Taking Back The Skirt

Engaged and noticing sexism? CHECK!


I’m in the midst of an identity crisis. I recently awoke from a naive and blissfully ignorant lifelong slumber and realized that I am a WOMAN and somehow that means I am viewed differently in the world. Becoming ‘engaged’, was the loud alarm clock that rousted me from my oblivion. It has been a few months since we woke up on a Saturday morning and decided to put an end to the year of just talking about it, and actually go buy the rings. We kept it a secret for a whole week, during which we each ‘proposed’ to each other. We broke the news to both sets of parents by taking them out to dinner and waiting for them to notice the gaudy costume jewelry rings we bought on South Street to wear to dinner in lieu of the real rings, which were still being made.

By now, most of our summer wedding is planned—wonderful liberal rabbi to officiate our Jewish/Greek ceremony, family house in Maryland reserved for the weekend, caterer booked with strawberry shortcake instead of cake, dress purchased with my mother and grandmother there to offer their opinions. But now I’m beginning to question whether I will have worked through this “woman issue” by the time our date rolls around.

Since “the engagement,” I am suddenly the “daughter-who-is-getting-married” to my parents’ acquaintances. People who are almost strangers feel compelled to ask me very personal questions: “Have you thought it through? You’ve really got to think it through. Those vows, you know, ‘for better or for worse,’ those are serious.” Extended family members only ask me about wedding details, but ask J about his work. I’ve found myself in fits of anger while doing things like cleaning the house, suddenly feeling bitter that I’m doing “women’s work.” (Note: I actually really like cleaning and doing laundry, and I love that J does the cooking.)

At work-school, where I am a PhD candidate in music composition, I’ve found myself hyperaware that I am usually the only skirt or dress in the room. The majority of my professors are men, all of my colleagues are men, and all of the music and theoretical writings that I engage with in my studies were written by men. When I am on the podium guest conducting I am constantly frustrated with my attempts to get a heavy impactful sound from the ensemble. The same exact heavy gestures made by my male conducting professor result in a loud forceful bravado. Comments that I receive from audience members after premieres of my music center around adjectives such as pretty, beautiful, pleasing, pleasant, and lovely. Often times their descriptions feel less about the actual musical content of my music and more about my appearance.

I blame the skirt.

Why am I questioning in my work life whether people are able to look past my gender and evaluate my work on its own merits? Why am I suddenly aware of the hypermasculine undertones of many music theory manifests? Why did I snap at J when he benignly asked me how my day was? “…Just because I was home all day, doesn’t mean I had time to play housewife. I had final papers to grade, I finished editing my new piano piece, and I had to prepare an analysis presentation for seminar.”

Somewhere in the midst of confrontations with the WIC during the wedding planning process, and the change in people’s perception of me due to my status as “engaged,” I became of aware of the multitude of ways in which my gender affects my life in ways I didn’t want to believe were possible. I’ve grown up in a post Title IX world. I had heard stories from my mother and grandmothers about discrimination. Stories about not being able to play sports, about having to wear dresses to school, and sexual harassment at work. Blissfully ignorant, I thought that was all in the past, but my recent encounters and realizations have proved otherwise.

The majority of society still perceives people according to gender norms. There is systematic pay inequality for women. On average it takes women longer to be granted tenure at academic institutions. Most composers are dead European white men. Weddings are a “woman’s thing,” even if J is just as excited about wedding details as I am. (Ask him about crushing the glass during the ceremony, or the pictures he wants to have of his rugby buddies doing a scrum in their suits, or selecting a craft beer from his hometown to have at our reception.) It has taken becoming engaged for me to awake to this reality.

I suppose I could try to go back to my ignorant days—throw out my dresses, buy some androgynous suits, list the composer on concert programs as Eric instead of Erica. But the truth is that I love a dress with a good twirly skirt. I can use this new awareness to bolster my reserves going into the discrimination of the academic job market. I can politely correct my family and friends to ask J about wedding related things as well, and to inform them of my accomplishments in my professional life (I wrote a kickass viola concerto! CON-CERT-O, as in soloist and full orchestra. And it was PLAYED. Why doesn’t anyone want to hear it?!). I can investigate the lack of a feminist perspective in music theory and begin formulating one for myself. I can come up with crafty replies to well-meaning, but annoying comments from acquaintances about our decision to marry.

I didn’t think that being engaged would change much in my daily life, but it opened my eyes to the challenges facing women today. This in turn has made me aware of possible gender norms that may even be engrained in my thinking and affecting our relationship (where and when did I learn to equate housework with “women’s work”?). I hope by the time our wedding rolls around in June that I will have at least come to terms halfway with some of these issues. I’m trying to use this time to become engaged in an inner dialogue with my personal identity as a woman and the way that society perceives that identity.

I can take back the skirt, and not let it define me.

Photo from Erica’s personal collection

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  • anon

    “I didn’t think that being engaged would change much in my daily life, but it opened my eyes to the challenges facing women today.”
    This! I thought I had come to terms with all the inherent gendered-ism that goes along with weddings and marriages … and after getting engaged was completely gobsmacked by the causal, lazy assumptions people made about me that I’d honestly never felt like I’d encountered before. Like … well, now that you’re settling down, you’re going to get serious about learning to cook, right? Ummmm, what??!?

    It kind of felt like while I was single/unmarried, I was invisible, and the decision to get married made me a full member of society — complete with “womanly” responsibilities and obligations to run a household, organize social calenders, etc. (from which my male partner is apparently exempt)? Not to mention, I also finished a graduate degree around the same time as my engagement, and everyone seemed to want to talk about the latter, rather than the former. Ugh.

    Also, that is so awesome that you wrote an effing *concerto*! Is there anywhere/anyway we could hear it (maybe incorporated somehow into a wedding grad post in the future)?

    • Kat Robertson

      I also felt like I wasn’t treated like a full member of society until I was engaged. It’s like the ring is your ticket to the Woman Club or something. But being part of that club means I am treated like a full member of society, but a REALLY imperfect one that I don’t usually feel like I fit into.

      • Pamela

        I hear you – but it seems that the goalposts for the Woman Club move all the time. I’m married but we don’t have kids or own a house, and I don’t feel like a full adult yet. Sometimes I think it’s because of the kids/house thing, and sometimes I’m sure it’s sexist bullshit societal expectations. When does a man become a man? When he’s an adult. When does a woman become a woman? When she gets a boyfriend, gets engaged, has children blah blah blah. We are still defined by our relationships to other people, and it’s infuriating.

  • PREACH! That is all.

    Also, as a former long time viola player, I am a little bit in love with you for writing a concerto and would love to hear it.

  • clairekfromtheuk

    thisthisthisthis! I love this article!

    I can’t count the number of times I got asked about the wedding and if I was changing my name and blah blah blah when he got none of it and he was just as into it as me! I’m lucky, I work in an organisation led by a woman CEO and staffed by more than 50% women but even so, the majority of our senior management team, board and exec are men. I work in an industry staffed mainly by white, middle aged men and I still meet people four or five times and have them not remember my name, I still have people openly refer to my male junior to confirm something I’ve said.

    and yes, I do want to hear your concerto, I love the viola

  • Rosie

    Another composer here, and another person who’d love to hear your concerto! When I was studying music at university I found it interesting that in a lot of arts, including music, doing it in an amateur way is considered a female thing, whereas those who do it professionally or are famous are mainly men. I teach piano, and from my experience parents are more likely to encourage girls to take up music than boys, whereas of course my experience is that gender has nothing to do with how interested they are! There definitely needs to be more understanding and celebration of female composers throughout history.

    • BreckW

      “I found it interesting that in a lot of arts, including music, doing it in an amateur way is considered a female thing, whereas those who do it professionally or are famous are mainly men.”

      I find this crazy interesting, too. I just finished reading Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir (a female executive chef), and it’s most definitely true in the culinary world.

      Also, I don’t think it’s any accident that traditional “women’s work” (teachers, nurses, childcare workers, etc.) is considered far less serious and important than traditionally male careers. But that’s a whole other discussion :-P.

    • Anne

      Well, historically that’s the way music (and the arts in general) have been viewed at least since the rise of humanism during the Renaissance. Even female composers in the nineteenth century who became fairly well known (such as Fanny Mendelssohn) were often overshadowed by their male counterparts. The musical world is still very gendered (you can count on one hand the number of female conductors of major symphonies), and it’s a similar problem to academia: if you’re married or have children as a woman, you’re not serious about your work, but if you have them as a man, it’s a sign that you’re dependable.

      • feelingfickle

        Definitely nail on the head with this issue being prevalent in the creative field in general. Prominent directors, playwrights, composers, chefs, artists, etc tend to be male. Doesn’t mean there aren’t a ton of female creators out there and in the past, just that they aren’t as readily recognized OR it’s seen as a hobby/amateur. Based on previous conversations I would bet money if I told my mother or coworkers I wanted to work from home as a playwright while my SO supported me financially the talks would veer toward being a stay-at-home-wife/mom versus oh-no-you-should-really-get-into-pharmaceutical-sales like those are the only (historically gendered) options. On one side if I’m working a 9-5 I can’t be a good partner, on the other if I’m not working a 9-5 I’m buying into the patriarchy (because, again, arts are largely seen as a hobby for women STILL). Women can’t fucking win for losing, man.

        Sorry, that went on a tangent. Anyways.

    • C

      I was fascinated by the fact that music composition is such a male-dominated field. It’s not something I’ve ever even thought about. Much like I never thought about how most executive chefs are men until I started watching a lot of Chopped on Food Network. :)

      But in all seriousness, music composition is a field where I would have assumed gender was irrelevant. Music either sounds amazing or it doesn’t, right? To read about the writer’s experience having trouble conducting her piece really hit home for me just how far women have to go in all professions.

      I would also love to hear music from the women here who are composers!

    • lady brett

      “I found it interesting that in a lot of arts, including music, doing it in an amateur way is considered a female thing, whereas those who do it professionally or are famous are mainly men. ”

      this, for sure – and well articulated.

      but may i add that that’s true in most fields, unless women simply aren’t supposed to be amateur *or* professional at it (like how there are few women in engineering, but also they’re not expected to be hobbyist carpenters or play with legos as kids). i feel like this even extends into “women’s professions” like nursing (women’s work, but being a doctor is male work) and teaching (women’s work, but being a school admin or professor is male dominated).

  • Jessica LK

    SO feel you on this.
    Just finished my master’s in public health, but people mostly just ask me about my engagement and upcoming wedding plans. When asked what my partner does I’ve gotten a few “congratulations, you’re marrying a doctor! Way to lock it down.” Complete, once, with a creepy wink.
    This never happened before we were engaged. I really, really dislike it-even if it’s well intentioned.

    • Oh yes. My partner is a medical student, and I get that same thing. It drives me nuts. No one ever asks about my research job that is paying for our mortgage and his schooling.

  • holly gardner

    Ohhhh my goodness. This is so true. In my former life I was an engineer and honestly did some pretty bad-ass stuff. Yet, whenever I came home (to the South) people would ask my husband about his job or what he was doing and just ignore me like I wasn’t even there. It baffled me. It’s no different since I changed career paths 6 years ago, I’ve just learned to let it roll off my back more. But now that I work from home (with 2 kids) people assume I am just a cute little housewife that cleans butts all day. Which, I mean, I am… But I also run a pretty successful small business. Hang in there, Erica. I can’t guarantee that it will get better, but if you keep being assertive then people will learn that you’re a woman of power. And concertos? Holy cow.

  • Kaitlin

    As a fellow PhD student, I feel you on all of this. I’m studying for my candidacy exams currently (3 exams scheduled a month before the wedding), but everyone keeps asking me about the wedding plans. They seem astounded that A- The wedding is not my current priority because hello I have 100 books to read in the next 3 months B- My fiancé is pretty much handling the wedding details until I emerge from exams C- We are totally cool and happy with this arrangement.

    It’s amazing how a ring on my finger has made people treat me as if I was a one-dimensional character. I’m worried this will continue after we get married, now I’m *just* a wife, and then maybe one day *just* a mom (*just* as in my only identity characteristic).

    • GA

      I’m in grad school as well and I was when I was planning my wedding. As well as working in a molecular biology lab full time. Like… yes, I’m planning the damn wedding, but that isn’t me! All anyone ever cared about was the wedding. It made me so upset.

      The only person I had to talk to that wasn’t obsessed with my wedding was my aunt, who had to plan her wedding while she was in medical school. When she asked how the wedding was going, all I had to say was, “It’s hard,” and she understood immediately and changed the subject.

      My now-husband is a fifth-year PhD candidate and had his own bag of issues so the wedding planning still fell on my shoulders, since I was The Bride and all else (workload) was equal. As helpful as he was in being there for me, none of the vendors wanted to talk to The Groom. And none of the family pestered HIM for questions, it was always me. Uuuuugggghhh!

  • Anne Schwartz

    If you felt like posting that concerto on the interwebs I would love to hear it.

    • Acres_Wild

      Me too! Viola is an underrated instrument.

  • Alyssa M

    Apparently the corporate and educational worlds need to take a page out of the service industry’s book. I’ve yet to encounter a single comment.

    All I can think is that it’s a symptom of the income level. When you’re living on minimum wage everybody pulls together, everybody works, anybody who has time to cooks and cleans, whoever’s not on shift watches the kids.

    Nobody asks me about the wedding, they would rather I keep my ass focused on the job.

    • I have to say, I think you may be hitting on something significant here – or at least its significant to me. When I read pieces like this, I’m often flabbergasted and feel lost as I’ve never experienced these kinds of rude questions or sexist behavior. Usually I feel like a freak and like I’m living in an alternate universe. Your comment was the first time I realized that there may be a very reasonable explanation for this.

      Maybe I’ve never experienced this problem, because I am middle class and work a middle class job. It would never occur to people of my income level to ask others when they’re leaving work to have a child – at our income level – everyone works. That’s the way a lot of us were raised and its the way we see as normal. Concepts of house work and cooking being split up by sex isn’t the way I was raised, it isn’t the way my husband was raised, so I don’t think it ever occurred to either of us that I was “supposed” to do more as the woman. Its literally not in our DNA – everyone has to help out, that’s how we were both raised and I’m glad for it. Thanks for making such a good observation!

      • Anne

        I think a lot of that’s true, but being in grad school, as a PhD student in the humanities most of us make well below the poverty line in the US, so I don’t think it’s totally about income level. Both my parents worked full time my entire life, but I still get plenty of gendered comments, and did when I got engaged and was working for an incredibly exciting, new organization that was providing a musical education to young children — people still asked me about the wedding first, and the organization I was so excited about second.

        • Alyssa M

          That’s definitely the reason I wrote corporate and educational worlds. The educational world may not be high paying, but it’s far from blue collar. Teachers and professors on average make very little money, but they’re definitely still white collar professions.

          • Anne

            Oh definitely, I just don’t totally buy HeartvsBrain’s argument that it’s income-level based. I’d call myself middle class, despite making far less than those in the middle class generally do, but academia comes with its own set of assumptions (especially because it used to be reserved for the wealthy, male elite).

      • Lauren from NH

        That correlation actually seems a bit flimsy to me. If lower incomes forcing people to work eliminated sexism, poorer countries would be a lot more progressive. Which I only bring up because what popped right into my mind was my SO who’s family is first generation Americans, both the men and women work, because you definitely have to struggle to get ahead here, but the women literally wait upon the men at home. The second shift as it were. He didn’t internalize those ideas but his skills and instincts in housework department are lacking since there was no expectation or practice. Where as I grew up hardly wanting for a thing and but my parents expected that we always pitch in, holding ladders, raking leaves, wiping counters, cleaning the bathroom etc.
        I think its more about different little cultural pockets that develop. And possibly has a bit more to do politics and education that income level though in some places those seem to track together.

        • Alyssa M

          Oh it absolutely doesn’t eliminate sexism, not at all, and that’s not the claim here. Our housekeeping department has a total of ZERO men in it. But it certainly disconnects that sexism from the engagement/wedding stuff. In my blue collar world, engagements are rare, weddings are cheap, and nobody assumes you’ll be anything different married than what you are single.

          • Meg Keene

            “In my blue collar world, engagements are rare, weddings are cheap, and nobody assumes you’ll be anything different married than what you are single.”

            This is true, in my experience. Though it’s also my experience that the sexism around weddings is even more overt. IE, Men would NEVER even pretend to be interested in weddings, and OBVIOUSLY women will be in to really fluffy pink stuff, duh.

            So I donno.

          • Alyssa M

            I feel like our difference of experience must go back to what Lauren from NH said:

            “I think its more about different little cultural pockets that develop. And possibly has a bit more to do politics and education that income level though in some places those seem to track together.”

            See, I come from a background of varying middle classes. My extended family are lower “middle class” small town Oklahoma. Truck drivers, construction workers, and teachers. Very sexist about everything, in very overt ways. My parents live in the upper “middle class” suburban world of engineers and doctors. Very WIC approved, with the subtle expectations that a married woman’s job is just a hobby.

            I now work in the service industry in a small city. My coworkers don’t call themselves middle class at all, they’re just poor. Mostly part time minimum wage earners with families to support. These are the people the WIC ignores. Asking my FH about his job while asking me about wedding planning just doesn’t happen… I don’t think they’d ask him about wedding planning either, because the really fluffy pink stuff is mostly just seen as an expensive extravagance.

          • Meg Keene

            “My coworkers don’t call themselves middle class at all, they’re just poor. Mostly part time minimum wage earners with families to support. These are the people the WIC ignores.”

            THIS is interesting. We try to hit places the WIC ignores, so THIS is interesting.

        • I guess I want to clarify that I was speaking of MY world and the the way I see it. I wasn’t commenting on the entire planet’s sexism issues nor was I commenting on how different cultural groups deal with these issues. To ME this comment painted my lack of exposure to this phenomenon in a different light. So while I respect you don’t agree as far as the world you live in, you can’t really disagree with how I see my world.

          • Lauren from NH

            I did not mean to attack your comment. I thought it expanded the discussion nicely. I was trying to add that in my experience the presence of sexism is more complicated and messy than a difference of middle class or upper class. Also no expectation here that with one comment or even one article anyone can say fairly all there is to say from every perspective on any topic.

      • Meg Keene

        I’ll have to think about this more, but it’s REALLY not my experience. I grew up in a lower-middle-class (hi, that’s code for poor in this country) city. And my friends who are still at home lead far more gender normative lives than anyone else I know.

        That said, my friends from home (and I should note, since we both grow up in the same place, and hard circumstances leads to life long bonds, we have a LOT of friends from home) do take my work far more seriously. I make money, I did it myself, that’s something to be proud of, enough said.

        But. Sexism, and lots of it. It’s more obvious and less sublimated, which I prefer, tbh, but LOTS of it.

    • I was just thinking the same thing. During my first engagement I worked in a very “white collar” industry and all anyone could ask me about for our two year engagement was the wedding. Now he’s in the military and I am in hospitality and mostly we get “congrats” and “have you put in for time off yet” because yeah, we have to ask each of our jobs if they’ll give us the day off to get married.

      Also, bonus points for living in a very LGBT friendly community because total strangers ask him all the time about details about the wedding. He wears an engagement ring and I’m pretty sure they ask because they think he’s gay but still…equality!

      • Alyssa M

        Whether they think he’s gay or not, yay for some gender equality!

  • Granola

    Oh man the housework = women’s work false equivalency gets me all the time. Why is it so hard to let the dishes just be the dishes? Fwiw, in my house it usually gets better when I’m home less, so I can’t state at the mess all day and brood on the patriarchy.

    • EmLeMat

      you know, I think there’s something to that. My husband is working from home these days, and house mess makes him SO MUCH MORE CRAZY than it used to.

      • Granola

        It wouldn’t surprise me. I would stare at a dish not put in the dishwasher and think “Should I just put this in there? Is that petty to leave it? Is it enabling to move it? Why are my choices petty vs. enabling? There is no good way to feel here.” *leaves the room and ignores the dishes*

  • Anon

    Old fashioned gender roles play out repeatedly when my husband and I socialise. We work in the same field and we both hold relatively senior roles for our age. However, he is eleven years older than me and thus earns a lot more than I do. When we are out and about, people inevitably put him in the “successful businessman” category and me in the “supportive wife” corner. I despise that corner, not because I object to being a supportive wife, but because I am sick and tired of peoples’ jokes about how he makes all the money and I spend it. Ha ha, the wife went shopping again, well the women in our lives must be indulged! For real, dude? I earn a quarter of a million dollars a year. I am one of the most senior women in my firm. You know what? I am more senior than my husband was at my age. But please, go ahead and ask me when I’m going to stop working and start a family. Within a large and disturbingly influential demographic, gender roles are alive and well, and they drive me absolutely batshit crazy.

    • BreckW

      “Within a large and disturbingly influential demographic, gender roles are alive and well, and they drive me absolutely batshit crazy.”

      Yep, this. We’re currently members of an expat community in which everyone else is a very senior manager, pretty high up in a big company. As the “trailing spouse” (yes, that’s the official terminology), you should hear some of the things people say to me–everything from how I have to learn how to cook a good steak so I can keep my BF happy (sorry, he doesn’t like beef) to the same shopping and ladies-lunching shit you’re getting. It’s definitely a strange position to be in, when the head of the entire operation here is saying he hasn’t ironed a shirt in 25 years because he has his wife to do it and I can’t really snark back at him.

      • Ann

        My husband is currently a sort of trailing spouse–following me while I go through the academia thing. He gets absolutely ridiculous and inappropriate comments about how he must be finding some other way to make sure he still gets to wear the pants.

        There’s just no way to win…

      • Ah, expat communities and trailing spouses. I worked with a community filled with expats (of two different industries) for a few years. Fascinating subculture. And yes, the trailing spouse thing….I think lots of the women (the only ones I knew in my community were women) really struggled with this. But I bet they felt they couldn’t complain much because the opportunity to live in that country and explore that part of the world was amazing.

    • MirandaVanZ

      ” I am sick and tired of peoples’ jokes about how he makes all the money
      and I spend it. Ha ha, the wife went shopping again, well the women in
      our lives must be indulged!”

      I’ve had people say similar things to me. My fiance is in school right now only working two days a week! He usually corrects them if he is around when they say it or I usually say something along the lines of “Yep, I’m spending all of the money he makes being a student…” and give them a raised eyebrow.

    • BD

      Oh yes, boy, do I hate that crap. Both husband and I are professionals in an industry where women are kinda rare. So I get told that stuff sometimes, even though I’m older than my husband and make more money than he does.

      • BD

        Dang it, HTML fail.

    • Another anon

      PREACH. I hate couples events because I am the only woman in the group who is in the same industry as my boyfriend. And most of the time, I get grouped into the women’s side, rather than the talking shop side. It drives me freaking bonkers. Especially since before we were dating, I was friends with these guys too and we were all friends.

      It’s like this couple I know who retired early and everyone talks about it like it’s all his money…but it’s both of theirs, damnit.


    • Meg Keene

      This brings up an interesting question that has been being batted around the APW staff of late. I’ve found that there is no way to defend my career or business without making the argument, “It’s profitable.” I wish I could say things like, “I do good work,” or “Look at the site, you’ll figure out we publish and write really interesting things and have great conversations that you’d really be in to.” Be that as it may, that doesn’t bump me out of “fluff hobby of a woman pretending to work and be serious” in people’s heads.

      I seem to HAVE to make the argument (explicitly or not) that in short, “Hey lawyer who thinks they’re fancy and I’m a joke, my company makes more than you make.”

      Which is… interesting… on a lot of levels. Not necessarily good, but fascinating. DISCUSS!

      (No, seriously, anyone agree/ disagree/ have similar or different experiences?)

      • Laura

        Yes! I think about this a lot. I’m not a business owner, but I’m in a grad school program that will eventually lead to me making 2-3x what my husband makes. We don’t have kids yet, but we’ve tentatively decided that he will be the stay-at-home parent if/when that time comes. It’s only come up in conversation with others a few times, but we always end up justifying it as “well, it makes the most sense because Laura makes $$$$ versus husband making $$, etc. etc.”

        Why do I feel as though mentioning my earning power is the only way to justify me being a working spouse and my husband being a stay-at-home spouse? If the situation were reversed, we may still very well decide that he will be a stay-at-home spouse because it fits with his talents and career path. Somehow, me telling others “husband staying home with the kids fits his talents/interests” is made to sound as though I’m a domineering woman whose husband is ‘whipped,’ while “husband staying home with the kids makes sense because money” somehow justifies my choice to work.

        I still have a lot of feelings to work through on this, but I think it’s fascinating.

        • KH_Tas

          If one of us stays at home with the hypothetical kids, it will absolutely be my FI for similar reasons. And he currently does make more than me, which leads to me wanting to have it known that we could still live on my income alone. Because I do feel like I have to justify my desire to work, at least on some subconscious level.

        • Carolyn

          I don’t think that’s an invalid and demeaning response. To be honest, that was the reason I stayed home with, because he made more money and it was made more financial sense for me to stay home rather than stick him in daycare all day, then come home and worry about the house etc.

      • BD

        Well we do live in a society that places most of its value system on money and what it can buy – yet we also have a lot of prejudices about which jobs make the most money (ie, obviously lawyers make way more money than people running blogs about weddings ever could hope for, etc.). It’s interesting to me that these jobs that supposedly make the most money – lawyers, engineers, CEOs – are also traditionally male. Just my two cents.

        • Meg Keene

          It comes back to the fact that we value traditionally male jobs more, period.

          I’m not even sure I’m debating the value system on money thing (which I can break out as another bigger issue). But as a woman, particularly one with a job that doesn’t have traditionally male standing (say, lawyer) you have to be able to prove you make money to get ANY respect.

          • Class of 1980

            It stikes me that the people you’re talking to are behind the times or ill informed. If someone told me they ran a web site or blog for a living, I’d sure as hell realize that it’s possible they might be doing well financially.

          • BreckW

            I thought that, too, but then I wondered if maybe once Meg explains that it’s a website about weddings, marriage, and feminism, it’s then that people assume it’s more of a hobby than a successful business. A truly shit reaction, but I would not be surprised.

          • Class of 1980

            I still think they must be dumb. After all, along with APW there are some huge wedding sites that are nationally recognized and draw tons of advertizers. To me, anyone stuck thinking that only certain professions make money in the year of our lord 2014 is kinda dumb.

            One thing that has noticably changed over the decades, is there are more ways to make a living now. I mean, my niece bought her first house at age 26 with a job that didn’t really exist when I was her age.

          • Jess

            Hey man… until I started reading posts about it here, I wouldn’t have really understood that managing a relatively small – as in not-major-publication-company backed – website makes a ton of money.

            If somebody said that they did so for a living I would probably have thought they “got by,” not that they were doing super super well. I wouldn’t have thought of it as a hobby, but I also wouldn’t think it paid a whole lot more than a teachers salary.

            I would have been wrong, obviously, but it’s just not something that has a lot of information and discussion readily available. At least, not to people who are in technical career paths.

          • Class of 1980

            That really shocks me still. I’ve seen any number of general articles online about the growing reality of money-making blogs. Honestly, I would have thought it common knowledge, because now everybody and their dog thinks about doing it … even if they don’t have a clue about how to be successful at it.

            Jobs and careers in general were much more restricted 20-30 years ago for both men and women. As the world has gotten more complex, the variety of jobs has expanded. So when people think only in terms of doctors, attorneys, and other traditional occupations being “serious”, it feels like 1979 to me. ;)

          • Jess

            My online readings are maybe pretty restricted – global news sources, occasional humor stuff, sports, cars, science/tech things, and APW.

            I wonder if it has to do with interest level in “alternative” stuff? I’m a pretty science/”tradition” based person by training and interest, so maybe that has influenced the career paths that I’ve considered viable options. Just by not having visibility to people doing the non-traditional or newer career paths?

          • Elena

            I love this comment so hard.

          • KH_Tas

            I remember my Dad explaining to me when I was about 10 that his own job didn’t exist when he was my age, giving me the knowledge to be bewildered when people assumed that the only jobs to be had were the ‘traditional’ ones

          • Class of 1980


          • ready_set_go

            I think this is definitely an important observation on our very flawed society, but I also think so much of it is probably gender… As a woman in the male-dominated field of computer science, I once went to an awards reception for a CS award I (as well as some other students) received. In the course of an hour, I had a conversation with two other (male) students – right off the bat, I asked them about their research. Then they asked my then-boyfriend (now fiance) about his job. I made statements that would easily lead to them asking about my research. They continued to not ask me about my research. (It was obvious that I was the recipient, due to my name tag, and the fact that my fiance clearly said that he was working, and it was an award for students.) I think one of them made some comment about how they were trying to learn to cook, and then turned to me and said, don’t women like that? Finally, I just started talking about my own research, because I couldn’t take it anymore. (They asked no follow-up or clarifying questions like I asked about their research.)

            We were the same field (CS), the same “status” (grad students), the same age… and I got the same level of disregard that you do regularly.

        • Maddie Eisenhart

          I think there’s a correlation between “serious” money and whatever it is if you’re doing something other than lawyering, doctoring, or engineering. Michael is an engineer, but he works to live, not the other way around. I, however, freaking love work. Over the holidays I was the one bringing up work, because I think my job is interesting, and hey, I just rebuilt a business on the west coast and really like what I do at APW, and don’t have a ton of people to talk about it with. But it’s not “serious” work. In the traditional sense. No matter how closely it resembles serious work in is day-to-day activity. Or maybe I’m just not a guy. I don’t know. What I do know is that this conversation actually transpired:

          Me: Michael might even be up for a promotion this year.
          Michael: Yeah, they’re eyeballing me for a management position.
          Grandmother: (Turns to me) Well that would be wonderful, because then you wouldn’t have to work!

          I’m not even sure how to unpack that conversation.

          God bless my mom though; she thinks what I do is important. :)

          • KC

            I agree on the cash thing, and that there’s also a gendered component (which is probably partly because the way it “used” to work was that in most cases, whatever women could stay home, did – which especially makes sense considering the old “even if a woman is working the same number of hours as her husband, she still does allll the housework, too” tendency – if all parts of running a family were on me, I’d probably prefer to not tack 40 hours of even “enjoyable” work onto that!).

            I think there’s also a component of “recognizably-named, standard, 9-5 salaried position” = “job”, which I’m guessing is a bit of a throwback to the time when that was basically how you did careers – you entered a company, you stayed put until you retired, you got a pension. Now that more careers are kind of… hoppy… this makes less sense.

            Ah, grandmas. Hooray for your mom “getting it”, though!!!

          • KH_Tas

            Same work to live/love work dynamic for us, although it’s been a while since anyone in my family (dared?) to imply that I’d be staying home at the first opportunity. Maybe I’m fiercer than I think I am

      • BreckW

        It’s a super interesting question that I’ve thought a lot about from my POV, ie, a non-working partner. There’s really no way for me to defend my current position, even though it was a team decision for my BF to pursue this program and for me to quit my job when he got this assignment. It’s like, since I don’t contribute to our partnership financially, none of my other contributions (I handle 95% of the housework, including our schedules and finances) or sacrifices are valuable.

        • lady brett

          and this is where i realized “fuck our wonderful justifications!”

          it is true that i handle all of our money and all of our home repairs, and my spouse is super-awesome about always deflecting those “haha, the wife going shopping” comments and clarifying that actually those are *my* tools. but fuck that noise – i don’t need to be bending gender expectations in order to be worthwhile, my “femme” skills are damn useful too, i just don’t know how to justify them.

          • KC

            Ditto on the not-knowing-how-to-justify-them. I think there’s an aspect of perceived “optional”-ness about a lot of gendered-female skills (i.e. cooking; you could cook, or you could just eat takeout). But that should work for a lot of gendered-male skills, too (you could clean out the sink drain yourself, or you could get a plumber to do it). In both cases, the “home” option is usually in some way better and a whole lot cheaper, but for whatever reason, the category is less valued.

            I’m wondering whether this is partly due to the continual-and-repeated-and-semi-invisible nature of a lot of those skills, vs. the intermittent and potentially “bigger” and more obvious nature of the plumbing/furniture assembly/car repair sorts of things?

          • Lauren from NH

            I think there is something here. When my dad died young (55), mom had to get used to hiring a lot of help for plumbing, electrical, snow plowing, etc, stuff that my dad used to do (he was a hell of a crazy workhorse and all about diy). It is hard for me to imagine the situation being reversed and my dad hiring someone to care for more of the indoor housework if my mom was gone. I am not sure how that would have played out. He was fired from doing the laundry years ago (he ruined something my mom liked apparently haha) so picking up a lot of those skills she had been in charge of seems as much of a challenge as her learning to prime and kick the snowblower into shape every winter.
            I know in some communities, perhaps, maids are more common, but they weren’t in ours. Also take note how cheap a maid would be versus these other skilled trades.

          • KC

            Maids are definitely cheaper by the hour, but I’d be curious as to whether they’re cheaper by the total-household-work (since snowblower-priming and a lot of those things come around once a year… but dust is perpetual).

            Some of it is also probably standards-based and visibility-based; do you need your floor clean enough to eat off at all times? Or not? And nutrition doesn’t make noise for a long while, until a deficiency or excess of something causes Problems (and even then, people don’t necessarily tie the medical costs to what they’d been eating all those years). Whereas having a toilet that functions is more binary and, um, immediately, obviously necessary. (ditto for “having a car that works” and “being able to get out of the house because the snow is cleared away” and such)

            I personally think it’s easier to learn a lot of the “male” skills than the “female” skills, but that might just be the way my (female) brain is wired (Do not have me color-coordinate things. Just… don’t. And figuring out when to send cards and what to write in them is torture. But absolutely, I will take mechanical things apart and fix them and put them back together, or do the taxes, or assemble furniture…).

          • KC

            Also: I think other-females-in-the-extended-family often end up picking up an amazing amount of the slack for gendered-female caregiving stuff, whether or not it’s what they’re personally good at. This can also happen with gendered-male things that aren’t as time sensitive as a broken toilet (i.e. adding gas to the lawnmower while on a Saturday visit to grandma in the spring), but it seems like the tasks are more frequently shorter/more self-contained and less life-disruptive than, say, making sure someone has a continual supply of groceries (which female relatives arranged schedules for once my grandmas couldn’t go shopping any more), and you can beg off by not knowing the specific skills involved, to some degree (i.e. not knowing plumbing; whereas no one is going to buy that a female doesn’t know how to clean/do laundry/grocery shop).

            There’s also the weirdness of some (mostly aesthetic and interpersonal) standards dropping when there is no “caregiving female” present and increasing when there is. (when I got married, I discovered that a lot of people were expecting that my husband’s shirts would now always be ironed; that “we” would now be sending out the appropriate cards to his family and friends; that some items in his wardrobe would be forcibly retired; that he would gain weight because of home-cooking; I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were also household cleanliness expectations that I just didn’t hear about) It’s a pretty strange thing, all around.

          • rys

            This. My father died suddenly in November, and while the community has been wonderful overall and there have been some really lovely people who have stepped in to do things like shovel snow, my mom hasn’t had a ton of offers from people to help with stuff around/in/outside the house. In contrast, when a guy in the community lost his wife, people (aka the “casserole ladies”) were all over helping with cooking and cleaning. (The truth is, my mom is happy to cook, but she wouldn’t mind some help with cleaning. But the real point is that there is an extraordinarily gendered dimension to household work that persists.) It’s also telling that in my parents’ community, very few women remarry after their husbands die but almost all the men do.

          • Class of 1980

            A lot of older women who nurse a spouse until they die, are terrified of marrying again only to nurse yet another husband. They’re too exhausted to do it again. Men expect to die earlier, so they gain more benefits upon remarriage.

          • Rys, I am sorry for your loss…

          • rys

            Thank you.

      • KC

        When I was doing freelance work, it was in a field which is known to be, um, cash-producing, so I didn’t deal with this specific issue as much. (I also suspect some questions were deflected by my over-the-top enthusiasm over the personal value of the projects I was working on – because that stuff was HELPING PEOPLE! and that is COOL!)

        But in other areas, I’ve found that there’s often an easy way to make people take you seriously (money; name-dropping; fitting expectations) and a hard way (which generally boils down to you putting in extra effort to try to adjust *their* default value/stereotype systems or cause them to recognize something); and sometimes the hard way just doesn’t work. But it’s very rewarding when it does!

        • Meg Keene

          The hard way is the long game, not the cocktail party game :)

          • KC

            Generally, yep. :-)

            But sometimes I’ve dropped “Yes, that’s a common misperception” or “You may not realize it, but that’s very offensive” on people, which sometimes elicits further discussion and sometimes doesn’t (and generally isn’t the “nice girl” thing to say, and hence I tend to break out in hives, but seriously, sometimes people need to know things?).

            (but also: the cocktail parties I go to tend to be full of grad students or academics with very different social expectations. I’ve never been at one full of lawyers. Rules are probably substantially different.)

      • Natalie

        This is really interesting to me, because I work in a “serious” industry (engineering), and so does my guy (we actually work in the same place). It’s funny because we are both fairly successful for our age, but people always seem to think that I’m the one with the “catch” because I got an “engineer who will make a lot of money”. It’s times like those that it is so awesome to be with him, because he just grins, puts his arm around me and will proudly say, “Actually, she makes more than I do.”

        And when I was offered my job, (I was offered significantly more than L was being paid, because I got my master’s) the HR woman suggested I not tell L how much I was being offered. Because that might make things “awkward”.

        • BreckW

          Cringing with reflective embarrassment and crazy irony at that HR woman. Gawd.

          • KC

            I’ve had friends whose pay disparity has caused friction, so I can see what the HR person might have been trying to “fix”… but in general, with things like that, if they’re going to cause problems, are only going to cause *more* problems if they’re hidden first and then accidentally come out later. So, yeah. Not good advice there.

      • Class of 1980

        You have me curious now. What is it these people say that makes you feel you have to defend your work? Are they actually so rude that they’re saying things to the effect that you’re a joke?

        • Meg Keene

          Oh, I can’t even narrow it down enough to talk about it. It’s just endless and constant, spoken and unspoken.

      • Grace

        Not quite the same subject, but a bit of a confession. Despite having read this site every single day for almost a year now, I have only actually told one person about this awesome US blog called APW. Why the secrecy? Because I am painfully aware that people will immediately assume I’m a wedding obsessed nut who’s dying to drag her boyfriend down the aisle. I feel like my enjoyment of APW posts about relationships and marriage and feminism are not a valid interest, that they are somehow lesser then other peoples interest in cars or fashion or music. I’m not even sure if this is what people say, but it is certainly how I’ve been made to feel. Actually, I have a general panic everytime anybody asks me what I’m interested in, as if there’s a ‘Right Answer’, which is ridiculous I know since I have absolutely nothing to apologise for.

        • Rachael

          Amen:”people will immediately assume I’m a wedding obsessed nut”
          I found this site in an effort to maintain sanity during my wedding planning, but have stuck around long after for the content that, as we are all aware, goes way, way beyond that narrow scope. But the name of the site and the wedding content would fool the uninitiated outsider.

          • Grace

            Yeah, exactly, but the stupid thing is, maybe I am obsessed with weddings and marriage. Maybe that IS my thing. Why does that not feel like a legitimate interest? I don’t even think it’s about the fact I’m not married, I’ve had some pretty negative responses to my curiosity from people who are married.

          • Rachael

            Ah, my apologies, I misinterpreted your previous comment. It is a legitimate interest, though honestly I probably wasn’t aware before wedding planning myself that anyone could have a legitimate interest in weddings (it’s just not my bag).

          • Grace

            Well honestly I’m interested in marriage far more than weddings, I was just pointing out that it would be completely ok if I was that into weddings but apparently society has decided that you should show the minimum level of interest, then get engaged and be all OMG I LOVE weddings and then get married and go back to being indifferent.

        • Crayfish Kate

          I have talked about & mentioned APW to nearly all of my friends (which is about 3-4, haha). I usually have a post/essay to recommend, so I usually say something like “Oh, I read this REALLY AWESOME post on APW, I’ll send you the link! Don’t be fooled by the ‘wedding’ in the title – it’s really about life in general, and you don’t have to be anywhere near planning a wedding to enjoy it.”

        • kelly

          What if APW just made us a super-sneaky alternate URL “apracticalwoman.com” which really just redirected to APW homepage? Who could possibly find fault in a practical woman?

          • Grace

            Sister project, perhaps?! I would love to be a Practical Woman!

      • ElisabethJoanne

        As we go into year 4 of my husband not having any real income, and month 2 of my finally earning a market wage, I suggested that my husband stop looking for regular employment, which costs money, time, and headaches, and figure out something that would make him feel productive or useful or helpful outside the family – like writing that novel or starting a blog, since we don’t need more money. Had he started a (completely unprofitable) blog, I would have coached him with, “I feel I’m helping people by sharing my expertise and increasing general interest in x,y,z.” How can someone belittle a sincere belief you’re helping people?

        But my husband can’t shake traditional gender roles and feels he needs regular employment to feel fulfilled, which is fine, since we can afford the money, time, and headaches, too.

      • KEA1

        Two [bleep]ed up sides of this coin: 1) you shouldn’t have to use the financial side to validate that you do good and important work. So much valid and important work can’t ever be paid what it’s “worth” anyway, and we (society here) need more nuanced language to describe value. AND 2) I don’t think anyone bats an eyelash when men’s careers are discussed in terms of earning power, so I think that, while, you shouldn’t *have* to use the money as validation, every time you *do* point it out, you’re still helping advance the cause of valuing-the-work-that-women-do because you’re pointing out that people will pay real money for your “fluff hobby.”

        • Meg Keene

          See point two, I don’t feel badly about it, I feel like I’m educating people. I don’t have a fluff hobby, I have a very successful small business, and I rather seriously employ people. I’m a job creator, and I think it’s important to point that out.

          But. The fact that people would assume I was a smart business person if I did the same thing as a man (Run a successful wedding website? That sounds like a smart business play, lot of money in weddings.) but don’t think I have a real job as a woman (Oh, but why is your kid in daycare if you just have a wedding blog, and your husband is a lawyer?), is fucked up and interesting.

          And a salient point mostly because I’m clearly FAR from being alone on this. I don’t think I realized just how prevalent the problem was, till this thread. (I have a weird job, so I hoped it was better for people with less weird jobs.)

          • KEA1

            Yeah. I actually admire your ability to be diplomatic enough to include “interesting;” I think I’d just say it’s fucked up. And depending on the job, all the different ways in which it can get fucked up are insane. Gah. Having said all that, I think some of the educating people that you do on point two arcs toward the longer goal of dispelling some of the ingrained, gendered assumptions, which I (maybe naively) think could improve the landscape with respect to point one. Hopefully?

    • Rachael

      Early into my relationship with my now husband I overheard my husband’s friend ask him if he would ask me for a prenup. I was finishing my Ph.D. at the time and I couldn’t stop myself from wryly asking this friend if he realized my earning potential was much, much hirer than my now spouse’s. That shut him up.

      As far as the kid thing, I’ve been getting a lot of questions by legitimately bewildered and concerned family members and friends as to where kids are going to fit into my career plan. The snarky answer I am biting back? Don’t worry, my husband has flexibility with his job – he can be the primary caretaker. You know, IF we want to go the procreation route.

      • Carolyn

        As someone who has a kid, and would like more. This is such a weird and rude question. It’s really none of your business.

        What if someone doesn’t want kids? Or can’t have kids?

        • Rachael

          RIGHT. And maybe I’m already hyper aware of how the decisions I make regarding my career may affect my plans regarding children.

          My sister-in-law is always the best at completely catching me off-guard with, “Are you guys going to have kids?” Always unprompted, always so direct.

  • Jen

    Is anyone having a problem with some of this post being cut off? The paragraph at the APW Homepage ends mid sentence but when click on “read more”- the entire paragraph is missing and it starts on a fresh paragraph… :(

    • Sheila

      You’re right… I didn’t even notice because I just clicked on the title and started reading. I thought it started out kind of oddly but it didn’t bother me. But when I look back on the first page I see a whole intro that is missing from the main article page.

    • Meg Keene

      WHOA. Good catch, fixed.

  • kbergie

    Hah, absolutely to ALL of this. I am also a musician – I am a percussionist, so I feel you on the only skirt in the room issue. I also play a set of drums that is traditionally East Indian (tabla), and its also really amazing to see the reactions – specifically from that culture – that a white chick plays that instrument. I think I have gotten used to coming at the issue from kind of a not-expecting-much-from-most-people-but-I’m-going-to-show-you-what-I’m-about-anyways stance for some time now, so even if I’m asked about the wedding only, I’ll often be talking about my work in the next minute or so anyways. :)

    On the whole domestic rage thing – we’ve had a really long engagement, and I definitely went through a period of getting overly aggravated for having to do chores if I was home more often. I did a lot of reading (which of course included plenty of APW!) after we got engaged about what it means to be a wife, and what exactly I was up against historically. It’s been a journey, especially because my fiance comes from a home with VERY traditional (sometimes maddeningly so) gender roles. I definitely feel like some of that has been kind of engrained in him, although we actively work together to achieve as fair of a division of household chores as possible. He’s been great about seeing my side and acknowledging his own tendencies, which is awesome. But for a long time, I felt like I was having to really push to define what was okay for me, what seemed unfair and made me mad, and what was me getting overly-angry and not necessarily entirely valid.

    Also, I would LOVE to hear you concerto!!! I got so excited when I read that you’re a composer!

  • KEA1

    THIS so many times over. My ex was finishing his PhD (in chemistry) while we were dating…and I earned tenure (as a chemistry professor) in the second or third year of our relationship. And his family had the nerve to ask me what MY plans were! =O That relationship was a dodged bullet, but I still worry what lies ahead even when I’m in a better relationship/preparing for a marriage.

    Also, as the sister of a violist, daughter and granddaughter of musicologists, and a huge music lover, may I add to the chorus of requests to hear your concerto? And maybe would you be willing to alert the APW community when you’re going to be conducting or when one of your pieces is going to be performed, or…? if you are anywhere near the Boston area, or anywhere I travel, I would LOVE to be part of the audience!

  • Shoestring Wife

    And also when people find out that my husband and I are never planning on having children – by choice. They ask him “how does your wife feel about all this?” and they tell me “you’ll change your mind”. Or some version of “you-are-nuts-and-a-defective-woman”. Why do they just accept it with him but think I am a weirdo? Why can’t I be interested in my career MORE than he is?

    • Rachael

      YES. Good grief I have this line of conversation with a close cousin of mine, my age, on a regular basis. No matter how many times I’ve told her that we haven’t decided on procreation and that we totally aren’t ready she acts like she gets it but then the next time we talk she asks if we’ve started trying.

    • feelingfickle

      This forever and always whenever I’ve said I don’t think I’ll want kids ever.

      How do people not understand this when we still get an article a week asking if women can “have it all”?

  • Anne

    I don’t have a ton to add to this discussion other than to say you’ve hit the nail on the head. I’m also a PhD student (in musicology), and actually had a long conversation with a (male) professor about gender inequality in academia yesterday. While there are more women receiving PhDs in the humanities than men, the number of women who receive tenure-track jobs is still lower than the number of men who do. I think about this a lot when my husband and I discuss whether or not to have children — as a woman who hopes to remain in academia, it’s almost as if my decision has been made for me. The question then, for many women, becomes whether having a family is more important than a career in their chosen fields, and that’s a problem that is difficult to solve.

  • BD

    Honestly (and this may just be where I live) in my experience the dude is way more enthusiastic about a wedding than the gal. Certainly that’s how it played out for husband and I, and also our friends/family. When we were engaged, talking to married couples always went something like this: Husband – “I know it’s a lot of work, but you guys are not gonna regret it. Our wedding was a wonderful and beautiful experience that we will remember fondly forever and was worth all the hassle/money, right babe?” Wife – “Oh sure!” (Then, more quietly) “Seriously though eloping is always an option.”

    And yet, this idea that the wedding is mostly for the woman, her big day, her central happiness, is still so persistent. I don’t get it!

    • lady brett

      possibly the cultural expectation that women *must* love their wedding (not to mention do all the heavy liftin g- i mean “fun” – of planning it) is largely to blame. frankly, i think it’s way easier to be excited about something exciting when you’re *allowed* to feel however the hell you want.

      • BD

        I thought about this dichotomy and realized that yes – not only are women expected to love their wedding, generally they’re expected to do most of the work. If my only job in all of wedding planning had been renting a suit and showing up on time, I probably would have been over the moon about it too!

        • Crayfish Kate

          Yes, this. At times, it has seemed like my FH has been more excited about wedding things than I am. “We could do this! We could do that!” But I know if he found out how much work ‘doing this and that’ entails, he’d change his tune.

          • KC

            I think this is really generically true. Any time people aren’t the ones putting in the time/money and don’t know how much time/money something would cost, they’re much more enthusiastic about it. (free public transit for all! have a human fully tag every post on the site so it’s more easily searchable! individual handmade paper bouquets for each guest as centerpieces/wedding favors!)

            Partners (and businesses) will often simmer down a bit about bright ideas once they find out what the total “cost” of a project will be… and what portion they would have to cover of it. :-)

      • Meg Keene

        I think you’re on to something here.

  • Amy

    At one of my sister’s concerts, I noticed that the (female) conductor was wearing an awesome pantsuit with see-through skirt-like gauze-y panels (honest to goodness, I have no idea how else to describe them) that made it floaty and more feminine. At the time I thought it was just a kickass fashion statement, but I wonder, as a result of reading this, if it was a more conscious choice influenced by her male-dominated field.

  • IRMcK

    Yes. Yes. Yes. I had a similar experience in my male dominated industry when I was getting married. Even my mostly female (unmarried, childless – my industry is not kind to women) coworkers just assumed that I would quit after getting hitched to start popping out babies.

    I had several months of wanting to make the most radical “feminist” personal choices I could, just to make a statement, even though most of those decisions were not what either of us really wanted. Fortunately, I came to my senses. Making a knee jerk decision to not conform to anything just because, without thought, isn’t better than doing something expected.

  • snedapants

    I have to say, this post hit home. I recently became aware not just of the issue of being treated differently because I was a woman in my profession (college sports), but also the fact that I was unconsciously SUPPORTING it, by undermining MYSELF. It sort of blew my mind. I mean, I get high-fives by men when I say enlightened things about sports. Which I shouldn’t, since knowing about sports is literally MY JOB. But up until recently, bought into it, with an “I KNOW, right? I know things!!” So now I’m struggling to figure out how to quit doing that to myself, and ask for the respect that I deserve, without turning into some awful, preachy person who can’t have fun conversations anymore, and “takes everything too seriously.”

    Le sigh.

    • snedapants

      (The point is, I appreciated this article like whoa. I’m working on taking back the skirt as well.)

    • feelingfickle

      Preach. To your comment. Not be preachy. I mean, unless you want to. Do what you want.

      This is a hard habit to break from in my experience (not with sports but just with not being scared to take up space in a male-dominated atmosphere in general) but definitely worth it. It’s awesome that you recognized it and are moving forward!

  • KC

    A note from choir: the physically heavier director (Santa Claus-shaped) could pull more sound out of us (he also had tricks of some kind to make him and his movements *look* bulkier while conducting certain things); the physically lighter but also male director could not get as much from us. Physically lighter (very petite, actually) female director was, I think, somewhere in the upper middle in terms of what she could “get out” of the choir; she moved like a force of nature, but she was probably less than half the weight of the larger male conductor and definitely more petite than the “middle” director, and it affected how “big” her movements could be, and I think that influenced what her movements elicited from the choir (although her talent made up for that, in general). The choir also generally sang “better” for whoever they were most accustomed to singing with, or to singing a particular piece with, ignoring other factors.

    So, my conclusions which may have absolutely nothing to do with directing a viola concerto:
    1) physical size/shape may affect how a conductor’s movement is interpreted into sound
    2) the group accustomed to being conducted by Person A will likely generally play more strongly than when conducted by Person B.
    3) talent (and emphasis of movement) can make up for a surprising amount of 1 & 2, though.

    (but auuuugh on the gender stuff, anyway)

  • Anon

    And it’s not just men that do this. I am a CPA and I recently married someone from my field. However, I earn more than he does and I’ve held my license for longer (he’s still working on his). For fun, I teach group exercise. At a recent instructor meeting, I was new to the group. They took one look at my ring and assumed I was a housewife without a (and I quote) big girl job. It made me furious. Not only did these women assume I did nothing all day, they also assumed my husband supports me AND they managed to make me sound like a child…..

    • Another anon

      :( This is one of the many things that scares me about the possibility of getting married some day…

  • NTB

    This makes a lot of really great points. Looking back, I do remember a lot of people asking me really inappropriate questions about ‘whether or not I was really ready and mature enough to be a wife’ or ‘how I liked doing housework.’ I was like…UM, I’ve only known you for, like, 12 minutes total. I tried not to take it “personally” but I did find it annoying. I tried to tell myself that these were projections of people’s expectations that were being placed on me, and as a couple, my husband and I would choose to accept or reject those projections. (Note: it has cost thousands of dollars in therapy for me to be able to utter those words.)

    Anyhoot, a couple of weeks ago, I accompanied my husband to a professional lawyer’s dinner in town to benefit a local charity. I’m a children’s librarian, not a lawyer, but bu husband is, and I do enjoy talking to lawyers because I generally find them to be pleasant and interesting. NOT ONE PERSON at our table asked me what I do for a living. NOT ONE. My husband got lots of attention, and I tried to participate, but I felt TOTALLY INVISIBLE. It sucked. One of the female lawyers asked me (randomly) where I planned to send my children to high school, assuming that I had children or would have them. Note: I do not currently have children.

    To conclude, in regards to the housework being ‘women’s work,’ that worked itself out in our marriage because the day I got a full-time job, I was unable to take care of housework as much as I used to. Now in our marriage *two years later* my husband and I see housework as just that: HOUSEWORK. Unless we want to live in filth, we have to work together to keep things looking nice. Again, it took major time in our marriage to get into a rhythm that worked for us.

  • Paige

    OMG!! I have played viola since I was 9 years old and there aren’t enough good pieces for violas (let alone concertos!). Can I please hear your concerto?!

  • Sarah G

    Gender expectations suck! I feel you. Coming from a blue-collar Catholic background, there’s a lot of traditional gender expectations in my family, particularly with my older relatives. When some of them met my male partner for the first time, they couldn’t stop talking about how he “helps” in the kitchen (rage!). However, I’ve been such a pain in the ass feminist for such a long time (I gave the priest hell during my first confession about how I couldn’t be an altar boy; I was 7) that now it’s kind of “my role”, which makes it easier, at least in my opinion. My grandma has been heard to say “well, you know, she’s one of those feminists”. With a tone of slight disappointment, but it has been useful — they all kind of expect me to say things like “well, auntie, J has an equal say in our wedding. Why don’t you ask him about X?” and they kind of roll their eyes and deal with it. Everybody gets assigned an identity in a family, so I’m glad mine is this one; could be worse!

    • Glen

      I have the “serious career woman” role in my family, and I think I shocked them when I got married and then had a kid. Still, I did have to listen to my mother complain about me “letting” my husband have so much of a say in wedding planning. On the other hand, if my husband had decided to be a stay-at-home parent, I don’t think any of them would have batted an eye.
      I do get tired of that expectation from those that don’t know us that my husband is incompetent with our daughter. For example, I was in an afternoon-long meeting and had to step out to take a phone call from my husband who was picking up our daughter from daycare because she had a fever. During a break, I apologized to the meeting organizer (who’s also a friend) for having to step out so abruptly and explained the situation. A senior manager overheard and told me that it was ok for me to leave if I needed to take care of my daughter. She seemed a bit baffled that I was perfectly fine with my husband handling it.

  • Laura

    Oooh, this brought back so many rage memories from my engagement period. We got engaged in November a few years ago. I was working a full-time job, writing a scientific manuscript, applying to Ph.D. programs, and planning an epic vacation. We had a 7-month engagement, and I spent an entire month of it flying myself around the country to attend conferences and grad school interviews. Yet all anyone wanted to talk about was *my* wedding.

    Eventually, I just started shutting that down with, “Actually, the wedding is at the bottom of our priority list right now. We’re much more excited about [moving to XXX] [starting a new Ph.D. program] [our trip to Turkey].” It took a lot of people by surprise, but I think it helped some people check their assumptions and realize that they were being asses.

    I STILL get rage-y when I think about the Christmas gifts I received that year, though. I know gifts are given in a charitable spirit of love blah blah blah. But newly engaged me got wedding planning materials and other wedding-related stuff, while my fiance did not get a single gift that could be construed as being related to the wedding or homemaking. INFURIATING.

  • feelingfickle

    I really identified with this so much and it (and the comments) actually made me breathe a HUGE sigh of relief to know we’re kind of all going through frustrations like these together. P and I aren’t even engaged (we have to rings because ON SALE but putting it off a bit) and I’m hearing stuff that sets my teeth on edge from my mother and coworkers (where we bought the rings) already. But also MARYLAND I’M MOVING THERE WITH P IN FEBRUARY LET’S BE FRIENDS (jkjk. KIND OF.)

    • Lauren from NH

      DC area? I am not a city girl so even though I’ve been here over a year, sometimes the city bustle has me feeling like this place is a black hole where community and hominess cannot be had. It’s just hard to meet people like anywhere else. So yeah! Also sounds like we are in kind of the same pre-engaged phase.

      • feelingfickle

        Yup! Silver Spring. And I’m moving there from TEXAS so, yeah, I imagine I’ll be in the same “not a city girl” boat. I’m mildly nervous because I rely on friends and community SO much and while P has a few I feel like Imma need to find some of my own quickly.

        • Lauren from NH

          Feel free to email me lejacoby@smcm.edu
          Also I can give you info of the APW DC facebook group book club thing. I haven’t gone yet but I am going to try next month!

  • Jacky Speck

    As a woman in a male-dominated field (electrical engineering), I feel you. Family members seem to have forgotten about my career, too, ever since we got engaged. At the last several family gatherings, people have directed all the wedding-related questions to me. Meanwhile, the fiance gets asked questions related to how he will “provide” for us, even
    though we’re BOTH pretty successful engineers and I actually make more
    money than him at the moment. Once, he was giving advice about graphics cards to an uncle who was considering a new computer purchase. He was using a few technical terms, so the guy’s wife turned to me and said, “It’s like he’s speaking an alien language! Can you even understand ANY of this!?” She’s known me for years, but somehow momentarily forgot that *I’m* an electrical engineer too… So, yes, I understand technical words related to graphics processors, thankyouverymuch.

    Anyway, I think I understand where you’re coming from. And I love your attitude about “taking back the skirt” and not letting it define you. Every time you show up to a concert hall in a skirt, every time one of your pieces is played, you’re changing people’s perceptions about what a composer looks like, and that is awesome. Now that being engaged has made you more conscious of how gender norms affect your life, you’ll be even better at changing those perceptions.

  • Grace

    This is kind of a flip-side, because in our relationship I’m about to become a doctor (5 more months!!), he wants to pursue a more creative and less well-paid career. We are VERY happy and I have made if clear repeatedly that he has to do whatever work makes him happy, regardless of salary.

    Now that I’m almost done people keep asking him his plans and saying things like “will Grace be ok with that, you know, once she’s a doctor?” Like I’m going to graduate and then suddenly demand that his income matches mine?!! Why is it not ok for me to earn more?!! I mean, I don’t think these kind of comments are ok anyway, but it reallly upsets me to know that if our genders were reversed, people would be congratulating me on my great partner choosing instead of making me feel inadequate.

  • Jen

    “I wrote a kickass viola concerto! CON-CERT-O, as in soloist and full
    orchestra. And it was PLAYED. Why doesn’t anyone want to hear it?!”

    This sounds so familiar to me. I remember spending Christmas 1990 with extended family at the end of an incredibly exciting year. I had graduated not once but TWICE in one year (a degree plus a post-grad diploma), and just a week before Christmas I’d been offered a really good job. I was feeling so proud of my accomplishments.

    And the response of every single extended family member I told? “Yes, but have you found a boyfriend yet?” Because of course, that’s the most important thing for any young woman to achieve.

    It is so depressing to think that nearly a quarter century later you’re facing exactly the same attitudes. The world was supposed to have moved on by now :-(

    But congratulations on your concerto!!!

  • Beth R

    Yes! I always considered myself a pretty good feminist, but it wasn’t until I got engaged that I realized that I had barely scratched the surface of what that meant and how I fit into this narrative in our society. I am much more vocal about feminist issues now than I was before getting married and I feel some hope that as we all get louder with questioning the status quo, things will eventually change. I love that these viewpoints are being shared more often and more openly.

    Also, I’d love to hear your concerto! Is it somewhere that can be shared?

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I can relate to the author’s experiences.

    I am very grateful that more of my Facebook friends “Liked” my status about my first trial than my status about getting engaged or married.

  • Erica

    It is incredible to see the comments this has inspired and the discussions that are evolving as a result, and it is also nice to know that I’m definitely not alone when it comes to trying to figure these types of things out!

    There have been a few comments expressing interest in listening to my viola concerto – which is very encouraging! However I’m a bit hesitant to put a link up here to my website (my website contains my full name), as I’ll be going on the job market soon. Unfortunately an academic job search committee would probably toss my app in the trash if they somehow searched my name and found APW and this article – which is really sad – but I do need to be careful.

    So rather than posting a link to my site or my full name, I promise that if you Google this exactly, that you should be able to find it: “composer erica” AND viola concerto

    • I listened to the clip online and really liked it. :) Congrats on creating a beautiful viola concerto!!!

    • Ruth

      go Erica go!! as a (non-professional, but serious) violist and a PhD student in a male-dominated science field, I just wanted to internet high five you. A recent NYT piece on women in science had a quote describing “all the little kicks” women receive in male-dominated career fields. I’ve personally experienced both the little kicks and the overtly terrible behavior, but luckily the latter is less common. a thoughtful (guy) colleague once told me, though, that he considers it brave to be on the front lines in a field where being a woman is so heavily marked. so I try to keep that in mind when things get weird.

      wonderful clips on your website. mourning doves especially resonated for me.

  • Sewassbe

    Relatedly, I saw this David’s Bridal commercial on TV recently and it made me want to BARF. It’s like instead of shattering gender roles, society just keeps entrenching them ever-deeper. UGH. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFl0gTu5O4w

  • SM

    This hit home for me to. Last week my bf’s sister invited us to a bbq at her house in a small town. After being introduced to everyone, one guy asked my bf what he does for a living. No one asked me this same question. Not the first time this has happened, but for some reason this instance made my blood boil. In actual fact, despite us being together 4 years, much of my bf’s family and many of his friends have never asked me what I do. In our case, I think this is partly cultural since his family are migrants who are not very well off and quite traditional (in contrast, I’m white, middle class and have a mother with a PhD). But this leaves me in fairly weird position as in some ways I don’t feel like enough of a women. Ie, I should be looking after my bf and having babies instead of pursuing a career. I worry for my bf’s young nieces and female cousins, because although they are told they can do anything they want with their lives, they have few or no examples of women who do do this and any women (like me) who do have careers are not valued.
    To further complicate the matter, I am more educated and make more money than my bf. I am ashamed to say this, but when I get asked by my family and friends what bf does, I often feel embarrassed to tell them his job because it is blatantly less skilled and less well paid than my own and I’m aware that we are probably being judged for this.

  • Elizabear

    I found reading all the comments really interesting. I didn’t really experience any of this while wedding planning, but I am never asked about work by my in-laws. They also really want me to quit my job so that their son can move back closer to them (he works from home here in Ohio so that I can work, but if we moved back to Michigan he would be working onsite). I had to tell my husband to force them to stop sending me ridiculous job announcements in Michigan (i.e. announcements for not my sort of job). It made me feel only rage.

    At the same time I think I might want to be a stay-at-home mom. I feel guilty for thinking that because I am so angry at them for thinking my job is not as important as my husband’s job. I feel like I can’t make that choice because then I shouldn’t have been mad at them. Also, I went and got a Masters degree to get this job so I feel guilty about possibly not using it (in the traditional sense) and about how I incurred all of that debt. Barf.

  • I’m no one’s little lady

    I work as a registered nurse and my fiance works in healthcare too, but on the IT side. Generally, nurses are always women and the computer guys, well mostly men. I earn significantly less than he does although i have my masters and graduated high school in the same year. Not to mention i actually know what to do if you are dying of a heart attack, recognize the symptoms of a stroke, and know which antibiotics make you severely ill if you drink alcohol. Yes, i love to cook and i am way better at housework than he is, and he likes to (and is talented at) fixing up old cars and doing general handyman (there’s that gender bias again) stuff. However, does everyone forget the many years we were single and the fact that he can make a mean homemade salsa and i often changed the oil on my car because i couldn’t afford to take it to the mechanics? I have my masters degree, own my own house, and often take care of household repairs because he travels out of town for his work. Yet, whenever i tell people i am getting married, the next comments usually have something to do with the fact that my biological clock is rumond and its good I’m getting married so i can start having babies. Don’t even mention that we don’t want children. I always get the response “oh you’ll change your mind or “if you just have then you’ll feel differently because it’s your kid.” Whereas when he says we don’t want children, they just let him be.

  • Chiara M

    A silly addition to a serious discussion:

    Ten Reasons why Skirts Are Better than Pants

    This one is my favourite:
    5. It is impossible to smuggle someone in — or out — of prison, a masked ball, a hotel room, etc. by hiding them under your pants. (Plus, there is no such thing as “hooppants.”)

  • Erin Rafferty

    HI! I’m a violist! I want to hear/hear about/play your concerto! Pick me, pick me, oh, please do!