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See how the other half lives

September 15, 2010

I did something unusual the other day, I went into a salon to get my hair worked on. Usually I treat my stylists like my mechanic. I figure out exactly what I want replaced, go in somewhere that will do it cheap, and leave. This time was a new place. I live in the burbs in an area that maybe 20-30 years ago could have been considered rural. So despite being not far from The Big City, there is a very backwoods kind of feel to certain things around here.
I am used to hanging out with professional men in the more expensive burbs in town, or the occasional career-minded woman. At university are droves of mostly privileged young men and woman. Even at the local community college the working class I see is still very driven and ambitious. It's only the children of privilege who waffle on whether they will major in criminal justice or get an associate's in business. When coworkers ask me if I plan to have children it's easy to say "No, that's not for me." When someone asks me where I work it's a matter of course, everyone I interact with is either ambitious enough to be career and/or education focused or privileged enough that that much is expected of them at some point.
I had to check my privilege at the door of the salon, it was a whole new world for me. Mothers anywhere from 20 years old to 40, with three or four little kids at home and at least one of them a toddler. They discussed the barbie videos and cooed over every infant or small child somebody brought in the door. When my (probably younger than me) stylist asked if I had any kids I just said simply "not yet." I avoided questions about the future, pretending I didn't have it figured out. I learned with two kids at home she was saving up to get married. Whenever her and her spouse to be could afford it. When asked where she said "around here" so probably nowhere ritzy. A family member of another one of the stylists was next to me and talking about their respective kids and families. About a family friend who had four kids at home, whom they criticized for "getting rid of" who knows how many. Only a quick mention of the abortion they were likely against, yet critical of a woman having so many babies she clearly couldn't take care of. They were worried about her going back to jail and the woman wondering whether she could take one of the kids who was close in age and went to the same school as one of her own children. But her husband had warned her they "didn't have room" for another kid at home. Likely could not afford to feed and care for, not so much a lack of space. At one point the soon to be husband of my stylist came in and talked to her briefly before heading back to work. Both of them working on a Saturday, if he was on a break from work he probably wasn't in a very lucrative career as there isn't much out there.
It's not that I'm not used to running into working class people, but working class families not so much. People for whom being a hairstylist or a handyman is probably a good enough way to keep on living. That having child #3 was a joy to be looked forward to more than anything else in their life. They were all connected on Facebook and gossipped about what people had posted on there or what real life friends had cut off contact. I'm not on facebook so I couldn't really relate. There was no mention of the internet culture I am a part of, no mention of videos or news articles. No interest in "a study I read about the other day" or anything beyond the lives of their families. Even work just something that made having a family possible. A satisfied, mostly happy non-ambitious lifestyle.
7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2010 4:40 pm

    I have to be honest, since this is something I struggle with from time to time, I get a feeling you might find it "happy they enjoy their lives although they don't have careers" with a tinge of looking down but at the same time feel slightly outside and not connected to their world? (I don't mean to be rude, I can't phrase it better at this time though)I agree on the feeling "it's another world". At this time of my life though, I'm wondering if the grass would be greener on the other side… but I guess it is all about attitude and "what makes you happy". But the constant questioning of "when are you having kids/why no family/you really want to work" is slowly driving me insane and makes me question way too much. It's like lots of women are looking at me and looking down on me with a "poor woman, she really hasn't figured it out at all" and I'm not really sure on what to make of it.

  2. September 15, 2010 4:49 pm

    You are right chall and I think there us condescension on both sides. I try not to look down on them for not having careers but yes I bet they look at us childless folks and think we are horribly misguided. Not that they acted that way to me just I think the feelings can be there.

  3. September 15, 2010 5:14 pm

    I think it comes down to different values. I have to admit that as I read the blog, I sensed some condescension, which I knew was not intentional on your part. Partly, because I walk this fine line of traditional but not. I have a career that I value and put a priority on – my family doesn't get it. Yet I've met the expectation of having a family. I also relate because for me working with computers and knowing how they work is second nature, as it is for all my female colleagues. Yet when I am with my family and the women are like "oh nos we can't understand that" I get a WTF look on my face…I judge them for being incompetent, not independent, they judge me for being all uppity.

  4. September 15, 2010 5:25 pm

    Well I fully admit to being condescending, though I try to overcome it. There is a part of me that thinks, how can you be happy with just this? And then I realize I'm being incredibly narrow-minded. So something I'm working on. And yes, I can definitely see judging people for not learning technology and in the same vein being judged for being uppity or them assuming you think you are better than them. Great points SM.

  5. September 15, 2010 7:34 pm

    I'm trying too, but its hard because I just don't understand some things. I understand not wanting to take the time to learn technology, but I don't how certain members of my family do not mind being helpless. They have no desire or need to be independent…But then they don't understand my love of science.

  6. September 15, 2010 7:48 pm

    FT> I don't think the acted upon them, it was merely "the coin from two sides" thingy. And yes, you and SM are phrasing it exactly as I would (condescending is the word I was looking for).SM> yes, I think that might be my biggest "thing" – the dependency issue (second one would be the "settling" issue ut that's not for now). I don't know if I am envious or if I look down on them; the fact that fellow women can dare put their (financial &/or some knowledge) security in the hands of their husbands and be dependant. Mainly maybe becasue I don't want to feel more dependant than independant, and (especially with my history – at least not being in a -worse- rut in case he were to leave me). Then again, if you're too independent – you can't have a relationship?!complex… and hard.. yet, a bit interesting

  7. September 16, 2010 12:55 pm

    That's the family I came from, and that's the way a lot of people around here are. It was such a shock to move away and find that there was ever a question about 'the choice' between career and family. All the women I knew were either homemakers or they didn't have 'a choice'. That included the female professors I knew, as well. You get married and have kids, and most women I knew, independent of education, also had a job.I think that's why I just can't fit into the 'big, competitive' university culture. If it came to a choice between my kids and my career, kids must come first. And, in fact, they have…which is part of the reason why I took so long on undergrad and my MS. But I can't say I honestly ran into people in my youth who viewed having children and having a career as mutually exclusive things. Seeing people who do believe that is a bit confounding.

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