Just last week, members of the New York City Council announced they were getting behind an initiative to hire more women firefighters. Apparently, as you might expect, an appallingly low number of the current New York City force is female and the chair of the Council’s fire committee spoke out to demand that the numbers be increased. There are issues still to be addressed, like the lack of facilities in firehouses to accommodate women working there and the firefighter’s exam which requires that successful candidates prove their ability to carry heavy fire hoses up ladders, among other tasks. But the goal of this City Council committee chair is to bring up the numbers to 15% of the force being female.
But, I’m curious now. When you read that the City Council fire committee chair spoke out, did you visualize a man or a woman talking?
It was a woman.
And when I said, “hire more women firefighters,” could you even imagine a woman showing up to save you and your belongings from a fire? Would you have been happy, felt safe, relieved?
Honestly speaking? I bet not.
It’s about to be 2015 – decades after we burned bras and declared our equality and yet, old ingrained stereotype gender roles persist.
When you think of doctors, both male and female physicians will come to mind. In this field, women are as likely to be a doctor, dentist, specialist, hospital worker as any man. When I think nurse, I think female, regardless of how many Fockers movies Ben Stiller makes. And when I think of the people who “man” the reception areas in hospitals, it’s female again.
Valet parking my car to get into the hospital? Male.
Taking my keys, my money to pay for the parking? Again, male.
I’m in the hospital cafeteria – female, right? But here, there’s usually a man in a tie walking around with a clipboard, running things. A woman with a clipboard? Dietician – not running things.
When I go into the subway or board a NYC bus, I see both men and women in all roles. Kudos to the MTA for that one. Bus drivers, train drivers, maintenance crews, “token” booth workers are pretty evenly distributed, all in all, between men and women. I see both men and women on our police force as well – unlike the firehouses, apparently.
Diners are easy – women serve, men cook. Soccer players? Men. With apologies to the extraordinary players on the US Women’s National Team.
Pharmacies? Women take the prescriptions to give to men to fill. Then, if there’s a question, the helpful man comes down to the counter to explain things.
Delivery guys and hot dog carts? Who cooks up all those toilet water street wieners, who brings the pizza or the Chinese food? It’s 100% male.
Teachers in lower school are women, in universities, more male; which just may account for why more women are finishing bachelor’s degrees these days. I know I took classes from cute guy professors all the time.
Doormen are men. Supers are men. Porters are men, although my building had a lovely woman porter for a few years.
Men sell newspapers and Christmas trees and they pick up all the trash we leave behind.
I was taking a late train in from Queens the other night and changed to my uptown train at 59th Street. Wednesday nights, on this platform, there is a really accomplished bagpiper who busks for change. I’ve seen him more than a few times and I figure this is his regular venue. What struck me though was my first impression of him, hearing the pipes at a distance and imagining that it was a man playing. It never crossed my mind that a woman would be that subway musician, playing bagpipes.
So, what do I know about bagpipes? Women do play them. In fact, I saw a lovely short documentary about a blind woman who aspired to play the bagpipes. My issue is not that men AND women play any instrument but that when I hear the sound, my accompanying visual is all male. That goes for trumpet players, drummers and percussionists, and all jazz musicians. Jazz singers, female. But the band? Male, male, and male.
I’m not sure why this bothers me now. I’m concerned certainly that if young women start doing this too – imagining a man or a woman automatically filling any role – they might not think that male role was available to them or worse, that the female role was all there was. I want young women to know that the glass ceiling is an illusion, a way for men to provide an imaginary boundary to a woman’s achievement, set by men, defined by men, but experienced by women.
There are women senators, mayors, governors, and representatives and thanks to Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Indira Gandhi, and Mary Robinson, it’s becoming easier to imagine a woman in the role of president. Meteorologists are both male and female now – that’s saying something since the job of pointing at a screen to show everyone where the storm is coming from used to be just for the weather girl.
It’s that word “girl”, though. Two women working in the jewelry store this afternoon were referred to by the man I spoke to as girls, as in “one of the girls will be with you shortly.” In an office environment, if you want to reach a man who’s not available, you will be told to leave a message with his girl. There is no sense of professionalism, no sense that any level of skill is associated with these roles either if they can be filled by a girl. We’ve come so far in so many other ways of describing people – stewardesses are flight attendants now and the handicapped or disabled entry to a building is likely now to be called the “wheelchair entrance.”
So, let’s toast the hope, finally, of a post-feminist new year. Isn’t it about time? Maybe we should start referring to all women of accomplishment as girls. Maybe what we really need is an old girls’ network, a girls’ club, a sorority that circles the wagons and supports every girl who wants to get ahead, get a job, get a better life. Let’s get a girl in the damn White House.
I’d call that post-feminism.
Anne Born is a New York-based writer who has been writing stories and poetry since childhood. While her children were enrolled in New York City public schools in the late 1990s, she edited and published The Backpack Press, and the CSDIII News, a monthly newsletter covering all public schools on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. She blogs on Open Salon and her writing focuses on family and life in a big city after growing up in a small one. She is the author of “A Marshmallow on the Bus” and a photographer who specializes in photos of churches, cemeteries, and the Way of St. James in Spain. Most of her writing is done on the bus. You can find Anne at www.about.me/anneborn and you can follow Anne on Wattpad and Twitter at @nilesite.