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Archive for September, 2009

I say we leave it up to the kids. More below.

Writing in The Nation last week, Katha Pollitt threw some love at Julie and Julia, the feel-good foodie movie about Julia Child and Julie Powell, the 20-something blogger who tried to channel Child by cooking her way through “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” What Pollitt liked most about the movie was the fact that it was about adult women finding meaning through work:

What I loved most of all, though, was that Julie & Julia is that very rare thing, a movie centered on adult women, and that even rarer thing, a movie about women’s struggle to express their gifts through work. Not a boyfriend, a fabulous wedding, a baby, a gay best friend, a better marriage, escape from a serial killer, the perfect work-family balance, another baby. Real life is full of women for whom work is at the center, who crave creative challenge, who are miserable until they find a way to make a mark on the world. But in the movies, women with big ambitions tend to be Prada-wearing devils or uptight thirtysomethings who relax when they find a slacker boyfriend or inherit an adorable orphan. Among recent films, Seraphine, Martin Provost’s biopic about an early-twentieth-century French cleaning woman and self-taught painter, is practically unique in its curiosity about a woman’s creative drive. More usually, a woman’s cinematic function is to forward, thwart, complicate or decorate the story of a man. As Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s elusive girlfriend in (500) Days of Summer, Zooey Deschanel has all the external trappings of individuality–aloofness, a sly smile, vintage clothes and indie tastes–but she has no more inner life than Petrarch’s Laura. She’s there to break the hero’s heart and rekindle his ambitions. What will she become? Someone else’s wife.

I read this piece after a long Sunday afternoon of a breakneck email back-and-forth relating to Marcus Buckingham and the happiness gap, which Shannon wrote about so eloquently yesterday. Much of the backchat centered around sexism: Why on earth would we look to a male to define, understand and proffer solutions for our own particular brand of angst? The answer was the obvious. We’re still living in a man’s world. Or, if you prefer the loaded term, a patriarchy, where most of the social structures were set up by men — to benefit men. Men dominate for the simple reason that they can.

Which made me wonder: some 50 years after Betty Friedan ignited the second wave of the women’s movement by writing about the “problem that has no name”, why are we still pleasantly pleased to find a movie about grown-up women who have lives apart from their significant others? Why do we let men (and the editors who publish them) take our conversations away from us? Why were we shocked and amazed that Hillary made it so far into last year’s primary season — all the while secretly acknowledging to ourselves that she could never win the presidency? Why do we still earn 71 cents on the dollar — and then come home and do the laundry? Why, in fact, do I still use terms like “Why women” (just hit search) in my posts?

No wonder we are undecided.

I came of age during the bra-burning era — which, by the way, never happened — at a time when I was known as a “women’s libber.” That dates me, yeah? At my first job out of college, my co-workers (mostly women several years older than I) were almost all involved in consciousness-raising groups, and brought those conversations into the lunch room and break rooms. There was momentum: we were prepped for change, and by god, we were going to make it happen.

But see above. We didn’t. And having been along for most of the ride, I’m frustrated that the movement seems to have stalled.

Why are words like “patriarchy” still part of the lexicon? Why, after Pat Shroeder broke ground in 1973 by becoming the first woman from Colorado to be elected to the U.S. house of representatives – and the first woman to make a legitimate run for president — why are women so woefully underrepresented in the House and, primarily, the Senate? Why are we tempted to use the same loaded  rhetoric of 50 years back without realizing that, just maybe, we need to change strats?

Back in the day, feminism was fueled, to a certain extent, by anger. And it was appropriate: Wake up, women! Embrace your oppression! Fight the patriarchy! That, we got. But moving from anger to constructive action? Seems to me the movement might have gotten so stuck in the rhetoric that it not only closed the tent, but couldn’t pull the trigger.

(As an aside, these are questions for the next generation: What was the last thing you read about NOW? What do you know about EMILY’s list — and do you even know what EMILY stands for?)

One of my friends who was part of Sunday’s bang-a-thon is from Sweden, where this type of conversation is probably close to obsolete. In her country, where there is both gender parity and equality, she suggests, it may be due to their social-democratic-ness: “It’s normal to look at society as a structure and ask yourself who will benefit — and how it can be changed to benefit other groups.”

Why didn’t we think of that? Is it possible that the anger that was so successful as a wake-up call ended up immobilizing us as much as complacency might have? Rather than building a coalition, as President Obama, who achieved the impossible last November, was able to do, did we end up alienating those we needed as allies?

I have no answers. Which is why I’m hoping the twenty and thirty-somethings might pick up the mantle and go forward with some fresh ideas.  Third-wave feminism has been dubbed by some “do-me feminism” or “Sex and the City feminism.” I have to wonder: do we need a fourth wave?

I vote yes.

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A study by Wharton School’s Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, called “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” that I first wrote about in July got a lot of attention this week. First, from self-helpuru Marcus Buckingham on the Huffington Post, in a piece trumpeted as the beginning of a series, and which benefitted from some prominent pimping courtesy of a characteristically ginormously-fonted email from none less than Arianna herself. In a message entitled “The Sad, Shocking Truth About How Women Are Feeling,” Huffington offered this synopsis of the issue:

It doesn’t matter what their marital status is, how much money they make, whether or not they have children, their ethnic background, or the country they live in. Women around the world are in a funk.

This was followed on Sunday, by a take from the New York TimesMaureen Dowd. The issue: since the 70s, despite all the advances in opportunity and access, women have been growing increasingly unhappy. The question: why?

Well, that, Buckingham doesn’t tell us. Though he does tell us what the phenomenon is officially, measurably not attributable to:

  • women working longer hours than men: They don’t, according to a study of 25 countries, which took both paid work and home work into account.
  • gender-based stereotyping (I’m quoting here): Buckingham says that today, 42% of men agree with the statement “Men should be the primary breadwinner and women should be the primary caretaker of home and family.” 39% of women agree with it, too.
  • an unequal division of the workload in the home, the so-called second shift: Though women still do more housework each day, numbers are trending towards equality across the sexes.

Let’s review, shall we? Point one: work. Sure, we may do as much work as our male counterparts, but, by easing the burden of the breadwinner for men, I think it’s pretty logical that such a development might make men happier, not women. Second: stereotyping. Maybe both men and women feel the same about that official decree, but I think, no matter what we say we believe and no matter how many diapers our husbands are willing to change, we’ve internalized the good mommy, happy homemaker ideal. The socialization that succeeded in keeping us in the home for centuries was potent: the hangover lingers, and we continue to measure ourselves, in some part, against that feminine ideal–even while we say we don’t. And finally, the second shift: numbers might be “trending” in the right direction, but we’re not there yet.

(Not to be a broken record, but there are still the minor issues of, say, the ERA that was never passed, or the fact that we still are not paid the same for equal work, or the fact that we’re still wildly underrepresented in government, the boardroom, and academia to consider.)

And now, because we’ve begun making inroads, we’re supposed to slap on a smile and call it a day? It makes me think of a quote from Germaine Greer:

When we talk about women having it all, what they really have ‘all’ of is the work.

Or, as Dowd put it, in her aptly titled piece “Blue is the New Black”:

When women stepped into male-dominated realms, they put more demands–and stress-on themselves. If they once judged themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens and dinner parties, now they judge themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens, dinner parties–and grad school, work, office deadlines and meshing a two-career marriage.

Who wouldn’t be stressed out? When you look at it that way, what Stevenson and Wolfers dubbed a paradox, I might be more inclined to call a Well, Duh.

Here’s a little more from Dowd:

Add to this the fact that women are hormonally more complicated and biologically more vulnerable. Women are much harder on themselves than men. They tend to attach to other people more strongly, beat themselves up more when they lose attachments, take things more personally at work and pop far more antidepressants. Another daunting thing: America is more youth and looks obsessed than ever, with an array of expensive cosmetic procedures that allow women to be their own Frankenstein Barbies.

We are overwhelmed by choices and judgment, and the pressure to appear happy, young, and perky while we deal with it. It’s new territory, with no directions, no mapped-out trails to follow. As Buckingham himself said,

Choice is inherently stressful, and women are being driven to distraction.

Dowd ended with a silver-lining take on that idea:

Stevenson looks on the bright side of the dark trend, suggesting that happiness is beside the point. We’re happy to have our newfound abundance of choices, she said, even if those choices end up making us unhappier.

And I’m choosing to end my thoughts with a rant, which I don’t think is at all beside the point. I can’t help but wonder why is it that a high profile woman with a huge platform like Arianna Huffington is turning over the issue to a man to answer? The more cynical me might wonder if there isn’t just a tad of latent sexism in that decision. The poor, confused, unhappily liberated women need a man to lead us out of the woods? Talk about a paradox.

I mean, the guy has a book to sell, and I’m sure it’s useful, in a masculine, problem/solution kind of way. As chock-full useful, Easy Steps for Finding Fulfillment as Self is of same, for Achieving the Perfect Butt.

And I have to wonder: by focusing on self-reported, empirical measurements of happiness, are we conveniently missing the harder point, making what is, at its core, a societal issue personal instead? Is this issue of happiness just a smokescreen, to keep the discussion light and distract us from what lies beneath: that, despite all the strides we’ve made towards equality, we are simply not there yet?

Is a cut-and-dry “specific explanation and accompanying prescription” really all it’s going to take? Or are we, in fact, due for another revolution of sorts–one for women, led by, ahem, women?

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Photographer : Dan Eriksson

Photographer : Dan Eriksson

No doubt you can guess who are the most tired of all.

But first, courtesy of a recent column by Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman, an update on the current economy’s creepy underbelly. Underneath the myth of the “grateful workers” — the folk happy to have a job, any job — lie the legions of gratefully employed who are nonetheless overworked, possibly underpaid, and powerless to complain. Not only when they are asked to work harder, longer to pick up the slack left by all the empty desks — but when they face discriminatory practices, too.

And those paying the biggest price, Goodman suggests, are women, especially those with kids:

The most immediate effect is on families. The dirty little secret is that workers with families – make that moms – are still seen as “less productive.’’ “Discrimination against mothers is still the strongest and most open form of discrimination,’’ says Joan Williams at UC-Hastings College of the Law. “When employers have to cut, they turn to the underperformers who may be readily confused with mothers. People who see them targeted are afraid.’’

It’s not a coincidence that the number of pregnancy discrimination complaints went up by 12 percent in 2008. For that matter, the number of workers calling the Hastings WorkLife hotline with stories of being targeted for caregiving has doubled. We have even seen a decline in births in California and Florida, where the housing crisis hit hardest.

The talk of work-life balance has fallen as fast as a 401(k). There is still a stigma attached to flextime, and only half of workers get a single paid sick day. As Debra Ness of the National Partnership for Women and Families says, worried workers are “less likely to ask for benefits and less likely to use them if they have them.’’ Indeed, if fear is more contagious than the swine flu, what’s going to happen when workers choose between putting their health on the line or their jobs?

The irony is that, as we reported earlier, by October or November, women may represent the majority of the workforce — but not the payroll or, for that matter, the boardrooms (or anywhere close). And with that inequity and lack of parity come the sounds of silence: Complain? Who me?

Add to that the idea, that somehow, mothers are somewhat less-than when it comes to the workplace (newsmommy, anyone?), and you have the fodder for a darn good riff, if not a rant.

Recent polls by the Sloan Work and Family Research Network at Boston College are also pretty revealing. Here are just a couple of examples:

When asked: With the current downturn in the global economy, do you think that employers are more supportive or less supportive of flexible work arrangements? 70 percent answered less supportive.

When asked: Have you ever used the Family Medical Leave Act? The majority (36 percent) answered no. But what was most telling was this comment:

“I used the FMLA after the birth of my first child, I had income from short-term disability insurance, and it worked well. But for my second child, I wasn’t eligible because I hadn’t met the hours threshold, and for my third child, I wasn’t eligible because my employer had too few employees to be covered. Like a lot of women, I took these ineligible jobs because they offered flexibility. So I’ve come to think of the FMLA as the ‘Firstborn and Medical Leave Act’ – because you’re most likely to be covered at the point where you’ve been the ideal full-time worker BEFORE you’ve started your family.”

Clearly, this all comes under the heading of women’s work. Ever heard of business-daddies dealing with any kind of discrimination when their wives are pregnant? Or worrying about what taking time off to care for new babies or elderly parents will do to their careers? Or, for that matter, even considering the need for work-life balance or flextime? Yeah, didn’t think so.

And yet and still, people wonder why career decisions are tougher for women. Sigh. We’ll bring home the bacon. We’d even fry it up in the pan (If only it weren’t so high in fat. But that’s for another post.) It’s just that many of us are too darn tired. “Why women” indeed. Insert rant here.

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Since the pleasures and perils of the comfort zone seems to be the theme for the week, I suppose it should come as no surprise that I got an email yesterday from a 28 year-old Undecided reader we’ll call Jane, stuck in one hell of a pickle. Jane’s problem? She finally has a job that she loves. She actually wrote “I wake up every morning excited to go to work!” (Actually, she wrote “EXCITED.” I swear.) This, of course, is not the problem. The problem is that, after several rounds of interviews she went on motivated primarily by a little healthy What The Hell?, a friend who doubles as the president of a wildly successful start-up offered Jane a job.

Jane consulted with everyone from her current boss (who told her she was planning on retiring in 5 years… and turning the company over to Jane) to her dad, her mom, her aunt, her boyfriend, her ex-coworker, and all of her friends. She wrote:

I’ve been 100% in and 100% out about 6 times each way. I have a 3-page pro-con list. Literally… And now I’m here. With probably the most difficult “who are you?” decision I’ll face for awhile (ever?). And you know how I feel? Like I’d rather take a swan dive off the Golden Gate bridge than make this decision. What if I’m wrong? What if I hurt someone? In the middle of a recession, when most of my friends are struggling to find and keep jobs-I have two absolutely amazing opportunities, and instead of seeing that, high-fiving myself and getting to the decision, I want to cry. Or throw-up. And I want to take back ever going to that first interview.

What should Jane do? I had no idea. But I did pick up on something in the email: What if I hurt someone? To wit:

It’s so odd how emotional and relationship-driven this is for me, in addition to the fear of making the actual decision. A huge factor on my list involves hurting people. Instead of being proud, I feel like a selfish, sneaky, ungrateful turncoat.

And that stuck out to me because I relate. Oh, do I relate. And don’t we all? It’s funny–and it’s unfair; girls are raised to be sensitive to others’ feelings, to be empathetic, to be sweet. And it’s not just the sugar-and-spice nurture that’s to blame here; nature has us hard-wired for it, too. After all, back in the loincloth days, we had to keep the babies–the very tribe–safe and sound, anticipating and taking care of everyone’s needs, while the menfolk were off bringing home the buffalo. Here’s a little more from Jane, on that front:

When I ask my male peers what they think, I get a resounding “Hell yeah! Take it. Tell your boss ‘see ya.’” And when I ask my female peers, they say, “Wow, that is a very difficult decision. Can I help you? Want to meet to talk about it?”

The trouble is that, some of us become so good at empathizing, such experts at feeling others’ feelings, we have no idea how to parse them out from our own. “I don’t care; what do you want to do?” becomes a mantra. And when we’re deciding where to go for dinner, hey, we’re the perfect, easygoing companion. We even convince ourselves that we really don’t care–never mind that we’ve had Indian twice this week already. (After all, who doesn’t love a good curry?) But that can become a habit–a comfort zone. And then what happens when we face a choice like Jane’s, where we’re the only one who can make the decision, and we’re the only one who’s going to have to live with the consequences? I’ll quote her again:

If I could really figure out the answer to everyone’s question “What do YOU want?” – I’d do that! But how do I know what I want…?

And that is one hell of a good question.

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Lately I’ve been getting a lot of emails from former students, wondering what to do with themselves when grown-up dreams get bitch-slapped by recession-era reality. One, from a talented writer, whose job fell through after only a matter of weeks, particularly hit home. Should she stay in the big city, where she had just scored the perfect apartment, she wondered, or move back to the comfort of her middle-of-the-country roots.

Moving home, she wrote, was “somewhat appealing. But then again, not at all.”

Which reminded me of an apocryphal story I once heard that speaks — in a very weird way — to the tyranny of the comfort zone. It goes like this: There was this housewife who for years cut the ends off a roast beef before she put it in the oven, until someone asked her why. That was the way her mother always did it, she replied, but then got to wondering herself. And so for the first time, she asked her elderly mother why SHE cut the ends off the roast. Her mother’s reply? Because the pan wasn’t big enough.

And therein lies the danger of sticking only with what you know — why, as Shannon wrote in Perfection: A Zero Love Game, comfort zones can morph into prisons of our own making: You stop asking why. You forget to explore.  It’s not just about moving back to your high school bedroom after college, or cooking dinner the same way your mother always did. It’s also about surrounding yourself with people just like you, people who think like you think and do like you do — whether they’re hipsters or jocks, high school buddies or sorority sisters, take-no-prisoners business types or stay-at-home moms. If you’re stuck in a homogeneous universe, as comfort zones so often are, your world shrinks. And there’s the danger. Before long, you not only become trapped by the norm of your own particular niche, you cease to question it. Choices that take you beyond it — in any direction — get scary.  Cognitive dissonance, the method by which we learn and grow?  Out the window.

To a certain extent, all this comfort zone business can be a cliche of the quarter-life crisis, which Washington Post reporter Lindsay Minnema tackled anew last month:

It’s not a new phenomenon, but today’s young people seem to experience it more acutely than the young people who came before them. And with the tumultuous economy and job market meltdown of the past year, recent grads are getting a double helping of quarter-life anxiety.

Unlike young adults of generations past, many of whom were married and settled in their careers by their mid-20s, today’s college grads experience a longer period of transition to the settled-down stage, said Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a research professor of psychology at Clark University in Massachusetts and author of “Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road From Late Teens Through the Twenties.”

“It is a unique time of life when people are not entirely dependent on their parents . . . but they don’t have a stable life structure with marriage and parenthood and stable work,” Arnett said. “They go in a lot of directions, change jobs a lot, change love partners. They go through a long period of figuring out who they are and how they fit in the world.”

Arnett believes this transition period can be positive, with its opportunities for growth and adventure. But for some people, the turmoil brings worry, fears of failure or of being trapped by responsibilities, or depression.

On that latter note, Minnema quotes Leslie Seppinni, a marriage and family therapist and doctor of clinical psychology in Beverly Hills, Calif., who suggests that one route out of their funk is for quarter-lifers to expand their horizons:

Instead of stewing in their misery, quarter-lifers should focus on what they can change, Seppinni said. “Although it is a time of depression, it is also a time of being creative in getting yourself to do something out of your comfort zone,” she said. “Embrace the challenge.”

Meanwhile, what did I write to that former student? Nothing profound. Just this:

I once held a job for three days. This is true. They were the longest, most awful days of my life. But at least I knew. Your next step will likely evolve, rather than present itself as such. Meanwhile, don’t give up. And yes, you should definitely test the waters in ——- to see if you like the city, by working as a barrista if need be. If you packed up and left right now, you’d always wonder if you had missed out. You may love it. Or you may hate it. In which case, you can skip away happily in search of something new…

In other words, you’ll give yourself the chance to figure it out.

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I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Barbara’s post from last week, Choosing the Iconic Self, about how women–now freed from the simple definitions of either wife or daughter–struggle to define our authentic Self, and wind up trapped by the iconic image of whatever dream-self we aspire to become, saddling each choice with a hefty helping of extra importance. In particular, Katie’s comment on that post came to mind:

I wonder if some of our frustration is about the fact that it’s virtually impossible to excel at everything–wife, writer, teacher, runner in my case–and so we’re always worried about the area in which we’re not measuring up to our own expectations?

I think she’s absolutely right. And her comment reminded me of something I read or heard or imagined at some point, probably while putting off doing something on my to-do list: that perfectionism begets procrastination–and that this is so because if everything has to be perfect, it’s that much harder to start something, what with the pressure that it be perfect and all.

Thinking about that got me to wondering if that’s why comfort zones so often morph into prisons of our own making: we find something we can do, and we stick with it, because it’s simply easier than considering all the other options out there, hoping to pick the right one, and hoping we can do that well, too.

Which brings me to tennis. (Though I don’t follow tennis, I’d feel remiss writing a post about anything today without mentioning all that went down at the US Open over the weekend. Bear with me.) Kim Clijsters, who won the championship (thanks, in small part, to Serena’s temper tantrum–go here for a sane take), fresh out of retirement, new motherhood, and a 2005 Take-That to those who’d dubbed her The Best Player Never to Win a Major, analyzed her game, telling the New York Observer:

‘I remember Justine [Henin], she was one who could mix her game up even if she was not playing well,’ she said. ‘Someone like [Amelie] Mauresmo, even Venus and Serena, were hard hitters, they can still work their way through matches even when they’re not playing their best tennis. I’m not saying everybody’s like that, but I haven’t seen a lot of girls change their game up a little bit.’

Changing up the game. It worked for her.

But it’s a tricky prospect, not least for the reasons mentioned above. Made trickier, of course, by the way in which women’s steps and missteps are predictably and thoroughly picked apart.

Which brings me to Serena. I’m going light here: in a nutshell, she had a McEnroe-style meltdown, after an unusual call at a critical point in the match–and was subsequently raked over the coals for it, despite the facts that she left the court before going Full McEnroe, issued the requisite apologies, and overall demonstrated that she really does try to do the right thing. But she’s human. And no one’s perfect.

Granted, some are picked apart more than others. But we all get it to some degree. Our foot faults might not be internationally broadcast. They probably don’t inspire a movement on Twitter. But maybe we flunk the class, blow the interview, bungle the presentation, or take a risky career gamble that doesn’t look like it will pay off. And the  look from Mom, the raised eyebrow on the other side of the cubicle, the cutting remark from our best friend–they sting too. (Although none quite as much as the disappointment in the face we see in the mirror, as Katie’s comment suggested.) Couple that with our own fears of failure, and it’s a feat not to be paralyzed by angst over perfection, not to stop ourselves before we even dare to start.

By way of inspiration, I’ll end with this choice item, via Feministing’s reportage from the recent “Feminism is a Memory” panel discussion at Omega. When asked “What is the practice or script you use to push yourself past fear?” Gloria Steinem said:

I was too afraid to speak in public until after 30 and finally decided to speak because of the women’s movement and I still was terrified, but I realized if women can’t do anything fucking right anyway, might as well do what you please.

Amen, sister.

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Or, to paraphrase John Lennon: “I am (s)he as you are (s)he as you are me and we are all together.”

In other words, you identify.  That’s what we’ve found in many of the thoughtful comments that rolled in over the past few weeks, either on our blog or Facebook. (Ahem. Are you a fan?) Here’s a taste of the backchat:

Midlife Crisis, For Her clearly touched a chord:

At some point, people have to grow up and realize that the TWENTIES are the time to try out new identities such as career changes and traveling-the-world without a care etc., and then once you turn 30 it’s time to face the music. At some point it really DOES become “too late for a new beginning”, and until humans gain an ability to live 9 lives, we have to accept that some doors will have to be closed forever because there is just no time left. It’s true that life does pass you by, we are on this earth for only a blink of an eye. During my 20s I lived in various cities (Chicago, Houston, Washington D.C.) and traveled to nearly 30 countries, and I shopped like mad following all the latest fashions and explored various “career ideas”, job-hopping every couple of years. I DID pay a price for my youthful restlessness, for example professionally I’m at the level of people who are nearly a decade younger than I am, and my salary level is far beneath other 30-something professionals who did the “straight-line-career-track” direct out of college. Still, those freeliving years of my 20s were absolutely essential for me to have lifelong satisfaction and no regrets, and I wish more women could really use their twenties to explore these different lifestyles/identities so that they wouldn’t suffer from “the grass is greener” syndrome. Everybody would love to live forever, everybody laments growing older, but being a Grown-Up means you don’t cry over things you can’t change, you make the best of it. Women can’t change the fact that our Fertility is limited, and the fact that we’re eventually going to die, and NO we can’t all “be anything you want”. That sucks, but that’s life, and it’s pointless to cry over the facts of life. — Crystal

Colleen disagreed:

I just turned 30, and I find it depressing to think that just because I reached a certain age, whatever i happen to be doing right now, is what i’m gonna do for the rest of my life. I am an attorney and my twenties were spent by a mixture of going to school, traveling, working, and most recently 2000 miles away from home doing field work for the Obama campaign with a bunch of 19-22 year olds, and now I am back to working as an attorney. I don’t do things to get them out of my system because I’ll have to stop one day, once I turn X age or once I have kids, I do them because the opportunities arise and if I can make them fit into my life, I do. I don’t see why that has to change once I turn a certain age or have children. I think a lot of the reason people are afraid to have kids or wait so long to do it, is this notion that once you have kids, you have to stop doing anything that you ever wanted to do for yourself. I, for one, have no intention of throwing in the towel on living life now, when I have children, or ever. — Colleen

And, just to show that Undecided welcomes comments from all genders:

You are a fantastic writer and I look forward to seeing your stories like this one. Insightful, positive, balanced, and a thing that makes you say hmmmm. This undivorced, non-corvette owning, non-young girlfriend toting 3-2-1 Contact fan completely related to your story despite the gender difference. Great work as usual! – John

A related post, Choosing the Iconic Self, also hit home:

You have the details down, except for that you promoted grandpa. He was a sea captain – there was no wealth but they had a comfortable life and prominence in the small town. And I think you are right. I remember when my nephews were young my sister in law told me she was really careful about telling them they were “good” when they had done something good. She said that you have to tell them that their drawing is good, or whatever, so they don;t think it’s THEIR value that gets determined by what they achieve. I was super impressed by that. And, thinking back, I assume the reason I was impressed was that the idea was new to me. Myself I was likely taught that my value was in the drawing, so to speak — Lotta K.

I really appreciate this post. I’ve definitely thought about these things, especially in the three years since graduating from SCU as I made a major career switch. I came to realize the unrealisticness of some of the aspirations I had — whether they were dreams I had since I was young or newly set outlandish goals. Also there were some aspirations that I thought, oh that would be great, but I’m really not willing to do what it takes to get there. It’s not what I wanted to do after all. I couldn’t find the words for how I was feeling as I was struggling with all this, and I definitely don’t think that I’m in tune with my authentic self…but I hope that I can say that I’m on the way :) – Nicole L.

All of it’s right. Every bit you say. We are drawn to an ideal and then we try to fit ourselves to the notion. My dream: to be an actress and writer. Years later, after having done both in a really small way, marriage and children came along. One reason I got divorced was that I didn’t fit in with his family’s ideal of what a ‘wife’ should be. It may have been my love of baseball combined with my male gay friends that made them uncomfortable. So I left and moved with my kids to a small western town. Where my kids grew up to be those kind you mention. Anything is possible. Their reality is lack of money from the home front and all fringe dwellers will understand this. Grinding poverty is the ultimate reality. In the meantime. I write for a living and act, occasionally even being paid to do it. But yet, it nags because that’s what people do…second guess and nag themselves over the road not taken, the poor judgment calls, the missed opportunities. Who would I have been….could I have been if only…. — Dana

Love this post! I wonder if some of our frustration is about the fact that it’s virtually impossible to excel at everything–wife, writer, teacher, runner in my case–and so we’re always worried about the area in which we’re not measuring up to our own expectations? — Katie

Holding Up Half the Sky stirred stuff up as well:

The neglect of children (and fetuses) because they are female, always astounds me, no matter how often I hear about it. What stories like these show us is that women’s rights are not a foregone conclusion; they are something we must struggle for together. H. Clinton put it so well at the Beijing Conference in 1995 when she said women’s rights are human rights. How do we respond to countries who blatantly disregard human rights? Yet perhaps we ignore women’s rights? And it takes special issues of media, in honor of women’s equality day, to bring these issues into sharper relief. Thanks for offering this summary of some of the issues that the NYT addressed on Sunday. — Austen

I recall talking to a friend about the article. What definitely struck me is how they think women leading the world would lessen war, etc.

“Q: If women ran the world, would wars still exist?
A: No. It would be a better, safer, and more productive world. A woman would bring an extra dimension to that task-and that’s a sensitivity to humankind. It comes from being a mother.”

It’s saying women are different from men, which I don’t think is true (we are socially programmed to think and behave differently; can’t really help it in a country where everything’s labeled blue or pink). People are capable of being great or horrible leaders, regardless of what biological sex they may be. In this piece, women are held up to a standard, so it’s a bit troubling. — Jeannie

Finally, our first guest post, Taking it Public, garnered its share of fan mail:

Excellent post. Especially enjoyed the comparison to Scandanavian countries. What a wonderful nation we would be if our politicians considered the needs of all citizens. More topics would be discussed, and more needs would be met. Great piece, would love to read more from Charlotta! — T.J.

Hi Charlotta, great post, I enjoyed it a lot, and agree with you in everything, although I can’t help wonder if Universities, outside of humanities, med/communication and arts has as high a number of female students? I would be interested to see if that was the case in say, areas of economic studies and technology, for example. I have to say that althoug I am an avid Obama fan I am also a Swede, a Mother, a Wife and all things related and very disapointed in the lack debate there is around matters concerning The Family. I wonder of these matters are still considered being “women’s issues” and therefor not as high on the agenda as other matters. Lack of affordable child-care and parental leave, equal pay etc, etc, are not only women’s issues, they are concerning men AND women and we need to understand that and start a valid debate sround these issues if we are going to break away from a very old-fashioned belief in a homogenous family structure. – Cecilia

Keep the conversations going. Catch you all tomorrow.

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