Archive for June, 2011

The fight for the women’s vote ramped up this week when Michele Bachmann officially declared her run for the presidency. The Tea Party founder is pro-family, anti-government, and has proclaimed herself the champion of women everywhere. We beg to differ.

She’s just one of the guys, she told Daily Beast writer Kirsten Powers:

“I’m a woman comfortable in her own skin. I grew up with three brothers. My parents didn’t see us [as] limited [by gender]. I would mow the lawn and take out the trash; I was making my own fishing lures. I went along with everything the boys did.”

Just don’t call her a feminist, she told Powers. Clearly.

The opening salvos in the battle for our hearts and minds were fired a few weeks back when DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz called the Republicans out for their war on women. To which Bachmann told a New Hampshire reporter that Democrats were

“terribly afraid of a Michele Bachmann candidacy for president of the United States,” said Bachmann. “Democrats see themselves with group politics quite often, they’ll see that they think they should own certain minorities or ethnicities or that they should own women. That’s not true.”

Instead, Bachmann asserted that women are paying attention to economic issues, such as the rising gas and grocery prices.

You know what’s coming, right? The creepy idea that, issues notwithstanding, we’ll vote for a woman because, you know, we are one. That we’re so dumb that we’ll vote against our own interests just because the candidate wears a skirt. Or proclaims herself pro-family.

It’s insulting at best. (Why is it, again, that a man is allowed to vote on the issues, while a woman must vote according to chromosomes?) Dangerous at worst. When it comes to issues that really matter to women – and their families — a skirt does not a woman make. Neither does a tea party.

Don’t get us wrong. We think women come in many stripes and colors. And yet. There are a certain number of bedrock issues you’d assume any Double Xer would support, mainly because these are issues that affect us all.

Just for the hell of it, let’s take Bachmanns’ position on defunding Planned Parenthood, which she once called “the LensCrafter of big abortion.” What often gets lost when the debate centers on abortion is this: Planned Parenthood is a prime provider of health care for women who can’t afford it. I know of one woman, in fact, whose life may have been saved by Planned Parenthood. She discovered a lump in her breast shortly after losing her work-related health insurance. Where did she turn for a mammogram? Yep, Planned Parenthood, which ultimately shepherded her through the scary process of not only the diagnostics, but ultimately surgery, chemo and radiation.

And while we’re on the subject of health care, there’s this. Who suffered most under our health care system of old? Women. And when women suffer, it’s often the kids who pay the price. So much for those family values. Let’s recall a few things we may have forgotten about our old health care system that would be back in business if Bachmann and others succeed in repealing Obama’s health care overhaul, which, incidentally, has been estimated to save $140 billion over the next ten years. Pregnancy: pre-existing condition. Women:  statistically more likely to work  part-time jobs (so they can care for their kids) that do not provide benefits. Sure, it’s all peachy for ladies who can depend on well-employed husbands for heath care benefits. But what if he loses his job? Hard to afford COBRA on a part time salary.  Or no salary.  Or even one salary, for that matter.

And what if she’s a single mother? Sorry, kids. No doc for you…

Should we go on? Let’s. Back when the bill was first being debated, USA Today provided a cheat sheet for the ways in which the old health care system discriminated against women:

  • insurance companies are allowed to charge women more for the same policies as men in 40 states and the District of Columbia;
  • in those same states and D.C., insurance companies can charge businesses with mostly female employees higher group rates;
  • many companies don’t provide maternity coverage as part of their basic plans;
  • insurance companies can exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions; having had a C-section is one of them;
  • if a woman is pregnant when she buys an insurance company, insurance companies can deny maternity coverage;
  • 8 states and D.C. allow insurance companies to deny coverage to victims of domestic violence.

There’s more, but those are the highlights of healthcare coverage for women who had insurance. But what about the ones who didn’t? Or their kids? You do the math.

Obviously, health care isn’t the only issue that affects women or families. How about the fact that women still make 77 cents to a man’s buck for the same work? Or that the ERA has never been passed? Or the fact that for many women, affordable child care is nothing but a pipe dream because we’ve never made it a priority? But again, what about the families we care so much about?  What happens to the kids when mom and dad can’t get a job, or when a single mother can’t find anyone to watch her kids?  Or the fact that the workplace is still set up for an employee with someone at home to take care of business — and pick up the kids before the day care center closes. Now that the 40 hour workweek equals 52, there aren’t enough hours in the day for any of us to meet the demands of both work and family without, well, going postal. Which is why so many women, who still own the second shift, dial back their careers when kids come along. Which is fine, so long as there is a spouse in the picture to bring home the bacon – and the health insurance – and that said spouse is guaranteed to have a job in the morning.  Maybe this is all stuff that small-town communities, big-hearted bosses  and god-fearing families can fix without government intervention.  But how has that worked out for us so far?

There’s more that gets our goat, not the least of which is the fact that Bachmann is in favor of killing the EPA (so much for Mother Earth), has opposed tax deductions for breast pumps designed to encourage breast feeding among poor women, and favors spending cuts (that could disproportionately hurt the poor) and is against tax increases (that could disproportionately hurt the rich).

Thing is, parity is important. Absolutely. We want equal representation in government, in business, in life. But when it comes to those who make the policy or run the show, let’s face it: Men vote on the issues, not the pants. Same with us. It’s the issues, not the skirts. A woman who can’t-slash-won’t support women’s issues? Fail.

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Remember when you were a kid, and you wanted to pierce your belly button or stay out all night, and you’d say to your mom, “But mooooom, everyone else is doing it!”? And then she’d say, “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?” And then, if you were feeling especially petulant, you might say, “Well yeah. There’d be no one left to play with.”

No one wants to be left behind. (After all, how much fun would it be if all your friends had jumped off the bridge, leaving you standing alone, like the proverbial cheese?) And, in a way, that feeling never goes away.

Once we’re all grown up, how much do such feelings interfere with our decisions? How often are the things we pick for our lives influenced by a little unconscious–and not so unconscious–desire to head off becoming the cheese? How often are the milestones (marriage, advanced degree, corner office, fat apartment in the city, fat home in the ‘burbs, fat baby in the stroller) we shoot for not, if we were to think about it, the result of us really assessing what we want for our lives, but just sort of assumed? Everyone else is doing it…

It’s not that we’re mindless lemmings, of course. But have you noticed how the nuances of friendship play a role in our choices—and how our choices play a role in our friendships? Conflicts, particularly between women, have a lot to do with choices. Defending what we’ve chosen for our lives—and what we’ve chosen to leave behind. Judging our friends’ choices. Interpreting the fact that our friend has chosen something different as her judgment (and rejection) of what we’ve chosen for ourselves. The distance that grows when we feel like (because we’ve chosen differently or believe we would choose differently if we were in her shoes) we can no longer relate to the women to whom we’re closest.

Like the kid afraid of being left all alone on the bridge, each of us, at one time or another, has been left feeling like the oddball exception. And that feeling can mess with the decisions we make–and often, the really important ones. The ones that take our lives in one direction or another. How often do we steer ourselves into what we believe is the culturally-approved path, make decisions based on what we think we should do, what we should want?

Take, for example, those of us who secretly just want a “paycheck job,” the kind you show up for at 9, leave at 5, and don’t think about til 9 the next day. But we’ve absorbed the idea that it’s not enough, that there’s something wrong with us to merely want a job when we can have a Career–so we kill ourselves to meet some grand milestone we think we should want, quietly wondering all the while: Why am I doing this, again?

Maybe the conventional ideas about the ‘American Dream’ are the ones that tug at us: steady career path, home ownership, husband, kids. Everybody else seems to want those things, right? Surely we must be insane for being more interested in adventure than security. So we opt for the safe path, daydreams of running off to join the circus growing all the more tantalizing with each mortgage bill.

Or maybe it’s the notion of having it all, the Superwoman icon that keeps us quiet. We see other women smoothly managing it all. Or so we think. So we struggle to keep our heads above water, never letting on that we’re one cupcake away from going postal, never even questioning what parts of “it all” we really want, what is really worth wanting for us–because, well, let’s be honest, who has the time?

The thing about women having the unprecedented number of options we do today, having all sorts of ways to structure our lives, to cobble together our own reality made up of some parts work, some parts fun, some parts family—well, it’s new. We don’t have centuries of role models to look to for guidance. And nothing’s perfect. And so, when we’re having One Of Those Days, maybe we start to question the way we’re doing it. We wonder: should I be doing what she’s doing?

But instead of all of this silent comparing, the assumptions and judgment, what if we instead took a moment to think, to realize that we each have our own path—and just because our friends are doing something different doesn’t mean they think we’re making a mistake. That they might have just as many moments of questioning themselves and their decisions as we do. And if that’s the case, then maybe the best way to deal would be to start talking. Maybe, if we can all summon up the bravery to be a little more honest, we’d realize that we’re actually in good company. No matter how different our choices.

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By now you have surely heard that the Supreme Court has denied the Wal-Mart class action suit, brought on behalf of some 1.5 million female workers, on grounds of gender descrimination.   The ruling was not a decision based on whether Wal-Mart had discriminated against the women (more below), but that they could not proceed as a class because, you know, the class was just too big for them to have had common experiences.  In effect: the judges found that the class was too big to prevail.  From the New York Times:

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said the women suing Wal-Mart could not show that they would receive “a common answer to the crucial question, why was I disfavored?” He noted that the company, the nation’s largest private employer, operated some 3,400 stores, had an expressed policy forbidding discrimination and granted local managers substantial discretion.

“On its face, of course, that is just the opposite of a uniform employment practice that would provide the commonality needed for a class action,” Justice Scalia wrote. “It is a policy against having uniform employment practices.”

The case involved “literally millions of employment decisions,” Justice Scalia wrote, and the plaintiffs were required to point to “some glue holding the alleged reasons for all those decisions together.”

Now I’m not a lawyer, though I am married to one and have raised another, so I can’t get into the law here, but it’s interesting that the court was divided not only along ideological lines, but gender lines as well.   And what interests me were the plaintiff’s (Betty Dukes et. al) complaints.  Let’s check what Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, wrote a while ago on Huffington Post:

Ms. Dukes was an enthusiastic Wal-Mart employee, eager to work her way up from store “greeter” to a position in management. But after years passed watching male colleagues move up and finding no opportunities for her own advancement, she discussed her concerns with a district manager. The result was a pattern of retaliation that eventually led to a demotion and pay cut — and the biggest sex discrimination case in history.

It turns out Ms. Dukes wasn’t alone. When a woman with a master’s degree who had worked at Wal-Mart for five years asked her department manager why she was paid less than a 17-year-old boy who had just been hired, she was informed, “You just don’t have the right equipment… You aren’t male, so you can’t expect to be paid the same.” Another female employee was informed that a male employee got a bigger raise then she did because he had “a family to support.” Another was told that men would always be paid more than women at Wal-Mart because “God made Adam first, so women would always be second to men.”

… In every category of salaried management at the company, women are significantly underrepresented and are paid consistently less. To move up in Wal-Mart, employees need a “tap on the shoulder” from upper-level management, which is overwhelmingly male and stubbornly protective of a corporate culture that demeans women.

Pissed off?  I am.  Clearly those two weren’t the only ones with a major beef.  And here’s the thing: this stuff cuts to the core of one the reasons why, for women, our career and life decisions are so much more difficult.  We’ve been promised an equal world, opportunities our mothers never had, along with the expectations that we can sail along blissfully, the way the menfolk have done for generations.   And yet.  There’s the maternal wall:  women are promoted less, given fewer challenging assignments, once they have kids, for fear that they are less serious about their careers.  And if they don’t have kids?  On the one hand, there’s the assumption that they might (see above) or that, if motherhood isn’t in their sights, well, they are weird.  And if they are ambitious?!  God forbid.

And then, there’s this:  despite the strides we women have made over the last several decades, we’re still stuck in a world designed by and for workers (as in the case of Wal-Mart, with the right anatomy) who have someone at home to take care of business.   But who lives like that anymore?  Do you?  Will you ever? And why don’t we talk about it?  I was particularly taken by my cyber-friend Morra Aarons-Mele’s post yesterday in HuffPo where, prompted by a mother-daughter panel at the Worklife Legacy Awards in New York, she got into a discussion about work-life conflict — and the fact that we women don’t talk about it nearly enough — and feel vulnerable when we do.  What I liked best was this:

We work in a male system. To paraphrase Anne Weisberg, it’s the dynamic between men and women in the workplace that’s the cause of so much work-life conflict. And we don’t want to be bitches so we play along with the system and pretend like everything is OK. And before you say, working for women is way worse than working for men… I went to girls’ school. When you were in class, all girls, and you got a better grade or knew more than another girl, you weren’t a bitch you were just smart. When you got into the co-ed world and one-upped your fellow women, you were a bitch. We work in the world men who aren’t primary caregivers built, and we feel we have to play by their rules.

Like.  We’re in a state of transition, trying our damnedest to take advantage of all the opportunities that were never there a generation ago, in an economy where we will always have to work, while still navigating a workplace and a societal culture that hasn’t kept pace.  What Shannon and I think is that it’s all a work in progress, and if we’re going to make any sort of change — we need to keep the conversation going.

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If you’re Undecided, you’re definitely not alone! And we’d like to cordially invite you to several events we have going on this week:

Wednesday June 22: Join in on Twitter as we guest-host (along with moderator Chanelle Schneider) a GenYChat about the topics we explore in Undecided. If you haven’t participated in one of these chats before, expect to find GenYs, Gen Xers, and Boomers who are friendly, interesting, and full of good advice and insight. The topics are always relevant, but we think this week’s will be especially fascinating… (Biased? Us? Nahhhhh.) Follow us and @genychat for updates, or join in on Wednesday by searching the #genychat hashtag. The chat goes down at 9pm EST; 6 Pacific. BYOB.

Saturday, June 25: Stop by the Barnes and Noble in San Jose’s Pruneyard Mall at 1pm to say hello to us and to get your copy of Undecided signed. If you’d like us to write something extra-special, consider bringing treats to bribe us with. Think frosting.

Monday, June 27: Join us at 7pm for a reading at Modern Times Bookstore‘s new location in San Francisco! No doubt this will be a fun one.

Hope to see you there — and don’t forget to tell your friends!

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And so I came across this post from the Daily Beast offering an apologia as to why the unfortunately named Mr. Weiner could not keep same off of the internet.   And it’s this:  Men feel invisible after a certain age.  To wit, once they hit that gray zone, they can no longer go into a cafe and get the twenty-something server to give them the eye.  And so they have to compensate.

Spare me.

Before this post ends in a sputter, let’s check what the writer, Christopher Dickey, Paris bureau chief and Middle East editor for Newsweek Magazine and The Daily Beast, had to say:

I had lunch recently with a good friend who is a veteran of the CIA and one of those spies who is a study in grays—handsome enough, but always in the background; never the first person you’d notice in a crowded room, and very possibly the last. Given his profession, I thought he wanted to be that way. So I was surprised when, early in the conversation as a college student served us iced tea in the diner, he said to me that one of the worst things about getting older is that you become “invisible to women.” It’s not just that they aren’t interested in you, he said, “it’s that they don’t see you.”

Not many men admit this, I think, although I am sure that many men in their 50s and older, and not a few in their 40s, must feel it. And I suspect that it is this sensation of invisibility that makes some men—especially politicians and actors who have made careers trying to be loved in public–make ridiculous spectacles of themselves as they get older.

For Rep. Anthony Weiner , 46, the fear of invisibility would seem to be so profound that he took to tweeting pictures of his depilated chest and distended crotch to complete strangers on Twitter and Facebook. (The congressman may have worried all his life that nobody would see him, and he’s such a geek he’d be pitiful if he weren’t so arrogant. One wonders, is Rick Moranis too old to play him in “Weiner: The Movie”?)

Similar concerns about invisibility, articulated or not, probably lurked in the head of 62-year-old Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was director of the International Monetary Fund and the leading contender to be the next president of France until he allegedly forced himself on a 32-year-old African immigrant hotel maid in New York City. “Do you know who I am?” he kept asking her, according to several reports. “Do you know who I am?” And by every indication she did not. Strauss-Kahn, now awaiting trial on criminal sexual assault and related charges, has denied any wrongdoing, but he can’t very well deny looking like a fool.

And then there was California’s actor-politician governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was pushing 50 when he fathered a child with his not-so-hot-looking housekeeper in 1997. After news of this broke last month, the tabloids told us Schwarzenegger, now almost 64, preferred women who thought he was more beautiful than they, or that he thought might think so; women, that is, who saw him as he wanted to be seen.

Blah, blah and effing blah.

Yes, I get it that men might feel that twinge when they’re suddenly the wallflowers at the orgy (Wish that were my phrase.  It’s not.  Credit Nora Ephron)  But let’s face it.  Men of a certain age can still be powerful politicians.  They can be CEOs.  They can run states and they can run Wall Street.  They can be new fathers, for the love of God.  And when their hair goes gray — to refer to the metaphor Dickey used above — they are considered distinguished.  They have gravitas.

Women?  Right.  Not so much.  We’re not only invisible when the gray starts to sprout — but in many careers, we’re looked upon as redundant when it comes to our professions.   We come to be defined by our age in ways that have little to do with our sexual capital.

Case in point, a drop-dead gorgeous friend who let her short hair go natural after a bout of chemo.   Steely gray, and with her clear blue eyes, killer gorgeous.  And yet.  What she found was that she was treated differently.  And it had nothing to do with catching the eye of anyone serving her iced tea or the bagboy at Safeway.

Case in another point.  Some years back, when I used myself as a guinea pig to teach my j. students  interviewing techniques, I encouraged them to suck it up and ask my age.  One courageous soul always did.  And when I gave my answer, there was always an intake of breath.  As if to say:  how can you still be relevant?  (I’ve since chucked that part of the exercise.)

The truth is that women are defined by externals in all-pervasive ways that men are not, and age is one of the worst markers of all.  Frankly, I don’t know how it feels for former studs to feel that they’ve lost their mojo.  But what I do know is this: college-aged servers aside, what they haven’t lost is their ability to take charge.  To be taken seriously. To be considered relevant.  To continue their ascent into the world.  To be the boss.  Or, God forbid, to marry women half their age, without being met by a roomful of snickers.  (Well, okay.  I tend to think that nothing makes a man look more like a jackass than having a woman the age of his daughter who isn’t his daughter on his arm, but that’s just me.)  All you have to do is go to the movies, where more often than not, you’ll see the old guy paired happily with the smiling ingenue.  But what about the reverse?

Think about it.  Okay, done.

But, because I play fair, I will include a bit more from  Mr. Dickey’s post, which redeems him somewhat:

In truth, invisibility is inevitable. And women have always known that, and felt it, and feared it and discussed. I have rarely spoken about this question with women friends over 40 who didn’t understand immediately what I was talking about. Yet the most beautiful and painful expression of invisibility’s tragedy that I know is actually a poem written in the 1960s by Randall Jarrell, a man who was then approaching his 50s and who was writing about a woman more or less the same age. Her only wish is that “the boy putting groceries in my car/See me. It bewilders me he doesn’t see me.”

Welcome to the club, guys.  Times ten.


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Monday morning, I awoke to a dastardly email: there lurked, it seemed, a nasty post about Undecided on the other side o’ the blogosphere. Now, I’ve been a writer for years–I’m not unfamiliar with hate mail or criticism. You do this long enough, and you develop a pretty thick skin. People can be mean. To each her own.

Except. The damn post began with this admission: I haven’t read the book that I’m about to rip apart, based on nothing but my assumptions of what it might possibly say. 

Okay, I added that last bit. But the writer did start off by announcing she hadn’t read the book.

This, dear reader, crosses the line. Hating on something one has not even bothered to read? Really? One question: Just… why??

Now, while I could pick apart every last sentence of her post (seriously, I could), that’s not what I want to write about. What I want to write about is why, time after time, and regarding issue after issue, for so many of us women, the de facto position is one of Us versus Them. You may remember the Mommy Wars, which pitted stay-at-home moms against working moms. Today, that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Attachment parenting? Co-sleeping? Breastfeeding? What if you don’t want kids? What if you don’t even want to get married? Where do you stand on Botox? Boob jobs? What about gluten? Recently, Slut Walks have offered yet another chance to pick sides. And if you don’t care about that, perhaps you’d like to claim Team Jennifer or Angelina?  Or weigh in on what today’s Scorned Political Wife should be doing about her marriage? Do you call yourself a feminist? Why? Or why the hell not?

Okay, while many of those examples are meant to be funny, I’m guessing you catch my drift. To return to an earlier post, here are some choice words on the subject of Either-Orism and Us-Vs-Themmery:

Why is it so difficult for women to allow their sisters a little nuance in their identities?

…I have a theory.

We like our people simple. Our women especially. Easily defined. Simply categorized. And, when it comes to women, the less threatening, the better. But also: this thing about women having all kinds of options, all sorts of ways to structure their lives, to cobble together their own reality made up of some parts work, some parts fun, some parts family–well, it’s new. And nothing’s perfect–and when we’re having One Of Those Days, maybe we start to question the way we’re doing it. And maybe one of the easiest ways to reassure ourselves we’re Doing It Right is to clobber anyone who dares to do it differently.

What sucks, of course, is that the more we buy into this sort of Us vs. Them thinking, the quicker we are to file everyone else away into one camp or the other–which is bad–and the less able we are to allow ourselves a little bit of nuance–which is worse. And it’s sad. Because each of us is loaded with nuance–that’s what makes us special, as individual as a snowflake.

An important point, if I do say so myself. We all have our moments (hell, months!) of insecurity over what we’re doing with our lives: lives that, for women, are defined by the choices we make. But when we hear (or read) one word (or quote), and allow our mind to spin a great tale of what else that might mean, and how She is clearly being judgmental about how I’m choosing to live my life, well… where does that get us? It certainly doesn’t help to advance the conversation.

But there’s more to it than that, even. Did you know that women are technically the majority of the population in this country? But when we’re busy tearing each other down, keeping ourselves divided, well, it’s a hell of a lot easier for the powers that be to continue to treat us as though we’re some fringe minority… and our common interests (equal pay, affordable child care and medical care, flexible work options, careers that would allow for time for a life outside of work for starters) as though they’re individual quirks, and therefore not worth addressing structurally. Divide and conquer, isn’t that how the saying goes?

So, I’m again inclined to make a plea that we all allow each other the same nuance we know to be true of ourselves. Rather than seeing our sisters as “other,” why don’t we seek out what unites us, rather than what divides us? And if we can calmly allow other people to just be who they are, no matter how it might not fit with our own ideas, maybe we can allow for that same kind of nuance within ourselves.

Oh: you may wonder why I’m not including a link to the aforementioned critique? Well, I suggested to its author that perhaps she might consider reading the book. She said she would. I’m hoping she’ll like it.


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Another day, another scandal involving a politician’s crotch. So much to say! And what I’d like to talk about first is this: the phrase “good wife,” and why it must be retired forever. Like yesterday.

In the disgraced politician script, the “good wife” is the one who stands by her man. The one who doesn’t comment and doesn’t leave. Her husband, a public figure, impregnated the “household staffer”, tried to solicit sex in a public restroom, or tweeted his weiner to strangers, and was discovered. In the throes of public (not to mention private) humiliation, the good wife must be not angry, not sad… not anything, really. Invisible is good. Stoic. Properly dressed. And then? Well, we generally rake her over the coals anyway. Shouldn’t she have left? What’s the matter with her? When did she know? What did she know? Did they have some sort of kinky arrangement? Was she just in it for the money, the Governor’s mansion, the vicarious power? 

None of the above is good.

(And hey, just for fun, let’s imagine the situation were reversed. Let’s say Hillary Clinton was caught tweeting crotch shots to random young blackjack dealers and porn stars, or getting oral from an intern… Do you think anyone would be waxing philosophical over whether Bill was or was not behaving as a “good husband”?)

And the guy? I guess it’s clear these husbands are not, as husbands go, good. And yet, generally, the caught men are not really subject to the same sort of judgment. We laugh (comedy writers must surely thank the heavens for the gift of Weiner’s name), we roll our eyes and say, “another one?” or “boys will be boys.” Or, as Maureen Dowd wrote:

We’ve moved from the pre-feminist mantra about the sexual peccadilloes of married men–Boys will be boys–to post-feminist resignation: Men are dogs.

Humiliation (and press conference) behind us, we happily move on to dissect the debate. The conversation goes meta: why is who saying what about who, who’s allowed to or supposed to take what side, and doesn’t saying this in this instance when you said that in that instance make you a hypocrite?

And we greedily digest the salacious details. They’re pretty entertaining, after all. (Seriously, Weiner… your chest? Ladies: informal poll! Would receiving such a tweet be… exciting for you?) But really: it’s none of our business. And is it really news? We can feign outrage all we want, but the truth, it seems to me, is this: sex sells.

Alas, sexism does not. As Susanna Schrobsdorff wrote for Time magazine,

Sure, we get a lot of mileage out of publicly humiliating (and occasionally indicting) famous men who’ve committed sexual transgressions, both legal and illegal. But in the U.S., the gender war is often more show than substance. It’s a spectator sport in which we designate national villains, good wives and so-called sluts…

Condemning Weiner and Strauss-Kahn (and former Senator John Edwards) sure does make us feel as if women get a better deal in the U.S. than in France. The problem is that the numbers show that all the fuss over philandering men doesn’t do most American women any good at all. Certainly not when it comes to wage equality. As it turns out, the gender gap in median pay for full-time work is slightly worse in the U.S. than it is in France, according to a 2010 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

And it’s pretty certain that all the salacious details emerging from Weiner’s Twitter account won’t help the millions of American women who don’t have even one paid sick day to take care of a child or themselves. For many of the women who clean hotels and serve food, taking a day off means losing a big chunk of a week’s pay. That’s something that French women would surely not tolerate. (In the U.S., only 41% of low-wage service-industry jobs, which are dominated by women, allow paid sick days.) And how about maternity leave? America is one of only two industrialized nations, along with Australia, that do not guarantee paid maternity leave, and only 11% of U.S. civilian workers get paid family leave.

Will hotel maids be any more secure in the long run thanks to the attention brought to their occupational risks by the Strauss-Kahn case? In a month or two, when the spotlight moves elsewhere, it’s unlikely that they will feel less fearful that they’ll either lose their jobs or their reputations or be deported if they complain about a customer. After all, even women at elite institutions can’t be too optimistic that their allegations of harassment will be taken seriously. This spring, Yale University was embroiled in a federal investigation on charges that it ignored complaints by women about a number of egregious incidents, including one in which frat guys stood outside a freshman dorm shouting, “No means yes, yes means anal,” and another in which men rated women on the basis of how many drinks they’d have to consume before having sex with them.

So, yes, Americans will lambast anyone from the President to Weiner if we suspect they’ve violated our code of sexual conduct. But we won’t pay a whole lot of attention to more tedious but important issues like that ongoing legal action against Walmart by female employees who are suing the retailer for back pay in the largest private gender-bias case in U.S. history.

Still reading? Good reader. I wonder. If this were the sort of country where the women of Yale and Walmart were given as much play as Weiner’s weiner, where corporate pay–and maternity–policy demonstrated that women were valued, well, I wonder if powerful men–and the women they sext–would behave any differently. And I wonder this, too: What’s it going to take, to make substance as sexy as scandal?

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This Saturday is my birthday. And while I’ve never been one to turn down a celebration–whether said celebration takes the form of wine, food (specifically the three-course tasting menu at Julienne), or a jump out of a perfectly good airplane–the past couple of years have seen me less and less inclined to announce my birthday. Or, more to the point, my age.

I’ve always looked young, and enjoyed the look of surprise when I’d cop to my age or present an overzealous bartender with my I.D. I never thought numbers would get me down: I’m too evolved for that kind of backwards nonsense! But last year, that number o’ mine hit me like a ton of bricks. It occurred to me that it sounded old. I sounded old.

Shouldn’t I be ashamed of my age? Shouldn’t I be trying to hide it? To defy it? To plump it, color it, tighten it, smooth it?

A lifetime steeped in this culture has me thinking that I should. And yet, those feelings don’t quite fit. I don’t feel irrelevant, invisible, or particularly in need of fixing… But, on a bad day, the crows feet around my eyes make me think not of all the smiles that made them, but that I should feel badly about my age (and maybe start a Retin-A regimen… or start sleeping upside-down to prevent the sag… oh dear gawd, what if things start to sag??), even while the other half of me calls out those thoughts as bullshit. (I’m a Gemini: the twins. I have lots of conversations with myselves.)

So. What gives?

Pondering the true culprits behind the knot that arose in my stomach whenever I considered The Number, a beautiful stroke of serendipity (aka Twitter) delivered to me “A Wrinkle in Time”–Beauty Myth author Naomi Wolf’s recent take on the aging myth. Wolf kicks it off with an anecdote about a guy her age–late 40s–who showed up at a party with a 20-something woman on his arm and, in so doing, became an object of not envy nor admiration, but of…pity. Zut alors! What’s this? And Wolf doesn’t stop there:

I had thought that getting older would be harder. The common cultural script tells us that women lose value as they age and that men will trade in their counterparts for younger versions (because, of course, that would be trading up). Middle-aged women are supposed to face the loss of their youthful selves with grief and anguish.

I look around at the magnetic and dynamic women my own age, I look at my own life, and instead that script seems more like a convenient fiction–designed, as so many aspects of ‘the beauty myth’ are, to make women feel less powerful; in this case, just when their power, magnetism and sexuality are at their height.

So true. But the thing is, we can’t really recognize the script as bullshit until we’re actually old enough to know better. Which means that, even when we’re younger–at our alleged ‘prime’–we’re being made to feel less powerful, because somewhere in the back of our minds, we believe that our expiration date is approaching. And, to quote, well, myself, when it comes to our choices, everything becomes that much more stressful, that much more loaded, when played out against the backdrop of a ticking clock. As women, the message we’re fed is clear: Time is short, so you better choose wisely! You’re only going to be relevant for so long! And what’s most unfair about that message is that, by and large, we aren’t aware of the bullshit quotient until later. How could we be?

Here’s a bit more from Wolf:

The fear of aging was certainly bad when I was 26. When “The Beauty Myth” was published, girls were still learning that they would, like hothouse flowers, bloom briefly in their late teens to mid-20s. After that? Well, it was a steady decline, as the power we derived from our physical appearance dwindled. Our only hope to hang on to an increasingly precarious sexuality and sense of self-esteem lay in magical potions and powders, or perhaps in the surgeon’s hands. Older women were encouraged to see their younger counterparts as threats and usurpers, and young women were expected to see the women who should have been their mentors as faded has-beens, harbingers of their own future decay.

I personally expected that when I entered the middle of my life, I would start to mourn my youthful physical self and that, even though I had thought long and hard about the dangers of the beauty myth, I would feel a sense of existential loss of self when my appearance began to change.

But I am coming out with this and hope that many midlife women will join me: Those pangs of loss have largely not happened. Not for me and not for the women I know and admire.

No? I wondered. NO, she said again.

At midlife, the social ‘script’ insists that we’re supposed to adopt a rueful tone–Oh, that first crow’s foot, that first strand of gray. It’s simply more acceptable for women to be self-deprecating about the signs of aging. But when was the last time you heard an older woman say, in public–‘Actually, getting older is more than tolerable–it’s great!’ Let alone: ‘I really like it.’

So, at the risk of sounding socially incorrect, I am going to deviate from that script, and I invite all women of a certain age to join me. A great many of us don’t feel particularly wistful or rueful about our earlier physical selves. A great many of us really like where we are.

I like where I am.

…To anxious young women, I want to say what I wish more older women had said to my generation: Relax, enjoy the journey and do not worry about the future. There are no wicked witches. It is all good. Really, really good.

And it only gets better.

And that may be the antidote: to tell our younger sisters early and often that we’re doing just fine. As for me, come Saturday, the only magical potion I’ll be partaking of will be of the Syrah family, to toast my 36 years.


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So I confess.  I was ambushed by the green-eyed Facebook monster over the Memorial Day weekend.  I spent most of mine sitting at the dining table, gazing longingly out at our backyard, grading papers. Welcome to my life at the end of the quarter.

So you can guess that all those posts and pix from FB friends at picnics and barbeques and baseball games, spending time with friends and family, left me just a little bit deflated.  Lusting after that greener grass.   Because surely, all those happy faces and cheery posts mean those folks were doing it better, enjoying more life, and having more fun.  Right?

And then (okay, procrastination is  good for the soul), I ran into a blog post that, in a small way, reminded me that the thing that we daydream about when we wish we were doing something else, that thing that from the outside looks like heaven here on earth — usually isn’t.

Case in point.  The glamorous life of a travel writer.  If you love to travel and, you know, you write for a living (or think you should) well, what could be better?  Sigh.  If only. But, as Pam (AKA “Nerd’s Eye View) writes in a post entitled “Why I’m not a full-time Travel Writer”, once you’re on the inside, you realize that the reality is quite different from the fantasy.  She’s a travel writer, who pays the bills as a technical writer, and she provides a dose of reality as to what that dream career is really like.  The whole post is great, but here’s the nut:

Next month is the Travelblog Exchange (TBEX), a conference for travel bloggers. I had dearly wanted there to be some kind of reality check discussion, not because I want to depress hopeful writers, but because I wanted to blow away some of that fiction around what it really means to be a travel writer by profession. X1, who writes for a prestigious publication and travels a lot has told me, “Yeah, it’s great. I love the work. But I’m poor. I live in a tiny apartment.” X2 admitted to winning big in the technology lottery and living off those funds. X3 has a full time day job and a spouse with a full time day job. X4 admits to churning out fluffy, uninteresting stories for custom publication markets.

The folks I know who are full time freelance travel writers are in a continuous cycle of pitch, write, edit, research, travel, repeat. It’s a lot of work, and it’s not clear to me that money is that good. I know a few staffers, too, and you know what? They’re just like your friends with day jobs. They have meetings and process and office politics and frustrations. Sure, they get to go some places, but so does the outside sales guy, and he doesn’t have to see his story eviscerated before it goes to press.

What I wanted at TBEX was a session that presented the reality of writing as a profession, not as a quixotic pursuit or a weekend hobby or gap year boondoggle. Admittedly, I wanted this for myself as much as anything. Because I struggle with what I do (what is that, anyways?) all the time. I wanted to hear people who I think of as grown up, professional travel writers speak honestly about how they juggle all this stuff, how they manage to make it work. I’m always grateful for time with writers who will share, honestly, how they get by — a recent conversation revealed a writer’s need to sell multiple stories about one destination with every trip in order to make the travel pay off. “I can’t go just because I want to. I need to sell that story five times over to have it be worth my while.”

There are those who have made the jump to an itinerant lifestyle, bugging out to places where the low pay is enough, effectively outsourcing this work to places where 30 dollars goes much further than it does in my chosen home. That’s not something I’m willing to do. And keep in mind some basic math — even were I to make 1000/month blogging, I could not live on my annual income. There are also some who manage to generate a decent income, but they have a highly targeted market, they have a sophisticated understanding of what the web likes, they are backing up all their words with the sale of a product or service that people want to buy. Having none of those things, I don’t expect to live off the first person scribblings of this blog.

You should also read the comments to this post that, at this point, number 101. All of which is to say that, when we’re toiling away in a cubicle (or the dining room table) dreaming of that killer job that involves only a backpack and a laptop — we’re probably blinded by the rose-colored glasses.

The travel writing gig — it’s just a small example.  But there are other dreams out there just like them.  (Insert yours) Which is absolutely not to say we shouldn’t follow our dreams.  (Ack.  Double negative.  Sorry!)  Or that we shouldn’t do what we can to make them happen.  Not at all.

The lesson is this.   Life is complicated.  Messy.  Rarely is it perfect.  There are always trade-offs.  And that grass?  Usually not as green as it looks from the other side of the fence.

And oh, by the way.  Memorial Day?  Just about the time my second red pen ran out of ink, got an invite for a last minute barbeque at a friend’s house.  It was goddamn delicious.  In every possible way.

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