Part of my profession is helping others deal with situations when they experience cultural differences that may question their core values, beliefs and way of life, a phenomenon often referred to as “culture shock.” Culture shock often leads to a feeling of disorientation and sometimes isolation when a person feels like a “fish out of water” in their new environment. Most people experience culture shock when they travel thousands of miles to some unknown land, but one of the amazing things about our richly diverse country is that you can have a cross-cultural experience just about anywhere.
You would think that as a cross-cultural trainer I’m fully adept at managing culture shock when I experience it personally. Nonetheless, there are times when my deeply held values and beliefs are challenged and I struggle to adapt to the situation. I recently found myself encountering my own culture shock less than 200 miles from my front door, and I’m still struggling to shake it off.
My hubby and I took a little “babymoon” and spent the weekend at a B&B out in the mountains of Virginia. We ate delicious food, hiked near cascading waterfalls, and bummed around antique warehouses. It was lovely, but there’s one element that has been sticking in my craw ever since. Everyone we met was friendly and welcoming, and when they heard we were from DC they would ask questions like, “So what do you do for a living?” and “How do you feel about such-and-such political issue?”…to my husband. Nobody asked me what I do. Nobody asked me my opinions about anything. The only questions directed toward me were about our kids.
Now I understand that I’m visibly pregnant so it makes sense that folks would ask me about our upcoming new addition to the family.
I’m accustomed to living in an environment where people assume I have a career and are curious about it. I’m accustomed to feeling like I am perceived as having an educated opinion on politics, world news and business. I’m accustomed to feeling like I’m on equal footing with my spouse and any other man for that matter.
At the time, I was bemused and just sat back quietly observing the situation like any good anthropologist should. On the drive home I found myself feeling increasingly angrier about it. Perhaps because I felt like I’d missed an opportunity to speak up and say something. The coulda, woulda, shoulda’s crept into my brain.
Let me be clear. I think it is equally noble and challenging to be a stay at home parent as it is a working parent. I fully support whatever choice that parents, usually women, have to make when it comes to deciding if they will work outside the home or manage the often thankless task of caring for the family. What threw me off by my experience, which took place in a city that was home to two universities, was that as a woman I was treated as though I had nothing to offer to the conversation but a few exchanges about my children. One young gentleman even apologized for his language when he said the word “balls” because he didn’t to offend the “fairer sex.” At least he didn’t say “weaker sex” because I would definitely have used some really colorful language to share a piece of my mind.
Nothing that was said or unsaid to me that weekend was exactly rude or mean, it was simply the attitude of seeing women on the periphery that boggled me. Whether a woman works outside the home or not, she has valuable opinions. She is intelligent, intellectual, and worldly. She can debate about politics and current events just as well as anyone else. So why is it ok to essentially ignore her until the subject of children arises?
P.S. There were also comments made about civil rights and slavery that I can’t even go into in this post because I’m still too raw over those. Suffice it to say, it blew my mind that at a museum in a university town it’s acceptable to talk about how slaves were treated really well, like “household pets.” I couldn’t make this up if I tried, folks.