Columns

America talks of a woman's nation

Barbara GLOUDON

Friday, January 17, 2014    

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It was not supposed to happen — mllions of American women struggling to hold their families together... money short... mothers and fathers battling with unemployment... say it isn't so. Such images are associated with underdeveloped countries, not the powerful U S of A. So, what's going on? Economists say we are living in a post-recession era — whatever that means when you match it up against the battle for daily survival.

The findings of a new study were issued last weekend. It painted a grim picture of the economic depression which a growing number of American women face. The focus of attention is the Shriver Report, which looks at the survival strategies of American families and the changes which have come with it. The researcher/writer is Maria Shriver, a member of the Kennedy clan whose uncle, John F Kennedy, was the 35th president of the United States.

She describes the present situation as: "A sea change from 40 years ago, when women depended on men's income and initiative to take care of the family." No one could have foreseen that, today, there would be a stampede of women leaving the home to work outside to finance the family's needs. One salary is no longer enough. Men and women alike have to pick up the burden.

This is nothing new to us in JA. Though it is being billed as a new, social revolution, it is the same-old, same-old story to us. We have been doing overtime for a long time now. The Shriver Report speaks with an undertone of "surprise, surprise...look what we've become, when challenged by the upheaval of change". The stereotypical image in American cinema depicting the wife staying home to tend to her immaculate house, while sending her children off to school and husband to work in the morning and toiling over a hot stove to welcome them home with a warm meal at the end of the day are not in the frame anymore.

All of this is changing/has changed. The Report describes the "new America" as "a woman's nation". It abounds with discovery of the new situation wherein women have invaded the workplace, formerly male-dominated territory. The "woman's nation" includes the explosion of women gone back to school, seeking college degrees so that they can get better jobs. Then, they discover that "equal pay for equal work" was a well-concealed myth. It ain't necessarily so. Equality is hardly to be found when it comes to salary, and being the boss of the boys is not as easy as was imagined. We could have told them "it don't go so".

Shriver, an on and off journalist, participated in a nationwide poll of 3,413 men and women to authenticate what, until now, had only been "kitchen talk" and "heard on the street". What has come out of the exploration is that the America of yesterday is dead and gone. The new age is here, and it is not exactly the utopia it was expected.

Who would even have imagined that the wolf of poverty could be howling at the door of that revered group — the American middle class. Gender issues, stay-at-home fathers, go-to-work mothers, the search for affordable child care, the challenge of two heads instead of one, working out who is the real leader of the household now, the constant fear of financial insecurity, it is all a wake-up call, according to the Shriver findings.

I found myself wondering how much of what was being presented was a reality for the people of our Diaspora, whose story as citizens of two nations, closely bound, has yet to be fully told. Our women, for the most part, never had and still do not have the luxury of being stay-at-home moms. Holding down two jobs in one day is no surprise. Doing double duty is not an option, but a non-negotiable necessity to meet the demands of the new homeland and the expectations of family left behind in JA. Our people's heads are in America, but our hearts beat in the Caribbean. Change comes at us from both ends.

Shriver speaks of women in America — white, black, Hispanic, and other groups whose opinions are reflected in the survey. My question is how much of what she unearthed represents the experience of our people, the Jamericans, who see America through weary eyes, faces etched with lines of exhaustion, half asleep in damp subway cars, barely able to sit through the journey, returning from "the job" at the end of a brutally long day?

Many of these women stopped dreaming long ago about equal pay and equal work. They did their best within the system. Proper day care amenities for children was part of the struggle. There was also the anxiety about enough for the children to eat, enough to send them to college. Many self-sacrificing women have reaped the rewards of their labour, but many — of a new generation — are struggling for their foothold.

On reading Maria Shriver's discovery of what she calls "a woman's nation," I began to think of young relatives of mine, resident 'Up So', who are working themselves to a frazzle to keep up with the basic needs of family and to fulfil their ambitions of higher qualifications to open the door to success. We here seem hardly interested in their story.

Life in America today is not like it used to be, but we don't talk about it. Many of us 'back a yard' are still hoping for that magic moment when our relatives can get us that magic document which will give us entry to the gold-paved streets, fulfilling the American dream. "You can get it if you really want". No one talks, however, of the bone-wearying daily routine of just keeping alive. Of course there are success stories. Our people have never been afraid of the uphill struggle. We're noted for our ambition. Hard time will try to camp on our doorstep, but we will sweep him off as soon as we can. Some do thrive, some do their best to stay afloat, some haven't got there yet, but still they try. Are we part of Ms Shriver's new nation?

This might account for Jamaican news — headline no less — that the findings of a recent survey revealed that there is a significant number of persons here who say, if they were offered the opportunity to migrate, they would refuse to go. Really?! I would have to see that for myself. It is reported that a higher number said, "No, thank you," while others admitted to being hardly able to wait till the plane takes off. You can tell all the stories you want about the streets of America not being paved with gold any longer, there will always be those who will go. Even if it is to dig out whatever gold dust remains between the crevices, they are going to give it a good Jamaican try. Ah, so we stay.

How much do the Jamaican men who migrate, respond to change? Do they do laundry and nappy-changing and house cleaning, like we're told the new American man is doing? Don't blame us if we're a little sceptical. After all, our guys didn't do it when they were 'back a yard'. Man work was man work and woman work was for woman. But then again, we haven't forgotten the old proverb "When trouble tek man, pickney shut (shirt) fit him".

DIASPORA QUIZ: Did you know that, over the Christmas, many of the extended family members came home to higgler at street-side markets not only in Town but in rural centres? True wud. Can't blame them, someone said. They were making provisions for survival in this winter which has been one of the worst experienced for years. So, the barrels came. (We never give up).

gloudonb@yahoo.com

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