Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Dream of Equal Pay

One of the many, many Monty Python sketches that I love is about archaeologists who measure their ability -- and their manliness -- by how tall they are.  I love when John Cleese challenges a rival archaeologist with the line, “Oh, yeah?  Well, I’m six-foot-five and I eat guys like you for breakfast!”  I, myself, AM six-foot-five and as a tall, white, middle-class male, that line pretty much described my subconscious attitude as a younger man.  I never gave much thought to things like walking alone at night, or where I parked my car, or where I went, with whom, how late I stayed out, and so on.  In college in the early Nineteen Seventies, in that era after penicillin and before AIDS, I was usually in a relationship with a thoroughly liberated, activist woman; I rallied for women’s rights and the Equal Rights Amendment -- and I realize only now that I still didn’t Get It.

I have been a Unitarian now for over twenty-five years.  My wife introduced me to Unitarian-Universalism.  We were married at the Unitarian church in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1984.  Megan is a self-made family physician whom I admire tremendously for her fierce independence and determination -- among other things.  And I still thought, for the first decade of our marriage, that being cool with Megan keeping her own name after our marriage meant that I Got It.

Actually, it took becoming the father of a daughter to finally open my eyes the slightest, tiniest crack.  To begin to realize that my daughter, as a woman, was always going to have to think about where she went, and with whom, and at what time of day, and where she parked her car -- in short, an element of fear was always going to have to be present in her life that has always been absent from mine.  I finally began to realize that this would be a different life than the one I was privileged to lead  It is only now, as I get older, as my autoimmune disease makes me limp and look more like a victim ripe for plucking, that I begin to feel a glimmer of what it feels like to be, potentially, prey.  And that this is only one of many, many facets of being a woman that I can only dimly understand.  I will never feel a life grow inside me, or feel my body follow a monthly cycle, or share in a sisterhood of kinship and cooperation.

So.  I haven’t even touched on the fact that for years I worked as the lone male in a predominantly female career, as a desk librarian.  Or how advantages that I didn’t want, or work for, or deserve, were still thrown at me because I was male.  I also haven’t touched on the fact that the women in my life still have to contend with a glass ceiling in business, and with making significantly less money than their male counterparts.  All revelations for another time, I guess.  I wish the workplace could be, for everyone, a community of believers and of dreamers, and especially of believers in the dream of a world where all human beings have an equal claim to life, and liberty, and justice.  I dream of, and hope for, and try to work for, a world where my daughter, where every daughter, where every PERSON, can walk down the street with the feeling inside them that, “I’m six-foot-five and I don’t have to be afraid of anything!”

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