts women’s economic potential at the height of their earning ability.
You get that financial dependence is one of the main reasons women stay in abusive relationships.
You get that even though I out-earn my partner now, there are chances that over our lifetime, he will out-earn me for the same work. Or even earn more for less work.
You get that the mundane interactions of the every-day are often the battlefield on which these micro-aggressions occur. That these micro-aggressions all add up to these bigger, systemic inequalities above.
You get that if we don’t interrupt these interactions, we are complicit in their acceptance and perpetuation.
After all, all I wanted was a little change.