A Modern Amazon’s Take on Wonder Woman

A Modern Amazon’s Take on Wonder Woman

I finally saw it.

You would think I would be all over it as it’s obviously on brand, but I’ll admit I was thinking of all they ways they could really ruin a figure of female empowerment and I was reluctant to get excited, lest I find it blood boiling and disappointing.

This. Movie. Was. FLAWLESS.

Sitting here I cannot site many other female characters that I find this inspiring.  Other than Stephen Pressfield’s Last of the Amazons, most of the female characters I come across fall into some deep cliché of femininity and they can shine in spite of it. Or their empowerment must also be in direct conflict to my moral compass (e.g. Scarlett O’Hara, Jordan from The Great Gatsby, etc.).

Wonder Woman was an incredible experience for me. I recognized on the screen something that I’ve been striving to be myself, not a 6 foot tall goddess with superhuman powers and dazzling good looks, but a woman that does not exist in response to anything.

“I recognized on the screen something that I’ve been striving to be myself… a woman that does not exist in response to anything.”

It’s so easy as a woman with her eyes open to systemic misogyny and sexism in America to feel that her existence must be in response to those hardships.  I’ve felt that way since I was a young child. It started in elementary school with boys who thought it was ok to come up behind me at lunch and hump me, it continued in middle school with the boys basketball team attempting to corner me outside the locker room, it’s still happening when men restate my sentiments, sometimes verbatim, to applause when my own comments were summarily ignored.

These injustices, some small and some deeply hurtful, become a necessary part of our battle cry for justice and equality. We need to be aware of them and refuse to accept them. But our strength is not measured by our response to the injuries we suffer at the hands of men and sometimes complicit women. When I was younger I used to think that my strength as a woman was measured by how I could best my male counterparts and how vehemently I countered their sexist acts and words.

When I was younger I used to think that my strength as a woman was measured by how I could best my male counterparts and how vehemently I countered their sexist acts and words. But I realized that my feminine strength is so much more than that. In fact, it may be needed to address sexism, but its existence is entirely independent of it. In a world with no sexism, I am still strong.

Wonder Woman captured this beautifully. Nothing about her strength and prowess is in response to sexism directed at her. In fact, she doesn’t even deign to acknowledge the stupidity of those underestimating her, she just keeps moving. Because she’s got shit to do.

“We know exactly who we are and what makes us wondrous, and we’ll keep making progress with or without help.”

Diana walking across No Man’s Land as the bullets and bombs bounce off her is all of womankind. We come prepared for battle, we never stop fighting for our ideals, we know exactly who we are and what makes us wondrous, and we’ll keep making progress with or without help.

You don’t need to be a towering, superpower wielding goddess to be a Modern Amazon. You just need to know your strength and keep moving.

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Asked & Answered: Why We Still Need Feminism

Asked & Answered: Why We Still Need Feminism

I was proud to march on Saturday with women all over the world.  And in the wake of the march both men and women have been quick to dismiss the march and our reasons for marching.

They say the fights of feminism are over (this is something I said once myself).  They say making signs and blocking traffic is a pointless display.  There are many reasons I marched on Saturday.

The quick list is for LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, rights for people of color, to very publicly tell Kellyanne Conway that we do in fact care about seeing T–mp’s tax returns, to tell Muslim Americans that I think a registry is unconscionable, and to be able to tell my daughter that I didn’t sit at home when the women of this country were filling the streets to show our power, our compassion, and our resolve.

But, let me get further into why we still need feminism.

1. I’ve seen claims in blog and social media posts that American women have more rights than any other country.  This, actually, is not true.  There are many places in the world where it is much better to be a woman.  Out of 41 countries, America is the only one that does not provide paid maternity leave.   Our access to quality affordable childcare has become impossible for many families, meaning that mothers are faced with the decision to pay bills or leave their young infants in sub-par childcare facilities.  And yes, this does sometimes result in the death of infants.

2. Feminism isn’t entirely about legislation.  The truth is that there is still a great deal of inequality in the world.  Not all of it can or should be addressed by legislation, some of it just requires awareness and asking ourselves why. Why women still don’t occupy more political positions. Or why women don’t occupy more executive positions.  Or why women don’t  comprise more of the STEM workforce?  We have to be interested in finding answers to these questions.

For example, I have been made aware that one of the reasons there are fewer women in STEM may be a result of the way that female children are treated differently than male children.  That’s very interesting to me and on an intuitive level makes sense.  As a result, I’ve adjusted the way I parent my 1.5 year old daughter.  She has a toy tool bench and building blocks as well as dolls and domestic toys, and we avoid referring to “girls’ toys” or “boys’ toys.”

I’ve also read that people are less likely to say “no” to young girls than they are to boys, making them less likely to tolerate hearing “no” and pushing past rejection or resistance later in life.  As a result, I’ve adjusted the way I parent.  When she opens her green eyes wide and uses an extra sweet voice to try and get me to say “yes”, when I’ve already said “no” I stand firm.  I don’t want her to rely on emotional manipulation as a tool for advancement and if I reward it, I am setting her up to do that.  She is strong, kind, and smart, she doesn’t need any of that.

3. Sexism in the workplace is far from dead.  How can we say that we are equal if I say the exact same thing (we’re talking verbatim sometimes) as a man in a meeting, yet it’s dismissed coming from me and praised coming from him?

The only explanation is sexism and I know I’m not the only woman to experience this.  So many women have male coworkers and bosses comment about their bodies and dismiss their ideas and ask them if they are on their period.  This can’t help but have very tangible affects on our ability to earn and progress in our professions.

4. With Congress currently in the process of dismantling the ACA there is a good possibility that according to insurance companies being a woman will go back to being a “pre-existing condition.” I am not broken or sick just because I am a woman, and we should all be offended not just by the concept, but by the very real consequences it has to our access to affordable healthcare.

5. White, affluent or middle class men still get a pass for sexual assault in America.  David Becker, Brock Turner, Donald Tr–p, John P. Enochs, Austin James Wilkerson, and the list goes on.  Until they are truly held accountable in the eyes of the law and the public, we do not have equality.

Have we made progress in the past century since women won the right to vote?  Absolutely.  But social progress is slow.  

It took a full century after the abolition of slavery for people of color to get enough support to end segregation, and we’ve yet to see the end of systemic and institutional racism in America.  Our work is not done and we shouldn’t rest just because the easy to spot injustices were handled before our time.

I’m not settling for “good enough.”  I have a daughter.

 

Working Moms: Social Pioneers

Working Moms: Social Pioneers

The world is in a phase of social deconstruction.  Relative to the entire timeline of humanity it’s pretty new, but relative to our lifetimes this evolution has been happening for generations.  We’re deconstructing our world views, gender views, nationalist views, racial views.  Everything.  It’s healthy and it’s painful and it’s disruptive.

We’re in an interesting place right now because we’re still ripping up the old systems and we really haven’t yet established new ones.  It’s painful to acknowledge that the old, flawed systems, some of them, served necessary functions for society.  Today we’re talking about working moms, so let’s look at that.

Division of labor in the home seems oppressive now, but from an evolutionary standpoint it was a smart survival technique.  Humans were not always able to leverage technology in order to get necessary work done and most men are biologically more equipped for hard manual labor.

Leaving someone at home to protect and care for progeny while another hunted, scavenged, farmed, fought, etc. helped our species continue.  This is not an inherently oppressive system.  It makes sense.  And is in fact exactly what we do in the modern corporate world.  You hire people who have specific specialties and divvy up tasks based on individual strengths.

However, you don’t need me to tell you that due to human nature this system was made oppressive for all kinds of reasons like ego, religion, etc etc.  And in many societies, for a very long time, men became “superior” and women “inferior”.  Men – owners, women – property.  This played out in all kinds of ways and now here we are in 2016 ripping that kind of thinking out of our societies.

Women are refusing to be made to feel inferior.  It’s liberating and it’s empowering and it’s exhausting.

Yup.  There it is.  It’s EXHAUSTING.  Because we haven’t figured out a support system for this new way to be.  We’re literally figuring out how to make this work every. step. of. the. way.

The argument is playing out across the internet:

“You can have it all!”

“We can’t possibly have it all!”

And the real truth is, we don’t know.  We know that one person can only do so much and being a mother, a wife, an employee, and a person isn’t possible without support or superpowers.

For now, if we can afford it, we pay for support.  Or if we’re lucky enough to have family for support, then we have that.  But it’s still not ideal, the costs of childcare are astronomical and in America our screening for caregivers is often not up to parent’s standards. Employers are largely puzzled by how to handle all things relating to maternal employees.

Here’s what I hear over and over again from other moms though, “I hope that things will be different by the time our daughters are mothers.”

That’s where we have to focus.  When we advocate for a better social structure that benefits mothers, we aren’t really advocating for ourselves.  By the time any meaningful change happens I likely will not be having children.  But my daughter may.  Your son might.

Just like prior generations were advocates for a change that tore apart what was detrimental, we have to advocate for building up something that is beneficial.

Working moms – we’re social pioneers.  Let’s get to work building something better for the next generation of parents.

What Makes a Mother: Giving Up on Guilt

What Makes a Mother: Giving Up on Guilt

Going through a mother’s existential crisis here.  And with a new job that requires travel my desperation for answers is only growing.  My idea of what makes a mother is, of course, heavily influenced by my own mother.  As far back as I can remember, she was always there (she primarily worked from home).  And so my lack of presence in my daughter’s life has led me to question whether I can work and be my own best version of a mother.  If I’m not always there, if I’m not filling up my daughter’s conscious hours, who am I?

My lack of presence, my ratio of hours with my daughter vs. without has been haunting me since I started dropping her off at a baby sitter regularly.  I felt that presence was the one thing I can’t offer as a working mother.  Maybe it’s the vodka in my iced tea or this heat wave is knocking something loose in my brain, but I’ve come to two conclusions.

1) Letting this guilt rip me up, twist my guts, and pummel my heart doesn’t help me or my daughter.  I don’t come home a better mother for it. I come home exhausted from feeling conflicted all day.  Kids are very perceptive; I’m sure she’s picking up on my negative emotions when I bring this guilty feeling home with me.  I’ve lived with this feeling for so long because I thought it would drive me to come up with some fantastically creative solution.  But the truth is that mothering in America comes with some unfairness.

The majority of mothers in America work.  The majority of American companies have not evolved to support a working mother yet.  As Annabel Crabb said so succinctly, “The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.”  And so I’m not going to solve this problem for myself and all American women in a few months.  This is going to take time (hopefully not too much), women raising their voices and coming together to resolve.

For now, this is the reality I’ve been dealt, I must be the best mother in these circumstances.  I’m giving up on guilt, because it isn’t making me a better mother.  And I don’t have time for anything that doesn’t make me a better mother.

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2) Be present.  I may not have as many hours to offer my daughter as I would hope, not as much presence.  But I can be truly and fully with her when we’re together.  I can do everything possible to make those hours count.

I still have to do laundry, clean the house, cook, grocery shop, all the things that keep a family running, but I put those things off until after her bedtime if I can.  If that’s not possible I try to turn chores into a game we can play together.  If all else fails, I’ll clean when she goes to college.  When she wants to walk me in circles around the kitchen a tenth time, I’ll try to remember to say “yes” and tell that pile of dishes mocking me to shut the hell up.

That’s what I’ve got for now.  If I figure out some magical cure for the working mom blues, please know that I’ll have it posted here ASAP.

What Makes a Mother?

What Makes a Mother?

This is a genuine question.  I’m looking for audience participation here. But let me tell you why I’m thinking about it.

I’m a working mom.  If you’ve read my blog you may have noticed.  Being away from my daughter 40+ hours per week has caused me weekly existential crises of the mom-nature.  My own mother worked from home the vast majority of my childhood and so, to me (to a degree) what makes a mother is presence.  The fact that a mother is there, after everyone else leaves and when you need her most.  When I had summers off I was at home with my parents (they both worked out of the home, but my father frequently traveled as well).  I always knew my mom would be at home, available, present.  My relationship with my daughter can’t revolve around presence though.  That’s not something I can offer as much as I would like to.  So, I’m here trying to step far enough away from my existential crises to understand what makes me a mother.

I keep asking myself, if someone else is with my child during the workweek, what makes me Mom?  I know that in this modern time when the gender and family roles aren’t so strictly defined as they used to, I’m not the only mom asking myself this question.  What makes a mother?   I think some of the answers must be as old as the existence of mammals, but some of them might surprise us too.

So, I want to hear from you.  Have a mom?  Are a mom?  Know a mom?  Tell me in the comments below, tell me on my Facebook page, tell me on twitter.

Chasing My Daughter: A Window into Working Motherhood

Chasing My Daughter: A Window into Working Motherhood

Becoming a mother activated a tense, frayed worrier in me that I’d hardly ever seen in myself before.  It didn’t help that my pregnancy was fraught with quite a few scary scenarios that left me wondering if my child and I were going to come out of the pregnancy unscathed (or at all, in my deepest fears).  I had hoped those fears would be healed and become a distant memory after a beautiful, empowering, natural birth to a lusty, healthy baby.  Instead, a concern of mine was gaining steam as my belly grew larger and my daughter’s due date approached.  My body was not a hospitable place for a child and my pregnancy had greatly weakened me for delivery, when I would most need my strength.  This fear wasn’t entirely misplaced.

A traumatic delivery left us all wounded and weak and my daughter was whisked to the NICU.  The next week of my life my soul danced through stages of faith, peace, levity, black fear, panic, meltdowns, and exultation.  Every bit of my body, soul, and mind were ravaged by this experience.  The calm, laid-back mother I pictured myself being morphed into someone trying to keep the bile down and smile through the worry clawing at my throat.  She was only in the NICU for 8 days, but there was so much uncertainty.  What had gone wrong?  No one was entirely sure.  Would she be ok?  They wouldn’t know until the relatively new form of treatment was completed in 4 days.  She couldn’t eat, she couldn’t be held.  I spent those days wanting nothing more than to be with her, just to have her in my arms, reunited with my body where I knew she belonged.  She was torn from me when she needed me most, and my body was barely capable of sitting in the wheelchair long enough to stay by her bassinet for 20 minutes those first days.  From her first days I felt like I could never get enough time with her.  We are always filling the hole of that stolen first week, always trying to catch up.

I always planned on going back to work.  I really love working and I also need to work to pay bills.  My employer has always been incredibly understanding and accommodating of my need to be with my daughter.  They allowed me to bring her into work when that was feasible, work from home, and be forgiving and flexible when I had a hard time saying goodbye in the mornings.  And for the first few hours I’m at work, it’s great!  I know my daughter is well-cared for and I enjoy the adult interaction.  But the rest of my day is spent slowly unraveling and fraying at the edges feeling her little heart calling out to mine.  I think of the look in her eyes when she sees me at the end of a long day, “Where have you been?” they say.  My commute home is torture, how can I get there faster?  I have precious few waking hours each weekday with my daughter and I’m desperate not to miss out on a minute.

And I know I’m not alone.  I’m not the only mom mourning lost hours with my baby.  I’m not the only mom with a one track mind the minute 5PM strikes, who’s making her way to her baby like the world might end if we don’t have time to laugh and cuddle and hold our babies before bedtime.  Because it feels like the world will end.  They are our world.  We always feel like we’re making up for a deficit.  On top of it we’re worn the hell out from working, and then being our best mommy-selves at home (because we have to give them the best we have in the few hours a day we have together), keeping our homes running and functional, and honestly, the impossibility of it all is ripping us to shreds.  When do I take time to rest and care for my body?  I already feel like I short-change my daughter during the workweek, how can I rob her of more time on the weekends?

I’m not here to propose any solutions.  Sometimes I think I have answers.  But truthfully, most working mothers face a brutal and inhuman reality.  We’re all floundering in this unsupportive system and all we can offer each other is “me too” and “it’s so hard, I know”.  But don’t think those words of empathy and encouragement are meaningless.  The chorus of women saying, “me too” is my hope that we’ll find a way to quiet that unraveling worrier inside that feels we’ll never be enough.

 

Death to Impostor Syndrome

son of manI recently participated in a fairly well attended women’s professional conference.  I was pleasantly surprised at the experience and quality of the speakers, panelists, and sessions.  But as the day progressed and the panelists delivered their presentations, I noticed a theme emerging in the messages from speaker after speaker. Each woman confessed to suffering from Impostor Syndrome.  If you aren’t familiar with Impostor Syndrome it’s the feeling that you aren’t entirely qualified or sufficiently competent to hold your position or do your job, despite your objective qualifications, and that at any moment your boss and colleagues will discover your lack of capability.  Women experience Impostor Syndrome despite their work history, professional credentials, or educational qualifications.  Implicit in the concept is the idea that those feelings and impressions are misplaced and unrealistic. Paradoxically, to be a victim of Impostor Syndrome, those feelings need to be objectively erroneous.  I walked away from the conference and turned to a colleague saying, “I have to start a Meetup or something for women who don’t identify as impostors; I’m starting to feel like that may be a very small group of professional women.”

While there may be many professionals, male and female, who suffer from Impostor Syndrome, it feels like a new version of a very old trick of female socialization.  The classic move, as brilliantly showcased in Amy Schumer’s sketch show, is to respond to compliments by putting yourself down.  It’s something that women do to keep other women from feeling inferior and to keep everyone feeling that they are on equal footing.  It is an incredibly unhealthy way for women to interact with each other.  I’ve been guilty of engaging in this behavior when I didn’t want to rock the boat.  We learn very early on the playground that to accept a compliment is to make enemies.

Now move to present day in the world of women and work.  We have writers and research telling us that women are less likely to ask for raises and promotions and the resources they need to do their jobs.  We also know that despite the fact that we’ve taken over the collegiate scene, we still can’t seem to get women into many leadership positions in companies across America.  And despite articles from Buzzfeed covering women struggling to engage in male behavior that benefits their own self interest, which I truly can’t even begin to understand, I get the feeling that maybe with all this awareness of how typically male behaviors are rewarded in the workplace and typically female behaviors are not, that we must be getting somewhere?  Maybe we are starting to understand that some of the classic roles that women have assumed in our society are holding us back in our careers.  But, then I attended this conference.  And I realized, we’ve brought many of these behaviors with us into our careers.  Instead of someone saying, “Oh, Sarah, your hair is so beautiful and shiny” and Sarah says, “Ugh, it’s so frizzy, I hate it, it never does what I want,” now we say “Sarah, you are so successful, how do you do it!?” and Sarah says, “I have Impostor Syndrome!  I’m sure I’m totally incompetent!”

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How do we break this need to be down on ourselves in order to make others feel better?  We can’t set a better example of women in the workplace for our younger counterparts until we can be unapologetic about our success.  I can’t speak for every other woman, and I certainly don’t claim to be some great success.  I have achieved a moderate amount of success given my age and education, and I’m certainly no Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer.  But I know what I am and I gladly own it.  I don’t want to apologize for being an assertive woman in business, and I don’t think that other women should either.  We have to stop taking responsibility for how others feel.  It can be an incredibly valuable quality to have in our personal lives, and empathy is an asset in business and helps guide us to make more ethical decisions; however, we take it too far when we put ourselves down in an attempt to make others feel more comfortable.  It takes conscious unlearning of “social smoothing” behaviors to change this.

Perhaps you truly have Impostor Syndrome, and if that’s the case, certainly don’t deny it for the “cause”.  But I would question whether many professional women really feel like impostors, or whether they think copping to a syndrome will make their successes more accessible to men and women alike.  I don’t advocate being intentionally unpleasant to make some sort of feminist point, but if we’re going to expand common perceptions of how a woman can and should behave, we need to stop coming up with subtle ways to apologize for and undermine our accomplishments.  In the short-term that is sometimes going to be perceived as “brash”, “bossy”, or “pushy”.  If you are a successful woman in your career you have probably encountered these words at some point.  In the long-term, hopefully by refusing to undermine ourselves and other women, we can change the broader perception of strong, assertive, successful women.