Woes of a Working Girl

by | May 31, 2012
filed under Feminism

WW II Woman Worker Aircraftby Alicia Costa

As I navigate the waters of social media becoming far too engrossed in the lives of people I have known sporadically I feel that I am not doing what people in their 20s are doing. I am relentlessly pursuing my career. I have spent the past four years working, volunteering, sweating, learning, and stumbling my way through anti-poverty and anti-oppression work. And as I continue on this path I feel this is not be reflective of the average 20-something or 30-something in today’s world.

I’ll preface my thoughts by saying I have had the privilege to meet and engage with people who are doing amazing things in their lives in the past several years. Writers, who are getting published, artists getting commissioned, academics getting masters and doctoral degrees, people getting married and/or having babies. Regular folks who work hard and can scrape together some cash to take a quick trip to Portland or Vegas once a year or two.

However, there seems to be a large number of people in my generation floundering. Struggling to get themselves onto their own feet and out of mom and dads or into a job in field that they find rewarding (whatever that may be). I’ve lost count of how many young adults I know who are off on lengthy trips around the globe in an effort to avoid the realities of the grown up world. Am I missing something here? I’m feeling like the old fart because I’m out to attain financial stability and career success.

Our North American (read: and white) privilege has conditioned us that in order to be a whole and enlightened being we need to have enjoyed this privilege to its full extent (ie often this takes shape by travelling the globe). Often to impoverished countries and without the ability to acknowledge their struggle and in turn appreciate what we have. In doing so we are rewarded with the true meaning of life and a sense of entitlement. Society, it seems, rewards the ‘risk-taker’ over the boring and stable young adult. Why is that?

Trying to date these days has become somewhat of a social experiment unto its own when meeting potential mates. If I meet one more 30-year-old guy who has just returned from years travelling abroad and is still chipping away at the BA in History he started 10 years ago while living with his parents I will scream.

I’m blue collar born and bred. I was privileged to have grown up in the now non-existent middle class of the 90s. Neither of my parents went to college or university (in fact my father did not finish high school). Yet both of them were employed full-time in decent paying jobs.  My parents both worked very hard and provided us a financially stable existence. I learned from a young ago you need to work hard to get what you need in life.

I took this with me as I ventured off on my own at 18. I lived on my own with a friend from high school and I went to university by mortgaging my soul to the government. As I fumbled my way through university I developed a clear vision about what I wanted to do with my life. My identity as a feminist became so much a part of who it directed me to where I am now. My current work in social services was born from my desire to do feminist activism.

I know finding your place in the economic climate is a nightmare.  I have struggled and struggled some more trying to keep myself a float in this economy. Mid-way through my journalism degree the economy collapsed. I finished my schooling at the worst possible time to be entering the job market.  I worked terrible retail jobs, did unpaid and un-glorified internships, and went on interview after interview until I got a job in the field I wanted. And I did it (and I say this proudly) without financial support of my family or of a partner.

I’ve talked about this at length with a female friend of mine who is in a similar situation. We both sacrificed to get ourselves into stable careers, pay our own bills, and indulge in a few short vacations a year.  And we are starting to feel like chumps when we watch 20- something after 20-something jet off to Thailand for a year or two with not a care in the world. Student loan payments? Not for them. Paying rent and ensuring your independence? That’s what my boyfriend is for! Putting in the time and effort to get employable skills and job experience? Pfffft no need!

Getting a full-time job that pays you enough to keep yourself out of poverty is tough. After finishing my schooling I went on about 25 interviews over the course of a few months. The job market is flooded with wide-eyed grads that are smart and talented. Universities have lowered admission requirements churning out more grads then jobs in almost every field.  So, I would never judge anyone who is attempting and is frustrated to get a job in their chosen field. Keep going friend. It eventually works out even if it takes shape in a roundabout way.

I’m not on a soap box about my life. I am not suggesting my life is better than yours because you made different choices. If you had the luxury of travelling the globe after university you are very lucky. If you graduated university without mountains of student loan debt you are even luckier. If you are in a stable relationship that leaves your autonomy intact and is financially equal you may have hit the jackpot.

Adult life is about choices.  Maybe in the end your trip around the world will make you a better and more successful person then me.

And maybe it won’t.

As the wise ladies of Destiny’s Child once said, “The shoes on my feet, I’ve bought it. The clothes I’m wearing, I’ve bought it. The rock I’m rockin’, I’ve bought it. ‘Cause I depend on me.”


(image via Library of Congress)

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