“Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth. Deal with it.” – George Carlin
Recently I made the monumental decision to run my own practice as a solo attorney. After a year of soul-searching through various options, I finally felt strong guidance to make the move. After seventeen years of practicing law, I have built up a client base of my own large enough to enable me to earn at least the same income while working significantly fewer hours. So far, I feel hopeful, excited and liberated about the change.
Upon graduation from high school I went to work full time while attending college, graduate school and law school full-time. I just turned 45 and I realized that I’ve been working full-time for almost 30 years. A big part of my decision to become self-employed was that I realized that I’m a little bit… what’s the word? Tired.
I suspected when I announced my self-employment to others, some would assume that my decision would be related to my recent wedding. Specifically, I assumed that my ability to go out on my own would be attributed to my husband’s finances, rather than to my own.
Unfortunately, I was right.
Several of the people to whom I announced my new venture commented on how it must be nice that I can “take it easy” now that I had gotten married. At least I was able to respond to those people directly and assure them that that was not the case. I wonder how many other people made the same assumption without voicing it, however.
I rarely see a man’s business ventures being automatically attributed to his wife’s finances. What I normally hear about a man who runs his own business is the assumption that he has a thriving business and is quite well-off.
I regularly see womens’ business ventures being attributed to their husband’s finances. This assumption dismisses all of a woman’s accomplishments (in my case, 30 years of incredibly hard work) and instead, gives her husband the credit.
I feel there is just as much of a downside for men as for women in these stereotypes. It seems that men are burdened with the expectation that they have an automatic knowledge of how to magically produce money or to run businesses. A man’s earnings can be taken for granted as the stable income of a household while a woman’s income is seen as fluid, without affecting a household’s standard of living. This sense of financial responsibility may prevent a man from taking a risk to try a new venture.
The reality is that most of us – male or female – had to slog through the financial burdens of education and tireless networking in order to build what we have. After thirty years of doing that, I am incredibly grateful to be able to capitalize on what I’ve built and run my practice all by myself. For others to attribute this to anything but my own efforts is disheartening.
Sometimes gender stereotypes continue in the face of all facts to the contrary simply because people don’t look at the facts. In my lifetime, the facts about gender and career have thankfully changed drastically for everyone’s benefit. Not only can women pursue whatever career or business they desire but men do not have to shoulder the financial burden for a family by themselves. It’s a win-win!
How many of us have quietly made an assumption about someone else and never questioned it? How much of the way we view the world is based on assumptions and stereotypes, rather than reality? If we’re all really honest with ourselves, we will realize that we make assumptions about other people all the time. It is good to question those assumptions, however, so we don’t perpetuate stereotypes.
I’m no saint in this department either, believe me. I find that just being reminded of bias enables me to be more aware and to check my own behavior. I think each of us making individual changes in our own perception is really at the root of solving the problem of widespread bias. Each one of us really has the power to achieve equality for all people by looking inside of ourselves first.