…and you will be “right” and happy…a note from my grandmother to my mom

On the inside cover of the 699 yellow paged hard bound tome of Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Ettiquette: A Guide to Gracious Living I found the following note to my mom from her mother dated 1957:

May this answer all your problems! So you will always be correct — Be gracious, be thoughtful, have a warm heart and you will be “Right” and happy.

All love, Mother
Christmas 1956

admittedly these notions are dated, yet social identity theory suggests that who we are is largely generated through competition and consensual discrimination. this theory proposes that things, our everyday normal in which we are embedded, do not change much. shifts predominately occur when two conditions are met — inequity and a disruption to the current social hierarchies [status quo]. we see this following the great depression, wwi, wwii, vietnam, etc. so war is a huge disruptor of social hierarchies and typically uncovers inequities…thus we see cultural shifts in the norms following war. on 9/11 as i drove from tampa to houston because my morning flight had been canceled, i decided to quit my job, go back to school for my mfa and in terms of family hierarchies this was my first major decision not influenced by my spouse…on the heels of our country being breached, i consequentially disrupted the marital hierarchies [and perhaps inequities] with that decision–quiting my job, and going back for my mfa–all kinds of familial culture shifted. i was not alone on 9/11 in how it disrupted the normal of microcultural practices in local communities. much change occurred in the wake of 9/11.

yet in terms of war as a disruptor of major cultural status quo, which create spaces for inequity to be pushed against more fervently, our War on Terror has been emotionally distanced from us as a whole (i am not about to address the politics of this…i am just stating a general trend). therefore it as a major disruptor of current hierarchies is not much of a cultural force in terms of opening opportunities for change.

so though we are still feeling the trickle down and residual effects of change in gender hierarchies that stemmed from the cultural status quo disruptions of the great depression, wwi, wwii and vietnam, i don’t see any major cultural disruptors that are allowing for faster change.

i agree with a friend on many levels (discussion on private class blog), but believe that many cultural engendered practices appear so normal to us that we are unaware that they are driving us, let alone are we even aware that they are cultural conventions. i also think the whole thing of gender practices and convention is quite messy. in order for me to function day to day, i depend on conventions on navigating social space and surviving – literally. for instance, i follow the conventions of vehicular operation–i drive only on the roads, and on a particular side of the road, at a set speed not dictated my personal needs but upon agreed upon convention. i stand in a line, wait my turn, i do not cut, and tender cash or swipe plastic at the grocery store to acquire food. i do these things without thinking, they are conventions that are embedded in me early. plus not having to think about these conventions allows me to use my energies and attentional focus elsewhere. so conventions are efficient and i am dependent on them and mostly i don’t even consider or have an awareness that i am following them.

in a like manner i follow gender conventions and push against only a few that i have the energy to push up against. going against convention is like running up the down escalator. it is exhausting and i am so focused on each step that all other duties, needs, thoughts are pushed out of my head. i focus only on surviving breaking the convention of the down escalators dictates of going down and not up. breaking and pushing social conventions is not easy and even noticing that i am following a convention that is illogical usually doesn’t even happen.

i have never negotiated or discussed my salary when i have been hired. i have never asked for a raise. i put inordinate trust in that if i do my job well, i will be compensated. i put inordinate trust in my male counter parts or male bosses that i will “just be treated fairly and right.” i have always excelled at the various jobs i have held. when i left my job as director of communications, the man they hired after me, walked in the door for 20k more a year than after i had was making after 9 years on the job. why? he negotiated his salary. i did not negotiate, and i never asked for a raise. i did get raises, but to ask for a raise would simply not be “gracious” or “warm hearted.” to ask for a raise would be confrontative. women who are confrontative are “bossy” (bitches). i have no interest in wearing that kind of label or believe that i am one.

and i like some of the contrivances of engendered conventions. i like the door being opened for me. i like some of the divisions of labor along gender lines in a household. i have never been interested in having my success marked by the numbers of dollars it brings (i have never wanted to be the household, breadwinner). and i break some of the conventions as well–i love my power tools, i like to renovate my own home. but here is the clencher in terms of my power tools and home renovation know-how, it would simply not be as enjoyable to me if it was just a normal convention of women. i derive enjoyment partially from it because of how it disrupts the expected practices of females. it is definitely pretty good for a girl :) .

and “bossy” women, unsettle me. i usual dislike them. but i like men who practice some of the same bossy practices. i see it in a male as authoritative and “manly.” yet this same behavior in women, i experience as bossy. this is an example of implicit consensual discrimination. it is so engrained in me that when someone disrupts what i consider “normal” i have a visceral reaction. so in general i take advantage of gender conventions as well as live in their shadow. so i am not sure that i want to toss out all gender conventions, but only some (the obvious, equal pay, equal opportunity, equal stewardship of my own body, etc).

in terms of bossy, i am not talking about controlling, micromanaging, etc, for those behaviors i do not like in any person, regardless of gender.


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