Today is Independence Day.
in·de·pend·enceˌ indəpendəns/ noun synonyms:
self-government, self-rule, home rule, separation, self determination, sovereignty, autonomy, freedom, liberty.
This definition of the word 'independence' feels personal, more personal than the US holiday can celebrate with its barbecues and fireworks. It is about being who we want to be as a people and as individuals.
For many people, especially women, being who we want to be can require a revolution, as significant and bloody as any war. Independence is scary. It is costly, and it leaves casualties, even some from friendly fire. You have to pay, one way or another, for your independence.
Being whom we want to be requires first finding out what we want to be, a painfully long process for many. My own process took a while and did not follow a straight line, but eventually, I became a doctor/scientist. How can I best guide my female students and my daughter in this process?
The other day, I was walking with my daughter when we saw this poster. It said with big bold letters on a pink background (to appeal to females, I suppose): "Be the Doctor Your Parents Always Wanted You to Marry." The poster had a tiny little apple with a bite mark on it, the well-known logo of Apple with capital "A". But I could not figure out what they were trying to sell with this poster.
Anyway, I thought Aha!, a teachable moment! A good opportunity to talk with my daughter about building her own independence. Her career choices. A chance to talk about her aspirations and my expectations as a parent? A conversation opener to discuss career options and plans for the future? Or something along those lines...
I turned to my 10-year-old daughter and asked: What do you think about this poster?
“That women don’t have to marry a doctor to be one”, she replied. Not much of a surprise there, given that I have a doctorate degree and did not marry a doctor.
But is that all?
The reality is that that choice comes at a real cost in my own family. If my husband were the doctor in the family, we would be making about 20% more money. According to a recent study published in JAMA, female physicians in academic positions had a mean salary that was over $51,000 less than their male counterparts. The pay gap remained even when adjusting for a whole lot of factors, including years of experience and total publications. This is the case in my own experience. This money would be buying us enough independence to own a home or put our daughter in private school. That's a lot of independence to give up.
The "independence" of being able to be the doctor our parents wanted us to marry comes at a price. Yes, we can now "choose" to pursue these careers, and we can "choose" to marry whom we want, but we pay a price. We make less money at the office and work more at home. As women, we have to be aware of the costs, when we make these choices. And consciously be willing to pay the price.
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Dr. Luz Claudio is an environmental health scientist, mother and consultant, originally from Puerto Rico. She is a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health. Luz recently published her first book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide. Dr. Claudio has internship programs and resources for young scientists. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect her employer's views.