Thursday, January 24, 2013

Having it all

As I've been doing the big tenure-track job search and finding my way into a capital-c-Career, I've been thinking quite a bit about roles, expectations, and differences.  There was an interesting (if somewhat depressing) study published not long ago that found that men who are married fare better in the academic workplace than other groups, specifically unmarried individuals and married women.  If you're a married woman, you can probably guess the reason- a wife at home takes care of things like housework, kids, schedules, etc.  At least that's the expectation, whether conscious or not, of those making the hiring and promoting decisions. 

The expectation that a woman will be a help-mate to her husband in this day and age makes me want to scream, but you know that already, right?  The flip side of that, of course, is the idea of having it all for women.  It's not seen as the norm, that a woman be able to have both a family and a career, but something special and a mark of having "made it" or somehow being lucky.  For men, having it all is the standard procedure; for women, it's something to be achieved. 

First, why should having it all be something extraordinary and special?!  Secondly, why is the expectation of having it all nearly always couched in terms of wanting children?  What about someone who has no desire for children?  Why is being a successful woman defined in part by being a mom?  Can we just accept the idea that sometimes having it all is having everything that you want, having happiness as you define it?  Isn't that the real desired outcome- agency and choice? 

How about we let individuals decide what's right for them, and judge them on their merit (not some perceived benefit of having another person involved)? 

Monday, January 21, 2013


It's Martin Luther King, Jr. day, unofficial Inauguration Day, and a national day of service.  This year, I felt Kenny was finally old enough to make volunteering of some benefit to him, and possible for me (as a day off from school means I have kid-duty, thank you stereotyped gender roles).  So a couple of weeks ago, I gleefully signed us up for Kent State's Just 4 A Day events, and started talking to him about what we would see and do today.  We read about the sites, we talked about serving others, and we talked about the systems that create need in our society.  We also talked about what we would be missing by participating in Just 4 A Day, and how President Obama fit into the history of MLK and the civil rights tradition (see Dr. Cornel West's piercing appraisal of this topic).

After a few hours of cooking and wrapping desserts to go out to the homeless, we ate our sack lunches and discussed questions that had been placed in each of them as conversation starters.  One question was on invisibility- what does it mean, and what can we do about it- and another question asked what we would sacrifice in order to make the world a better place.  The sacrifice question brought standard answers of food, time, treasure, old clothes/goods, skills, and the like (even today, not one person said they would give up guns/weapons to make the world a better place- we humans are so silly).  The discussion of invisibility was a little more interesting.  One person took the question from her own perspective, saying that invisibility meant serving others in quiet, and without fanfare.  Others mentioned the invisibility of the homeless, trans-people, those with different abilities, and mental health illnesses.

Kenny, always one to mix up questions and answers and come up with something I wasn't expecting, proclaimed that he would sacrifice his voice to make the world a better place.  And it hit me that he's spot on.  Unfortunately, there's a perceived benefit to invisibility.  Invisibility is safe.  Invisibility isn't being spat upon, beat up, or laughed at.  Giving a voice to those who are invisible- by choice or by chance- is to help make their visibility safe.  Giving them a voice let's them be heard, gives them a place at the table, and brings them out into the light of day, while protecting them from the burning rays. 

Of all the great leaders- MLK, Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Harvey Milk, and more- a common thread is that they gave their voice to those who had none.  By doing so, they took the burden of silence and the yolk of oppression onto their own shoulders.  Words are powerful, and our voices should speak truth to power. 

Don't tell me what you did today; tell me what those you helped did today, so that I can work to ease their suffering.

(But really, I'd like to hear how you celebrated today as well.  I'm not that heartless.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New Year, New You

Haven't we all seen that phrase somewhere in recent weeks?  The classic New Year's call for self improvement and re-creation.  This and similar phrases are used by gyms, fitness centers, life coaches, personal organizers, diet/weight loss groups, spas, hairdressers, and so many more venues, and all for the same purpose.  These kindly organizations want to be there for you and me, and help us be the best we can be, right?

Wrong.  They want to help themselves to our wallets.  Mind you, many of them do have honest, positive motivations as well and do actually want to help others, but what about the message that they send, especially when it's one that is so heavily backed with marketing dollars?  Not to mention the whole "self-help" section of the bookstore that is ever-present but highlighted right now.  Is there anything wrong with that message to improve one's self?  Inherently, no, because as humans, most of us have at least some self doubts and confidence lows.  The problem comes when we're bombarded by this message that we *need* to improve ourselves, offering solutions that are a small fortune with little to no evidence, and those offering solutions are bombarding us with false images with which to compare. 

Surrounding us are images of not just models whose livelihood relies on being beautiful, but models whose beauty is often not even real, but airbrushed, Photoshopped, sculpted, and made up.  And I'm sure that at this point in the game, you all know and understand this on the intellectual level.  Of course, there's a big divide between our immediate reaction and what our brain tells us.  That divide is often big enough for our wallet and their product to get through that gap, just in time for buyer's remorse to set in.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who- in a moment of weakness- has added to their collection of diet cookbooks, exercise gadgets and videos, nutritional supplements, self help books, or make up products (pick your favorite poison). 

Even if you feel comfortable in your skin and don't fall prey to bodily self-improvement methods, you've probably made some resolution about spending more time, being more patient, cooking healthier, cleaning better, or some other area where you aren't quite up to snuff.  It's OK, we've all done it, and while we can all do a little better, it's also important to accept who we are.  Last year I found out that I'm on the autism spectrum, and while I still try hard to not use that as a crutch of some sort, it's also given me (in my mind) a reason to not beat myself up when I don't quite fit in or don't quite understand someone. 

Don't get me wrong, it's still frustrating when I just can't seem to coordinate with another person, but I don't take it as an inherent failure on my part.  My brain says that I don't need this or any reason to not beat myself up, but my self says that a reason makes a big difference.  I don't think I'm alone when I say that I tend to hold myself to a higher standard than I do others, and I find it much more simple to frame everything as "I should have..." or "Next time I'll..." which places the blame on myself instead of the other person.  I'm not advocating that we start blaming everyone else for what we do, but be a little nicer to ourselves.  Maybe chalk more things up to no fault, or simply an accident. 

And yes, I've just become the the person I railed against at the beginning of this piece- telling you where you could improve.  At least I'm not selling you anything, I suppose.  As much as I generally try to avoid new year's resolutions, this year I'm making (a belated) one.  In 2013, I resolve to be a little nicer to myself, because regardless of the multitude of memes declaring how our children/partner/relative/friend holds our heart, in all honesty we are the ones who hold our own heart.  If we don't take care of that person holding our heart, how can we expect anyone else to do it for us?  And how can we expect to care for someone else' heart if we can't care for our own?

Will you join me?