The Pressure of Being a Woman
Guest Post – Gabriela Robles, Chief Executive
Since the United States was founded, women have had to fight for equality. Whether that was for the right to vote, education access, healthcare, or equal pay, it was up to women to secure what was given to men by birthright. Today is Women’s Equality Day, a day to honor and celebrate the achievements of the activists that spoke up and fought for our rights. As I sat down to write about this important day, I reflected on my upbringing, education, and career and thought about the hurdles I had to jump to get where I am.
Many of the Latino families I grew up with held values more traditional and conservative than mine. While traditional immigrant parents in many ways, my parents held different views on gender roles and raised me to see that I was as qualified and capable as boys and men in our family. I know this is because of the strong female influence on my father, who was the only boy among seven sisters. My female friends may not have been allowed to drive or go away to college, but my parents never questioned my capabilities based on my gender. In fact, they encouraged me to go to college, seek an advanced degree, and pursue my career goals no matter where they took me.
That’s not to say I didn’t face hurdles – big and small. I clearly remember one, particularly awkward and discriminatory interview. In college, I was invited to interview for an event coordinator position at a senior housing community. During the questioning, the interviewer asked, “You’re a girl, and we must deal with animals like snakes and rodents. Do you think you can handle that?” Not only did it feel like a waste of time, but I was also shocked that the interviewer would think I was incapable of handling certain animals because of my gender.
There always seemed to be an unspoken gender bias in college. In group projects, the female students always did the writing, as if they were secretaries, while the male students did the research and analysis. My male counterparts also had much more leeway with exams and deadlines because of sports or other extracurricular responsibilities. I felt I had to be overly organized and prepared, yet I’d still not get the same considerations. I will never know if that was because of being a woman, a Latina, or a combination of both.
I am grateful that these experiences made me stronger in my convictions, and while sometimes they all feel like small hurdles compounded, they have challenged me over the years. I have to recognize that one of the challenges I have faced more often has been competition, perceived and actual, from other women. As women, we must work towards solidarity, not divided by race or pitting ourselves against each other. Tracy Benelli, a friend, and mentor, wrote about this topic recently, sharing her understanding of how to achieve a more gender-equitable future.
At this stage of my career, I have been surrounded by strong, knowledgeable, and empathetic female mentors, including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, executive team leaders, and colleagues. However, early on, it wasn’t always this way. Ironically, most of my allies were men, as it felt like women were too busy or disconnected. Plus, we were all fighting for the same position in a system set up for competition.
I would be remiss not to mention the additional layer of inequity for Latinas. Latina Equal Pay Day is coming up on December 8. This day is important because it marks the day when Latina pay catches up to that of white, non-Hispanic men from the previous year. Even though it’s been almost 60 years since the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Latinas typically earn only 49 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men and must work nearly 23 months to make what white men earn in 12 months.
Change can happen if women of all races unite and advocate for it. Building compassion, putting aside criticism, and working to understand where our competitiveness comes from will lead to gender equity in action, not just on paper. It’s beyond time for us to see each other for who we are and know the pressure we are under to be educated, experienced, and have a pleasing appearance. We have a lot of work to do. But I am not discouraged.
Please share this article with your followers and encourage discussion on steps we can take towards equity on Women’s Equality Day and every day.
Valiant Woman When one finds a valiant woman Her value is far beyond pearls. She picks out a field to purchase Out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She is girt about with strength And sturdy are her arms. She enjoys the success of her dealings At night her lamp is undimmed. She reaches out her hand to the poor And extends her arm to the needy. She is clothed with strength and dignity And she laughs at the days to come. She opens her mouth in wisdom And on her tongue is kindly counsel. Her children rise up and praise her "Many are the women of proven worth But you have excelled them all." Give her a reword of her labors And let her works praise her at the city gates. Proverbs 31.10-31