I arrived home last evening from a brief business trip that left me feeling physically drained, as if I’d just been up all night with a sick child and also ignited, as if someone just handed me the keys to a new sports car. Never did I expect the extraordinary comment my husband would say to me when he got home from work.
The topic of women who work in technical fields, successful women and if it matters whether or not you’re a woman, or can just be judged on the quality of our work, all were subjects in the Blogosphere this past week. Again. I am a woman who taught herself web design during a divorce because I refused to ask for child support or alimony. I preferred to support myself and children (because I knew damned well I could if just given a chance to prove it.) These topics interest me.
Men Showed Me How To Fly Out of the Nest, Not Stay Inside It
My teachers and the very first humans who believed in me during my Big Life Shift were, in fact, men. It makes no sense to me, but that is just how it went down.
Women everywhere were furious with me and my choices. How dare I stick my nose up at the laws designed to make me dependent on a man who I didn’t want to be married to anymore? How dare I give him more than visitation rights? What in God’s name compelled me to give him our house? I did so many things “wrong”, in their eyes. Even down to agreeing to 50/50 shared custody and split responsibility in all ways and finding a mediator to divorce us, who let us write out own divorce agreement so we could make it fair and just for ourselves and our situation.
I had no job. No home. I was still nursing our son and I had 6 year old.
So it was the women who despised me. Everywhere. Family? I was officially disowned by the women, except for my mother, who always knew I make my own rules. It was my female neighbors who stopped talking to me. I turned to the Internet, where I met male mentors and eventually other women with my interests who were already out there building web sites, programming, writing books and starting businesses.
On the Internet, I Found my People
My first computer, a 286, was given to me by a male friend because I had so much enthusiasm for learning about the Internet. So he drove the thing to my house, installed it in my kitchen, and I was reborn.
Another man, a friend, taught me how to use it and every time I blew past what the poor machine could handle, he would dismantle it on my kitchen table and upgrade it for me, for free. Once, I accidently uninstalled the entire operating system. He patiently came over one night, fixed it and explained to me why the computer needed that to work.
I learned HTML from men I met online who showed me how to teach myself by studying source code and I hand coded like a champ (still do.) I bought books written by men and one by a woman. Every year, there were more women showing up but by far, my supporters and teachers were men. At home, in the real world offline, I had long since learned to not talk about what I did with other mothers. They were raising babies. I was too, but I wanted so much more.
Men Earn More Money
Once employed in various roles related to web site work, I was paid less than the men because human resources data said that how things are done.
I was never paid based on my performance, despite exceptional performance reviews and constant kudos from managers and coworkers. I was paid what the data says I was worth as a salaried female. Men are paid based on their traditional role as providers for their families. Which technically, as the laws in my state and the IRS eventually dictated, I am as “primary care giver”.
The day I left working for companies for good was the day my department director was instructed to lay off his department’s women first. My male coworkers cried when I left and I’ll never, ever forget it.
It Was. It Is This Way, For Me. It May Not Work For All
Twelve years ago I made a decision to enter a field I was fascinated by, after being out of the work force for 3 years taking care of my children. I had a solid work history before I stopped working to focus on my young children. That seemed like a very important decision, and a good one.
However, a woman who stops working to have kids is practically no longer a citizen of this country. If she wants to raise kids and work, she’s met with more attitude. I survived and did things my way, but of course I suffered. I wasn’t so stupid as to think my way was going to be easy or even possible. It was illogical in some ways, impractical, risky. And yet the gender that was there at every key turning point was a man.
On my business trip this week, there were no women except for the waitress we had in the outdoor bar who was obviously a delightful pleasure for my male coworkers. I’m used to this. There is one lesson I needed to learn about working in a male dominated industry or environment where women are still very much in the minority. Please! Let them be men.
In 2004, I married that man who kept fixing my first computer for me. (He still does, countless desktops and laptops later.) He’s known me for over 17 years. Last evening, after I’d gone through round one of my first brain dump on how things went, he managed to finally get in a sentence. He said he was thrilled I was getting back out there again, learning and having fun.
It doesn’t matter that I’m completely surrounded by OTHER men, or not at home with him or our blended family with tons of pets and constant chaos.
I know how lucky I am. I know I’m surrounded by some of the best and brightest men our technical, Internet related industries offer. I am nothing without them and their devotion. Their love, dedication, trust, their exquisite belief in me. I’ll leave this life never understanding the reasons why I earned it and if I did make sense of it, I likely wouldn’t have the sense to accept those reasons with any sort of grace.
Some of them have introduced me to women whom I wish I’d met ten years ago, but I’m so thankful I know them now.
Today, I see that the power was always inside me; mixed with stubbornness, yes.
That part came from me.
Yet, I may thrive as I move forward, because my husband understands my need to be free.