‘What do you do, darling?’
‘If you’re doing an Arts degree, are you going to be a teacher?’
Questions of this kind are guaranteed to light a fire under the simmering pot of angry-soup between my stomach and my spine. It’s not that being asked about my work is insulting; it’s the instant and patronising familiarity of epithets letting me know that my answer will be met with head pats. It’s not that I don’t think teaching is an excellent career; it’s that it’s the only life imagined for young ladies with my social and educational positioning before we, I guess, get married (to fellas! with bigger careers!) and give up.
Actually, at twenty years of age, I’m building my own small business, thanks, while I complete my second tertiary qualification. I don’t think that’s anything particularly impressive or special; I think it’s indicative of individual direction and drive questions like this aren’t anticipating. I think it’s as worthy of the respect of older people I encounter as the doings of their contemporaries.
I know I ruffle a few feathers by expecting respectful treatment from people decades older than me. But I like a life in which I can approach everyone on respectful terms, and I expect something of the same back. I’m into making friends, not garnering some shallow and demeaning form of patronisation. If more young people got the kind of respect and encouragement while growing up like the kind I got from my mum, they’d be grasping more opportunities, too. And many are.
And I’d like to be able to talk about this without being pushed into either the stereotype of the whiny youth or that of the precocious and articulate young woman who is so unlike her peers. I’m a person, not a shining example or one of many disappointments. And neither are my contemporaries.
I’d be a rubbish teacher, but I’d like to write books, and edit them, and I’d like to be a mum. It is a small life I am carving out for myself, and it is shaping up to be a satisfying one. I nourish small and closely-held dreams. Not a chance to impress or satisfy the expectations of other people.