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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Part 7: Dinner dance

By MICHAEL VALPY
Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Jun. 20, 2003

Part 4

And men? A chorus of female voices say they don't really plan at all. They can handle life only one day at a time and don't really care if something that should happen doesn't.

Then again, Maria and Angelo have talked about sharing family responsibilities, about both taking time off from work. She wouldn't have married him, she says, if his values were different. "Our parents," he says, "wouldn't have had the conversations that Maria and I have had."

When they're on the job, the Muraca women do not see enough gender discrimination to make it a significant issue. But sociologists say they may still be too young to have experienced it. The world looks too rosy. Women don't start smacking into glass ceilings until they're in their 30s.

Still, according to the CRIC-Globe poll, twentysomething women are much more likely than their male counterparts to see men being given promotion advantages and people being judged on the basis of race and ethnicity.

Giulia works in a medical research office staffed, as she says, by "young energetic women" who are more likely to face discrimination because of their age rather than their gender.

They see gender bias when they attend conferences in the United States, while the men at home are overly helpful. "But we sometimes have difficulty being taken seriously because we're young," she says.

Trish sees the workplace in the midst of great change. "I'm looking at my organization and it's headed up by a male CEO and a lot of the vice-presidents are male. I think it's still dominated by the old boys' club, and I think they still have a lot to improve in their mentality.

"But it's filtering down — in a good way — because of the people they're hiring, the people they're putting in place to lead divisions or departments, the subordinates like myself, they're strong females. And I'm saying it's a matter of time."

Maria doesn't see gender as an issue on the job. "It's the quality of decision-making that counts," she says, and Genny, the Montessori teacher, nods.

Stress?

Trish suggests surveys report higher levels of stress for young women because young men won't admit to it. "They think it's a sign of weakness." Then she ticks off the events of her life over the past 10 months: "Getting married, moving out of my parents' house, being on my own for the first time of my life — I'd never cooked, I'd never cleaned — and dealing with my career at the same time."

The meal draws to a close. Over dessert — superb pastries from a nearby Italian bakery — the gathering is polled on same-sex marriage. Should it be legalized? The young men say they're struggling with the concept. The parents are quiet. The young women are decisive: yes, they approve, so long as there's no negative impact on children of homosexual families.

It's a good word — decisive — to describe the newest generation of Canadian adult women.

Decisive, certain of what they want in their lives and in Canadian society, these are themes threaded through polling surveys as well as in academic research done by sociologists such as Bonnie Erickson and Sandy Welsh at the University of Toronto and the University of Alberta's Graham Lowe.

They have found Canadian women in their 20s won't accept the status quo for its own sake either in jobs or in relationships that don't satisfy their values or their quality of life.

They're significantly more prepared to leave marriages they think don't work than young men are, even when children are involved. "They're the ones who are driving up the divorce rate," Prof. Erickson says.

And a study Prof. Lowe co-wrote for the Canadian Policy Research Networks says they are significantly less happy in the workplace than young men and less inclined to stay with an employer who doesn't treat them right.

It's an age of well-educated, forthright young women. Women like those at the family dinner.

The meal ends. Franco stands up to help the women clear the plates from the table. "My father always does. He wasn't pretending," Giulia says later. "Now if Carmine had, it would have been worth an Oscar."

Good nights are said. Angelo and Maria drive off to look at the apartment that, in a few days, will be their first home away from their parents' home.



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