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Posts Tagged ‘Marie Claire’

A perfectly reasonable question, right? It’s social shorthand for “who are you?” a convenient fall-back in the face of awkward silence or prolonged mingling; polite, simple, safe chit-chat. Um, right?

Well, consider: A couple of years ago, I reconnected with an old friend who’d since moved to Alaska. I asked him what it was like up there, what had prompted such a move. And he said–and I quote, “Californians are so shallow.”

I’m used to “smug,” along with some mention of organic vegetables, Masters degrees, and hybrid cars, but shallow? Not so much. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“The first thing anyone ever asks is ‘What do you do?’” he said.

And with that, he kinda shut me up (no small feat). It’s an interesting–and somewhat unusual–perspective, given how much of our time is poured into doing whatever it is we do, and how much of our identity is derived from what we do… but if we allow ourselves to see his point–that defining ourselves in terms of what’s on our business card is, indeed, shallow–what might we learn?

I was reminded of this conversation when reading a piece in this month’s Marie Claire magazine: In “Is your career ruining your credibility?” Sarah Z. Wexler gets into the issue of being defined–and judged–on the basis of what we do. Here’s a taste:

Former financial analyst Stacy Bromberg, 35, used to hold her own with the big-shot lawyers and bankers in her family Then she accepted a lucrative offer to be a senior VP of strategy for a major cosmetics company. ‘Instantly, I became the punch line at every family get-together,’ she recalls. ‘When I chimed in to a politcal discussion, my uncle asked how I found time to read the headlines when I was busy testing out lipsticks. Now, whenever I talk to him, I end up overcompensating, spending the whole conversation dropping fancy words, mentioning my assistant and whatnot, just so he and everyone else in the family knows that they’re dealing with a somebody. But I often sit up at night wondering if I’ll ever be taken seriously again.’

We all know women are judged by how they dress, talk, and act on the job. It’s only reasonable, then, that we’d also be scrutinized for the actual careers we choose. Though women represent nearly half the workforce and occupy positions of power unthinkable even a decade ago, many of us have put off marriage and families to get there. Some women complain that that’s resulted in tacit, insidious pressure to secure the kinds of jobs that justify all those trade-offs.

And, of course, the cruel irony is that women get it from both ends: If we take a low-powered job, we’re perceived as weak, unenlightened, whatever. But if we’re a serious player on the fast track, people are just as likely to judge: don’t wanna be too ambitious. For a woman, a job isn’t just a job. It’s a comment on who she is–in a way that it isn’t for a man.

Leaving that aside, again we’re reminded of the fact that women are relatively new to the workplace (it’s only been a generation since the demise of want-ads segregated by gender!), and coming into it armed with the message that You can do anything! (which, internally, tends to translate to: I better do something really, really good!)–all of which leaves us shouldering the weight of some serious expectations. Of course we want to prove we took that opportunity and milked it for all its worth! Of course we want an impressive answer to the question, “So, What do you do?”

But really, why? Often, the most impressive-sounding jobs are not so fabulous in real life. Take, for example, Alex, a Hollywood producer we profile in Undecided: “Dude. I’m doing what I wanted to do out of college, and now I’m over it. Sometimes what we originally think is glamorous turns out to be the opposite. After ten years in this industry, I’m ready for a big change. Ideally, owning my own business and never having to worry about a director not enjoying his sandwich.”

Like children transfixed by bright and shiny objects, we want the title, the money, the prestige… Even when we get what we’re after only to find it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, those bright and shiny objects are hard to give up–because, as much as we likely would rather not admit it, part of that ever-elusive picture-perfect life to which we aspire is the picture itself. How it looks. And yet, as Lori Gottlieb told us,

‘Something that looks really enticing from the outside is usually sort of culturally informed… very superficial.’ So why, we asked, do we get so hung up on them? And in a Helloooooo kind of tone, she told us what we already knew: ‘The objective things are so alluring.’

Alluring, yes. And often it’s only after some trial and error that we find what’s right for us–that what first looked so alluring is in fact, not what we’re passionate about–or even enjoy. But maybe a good indication that we’re on the right track will be when someone asks us “So hey, what do you do?” and we no longer care how our answer sounds.

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Oh, how I tire of the End of Men headlines.

Two recent books have reignited the conversation, though, as their titles indicate, they come at it from decidedly different perspectives. In “Manning Up,” Kay Hymowitz argues that men taking longer to grow up and get married (which are, you know, boogeyman-bad phenomena) is a problem for which feminism is to blame. Then there’s “Man Down,” by Dan Abrams, which argues that women are better than men at basically everything. (On a recent appearance on The View, Joy Behar made him blush when she asked: “Did you just write the book to get laid?”) In his book, Abrams cites a lot of science that’ll have women feeling proud, but some of it is cause for pause. Check, for example, this, from a Q&A at MyDaily:

You cite a study that shows that people often find news more credible when it’s read by a female newscaster, but that the same people often find male newscasters more credible in general. This dynamic shows up in your analysis of women in politics as well. Can you tell us what you think is going on here?
Look, I think that there are still a lot of people who have what I might view as antiquated stereotypes about how they view everything from world leaders to doctors to newscasters. It’s really striking, the idea that they viewed the messages coming from a woman as more credible but when they were asked who was more credible, they said men.

And this is exactly the kind of thing that gets my blood boiling whenever I come across something like Hymowitz’ “Manning Up”–woe be the man, no longer the king of the castle, the apex of the food chain! I’m not the only one; here’s a nice little taste from Kate Tuttle’s take down in the Boston Globe:

[Hymowitz's] zeal to somehow tie women’s educational and economic advances to this perceived downward spiral in men’s maturity levels leads her to make wild claims and to confuse cause and effect, as when she points out that women only make less money than men if you take into account their disproportional numbers in low-paying careers–there’s a more logical way to spin that fact, as I’m sure she realizes. But when your point is that somehow women are doing better than men, and that this improvement in women’s lives somehow comes at the expense of men’s identity, well, it’s better to throw around lines like ‘feminism’s siren call to the workplace’ than to question why jobs traditionally held by women pay less than jobs traditionally held by men.

An important question, doncha think? Perhaps it has to do with fears of being perceived as too ambitious, or of women’s work being undervalued? (An equally important question might be this: who are these women–writing books, running for the second-highest public office–so quick to denigrate feminism?)

More annoying, though, is this: on the very same day I found myself reading one women’s argument as to why feminism is to blame for all that ails the modern man and one man’s assertion that, to quote the Grateful Dead, The Women Are Smarter, I came across an NYT piece titled “At M.I.T., Success Comes With Unexpected Consequences.” The story leads off with a nod to M.I.T.’s recent push to hire more women, but quickly takes a nosedive into the unexpected consequences. And as we all know, unexpected consequences are never good.

But with the emphasis on eliminating bias, women now say the assumption when they win important prizes or positions is that they did so because of their gender. Professors say that female undergraduates ask them how to answer male classmates who tell them they got into M.I.T. only because of affirmative action.

(I have some idea of how I’d answer such a statement. And I didn’t even go to M.I.T.)

But wait; there’s more! For every positive development, an unintended consequence. Pro: every committee must include a woman! Con: because there are so many fewer women than men on the faculty, nearly every woman is on a committee–and, thus, losing time for research,

as well as the outside consultancies that earn their male colleagues a lot of money.

Pro: There are better family leave policies in place. Con:

Yet now women say they are uneasy with the frequent invitations to appear on campus panels to discuss their work-life balance. In interviews for the study, they expressed frustration that parenthood remained a women’s issue, rather than a family one.

As Professor Sive said, ‘Men are not expected to discuss how much sleep they get or what they give their kids for breakfast.’

Better grab a Pop-Tart for this next one:

Despite an effort to educate colleagues about bias in letters of recommendation for tenure, those for men tend to focus on intellect while those for women dwell on temperament.

Sure doesn’t sound like we’re on equal ground [she typed with a smile]. And yet, it seems all but impossible to escape the hand-wringing over the End of Men.

Speaking of the end of men, Hanna Rosin, who wrote the article of the same name for The Atlantic, on last week’s Double X Gabfest spoke with her colleagues Jessica Grose and Kate Julian about manning up, manning down, and the end of men. In it, Rosin puts forth an interesting theory: They’re old themes in America: that of the self-made man, the constant opportunity for self-reinvention. It’s an ideology, she says, that created a constant state of “anxiety in men, that you were constantly having to prove yourself.”

At that point, another voice, I think Grose, pipes in to say that the women she knows, in their 20s and 30s, are incredibly anxious about making something of themselves, too, weighed down by the idea of having it all.

Um, yeah. We’d tend to agree. So, let’s just take a moment to review: in addition to the sorts of unexpected consequences outlined in the NYT piece about M.I.T., women are also facing the kind of anxiety that men have been dealing with for centuries–only, because it’s new to our gender as a whole, we have to navigate that without benefit of role models… And yet, we wonder, is this the end of men?

I suppose it depends on what is meant by the word “men.” Could it be that what’s really going on is that the traditional definitions are growing less and less relevant; that women are becoming more like traditional ‘men,’ and men, more like us?

Interestingly, later still I found myself flipping through the mountainous stack of unread magazines on my dining room table (/desk). A headline on this month’s Marie Claire caught my eye: “New Trend: Male Baby Fever.” Inside, the piece claims that men are hankering to become daddies, dumping women not yet ready to settle down. (Wonder what Hymowitz would make of that?)

(While this, I’m sure, is generally viewed as a warm-fuzzy variety story, a trend to be applauded, the logical counterpart–the one about those women who aren’t feeling the settling down thing–would likely be met with tsk-tsks and hyperbolic cries that this time, feminism has really done it; the end of the world as we know it is near!)

But. I wonder.

Even if it is only a (insert air quotes here) Trend Piece, and even if it only hints at an inkling of a trend, might it hold the potential for a pleasant-yet-unintended consequence: If men are increasingly the ones with baby-fever, maybe, soon enough, they’ll be the ones fighting for a more family friendly workplace. Maybe they’ll want their wives to make the same kind of money they do. While I don’t envision a day when they’ll be the ones stuck talking sleep, judged on their temperament, rather than their accomplishments, I like to imagine a time when it occurs to them that a more equal world is worth fighting for–and an unintended consequence of fighting for it might be better conditions for everyone.

Pipe dream or Pop Tart? Time will tell.


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It’s depressingly familiar territory, dear reader: the ugly double-binds that have women screwed no matter what they do (or don’t do). And a new book, Damned if She Does, Damned if She Doesn’t: Rethinking the Rules of the Game That Keep Women from Succeeding in Business, written by the gender balanced husband-and-wife team of management consultants Lynn Cronin and Howard Fine, makes the case that, if you’re playing by big rules of big business, you’re probably hurting your career. On the surface, of course, these rules sound great, but here’s how they keep us down:

  1. Be a team player: Of this one, in an interview with Marie Claire, Cronin explains this paradox thus: “When working in teams, women just don’t receive recognition commensurate with their contributions. But when a driven, competent woman says, ‘They don’t know how good I am; I’ll show them!’ she’s perceived as not being a team player.” Fine’s a little more succinct: “Women pay a higher price than men for not being team players. They have to fall in line or they’re screwed.” So, “fall in line”–i.e., shut up and deal with the fact that the kudos (which is to say money and promotions) you should have coming are likely lost in the mail for all eternity, or be passed over on the grounds that you can’t play nice with others.
  2. Attract mentors and advocates, and bond with coworkers: Easier said than done. The corporate world was built by networks of good old boys, and it’s simply tougher for women to gain entree–and if you’re looking for a female power mentor, wellllll, good luck with that: out of the Fortune 500, a mere 15 of those companies’ CEOs are women. Additionally, women who try to bond with their male counterparts rarely succeed–and can alienate coworkers of either sex–while they’re at it. Not to mention the fact that it’s a little harder for a woman to score an invite to a beer-drinking, golf-playing boondoggle of the “networking” variety than it is for a man.
  3. Show commitment to the job: Women who are committed to their jobs tend to be perceived as losers with no social lives, while women with full personal lives are seen as not committed enough to their work. This one makes me want to pull my hair out: here’s a fun exercise–substitute the word “men” for “women” in the above sentence and attempt to re-read said sentence with a straight face, and then tell me there’s no such thing as sexism in the workplace. Can’t do it? Congratulations, you have a brain.
  4. Recognize your role in the system: Ah yes, the Big Kahuna. Accept your role, and watch as nothing changes. Or challenge it, breaking the golden rule and becoming the problem employee.

So what’s a woman to do? In the MC interview, Cronin and Fine advise what amounts to a careful walking of the line:

[Fine says] Say you think you haven’t gotten a fair raise. Don’t accuse your boss. Instead, ask him questions like ‘What could I do differently so I can get a better raise next time?’ This is helpful to you and forces your boss to justify himself.

[Ed note: Fine, must we always assume that our boss is a him? Sorry, couldn't help but go there.]

[Cronin says] There’s also a little bit of sucking up and tolerating that you have to do until you’ve risen to a position of power and can really do something about it.

Prudent. Practical. And yet. A tad… underwhelming? Don’t get me wrong: it’s solid, realistic advice, just a little unsatisfying. Like when you’re out to breakfast and opt for the virtuous oatmeal, which you eat while wishing you’d ordered bacon and eggs. (Speaking of damned if you do, damned if you don’t, pick one: healthy but boring, or a delicious triglyceride bomb?) The cynic in me smells hints of an underlying message, practical though it may be, that women must always be the virtuous ones, bending to fit into a system that not only doesn’t work for them, it actually works against them. And works against them in–as Cronin and Fine themselves point out–the cruelest of ways: leaving us navigating a no-win situation that has us damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Bending may be realistic, but it seems to me, for every woman who’s preoccupied with turning herself into a carefully-arranged pretzel so as to avoid outright do-ing or don’t-ing, there’s an employer that’s losing out on a lot of potential. How much better could we be, how much more productive, more engaged, if we could free up the energy we siphon off to maintaining the perfect pretzel form, and redirect it towards something useful? I confess, I haven’t read the book yet, only the blurbs, and they promise substance–”concrete solutions,” “roadmaps” that will lead to “a post-gender workplace.” And I hope they deliver something satisfying. Because I’ve had it with the bending. Some rules were made to be broken. And if I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t anyway, gimme the bacon.

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