work and identity
August 14, 2003 06:06 PM

Some time ago, I posed a question about work to the WHB crew. Do you define yourself by your job? Visit WHB for the whole question and comments.

I am someone who defines herself by work, more than some - but hardly all - other aspects of my life. I think of myself as an artist, then as an activist, then as a manager of projects or a trainer or a person in IT (all various perspectives on what I do), and only after that in terms of the other people and things in my life.

Said I:

Do you feel that your gender has influenced your choice of work? Has it influenced your success at work? How has what you do for a living influenced your perspective on other things (be they feminism, work, life, etc.)?

I don't believe that my gender has had much influence on what I chose to do at an obvious level. My field isn't particularly gendered, nor my role. While IT was something of a guy's field even a few years ago, I came into IT when it was like drinking cheap beer at high school parties - everyone was doing it.

However. What I planned to do when I left college would have put me in a female-dominated industry (arts management) where I would have been paid very little to do quite a lot; that seems to be the tradition for women and "women's professions". And what turned me off that profession was the money (which is, presumably, very manly), but also the people I worked with. I came to doubt that people who worked in regional theatre really cared about art, and came to be quite sure that arts administration isn't where all the smart, interesting people were at.

In a way, thinking I could get by on little money was a traditionally feminine prerogative. Not only are women paid less, but middle class straight women can often afford to take low-paying, high satisfaction jobs because they have or will have financial support. And of course, there's the assumption that women are more likely to choose "giving" careers.

It turned out I wasn't personally very giving, and that the brilliance and creativity I valued so much were more likely found in the wild new crop of technology kids than in old crusty theatre folk. One could argue that choosing a career in part for the people was also "feminine". Maybe it was.

The first job I had when I left the theatre was also fairly low-paying and somewhat administrative. Intriguingly, none of the women I worked with or for ever acted as if I were anything but an equal in class and stature, but I recall men being surprised that I'd gone to college - and *gasp* even to a better college than many of them. So, there I believe being female and young hurt me somewhat, career-wise, at least in terms of the assumptions people made about me. Men in positions of power assumed I was secretarial when I was actually an analyst who occasionally ran meetings. I'm sure this was because I was a girl. Probably also because my professional demeanor is such that people always think I'm joking. Or cute. [It's true, but now everyone who knows me outside work is laughing their asses off.]

I have, however, also used the traditionally "feminine" skills of communication and bargaining and generally being pleasant to do well at work. I tend to work relationships, anticipate needs, and to facilitate rather than command. Are those traits a result of being female? I don't know. I suspect they're more a result of my behaviorist mother, if anything. But these are traits that lead me to be good at what I do. There aren't enough people-savvy people in technology.

And does it, in turn, influence me? Of course.

Working in the arts pushed me towards a do-it-yourself aesthetic, and an understanding of art apart from work. Working in the tech sector made me even more of a geek than I had been, which led me to grow my political beliefs online and (with that DIY thing) to form communities here in this space.

I think the biggest contribution of my fairly normal, fairly corporate work history to my other aspects is in giving me an appreciation for and understanding of normal. Normal was something I rather rejected as a kid, but grasping what normal is and could mean is key to being a successful activist (in my opinion at least). What I think rarely aligns with the average, suburban opinions of many of my colleagues (though I've also encountered others at work who make me look very, very moderate), and I appreciate the struggle to change their minds. It's a microcosm of the struggle to change society.

I won't say that my choice of career is ideal. I can think of a thousand other things I'd also like to do. But I will say that what I do at work and in other spheres is very much a part of who I am.

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