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Archive for April, 2011

And so today, as I was trolling for intelligent life out here in cyberspace, I came across a few quick hits that had me scratching my head when I tried to connect the dots.

First was a great piece in Newsweek by Jessica Bennett, reviewing a new book on sex by neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam.  Their book, “A Billion Wicked Thoughts,” bills itself as the “world’s largest experiment” on what turns people on.  Their data?  A billion anonymous web searches.  You can guess the sites.  Writes Bennett:

But while Ogas’s fellow doctoral students were busy writing computer code, he and his buddy Sai Gaddam simply couldn’t stop talking about sex. Specifically, how the brain decides what turns us on. “Nobody in our field had taken a shot at sexual desire—and most of our colleagues thought we were insane to do it,” Ogas says. “But the same neural principles that apply to our higher cognitive functions apply to sexual behavior, too.”

Bennett culled a few fun stats from the book and here’s the one that got me thinking:  Men are much more likely to ogle overweight – than underweight — women.  By a ratio of three to one.

Hmmm, right?   And then I came across this:  A piece on Gawker that linked to a Today show segment on dress size confusion that included an interview with More editor Lesley Jane Seymour, who said that fashion editors sometimes have to cut the sizes out of clothes before fashion shoots to protect the fragile egos of celebrities.

And finally, we would be remiss without a mention of our newest princess-to-be, yes?  Kate has been the subject of many a link, not the least of which are those that discuss her weight.  Or lack of same.  And today I found a discussion on the Harvard Health Letter that discussed the theories that have bounced around to explain why, at 5 foot 10, Kate is suddenly down to 120 lbs.  Among them: stress, the controversial Dukan diet (think Atkins plus oat bran) — or what some have termed brideorexia.  Let’s check:

Who doesn’t want to look good for their wedding, royal or common—and these days, looking good almost always means looking thinner. It’s been noted that in many couples’ lives, no event is as photographed as their wedding. (This may be true for Will and Kate, although unlike the rest of us, they’ve a coronation to look forward to.)

I don’t know about the UK, but on this side of the pond people started turning the desire of brides to look good and lose weight into businesses several years ago. Now there are bridal boot camps, bridal workouts, bridal diet plans, and reality shows based on brides-to-be slimming down to get ready for the big day. The term “brideorexia” was coined to denote the most extreme (and frequently unhealthy) of these wedding-related weight-loss efforts.

The post includes an interview with a researcher who actually studied brideorexia and found that the brides who took pre-wedding dieting to the extreme were the exception (25 percent) rather than the rule, but still, the overall message is this, whether or not you happen to be a princess in waiting:  To look good is to look thin.

Unless, of course, you ask men.  Interesting conundrum, is it not?  So trying my best to add it all up, I recalled one of Shannon’s posts from a while ago that started thus:

So, one night last week I was having a glass of wine with a friend–and wound up with a good belly laugh at mankind’s expense. I’ll spare you the exact details of how it came up, but at one point, said friend described to me a cartoon she’d recently seen. In one frame, a pretty woman of an average build looks into the mirror in horror; her mirror image is heavier, uglier, and facial-hairier than her real self. The next frame shows a balding, beer-bellied man smiling happily as he gazes upon his reflection, which features a chiseled physique, and a full head of hair. We got a good laugh out of that, but it was one of those laughs that wound down to an OhMyGod, it’s true! And then, a far less giggly: Is the joke on us?

And maybe, in fact, it is.  Except, of course, that the joke really isn’t funny.  While all this weight stuff may seem silly, it’s a good measure of how hard we are on ourselves.  And so, we have to wonder:  what would it take to tip the scales in the other direction?

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Greetings! Today, we thought we’d catch you up on what’s going on with Undecided (the book… have you bought your copy yet?), because there’s quite a bit to catch you up on!

Ahead of the book’s official release on May 3, we had a sneak peek reading at Chaucer’s Books in Santa Barbara last week. The reading was fantastic, the crowd was enthused (and not at all undecided about buying books…), and the bookstore was, of course, awesome. Chaucer’s is independently owned and a longtime community staple, and it was an honor to read there. Many thanks to Chaucer’s–and to everyone who came to hear a little taste of Undecided! (And to Julienne, for the post-reading meal. Which was, in a word, epic.)

We’re working on getting our schedule all figured out, but we do have a couple of other dates confirmed. So if any of these are in your ‘hood, please mark your calendars and plan on coming!

May 25: Modern Times, San Francisco

May 26: Books Inc., Mountain View

July 7: Third Place Books, Seattle

And there’s more to come! Stay tuned…

Also, Joyce Lain Kennedy wrote about us in her “Careers Now” column, which appeared in the Chicago Tribune, this week–Check it out here.

And finally, we’ve started a little collection of photos of Undecided readers with their books on our Facebook page. (Yes, I know I said the publication date is May 3. It is. Officially. Dear publishing world: Why?) And while we love the shot of baby Hazel, we feel a need to brag about U.S. Judicial Attache Amy, who sent us a picture of herself with the book… in front of the official seal of the Embassy where she’s stationed in the Middle East. I’m sorry — how awesome is that? If you have a pic of yourself with the book, post it and tag us!

Allrighty, good people of the blog. Until next time, we’re out… and undecided.

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…For they shall be ripped apart.

And no one, it seems, is immune. Not even Tina Fey.

The very first piece of commentary I read about Tina Fey’s new book, Bossypants, which Barbara wrote about last week, was in Newsweek. And, written by Jezebel founder Anna Holmes, it was fairly critical. Check it:

Edging up to difficult truths and skipping away may make for sophisticated sitcoms, but it doesn’t make for satisfying memoir writing. The most successful autobiographies demand a certain amount of psychic heavy lifting, risk taking, and interrogation of one’s ideas; Fey will have none of it, which contributes to the nagging feeling that, despite her prodigious talents, she can be a little too clever by half.

And–you know what?–Holmes may be wrong; and she may, in fact, be right. But the specific talking points of her argument weren’t what interested me about her article. What Holmes’ piece got me thinking, more than anything, was this: Man, women sure are scrutinized. Call a woman a role model, and before the proverbial ink is dry, the backlash has begun. And she’ll get it the worst from other women.

Why are we so quick to pick each other apart?

It’s like the perpetual Us V. Them standoff on steroids. Or Botox. Versus A Powerful All-Natural Macrobiotic  Regime. And I think, as with the Us versus Themming, the urge to pick apart the women out there blazing the trails has much to do with choices, and the abundance of choices we now have, and how new this abundance is. We’ve been told we can do anything, we can have it all… And, hell, when you’re given every option and told how lucky you are to have them, it’s natural that we’re left a little bit unsure about the choices we make — and when we see another woman who’s doing things a little bit differently, well, picking her apart is certainly easier than acknowledging that we’re a little insecure about what it is we’re doing. And when it’s not the woman you see almost daily in line for your respective caffeine fixes but the woman you sort of idolize, you sort of adore… well, maybe we don’t want her to be a real person. Whether she’s had a fall from grace, or a wardrobe malfunction (or a wardrobe that prizes functionality over style), or is simply a little messy, a little conflicted, not as entirely forthcoming with every last bit of her soul as we’d like, we’re pretty quick to pounce on her for it, aren’t we? Could it be that we want too much from them? That we’re kinda desperate for guidance? Or, as Elizabeth Gilbert put it:

We don’t have centuries of educated, autonomous female role models to imitate here (there were no women quite like us until very recently), so nobody has given us a map. As a result, we race forth blindly into this new maze of limitless options. And the risks are steep. We make mistakes.

We do. And we women are pretty darn tough on each other for those mistakes — so who on earth would want to put her whole self out there to be judged? As Holmes herself wrote:

Fey is in the unique and enviable position to say something important and definitive: about being a woman, about boys’ clubs, about contemporary feminism and female representations in pop culture. (I can go on.) If a woman with Fey’s measure of success and cultural influence won’t give us the straight dope, who will? Part of me suspects that this is unfair to expect of her, that because of her prominence (and the relative paucity of other females at her level) Fey has become the go-to girl to represent and illuminate the hopes, fears, and dreams of generations of women. I imagine that she’s aware of this, and finds it both flattering and annoying. I imagine she wishes she could do better. Maybe next time.

Not sure I love the ending. But what I’d like to imagine is this: maybe we can all do better. Maybe, by acknowledging that we’re all flying a little bit blind here, that we’re all struggling with the decisions that combine to determine How We’re Living Our Lives, we  might get on board with the idea that we all could use some support. Maybe then we’d feel a little freer to hang ourselves out there, a little safer in letting our freak flags fly. And maybe, the more of us who do, the more of us who will. And maybe, once that happens, we’ll be more inclined to be ourselves, and to support every other woman out there doing the tough work of being herself.

As Fey’s TV alter-ego might say, I want to go to there.

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First off, how can you not love a book called Bossypants?   That’s the title of Tina Fey’s newly released comic not-a-memoir.  It’s hilarious, honest – and self-deprecating just short of a fault.  (The New York Times calls it “a spiky blend of humor, introspection, critical thinking and Nora Ephron-isms for a new generation )  In her book, Fey acknowledges the good, the bad and the awkward about everything from raising hell to raising kids.

Which is to say, she is Everywoman.  The tragic adolescent.  Pretty, but not, you know, pretty.  Struggling to be taken seriously in the boys’ room.  Juggling work and family.  Anxious.  Unapologetically ambitious.  But then again, not.

We love her.

She comes clean with many of the dilemmas we all face, and what you realize is that the biggest difference between her life and ours may be that she’s funny.   (Well, that and her current job.  Or her paycheck.  But I digress. ) One of my favorite lines in her book is this:  “I don’t care if you fucking like it.”

The quote is attributed to Amy Poehler, in the days when Poehler was new to SNL, and when the writing room was a flat out boys club.  (Classic line:  “Only in comedy does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity.”)  The anecdote goes like this:  Amy had made a joke that, Fey writes, was “dirty and loud and ‘unladylike’”.  Jimmy Fallon, who was the star of the show at the time, told her to stop it:

Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second and wheeled around on him.  “I don’t fucking care if you like it.”  Jimmy was visibly startled.  Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit.

With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place.  Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute.  She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes.  She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.

At which point, Tina Fey knew she had a friend in the writer’s room.  She writes that after that, she felt less alone. (Moral of the story: look what happened to Amy Poehler:  You’d have to say that speaking out ended well for her.   And clearly, for Fey as well, who was the first female head writer at SNL)

Surely, we can identify with that.  That feeling that we are often stuck in alien territory, looking for allies, applauding anyone brave enough to speak her our mind.  And wondering why we are the ones who have to care whether the big boys like it — rather than the other way around.  As Nicole Arthur writes in the Washington Post:

To Fey, this constitutes a universal rallying cry for women in the workplace. Indeed, the book’s title alludes to the fact that she is often asked a question that would sound idiotic addressed to a man: “What’s it like being the boss?” The book’s tips for women in the male-dominated workplace range from facetious (“No pigtails, no tube tops”) to resonant (“You’re not in competition with other women, you’re in competition with everyone”).

In a word.  Yes.

What else many of us can relate to is her public struggle to decide whether to have a second child (FYI: she’s now five months pregnant, reports salon.com’s Mary Elizabeth Williams).  She wrote about it in the New Yorker, and we wrote about it here. But think of second kid simply as metaphor, and you have another issue we ladies can all identify with, whether or not kids are in the picture, or ever will be:  to wit, the never-ending shitstorm most women go through trying to combine career with the life the workplace – and to a certain extent, society itself – has cut out for us.   The message is this:  either we have to do it all perfectly (read: not possible) or we have to choose.  One or the other, baby.  Not both.  And Tina Fey rocks that one, too,  by coming clean with the struggle, and acknowledging she ain’t perfect.  As Mary Elizabeth Williams writes, Fey has, perhaps more than any other star, “defiantly set herself outside the realm of the Queens of Having It All”:

In a passage from her new book, “Bossypants,” excerpted this past winter in the New Yorker, Fey admitted being “stricken with guilt and panic” when her daughter expressed a longing for a little sister, and how, “tired of carrying this anxiety around,” she “burst into tears” at the gynecologist’s office. That’s a real, anguished road a hell of a lot of women have been down — the fear of losing career traction as fast as you’re losing eggs, and not knowing what to do about either…

… Maybe that’s why for Fey, whose work ethic could make James Franco look like a sleepy donkey, a little break sometime in the foreseeable future sounds like a hot idea. She’s written, “What’s so great about work anyway? Work won’t visit you when you’re old. Work won’t drive you to get a mammogram and take you out after for soup … Hollywood be damned. I’ll just be unemployable and labeled crazy in five years anyway” — a statement that would be more witty if it didn’t have such a stinging ring of truth to it. And though she may crack jokes about the rigors of balance — and “30 Rock” recently confronted the dilemma via the ambitious Devon Banks and his trio of “gaybies” — it’s clear from her dazzling success that Fey is not a woman who values her work any less because she loves her child so much. But the demands of being a powerhouse on all fronts can wear a lady down.

You bet.  Which goes straight to the heart of what we’ve been writing about:  We’re raised with the message that we can do anything. Which translates to we can do everything.  We can have it all, we can do it all, and it’s all going to be perfect.

Which is why we love our Tina Fey.  Whether her well-constructed presentation of self is for real or, as jezebel.com founder Anna Holmes suggests in Newsweek, all alter ego, who cares?  Because what we love is the way she flips the message.  We can’t do it all.  And perfection?  Nothing but pipe dream.  And that, sister, is exactly what the Everywoman inside us needs to hear.

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This post first appeared on last year’s Equal Pay Day, but, frankly, we think it’s worth repeating — especially in light of the women of Wal-Mart’s ongoing travails. And we think, once you read this, you’ll agree that their travails are your travails. Happy Equal Pay Day — and we encourage you to celebrate by asking for a raise!

Today is Equal Pay Day: and while the name implies equality, the meaning itself is its precise opposite. Working women of the world, brace yourselves, and prepare to be pissed: today marks the day that your salary catches up to your male counterpart’s… from last year. That’s right, as compared to the dude in the next cube, since January 1 of this year, you, sister, have been working for free.

Yes, despite the fact that it is 2011, despite the fact that the first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which extends the time employees have to file discrimination suits, despite the breadwinning Alpha Wives appearing in trend pieceshither and yon, despite the fact that the Equal Pay Act was enacted oh, some 48 years ago, the fact remains: on average, women earn 77 cents to a man’s dollar. (Even less for women of color.)

Here’s some more fuel for the fire, from a piece from yesterday’s Morning Edition on NPR:

Economists say part of the gap is because women are more likely to take time off work for child care, and an even bigger part is because of “occupational segregation”: Women tend to work disproportionately in lower-paying fields….

But even when you control for occupation and a host of other variables, economists still find an unexplained gender gap of anywhere from around a nickel to a dime or more on the dollar. [Emphasis mine.]

Yep, those convenient, fall-back excuses citing time off for kids or lower-paying career tracks are handily debunked by Ilene Lang, with the women’s research group Catalyst:

‘From their very first job after getting their MBA degree, women made less money than men,’ Lang says. ‘On average, they were paid $4,600 less.’

Very first job? MBA? I think that settles the time-off-for-kids/lesser-paid-career-track thing. Of course, the truly ugly thing about a stat like that is that, not only does it persist, it inevitably gets worse over time. Every time you change jobs and are asked for a salary history, you’re at an increased disadvantage–and coupled with this gender-based pay discrimination disparity, well–that disparity is going to do nothing but get worse. And that’s how it is that you’ve been playing financial catch-up for THE PAST THREE AND A HALF MONTHS.

But wait! There’s more:

Catalyst’s findings held even when those studied had no children. For Lang, this says that decades-old stereotypes persist.

‘There are assumptions that women don’t care about money, which is crazy!’ Lang says. ‘There are assumptions that women will always have men who will take care of them, that women will get married, have children and drop out of the labor force. All those assumptions are just not true.’

Of course they’re not. And yet, even if they were true–even if women didn’t care about money at all, and every one of us had a man to take care of us and the intention to stop working once we had children–well, would that in any way justify the inequities? I myself, as you may have guessed, think not.

How best to address the issue? Well, asking for more money is a start. A big one, and one in which many agree women might need a lesson. We don’t want to be rude, pushy, or assertive, but we don’t want to be broke, or the underpaid schmuck on the payroll either, now do we?

But, as with a lot of things, focusing only on the individual leaves a little too much unaddressed. There’s a bill pending in the Senate now, The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it easier to prove gender bias, increase penalties, and nix the hush-hushness that exists around salaries in an organization. In an open letter, Ms. Ledbetter herself writes:

Without the Paycheck Fairness Act, women will continue to be silenced in the workplace, just like I was–prohibited from talking about wages with coworkers without the fear of being fired. This forced silence keeps many women from discovering pay discrimination in the first place…

Now I know that some people will say that with times as tough as they are, we can’t afford to worry about pay discrimination now. But I’m here to tell you that this recession makes pay equity even more important. With women now making up half of the workforce, more and more families are dependent upon a woman’s paycheck to make ends meet.

So, happy Equal Pay Day! …and apologies for the rant, but I think you’ll agree it was warranted. If you’re inspired to take action, rather than taking it out on Dude-in-the-next-Cube, there’s a link to email your Senator here. And, I dare suggest that you do it while you’re on the clock: more than likely, your boss owes you.


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As F-words go, Fix might be one of the ugliest.  As in, if your life measures low on the perfection scale, just go for the fix.  Change the externals.  Happiness to follow.

It’s enough to make you drop an F-bomb of an entirely different sort.

This all came to mind Wednesday when our morning paper came with a special insert:  a glossy magazine called Scene: Silicon Valley’s Guide to Style. Not sure whether every subscriber got the mag or whether it was targeted to specific zipcodes, but here’s what I found on the well-laid out pages:  Fashion, make-up, be-the-best-you-can-be features all wrapped around copious ads from local purveyors of pretty — from hair salons to designers to plastic surgeons.

The stuff of the typical woman’s magazine, yes?  But here’s what shook me.  A chunk of the pages were devoted to fixing, as in everything from fertility to flab — and in major ways.   I’ll get to specifics in a minute, but first this:   The editor of this magazine is one smart cookie.  Brilliant, funny, savvy — and one of the last people who would ever be part of the presumed media cabal that conspires to make women feel bad about themselves.  In other words, as feminist as the rest of us.  So why this focus on the big fix?

What I think is that the editor knows her demographic:  this is the kind of aspirational stuff that many women want to read.  Because, bottom line, they’re dissatisfied.  Lusting after some greener grass and looking for a quick fix to get there.  Chasing perfection.  And buying into the subtext that anything short of capital-P-perfect is the equivalent of another F-word.  Fail.  So fix it, already.  Will someone love you just the way you are?  Sorry, piano man.  Apparently, you had it all wrong.

Now.  Lest you think I’m ranting about articles about changing your life with new shades of lipstick or little fitted blazers, here’s the troika that got me all afluster.  The first was a feature on pricey fertility treatments, all with limited success rates — from meds that have been around for decades to cutting-edge pre-implantation genetic screening.   All good.  I agree.  But what struck me was the underlying message:  If it’s infertility that has made your life less than perfect, science will fix it for you.  And, apparently, it’s never too late.  One of the reproductive specialists said, somewhat self-congratulatory, that his cutoff point for treatment, based on his own set of ethics, is…. fifty.  Fifty?

Actually, becoming a first-time mama at age 50 might make sense, in light of a second piece that tackled one more aspect of the perfect life:  longevity.  When you’re studiously attempting to perfect all aspects of your life, death is clearly the ultimate buzz kill, right?  The story profiles author Sonia Arrison, a transhumanist, who believes that the miracles of science and technology can make “radical longevity” a reality.   The fountain of youth, as it were: living to age 150.  What got her thinking in that direction was an episode of Extreme Makeover, where a man and woman had just had head-to-toe surgery that completely changed their appearance.  At which point Arrison became entranced with the idea that people could completely change the way they look and feel through science and technology.  Fix your face, fix your life?

Surely, you’ve caught my drift.  If not, there’s this feature included in the bride guide.  Head: “The perfect bride.”  And deck:  “These cosmetic fixes can help make you the belle of the ball.”  We’re not just talking teeth whitening.  Among the slate of fixes: liquid lifts, or fillers injected into your wrinkles for a fuller, younger-looking face; “lunchtime lipo” treatments; lifts to get rid of those saggy, baggy upper arms as well as lifts to vanish unsightly back fat (back fat?!); and a botox underarm treatment to eliminate sweat.  Because, you know, a wedding is about how you look, right?  As opposed to, say, marriage.

The message, of course, is that the perfect life is not only about the externals, but it’s yours for the money.   But here’s the punchline:  Research has shown that when it comes to what we call “happiness”, only about 10 percent of it is related to  changed circumstances –  where you live, where you work, what you drive, how you look.  The rest derives from genetic makeup and life itself – and how you deal with it.  There’s also something called the “hedonic treadmill”, a theory that humans rapidly adapt to a new situation, whether good or bad.  Which is why lottery winners and victims of horrific accidents often have the same level of happiness a few years down the line.

In other words, if it’s satisfaction, or even happiness, you’re after — look inside.  Which is why we’ve got a better F-word for you:  Rather than fix yourself, find yourself.  Ahem.  We wrote a book about that.

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Life begins at 40? I don’t know about that, but, for an increasing number of American women, 40 is around the time motherhood begins.

The CDC, which surveyed data between 2007 and 2009, found that the birth rate for women over 40 in the United States rose steadily in those two years. In other age groups, it fell by 4 percent. Researchers claim that it is the sharpest decline in three decades.

…women aged between 40 and 44 experienced a 6 percent increase in births. Meanwhile, women aged 20-24 (“peak childbearing years”) apparently decided to put babies on hold, as birth rate in that age range plummeted 9 percent.

One analysis attributes this phenomenon to fertility medicine. Makes sense. The study itself draws a link to the economy. That makes sense, too. And, when looking at such steep changes over such a short period of time, those things are likely no small part of the story.

But. I think there are other factors at play here, too, part of a larger trend. The same kind of things that I believe to be behind the Extended Adolescence phenomenon, the same kind of things that I believe to be behind the kind of commitmentphobia New York Magazine and Lori Gottlieb have written about.

Namely, that having a whole lot of options (or being told you have a whole lot of options) breeds a certain reluctance to commit. And what could possibly be more of a commitment than a baby? Real estate? Marriage? A job? A move? Bangs? Please. With the possible exception of a tattoo (although I hear they’re doing impressive things with tattoo removal technology these days), a baby represents the ultimate in commitment. Women today have been sent out to conquer the world. We’ve been told we can do anything, that we can have it all! And that we are so very, very lucky to be able to do anything, to have it all! And, given those messages, is it any wonder we’re a little gun-shy when it comes to commitment? Is it any wonder we want to get our fill of the world and it’s opportunities before we sign on to settle down?

But it’s more than that. A baby represents a far greater lifestyle change for a woman than for a man: even if the woman and the man are parents to the same child. In all likelihood, it’ll be mom who’ll take a time-out from the working world (and she’ll probably–and by “probably” I essentially mean “most definitely”–get dinged for it)–but most families today can’t afford to have one-half of the breadwinners at home forever. Especially with a bonus mouth to feed, a mouth which may one day need braces, a mouth in a head that will one day require a college education… So it makes a lot of sense that a woman might want to wait until she gets a little more established, professionally, before she takes herself out of the game, even if its only temporarily. Because once she jumps back in, she’ll find she’ll be paying a price.

If you ask me, that’s at least a little of what’s behind those numbers–but who knows? Maybe it is the economy, stupid.


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