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Posts Tagged ‘ellen goodman’

What goes around,  you know, comes around.  That’s what came to mind yesterday when someone sent me a link to this post on College Candy wherein Charlsie, a new college grad, charts the difference between choosing a major and, sigh, choosing a life.  Let’s look:

Looking back, college didn’t require a lot of serious decision making – even though I thought it did. For the most part, I made decisions about frivolous things such as: Should I wear pajamas to class today? Should I stick to rum and Coke or go for the Jager bombs? Should I go out tonight or should I spend time working on that eleven-page term paper? I know at times these choices sure stressed me out, but looking back, they really didn’t matter the way post-grad decisions seem to.

First, it must be said: Call me old, but I’m more than a little flummoxed by anyone’s choice to opt for a Jager bomb.  But back to Charlsie.  Our new grad then lists the decisions that lie in front of her:  Where to live.  Where to work.  Grad school or law school.  Prep for the LSAT or sign on for the full-time job offer with the big bucks and benefitsand extra hours beyond the normal nine-to-five.

Can’t you just feel the angst?   All of which brought me back to this very time last year, give or take a day.  Almost one year ago when we launched our blog, the questions were the same as the ones that plague our Ms. Charlsie:  Door No. 1 versus door No. 2.  Risk or security.  Passion or Paycheck.  All of which echo our initial theme:  It’s great to have options.  But dealing with them can be a bitch.  As we wrote then:

… we’re out to explore why the generation of women who have more options than our mothers ever dreamed possible suffers from a terminal case of grass-is-greener syndrome, perpetually distracted by what we’re not doing. We’re stressed. Restless. Constantly second-guessing ourselves. Always wondering what we left behind Door Number Two. And we can’t figure out why.

It’s a sign of the times, with much of this unspoken angst revolving around the pressure to choose, something old-school feminists might never have predicted. So how do we get past it? A shift in perspective might be a good place to start. Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman may have said it best: “There is talk about too many pressures and too many choices, it’s as if the success of feminism was to blame, rather than its unfinished work.”

We’re up for getting on with the finishing, and we think the first step is to recognize our shared experience. So if this all sounds familiar, tell us about it.

Tell us about it, you did.  Here’s what we heard from Lauren:

I do, however, feel concern that I might be overlooking the one thing that is my “calling.” From orchestra conductor to herpetologist to cartographer to photographer to writer, I’ve wanted to do it all. I also know that I can, we all can.

And from Marisa:

My sister used to tease me that I was on the semester system in life because I was always moving and changing jobs. But really I was just worried that I was missing my “true calling” or not doing enough to fulfill my parents’ expectations after all that schooling. (Come to find out later that their only expectation was that I be happy.) Now I’m almost 40 and starting yet a new career (this one will be THE ONE . . . I hope). Looking back I can see how the choices and self-inflicted expectations led to a major paralysis in my mid-20′s…”

And Marjorie:

I majored in theatre in college, only to burn out on it and give it up after college. but now, every day, I think about that life, the performance life…and I wonder what I’m missing. What did I give up? Would I be happier if I had just stuck with it? Would I , could I be more fulfilled if I were doing it right now? Oy, it drives me mad and I keep hoping that maybe all of my going around about it will make me so nauseous I’ll actually get sick (of myself) and do something….

…All of these questions resonate with me. It’s so wonderful to have the plethora of options that we do…but I have no idea which way to go. Some of the stuff I have absolutely nailed down – I know what kind of clothes I like to wear; I know that I DON’T want to be a mathematician…

And Samantha:

The itching thought that runs though my conciousness is that it is ok to think or dream or believe a girl can do anything, yet the doing and execution is what can undo her. Coupled with a family and the people whose feelings and egos may be bruised and battered along the way. The absolute reality is that any job or hobby that evokes passion requires an equal if not greater sacrifice. That notion of ‘What do you want to be when grow up’, is not coupled with ok, you can do it, but it’s going to be hard. Mom doesn’t say ‘Gee little Sammy that’s great — so when you fall in love and get married make sure you can integrate all of your passion and dreams into your marriage.’ That would have been the best advice anyone could have given me. Instead I plunged head long into a decision before I had the courage to really declare my dreams, AND the ramifications of those dreams.

The thoughtful comments from bright women rolled in throughout the year, all of which convince us that this analysis paralysis, this longing for the road not taken, the buyer’s remorse that plagues us all is, one year later, still real.  The solutions?  The first step is recognizing we’re in it together.

As for the forementioned Charlsie?  She blew off the job offer and opted instead to concentrate on studying for the LSAT and applying to law schools.  Good for her.  So long as she lays off the Jager bombs.

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Syndicated Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman, who brought 40 years of insight, wisdom and humor to her coverage of Women-with-a-capital-Dub, bid her vast audience farewell in a New Year’s Day column in which she wrote that she “was letting herself go.”

Hate it when that happens.

You can’t blame her from wanting to step back. Forty years of cranking out insightful prose without a break — 750 words at a shot, all backed by extensive reporting — is the stuff of Superwoman. But still. You have to wonder who will pick up the mantle, a rational and national voice, urging us to take ourselves seriously and to keep up the fight for change. If anyone made our struggles for equality at home and at work accessible to everyperson — even men — it was Goodman. You had to be operating with slightly less than half a brain not to recognize the sense in all she wrote. That’s how change happens.

A few days ago, she gave a thoughtful exit interview to the Poynter Institute’s Mallory Jean Tenore, who wrote about it here. Goodman, wrote Tenore, was an inspiration, “proof that the written word has power — to challenge the status quo, shape ideas and ultimately create change. “

A lot of those ideas had to do with the status of women. In a Christmas Eve column, Goodman wrote of what she had seen in her 40 years of tracking feminism — all the while prodding us to consider how much we still need to get done. If she were to grade the movement, she writes, she’d give it an “incomplete.”

How to sum up the time and distance we’ve traveled? Advance and backlash? Forward march and stall-out?

Today, half the law students and medical students are female. But only 15 of the Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs. We had the first serious woman candidate run for president … and lose. We had a mother of five, a governor and a Title IX baby run for vice president … as a conservative.

The Equal Rights Amendment was defeated because people were scared into believing that women could end up in combat. Now nearly a quarter-million women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, 120 have died, 650 have been wounded. But still no ERA.

What a story this has been to cover. Women now hold the majority of jobs … because men have lost more of them. Women earn six out of 10 college degrees … yet earn 77 cents for every male dollar.

A woman is now speaker of the House, but there are only 73 women in that House and 17 in the Senate. At 60, Meryl Streep is playing a romantic lead, yet girdles have been resurrected as “body shapers” and girls are forced into ever-more narrow standards of beauty. Young women grow up believing they can be anything they want, just don’t call them by the F-word: feminist.

My generation — WOMEN — thought the movement would advance on two legs. With one, we’d kick down the doors closed to us. With the other, we’d walk through, changing society for men and women.

It turned out that it was easier to kick down the doors than to change society. It was easier to fit into traditional male life patterns than to change those patterns. We’ve had more luck winning the equal right to 70-hour weeks than we’ve had selling the equal value of care-giving. We have yet to solve the problem raised at the outset: Who will take care of the family?

Goodman continues on the family track in her interview with Tenore, suggesting that the personal is still the political:

Goodman noted that although the surge in mom blogs has helped provide moms with a forum for discussion, they sometimes fall short of connecting the problems mothers face with potential solutions. They might, for instance, address the difficulty of balancing work and childcare but not touch upon how companies’ inflexible hours and public childcare contribute to this problem.

“A lot of women writing mom blogs are very conscious of the difficulty of balancing work and family, but a lot have been driving back to ‘my family has to solve it all on their own,’ ” Goodman said. “My generation was much more interested in figuring out a way for a public solution.”

Having raised a daughter during her years as a columnist, Goodman sympathizes with journalists who juggle work and motherhood. As a grandmother, she watches her own daughter now face the same kind of struggles that she once endured and realizes that sometimes, something has to give.

“In life you have a lot of balls in the air. You’re trying to do a good job, you’re trying to raise a family, you’re trying to take care of yourself,” Goodman said. “On any given day, you’ve probably dropped one of them. But if over the course of a long time you’ve gotten a ‘B’ in every area, that’s still honors.”

All of which brings to mind a quote from a good friend, Dr. Kathy Hull, Psy.D., the founder of The George Mark Children’s House, the first freestanding hospice and respite residential center in the U.S. for children with life-limiting illnesses. Hull was one of four winners of the 2009 Minerva Award, given to those women in honor of “their service on the frontlines of humanity.” The quote was one of 365 that appeared in “Tips for Life,” a calendar book published in conjunction with California First Lady Maria Shriver’s “The Women’s Conference 2009.” :

My mother was always quick to remind each of her six offspring that “Life isn’t always fair, honey.” I would add to her sage advice: Use your resources — intellectual, physical, spiritual and financial — to level the playing field.

A level playing field, at work, at home, in social structures. That’s all we’re after. So much to ask? Like Goodman, if we keep our eyes on the prize, I think we can do it.

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Before we put the happiness gap to bed, here’s a fitting last word: some smoking-smart commentary from Barbara Ehrenreich I found on Mother Jones. The piece is entited “Are Women Getting Sadder? Or are we all just getting a lot more gullible?” That should tip you off.

Ehrenreich’s essay echoes a few of the points we’ve made ourselves, here, here and here, and adds a few more, arguments that should take a hammer to the debate that made the rounds a few weeks back, thanks to a series of posts by Marcus Buckingham on HuffPo.

Whatever you think about the original study — and the epidemic of head-scratching that trailed after — don’t blame feminism, she writes:

… it’s a little too soon to blame Gloria Steinem for our dependence on SSRIs. For all the high-level head-scratching induced by the Stevenson and Wolfers study, hardly anyone has pointed out (1) that there are some issues with happiness studies in general, (2) that there are some reasons to doubt this study in particular, or (3) that, even if you take this study at face value, it has nothing at all to say about the impact of feminism on anyone’s mood.

In case you don’t recognize her name, Ehrenreich is a feminist, activist, and journalist — who also has a Ph.D. in cell biology. In two of her most recent books — Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream — she lived the life: first going undercover as a low-wage worker to investigate poverty-level America, and second as a white-color job seeker. Her latest book is “BRIGHT-SIDED: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.” (Listen to an interview on NPR and read an excerpt here.)

Among the points Ehrenreich makes in her Mother Jones piece: Happiness is a notoriously slippery concept to measure; one of the objective measures of women’s happiness (or lack of same) is the suicide rate, which the authors of the study acknowledge has gone down; and finally, the current chat cycle may have been a plank in a marketing platform for Buckingham’s new book, Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently, which ends with a pitch for a bunch of related products you can buy:

It’s an old story: If you want to sell something, first find the terrible affliction that it cures. In the 1980s, as silicone implants were taking off, the doctors discovered “micromastia”—the “disease” of small-breastedness. More recently, as big pharma searches furiously for a female Viagra, an amazingly high 43% of women have been found to suffer from “Female Sexual Dysfunction,” or FSD. Now, it’s unhappiness, and the range of potential “cures” is dazzling: Seagrams, Godiva, and Harlequin, take note.

But what struck me most in this short piece was the way Ehrenreich effectively called out those who blame women’s unhappiness on feminism — and the choices women now have, largely because of it:

But let’s assume the study is sound and that (white) women have become less happy relative to men since 1972. Does that mean that feminism ruined their lives?

Not according to Stevenson and Wolfers, who find that “the relative decline in women’s well-being… holds for both working and stay-at-home mothers, for those married and divorced, for the old and the young, and across the education distribution”—as well as for both mothers and the childless. If feminism were the problem, you might expect divorced women to be less happy than married ones and employed women to be less happy than stay-at-homes. As for having children, the presumed premier source of female fulfillment: They actually make women less happy.

And if the women’s movement was such a big downer, you’d expect the saddest women to be those who had some direct exposure to the noxious effects of second wave feminism. As the authors report, however, “there is no evidence that women who experienced the protests and enthusiasm in the 1970s have seen their happiness gap widen by more than for those women who were just being born during that period.”

All of which reminds me of an op-ed Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman wrote a few years back on the occasion of Drew Gilpin Faust being named the first woman president of Harvard University:

… Faust’s announcement also came when the story line about feminism itself has taken an odd turn. On college campuses where women take rights for granted, many shy away from the F-word as if it were a dangerous brand. A second narrative has taken hold in many parts of the culture that says one generation’s feminism made the next generation unhappy.

There is talk about too many pressures and too many choices. It’s as if the success of feminism was to blame rather than its unfinished work. Indeed, it took Mary Cheney to offer bracing words at a recent Barnard College gathering: “This notion that women today are overwhelmed with choices, my God, my grandmother would have killed to have these choices.”

“Its unfinished work”. Love the sound of that. Whether we’re happy, sad, or somewhere stuck in Limbo, who cares? That’s irrelevant at best, a distraction at worst. Sure, we’ve got the options we wanted, but why do we still have trouble navigating them? Which leads to my question: Why did our work stall, and how do we get rolling again?

Your turn.

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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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