I’ve never personally experienced what it’s like to be a wealthy white man, a poor black man, or even an immigrant in our United States. the closest I’ve come is writing fiction. I’m fully aware that those are extreme generalizations but that gets to the heart of what I can speak too. I’m a woman.
I was born to a lower middle class family. My parents have both worked full time jobs to make ends meet my entire life. I was 15 years old when the reality of college was thrust upon me. I was the first to go to college in more ways than one. There was also the tinsy part challenge that I faced called money. The full cost of my education would have to be paid for with student loans. My parent’s made too much for me to qualify for any sort of aid, but not enough to actually contribute to my education in any way. I had no special abilities and theatre was the extent of my extra circulars. My grades weren’t good enough for grants and at fifteen years old I saw the fantasy I’d built for myself slip away. I wanted more than anything to go to college. I wanted to live the teenage television dream.
My mother taught me many things in life: never to back down when there is something I want, never give up on dreams just because someone tells me that I can’t, impossible is just not true, to stand my ground, and always, always dance. Drawing strength from these lessons I got into a running start program and was able to attend the first two years of my college experience in trade for the last two years of my high school one. Looking back, I know that it was worth it. I wasn’t being challenged enough in high school, but there is that little part of me that wishes I’d have attended my senior prom. I didn’t get into the only college I applied to. I don’t actually like to admit that, in a lot of ways I still carry shame about it. I was one of four people in my entire graduating class to earn a AA degree from college and my high school diploma at the same time. But it didn’t count for as much as I’d hoped. I only applied to one school because the application costs were more than I could afford working part time and more than I knew my parent’s could offer at the time. I’m ashamed at our education system and it started that day. I was too young to understand exactly why but it started the day I received my rejection letter.
It was never about not getting into that specific school. I’ve always believed in aiming high or going home. But in doing so I never had a ‘backup’ school, and with limited funds I had to pick, stay safe or dream big. I had no special magic white girl upbringing that people often think I had. I’ve worked hard for every single item I own, for my education, for the life I lead. Nothing was handed to me on a golden spoon.
I know that I digress easily, please bare with me. Fast forward a decade and I’m very accomplished educationally speaking. I earned my BA in Criminal Justice five years later. I attended school slowly switching programs a few times unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. Criminal Justice was the first thing to really spark something in me. I’ve never wanted to be a police officer, although I was a 911 dispatcher for a couple of years. I thought that I might want to go to law school. Something about the law and prison reform to this day sets a fire to me. But I never found something, feeling instead pushed around by some predominantly male environments, being paid substantially less, and asked to do more traditionally ‘girls’ work. If there is one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that it is too short to be unhappy. So I moved on. I went back to school two more times and earned two Masters Degrees. The first in Organizational Leadership, where I found virtually no employment opportunities in my area but managed to fall into other opportunities. The second is in Human Resources. While this second path is more marketable, I decided to take the path less traveled and strive out to do what I’ve always wanted. I am attempting to live my dreams as a writer.
I’m $120,000 in student loan debt, but I’m educated which is more than I can say for a lot of other people. But it shouldn’t be that way. Life as an adult shouldn’t start in debt. I really hate people who say “but it was your choice to go to college and get in debt.” I want to slap every single one of you. All I hear is, stay in your current position where you will never make more than minimum wage selling retail if your lucky or go to college and live with the debt but don’t complain. Look, I know what I chose but it doesn’t make any of it right. College shouldn’t cost money. I know MANY MANY MANY people who should go to school and expand their views, get an education, and make something amazing of themselves. None of them will because the idea of that much debt scares them. The sad part of it all, I don’t blame them. Not even a little bit.
There are many things I could say about being a woman. I could say that getting paid a fraction of your male counter parts suck, or that it’s unfair. I could explain how much harder women have to work in predominately male fields to make an impact or move up within the organization. I could tell you about a time when I worked for a large electronics store and we got a new store manager who was threatened by women and effectively found reasons to lay off twenty-eight of the thirty women (out of a staff of more then 120) and remove each of us, myself included, from the management training program. I was one of the remaining women and watched as the others were systematically picked off. He was only the manager for about a year before he moved on to torture some other location.
I could explain that when a woman leaves her home (some while in their homes) we think about all these ways to keep ourselves safe first and foremost. It’s second nature. Do we walk with our keys between our fingers, or is it a safe neighborhood, when to speak out and when being ridiculed isn’t worth it? We’re not even safe online, as proven through heinous groups of people like those involved with gamergate.
In my Woman in Criminal Justice course for my Bachelors degree, my professor asked the men to compile a list of things they had to think about when it came to their safety. She wrote it all on the wall length white board. It was a nice tight list that took up a small corner. Then she asked the women to compile the same list. We ran out of white board. Every male in the class shrunk in shame. Now I’m not attempting to shame anyone here. Every individual person makes their own choices. I would never blame the entire Muslim race for the acts of a few, nor would I blame all males for the acts of a few in power. But our reality is far different from that of a man.
Growing up I always thought I’d have a family. I would get married, have one or two children, and an amazing career. But society expects me to give up any sort of career I might want, to raise my imaginary children. That isn’t just men, women expect it too. I wish it wasn’t a double edged sword but it is. I once didn’t get a job I wanted because I didn’t have a family which apparently equated to no ties within the community and no reason to stick around. None of that could have been further from the truth. Over the years I’ve warmed to the idea of never having children unless I was married to a man who didn’t mind being the stay at home father, or hiring a nanny. I want a career. I don’t think that’s selfish. I think there is nothing wrong with wanting more out of life instead of limiting it to family or career. I want it all.
I’ve gone on a tangent again. But I’m not sorry. This is my blog and I’ll tangent a bit if I want. This whole rant started because Hillary Clinton won Iowa last night. She is the first woman EVER to win. Do you know how amazing that is? Does anyone else out there understand the truly amazing idea of having a woman president? For me, having Hillary Clinton as president is about more than her politics (which I tend agree with anyways). It’s about seeing a woman in the most influential position in the United States. It’s about knowing that the limitations I saw put upon me don’t necessarily have to be there for the next generation or the one after that. It’s about seeing a fellow female succeed for the first time when other women before her have tried and failed. Watching Hillary win the presidency will bring me to tears I have no doubt. But they will be tears of happiness, of pride for my gender and every American who voted and made it possible. And if she doesn’t win, life will go on and Bernie Sanders will have my support. However, right now, in this moment… I want to bask in the glory that was a first for my gender. I am so proud.