Over the next few weeks, I’d like to talk about some of the “hot button” policies that have received attention in the presidential debates. Though admittedly, I am getting my information on the debates from the Grand Overseerer and then from the Oracle. I just haven’t had to the stamina this year to watch the debates. Or rather I haven’t had the patience to listen to “mumbo jumbo rhubarb rhubarb” and “tickety bubarb yak yak yak.”* In my defense, I spent the last debate catching up on episodes of Big Bang Theory online — a pursuit I’m sure you’ll agree was a valid use of my time. I’m pretty sure I spent the first debate (and the vice presidential debate) watching episodes of Sherlock Holmes season two (BBC version). Again, a damn good use of my time.

Show me the mon…what? Oh. Okay. Show me the debt!

I’m not sitting this one out completely, though. I read articles almost daily as they relate to my field and since my field is education, there are lot of news feeds about the presidential race. One of the more popular news threads was about student debt. For the first time in our economic history, Americans owe more in student debt than they do in credit card debt. This story actually came out in April this year, but has found renewed fame in syndication in the last few weeks. We former students owe over one trillion dollars in debt. That’s a lot of zeros.

Sidebar: I love how this issue is all, “Holy crap, we owe more for education than we do for all the stuff we buy every day!!” Where is the outcry, “We owe HOW MUCH in credit card debt?!” How about a healthy conversation about how to avoid credit card debt or any kind of debt rather than an argument over the value of a college degree. Rhubarb, rhubarb!

He can accrue interest faster than a speeding bullet!

I have a Ph.D. I went to graduate school to improve my skills and to improve my marketability. I knew it would take a lot of work and a lot of loans, but I never wanted to be in a position where I couldn’t support myself. And now I am part of this Trillion Dollar March to the student loan poor house. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of my degree — it’s something I’ve earned that no one can take away from me. But sometimes I wish they could. Sometimes I wish I could trade a letter for debt forgiveness. I’d be willing to be a Ph if Uncle Sam would knock off a third of my debt. Even better, I’d just be P or a D. *scoff* No, I’m not willing to be an h, that’s just ridiculous.

In all seriousness (mostly), I’m not just looking for a way to escape accountability. We are our deeds and I want to make good on my debt. But I borrowed more money than I should have throughout my education. I needed it at the time to pay for classes, books, rent and food. But I can’t help but think that if I’d have had financial counseling beyond the requisite “don’t throw a kegger with your student loan check” video, I might have made better choices and kept my living expenses down. Or at least, I would have better understood how my present choices would increase my future debt (namely the interest — which is the real killer). As it stands, if I had a page for every $100 I owe in student debt, I’d have a novel. Or perhaps a heavy binder.

What do you meme “binders full of women”?

Which brings me to another hot button issue. Well, I guess this is more of a meme than an issue. Governor Romney referenced “binders full of women” in the last presidential debate. Messages from the Grand Overseer did little to nothing to help me understand what this meme was about. The Oracle was more accommodating. Governor Romney explained that when he took office in Massachusetts, he wanted a diverse cabinet (at least in terms of gender) but when the positions were posted, only men applied. He went on to explain that he asked his staff if they could identify qualified female candidates, which they did in the form of “whole binders full of women.” According to the Huffington Post, Romney overstated his role in the compilation of “binders full of women,” but whatevs. It’s not like Democratic politicians EVER overstate their role in policy initiatives. *bawhahahah* This meme is funny because Romney stumbled over the phrasing and said something awkward in a debate. I think it’s good that he supported and sought diversity among his advisors. In this regard, the “binders full of women” meme is “meh.” It’s a mehme.

One of the many images from Tumblr

It’s also a distraction. The real issue here is the visibility and mobility of qualified professional women, or lack thereof. Governor Romney spent 30 plus years in private enterprise and nine plus years in politics and did not personally, or apparently tangentially, know women qualified for his cabinet. How did that happen?! Romney is not alone is this position, I’m sure, but he has become the poster child for gender inequality with this gaffe. I reckon, like many men, Romney was “raised” old school in the business world. He may have met many talented and ambitious women along his professional career, but was not vested in their success — either as a boss, a friend, or a mentor. This is not unusual. Studies show that while men and women are often provided the same level of professional development, women are still not afforded the same level of “sponsorship.” Sponsorship is where your mentor has your back. Oh, and where you have a mentor. This person find opportunities for you, helps you build your professional networks, and support your efforts for upward mobility.** And I think this is the real problem. Women are not given the same professional supports as men.

I’m a feminist and all, but I don’t blame this entirely on men. I’m not even sure I blame “men” at all — at least not my contemporary male peers. I think the problem is systemic. “But who made the system, GG? Wasn’t it MEN?!” *rolls eyes* Sure, it was men. But we need to move past this hang up if we are going to move at all. We chicas don’t advocate for ourselves like we should. We don’t negotiate salaries. We hesitate to ask for raises. And we don’t demand equal pay. The pay gap is getting smaller, but it persists.*** For me, part of the problem is that we women are not well oriented on how to to advocate for ourselves professionally.**** Now, there is research that suggests women are still devalued even when they do advocate for themselves, so the system needs an overhaul fo sho.

But since I can only control what I do, I need to think about how I can captain my own destiny. Maybe if I demanded my worth I could rip a few pages out of my novel of debt. *sucks air through teeth* Or maybe I should keep my mouth shut and be thankful for having a job. NNNNnnnnoooooo! The system has won!!!!!!

What about you? Are you struggling with student debt? Do you think if you were truly paid your worth (male or female), you could manage your debt more easily?

* This idiom for meaningless political rhetoric is from Stop the World I Want to Get Off, a wonderful musical I had the privilege and pleasure of starring in when I was a stage rat.

** Full disclosure, I did not buy the article I reference here, so I don’t know the full scoop. I’m interested in knowing if women are sponsored by women. And if so, does the same problem persist? Are there female mentors who are mentors, but not necessarily  sponsors?

*** The pay gap varies by state. I’m glad I don’t live in Alabama anymore.

**** In all fairness, men are not taught this skill, either. I know this from my very technical and highly reliable *har har har* survey of male friends because I asked them. Most have said they weren’t taught how to ask for higher pay, they just did it because “that’s what you do.” Hmm…

+ Featured image, a dollar bill.