Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘grass-is-greener’

I frequently hear from former students – usually bright, idealistic twentysomethings — long after they’ve exchanged their college dreams for, you know, reality.

Often, these women are more than a little shell-shocked when they come face to face with the disconnect between their high expectations and life out there in the real world of work.  Their notes, emails and phone calls speak of a certain dissatisfact  Raised to believe they could have it all, they’re suddenly undecided.  Disillusioned. Wondering about that greener grass.  One former student, channeling Betty Friedan, called it “the other problem that has no name.”  All this angst, in fact, was one of the triggers for our book.

The latest email came from a focused young woman – we’ll call her Susie — who moved several states away after she scored the job of her dreams at a big tech company right out of the gate.  Great, right?  But what she wrote was anything but.

She first relayed a story of a friend, an Ivy League grad who was now working in New York – who was so miserable at her job she was thinking of calling it quits.  Why?  Constant sexist remarks.  A sense that she was invisible to the powers that be.  The final straw?  One of the partners in her firm sent out an office-wide email, addressed “Dear Gentlemen”, even though there were several women on the chain – and left her off it completely, though a male employee with her same job was included.

Small stuff, maybe.  But when you’ve been led to believe that gender discrimination is a thing of the past, that feminist battles have been fought and won, that you, sister, have achieved equality, reality provides a nasty wake-up call.

Anyway, back to Susie, who had her own tale of invisibility to tell.   Not long ago, she flew off to run a booth at a trade show for her company.  She reveled in the responsibility – and also in the opportunity to finally have a face-to-face meeting with her brand new boss, who was headquartered in a different state.  But while Susie was busy running the show, a Playboy model who’d been hired by her company for the gig, was working the crowd.

You can guess how this story ends, right?  Susie ended up with about 20 minutes of facetime with her boss, who was far more interested in chatting up the model and taking her to dinner.

“It just leaves so much dissatisfaction in my heart because I feel like there is no way to win this game,” Susie wrote.  “As women, what makes us valuable in the office? There are enough really talented women on my team that I know climbing the ranks is a possibility…”  And yet, she wondered:  how do these women feel when they’re smart, work hard, and then they see, as she did at the tradeshow, that looks carry more currency than talent. “I just wonder,” she wrote, “that even if we reach the pinnacle of success, whatever that might be, will we ever feel like we truly have it?”

Sigh.  One of the most insidious things about this kind of sexism, I told Susie, is that the folks who perpetuate this nonsense rarely realize what they are doing or saying. White male privilege?  More than likely. But it also speaks to the fact that, while we may have come a long way, we still have a long way to go. Which is why I get so grumpy when young women refuse to call themselves feminists – or when their older sisters, the ones who are edging up toward the top of the food chain, are loathe to acknowledge the way things were – and in many cases, still are.

Of course, what rankles the most is the idea that dealing with gender discrimination, with sexism of all kinds, is seen as women’s work.  Shouldn’t it be everyone’s work?

Hillary Clinton — one of the most powerful women in the world and someone who has put up with more than her share of bad behavior solely because of her gender – might well agree.  Check what she told the Gail Collins in an interview in Sunday’s New York Times:

For a long time, Clinton said, when she talked about giving women opportunity, “I could see some eyes glazing over.” But now, she continued, people are beginning to see that empowering women leads to economic development. That you don’t espouse women’s rights because it’s a virtuous thing to do but because it leads to economic growth.

Economics? Brilliant!  Which leads us back to Susie.  Who, we might ask her boss, made more money for her company that week at that trade show?

And exactly who is it that wins when smart and talented young women are too discouraged to stick around?

Read Full Post »

So, today, I must must write about the most shocking, scandalous, jaw-dropping thing I came across this weekend. (And, no, it has nothing whatsoever to do with Ricky Gervais.) The item of intrigue was a story on Salon.com, entitled… wait for it… “Why I can’t stop reading Mormon housewife blogs: I’m a young, feminist atheist who can’t bake a cupcake. Why am I addicted to the shiny, happy lives of these women?”

Um, click.

How could I not?? I mean, apparently, there’s like an entire subculture of Zooey Deschanel-bang-sporting, craft-spinning, brood-mommying, hubby-looooooving Mormon housewives out there. As writer Emily Matchar puts it,

young stay-at-home-moms who blog about home and hearth, Latter-day Saint-style.

The women behind “Rockstar Diaries,” “Underaged and Engaged,” “Nie Nie Dialogues“, and “Say Yes to Hoboken” blog about their kids. Their husbands. Their love of hot chocolate. Their love of baked goods. The themed headbands they craft for their pals at the themed dinner parties they host. And how happy they are.

Matchar says that, although their lives bear no resemblance to her own,

On an average day, I’ll skim through a half-dozen Mormon blogs, looking at Polaroids of dogs in raincoats or kids in bow ties, reading gratitude lists, admiring sewing projects.

I’m not alone, either. Two of my closest friends — both chronically overworked Ph.D. candidates — procrastinate for hours poring over Nat the Fat Rat or C. Jane Enjoy It. A recent discussion of Mormonism on the blog Jezebel unleashed a waterfall of confessions in the comments section from other young non-religious women similarly riveted by the shiny, happy domestic lives of their Latter-day Saint sisters.

Which begs a question: Who knew?

Apparently everyone but me. Seriously, though, it begs another question, too: What gives? What’s the appeal? Matchar has a theory:

Well, to use a word that makes me cringe, these blogs are weirdly “uplifting.” To read Mormon lifestyle blogs is to peer into a strange and fascinating world where the most fraught issues of modern living — marriage and child rearing — appear completely unproblematic. This seems practically subversive to someone like me, weaned on an endless media parade of fretful stories about “work-life balance” and soaring divorce rates and the perils of marrying too young/too old/too whatever. And don’t even get me started on the Mommy Blogs, which make parenthood seem like a vale of judgment and anxiety, full of words like “guilt” and “chaos” and “BPA-free” and “episiotomy.” Read enough of these, and you’ll be ready to remove your own ovaries with a butter knife.

…Indeed, Mormon bloggers like Holbrook make marriage and motherhood seem, well, fun. Easy. Joyful. These women seem relaxed and untouched by cynicism. They throw elaborate astronaut-themed birthday parties for their kids and go on Sunday family drives to see the fall leaves change and get mani-pedis with their friends. They often have close, large extended families; moms and sisters are always dropping in to watch the kids or help out with cake decorating. Their lives seem adorable and old-fashioned and comforting.

This focus on the positive is especially alluring when your own life seems anything but easy. As my friend G. says, of her fascination with Mormon lifestyle blogs, “I’m just jealous. I want to arrange flowers all day too!” She doesn’t, really. She’s just tired from long days spent in the lab, from a decade of living in a tiny apartment because she’s too poor from student loans to buy a house, from constant negotiations about breadwinning status with her artist husband. It’s not that she or I  want to quit our jobs to bake brownies or sew kiddie Halloween costumes. It’s just that for G., Mormon blogs are an escapist fantasy, a way to imagine a sweeter, simpler life.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about “the New Domesticity” — an increasing interest in old-fashioned, traditionally female tasks like sewing, crafts and jam making. Some pundits see this as a sign that young women yearn to return to some kind of 1950s Ozzie and Harriet existence, that feminism has “failed,” that women are realizing they can’t have it all, after all. That view is utterly nonsense, in my opinion, but I do think women of my generation are looking to the past in an effort to create fulfilling, happy domestic lives, since the modern world doesn’t offer much of a road map. Our parents — divorced, stressed-out baby boomers — are hardly paragons of domestic bliss. Nor are the Gen X “Mommy War” soldiers, busy winging snowballs of judgment at each other from across the Internet. (Formula is poison! Baby wearing is child abuse!)

Gosh! Kinda makes you want to chug a couple of root beers, huh?! But in all seriousness, I think she’s onto a couple of things. One is the allure of the (seemingly) simple, unquestioned life. I think that one of the things that’s become such a big burden to today’s women is the questions that come with the unprecedented freedom we have to live our lives whatever way we want. Whenever everything isn’t coming together as perfectly as a–well, a “vintage-y owl throw pillow,” for example, we wonder if we’ve chosen the wrong life for ourselves. It’s pretty tough not to get sucked into the Life Would Be So Grand If Someone Else Would Just Tell Me What The H-E-DoubleHockeySticks To Do fantasy.

(And, you know, who doesn’t love an escapist fantasy from time to time? Hello, Beverly Hills 90210 The Brenda Years, when every problem was solvable with a MegaBurger. 90210 is clearly not reality–and who knows how lovely these lovely young things’ lives really are? But sometimes we don’t want the nuanced truth. We want a MegaBurger.)

And then, of course, there’s the trap of the grass is greener syndrome: the fact that, time and again, it seems that whenever we play that comparison game, the one constant is this–that we seem categorically unable to image that whatever road we did NOT choose to travel might in fact be as bumpy as the one we did. And when we’re presented with something that looks perfect, why would we question it?

Of course, we’ve said all of this before. And I think there’s one other explanation: I checked out some of those blogs. And they’re pretty flipping cute.


Share

Read Full Post »

You bet your mortarboard. Stick with us, you’ll find out why.

But first, backstory: Last month, New York Times writer David Leonhardt slapped the debate about the value of our American college-for-all ethos smack-dab on our collective kitchen table. Ever since, knickers have been in a bundle all across the interwebs as readers, reporters, students, parents and, yep, even faculty members have all weighed in with, if not your basic my-way-or-the-highway answers, at least impassioned questions:

Does higher education matter? Is college worth the bucks — or the lifetime of debt? Why are graduation rates falling? And the big Kahuna: should college teach us how to think or teach us how to do?

The Times’ Jacques Steinberg weighed in a few weeks later with a piece of his own whose title said it all: Plan B: Skip College. That piece cranked up the blogosphere for days, generating a lot of, well, polite debate, much of which centered on a pretty central question that I might frame thus:

Who the hell cares about a classic liberal arts education when what we really need are techno-geeks?

The answer, I’m pleased to say, is lots of us. One comment to Steinberg’s piece was especially elegant:

Does “intensive, short-term vocational and career training” teach you to write well? Or to communicate effectively, think critically, view the world in general from a perspective other than your own? Aren’t these a few of the mandates of higher education? The argument of the scientists in this piece too narrowly focuses the situation into “student+college=career.”

A college-education is supposed to prepare a student not just for a career but for an educated and informed life. Now, perhaps these goals are far too often attained. Yes, that’s an issue that needs to be addressed. But as is typical, there is room here for a compromise: well-rounded, career-based curricula infused with a healthy dose of liberal arts, science, and math courses.

Do mail carriers need a BS degree to place envelopes in a slot? Of course not. But you’d hope that there is more to their existence than this simple task.

Even more important, though, and what goes to the heart of what we’ve been talking about in this space, is this: What if said postal worker decides that, yeah, walking around delivering the mail is cool and all that, but what I really want to do is (fill in the blank)?

Back in April, we ourselves weighed in on how that very issue — locking yourself into Plan A before you’ve even tasted Plan B — impacts young, bright women carving out uncharted territory in the new millenium:

Is it all about the treadmill? Possibly so. Which makes me wonder if this is another way in which great expectations do women in. When you’ve felt the pressure of unlimited options ever since Career Girl Barbie or whatever-her-name-was first peeked out from under the Christmas tree, do you feel the roar of indecision, the fight between the red one or the blue one, early on — and shut it down by choosing a path too soon? And then sticking with it.

That’s certainly one way to kill the angst. Whew.

But maybe that’s why choices are so loaded, too, because they become so narrowly focussed — and by definition, do not include a back-up plan. Failure, that great teacher, is not an option. (Nor, for that matter, is the broad-based education. Classics, anyone?) And then, out into the real world, when that first job is more about fetching lattes than writing business plans, there’s that thing called regret.

Grass-is-greener syndrome suddenly comes calling and kicks the best and the brightest right there in the ass. That race ? Yeah, not in first place anymore.

And then what? Well, for the last word on the subject — following in the wake of pieces in the New York Times by David Brooks and Stanley Fisk — let’s read what Michael Roth, the president of Wesleyan University, had to say via a post on Wednesday’s HuffPo. Watch for the boldface:

It is certainly understandable that in these uncertain economic times families are more concerned than ever with the kind of education their students will receive. That’s why it’s so important to understand the deep, contemporary practicality of a liberal education. Patient and persistent critical inquiry has never been more crucial, and the development of this capacity is one of the defining features of a liberal education. One learns that successful inquiry is rigorous and innovative, and that one must be able to re-evaluate one’s own practices and prejudices. Real inquiry is pragmatic, and it is also reflexive — it includes rigorous self-examination. Given the pace of technological and social change, it no longer makes sense to devote four years of higher education entirely to specific skills. By learning how to learn, one makes one’s education last a lifetime. What could be more practical? Post secondary education, I am fond of telling the undergrads at Wesleyan, should help students to discover what they love to do, and to get better at it. They should develop the ability to continue learning so that they become agents of change — not victims of it.

Learning how to learn? An education that lasts a lifetime? Considerable bang for the buck, don’t ya think? Those thick books? Twenty page papers? Calculus, for the love of God?

Think trip, not destination. Discovery. Prepping yourself for the road not taken. In other words: Happy Graduation!

Read Full Post »

Tuesday. Weight: not gonna disclose that. Cigarettes consumed: zero. Alcohol units consumed: one more than appropriate.

Yes, I’m channeling Bridget Jones, and it’s not knickers- or Darcy-inspired. Fact is, I’ve been ruminating on Renee Zellweger’s (alleged) statement that, though she’d like to do another Bridget Jones flick, she doesn’t want to pack on the lbs this go-round–and the postulating over the whys–all day long. And, given some particularly fascinating tangents, I figured you might as well join me.

Much as we love the relatable, perpetually plump-ish character, and even despite the reported $20M payday, who can really blame Zellweger for opting to forego the gravy this go-round on the gravy train? While I enjoy the random cupcake/cookie/passed appetizer binge as much as anyone, gaining 20 pounds on command doesn’t exactly sound like my idea of fun. Add to that the psychotic counterpoint, crash-dieting to lose it all in time for the media tour? Nothankyouverymuch. What’s more interesting, though (/of course), is why Zellweger (allegedly) said she didn’t want to go yo-yo again: According to The Frisky:

Also, Renee allegedly thinks the demise of her and Jack White’s relationship had to do with her extra pounds and doesn’t want to risk having it affect her relationship with Bradley Cooper.

Errr, ew. Said ew being fairly self-explanatory, let’s not get into it, shall we? What I would like to get into, however, is what Erica Kennedy–our favorite Feministahas to say about that lil rumor. Check it:

…now that she’s got Bradley Cooper on the hook, she doesn’t want to go down that road again. (And what the article doesn’t say but I will go ahead and add –> especially since she’s 40 now and childless.)

So you know what this means, if true? It means that Renee Zellweger, who gets $20 million a picture and probably has some stake in the gross of the Bridget Jones franchise so stands to make even more, is basically trying to decide between $20+ million (and 20 lbs) or… a man. Ain’t that some shit (allegedly)? That’s a real modern woman conundrum like I’ve never heard!

…At what other time would a woman be in the position to make $20 million? For a few months work? Or be in the position to turn it down?

…But at the same time, Renee can get the $$$ to do another movie where she doesn’t have to gain weight and if I were her, I would be more worried about locking shit down on the home front at this point. If we’re using celebrities as analogies here, I would think Heidi Klum or Jennifer Garner is what you would want, ideally. An involved husband, kids AND a career that you can do until you don’t feel like doing it anymore. What you don’t want to become is Jennifer Aniston (what goes on in HER head at night?) and end up living alone in a ginormous Zen-influenced palace that you design to feel like a big hug. Which is exactly where Renee looks like she’s heading.

Whoa and whoa again. While I adore Ms. Kennedy for her delightful willingness to go there, her thoughts on the subject leave me wondering: What is this really all about? Somewhere deep down, do women believe that we really can’t have it all? That we can’t have the career, the guy, and–in Zellweger’s case anyway–the bod, that everything must always be a choice, an either/or?

Or is it a classic case of grass-is-greener syndrome: That, no matter what we have going for us (ahem, $20M payday much?!), we can’t help but focus on what we don’t?

What is our problem? Are we just spoiled? Or is part of the human condition the absolute inability to focus on what’s in our own backyard–so blinded are we by our Alice in Wonderland perceptions of our neighbors’ oh-so green grass?

Consider: If Zellweger is in fact so consumed with her biological clock that even a cool $20 million won’t assuage the fear of being left alone, that she can’t see how amazingly, craptastically blessed she is to be in such a position, to have a $20 million offer on the table, that she’s financially free enough to turn down, might her perspective be just an eensy bit skewed? Maybe her scary-knickers-sporting counterpart might have a lesson to offer here: I mean, it seems to me it’s all a little bit like Ms. Jones’ lamenting over her ‘smug married’ friends, who, while married, were nowhere near as smugly so as Bridget imagined… or her inability to realize that a Colin Firth in the hand might be worth two Hugh Grants in the (proverbial) bush?

I guess the main question I’m wondering here is this: Are we unable–or unwilling… or both–to imagine that the path we didn’t choose might in fact be as imperfect as the one we did?

A wise person once said that it’s not the cards we draw in life that’s important, it’s how we play the hand we’re dealt. And maybe we’d enjoy the game a whole lot more if we were able to remember that.

And if not, maybe we’d do well to take a cue from Bridget, and have another glass of wine.

Read Full Post »

Hey! You! Anybody out there?!

If you’re part of the Millennial Generation, you surely are. But you aren’t likely to read much more than the first few lines of this post, are you? That’s among the findings of a recent Pew Research Center study on Gen Y (roughly defined as those from 18 – 29) and how they communicate.

Out? Facetime. In? Status updates.

In short (literally), if you’re young and hip, you like it quick. So says a yahoo news story, via the AP, on one aspect of the study — the demise of blogging among the millennial set:

A new study has found that young people are losing interest in long-form blogging, as their communication habits have become increasingly brief, and mobile. Tech experts say it doesn’t mean blogging is going away. Rather, it’s gone the way of the telephone and e-mail — still useful, just not sexy.

“Remember when ‘You’ve got mail!’ used to produce a moment of enthusiasm and not dread?” asks Danah Boyd, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Now when it comes to blogs, she says, “people focus on using them for what they’re good for and turning to other channels for more exciting things.”

In less time than most of us care to note, we’ve seen the diminished use – if not outright demise — of snail mail, faxes, land lines, newspapers, email and now — blogs? Chalk it up to social networking, says the yahoo story:

With social networking has come the ability to do a quick status update and that has “kind of sucked the life out of long-form blogging,” says Amanda Lenhart, a Pew senior researcher and lead author of the latest study.

More young people are also accessing the Internet from their mobile phones, only increasing the need for brevity. The survey found, for instance, that half of 18- to 29-year-olds had done so.

All of that rings true to Sarah Rondeau, a freshman at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.

“It’s a matter of typing quickly. People these days don’t find reading that fun,” the 18-year-old student says. She loves Facebook and has recently started using Twitter to share pictures of her dorm room and blurbs about campus life, which are, in turn, shared on the Holy Cross Web site for prospective students.

Life by status update? I’m all for short and quick. It’s efficient! There’s quantity! And yet, at the risk of being called, well, old, I have to wonder: Where’s the depth? The bigger picture? The other side? Where does this leave the art of chitchat?

And in fact, there are subtle rumblings around the edges that hint that all is not always well in the land of quick connections. For example, PR Newswire reports that a St. Paul company is offering seminars to show twentysomethings how to use facetime rather than screentime to score a job. Huh? That needs to be taught? And there’s this: A story out of CUNY’s Baruch College links the high depression rate among millenial students to uber-connection:

Baruch psychology professor David Sitt acknowledges the implications of technological evolution on an entire generation’s social character.

“We are changing our expectations of what we need in life to make us happy,” said Sitt. “Since technology has propelled us forward it creates a speed where everything is immediate and the window for gratification has narrowed.”

According to Sitt, depression grows from a root need for gratification as social networking tools and electronic gadgets instill in us a constant pressure to connect.

“Initially we only needed to see our friends once a month, now it has turned into everyday,” said Sitt. “We have this idea that if we don’t check our emails or post on Facebook every second then we missed out on something or that people have forgotten about us.”

I tweet, therefore I am? All of which brings us back to something we wrote about last month — the way in which these cyberlives have begun to erode our real ones. From that post:

Is this uber-connection to our cyber-lives and cyber friends and god-knows-what-all-else keeping us from being fully present in our own here and now? From appreciating what we have — rather than jonesing for what we don’t? Does the fact that we have one foot in our own life and the other in about a hundred others make us continually wonder what we’re missing?

All those distractions! All those choices! No wonder we’re always angsting over that greener grass — because the other side of the fence is always up in our face.

And the thing is, when that other side of the fence comes to you via short and quick, it’s almost always looking better than it is.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

As it is in fortune cookies, so it is in women’s lives and the choices they face… which is to say that, while the greatest measurable strides we’ve made have been in the realm of work–even, perhaps, as a result of those strides–we’ve found ourselves stumped when it comes to the choices we face over personal stuff, too.

And I’m talking beyond the question of whether to be a stay at home mom or a working mom: I’m talking about whether to have kids at all, and love, and sex, and marriage, and divorce. And what women who’ve been there have been willing to say about it. And what women who haven’t been there yet think about the women who have been there–and what they say about it.

There was Lori Gottlieb’s widely publicized and ballyhooed essay in The Atlantic, entitled “Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” in which a life spent holding out for something–or someone–that would meet her great expectations is told from the perspective of the now 40-something, single mother Gottlieb. (The baby daddy? A test tube.) She writes that, as she ages, she finds herself much more willing to settle for something less than fabulous–and advises younger women that the really smart thing to do is to just settle for the balding dude with dragon breath.

Take the date I went on last night. The guy was substantially older. He had a long history of major depression and said, in reference to the movies he was writing, “I’m fascinated by comas” and “I have a strong interest in terrorists.” He’d never been married. He was rude to the waiter. But he very much wanted a family, and he was successful, handsome, and smart. As I looked at him from across the table, I thought, Yeah, I’ll see him again. Maybe I can settle for that. But my very next thought was, Maybe I can settle for better. It’s like musical chairs–when do you take a seat, any seat, just so you’re not left standing alone?

Then, on precisely the other end of the spectrum, there was Sandra Tsing Loh’s shockingly honest account of the end of her marriage, which included an offhand mention of the affair she had that precipitated it. She suggests that love has an expiration date, and that, in the face of having it all, the drudgery of reigniting that old, familiar flame seemed but a futile task on her already too-long list of To-Dos:

Do you see? Given my staggering working mother’s to-do list, I cannot take on yet another arduous home- and self-improvement project, that of rekindling our romance.

She introduces us to her friend Rachel, married to the seemingly perfect man (who hasn’t touched Rachel in over two years). One night over martinis, Rachel announces she, too, has been thinking divorce:

Rachel sees herself as a failed mother, and is depressed and chronically overworked at her $120,000-a-year job (which she must cling to for the benefits because Ian freelances). At night, horny and sleepless, she paces the exquisite kitchen, gobbling mini Dove bars. The main breadwinner, Rachel is really the Traditional Dad, but instead of being handed her pipe and slippers at six, she appears to be marooned in a sexless remodeling project with a passive-aggressive Competitive Wife.

…In any case, here’s my final piece of advice: avoid marriage–or you too may suffer the emotional pain, the humiliation, and the logistical difficulty, not to mention the expense, of breaking up a long-term union at midlife for something as demonstrably fleeting as love.

Whew. Between she and Gottleib, it certainly seems that we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

And then there was Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation, who, at the wise old age of 42, recently lamented the loss of her looks, her loneliness, and the years she spent fleeing commitment, sabotaging stability, believing she’d always have options (and a wrinkle-free face). In the piece for Elle, a longer version of which will soon arrive at bookstores near you, Wurtzel writes:

The idea of forever with any single person, even someone great whom I loved so much like Gregg, really did seem like what death actually is: a permanent stop. Love did not open up the world like a generous door, as it should to anyone getting married; instead it was the steel clamp of the iron maiden, shutting me behind its front metal hinge to asphyxiate slowly, and then suddenly. Every day would be the same forever: The body, the conversation, it would never change–isn’t that the rhythm of prison?

Reader, she cheated on him.

(Primetime television’s answer to the mature modern woman’s romantic conundrum? Cougar Town.)

I remember reading each of these women’s stories, and bring them up because they were recently culled together into a piece by 25 year-old Irina Aleksander in the New York Observer, entitled “The Cautionary Matrons.” In it, Aleksander writes:

Our mothers and grandmothers seemed to have sound instructions. But now–now that the generation of women ahead of us has begun to sound regretful, shouting at us, “Don’t end up like me!”–what we have instead are Cautionary Matrons, issuing what feel like incessant warnings.

Single 40-something women warn us about being too career-oriented and forgetting to factor in children; married women warn us that marriage is a union in which sex and fidelity are optional; and divorced women warn us to keep our weight down, our breasts up and our skin looking like Saran Wrap unless we want our husbands to later leave us for 23 year-olds.

While her take is entertaining, the quotes she includes are downright spooky: though our own context might not be the same, the sentiments are quite possibly universal. Too many choices–and opportunity cost, when picking one means you necessarily can’t have the others.

From Gottlieb, to Aleksander:

The article was like I was someone’s big sister and I was saying here’s my experience and all of the misconceptions I had… I think you guys are actually lucky because you’ll get a more mixed set of messages. When I was in my 20s, women were all about having it all and ‘a guy is great but he is not the main course.’ We got a single message and it was all, me, me, me, me, me. ‘You go girl!’ And now those of us that grew up with these messages are finally admitting that those messages of empowerment may actually conflict with what we want.

And leave it to Tsing Loh to be so candid it will make you cringe, cry, and chuckle:

[Tsing Loh] speculated about the reason for this apparent surge in matronly warnings: ‘I think because we’re really surprised!’ she screamed into the receiver. ‘In our 20s, the world was totally our oyster. All those fights had been fought. We weren’t going to be ’50s housewives, we were in college, we could pick and choose from a menu of careers, and there were all these interesting guys out there not like our dads. We were smart women who had a lot of options and made intelligent choices and that’s why we’re writing these pieces. We’re shocked!’

‘It must be very confusing,’ she said sympathetically. ‘We were the proteges of old-guard feminists: ‘Don’t have a baby, or if you must, have one, wait till your 40s.’ We were sold more of a mission plan and now you guys… Well, sadly, it all seems like kind of a mess. There is no mission. Even stay-at-home moms feel unsuccessful unless they’re canning their own marmalade and selling it on the Internet. You just have a bunch of drunk, depressed, 45-year-old ladies going, ‘A-BLAH-BLAH-BLAH.’

Again, whew.

Aleksander goes on, recounting a conversation she had with a friend about the subject:

‘They are the first generation of women who were presented with choices,’ she said. ‘I think they are in the process of reflecting on a half-century of existence and are realizing that ‘having it all’ was really a lie. Sometimes I think the idea of ‘having it all’ can almost be more disempowering than ‘having it all’ because one is never allowed enough time or energy to excel in one area of their life.’

Choices. Uncharted territory. It looks to me like yet another mirror of our whole thesis: with so many options, is it ever possible not to second-guess ourselves? to wonder about the road not traveled? to worry that the grass is greener? to find yourself paralyzed in the face of all that analysis? When do you just take a seat, any seat? And, with all the seats out there, is it ever possible to be content with the seat we’ve chosen?

I don’t know, but I’m hopeful that one day, we’ll find the answer.

In bed.

Read Full Post »

Rob Walker’s “Consumed” column, “This Year’s Model“, in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine presents an interesting question: when constrained by a lack of choice, are we forced to get creative? Walker tells the tale of Sheena Matheiken’s Uniform Project, “which involves wearing the same dress every day for a year, and seeing just how aesthetically creative she could be despite that limitation.” Matheiken’s personal background clearly factored into the project’s inspiration: on her site, she writes:

I was raised and schooled in India where uniforms were a mandate in most public schools. Despite the imposed conformity, kids always found a way to bend the rules and flaunt a little personality… Poking through the sea of uniforms were the idiosyncrasies of teen style and individual flare.

This sounded familiar to me: I wore a school uniform for 12 years. In high school, my sartorial self-expression was limited to my shoes. But while part of me engaged in the grass-is-greener fantasy of a post-high-school life in which I could wear whatever I wanted, while stuck in that plaid skirt, I embraced the challenge and got as creative as I possibly could. Doc Martens, alternated with converse low-tops, became my statement of choice. Of this sort of forced creativity, Walker writes:

Rules stifle creativity and enforce conformity. Rules can do something else too: inspire creativity that thwarts conformity.

Which makes me wonder: as it is in fashion, is it in life? Are there instances in which a lack of choice has forced you to get creative? Is that a good thing? Which would you rather have: a lack of choices that forces you to think out of the box, or endless choices proscribed by no box at all?

As for me, fifteen years post-uniform, I still love clothes. I love the freedom to wear whatever I want. (Is it any wonder that one of my regular writing gigs is as the style columnist for the Santa Barbara Independent?) But I’m not gonna lie: with the hours I’ve spent staring at the innards of my closet, digging through drawers, and trying on outfit after outfit, I could have written The Great American Novel (not to mention come up with The Great American Premise for the Great American Novel). Just this morning, I went through three options before deciding on the one in which I’m currently ensconced. But would I go back to the uniformed days of my youth? Not a chance.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 229 other followers