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Becoming unemployed during the pandemic has taught me, a woman, that ‘being a man’ sucks

Becoming unemployed during the pandemic has taught me, a woman, that ‘being a man’ sucks
My old job made me think of that Russian saying: “I’m both a horse and a bull, I’m both a woman and a man.” It’s been stressful losing my work, but it’s also a relief to not have to appropriate both male & female roles anymore.

Just to be clear right off the bat, I consider myself a feminist. I believe women should have all of the same rights that men do, and I personally prefer having a career over dedicating my life to keeping house and raising children (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But I’ve also often felt like today’s feminism makes it seem like being a man in the traditional sense is “better” than being a woman, and I have long believed that “being a man” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. 

I thought about this more than ever in the months leading up to the pandemic. I was working grueling hours at my editor job, under constant and enormous pressure and saddled with some substantial new financial responsibilities. I was always either sending emails or talking to bank managers, or paying bills or yelling at Verizon Wireless on the phone, or remorsefully telling someone I really couldn’t make it to dinner by seven. Most of the solace I received came from the glass of whiskey that I usually drank – alone – at the end of the day.

“I was so worried about turning into my mother that I never considered turning into my father,” I joked to my friends. 

I kept thinking of that Russian saying: “I’m both a horse and a bull, I’m both a woman and a man.” It seems to have originated after the Russian Revolution, when women were, on paper, made equal to men – which, in practice, just meant they now had to work and take on domestic duties. Sound familiar? Research has consistently shown that women in America still do more housework than their male counterparts, even if both parties work full-time jobs. I see those studies and wonder how modern-day women have managed to fall into the same ‘egalitarian’ trap as my Russian foremothers. 

Back in the fall, I would sometimes hear my parents argue about who was doing “more” – my father, who had to work and pay the bills; or my mother, who did all of the housework. I wanted to get up and scream, “I’m doing BOTH alone. And it’s really f**king hard sometimes.” Not that I would say “f**king” around my mom because god knows it’s “unladylike.”

Because, even if you’re working like a man, it’s still important to be a “lady.” Many of my friends complain that their bosses still expect them to spend the hour that it takes a woman to look “presentable” for work while paying them less than a man. They complain that the men get away with behavior they would never be able to pull. They complain that they’re expected to work overtime but get treated like a child that’s asking for ice cream money when they try to negotiate a raise. Sometimes, it doesn’t even feel like you’re both a woman and a man. Sometimes, it feels like you’re neither. 

I often use that horse and bull saying to explain why today’s Russian women are often not only feminine, but ultra-feminine. After years of working in factories in ‘kerchiefs, it’s understandable that women would have relished the ability to celebrate their beauty and sexuality again. People make it seem like it’s all about attracting a man, but it’s not. 

I used to love getting dolled up, hearing my heels click against the sidewalk and feeling my curls bounce around my shoulders as I walked. I used to love to put on a long silk nightgown and saunter around my apartment, indulging in my own feeling of fabulousness. It might sound silly, and it is, but it’s also what we talk about when we discuss the importance of self-love. 

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In my months of feeling like the ultimate male stereotype, that became impossible. Due to exhaustion and time constraints, I stopped wearing makeup or heels, only ordered takeout, let my apartment turn into a disaster zone, did nothing but keep my dog alive, and just generally let myself go. I would catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror sometimes and wonder when the fresh-faced woman I once was had turned into such an old baba. 

My similarly ambitious friends felt the same way. While having drinks on a pier in early March, I told a friend of mine in the media that I had worked so hard to avoid just marrying a rich man and mooching over him for the rest of my life, but I was starting to feel like that was the better deal.  My friend, looking just as haggard and worn-out as I was, nodded vigorously and said, “Maybe moms really do always know best.” We were only half-joking. 

Job loss because of Covid-19 has, according to the latest reports from the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, affected women more than men. That’s… not great, and perhaps just one more indicator of how far we are from true equality in the workplace. But as one of the many women who lost their job in April, I have to say that, as stressful and depressing as it’s been, it’s also been comparatively liberating. 

Granted, I’m lucky I’m in an industry that, while low-paying, allows me to work from home. And I worry every day about how I’m going to make my rent. But I also finally have time to take on traditionally feminine roles as well. I can cook a meal for myself, let my maternal instinct take over with my dog, give the apartment a deep clean. It is, if nothing else, a reminder that housework – when done diligently – truly is a full-time job. 

I can do an online yoga class every evening, without being interrupted by harried Slack messages asking where I am and what I’m doing. I can put on makeup and a long silk nightgown for no-one but me. I can open up the windows and put fresh flowers into a vase on the sill. It might not be much, but it feels like freedom.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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