I’ve noticed a curious thing about people. American people, I should say, because that’s my frame of reference and perhaps the larger culture in the U.S. leads to this behavior more than some other countries. And, in a lot of instances, it seems to be split along gender lines, which means these observations seem to lack any sort of predictive energy outside cis-lines. Then, it’s just an observation. Not a scientific study, though those seem to hold little weight these days when everyone wants to subscribe to his or her own version of reality. And maybe that plays a role, too.
See, we’ve had this friend for years. When we met him, he had a decent apartment and an okay job. He’d tell people he grew up “in tha hood” which was perhaps the lowest rungs of lower middle class back when members of that group could own a house if they used their money conservatively. Several jobs, several more apartments and houses, and two wives later, he lives in a very nice, upper middle class home that cost more than half a million dollars and boasts not only a nice pool and fancy grill but a chef’s kitchen and the sort of furniture yuppies in the 80s did cocaine off of.
It’s lovely, it really is. It also, to me, seems like a bit much. I mean, I say this as I sit in a “craft room,” a room that used to hold a bed for guests, but we loaned that to a buddy with too many in-laws and now it just houses candle-making supplies; paints and canvases; camping gear — stuff that to many makes me sound rich and fancy and embarrasses me to admit it exists. And there’s the difference. He crows about his new-found money (that he married). And he makes assumptions about what other people should be able to afford or buy based on what he has available to him.
I need to replace the wall next to me because of some water and termite damage. He tells us how we should hire a contractor and then proceeds to give us advice on how to cheat said contractor out of his or her fair share of money. The husband just shook his head because he has a DIY streak six miles wide. It’s why we have a nice patio area in the backyard. It’s why the place is full of track lighting. It’s probably also why there’s a termite problem. He hasn’t figured out how to do that himself.
We have another friend who has worked off an on in restaurants for years. He’s in college. He’s got plans for something else, but after he got a job at a high-end restaurant, he started making comments, like he suddenly felt himself in a higher tax bracket. And he marvels at how easy it was to get the money in one breath — because he’s run beers and wings at sports bars for an eighth of what he earns on a couple of tables now. But in the next, he expresses how he feels entitled to it, how he feels like he’s worked for it.
And in a way, he has. Because we don’t really pay for “hard work” in the U.S. even thought we talk about it ad naseum. We pay for specialized knowledge. The more specialized, the pricier it is. He makes more now because he knows the wine list, he knows the BS origin story of the dead cow bits on the plate. He knows the customs of the wealthy and how to cater to them. Before he just knew how to work the POS and carry a tray and a pitcher without spilling. You pay more for a cardiac surgeon than a general practitioner. I can spend the day designing a label, making two batches of candles, writing a short story, teaching breakholds, and doing our taxes, but if the husband writes five lines of code from his cushy desk chair, he’s worth five times as much (or more).
But a weird thing happens as we feel more entitled to the money we make based on the things we know. The men I know, start thinking they’re richer than they really are. They start acting like members of a class a rung up. They see themselves that way, so they’re more protective of the tax breaks and benefits of the people one or two rungs up. They see themselves getting there — and soon — even if there’s no reason to believe that other than wishful thinking. And they suddenly have a hard time relating to anyone they see as “below” them. They somehow can’t remember the “house in the hood” or the day they searched couch cushions for bus fare or the day the unemployment checks ran out. And they get annoyed at peers they see as not keeping up.
The women I know, seem more grounded in where they fall on the economic ladder. They may strive to get higher, but they live with the fear of how easy it is to slide back.
Maybe it’s because women all know a friend or colleague who took time off to have kids or to take care of an aging parent or deal with an illness and never made it back to the place they held. Maybe it’s because guys are generally encouraged to pompously boast their successes and they just start believing their own hype.
Maybe it’s why politicians have such an easy time convincing the masses to vote against their own interests.