Review: Undecided

August 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Undecided: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for Perfect and Find the Career — and Life — That’s Right for You by Barbara Kelley & Shannon Kelley

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Mom-and-daughter pair Barbara and Shannon Kelley have a gem here — an important read for basically any shrewd woman of my generation. It’s a relentlessly chatty book but it dives right to the core of women’s “analysis paralysis,” wisely eschewing self-help rhetoric in favor of a more rigorous cultural investigation of the professional challenges that plague today’s young women. The Kelleys thoroughly map the complex web of expectations, both social and internal, that push women to agonize over each and every life decision, and to grieve excessively for the loss of the option given up.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that I feel right at home in discussions of the laundry list of institutional forces that manipulate women’s professional choices. But what shook me up about this book was its insightful analysis of the ways in which we paralyze and punish ourselves. By ascribing so much meaning to our decisions large and small, meaningful and inconsequential, we lock ourselves into a cycle of yearning and remorse. And in our haste to take advantage of our newly afforded privileges in academia and in the professional world, it’s all too easy to sacrifice authentic decision-making in favor of other people’s estimations of what we are — or aren’t — capable of. (Me becoming an engineer just to disprove sexist stereotypes doesn’t mean shit in the big picture if I’m not truly invested. It’s just another way of conforming, of basing my decisions on patriarchal frameworks.)

It’s steadily depressing fare, but the Kelleys rescue the reader by concluding with advice to pursue “work worth doing” — work at the intersection of pleasure and meaning — and a spirited vision of what a feminized professional landscape might look like: one in which women and men are given social permission to implement leadership styles that emphasize collaboration, relationships, emotional connection. It’s a meaningful read.

End The Equal Pay Day “Celebration” – Pass The Paycheck Fairness Act

April 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yet another guest post by the wonderful Katherine A. Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU of Virginia.

April 12 –- Equal Pay Day –- marks the point in 2011 when women will finally have earned as much as men earned in 2010 alone. This year, Senator Barbara Mikulski and Representative Rosa DeLauro are commemorating this day by reintroducing the Paycheck Fairness Act, a much-needed, first-ever update to the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Equal Pay Day, however, is not a celebration.

Some may think that legislation like this is not necessary because wage inequity no longer exists. These opponents of the Paycheck Fairness Act point to statistics showing the progress that women have made in the workforce. Indeed, women have made enormous strides when it comes to employment. According to a recent White House report, women’s labor force participation is at the highest rate ever, and their earnings make up a growing share of household incomes. However, the same report also tells us that this progress has not translated into pay equity.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women who work full time still earn, on average, 77 cents for every dollar men earn. For African American women and Latinas, the numbers are even worse. In fact, this continuing disparity is the reason that “celebrating” Equal Pay Day is still necessary. At the current rate of “progress,” it could take decades before women reach equal pay and achieve the end of Equal Pay Day, if nothing is done.

In this economic climate working families cannot afford to wait. The entire family feels the pain of wage discrimination. This is more profoundly so as more women are working and supporting families than ever before.

So, how big is the financial punch of the wage gap on a pocketbook?

Economist Evelyn Murphy has estimated that chronic wage discrimination will deprive a woman of between $700,000 and $2 million over a career. This figure grows when the loss of pension and social security benefits is included. The effects of wage discrimination follow its victims for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, over time, loopholes and weak remedies have made one of the laws intended to stop this problem, Equal Pay Act of 1963, less effective in combating wage discrimination. The Paycheck Fairness Act would provide much needed updates to the 48-year-old Equal Pay Act and tackle the most stubborn barriers to fair pay, while balancing the needs of both employees and employers.

The bill requires that employers demonstrate that wage differences between men and women holding the same position and doing the same work stem from criteria unrelated to their gender. Of course, factors such as merit and seniority, for example, remain acceptable reasons for differences in pay. But the bill clarifies that those pay differences must truly be based on reasons other than the sex of their employees.

Often, company policies prohibit employees from telling colleagues about their salary and can even fire them if they do so. To address this problem, the bill prohibits retaliation against workers who ask about a company’s wage practices or tells another employee their wage. However, to balance business’ need for confidentiality in some instances, employees with access to colleagues’ wage information in the course of their work, such as human resources employees, may still be prohibited from sharing that information.

The Paycheck Fairness bill also strengthens penalties for equal pay violations. The bill’s measured approach levels the playing field by ensuring that women can obtain the same remedies as those subject to discrimination on the basis of race or national origin.

At the same time, this legislation provides new tools for employers. It would require the U.S. Department of Labor to provide technical assistance to employers, recognize the achievements of businesses that address the wage gap, and collect wage-related data to better examine the wage gap. In addition, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission staff would receive additional training to better identify and handle wage disputes.

Pay equity is critical not only to families’ economic security, but also to the nation’s economic recovery. It is time for Congress to make pay equity a priority and to end the necessity to “celebrate” Equal Pay Day each year.

Ask Your Members of Congress to Co-Sponsor the Paycheck Fairness Act Today!

ATTENTION LADIES: Your merit doesn’t matter

November 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

by MIRANDA

Just, you know, FYI.

Deborah L. Rhode’s research shows that conventionally attractive people receive special treatment and privileges throughout all spheres of life:

Less attractive children receive less attention from parents and teachers. In higher education, attractive students are perceived by their teachers to be more intelligent, and good-looking faculty get better student reviews. At work, unattractive people make lower salaries. In politics, good-looking candidates get more votes. Résumés and essays get more favorable evaluations when reviewers believe attractive people wrote them.

If attractive people receive benefits, then unattractive people are necessarily punished. And — surprise! — women are disproportionately affected by this bias. The systematic practice of “holding only women to sexualized standards diverts attention from competence and perpetuates [regresssive] gender roles.”

But, pretty ladies, don’t fear: You, too, can be judged and punished according to your appearance!

In fact, women also can pay a penalty for being too attractive. “Although less common, it tends to happen in formerly male professions, high-status jobs in which too sexy or too attractive an appearance is a negative characteristic,” Rhode says. “It’s just assumed that those women aren’t too bright.”

Where beauty hurts women, size hurts too. George Washington University researchers found that “obese women lose out on $4,879 per year because of their size, almost twice what it costs men” — and this is caused almost entirely by discrimination. Rhodes addresses this too, citing Hillary Clinton and Elena Kagan as cases where a woman’s size was picked on in lieu of substantial conversations about her professional qualifications. (And let’s be honest, the idea that someone’s merit is in any way related to her physical appearance is really troubling.) “I think that’s a form of punishing pushy women…It’s an easy way to take down someone who is delivering a message you find unwelcome or threatening.”

Another researcher, Deborah Gruenfeld, demonstrates that no matter a woman’s body type, her body language has an immense effect on the way she is perceived in the workplace. She says, “When it comes to leadership, there are very few differences in what men and women actually do and how they behave. But there are major differences in perception.”

And as with beauty, the question of body language puts women in a tricky double bind:

When women behave in dominant ways, they are seen as unlikeable because they violate norms of female niceness. Alternatively, women displaying feminine traits are judged as less competent and capable.

Women aren’t allowed to exhibit femininity, but we also can’t act “like men.” So just how, really, are we supposed to be?

NYC High School Students…

September 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

by MIRANDA

apply to be a part of this ABSOLUTELY DOPE program!

Teen Outreach Reproductive Challenge (TORCH) is a program of NARAL Pro-Choice New York that will pay you to teach other students about sexual health.

TORCH is a nationally recognized peer education program that trains high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors who are interested in reproductive rights and related topics to give presentations to other youth groups throughout New York City.

Participants must be available to attend trainings in our Manhattan office from 4-6 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays from December through June.

TORCH provides young people with a community in which to build their self esteem, learn leadership skills, discuss reproductive health issues, and educate themselves and others to make intelligent decisions.

The application deadline is October 18, 2010 so APPLY TODAY!

I truly wish I had known about TORCH before I got too old to apply. I encourage you to take advantage of this amazing opportunity! Apply here.

This Lady, Right Here

August 26, 2010 § 1 Comment

by MIRANDA

Remember this epic fail of an article from back in April, in which Newsweek posited that young voters, women in particular, are “lukewarm” on pro-choice politics and think abortion rights “don’t need defending”?

Ugh. If you’d forgotten, I’m sorry to bring it up.

The article relies heavily on commentary from Nancy Keenan, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. To be fair, there are not many direct quotes from her, but there are monumentally disheartening paragraphs like this:

NARAL president Nancy Keenan had grown fearful about the future of her movement even before the health-care debate. Keenan considers herself part of the “postmenopausal militia,” a generation of baby-boomer activists now well into their 50s who grew up in an era of backroom abortions and fought passionately for legalization. Today they still run the major abortion-rights groups, including NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the National Organization for Women.

Ahem. Emphasis on the “they still run.” Young women, and particularly young women of color, are systematically kept out of the boardroom and away from leadership positions in non-profit and advocacy groups. Latifa Lyles’ campaign for president of NOW is a perfect example of this. Notes from the campaign in June 2009:

Both contenders [Latifa Lyles and Terry O'Neill] expect the election to be close, and both are promoting themselves as best able to bolster NOW’s membership.

“We are not the strongest grass-roots movement we can be — we both agree on that,” Lyles said. “The question is how we deal with that.”

Noting that she contrasts with NOW’s mostly white and over-40 membership, Lyles said she could help give NOW a new image of youth and diversity that would appeal to younger feminists and reinvigorate the broader movement.

“The profile of NOW is just as important as the work we do,” she said. “There are a lot of antiquated notions about what feminism is.”

Lyles, a 33-year-old black vice president of the organization, was edged out by 56-year-old white activist Terry O’Neill, despite an enthusiastic endorsement by NOW’s then-president Kim Gandy. Qualified, passionate, well-recommended… but not elected. Clearly it’s not for lack of interest that young women aren’t running the pro-choice show.

Back to Keenan and NARAL.

These leaders will retire in a decade or so. And what worries Keenan is that she just doesn’t see a passion among the post-Roe generation — at least, not among those on her side.

THIS SHIT IS OUTRAGEOUS. MY PRO-CHOICE GIRLS GOT PASSION RUNNING OUT THEIR EARS. For me, the cherry on top is that I have been volunteering at NARAL Pro-Choice New York, the state affiliate of the national NARAL, for years.

I just don’t know what we have to do to be seen and heard. Online activism isn’t taken seriously, apparently — even though groups like NARAL certainly rely on blogs and social networking sites to get the word out. But it seems that the hundreds of hours of in-person volunteer work that this lady, right here has contributed — collecting petition signatures for the Reproductive Health Act, calling voters in support of pro-choice candidates, distributing condoms and information about emergency contraception, blah blah blah — aren’t taken seriously either.

Jessica Valenti was so fucking right on when she wrote of this debacle last summer:

Who do you think has been making your photocopies and volunteering and organizing for these big organizations all of these years?

The work of the mainstream pro-choice movement is built on younger women’s labor — unpaid and underpaid — who do the majority of the grunt work but who are rarely recognized. And I don’t know about you — but I’m sick of working so hard on behalf of a movement that continues to insist that we don’t exist.

Where would NARAL Pro-Choice America or NOW be without the work done by younger women?

Who would do their outreach? Who would volunteer? Who would take unpaid internships? Who would carry their action items on blogs and forward them by email, Facebook and Twitter? Who would Blog for Choice?

Seriously, what would happen if young women decided they had enough of being ignored and started simply decided to stop working for these organizations? Even if for a month young women boycotted the organizations that refuse to acknowledge their hard work — the movement would fall on its ass.

And there’s the rub — young women don’t want to forsake this movement. We don’t want to let it crumble to the side of the road, because control over our own bodies is infinitely more important than “postmenopausal militia” doubt about our commitment. Dropping out of the race is counterproductive. We’re still running, we’re still working damn fucking hard, no matter what any president says.

Check out all the other entries in the THIS IS WHAT A YOUNG FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE blog carnival over at Fair and Feminist.

Edited for clarity on August 27.

Dear Stephens College: There are better ways to raise 1 million dollars.

August 24, 2010 § 1 Comment

by ELENA

Before I transferred to SCAD, I attended a small college in Missouri called Stephens College. A friend of mine (a student at the University of Missouri — the school next door to Stephens) sent me a link to a recent story, in which an anonymous alum has pledged to donate one million dollars, if school employees collectively lose 250 pounds or more.

I think that linking a charitable donation to an institute of learning with weight loss is a bad idea. Especially at a place like Stephens, which is a women’s college.

Why?

Because many women are bombarded with so many images in the media, telling us to do this/buy that in order to lose weight. There are many competition style shows, in which contestants try to win money by losing weight. Jillian Michaels has garnered a great deal of money and fame by being the head screamer on The Biggest Loser, and her own TV show whose name I cannot remember, but would be best titled Jillian Michaels Really Enjoys Screaming at Fat People.

During my time at Stephens (Fall ’07-Winter ’08), it seemed like many of my classmates were in a never-ending weight loss competition with each other. One girl complained that it was “unfair” that a girl who was larger than her was a better, more flexible dancer. Another girl tried out the “Master Cleanse” with her friends: They spent a weekend consuming only a drink made from lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup. They did lose weight, but only because they spent their entire weekend in the bathroom, suffering from severe nausea/diarrhea. During my seven-week summer intensive, it seemed like I was the only person who wasnt freaking out about “getting fat” — we spent our mornings in an intense dance/aerobics class, followed by acting class, lunch, and time spent either in rehearsal or in the shop.

The most popular majors at Stephens (performing arts, dance, fashion) are majors that do place a great deal of value on traditional standards of beauty (thinness, conventional beauty, etc). Several professors in the performing arts department told some of my friends that they should lose weight, or otherwise alter their appearance (another was told that her muscles were too prominent). « Read the rest of this entry »

The Revolution will not be produced by Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, or Paramount Pictures.

August 15, 2010 § 4 Comments

by ELENA

The last couple of posts have been about women in film (and the occaisonal woman who directs/shoots/produces films). If I am lucky, I will be one of those women in front of the camera. If I am even luckier, I’ll actually enjoy the project that I’m shooting.

That’s the challenge of being a woman in the performing arts field, who is also a feminist. So much of the available jobs in TV/film/commercials are total and complete crap. Because plays are so expensive to produce (a three-person play with one set will cost at least six figures to produce in New York), casts are shrinking, and so are, you guessed it, roles for women.

One of our first assignments in our Acting For The Camera class was to talk about our classmates’ “types”. My professor was straightforward about what we would be most likely to be cast as [Evidently, I'm a quirky "character" type, who would be good in Meg-Ryan type roles]. Frankly, I don’t always appreciate it when people tell me, as a 20-year-old student, what I’ll likely be doing, based on my looks, for the majority of my career. And this year, the projects I filmed included:

-A wheelchair bound wife, having difficulty handling her disability.
-A bobby-soxer in the Fifties.
-A vagabond, living with a collective of people out of the bed of a pickup truck.
-A German prostitute.
-A cancer patient who makes a suicide pact with another cancer patient

Ie, things not in my supposed “type”.

At my first college, I saw talk of “types” totally destroy my classmates, who were convinced that they would not be able to do anything other than what another classmate or professor suggested. There is nothing more tragic in my mind than a bunch of 18-year-old college students that have been convinced that they cannot do anything other than one specific “type”.

As I think about my post-graduate opportunities, I’m leaning more towards jobs not directly related to performing arts, but ones where I could use some of my strengths that I’ve learned as an actor. Why? Because I would have more freedom than having to go on audition after audition, only to be told that I’m “not right for the job” because I am short/have red hair/do not look like Megan Fox.

One of the best things that I learned at my previous college was to make my own work, rather than waiting for good work to come my way. That has to be the future for film, television, and theatre if we want to see things other than Two and a Half Men and Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

I don’t want to be in the position to have to take the horribly sexist commercial/sitcom/film gig because that is the only work available for me. I’d rather break out, and set my own rules, than be stuck having to follow the rules of an industry that occasionally produces brilliant work, but is so stuck in a mentality of “if it doesn’t make money, it will fail” that they keep on doing the same thing, with the same shitty stereotypes, over and over again.

Plus, why would I want to work in the same industry that still employs Charlie Sheen?

Saying No

October 28, 2009 § 3 Comments

You may have noticed that blog updates have been infrequent of late. I can’t speak for other contributors, but for me this lack of writing has much to do with my stress level. I’m applying to college, and I’m taking a lot of interesting and damn challenging classes.

There’s a lot I’ve had to be proud of recently: I’m finished with a couple applications; my modern dance classes have made my body feel awesome, limber and strong; I’m happy with my grades thus far; I’ve amped up my work with NARAL Pro-Choice NY; this week is my one-year anniversary of dating my boyfriend.

But I’ve noticed that it’s hard for me to take a break. There’s so much I want to do — not only do, but do perfectly — that it’s hard to carve myself any time for just nothing. It’s hard to keep my mental and emotional health strong.

Stress is just as much a feminist issue as its partner-in-crime, choice. As Courtney Martin suggests in her book, women feeling like we have to do everything may be an unintended consequence of the feminist movement, which has taught us that we can do anything. For (privileged) women, the array of opportunities we’re presented with — much broader than even a few decades ago — can be a double-edged sword.

Other bloggers deal with this, too. I have deep respect for Melissa’s and RMJ’s decisions to take some time off, decisions that, unfortunately, may have induced feelings of guilt. And I admired Kate’s post about refusing to feel guilty for being a busy person with many passions.

Sometimes I think of my feminism as two intertwined struggles: feminism for women, which I fight for through my pro-choice volunteering, blog writing and reading, and club-running, among other acts; and feminism for me, which may need some prioritizing. This kind of feminism is me encouraging myself to take a break, to relax with my family and friends, to cook for myself, to nap, to read, to say NO when I’m overwhelmed, to stop doing everything, to stop trying to be perfect by setting more compassionate and realistic goals.

Just some things to think about.

Some Social Conundra

October 14, 2009 § 6 Comments

Hi all!

I just took my sociology mid term which consisted of 3 essays. I obviously ended up writing all three on feminist issues despite the fact that probably 75% of our readings are about men. I thought one was particularly interesting, so I think I’ll try to recreate it for you all, though probably in a way more casual manner seeing as how this is a blog post and I’m tired of being overly articulate. Here ’tis:

The U.S. is full of very rigid behavioral norms, ideological beliefs and standards that dictate everything from sidewalk etiquette to how we perceive beauty. We, as a country, tend to hardcore judge people for failing to reach these standards, even though in so many cases people do not have the appropriate means to do so. The really fun thing is, however, that we also hardcore judge people when they attempt to meet our high standards by means of which we do not approve. I smell a conundrum.
It is far too common for young women (and old women, and men, but the article I read focused mainly on young women so I will too) to resort to deviant behavior in order to meet our traditional standards of beauty. I’m talking about eating disorders. We all know that in the U.S. we are all about being thin, fair, leggy, busty, etc. We also all know that these things are impossible for everyone to be, and not even particularly desirable. Uniqueness is super hot. So are curves in places that aren’t your boobs. So is every skin color. However, at times, we forget this, and that’s ok because we are human! What is not ok is that society puts SO MUCH pressure on us to change how we naturally are, in order to become the ideal woman.This is what causes eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. While many of us view the victims of eating disorders with pity or empathy, there are a great deal of us who for some reason look down on women with eating disorders. We want them to be skinny and beautiful, but only when they buy products to become that way. These beliefs are obviously linked to the influence of the media and our strong devotion to consumer culture, but we cannot let those things take full responsibility. We are of the mindset that to eat unhealthily small amounts and call it dieting is ok. To refuse to eat at all (or to develop eating habits that can be perceived as elements of an eating disorder), is not cool, and we marginalize the HELL out of those who do. (Hey run on, wassup?)

If I haven’t made it clear enough, our social conundrum is this:
We commend women for being thin and beautiful, but look down on those who strive to achieve this end. I am, of course, not endorsing Anorexia or Bulimia. But many women hardly have a choice given all the social pressures. these are, after all, diagnosed disorders! Psychological ones. We, as a society, must be more sympathetic to victims of eating disorders, considering that society set up such a hard position for any woman (exception: Malibu Barbie).

My second example is the social stigmatization of exotic dancers, or strippers. Most people are generally not fans of the idea of women exploiting their bodies for money. There are many terrible things about this industry, for sure. Working conditions are typically not great, many women do not enjoy dancing for the pleasure of random men, and I am sure a lot of violence can happen on the job. However, when society views these women as immoral sluts, I get pretty pissed off.

I get pissed off because, on their off days, most of these women do not want to be defined as exotic dancers. many are mothers. If they are not, they are trying to make a life for themselves. We, as a country, judge them especially harshly if they do not make enough money to provide for their children or themselves. A failed mother is probably considered a million times worse than a full time stripper. We ask, “how hard is it to find a decent job, one that does not use sex as a commodity? Why can’t these women be good role models for their children?” Guess what! It’s really fucking hard for quite a few people to find stable jobs. Furthermore, I’d rather feed my children than teach them ridiculously rigid standards for women. Yeah.

Basically, in our society we set up impossible standards to meet. We provide very few ways of meeting those standards that ARE socially acceptable. We show huge disdain for those who feel compelled to meet these standards through acts of social deviance. This is so problematic (I’ve been told this is a favorite vocab word for gender and women studies majors, probably because it can be applied to absolutely everything) I can’t even stand it.

I hope you enjoyed my feminist sociological rant. I wish I could properly cite the readings this was all based on… will try to do so in the future.

Praxis. (Part One?)

August 25, 2009 § 3 Comments

Cannot will myself to sleep, amidst my summer of supposed ‘relaxation and teenage antics.’ In fact, though I have wordlessly skimped on Women’s Glib, I am just re-situating with a computer now, my old pixilated comrade.

My summer has required me to find so many different facets for talking about women’s liberation. Now close to 4 am, my sister’s contented sighs from her dreams just reaching my ears, I turn to you, Women’s Glib!

I entered summer a few months ago by crewing for an old sloop activist-with-a-banjo Pete Seeger had erected 40 years ago to teach water education while sailing the Hudson River. Boat hierarchies are some of the strictest political systems, and I, as an apprentice, was on the lowest rung. Above me was the deckhand, the bosun, (or the handy person), the engineer, the second mate, the chief mate, and the captain.

Old sailing lore told of boats sinking and crew getting scurvy as a result of women being on a boat, let alone crewing for one. Yet years later, on a boat modeled off of mid 1800s cargo ships, both apprentices, the education intern, one of the educators, the deckhand, the bosun, the second mate, the chief mate, AND one of the alternating captains were all female. And holy shit, these women could sail.

In the month I lived on the vessel, I labored along side them as we worked 15 hour days through thunderstorms, maneuvered off and onto docks, and used power tools I hadn’t even touched before. Not only was I nearly keeled over at their work ethic and assertiveness, but they were some of the most kind and healthiest people I’ve met. It is so refreshing to be able to shy away completely from glossy magazines and primping and preening. These girls ate very full meals (I should know, I cooked a few of them) and never once suggested doing anything for means of image control/manipulation. (We were, arguably, hauling up a 3000 pound mainsail a few times a day).

In fact, I was able to engage in a phenomenon that continued as a trend into my summer. I had never before realized how often I saw my own reflection, be it in mirrors or even the glass facades of New York buildings. On the boat there were none, (or perhaps a tiny one?) so that we were all consistently as beautiful as we felt. So often I should look ABSOLUTELY RADIANT, because my stomach and heart are both practically lifted to my throat, (which would obviously enable flying); yet when I look in the mirror I am greeted with a different face, neck and shoulders completely. There was no battle to compare how well I felt to the archetype ‘good looking white female’ that encroaches every space I’ve found, spitting gender binaries out at me from rooftop ads and conversations. It was so nice to just assume that the way I looked synched with the way I felt. Ultimate liberation for me at this point was living with kickass female role models, and having a shape-shifter body, where I became my feelings. Has that ever happened to you? If so, how? Oops, digression!

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