I didn’t think much about gender until the end of college. I was lucky to have been raised by a strong mother and a progressive father, both of whom instilled in my sister and me that we could be whatever we wanted to be when we grew up. I was a good student and found that girls in my class in general worked harder, cared more about school, and were better able to see the long-term consequences of our actions than our male counterparts, who were disruptive in class and fought during recess. It seemed obvious to me that we would accomplish all that we wanted to. While I was keenly aware of gender inequality, it was something that had happened in the past and displayed in such shocking things as women not having the right to vote.
Then as my friends and I entered the working world and set career goals, I began to understand one of the many nuanced differences in the pressures men and women face: my female friends and I were inadvertently planning our careers around the timelines of marriage and childrearing while our male friends were not. At the age of 22, I was already stressed about how I was going to accomplish all that I wanted to before having a family. I came up with clear milestones set to an aggressive timeline, all because of a pressure not only to have children by my early 30s but also to divert some of the energy I was putting toward work into caring for my future family.
My plans seemed to make sense to the women around me, but came as a complete shock to my male friends. They had never thought about their career plans as confined by their personal lives. Of course they could keep climbing the ladder and have a family. As I listened more to their decisions and plans over time, though, I noticed they were succumbing to an entirely different pressure: to make money to eventually buy an engagement ring, put a down payment on a home, and provide for a family.
Recognizing this subtle difference showed me how entrenched we are in gender roles that I naively thought belonged to another time. It demonstrated how much we all internalize the little messages that tell us who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do. I consider myself a feminist because I believe that these expectations can limit everybody’s ability to live a fulfilling, balanced life. And we’re Millenials, after all. We’re supposed to want it all!