I know I’m jumping forward in time, but recent events at work right now make me feel the need to interject my thoughts on my career and its predicament. In rejecting “good girl” thinking, I’m wondering just how many of us wind up in pink collar jobs. it feeds us to “help” people, and who better to serve in the emotionally-heavy jobs (at very little pay) other than a good girl?
I had never heard the term “pink collar job” until I went to see a psychic. (Yeah, I told you that I had left no stone unturned in single-handedly trying to make my marriage work. I had a really hard time accepting that I couldn’t make it happen on my own.) I had told my husband that the only way to possibly even attempt to save our marriage would be to move away from his family. His mother fits Faulknerian southern gothic sterotypes and went out of her way to compete with and be cruel to me. So we moved a few thousand miles away to the southwest and I immediately started asking new friends and acquaintances for referrals to therapists. If you are from the southwest or San Francisco, you are used to hippy-dippy, new-age spiritualism and will not laugh when I tell you what kinds of referrals I got. Everyone else, know this: ask for therapy here, and you get referrals: reflexology, aromatherapy, crystal therapy, hot stone therapy, sweat therapy, neuro-linguistic programming, massage, scare therapy, rebirthing and on and on. I was really asking for talk therapy, but I figured, what the heck, I should be open to anything that might open my heart again to a man for whom I’d lost all respect. Marriage was forever, and maybe there was a magic therapy I could sign up for? To be fair, some of these “therapies” are actually pretty neat and interesting things. And some are total weirdo crap.
So there I found myself: a Catholic, somewhat conservative person from the East Coast experiencing strange touch and sensory “therapies”. While I’m in colonic therapy (no joke), the technician/therapist/whatever-you-call-her starts talking to me about types of therapy, and then tells me about an incredible psychic who is retired. If you call her and she feels compelled to see you, she will see you. I totally understand those of you who find it off-putting that I’m having such casual conversation with someone who has a tube up my anus. There was definitely a surreal, humorous quality to my life at that point, both at the time and in retrospect. So I get it, it was definitely weird, but I’m telling you that I was desperate to be open to anything that might create some shift in my world or mindset.
Of course I was curious what would happen if I called this choosy psychic and I asked for her phone number. I called. The psychic answered, and agreed to see me. I felt flattered that somehow my energy was enough to allow gain me an appointment with this woman. While my two older kids were at school, I went with my three-year-old daughter to see what kind of reading I would get.
I walked into the door of the psychic’s home, holding my daughter’s hand. The psychic turned to me and told me that the aura on my daughter was the strongest she had seen in a child so young in years, and that she knew instantly when I walked in the door that my daughter was the reason she had agreed to see me. I was somewhat disappointed that I wasn’t good enough (but alas, I had already felt that way for most of my life) and asked if she still could give me a reading. She said, of course, and that she wouldn’t do a reading on my daughter, but told me that if her aura remained that strong her entire life, that she would have a major impact on whatever field she chose to enter. That’s pretty cool.
The psychic started my reading and without me telling her, she told me that she knew I was in a pink-collar position. And that it wasn’t the right field for me. I asked what she meant, and she explained that pink-collar positions were ones which women took that took incredible emotional tolerance but which were disrespected by others as being second-class to those that men traditionally held. Think: teachers, nurses. Since my husband had first run off with the neighbor and I struggled on my own for a while before attempting to reconcile, I had eventually gone back to teaching- the profession I had originally trained for and been certified in. Having this psychic know that I was in a pink-collar position, but then tell me my real calling was outside of this realm was interesting to me. She told me several other things (along with telling me that I should already know that my marriage was over) and I left. But the thing that remained with me most was the point about emotionally-taxing jobs that women take that land them as sub-par to white-collar jobs.
In the ten years plus since that encounter happened, I have played around with other careers which would have taken me outside the pink collar. But I got pulled back into full-time work at a school on multiple occasions. When I finally divorced, someone needed to have a schedule that worked to get things done for the kids that needed to be done. And because the man I was divorcing was willing to sacrifice zero percent of his life or career to keep the kids’ lives stable, it fell to me to take the low-paying option that would keep my kids on their normal schedule, with downtime, and at least as much time with a parent as with some other kind of caretaker. Self-sacrifice for the kids fell on my shoulders alone.
I scraped by on a salary of $28,000, caring for myself and my three daughters. We ate lots of peanut butter, Mac-n-Cheese, Taco Bell. And I became queen of combining happy hour appetizers with Kids-Eat-Free! offers. My dad wasn’t a lawyer for nothing- I read the fine print and argued back if they fought me for getting too much stuff for free. We went out to eat a couple of times a month for under $25 including tip and a beer or two for me. My house got foreclosed, but the kids didn’t feel much of a blip. I had yard sales to make extra cash and sold every appliance in that house to pay off my car. I sold my bedroom furniture and we had a slumber party in my empty room. I disguised it all as a new adventure to my kids, but would have panic attacks thinking about where I would be financially at 65. I watched as their father bought a new car, bought them all new toys and furniture for his place, and then fought me for every nickel I asked for to help support the kids.
At work, I was mommy to a classroom full of kids. I was mommy every second of the day: at home, in the car to and from school, at school, weekends… never one second of emotional break. Someone always needed something. Someone was always talking and needing me to listen- my daughters or students. Sibling fights, sibling rivalry, parent conferences, teacher meetings- I felt tapped out at every turn. This is the reality of a pink-collar worker and a single mom. No time, space or money to recharge. Feeling obliged to put others first, and trying to content yourself on the crap pay by telling yourself that the work is meaningful.
Our society pays lower wages to incredibly skilled pink collar workers than they do to equally skilled, equally educated white collar workers. The only difference between the jobs are the level of respect they garner as professions. No one makes a beeline for someone at a cocktail party if they say they are a teacher or a nurse. Everyone makes a beeline for the businessman, the financier, the athlete. Which ones actually do more to keep the world happy and thriving? Answer: the good girls drinking alone at the open bar because it’s the one they can afford.
I have seen time and time again that good girls find their ways into professions in which they are required to give even more. They give and sacrifice in their personal lives, and they do the same in their careers because people have told them that it’s meaningful. They feel tapped out and the idea of self-care is laughable because they can’t afford to take a day off or their evenings are filled with grading or extended hours writing up reports. On some level our society keeps suckering people into taking really emotionally-tough, necessary jobs for little financial stability and not much respect. And then society turns around and rewards the Kardashians of the world. I’ve tried to fight the system for a long time now and just push through, telling myself that it’s worth it in the end. But I think I’m done with being pink collar. It feels far too much like my marriage: working single-handedly with every fiber of my being when it’s a job that can’t be done alone. Expending myself when the other party doesn’t really care enough to fix things.