Dance steps

The days of innocence are over. After years of carefully navigating the pink jungle and treading the Barbie-infested waters of early girlhood, the tides have turned. Despite toy shelves full of gender neutral options and an influential older brother, my daughter made a somewhat surprising “what I want to be when I grow up” proclamation last week.

“I want to be a ballet teacher,” she declared.

Granted, this was not out of left field. Her kindergarten class was exploring “careers,” and Scarlett, no doubt under subliminal influence from other young girls (and one boy) decided that tutus and pliés are where it’s at.

“And if that doesn’t work, I’ll be a waiter,” she added as her backup plan.

While I applaud her ingenuity, it did come as a bit of a shock. See, it’s not that I have anything against dancers. They are athletic, strong and disciplined. If anything, I am envious of their talent and lithe BMI that I can only dream about. It’s just that, well, “ballet teacher” seemed a little overambitious. Particularly for someone who has never set foot, never mind a satin slippered one, inside a dance studio. In fact, aside from the recent declaration, there was nary a hint of the child’s hidden desires. A good portion of a recent trip to “The Nutcracker” was spent sawing logs with visions of sugarplums dancing in her head, and a tutu gifted from her grandma served as a giant tulle dustbunny before it was finally given a second life with another tot.

“Well, that’s nice … ,” I stammered, fighting hard to resist my motherly urge for honesty. You know, telling her how a career in ballet requires years of strict dedication and intense study, and then, how only a few really talented ones make it in the cutthroat and highly competitive world of dance. At least that’s what I’m guessing, seeing as how I still haven’t made it to “Black Swan.”

Luckily, restraint prevailed and I kept my big motherly mouth shut. Besides, it’s not like my mom quashed my dreams of being a truck driver at the tender age of 9. Fortunately, fate, not to mention Greg Evigan’s quick career, ran its course. Before long, I decided that despite all the glamorous velvet upholstery, greasy spoon delights and endless CB chit chat, a life behind the wheel of a big rig wasn’t for me. Plus, I found out monkeys don’t make that great of pets after all (that bubble my mother was guilty of popping, but only after incessant whining about how I wanted a monkey as a pet.)

Anyway, with tongue firmly clenched, I have gone along with my daughter’s latest plan. And, after a little soul searching, I realized it’s really not all that far-fetched of an idea after all. I have a cousin who is a professional dancer (not that kind of dancer), and I am no slouch when it comes to moves on the dance floor myself. In fact, I’ve even pioneered a few moves of my own (the “Pencil Sharpener” and “Nancy Kerrigan” to name a few) and yes, I did even take dance as a girl. Granted, it was in my neighbor’s basement, and as the tallest (read gangly and uncoordinated) in the class, I was forever doing the tango with the stage curtain in the back row. However, I eventually realized nobody puts baby in the corner and went on to pursue other activities where my talents were more appreciated (latch-hook rugs and tanning), but I can still throw down a mean “Celebration” and “Fill Me Up, Buttercup.”

Anyway, perhaps it is fitting that all this talk of careers and dreams has corresponded with the first study on women in this country in almost 50 years. Yes, that means that the first study, released in 1963, even predates me.

Surely, to borrow a phrase, we’ve come a long way since the days of bouffants, pill boxes and cat eyes. We have burned our bras, let down our hair and worn the pants. We survived the Summer of Love, Saturday Night Fever and Reaganomics. We’ve seen women in outer space, running for the White House and “O”wning networks. That’s right, not only are we shopping for the bacon, but we are bringing it home, too.

Unfortunately, with all that bacon-making, pigs still don’t fly. In fact, despite advances for women in several areas, including education (women are now more likely than men to have a college or graduate degree) and labor force involvement (the number of women and men in the labor force has nearly equalized), wages have yet to catch up. At all levels of education, women earned about 75 percent of what their male counterparts earned in 2009. In part because of these lower earnings and in part because single women are most likely to have sole child-rearing responsibility, they are more likely to live in poverty than men. These inequities are even more drastic for women of color.

Speculation is that, while women are working in numbers equal to men, they are concentrated in lower-paying and “traditionally female” occupations. (While no specific examples of these were given, a little digging turned up education and health services as the biggies.) Men, on the other hand, gravitate to higher-paying fields in math, science and technology.

Yes, apparently it all comes back to that archaic sentiment that “girls aren’t good at math.” Of course, in this day and age, no parent in their politically correct mind would dare utter such a thing. And whether you’re a fan of nature or nurture, it doesn’t take a genius – or a man – to figure those numbers out.

As disturbing as this may be, I also couldn’t help but wonder why these “traditionally female” occupations are so undervalued. Aren’t the people teaching our daughters the math, science and technology just as important as the ones hiring them?

But perhaps most troubling is that over the last 50 years, we haven’t done anything to show them otherwise. This earnings gap has remained nearly constant since there was even an inkling of women, fish and bicycles.

Yes, in this day and age, it is true that a woman can be anything she wants (even a man). So, whether you are headed for a future in aerospace engineering, trucker’s school or the ballet, it is time we quit dancing around the subject of equal pay and make women’s work all our work.

– Missy Votel

For more on the “Women on America” report, visit



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