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Posts Tagged ‘Gloria steinem’

So this might reveal my age, but my favorite image of Superman — other than his affinity for lycra — was the way he could fly out into space and whack the Earth with his hand to stop it from spinning.  Don’t you just wish someone could do that for reals?

I do.  Just for a day.  Nope, not even that.  Just for an hour.  Think of it.  You’re up to your ears in this, that or the other and suddenly you look at the clock and it’s 6:00.  And all you can think is what the eff happened to 5:00.  Or 4:00.  Or 3:00.   Too much to do.  Not near enough time.

Case in point.  With all apologies to the East Coast, this past weekend in Northern California, it was a balmy 70 degrees.  I know this because I could see the sunny blue sky from outside my window, and I could check the temp from my computer.    To wit, I experienced the sunshine from inside the house, grading a never-ending stack of papers.  I never made it out the front door.  And here’s the soulsuck.  Once I got caught up, there was another stack waiting to take its place.

Rinse, repeat.  And insert your job here.  Doesn’t it just make you want to get off the grid?

Life it seems can be relentless in that we’re always running to catch up.  We’re working harder and longer.  Our inboxes grow exponentially, minute by minute.  We’re breathless, as in out of breath.   Especially when we happen to be cursed with the Double X fantasy of having it all.  (Or, to refer once again to Germaine Greer:  “When we talk about women having it all, what they really have all of is the work.”)   All of which goes against everything we preach in this space — and in our book.  Live in the moment.  Savor the now.  Take the time to get to know yourself.  If you do, the decisions will come.

And yet.  Why can’t we go there?  Why don’t we say no?  To the endless obligations, the meaningless meetings.  (um, was I typing out loud?)

Because we can’t.

All of which makes me recall a conversation in class the other day.  My intro students were learning interviewing basics and I offered myself as guinea pig.  The chat turned toward Undecided and one young woman asked, toward the end of the session, whether I had any advice for women trying to make their way into high-stakes careers.  To which I answered by paraphrasing Gloria Steinem:  Don’t think about the way women should fit into the world.  Think about how the world should fit women.

And that’s the key, right?  We Double-Xers now make up at least half of the workforce, over half of the college graduates, and half of the professional school graduates.  Whether or not it’s the so-called “end of men” — who cares?   The point is that all of us — men included — are still stuck in a working world designed by and for men — the ones who have a Betty at home taking care of business.   Structures, society, and policies have not made the shift.  And yet:  who lives like that any more?

Short answer:  None of us.  Regardless of gender.  (Apparently, this is not just an American issue.  A pre-Valentine’s Day Brit study found that almost a third of those surveyed said that long hours and high workloads had caused their personal relationships to take a hit.)

And so, while I yearn for Superman to give me a couple more hours of the day, or, at the very least, try my best to spend some time off the grid, realistically, I suspect it ain’t gonna happen.  None of it.  Not until the concept of “work life balance” becomes more than euphemism for on-site daycare.   Not until we fight for some meaningful change.

And I would do that.  Really, I would.  But right now, I have this stack of papers to grade.  I would have done it sooner.  But, you know, I had a meeting.  And I couldn’t say no.

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So have you heard about the big dust-up caused by the Wall Street Journal essay written by Erica Jong in which she castigates what she calls “motherphilia?”  I’m sure you know exactly what she means, but let’s let her spell it out:

Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you know that we have endured an orgy of motherphilia for at least the last two decades. Movie stars proudly display their baby bumps, and the shiny magazines at the checkout counter never tire of describing the joys of celebrity parenthood. Bearing and rearing children has come to be seen as life’s greatest good. Never mind that there are now enough abandoned children on the planet to make breeding unnecessary. Professional narcissists like Angelina Jolie and Madonna want their own little replicas in addition to the African and Asian children that they collect to advertise their open-mindedness. Nannies are seldom photographed in these carefully arranged family scenes. We are to assume that all this baby-minding is painless, easy and cheap.

Ms Jong, she of “the zipless f*ck fame” then goes on to talk about the new mommy bible, “The Baby Book” that advocates attachment parenting.  Not just a clever phrase:  Your baby is your life.  Back to Jong (we love her, by the way):

You wear your baby, sleep with her and attune yourself totally to her needs. How you do this and also earn the money to keep her is rarely discussed. You are just assumed to be rich enough. At one point, the [authors of the book] suggest that you borrow money so that you can bend your life to the baby’s needs. If there are other caregivers, they are invisible. Mother and father are presumed to be able to do this alone—without the village it takes to raise any child. Add to this the dictates of “green” parenting—homemade baby food, cloth diapers, a cocoon of clockless, unscheduled time—and you have our new ideal.

All of which reminded me of a thank-you note I received from the daughter of a friend for a baby gift of green baby stuff that noted, just slightly sardonically, exactly that:  you not only have the obligation to be a good parent these days, but you have to be environmentally conscious while you’re at it.  Whew.  Another ideal to live up to and other way for women to be judged.  But that’s beside the point.

You can surely predict the fallout to Jong’s essay.  Over on the Motherlode, the responses were hot, heavy and not at all surprising.  This came in, an essay cowritten by Katie Allison Granju,  the author of “Attachment Parenting”, and mommy blogger Jillian St. Charles:

Jong’s stock in trade as a writer and a cultural observer has always been to provoke outrage via the outrageous. These days, however, her ability to shock via suggestions of sexual boundary-pushing have become more than a little passe. Thus, she’s apparently now decided to attempt to stir the pot by singing the praises of some sort of detached, Jongian-style “zipless parenting,” in which — as she says — “there are no rules.”  It’s a convenient position from which she can throw bombs at any target that doesn’t reflect her own choices.

Okay, point taken.   As for the “no rules” part,  wait for the punch line.  But what made me cringe was this:

I do not sleep with my baby because some “guru” told me I should. In fact, lots of experts continue to tell women that we absolutely should NOT do this very thing. No, I sleep with my baby because after a day spent away from her at work, I enjoy feeling her snuggled next to us at night. And while I feel guilty about a whole lot of things as a mother — as Jong admits she  also does in her essay — I don’t feel one iota of guilt about my decision to breastfeed or spend plenty of time with my kids. I am not imprisoned by my parenting. I enjoy it, most of the time.

Sleep with my baby? After a day spent away from her at work? That’s what made me think.  Is all this trophy parenting, this uber-attachment, this need to spend every sleeping moment with your baby, the inability to spend any time away from your child when you get home from work,  a reaction to the fact that our culture, our policies, our work-life structures have not evolved to the point that there’s time for both work and life over the course of daily life?  That mom is still the one doing it all and doing it obsessively?  And where the hell is dad?

All of which led me back to a “big think” interview with the glorious Gloria Steinem a few weeks ago, where she said, as always, a lot of smart stuff.  But check what she says related to this issue, specifically:

For instance, we’ve demonstrated in this and other modern countries or industrialized countries that women can do what men can do, but we have not demonstrated that men can do what women can do therefore children are still mostly raised, hugely mostly raised by women and women in industrialized modern countries end up having two jobs one outside the home and one inside the home. And more seriously than that children grow up believing that only women can be loving and nurturing, which is a libel on men, and that only men can be powerful in the world outside the home, which is a libel on women. So that’s huge step we haven’t taken yet.

Right?  Don’t get me wrong.  I loved having kids, and (ahem, fishing here), I think I did a fairly decent job of it.  One reason may have been that I also gave myself permission to have a life that was attached to neither work or parenting.  But back to where we started.  Let’s give Erica the last word:

In the oscillations of feminism, theories of child-rearing have played a major part. As long as women remain the gender most responsible for children, we are the ones who have the most to lose by accepting the “noble savage” view of parenting, with its ideals of attachment and naturalness. We need to be released from guilt about our children, not further bound by it. We need someone to say: Do the best you can. There are no rules.

Amen, sister.  I’ll be happy to say it.   Do the best you can.  There are no rules.  And that, dear readers, goes for everything.  Not just parenting.

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Replace the asterisk with the vowel of your choice and what you have is the sound-bite that goes along with Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum’s famous fist pump.

Lincecum, in case you’ve been living on another planet this baseball season, is the Giant’s pitching ace, the long-haired little kid who looks like a skate-punk, even when he’s hurling a fastball over the plate at 94 m.p.h.   To say he defies the stereotype of the typical ballplayer is, well, understatement.

Which is why we Bay Area folks love this particular Giants team.  They’re misfits.  In the best possible way.   Take first baseman Aubrey Huff, whose underpants come from Victoria’s Secret.  Seriously.  He has taken to wearing a red sequined thong – for good luck – under his uniform.  Or third baseman Pablo Sandoval dubbed Panda because he’s fat – who not only doesn’t mind the nickname, but has inspired thousands of adoring fans to wear furry panda hats at AT&T Park.  There’s clutch hitter Cody Ross, MVP of the NL Championship Series.  He thought his career in baseball was over when the Giants picked him up on waivers at the end of the summer.

And then there’s closer Brian Wilson who sports a fauxhawk and a beard that looks to be dyed daily with shoe polish.  He told the New York Times that his goal is to one day be a NYT crossword puzzle clue, and if you really want to get a dose of weird, Google Wilson and “the machine.”

In short, this ain’t your grandpa’s baseball team.  And, other than giving me a chance to write about my beloved Gigantes as I gear up for Game One of the World Series, this scrappy team provides a good lesson here for the rest of us.  Which is to say:  you don’t necessarily have to play by the rules to win the game.

That’s something we women, whether we’re baseball fans or not, need to take to heart as we march our way into this new millennium, often trying to fit ourselves into a world carved out by Someone Else.  You have to wonder how often we let ourselves be socialized by the stereotypes, wear the uniforms dictated by the roles we think we’re supposed to play.

And yet.

Do we really have to buy into society’s timetable that says we have to have achieved XYZ – a house, a kid, a killer career and a dog – by such-and-such a birthday?  (We don’t even have to like dogs, do we?)  Do we have to pretend we’re not interested in fashion — even if we happen to love fashion — to  be taken seriously as feminists?   Why is it we feel obliged to get a degree in business when what we want to do is dance?

And why is it  that we feel compelled to act like the boys to make it in a business world that they designed generations ago.  Maybe that world doesn’t work anymore — for any of us.   As we’ve noted before, what women have to offer (you know, our differences?) might actually be better for the workplace itself, not to mention the bottom line.  And speaking of that, what if, when it comes to career, all we really want is a paycheck?

(I could go on but, you know, its almost 4:57.  I’ve got a game to watch.)

In short, if we don’t like the mold, why do we keep trying to fit inside it?  That’s a guarantee that we’ll never see a game change.   As one of our icons, Gloria Steinem, once said: Don’t think about making women fit the world–think about making the world fit women.

The message?  There’s no harm in being ourselves.  We’ll not only be more comfortable – well, probably not so much in the sequined thong – but we may well win in the long run.

To which you know there’s only one response.  See above.

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photo credit: Kyle Terada/US Presswire

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The pill. So singularly significant, that’s all the ID it needs. And soon, May 9 to be exact, it will celebrate its 50th birthday. And while how much of the change those 50 years have seen can be attributed to The Pill is debatable, it’d be pretty damn hard to deny the effect that little plastic case has had on the lives of countless women. In the sexual realm, yes–although, as you’ll find in the current slew of stories on this very subject, many believe the link between the Pill’s arrival on the scene and the sexual revolution to be (wildly) overrated–but more so (wait for it…), in terms of the choices over one’s life that control over one’s body opened up. As Nancy Gibbs writes in Time magazine’s current cover story, The Pill at 50: Sex, Freedom, and Paradox:

when contraception was put under a woman’s control, it put many other things under her control as well…

By the 1970s the true impact of the Pill could begin to be measured, and it was not on the sexual behavior of American women; it was on how they envisioned their lives, their choices, and their obligations. In 1970 the median age at which college graduates married was about 23; by 1975, as use of the Pill among single women became more common, that age had jumped 2.5 years. The fashion for large families went the way of the girdle. In 1963, 80% of non-Catholic college women said they wanted three or more children; that plunged to 29% by 1973. More women were able to imagine a life that included both a family and a job, which changed their childbearing calculations.

As I myself put it some time ago:

Finally, women could screw with abandon! Or at least with a greatly reduced chance of a lifelong reminder of a night of screwing with abandon. No longer would our dreams have to take a backseat to an accidental pregnancy. With the choice of when–and if–we’d become mothers in our own control, all kinds of other choices–like hey, what do I want to do with this life of mine??–materialized.

All was not immediately groovy, of course. Many doctors–even Planned Parenthood–would not prescribe the Pill to women unless they were married. The Catholic Church forbade its use. And then there was the stigma–that, though “nice girls” might get carried away in a moment, they certainly don’t plan for such moments. And if they did, well, it’s a slippery slope to becoming the town strumpet–or so suggested Peggy’s smoking gyno, in this Mad Men clip, who offered the sage advice that “even in our modern times, easy women don’t find husbands”:

That’s fiction, of course… but yesterday’s On Point offered the real-life counterpart. The show counted Gibbs and Elisa Ross, ob/gyn and staff physician in the Women’s Health Institute of the Cleveland Clinic, as guests, but the standouts were the callers, who recalled their own experiences, marked by the absence of choices when it came to their reproductive systems–and, subsequently, their lives. Two of the callers were in college and engaged or just graduated and newlywed when the Pill was approved. One, Catholic, said she sobbed when the Catholic Church came out against its use: she had a toddler and a new baby–just 14 months apart–and was justifiably freaked out that, before she knew it, she’d have an entire litter to raise. The other, just prior to her wedding, which was to take place in between she and her husband-to-be’s senior years of college, was denied the Pill by her Catholic doctor. (Which should give us an additional something or two to think about, in light of today’s “conscience clauses,” which allow hospital workers and pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions, based on their own beliefs.) She got pregnant on their honeymoon. She loves her children, of course, but she said she wonders what kind of path her life would have taken, had things been different. But the best call was from a man, a physician, who said there was one woman in his class at med school. In 1990, he returned to that school, as Dean, to a class of med students that was nearly 50% female. And he thought it was wonderful: “Women are born healers,” he said. “Men have to be taught.”

Indeed, left without the excuse that hiring women–or even accepting them into school–would be a waste, as they might get pregnant and drop out or quit at any time, women’s numbers both in the workplace and in college exploded. Which is, of course, good stuff. The Pill, low unemployment (Gibbs quotes federal manpower expert Howard Stambler saying, of 1966′s 3.8% unemployment rate, “There are almost no men left” to hire), the strengthening women’s movement, Title IX, they all conspired to bring women into the fold. And, historically speaking, quickstyle. But, pithy as ever, Gloria Steinem in 1962 offered an insightful warning:

‘The real danger of the contraceptive revolution may be the acceleration of woman’s role change without any corresponding change of man’s attitude toward her role.’

And that, dear reader, is the rub–and not just in terms of man’s attitude. But in terms of our own aptitude to deal with all the incredible choices we have before us–and in society’s aptitude to support the woman who wants both, to be a mother to her children and the mistress of her own destiny.

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Amid all this talk about whether women need to be more like men to make it in a man’s world, along comes Katie Couric in a sexy fashion shoot for the March issue of Harper’s Bazaar, due out Feb. 16.

Guts ball — or career poison? Does it diminish her credibility or, in an unexpected way, add to it? In an odd pop-culture kind of way, is she giving women permission to be themselves?

Clearly, Couric has made it in a so-called man’s world. And in this photo-spread, it’s pretty clear she’s not trying to be like one. There she is in a short and sexy one-shoulder cocktail dress. With smoky kohl-rimmed eyes. And look, are those Christian Louboutains? There she is again, wearing a don’t-mess-with-me mini-skirted black suit by Giorgio Armani. She stares right at the camera. Not flirty. Not flinty.

But on top of her game.

It’s a combination of sex and power, writes Robin Givhan in the Washington Post, who finds the pictures:

… an audacious celebration of a powerful woman as a boldly sexy one, too.

There’s nothing reserved or hesitant in the sex appeal on display in the four-page story about Couric. The images are a full-throated, even exaggerated, rebuke of the notion that a woman must dress in a prescribed manner — Suze Orman suits, full-coverage blouses, sensible heels — to protect her IQ, her résumé and her place in a male-dominated work culture.

Post- or pre-feminist? You tell me. Obviously, there is/will be backlash. Like this from Jezebel.com:

This argument feels like one of those moments where counterintuitive logic comes full circle to just plain retrogressiveness. I support Katie Couric’s right to pose as sexily as she wants to. Fashion shoots are fun and she looks great at whatever age. It’s part of her job, like it or not, to be someone people want to look at or watch. But do we have to pretend that the display of the traditional beauty of someone on television, as seen in a fashion magazine, is somehow fresh and progressive? Show me Candy Crowley in Balenciaga (or, um, in sweatpants?) and maybe I’ll be impressed.

And yet, stilettos notwithstanding, the fashion shoot, and reaction to it, makes you wonder all sorts of things. Do women have to downplay their sexuality to be taken seriously? If they don’t, are they playing to some regressive male fantasy? Are women still judged on their looks as much as on their abilites?

Or is this sexy shoot of the first successful female network news anchor none of the above? Is it really about seizing our identity as women without apologies, like Justice Sotomayor’s fire engined red nail enamel, a subtle sign that, as Gloria Steinem suggested in Shannon’s post from yesterday, it’s time to make the world fit women, rather than the other way around.

Now clearly, Gloria would have major issue with the stilettos. And probably with the fashion shoot itself. But with the underlying message?

It’s worth a reminder that Couric started her network job wearing age and gender-appropriate twin sets and blazers and, until the Palin interview that cemented her career, was considered something of a lightweight. You have to wonder if maybe what her fashion spread shows is that she has arrived and she knows it. From the Washington Post:

Now, in 2010, Couric has pronounced herself sexy in the Bazaar photographs. After breaking ground in network news, after having folks debate whether she should have worn a white blazer on her debut show — as if anything but black or navy proclaimed her less serious — there are these images. Unapologetically, forcefully, I-dare-you, sexy. In each one, Couric looks strong and capable. Capable of what, of course, is the underlying question.

Certainly, some will see the pictures as further proof of why she is all wrong for the job. They will probably be the same people for whom Couric has accumulated a personal work wardrobe of blacks, grays and pinstripes — a more sophisticated, yet still reserved, alternative to the news-anchor cliche of Crayola-colored blazers.

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One time, long long ago, in a kingdom far, far away, my mom said to me, “Shannon, I feel as though I haven’t given you enough advice.” To which I replied: “Shut the f*** up, mom.”

(Trust me; she’s given me plenty.)

And yet, get a group of women gathered together in the presence of a feminist icon like Gloria Steinem, and all we want is advice. But the thing about advice is: no matter who it’s coming from, no matter how sound and wise, it weighs on us, becomes a heavy, restrictive Should. Unless, of course, the advice is to ditch the shoulds altogether, as was Steinem’s, at a recent event at Yale:

During the question-and-answer session, Claire Gordon (’10) asked the members of the panel if they thought women should feel obligated to continue in the workforce.

“Dispense with the word ‘should,’” Steinem answered. “Don’t think about making women fit the world–think about making the world fit women.”

She said women should pursue the life choices they would most enjoy, regardless of social expectations.

I love this idea about making the world fit women–I love it on the macro level, obviously, but I love it in the individual sense as well. And I think maybe, just maybe, such a subtle sounding shift in perspective might in fact play out to be huge: rather than looking at ourselves as the X factor that, well, should do the bending required to fit within the conventions, the rules, the, you know, shoulds, imagine looking at our work, our relationships, the way we prioritize, the way we spend our time as the things that can be molded, tweaked, adjusted instead. Imagine if we took whatever unfair truths might exist, said To Hell With It, and did whatever we wanted–the way we wanted–anyway. Imagine, just for a second, that the only thing we should be doing is being who we are–and that the rest of the world should bend to suit us. All advice should be so freeing. And speaking of, that advice my mom wanted to give me? I shoulda listened.

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And now for the Friday funnies. Macleans just posted a piece on the feminism of botox, or some such, that deserves at least a minimal riff. To wit, it reports on the ruckus that ensued when Sen. Harry Reid suggested that the new health care plan include a “bo-tax” on cosmetic procedures. Opposition erupted all over the place, McClean’s reported, including from this unlikely corner — NOW:

Opposition to the Bo-tax from the American Medical Association further muddled the matter. As did its denunciation by the National Organization for Women (NOW), the largest feminist lobby in the U.S. NOW’s president Terry O’Neill argued the Bo-tax unfairly targeted women, who comprise 90 per cent of cosmetic surgery recipients —especially middle-aged women facing workplace discrimination who rely on sometimes risky cosmetic procedures to “freshen” their image.

NOW’s seemingly pro-Botox stance was greeted as a jolting about-face from its long-standing opposition to the pressure on women to conform to rigid beauty ideals. Back in 1968, two years after its founding, the group famously burned a trash can full of bras, girdles and cosmetics outside of the Miss America beauty pageant.

Now middle-aged itself, with founding member Gloria Steinem admitting to having had cosmetic eye surgery, NOW’s opposition to the Bo-tax suggested resignation with the ubiquity of cosmetic work and acceptance of its new artificial norms. Older women’s aged appearance was holding them back, O’Neill told the New York Times: “I know a lot of women whose earning power stalled out or kicked down as they entered into their 50s, unlike their male counterparts’, whose really went up.

Oh, I get it. You can fiddle with your looks if you insist you’re doing it to feed your family. (Notice I did not touch “aged appearance”.) Then you can say you’re oppressed and you’re off the hook. But if you choose to go under the knife or — to go broad with this issue, which is where I really want to go — put on lipstick or color your hair or wear a pair of drop-dead stilettos just to feed your ego, you’re clearly a victim of the patriarchy. A tool of the sexist society.

Why else would you want to look good? Because, the wisdom goes, you’re only doing this to pander to the mythical male who not only dictates the definitions of beauty, but likes ‘em young, too. (It’s beyond me why any smart woman would even care about pleasing some weenie who is much more comfortable with a starry-eyed girl ten or fifteen years his junior than a woman who is more or less his equal. But that’s beside the point.)

Anyway, hello? I’ve always seen this as a stupid and sexist way of looking at the way we look at our looks. Because let’s face it, vanity begins at home. In the bedroom mirror. There’s one big reason most of us futz with our hair, play dress-ups before we leave the house, put on makeup: It’s to please ourselves — and secondarily, each other. Significant others — or potential significant others — of the male persuasion don’t know Jimmy Choo from Jimmy Kimmel, wouldn’t know a low-light from a headlight, would rather your lipstick is off than on, and aren’t likely to pay close attention to what you’re wearing — unless it’s an old pair of jeans (and then they’re tickled, especially if it means they can dress in kind) or perhaps something Brittany Spears might or might not have worn to get out of a limo.

So I guess I don’t understand why we have to make up these silly rationalizations or apologies if we care about the way we look. We’re not going to lose our feminist card if we like flipping through the pages of Vogue, if we’re a sucker for the cosmetic counter at Macy’s, if we color our hair, or if, you know, we’re considering an eye job. We’re doing it for us.

What can be more feminist than that?

photo credit: Discover.com: Marylin Monroe (1957) by Milton H. Greene
Image courtesy of Marquardt Beauty Analysis

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Readers, we’ve missed you, but we promise we’re back — and we’ve returned bearing gifts, in the form of a Q&A with the sharp, funny, honest, and slightly potty-mouthed author Erica Kennedy, whose first novel, Bling, is a New York Times Bestseller. But we bring her to you because Sydney, the main character in her new novel, Feminista*, is undoubtedly one of us. Allow me to quote:

She grew up believing she’d have it all. A Career with a capital C. A husband. Babies! She’d be the Enjoli woman, brining home the bacon, frying it up in a pan, never letting him forget he was a man! Who would’ve guessed the whole thing would turn out to be a scam, a cultural Ponzi scheme that would dupe every middle-class woman of her generation?

FUCK YOU, GLORIA STEINEM!

Ahem. I told you she was one of us. How could I not want to get Kennedy’s take on a few of our favorite subjects? It being the season of giving, she graciously obliged. Here are some excerpts.

SK: With regard to that quote [above], this feeling that it’s a scam, that we’ve all just been set up — do you believe that?

EK: In a sense, yes. But I don’t think it’s a scam. I think it’s a ‘grass is greener’ thing. When women were expected to stay home and take care of the kids, they yearned for more. They wanted to be out there, engaged with the world, making their own money, chasing their dreams. But then you get that and there are downsides to it. And then most still want to have kids and you realize how tough it is to manage both. But you can’t predict what that will be like until you’re in it.

I think that’s what the Opt-Out revolution is about. Women who got great educations because they were raised to believe they would have careers and that would be fulfilling but then they got out there and started working and realized how hard it was to juggle everything and made a choice to stay home. I know there are people who say the Opt-Out Revolution is a myth but I know many women who are living this life and many who would if they could afford to.

But that’s why “balance” is always the catchword when women are talking about their lives. Because we don’t want to kill ourselves working all the time, we don’t want to stay home forever, we want to find a way to integrate work and family (and whatever else we need to feed our spirit) in a way that feels right for each of us. And I think we’re in a time now where we are still learning how to do that. The paradigms are not in place. We all have guilt about making these choices, no matter which we choose. I think in the future, things like flextime programs will be more prevalent because that’s a way that companies won’t have to lose smart, talented women who feel like they need to make this either/or choice.

SK: So do you think the idea of ‘having it all’ is just a bunch of bullshit?

EK: To me, the bullshit is to think ‘having it all’ means one cookie cutter thing. Everyone is different and everyone has to define their ‘all’ for themselves. And do you really need it all? Can’t we be content with some? Do we always have to be chasing more?

SK: Your character Sydney is tormented by the pressure to do something amazing — the Career-with-a-Capital-C thing. Have you felt that yourself?

EK: I went to Stuyvesant, a high school for gifted students in New York. I went to Sarah Lawrence where women were encouraged to have Careers and the thought of NOT working was unheard of. I went to Oxford my junior year. So I think there were expectations that I would do something great and I internalized that and put a lot of pressure on myself. I don’t blame anyone for having high expectations of me but it goes back to what does ‘having it all’ mean? Does it mean having some fancy title, executive perks, making a lot of money, having your book on the NYT bestseller’s list? Or does it mean waking up and looking forward to your day, whatever you make of it? I sublet a place in Miami Beach when I was finishing Feminista and it was, hands down, the happiest time of my life. I would write at the beach, swin in the ocean every day, ride my bike around town. And part of that happiness came from being around people who were very chill, who didn’t define themselves by their jobs.

SK: Here’s another great quote from Feminista, variations of which we’ve heard from several of the women we’re profiling in Undecided: “Sometimes she thought, in a strange way, life was so much easier for people with no options… You didn’t sit around thinking, I could have been a documentarian or a forensic psychologist or a sitcom writer…” The angst over the road not traveled – a definite side effect of all the options. Does that affect you? How do you move past it?

EK: This has always been a huge problem for me, even now. I grew up in a middle class family where my father was a corporate exec, my mother started her own design business. Then I went to school with very wealthy kids and knew people in the hip-hop world, most of whom didn’t have formal educations but became millionaires by the time they were thirty. So nothing seemed out of reach for me. I lived in New York and knew people who were business owners and lawyers and CEOs and restauranteurs, anything you could name. And everyone knew I was this honor student, so literally every road was open to me. Which was crippling. So I floundered for many years, working at jobs I didn’t have any interest in because I didn’t know what I should be doing. There were too many possibilities.

A really big pet peeve of mine is that no one, at least in my experience, helps you identify what kind of career you might excel at. Because I think the thing that you will be successful and most fulfilled doing is that thing that you’d do even if someone wasn’t paying you. You can always find a way to make a career out of your talent or passion. But that innate thing may be the thing you completely ignore, like I did with writing. In college, no one helped me identify what my passion/talents/marketable skills were. Why isn’t that a required class?

The week before graduation, one of my professors asked me, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” And I said, “Um, married with children?” She was horrified. As was I. But I think that may have been my unconscious wish, to find someone to take care of me and make the decisions, because I was so ill-prepared, despite my ‘good education’, to do that for myself. I quit my 9-5 job at age 28 to write professionally and didn’t start writing my first book until I was 32.

And too many options doesn’t just apply to jobs but also to men and where we should live and what kind of life we should have. It’s the predicament of abundance. As women, all these doors have been thrown open for us but it’s like, Oh no, which one do I choose and where the fuck is it going to lead me?!

SK: In the book, Sydney sabotages herself, beats herself up, pushes others away–and yet, she’s extremely relatable. What do you think it is about Sydney that’s so universal?

I think what’s relatable about Sydney is that she’s trying to work it all out, what she wants and what she doesn’t want. But I actually didn’t expect a lot of women to identify with her because she’s very angry and bitter–and I consciously did that because I think we, as women, do have this anger and resentment about all the choices we have now and not knowing which to choose but we are socialized NOT to show our anger. We’re supposed to suck it up and worry about everyone else. I wanted Sydney to embody all of that repressed stuff. I hoped women would find her and they story interesting but I’m really surprised that so many women say they identify with her or that her story is their story.

*Feminista, St. Martin’s Press, 2009.

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Given the –well, the shitstorm that’s erupted over the attempt to saddle health care reform with the cynical, sabotaging, decidedly anti-choice Stupak-Pitts amendment, it’s fitting to revisit an issue that simply will not go away. Us versus Them.

But first. There’s some awesome, mandatory reading currently waiting for you over at the New Yorker‘s website, in the form of a piece entitled “Lift and Separate: Why is feminism still so divisive?” written by Ariel Levy. In it, you’ll get a crash course in feminism’s second wave, beginning with the bra burning that never happened at a 1968 protest against the Miss America pageant that did, and continuing clean through last year’s presidential race, Gail Collins‘ recent book “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present,” and Republican political analyst Leslie Sanchez’s new book, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Maybe: Sarah, Michelle, Hillary and the Shaping of the New American Woman.”

The Cliff’s Notes version: Levy is no fan of Sanchez, and her piece frames a compelling argument. She writes:

There are political consequences to remembering things that never happened and forgetting things that did. If what you mainly know about modern feminism is that its proponents immolated their underwear, you might well arrive at the conclusion that feminists are ‘obnoxious,’ as Leslie Sanchez does in her new book… ‘I don’t agree with the feminist agenda,’ Sanchez writes. ‘To me, the word feminist epitomizes the zealots of an earlier and more disruptive time.’ Here’s what Sanchez would prefer: ‘No bra burning. No belting out Helen Reddy. Just calm concern for how women are faring in the world.’

Call me crazy, but it seems to me that the time Sanchez dubs ‘disruptive’ was the time when some serious things got done. Calm, after all, is a close relative of passive.

Levy continues, accusing Sanchez of measuring progress “solely by the percentage of people with government jobs who wear bras.” And what, you might ask, is the problem with measuring our equality by the numbers? Well, in becoming what she calls “identity politics, a version of the old spoils system”–i.e., picking a group to identify with, and joining together to claim your rightful piece of the pie–we have become too focused on getting women into positions of power, but not focused enough on what they should do when they get there. In other words, Sarah Palin.

Consider Sanchez’ dismissal of Gloria Steinem’s criticism of the former Alaska governor, in which she complains that when Steinem wrote in the L.A. Times that “Palin shares nothing but a chromosome with Clinton,” to Sanchez’ mind, she was really saying: “You can run, Sarah Palin, but you won’t get my support because you don’t believe in all the same things I believe in.”

And that’s a problem? So, only men get to vote according to their ideals, and women have to vote according to chromosome? Come on.

Yes, it’s important that we’ve gained representation. But consider, as Levy reminds us:

In 1971, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Walter Mondale, came up with legislation that would have established both early-education programs and after-school care across the country. Tuition would be on a sliding scale based on a family’s income bracket, and the program would be available to everyone but participation was required of no one. Both houses of Congress passed the bill.

Nobody remembers this, because, later that year, President Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act, declaring that it ‘would commit the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of ‘communal approaches to child rearing’ and undermine ‘the family-centered approach.’ He meant ‘the traditional-family-centered approach,’ which requires women to foresake every ambition apart from motherhood.

And so, here we are. The demise of that bill wasn’t due to in-bickering, but it’s nearly 40 years later. The women are there, but is the woman-friendly work getting done?

As Levy says:

So close. And now so far. The amazing journey of American women is easier to take pride in if you banish thoughts about the roads not taken. When you consider all those women struggling to earn a paycheck while rearing their children, and start to imagine what might have been, it’s enough to make you want to burn something.

Insofar as it relates to the current abortion amendment on the Health Care Reform bill, well, I hate to see lawmakers hedging their bets, pussy-footing around, and doing their best to take a critical right away from women who need it now–or might some day. And I loathe those who are telling those who care passionately about the issue to “Simmer down, honey; that’s not the way politics works.” (Check Kate Harding’s post at Broadsheet for a take that’ll make you scream.) Let me be clear: Fuck the Stupak Amendment. Reproductive rights are critical. But health care reform is critical for women in particular, for a ton of reasons: we’re overcharged, underinsured, more likely to be reliant on our spouse for insurance, more likely to go bankrupt due to medical reasons–and we can be denied coverage on the basis of “preexisting conditions” that include pregnancy, C-sections, and domestic violence. So, while I’d like to reiterate–Fuck the Stupak Amendment–at the same time, considering Levy’s words above, I have to wonder: what would women’s lives look like today if that Comprehensive Child Development Act was part of our world? We were so close, it would have seemed absurd in 1971 to say: Guess what? Come 2009, that’ll be so far from reality, it will seem ridiculous. In 40 years, do we want to be stuck with the same dismal health care system we’ve got now, wondering how reform slipped away?

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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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