It never fails to amaze me how often I hear the argument that women who pursue careers are blindly materialistic. So often in the right wing media (Focus on the Family's radio broadcast, for example), the popular media, and in conversations with others, I hear people say that families should cut back on their lavish lifestyle so that the woman can stay home with the children. You don't need a fancy new lexus, they say, when you can drive a plain old used car. You don't need a snazzy vacation when you have each other. You can live on only one salary.
The reason this strikes me as so odd is that I have never met anyone who has given me the impression that they are working so that they can fund a lavish lifestyle. I imagine such people exist, perhaps more so in major metropolitan areas like New York City, but this scenario doesn't seem to fit the people I know. The two-income families I know fit into two categories-- either they are families which really, truly need both incomes in order to stay afloat or they are families in which both parents are passionately committed to their careers.
In my case, we don't need two salaries. We could easily live on either my salary or my husband's, and I don't think that fact would change even if we had a child. We don't live a lavish lifestyle, nor do we particularly aspire to one. We have only taken three trips in eight years of marriage -- a week in Quebec City and Montreal, four days in New York City, and four days in New Orleans, the latter only because my husband attended a conference there and the trip was largely funded by his employer. We only finally bought real estate recently, in our mid-thirties. I am perfectly content with my Nissan Sentra and have no desire to upgrade, even though I have to roll the windows up and down manually. My major material goals are to build a house on the land we bought and buy a kayak some day. If I had wanted to get rich, I would never in a million years have gone to law school. I would have gone to business school or pursued a career on Wall Street.
So have I been somehow "selfish" in choosing to spend the last eight years of my life working sixty to eighty hours a week in an all-consuming career that involves sometimes high stakes, high risks, and a lot of fretting and anxiety? I certainly don't do it for my health and I certainly wouldn't put myself through what I put myself through just so I could have a little more money in my bank account than I might otherwise.
No, it's because I believe very strongly in the concept of "vocation." The word vocation comes from the Latin word "vocare" -- "to call." A vocation is literally a calling from God. Now I don't necessarily believe in God, but I do believe we each have a unique set of talents and strengths that can be harnessed to fill a particular niche in society and that most people desire to use their unique gifts in the manner to which they are best suited in order to provide a benefit. People naturally want to work and they want to be useful. I don't doubt that for some people that calling is full-time parenting, but for others, like me, that calling may have nothing to do with parenting. You can have a calling to be a trial lawyer, a firefighter, an artist, a journalist, a minister, an activist, a police officer, a builder, a missionary, a person involved in charities or any one of a number of things.
Often people with a calling do not feel that they have a choice. One often hears artists talking in terms of feeling compelled to paint or dance or write. It's part of their make-up. Being a lawyer is part of my make-up. It's part of my very identity and who I am. I can sort of (but not really) imagine doing other things, but law is the only career that perfectly suits my particular blend of talents and interests. I would never dream of thinking that law is a superior calling to any other, but it is a calling that I am proud of and that I think is right for me. I think this is the area where I can best harness my energy and talents in order to make some sort of contribution to my community.
So it really chaps my hide when I hear my choice to pursue a particular profession (that I am good at and that takes a tremendous amount of work) kind of belittled as something people would only do in order to keep up with Joneses or to be able to afford a fancy car. And it chaps my hide even more when it is implied that somehow women don't have these sorts of vocations or that women's callings in life can easily be set aside for the convenience of husbands and children. Uggghhh. End rant.
(NOTE: I must give credit to Twisty for the expression du jour "to chap one's hide.")