Growing up being the only girl of four children, I was not the “princess” of the family. I had no more rights, or privileges or special protection than the others. We all got the same treatment and if I cried, “he hit me!” My mother would simply say, “Then hit him back.”
While I did not receive any reverse discrimination, as you can imagine, I felt I suffered from plenty of discrimination real or otherwise. When I would lament to my mother, she would say, “No one ever said life was fair.” She did not give me any additional wisdom or tell me what to do, she simply stated the fact that indeed, no one has ever said that life was fair. What she would not allow me to do was complain. All whining in our house was quickly cut off with, “Stop complaining and do something about it!”
So when I felt I was being treated unfairly, I knew I could: ignore it, accept it, tolerate it, rail against it, or try to change it. When I could, I would hit back physically or figuratively. I stood-up for what I believed and defended myself whenever thought I necessary. I learned to leverage the fact that I had three brothers who would always have my back. While they relished in treating me unfairly, under no circumstances would they tolerate others doing so.
It has taken us a hundred years to get where are today and studies show it will take another hundred years to get to a more “fair and equal” society
But as I grew older, I learned that the unfairness was not limited to my close circle of friends, family, or school, but that there was systematic, established unfairness built into our communities. And there is not much a young girl can do about that. As I grew older, I decided one thing I that I could do was help raise awareness about inequalities, obstacles, discrimination, unconscious bias and abuse we female receive just for being females. I hoped that this awareness would then help bring about change.
Over the years, I joined various organizations working to bring to light the unfairness of our systems and thinking. I tried to recruit more “brothers” to have the backs of women. I appealed to the parents including fathers who I know just want the best futures for their sons and daughters. I immersed myself in studies, articles, and data taking in vast amounts of information so I could defend the truth with hard facts and not complaints.
Then when I reached the age my mother had when she would remind me that life was not fair, I stopped to evaluate the level of changes in our society. The sad truth is, it has taken us a hundred years to get where are today and studies show it will take another hundred years to get to a more “fair and equal” society. Knowing this, I decided to stop putting my time and energy into raising awareness and to instead use my resources to help prepare my children for the life they would face.
I worked to teach my son about the inequalities built into our society and how and why he needed to step-up and defend equal rights for all (and to do his share of housework). I began helping my daughters develop a voice and skills they would need to live a life that would include systematic unfairness. I presented cases when they would have to lean-in and others when it was best to walk away.
While I had switched from fighting to teaching, it did not mean that I had decided to accept the things the way they are. No, the unfairness of it all still hurt as much as it did when I was a little girl. The difference now was that I ached for all injustices not just my own. This is how I felt when my son sent my son sent me a clip from a TED Talk with a video of Capuchin monkeys.
In the talk, they explain how the monkeys are being “paid” for a task they have to complete which is giving a rock to their “boss.” The standard rate is a slice of cucumber for handing over the rock. The desired, higher rate of pay is a grape.
I had read about the study a few years back and knew that monkeys like us do not like inequalities. But one thing was to have read the study, and another was to see the visceral reaction of the monkeys. It is surprising, funny, and profoundly sad all at the same time. I encourage you all to watch the video, not because you will find it amusing, but because it is statement about our true emotional reaction to systematic unfairness.
At supper time, I presented my daughters with grapes for dessert. Before I handed them over, I said, “No one ever said life was fair. Because it is not. But no matter what, always fight for your grapes”
While the monkeys do their “work” and they all get the same cucumber pay, they are happy to hand over rocks. However, when one monkey gets a cucumber while her “co-worker” gets a grape, she gets very upset. At first, like most women, she checks her rock to see if it is really a rock thinking that she is doing something wrong and that the problem lies with her and not the system. But she sees that the rock is a rock and that she is only getting a cucumber while the other monkey gets the prized grape for the same work.
The monkey makes her disappointment and frustration clearly known showing her boss exactly what she thinks about the cucumber. This is more than what most female humans do or allowed to do. While we think it is funny as we watch her bang against the cage and angerly throw the cucumber at the boss, if a woman were to do the same, we would not think it was funny, but a rather serious problem and not for the boss but for the woman.
In the end, the only thing the Capuchin monkey can control is if she accepts the cucumber or if she prefers to have nothing at all. It is same decision we women face all too often. While a cucumber may seem better than nothing, it is not fair, and she knows it and we know it. When I first saw the video, I wanted to scream, “Just give her some grapes, please!” as my heart broke for her and all the unfairness we endure. But I couldn’t make them give her grapes, any more than I can make people aware of inequalities and injustices that they do not believe to be true. This is when I heard my mother’s voice, “No one ever said life was fair.”
So, I turned off the computer and went the grocery store. At supper time, I presented my daughters with grapes for dessert. Before I handed them over, I said, “No one ever said life was fair. Because it is not. But no matter what, always fight for your grapes.”