Tag Archives: women

Having It All

© Lori Fisher 2014

© Lori Fisher 2014

When I hear about a person “having it all,” I think of someone who is accomplishing everything and has all the fields of life tended to and bountiful.  Powerful, leader-qualified, successful in career and family; no role ever compromised; no project ever neglected.

In my experiences, this “having it all” term has most frequently been applied when comparing the standards of men and women; when the status of women and their accomplishments are analyzed and more times than not, compared to those of men.

So, I wasn’t necessarily surprised to be reading an article in The Atlantic about the PepsiCo CEO, who is a woman, discussing this saying.  In fact, she responded directly to the article question: “What’s your opinion about whether women can have it all?”  But I was surprised that the article centered on the phrase and how the PepsiCo CEO had experienced or not experienced its truth, rather than concentrating on the CEO’s experiences themselves without measuring them against the standards of “having it all.”

I find it interesting how certain phrases or sayings are used, perpetuated and potentially normalized in our culture without first taking more care to acknowledge what they actually mean.  Not that I identify and am aware of using certain phrases all the time in my own everyday life.  I think our language and culture is full of them…..but it’s still interesting.  Interesting to the point that an interview is based on a saying and in effect, further empowers that saying with validity, merit and truth.

For me, the real story is about how a phrase that perpetuates only a method of thinking, culturally imposed standards and judgements, becomes the wide base of a socially charged discussion.  Why is “having it all” used so casually in the first place to direct our perception?  Is it habit?  Can a repeated, normalized phrase evolve to a perception that influences or constructs the boundaries of how we think about our selves and what our options are in life?

“Having it all” – this seems to me a circular, subjective argument.  The “it” is undefined in the phrase, or maybe the “it” has been defined by someone elses standards rather than mine.  Is it a cultural necessity to define standards of accomplishment and success for everyone else?  Maybe this is what we have become comfortable with.  Maybe it is easier to live up to given, set standards, rather than figuring out our own standards for what we want in life.  Or maybe without the set, goal driven structure of “having it all” we would be left to spin out of control as greedy insatiable creatures who could never have enough.

#gendercard

According to a March 6th article/blog stream, during a recent interview, the Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief asked Wendy Davis, a candidate running for Governor of Texas, if she would be playing the “gender card” in the race. This sparked a Twitter conversation among men and women about playing their “gender cards” (from double standards and the pressure of gender roles to sexual violence and maintenance of the ‘white male’ status quo; I would add to those – the validity of knowledge base dependent on gender, affecting the receptivity of a woman’s perspective).

During the streaming interview, Davis took questions from the audience and spoke  about a myriad of items including finance, education and women’s reproductive rights.  At one point in the interview, Davis emphasized the importance of education in Texas and the responsibility she has as a public servant to assure the availability of the best education options.  That was the moment the Editor-in-Chief decided to ask if Davis would be playing the “gender card” broadly over her campaign, because of her portfolio.  I’m assuming by “portfolio” the Editor-in-Chief was not just referring to the issue of women’s reproductive rights, but also to finance issues, the responsibility of elected officials and education (which Davis was speaking about only moments before) .  Or has education become a gender-biased issue with the social stigma that only women can be advocates and champions for the cause?

The format of this journalist’s question is a reflection of media’s manipulation of viewers or readers.  Why even use the phrase “gender card?”  The exact meaning of this term is not clear, leaving it up to the interviewee and viewer to figure out what should be inferred – what specifically is being asked.  This is a passive aggressive interviewing technique, that bloats of bravado and tries to convince itself that it’s asking the tough questions.  Unless of course, this question is asked not for the actual answer (because the question is vague and airy), but instead to evoke some controversy, maybe some turmoil to see if the answering person can be ruffled.  The question about playing the “gender card” is asking something without really asking anything to create drama, skirt the important/clarifying questions, and to minimize the validity or significance of the issues discussed.  I wonder if this was a conscious choice by the Editor-in-Chief or if this is the standard methodology, so rampant in media today that no one is actually aware of its abnormality.

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2014

The Structure

Just when I thought I had this internal conflict figured out, or at least a resolution decided on, I realized that something about the circumstance, the item, and the purpose stuck around and I couldn’t sell or throw away the issue. The book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg came into my possession in January and has felt like an emotional albatross ever since. I had read reviews of the material and had seen online interviews and parts of lectures given by the author regarding the book and something about the presentation of the content gave me a sick, sinking feeling.  The whole concept of a woman measuring herself against the ‘white male standard’ and looking in that direction for the definitions of success and leadership just doesn’t fit and I don’t want to waste any of my energy perpetuating such an outdated vision. But, the crazy thing is that I haven’t read the actual words for myself.

I was ready to sell that book, but felt horrible since it was a gift.  Nevertheless, I was going to stick to my guns….then, I saw reports regarding the World Economic Forum.  The media presented highlights of the wealthy and powerful individuals and business/government representatives that met in Switzerland to discuss global economic issues. I read a related CNN article that pitted two journalists against one another. The male journalist said that the people who realistically make the decisions about how the world operates are at this meeting.  The female journalist said that the people who work for the wealthy and powerful matter as well.  The article presented itself as a class, power-struggle argument – should those without abundance be pissed and lash out at those with vast amounts; should those who have be content to believe that they are in a bubble of longevity, detached from those who have not?

My reaction to the initial reading about the forum was curious because, as I wrestled with what I thought was an internal conflict dealing with one item (the book), I realized that the topic of the World Economic Forum gave me the exact same heart burn.  Two seemingly different topics that had flowed into my line of vision since the beginning of the year that caused the same hiccup in my brain.  Could it be that this is the auto-reaction to which I am doomed for 2014, or do these two items share something other than the creepy crawly pit dagger sensation?

So, with my admittedly periphery knowledge of both things, I compared them to see what could be the common denominator.  Structure.  Structure of a system.  They reflected a common structure through which concepts, agendas, discussions and subsequent plans of actions are based and must be measured against to come to fruition.

I understand that modern society survives within a certain structure, but is this structure the one that we should believe in and perpetuate?  I’m kind of blown away and insulted that (a)maintenance of this structure, (b)patching up this structure or (c)trying to make this structure work better are the only options that mainstream outlooks want me to believe are even in existence.  Why is it presented that the only choice is to find solutions that work within this framework? Perhaps with further analysis, I will find the initial question or awareness about the system that is presented, the conversation about recognizing the concepts that are in place, the structure in which we hold ourselves as a society and if we would even want to perpetuate and give our energy to that vision of the world.  Okay…so, further research – I guess that means reading that book…..sigh.

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2014

Sexism: Loop Spin Twist

I have been thinking about sexism and the part I play in reinforcing the fences created by others (and possibly myself) that ultimately bound me tighter. Talk about frustration loop.  At times, this one feels insurmountable, even though I know that just a small twist of the perception could release a tunnel of light revealing an entire scene that I never knew existed. I just haven’t fully developed that twist, but I’m working on it.  Here’s the progression…..

The Loop:

Boundaries can remain invisible until they are crossed, or at least attempted. Then, they can come to life maybe as a block, or a shock, or simply dead weight trapping the contained in place. Sexism is one of the many actual expressions of boundaries reinforced by society standards, expectations and rules. Sexism has polluted my existence since I ran into my first boundary and didn’t like it.

When do I experience sexism?  Every time I walk out the front door.  What about inside the home?  When I read the news?  When I watch a TV show?  When I talk with my parents? When I have a conversation with my significant other?  When I write in my journal?  Wow, yes, even when I write in my journal. What re-occurring voices have lodged themselves so tightly in my brain that I think they have been there since I was born and are hissing slow leaks of sexist BS, playing on fears, enhancing doubts?  When am I sexist towards a man, or to another woman?  Here is the scary thing – am I even aware of it?  A behavior and mindset so engrained in my setting that it is difficult to identify that the process is even going on.

Spinning:

Recently, I saw an article regarding an ad created for the organization, UN Women. (http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2013/10/women-should-ads). They had used the initial words for searches including “women cannot…”; women shouldn’t…..”; “women need to…”; “women should…” and allowed the google ‘auto complete’ feature to suggest the search most likely to be used.  Those search suggestions declared discriminatory and sexist sentiments.  At first, I could hardly believe it and yes, I tried out the searches myself.  They came up with slightly altered sayings but none of them positive, all judgmental and highlighting the limits of women’s stature in this society.  I was pissed off.

I suppose the ad had done it’s job.

I really don’t need this ad to remind me that sexism and discrimination are still prevalent in my world.  I experience it, view it and read about it daily.  Most behavior is so socially acceptable, I probably only consciously register half of the BS flying around.  And since the normalized behavior is the real danger of being forgotten, ads such as this one serves as a reminder.  At the same time, the endeavor is still manipulating.  The chosen searches were addressing women as subservient, submissive children in the first place, choosing commanding and authoritative words (should and shouldn’t; need to and cannot).  Of course, this could be part of the point; I can get that.  The searches are judgmental and authoritative to begin with.  The thing is, I would never need to ask for guidance from google (or any other portal to the internet) what women need to, should or shouldn’t, or cannot.

I think that the genuine message in this ad was unfortunately the text that was the hardest to see.

“Women cannot accept the way things are”;

“Women shouldn’t suffer from discrimination anymore”;

“Women should have the right to make their own decisions”;

“Women need to be seen as equal”.

It’s okay to bold that – right up front, not hidden behind shock value. Those are commands that everyone should be able to demand with clear authority.

 

The Twist:

Over the summer, I read Frank Bruni’s New York Times Op-Ed article titled “Sexism’s Puzzling Stamina.”  Inspiration for the piece came from a photo taken during a Congressional Hearing regarding sexual assault and harassment in the military.  In the photo, only a couple of women could be seen.  Women were in the minority, when the hearing was specifically about the sexual assault of women.  In the article, Bruni, as well as most who commented on the piece were baffled, puzzled, and frustrated that sexism continues in our society.  And their frustration was contagious.  For instance, I tried to imagine that the opinion article had been written by a woman. I had to ask if it would have been published, or if it would have had the same responses.  And then, I stopped myself from going down that “what if” road paved in jaded confusion and blame.  That’s the cycle and there has got to be another way to approach the topic.  Perhaps that is why all the “isms” are lingering; good people who want brilliant change and goodwill get stuck in patterns that ultimately feed the internal anger, but never lead to fruitful solutions.

Mr. Bruni’s article points out that there hasn’t been much development on getting rid of sexism.  I think all the “ism”s are continuing full force in our society.  Still going strong, and maybe now we are adding a few.  I think age-ism is definitely one that doesn’t get enough press.  So, why is sexism continuing in a rampant march down the middle of our culture?  I know that we live in a patriarchy; we define winners and success primarily through power struggles; and many things in our culture tend to be judged against a white-male standard. Perhaps it’s a domination culture.  How often is that ole “survival of the fittest” argument given with a shrug and helpless hands gesture?  Like we can’t seem to help it because we’ve given our power over to a saying that’s been around for a while and pounded into our brains. It’s a rampage of isms, defining ourselves by them, defining ourselves by our differences from others, deciding that certain traits are more valuable than others.

So, if I am worried that I may be continuing sexist behavior, reinforcing the normality and perpetuating the boundaries, to my friends, colleagues and even myself, what tangible things can I do?  Monitoring every behavior seems an ominous undertaking. But what about an umbrella effect. Intention. Intention encompasses all of my behavior, action, and communication.  What’s my intention?  Let’s take “positive empowerment.”  Intention transcends emotion and perhaps even compassion, empathy, sympathy, unless maybe that is my intention.  Focus on the intention of positive empowerment.  Anytime I engage with myself, my significant other, a bus driver, a customer service rep, hold the intention.  It applies not just to me, but to the interaction.

Is this an alternate perspective that is possible?  Well, I just thought of it while submerged in this chaotic culture.  Intention and awareness of how one interacts is not beyond mainstream capacity, I think.  I suppose we have learned how to normalize certain intentions already.  For example, the intention of social self preservation and the use of guilt, persuasion, or compromise to achieve it.  Perhaps recognizing intention is not beyond this world’s capability and could perhaps be a new direction that is within reach.