Posts Tagged ‘Germaine Greer’

thumbnail[2]If we want to close the ambition gap, a good first step might be learning how to shake our heads.

There’s this great quote from Feminist icon Germaine Greer: When we talk about women having it all, what they really have all of is the work.”  She was being somewhat facetious.   But then again, not so much.

Which leads me to wonder: Would women be more powerful if we could just say no?  A couple of recent studies just say yes.

Some say that women are hard-wired to please.  Others say we’re socialized that way.  In either case, we see it all the time:  Good little girls doing as they’re told at home, eager for the stamp of approval from mommy or daddy.  Older girls sitting still in class and turning in their homework on time to please their teachers.

But what’s surprising is that, according to a new study, even those of us raised with the “you go, girl” rhetoric never seem to outgrow our eagerness to please.  According to a piece in the Wall Street Journal, a paper presented at the American Economic Association meeting earlier this month confirms that even when we grow up, we’re much more likely to say “yes” when we want to say “no”.

The study focused on 47 business-school students who were asked to recall a time when they were asked to do a favor on the job when they really didn’t want to.  And guess what?

The female participants did the favor, even though they were five times more likely than males to report having felt worn out. Perhaps they obliged because they were also twice as likely to have been worried about the consequences of saying no.

Ya think?  The researchers further postulated that this willingness to do favors  “may lead them to become overburdened with low-skill tasks.”

In other words, when we find ourselves locked into a continuing chorus of “Sure, I’ll be happy to…”, it not only saps our time, but zaps our power as well.

So much for the need to say no when we’re at work.  Head on over to the homefront and you find another related power drain:  According to a new study out of The University of California at Berkeley and Emory University, women who rule the roost at home are less likely “to pursue promotions and other career advancement steps at the office.”  In other words, when you’re the CEO at home, you’re much less likely to ever come close to the C-suite at work:

“It appears that being in charge of household decisions may bring a semblance of power to women’s traditional role, to the point where women may have less desire to push against the obstacles to achieving additional power outside the home,” said UC Berkeley psychologist Serena Chen, a co-author of the study.

Despite the feminist movement and other gender equity efforts, women largely retain authority over child-rearing and household chores and finances, with men deferring to their expertise in these matters, researchers point out. This paradigm has had an impact on women’s career choices, the study implies.

Whether all this power over domestic decisions takes away our ambition by fulfilling our innate need for power – or simply drains our energy– who knows for sure. But, says Chen, when it comes to seizing power in the workplace, we ought to let some go at home. Women need to “at least partially abdicate their role of ultimate household deciders, and men must agree to share such decision making.”

In other words, there’s only so much of us to go around, and we should use ourselves wisely.  The first step might be to reconsider the messaging we’ve been raised with: As we’ve written here and in our book, told we can have it all, we heard we must do it all. Told we can do anything, we heard that we could do everything —  and we’d better do it perfectly. We are told to be grateful for all the choices we have, and, of course, we are, but the one crucial message that never got sent was this: every choice entails a trade-off.  If you’re doing A, you can’t be doing B.

Or, in light of the studies above, you can’t be doing favors for someone else at work, and still have time to charge ahead on your own projects.  Nor, apparently, can you run the household like a CEO — and have any mojo left when it comes to climbing the ladder at work.  Which is to say, we need to give ourselves permission to let go.  Or even abdicate.  Even if it means that some things get done less than perfectly.  Or not at all.

When you think about it, it’s all pretty simple.  All we need do is learn to say no.

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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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Are We There Yet? asks a recent Newsweek headline, with the kind of slug that leaves you with a distinctive sense of dread:

In 1976, 46 women filed a landmark gender-discrimination case. Their employer was NEWSWEEK. Forty years later, their contemporary counterparts question how much has actually changed.

It’s a great piece, as it shows how awfully far we have come (those women were flat-out told in their interviews that women could never get to the top–or even the middle–and spent their days at the veritable newsrag fetching coffee, sorting mail, and doing–and handing over–the reporting that a male writer would use in the stories that ultimately would bear his byline), as well as… well, how far we haven’t come. (For starters: in 1970 25 percent of Newsweek‘s editorial masthead was female; today that number is only 39 percent. Ahem, it’s FORTY YEARS LATER, PEOPLE. Last year, men wrote all but six of Newsweek‘s 49 cover stories, which is apparently par for the course: taking major magazines as a whole, there’s one female byline for every SEVEN male.) For the young women–new to the work force–who wrote this piece, the real world offered up quite a shock:

Forty years after NEWSWEEK’s women rose up, there’s no denying our cohort of young women is unlike even the half-generation before us. We are post-Title IX women, taught that the fight for equality was history; that we could do, or be, anything. The three of us were valedictorians and state-champion athletes; we got scholarships and were the first to raise our hands in class. As young professionals, we cheered the third female Supreme Court justice, and, nearly, the first female president. We’ve watched as women became the majority of American workers, prompting a Maria Shriver-backed survey on gender, released late last year, to proclaim that ‘the battle of the sexes is over.’

Can you sense the but coming? Good reader. Here it be:

The problem is, for women like us, the victory dance feels premature. Youthful impatience? Maybe. But consider this: U.S. Department of Education data show that a year out of school, despite having earned higher college GPAs in every subject, young women will take home, on average across all professions, just 80 percent of what their male colleagues do… Motherhood has long been the explanation for the persistent pay gap, yet a decade out of college, full-time working women who haven’t had children still make 77 cents on the male dollar. As women increasingly become the breadwinners in this recession, bringing home 23 percent less bacon hurts families more deeply than ever before.

I know, that’s nothing new. You’ve certainly read about it here once or twice. But the point worth thinking about is what they get at here:

In countless small ways, each of us has felt frustrated over the years, as if something was amiss. But as products of a system in which we learned that the fight for equality had been won, we didn’t identify those feelings as gender-related. It seemed like a cop-out, a weakness, to suggest that the problem was anybody’s fault but our own.

Convenient, no? Tell everyone the problem’s been solved already, and maybe it’ll go away. Move along, nothing to see here… Nothing, of course, but those inequalities listed above. Or the ones below:

  • A Girl Scouts study found that young women avoid leadership roles for fear they’ll be labeled ‘bossy’;
  • women are four times less likely than men to negotiate a starting salary…
  • which is probably for the best, as a Harvard study found that women who demand more money are perceived as “less nice” (=less likely to be hired).

As infuriating as all of that may be — and, duh, it is — even more so is the fact that no one seems to be pissed off about it. And, I’d venture to say, there are even some among us who read those stats, who are familiar with the surveys and the survey results, and yet, somehow, can’t quite bring ourselves to believe it.

Susan Douglas would diagnose that as a classic case of “Enlightened Sexism,” and her new book on the subject makes a compelling case that, because of all the advances that we have made — and because of a lopsided accentuating of the positives (so sugar and spiced and everything niced are we!), the stereotypes, inequities, and biases that would have once been called sexist go unnoticed. Turn on the TV, she says: there are women doctors, women lawyers, women detectives and DAs and Hillary Clinton and Oprah to show you: See? We have come a long way, baby! But all that rose-colored imagery doesn’t exactly reflect reality. For instance, here’s something you might not have realized:

The four most common female professions today are: secretary, registered nurse, teacher, and cashier–low-paying, “pink collar” jobs that employ 43 percent of all women. Swap “domestic help” for nurse, and you’d be looking at the top female jobs from 1960, back when want ads were segregated by gender.

It’s all rather depressing, but, at the same time, not: those ladies at Newsweek? They’re putting it out there, putting themselves out there, calling it like they see it — like they live it. (And maybe even calling themselves Feminists, too.) And what they’re putting out there, what they’re calling, seeing, and living, is this: the job’s not done yet. Maybe they’ll be some of tomorrow’s leaders–any movement that wants to keep moving needs regular shots of fresh blood. And, shhhh: there’s more of us out there. And you know, even the leaders of the old-guard see cause for hope: in a piece just published yesterday, written by none other than The Female Eunuch author Germaine Greer, Greer begins, with characteristic sarcasm, by declaring feminism a failure (and The Female Eunuch not her best work). Eunuchs aside, she ends with a potent call to arms:

The media tend to think that the fantasies they peddle are realer than real. But in the real world, women have changed; bit by bit, they are growing stronger and braver, ready to begin the actual feminist revolution. The feminist revolution hasn’t failed, you see. It has only just begun.

And if that’s the case, there’s only one thing left to say: Bring it.

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Here’s another one for the Well, Duh file. Women need more sleep.

I bring this up not because I like to make Well, Duh-style proclamations. On the contrary; I tend to prefer proclamations of the Wowee! variety. I bring it up because this week, Arianna Huffington and Glamour magazine EIC Cindi Leive have issued a New Year’s Call to Arms on the Huffington Post: “Sleep Challenge 2010: Women, It’s Time to Sleep Our Way to the Top. Literally.”

Sounds great, right? Not so fast. As Feministing’s Jessica put it:

But here’s the thing – what Huffington and Leive are really talking about is sexism, not sleep.

Let’s back up, shall we? From the HuffPo piece:

“Women are significantly more sleep-deprived than men,” confirms Michael Breus, Ph.D., author of Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep. “They have so many commitments, and sleep starts to get low on the totem pole. They may know that sleep should be a priority, but then, you know, they’ve just got to get that last thing done. And that’s when it starts to get bad.”

…Getting a good night’s sleep, of course, is easier said than done. You have to tune out a host of temptations, from Letterman to the PTA to your e-mail inbox — and most of all, to ignore the workaholic wisdom that says you’re lazy for not living up to the example set by Madonna, Martha Stewart and other notorious self-professed never-sleepers. Of course, the truth is the opposite: You’ll be much more likely to be a professional powerhouse if you’re not asleep at the wheel. (Even Bill Clinton, who used to famously get only five hours of sleep, later admitted, “Every important mistake I’ve made in my life, I’ve made because I was too tired.” Huh! ) The problem is that women often feel that they still don’t “belong” in the boys-club atmosphere that still dominates many workplaces. So they often attempt to compensate by working harder and longer than the next guy. Hard work helps women fit in and gain a measure of security. And because it works, they begin to do more and more and more of it until they can’t stop. But it’s a Pyrrhic victory: The workaholism leads to lack of sleep, which in turn leads to never being able to do your best. In fact, many women do this on purpose, fueled by the mistaken idea that getting enough sleep means you must be lazy or less than passionate about your work and your life.

Maybe. Or maybe, as Dr. Breus pointed out, it’s more to do with the fact that many of us are so overloaded with tasks and to-dos, first shifts and second shifts, there simply isn’t any time left over for sleep. (And it’s worth mentioning that the not getting enough sleep thing is a notoriously vicious cycle: The more we take on, the more stressed we are about all we have to get done–and how and when we’re going to get it done. And stress has a rather nasty way of messing with our zzzs. And, in the face of a packed day after a restless night, well, coffee becomes our BFF–until, like a fickle 5 year-old, the clock strikes X and we ditch that BFF for another one–named Malbec. Or whatever. And then we go to bed, worrying about whether or not sleep will come… Rinse, repeat.)

Sleep deprivation, of course, comes with all sorts of nasty side effects, as the HuffPo piece points out. Among them: illness, stress, traffic accidents, weight gain (let no fat card go unplayed). But wait, there’s more!

Rob yourself of sleep, ladies, and you’ll find you never function at your personal best. Work decisions, relationship challenges, any life situation that requires you to know your own mind–they all require the judgment, problem-solving and creativity that only a rested brain is capable of and are all handled best when you bring to them the creativity and judgment that are enhanced by sleep.

Well yeah. Who could argue with that? We all know we should get more sleep. We know how it feels to slog through a busy day in the fog of exhaustion–how impossible it is to think straight. But what rubs me wrong about the whole thing is this: I can’t shake the sense that this is yet another instance in which something that’s societal, systemic, is trivialized by framing it as a personal issue. Yes, we should all aim to get a little more sleep. But the fact is, the modern workplace–of which women are on track to become the majority, like, any second now–is still set up as though the workers who fill it were Don Draper clones, men with a full-time Betty at home, able to take care of all of the stuff that keeps a life running smoothly. But the ladies (and gentlemen) of today don’t have a Betty. She took off to Vegas, baby. So we do our best Don–and then we make the time to get Betty’s job done, too. We work our full day–and then we fold the clothes. And do the grocery shopping. And pick up the dry cleaning. And attempt to cook healthy items (or contend with the parking lot at our favorite take-out joint), to exercise, to socialize, to sleep. To quote Germaine Greer yet again:

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

Or, as Lisa Belkin put it, over at the NYT Motherlode:

The reason women don’t sleep as well as men is not because of our misguided workaholic tendencies, or our short-sighted need to prove ourselves, but because the world, as it is constructed, gives women more to DO. Particularly during the hours when we should be sleeping. Some of this we can’t control — a baby who needs to nurse at 1 a.m. and again at 3 a.m., for instance, or the fact that at least one study found women wake more easily to a baby’s cry than men. We have those hormonal insomnia issues, too, and, with time, hot flashes and night sweats.

Other reasons are handed to us by society. The expectation is that mom will work a second shift, filling her evening with homework checking and lunch fixing and bedtime storytelling and clutter picking-upping and laundry sorting. Then, after that, so many of us get back to the pile of work we brought home from the office — an office we left early in order to be home for dinner. Yes, men do this more and more in many homes, but the social expectation is that this is still a mother’s job, and shaking it requires more than a simple declaration that we will get more sleep.

It’s enough to make me cry out for my blankie! So what are we to do, aside from putting ourselves down for a little bonus shut-eye every now and then? A good start might be recognizing the only marginally deeper truths in “personal challenges” likes this for the eye-openers that they are.

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Are you a feminist?

A loaded question. But why?

When I was in college, I drove a car I inherited from my mom, a cute Cabriolet convertible which came affixed with one piece of flare: a bumper sticker that read, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” Radical indeed. A neighbor asked me if I was going to take it off. Take it off? “Well, you’re not a feminist are you?” she asked. I was too stunned to come up with a response other than, “I’m female–of course I am!”

At its core, that simple sentiment–that women are equal people–is, indeed, what the movement is about. But somewhere along the way, it came to mean a great, tricky, amorphous Something Else. Something that carries a stigma, to this day. Something that has young women yes- or no- but-ing, when they’re asked whether or not they claim the F-word.

Even Lady Gaga, who, as far as I can discern, isn’t exactly afraid of scandal, as it seems that she’s famous primarily for her disinterest in wearing pants, went out on a limb to clarify that she isn’t a feminist. In an interview, she says:

You see, if I was a guy, and I was sitting here with a cigarette in my hand, grabbing my crotch and talking about how I make music ’cause I love fast cars and fucking girls, you’d call me a rock star. But when I do it in my music and in my videos, because I’m a female, because I make pop music, you’re judgmental, and you say that it’s distracting. I’m just a rock star.

-Are you also a feminist?

I’m not a feminist–I, I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer, and bars, and muscle cars.

What, exactly, is her point? That a feminist, by definition, must hate men and beer and bars and muscle cars? In one sentence she makes reference to the inequality of the treatment she receives, attributing it to her gender; yet in the next, she disowns the label ‘feminist’ on grounds best described as woefully shallow and stereotypical?

And yet. Who can blame her, or any woman for that matter, when no less than the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, head designer for Chanel (which, it should be noted, was created by a barrier-busting beauty, Coco Chanel), lobs a cutting insult at feminists in the upcoming issue of Harper’s Bazaar–in an interview in which he was role-playing, answering the questions as though he were Coco Chanel herself. When asked if Chanel was a feminist, Karl-as-Coco said:

I was never a feminist because I was never ugly enough for that.

And any smart marketer/designer/schoolyard bully knows, the quickest way to a woman’s Achilles is to call her ugly. And if the immediate association we’re encouraged to make is “feminist=ugly,” well, it’s no wonder that women don’t want to go there. But I think there’s more to it.

Still fuming over Lagerfeld, I came across a nugget in yesterday’s Daily Mail, entitled “Let’s put the fun back into feminism.” Fun and Feminism in the same sentence? Yes, let’s. In it, writer Hilary Hazard puts it thus:

But [our mothers’ and grandmothers’] success has proved a double-edged sword for our generation. Women have come so far that it’s easy to think we’ve reached the end of the road. The burning sense of injustice that fueled feminism through the fifties, sixties, and seventies has given way to apathy.

So perhaps our reluctance has more to do with this notion that feminism is passe than that it makes us ugly? That reminded me of a comment from Lauren O, in response to Barbara’s recent post in which she cites an article she wrote about how today’s young women refuse to identify themselves as feminists. Lauren, a recent college graduate, hit the nail on the head, saying:

It’s great that feminism has come far enough that they don’t have to deal with many of the egregious injustices that women in the past had to deal with (and probably an indicator of class and race). On the other hand, it’s really the cleverest and most sinister way to stop feminism before it even begins: just convince young women that there is no sexism and that their lives are perfect. You can go on paying them less, under-representing them in government, and treating them like sex objects, and they’ll see it as equality.

Touche. And then there’s also something else. Something that has a little to do with the judging we women are so quick to heap upon our sisters. After the requisite mentions of beauty pageants, who is and isn’t protesting them, and the beauty industry as a whole, Hazard delves into meatier territory, taking on none less than icon Germaine Greer, and a dig she recently threw at Brit Cheryl Cole, calling her “too skinny to be a feminist,” and Hazard’s own not-so-pretty treatment of a pretty office worker named Anna, who, loaded down with coffees, crashed into the glass doors of a crowded conference room, a la Ugly Betty:

The feeling of ‘us’ and ‘them’ which still divides women by image is all in our heads. The so-called glass ceiling which keeps women in their place might actually be a glass door which, had I held it open for Anna, might have made her life a lot easier.

It’s essentially the same conclusion Barbara came to yesterday, in her post about the trouble with typecasting:

I so agree with what she says about room for personal contradiction when it comes to feminism. (And, in fact, didn’t a certain intolerance for that contradiction once push some feminists out of the tent?) But it’s the either/or that gets us into trouble.

So maybe it’s not the ugly or the worry of appearing passe that’s the problem but this notion of either/or, and the problems with labels in general (John Hughes would be so proud). Maybe by picking fights with each other or fixating on labels, we’re doing nothing but diluting the issue. And the issue is this: we, women, are at a unique place in history–we’re children of a young movement, as Greer herself said, a movement still with work to do. Work involving how to contend with the choices we face: to one generation, to have options at all was the Holy Grail. But now that we have them, we’re stuck, reportedly unhappier than ever, stuck in analysis paralysis, and full of judgments we thrust upon each other. Is there any question there’s more work to be done?

And why have we stalled? I tend to think it’s partly because we’ve seen some success, and partly because we narrowed feminism’s definition so much that we don’t think there’s enough room to fit us all, with all of our contradictions and nuances. But imagine where we’d be if we stopped picking sides and signed on to the same team, one with room for everyone from Coco Chanel to Lady Gaga. Could it really be possible?

Maybe. But I think Coco would probably prefer that Ms. Gaga put on some pants.

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