Это эссе я написала к 8 марта 2018 года, на конкурс на своей прошлой работе. По многочисленным просьбам выкладываю на всеобщее обозрение.
Looking Back to Move Forward
Sometimes lessons of gender parity and female empowerment come from very unexpected places. Mine, for one, comes from the time when The Berlin Wall was about to crumble and I was enrolled in a nearly post-soviet early childhood education system.
After decades of societal equality, the system had perfected its very gender-neutral approach, reinforced by constant shortage of toys, clothes and supplies with any gender labelling power. New Year’s Holiday was one exception; it was the time for little boys to hop around dressed as bunnies and for little girls to showcase their best snowflake costumes.
I became a parent a few years ago. Like many other parents around the world I want to raise a good human being. This yearning to be an effective parent makes me reflect quite a bit. What made me good? What people, circumstances, and events of my early life shaped me into who I am today? And what does gender equality have to do with it?
Let me tell you a story that answers some of these questions… Several years ago, I moved from Moscow to Chicago to take a dream job. I did not even have to change employers. Walking into the BCG office on the Chicago River felt like coming home in a way. Discovering this new country, absorbing the new culture, meeting wonderful people – it has been a fascinating experience and one of the best decisions of my life.
Yet as time went by I noticed something. Something about myself was different, and it was not just about adapting to a different culture, it was about feeling different as a woman in a society. I found myself mastering the art of tentative language. The number of “justs” in my email communication increased drastically. I also discovered that I could not quite be my true self as freely as I used to be. My true self was perceived as too bold, too direct, too masculine. I embarked on a quest to figure out how to succeed in this new environment and still remain the same Olga – the bold, direct, and probably way-too-determined Siberian.
I am still on this fascinating journey. I have learned a lot about myself, about flexibility, and about the drawbacks of female identity in my native culture. I think that a couple of these lessons are worth sharing:
Universal early childhood education is one of the key components of female empowerment. From very early age I was surrounded by what I now understand were amazing role models. They shaped me into who I am today. My mom and all my friends’ mothers worked full-time, managed their households with barely any support, often had side hustles to supplement family income, and were the point person in their families for child upbringing. Many of them did not have a choice of doing it differently, but the only way they could do it at all was because they could rely on a very well-designed early childhood education system that cost them almost nothing. Not just a childcare arrangement, but a true education and development focused environment.
From my experience, there is no such a thing as gender equality. I will say a horrible thing to many, but I am not what many would refer to as a feminist. I am a firm believer in gender uniqueness. Growing up, I experienced being celebrated as a female. International Women’s Day is a national holiday in Russia and has been such for over 50 years. I was brought up with a concept of female superiority in some sense. It was instilled in me from the very early age that life pivots around women since they can do the same things as men, and so much more. Therefore, I do not want to be equal, I want to be—and I am—more.
And lastly, it still takes a village. A village of role models in one’s formative years, a community that values and supports strong females, and a world that cherishes and celebrates women for the amazing and powerful creatures that we are. So let’s look back, reflect on the things we did well, and use them to press forward.