Thank you, Ashton Kutcher

Gender equity is a two-way street - And more dads need to speak up.

It's not every day that the Gendersphere gets up in arms about the institutional and social barriers faced by male parents, but thanks to Ashton Kutcher's totally justified expression of frustration at the fact that there are "NEVER any changing stations in mens (sic) public restrooms," that's exactly what happened. 

And I was stoked.  Not because Ashton couldn't find a changing station, but because he complained about it. 


One of the reasons women have not made as many gains in the workplace as we would like is because men have not been enabled, nor have they felt particularly empowered, to take on more of the responsibilities at home (Happy Anniversary, Second Shift!) Anyone (parent or non-parent) knows that parenting is hardReally hard. So when we structure everything around the assumption that women are the primary caregivers, like "NEVER" putting changing stations in public restrooms for men, for example, it happens by default. It won't matter that mom hasn't had two seconds to herself for two weeks and would relish the five minutes it would take dad to change the baby's diaper, the buildings say it's mom's job. And so on and so forth....

One of my favorite Gloria Steinem quotes goes something like this: 

We've begun to raise our daughters more like our sons...but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters. 

The general point being that we've created a society in which it's perfectly acceptable (thankfully) for girls and women to transcend gender stereotypes to do (and wear) things that have traditionally been associated with men. But we have failed to create a society in which boys and men feel equally entitled to and supported for doing (and wearing) things traditionally associated with women. Don't believe me? Think about the difference in people's reactions when they see or hear about a little girl who only wants to play with trucks, and a little boy who only wants to play with dolls

Dad and son.jpg

Many like to argue that little girls naturally gravitate toward dolls (and some do) because females are natural caregivers or something along those lines. Setting aside the monetary benefits of marketing the same toy differently to boys and girls, if this is so, then why would we have a problem with little boys wanting to play with dolls? Are we afraid they're going to learn how to be good dads?  I think I speak for a pretty healthy segment of the population (read everyone) when I say that we can never have too many good dads

We've recognized the importance of telling girls that they can be feminine and strong, but where are the commercials and videos telling our boys that masculinity and emotion are not mutually exclusive? We've recognized the importance of encouraging girls to maintain their interests in STEM subjects, but where are the movements dedicated to encouraging things like empathy and caregiving in little boys? For the most part, they don't exist. At least not to so powerful and pervasive an extent to merit a Superbowl commercial. 

Fast forward to adulthood where you've got millions of fathers and male caregivers like Kutcher trying to do what women have been doing in the workplace for years: take care of a family while tentatively maneuvering your way through a world that was not built with you in  mind, and in some cases, just doesn't think you're worth the effort, despite all evidence to the contrary. Just as women have a right to fight for gender equity, so too do men. And women should (and DO) support them. 

So thank you again, Mr. Kutcher, for calling out sexist design in public spaces. 

The infrastructure and design of our public spaces sends a message. It's time to start sending the right one. Changing stations in men's restrooms is a really good start. 

When Socialized Behavior Becomes "Self Sabotage"

Criticizing female behavior in the workplace without addressing the reasons for that behavior is unhelpful.

It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for.  - Amy Poehler

Minda Zetlin, writing for Business Insider, interviewed Wendy Capland an Executive Coach and Author, who listed 12 ways women unknowingly sabotage their success.  

The top three: Using minimizing language, apologizing and asking permission.

We use "belittling" words like "just" to "minimize [our] impact," we apologize for no reason "[e]ven in our voice mail," and we ask questions, the answers to which we already know because "we don't want to be too overpowering." Also included on this list of self-sabotaging behavior: Focusing on cooperation rather than competition; questioning ourselves; and worrying too much about relationships. 

These behaviors are often cited as reasons women fail to reach the c-suite (what Capland and others refer to as "sticky-floor syndrome") and I don't disagree with any of them (I'm guilty of some of these). What I do disagree with is the seemingly endless focus on the need for women to modify their personalities and thought processes without an equally close inspection of the reasons women exhibit such behavior in the first place. Not to mention, the (mostly negative) reaction by society (read: coworkers) when they don't engage in this behavior.

The fact that these "self-sabotaging" behaviors are so common amongst women so as to merit a generalized "list of grievances" from consultants who've made it their life's work to eradicate the glass ceiling one female executive at a time, is indicative of a larger problem. One that should be addressed much earlier than in the middle of a woman's professional career. 

Could our use of minimizing language, our constant need to apologize and to ask permission, as well as our crippling habit of questioning ourselves have something to do with the fact that exhibiting such strong, and traditionally masculine, behavior has generally not served us well in the past? You've heard it before and you'll hear it again: Men are bosses, women are bossy. Aggressive men are ambitious go-getters, aggressive women are angry bitches

After years of schooling where boys are routinely rewarded for yelling out the correct answers during class, while girls are routinely scolded for doing so, would it come as a surprise that we've internalized the implicit belief that our voices, and therefore our ideas, are not as important as those of men? If it was true during childhood, why would we expect it to be any different now? You can't just flip a switch and think, "Okay, now my opinion matters." 

Also cited is our too-heavy focus on cooperation rather than competition:

Yes, there are a thousand business articles that tell us collaboration is the more effective approach. The problem with that? 'It's not the structure of Corporate America,' Capland says. 'Corporate America has a hierarchical structure. It's not set up for collaboration to be effective long-term - I don't care what people say.

This begs the question really, of what (or who) in corporate America really needs to change. But that is a conversation for another day. This goes back to the social and professional backlash women experience when they fail to live up to the traditional expectation of the helpful and cooperative female. These violations of traditional gender norms have consequences. We expect women to be group-oriented and group-focused, and when one of them decides that she's going to get her own, she's labeled as selfish and not a team player. 

Capland also expresses frustration with women who "feel like they need to be fully skilled" before taking on a new opportunity, as well as women who get "too hung up on details for too long, versus seeing the bigger picture." This inability to delegate, she argues, "prevents [women] from having the freedom to take on the next challenge." 

Why do we wait until we're experts before taking on a new role?  And why, oh, why do we spend so much time on those pesky details? Perhaps it's because women have to work twice as hard to achieve the same recognition and praise as men. Perhaps it's because women are primarily judged on their achievements, while men are hired and promoted on their potential. JoanWilliams calls this the "prove it again" pattern:

[w]omen have to provide more evidence of their competence to be considered as competent as their male colleagues...women's mistakes tend to be noticed more and remembered longer, but women's successes tend to be attributed to luck. Women literally need to prove themselves over and over again, where a similarly situated male colleague does not. 

Delegation, in other words, is a option many women don't feel they can afford. Because if someone on the team screws up, she will bear a disproportionate amount of criticism and blame than would a male colleague in the same situation. 

This pattern of women needing to meet a higher standard to achieve the same status of men starts as early as the college admissions process, where talented girls are routinely rejected from their choice universities in favor of less qualified boys. It goes even further back than that. Even though boys on average spend less time doing chores than girls, boys are paid more and make more money overall than girls. 

Women (and men) should of course take all efforts to better themselves to accomplish their personal and professional goals. But this constant microscope under which we analyze women's behavior as if it occurs in a vacuum is unhelpful at best, and at worst, it risks perpetuating the very biases women are trying to combat.


Have Our Strides Toward Workplace Equality Made it Harder to Break the Glass Ceiling?

Excited to share my first post at Feminspire

The reality is that we’ve succeeded in creating a workforce in which all women can(and more often than not, must) participate. But we’ve yet to create one in which women are welcome and considered competent to participate at the highest levels.


Corporate America Has Discovered Feminism

We've seen quite a few ads recently featuring women and/or girls with very clear feminist overtones. Some have been more successful than others, and while I think some send better messages than others, the fact is that corporate America is helping to create awareness of issues that feminists have been trying to get into the mainstream for years. 

Most recent is Always's new #LikeAGirl ad. I've written before about the the fact that a girl's self-esteem plummets around the age of nine. This new ad does an excellent job of visualizing how truly sad this really is. 

Verizon Wants More Women in STEM in their new #InspireHerMind ad. A common explanation for the lack of women in STEM fields is that young women and girls just aren't as interested as the boys. Period. This new ad from Verizon takes this explanation a step further and asks: "Whose fault is that?"

Pantene has two ads in their #ShineStrong campaign. The most recent wants you to have spectacular hair, and don't you dare apologize for it. And while you're at it, don't apologize for anything else either. #SorryNotSorry  This follows their first ad that aired in the Phillipines illustrating the double standards used against women in the workplace. 

Our Digital Legacies

Now that so much of our lives are "lived" online. What, if anything, will be left behind of our physical existence? 

If you haven't already watched filmmaker Gemma Green-Hope's touching tribute to her recently deceased grandmother, take a moment to do so, you won't regret it. In it, Green-Hope uses an emotional compendium of the physical remnants of her grandmother's existence to give us an idea of the type of person she was and the kind of life she lived.

Books, photographs, letters, journals, a blue bike, a pretty knife... 

It's beautiful. 

We will all, inevitably, leave behind random and not-so-random items one day. And after watching Green-Hope's tribute, I couldn't help but wonder how different this inevitably  heartbreaking "sorting" of possessions will look for my generation now that so much of our lives are "lived" online.  What, exactly, will our loved ones sort through? And will it even come close to recreating an accurate representation of our lives? 

Take myself, for example. One of my passions is photography. I have tens of thousands of photos that I've taken so far over the years, but take a guess at how many of my photographs I have hanging on the walls in my home?

Five. And they aren't even my favorites (or my best). 

Granted, I've printed perhaps a dozen more that I've never gotten around to framing, and I honestly do intend to print and hang more, but for the sake of argument, let's round out that number to about twenty hard copies of my personal photos currently in my home.

So, if I were to die tomorrow (God forbid), there would only be twenty photos to physically "sort" through. Twenty. Out of thousands.

Now, I would like to think that by the time I die (which will hopefully not be for many, many years), there will be people I leave behind who would like very much to have the ability, as well as the opportunity, to "sort" through the tens of thousands of photos I took over my lifetime. After all, my photography is a big part of my life. It's how I choose to express myself. It could (in theory) tell someone a lot about the type of person I was.

Take. for example, the American nanny/street photographer Vivian Maier, who left behind over 100,000 negatives of her work. She never married and had no children or close friends. But based solely on the personal accounts of the few that did know her as well as intense review of her immense body of work, she is described thusly:

She was eccentric, strong, heavily opinionated, highly intellectual, and intensely private. She wore a floppy hat, a long dress, wool coat, and men’s shoes and walked with a powerful stride. With a camera around her neck whenever she left the house, she would obsessively take pictures, but never showed her photos to anyone. An unabashed and unapologetic original.

Unlike Maier (with whom I am in no way equating myself), all of my photographic "negatives" as well as those of most modern photographers, exist almost exclusively in the digital realm.

Let's assume that digital remnants such as photos are accessible and that loved ones will be able to "sift" through them, will the fact that there is nothing to hold or touch change how we think about and grieve for the deceased? Will our lives seem somehow less real? Will the sorting experience seem less emotionally visceral? And if so, what impact will that have on the grieving process in general? 

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts. 


Google and Diversity: You Cannot Fix What You Cannot See

Google Confirms What We Already Knew and Aims to do Better

Last week, Google released its diversity numbers for (I believe) the very first time. To the surprise of no one, it showed that Google's workforce is primarily male and largely white. While it would be easy to dismiss this action as neither impressive nor progressive on Google's part, in actuality, it is a very positive step in the right direction.

While it isn't news to anyone that women and minorities face a multitude of institutional barriers in the workplace, it is a big deal when one of the most successful and influential companies in the world issues what is essentially a public challenge to itself to fix a problem that has plagued the technology sector since its inception.

Because, if they don't, people will want to know why. And if they succeed, people will want to know how.  And now that they've aired their "dirty laundry" so to speak, people (and other companies) will be paying attention. 

After listening to various explanations of why there are not more women and minorities in Silicon Valley and elsewhere (Hello, Lean In), it's incredibly refreshing to see a company like Google publicly acknowledge that they have a serious institutional problem with diversity. And that they intend to tackle the problem head-on and in a very public way. 

We've always been reluctant to publish numbers about the diversity of our workforce at Google. We now realize we were wrong, and that it’s time to be candid about the issues. Put simply, Google is not where we want to be when it comes to diversity, and it’s hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts.

It's not easy to admit when you're wrong. It's an uncomfortable experience for humans and businesses alike. The same can be said for admissions of failure. While Google cannot by any means be accused of poking its head in the sand on issues of diversity, "we're the first to admit that Google is miles from where we want to be - and that being totally clear about the extent of the problem is a really important part of the solution."

There it is. An express acknowledgement that, sometimes, the biggest barrier to change is the refusal to acknowledge that a problem exists in the first place.

If anyone can come up with innovative and thoughtful solutions to the persistent lack of diversity in tech, it's Google. And any large-scale successes will no doubt be replicated by others in the tech field and beyond. My hope is that Google and other companies who take the extra step of making their quest for greater diversity public, embolden and challenge other companies to do the same. 

Pay attention. This is what leadership looks like. 


The Price of Rejection

Too often, women pay a price for refusing the sexual advances of men. 

A few weeks ago, I had to explain to a male friend why flirtatious and/or sexual advances made towards me in the workplace make me uncomfortable. It isn't because I'm a "cold bitch" or because I think I am better than those trying to hit on me. Not at all. It's because more often than not, I am not interested because I am either currently in a relationship with someone else, or I'm simply not attracted to the man in question, which means I will have to reject these advances. And that almost always has negative consequences. 

‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. ‘I mean,’ I said, ‘men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power. ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed’, they said.
— Margaret Atwood, Writing the Male Character (1982)

Almost every woman has a story (or ten) of a once healthy relationship with a male friend that turned sour once she rejected the possibility of sexual intimacy. The fact that a guy is no longer interested in hanging out with you because you won't have sex with him is hurtful, especially if you've been friends for years.

You can tell a lot about a man by the way he handles romantic rejection. Men who possess an inherent sense of entitlement to women and their bodies typically react to rejection by lashing out at the woman by accusing her of leading him on or of putting him in the "friend-zone." I can't tell you how many times my friendly demeanor and common courtesy have been "interpreted" (by men) as flirting. As if being nice to a person is an automatic open invitation for sex.

When this dynamic occurs in the workplace, the retribution for rejecting a romantic advance could have far-reaching professional consequences, hence my discomfort. Thankfully, not all men react this way when their advances are not reciprocated, but the reality is that we never know how a guy will react until it actually happens. 

Elliot Rodger

Elliot Rodger

Whether it occurs within or outside of the workplace, sometimes this enhanced sense of male entitlement has tragic consequences. On Friday, May 22nd, 22-year old Elliot Rodger murdered six people and injured seven more before killing himself. He called this his "Day of Retribution," and the primary motivation for this rampage was his perceived victimization by women who did not find him sexually desirable: 

All I ever wanted was to love women, and in turn to loved by them back. Their behavior towards me has only earned my hatred, and rightfully so! I am the true victim in all of this.

His 140 page "manifesto" is filled with statements like this. And this one, which is particularly chilling:

It's not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don't know why you girls have never been attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it.

Generally, we socialize boys and men to believe that if they behave in a certain manner, they deserve the attention and affection of women. In almost every television show, video game and movie, women are prizes to be won for completing whatever quest that was set before him. The guy "always gets the girl" and the damsel is almost always the man's reward for rescuing her from distress. 

There are countless movie plots involving a male best friend who does everything right and who is a "super nice guy," but, alas, never gets the girl (see friend-zone, above). The audience is almost always encouraged to view this situation as both horrible for the man in question and misguided and selfish on the part of the woman. The fact that a woman could reciprocate friendship with anything other than sex never enters the equation. Rodger expressed this exact sentiment in one of his YouTube videos:

I don't know why you girls are so repulsed by me. I am polite. I am the ultimate gentleman. And yet, you girls never give me a chance. I don't know why. 

When we teach boys and men to believe that if they behave in a certain manner (read: like a decent human being), that they deserve the romantic attention and affection of women when they want it, when they don't get it, they feel wronged or cheated. And they react accordingly. With the help of the Men's Rights Movement, Rodger's anger at being cheated out of female affection evolved into full-blown misogny. He stated in his final video:

All those girls that I've desired so much, they would've rejected me and looked down upon me as an inferior man if I ever made a sexual advance towards them...I've wanted sex, I've wanted love, affection, adoration. But you think I'm unworthy of it - that's a crime that can never be forgiven. If I can't have you, girls, I will destroy you.  

While it would be easy to dismiss Rodger's actions as that of a lone individual in dire need of psychological intervention, the feelings he expressed about his struggle to attract women are not new. His inability to comprehend why common courtesy and respect (not to mention his good looks) failed to garner him the female attention he felt he deserved is a sentiment expressed by many a lovelorn lad. Rodger was a product of his cultural upbringing and while his reaction was grossly disproportionate to that of most men, the sense of entitlement that bred his initial hostility is still a problem that needs to be addressed. What does it say about our culture when boys and men feel entitled to sexual gratification simply for being nice? What's wrong with being nice just for the sake of being nice? 

Contrary to what Rodgers eventually came to believe of women, men are not beasts. They are autonomous human beings wholly capable of self control. As a society, we need to accept that how we raise little boys from day one has a direct impact on how they interact with the opposite sex as well as how they perceive those interactions. This means taking a close look at the media they consume, the toys with which they play, and the behaviors they choose to emulate and observe. Because no one should have to fear for their personal safety when politely declining dinner and a movie. 

Why Girls Don't Feel Awesome

On self esteem and the proverbial pissing match. 

I'm glad that issues many feminists have been discussing for decades have found their way into the mainstream. However, I'm starting to resent the fact that almost all of these conversations are disproportionately placing the burden of fixing workplace inequality and other symptoms of everyday sexism on me. The most recent example being Claire Shipman and Katty Kay's declaration that women suffer from a "confidence gap" which stifles their professional development and hinders their ability to rise to the top of their respective professions. It's an ironic cacophony that ultimately reaches the same conclusion: Ladies, you need to fix yourselves. 

Amidst the consistent exhortation for a self-help remedy, I came upon this discussion by Nancy Lyons:

Girls by Gisella Klein on  Flickr

Girls by Gisella Klein on Flickr

It dawned on me that in all these conversations we're having about the challenges of claiming our own voice and standing firm on our feet as strong women, what we're really trying to do is fix something that broke inside of us a long time ago. And it's still broken...

Studies have shown that a little girl's confidence peaks somewhere around age nineNine. I can't remember age nine, can you? If true, this means that millions of women have little to no recollection of a time in their lives when they felt truly confident in themselves or their abilities. And, according to Lyons, it haunts us to this day. 

If our own self-esteem didn't crack and crumble as young girls, we wouldn't have to be healing those pieces now....

This realization hit Lyons as she observed a group of middle school boys taking turns "reinforc[ing] each others awesomeness: one-upping but also validating as they went." The girls, by contrast, "sat quietly listening to the conversation unfold with slight grimaces on their faces." When asked if they too were "awesome," the first girl responded in the negative, while the other conceded that she was at least "amazing."

This troubled me. A lot. I was troubled by their hesitancy in participating in what, on the surface, looks like a silly conversation. Because it wasn't silly. The conversation actually conveyed a serious and important message about, and reality for, these young women: they don't think they're awesome. They don't feel awesome. And boys do. 

Of course girls don't feel awesome. How could they? Soraya Chemaly says it best:

We socialize girls to doubt the importance of their words and actions, and then, oddly, turn around and ask why they lack confidence. From the moment they can talk, we expect girls to be quieter, more cooperative, and polite...Gendered politeness norms teach girls to be subservient and boys to be dominant. 

Those girls weren't participating in the boys' proverbial pissing match because they were taught from an early age to sit and be quiet. Girls are not praised for bringing that type of attention to themselves in the way that boys are. Boys can be rowdy, rambunctious and assertive while girls, by and large, cannot. Have you ever heard anyone say in response to a bunch of little girls making a wild raucous, "girls will be girls"? 

We don't teach girls to brag about themselves, we teach them focus on the feelings of others. We don't let girls sit around trying to "one-up" one another because that's not "nice" and girls should be "nice." We don't teach girls to support and challenge each other in healthy environments like the boys observed by Lyons. Instead, we teach them to compete with each other for the attention of the boys. Even Beyonce knows this. 

We don't teach girls to view themselves as independent and capable individuals, we teach them to gauge their value based upon what others think of them. We fret more about their looks than their minds, and girls know this. We knew it. So of course a girl isn't going to tell you she's awesome. She's been socialized to think that she is only awesome when someone tells her she's awesome. And her "awesomeness" as perceived by others is primarily dependent on almost everything but her intelligence. 

Case in point. When David Perry attended the pre-school graduations of his children, he noted that even though these children were only four years old, they both recognized and yearned for the public rewards that come with conforming to the traditional gender stereotypes they had already internalized. 

A few years ago at my son's preschool camp award ceremony, I sat silently as well-meaning counselors called each child forward. Girls: best hair, best clothes, best friend, best helper and best artist. Boys: best runner, best climber, best builder and best thrower. My son won best soccer player. In general, girls received awards for their personalities and appearance and boys for their actions and physical attributes.

It was similar at my daughter's ceremony, where the teacher told us that all the children were so excited to see what award they would receive; it had obviously been built up as a big deal. The gender disparity was subtle but present.

A boy received best engineer. A girl got best friend. Another girl was the best helper, and another most compassionate. A boy received best break dancer. A girl was named most athletic, and the teacher told us how when all the class raced around the track this girl "beat everyone! Even the boys!" And then my daughter got her certificate, showing her in a funky orange sweater, tight pants, and holding a bowling ball. Her award -- best dressed.

I agree with Lyons when she says that no amount of leaning in or what have you on the part of adult women will have any long-term impact if we don't help our girls.

Maybe we can save the next generation from struggling to fix something broken if we put effort into making sure - now- that it never breaks in the first place. This is what I imagine can happen if we talk to our daughters and the young women around us, and include them in the conversations we're having. It doesn't matter how far we get in conversations about us - and the balance we deserve or are seeking - if we don't change how it happens for little girls. 

However, I disagree, to some extent, with Lyons' belief that "victimization, more than anything, is what we need to eradicate." (emphasis mine)

I worry that as we talk about all of this - our power, our opportunities - that we're talking in ways that suggest it's not up to us whether we GET to live our full potential. The power to realize our complete selves is entirely within us - it's not some magic talisman bestowed upon us by an external force. No one else gets to decide.

Girl by Daska on  Flickr

Girl by Daska on Flickr

Actually, others sometimes do  get to decide, and that's part of the problem. While I agree that women don't always have the power to control outside forces, and that they can control their reactions to those forces, that only goes so far. Because the reality is those outside forces are kind of a big deal. Whether it's a hiring manager or boss, a potential professional or academic mentor, a client, etc., what they think about me as a woman, and by extension, what they think about women in general, matters. No amount of self-actualization is going to change that. 

Does this mean that all women are victims who should just resign themselves to a lifetime of oppression and inferiority? Absolutely not. I don't think that awareness of institutional sexism and widely proven barriers to women in the workplace and beyond constitutes "victimization" in the way that Lyons does. Jessica Valenti, in refuting the confidence gap said, "[t]he 'confidence gap' is not a personal defect as much as it is a reflection of a culture that gives women no reason to feel self-assured."

The truth is, if you're not insecure, you're not paying attention. Women's lack of confidence could actually just be a keen understanding of just how little American society values them.

Which brings me back to those little girls Lyons observed. Their response to her question about whether they too were awesome, illustrates just such an understanding of this society and their place in it.  

So, no, girls don't feel awesome. And they haven't for a long time. As long as we continue to raise girls in an environment that socializes them to look to others for validation of their intelligence and self-worth, to care more about the feelings of others rather than their own, to be quiet and to sit still, to be small, nothing will change. As long as we continue to reward boys for behavior we punish and criticize in girls, nothing will change. 

So what can we do?

The list of things we need to change to solve some of these problems is too long for this post. But like Lyons, I think including girls, when appropriate, in conversations about leaning in and the like is a good start. I would go further, however, and include little boys in these conversations as well. Girls aren't the only ones who need to be able to identify gender bias in order to eliminate it. Just think what a difference it would make if we didn't have to spend so much time and energy trying to convince people of the existence of gender bias in the first place!

Further, if we can't completely eradicate the fact that little girls gauge their self-worth based upon how they are perceived by others (read: boys), then the least we can do is try to change how the boys perceive the girls. Little boys need to see and hear female characters that are just as strong and just as powerful as male characters. We need more books, films, and television shows that don't include story lines filled with damsels in distress who need saving by their (male) heroes. And for the love of all that is Holy, please stop segregating toys into "girl" toys and "boy" toys, especially when the "girl" toys consist primarily of (PINK) cooking, cleaning, and homemaking paraphernalia. 

Which brings me to my last point. Let's not repeat the mistake of previous generations by having the courage to raise our daughters more like our sons, but failing to raise our sons more like our daughters. We have succeeded in raising little girls who aspire to have both careers and families, but we've yet to do the same with little boys. Little boys should grow up expecting to do their fair share of the household chores and child-rearing. Are we making progress? Absolutely. But we've still got a long way to go. 

Female Politicians Represent the Interests of Men, Too.

In a recent piece by Ann Friedman on the "relatability" of female politicians,  Diane Feinstein, the Democratic Senator from California, was asked about the potential of a two-woman ticket for the 2016 presidential election. Her response?  

I'm not sure it's wise.  You want a ticket that represents men and women.

Like Friedman, I found this response strange coming from one of the two female senators who have represented the state of California for two decades. 

If California voters were comfortable with Boxer and Feinstein representing them in the U.S. Senate 20 years ago — and have reelected them ever since — what makes her think American voters wouldn’t be okay with two women in the White House two years from now?

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) - Photo by  Mystery Pill  on Flickr

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) - Photo by Mystery Pill on Flickr

The fact that the first reaction to the idea of an all-female presidential ticket by a highly accomplished (and female) United States Senator is to express concern that the interests of men will somehow go unrepresented, is a perfect example of the powerful internalization of institutional and social biases that permeate every aspect of our society, including politics.

Friedman says this is because "[w]omen are in the habit of accepting male candidates as the default and male perspectives as neutral rather than gendered....women are used to getting past the question of whether candidates resemble us [because they never ever have], and considering instead whether they'll represent us." She's right. Male is typically viewed as the "default setting" in many situations, including cartoons and movies.   

Even though the majority of moviegoers are women, we get tons of movies with male protagonists because the overwhelmingly male filmmakers assume women will be able to empathize with all types of characters, whereas men will only relate to men. 

So, even though every single President and Vice President we've ever had, has been male, the question of whether an all-female ticket can represent the interests of both men and women, ironically appears to be a valid one, because the concept of two women representing the entire country is such a foreign concept, even to a United States Senator. 

Friedman notes that, naturally, this is not a phenomenon from which men suffer. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) at a rally in support of the Violence Against Women Act. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) at a rally in support of the Violence Against Women Act. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images 

Men...have had far less practice. They’re used to being represented by … men. Their presidents have always been men. Congress is 81.5 percent male. The picture in state legislatures isn’t much better. (And this is all in contrast to much more equitable gender balances elsewhere in the world). 

While I believe in diversity of representation and opinions, we shouldn't question whether two women can adequately represent the interests of the American people, any more than we have of two (traditionally old and white) men. 


Women Like Sex. Yes, it's true.

Progressives should embrace female sexuality, not sidestep it. 

Elizabeth Plank brings up an excellent point about the progressive movement's failure to respond directly to a specific type of right-wing attacks on women's access to birth control: that one that paints all women who use it as "sluts" or other variations of the term. 

Problematically, a lot of the Left's response has been in the form of arguments about health or religious freedom. They have mentioned little to nothing about the fact that yes, women have and (God forbid!) enjoy sex. Of course it's necessary to discuss all those implications, but refusing to engage with the sex argument is not only profoundly disingenuous, it ultimately gives the Right more ammunition. 

The loaded stigma surrounding birth control isn't the progressive movement's creation, but it is our responsibility to defeat it. This means addressing attacks to women's sexuality head on rather than merely deferring the attackers points about health and religious freedom that are valid in their own right. Until the Left publicly embraces a woman's right to an active and healthy sexual life, conservatives continue to claim moral victory — women's sexuality is precisely the battleground we have conceded and that we need to reclaim.

She's right. We shouldn't have to justify a woman's right to control her own body with anything other than the argument that a woman has a right to control her own body


Women Aren't the Only Ones Who Need to Retrain Their Brains

Work, we're doing it wrong: Women are doubting themselves on an epic scale.

It's called the "tiara" syndrome. The belief many women have which holds that if they work hard and produce quality work, their efforts will be noticed and appreciated by the boss (prince) which in turn will lead to promotions and higher salaries resulting in their living happily ever after. This belief that quality work, by itself, should result in high praise and rewards based on merit alone isn't a bad belief to have, it's just incredibly, depressingly, wrong, and according to Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, the authors of Womenomics, it's contributing to the wage gap and the stubborn stagnation of efforts to place more women in executive-level positions. 

They're calling it "The Confidence Gap," named after the phenomenon that is high-achieving women and their baffling self-doubt about whether they actually deserve the success they've earned.  

In two decades of covering American politics as journalists, we realized, we have between us interviewed some of the most influential women in the nation. In our jobs and lives, we walk among people you assume would brim with confidence. And yet our experience suggests that the power centers of this nation are zones of female self-doubt - that is, when they include women at all....

Even as our understanding of confidence expanded...we found that our original suspicion was dead-on: there is a particular crisis for women - a vast confidence gap that separates the sexes...A growing body of evidence shows how devastating this lack of confidence can be. Success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence. No wonder that women, despite all our progress, are still woefully underrepresented at the highest levels. 

Nature or Nurture?

So where does this crippling lack of confidence come from? The authors tackle this question from both a nature and nurture perspective. On the nurture side, they cite three "formative places: the elementary-school classroom, the playground, and the sports field." 

School is where many girls are first rewarded for being good, instead of energetic, rambunctious, or even pushy. But while being a "good girl" may pay off in the classroom, it doesn't prepare us very well for the real world....[Girls] learn that they are most valuable, and most in favor, when they do things the right way: neatly and quietly...They get a lot of praise for being perfect. In turn, they begin to crave the approval they get for being good. 

This early socialization of little girls to essentially sit quietly and behave while the adults try to herd the little boys into the room is to the little girls' detriment, Kay and Shipman argue, because this desire to garner praise for being "perfect" discourages little girls from taking risks and making mistakes; All things that psychologists now believe are essential to building confidence. The little boys, however, "tend to absorb more scoldings and punishment, and in the process, they learn to take failure in stride."  In fact, one study found that little boys in a grade school classroom "got eight times more criticism than girls for their conduct." Eight times.  

In addition to brushing off scoldings in the classroom, boys learn to brush off each other on the playground. It turns out all that smack talk next to the jungle gym and the tether ball (do playgrounds still have tether balls?) causes such derogation to lose its power. The same can be said of organized sports. 

Other psychologists we spoke with believe that this playground mentality encourages them later, as men, to let other people's tough remarks slide off their backs. Similarly, on the sports field, they learn not only to relish wins but also to flick off losses. 

Despite the progress made with the passage of Title IX, "girls are six times as likely to drop off sports teams, with the steepest decline in participation coming during adolescence. This is probably because girls suffer a larger decrease in self-esteem during that time than do boys."

To summarize: we socialize girls to be quiet and sit still from a very early age  while letting "boys be boys" at the same time. As a result of this generally one-sided freedom afforded to little boys, they are harder to deal with once they enter structured settings like a classroom. This results in little girls being heavily praised for being "good" which in turn results in an internalized desire for perfection.  

They leave school crammed full of interesting historical facts and elegant Spanish subjunctives, proud of their ability to study hard and get the best grades, and determined to please. 

But somewhere between the classroom and the cubicle, the rules change, and they don't realize it. They slam into a work world that doesn't reward them for perfect spelling and exquisite manners. The requirements for adult success are different, and their confidence takes a beating. 

On the nature side, in addition to the traits associated with estrogen and testosterone levels, new research suggests that "brain structure could figure into variations between the way men and women respond to challenging or threatening circumstances." The amygdala, for example, appears to activate in response to negative emotional stimuli more easily in women than in men. 

[This suggests] that women are more likely than men to form strong emotional memories of negative events. This difference seems to provide a physical basis for a tendency that's been observed in behavioral studies: compared with men, women are more apt to ruminate over what's gone wrong in the past.

In addition, the anterior cingulate cortex, also known as the "worrywart center," is larger in women than it is in men. 

This little part of the brain helps us recognize errors and weigh options....In evolutionary terms, there are undoubtedly benefits to differences like these: women seem to be superbly equipped to scan the horizon for threats. Yet such qualities are a mixed blessing today.

The Catch-22 of Female Confidence 

Here's the rub: We tell women to be more confident. To speak up in meetings. To "lean in", etc. BUT "when they do behave assertively, they may suffer a whole other set of consequences, ones that men don't typically experience." 

Attitudes towards women are changing, and for the better, but a host of troubling research shows that they can still pay a heavier social and even professional penalty than men do for acting in a way that's seen as aggressive. If a woman walks into her boss's office with unsolicited opinions, speaks up first at meetings, or gives business advice above her pay grade, she risks being disliked or even - let's be blunt - being labeled a bitch. 

The more a woman succeeds, the worse the vitriol seems to get. It's not just her competence that's called into question; it's her very character. (emphasis added)

Ding ding ding! 

The authors end on a hopeful note citing new scientific research suggesting that our brains can literally change in response to our environment (such as the decrease in a father's testosterone levels when he is with his children). 

Almost daily, new evidence emerges of just how much our brains can change over the course of our lives, in response to shifting thought patterns and behavior. If we keep at it, if we channel our talent for hard work, we can make our brains more confidence-prone. What the neuroscientists calls plasticity, we call hope.

Women aren't the only ones who need to retrain their brains.

I don't disagree with the findings or the facts in this piece. In fact, I found it riveting. My only complaint after having read through it a few times is this: it still puts 100% of the responsibility to change things on women, by retraining our brains to be confident in the hopes that this new-found confidence will result in higher wages and more women in the C-Suite. If only women "keep at it" and "channel our talent for hard work".

But this line of reasoning sounds eerily similarly to the tiara syndrome mentioned above. What about the rest of society? No amount of brain plasticity will make a difference if women are still socially penalized for being confident. As the authors noted, study after study has proven that the social rewards for confidence as applied to men simply do not transfer to women. 

This doesn't mean that I don't think women should try to retrain their brains to recognize and be confident in their accomplishments and abilities, because I do. But in order for things to truly change, those on the receiving end of female confidence need to re-train their brains to appreciate and reward it. And for that to happen, we must also ask what society can do to change the way it thinks about and how it portrays confident women. We must ask what parents, teachers and schools can do disrupt the socialization of girls that results in an unrealistic and damaging desire for perfection. 

We need a new social construct.



Here's How NOT To Argue For Equal Pay

Rampell: Don't hire women for their talent and productivity boost. Hire them because they're cheap. 

In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, Catherine Rampell argues that "an even better reason" to hire more women besides the "many feel-good, fairness-based reasons to hire and invest in women," in addition to "women's lib and girl power and something about Half the Sky," is that companies can pay them less

[P]erhaps the best argument for why hiring women will help your firm's bottom line: They still, amazingly, come a a discount. At least for now...Whatever the reason, the fact that women's pay is lower does mean they're a better deal for employers. Smart employers will recognize a bargain when they see it and scoop up the undervalued talent. 

Setting aside the crass disregard of the feminist and equal rights movements as merely "feel-good" rather than based on human dignity and self-determination, I have to disagree with the idea that the best argument for hiring women is because you can pay them less than a man for the same job. 

I understand what Rampell is trying to say (at least, I think I do). But arguing (days before Equal Pay Day) that instead of taking steps to eliminate pay inequality, companies should take advantage of it while they still can to increase their profit margins does a disservice to hardworking women everywhere and legitimizes the economic and social exploitation of half the population. Pay inequality is a social and economic ill to be solved, not a "bargain" to be exploited. Women are valuable employees who positively contribute to their respective organizations, they are not "deals" to be snagged before it's too late.

Ironically, Rampell proceeds to discuss the different occupations in which women are still underrepresented and undervalued. 

Indeed, law firms, Wall Street banks, tech companies and other big male-dominated businesses have all sorts of outreach programs to identify and nurture female talent (especially, it seems, when the stuff is about to hit the fan: witness the unfortunate timing of Mary Barra's coronation at General Motors). And yet, female representation across these industries and occupations - especially in management positions - is alarmingly low. 

Wait for it.

That's because lip service isn't enough. Corporate policy matters, too. As long as firms are resistant to changes that will help attract and retain female talent - like more flexible work arrangements, which can actually boost worker productivity - they will be limiting their own potential as well as that of female workers. 

First, what helps attract and retain female talent? Equal pay for equal work. Second, what boosts worker productivity? Equal pay for equal work. And third, what limits a company's potential as well as the potential of its female employees? Not being compensated as well as their male colleagues for the same work. 

Yes, it is amazing that women still make less than their male colleagues for the same work. And Rampell is correct, lip service isn't enough. Corporate policies do matter. But encouraging employers to hire more women because they are cheaper in an attempt to remedy workplace and pay inequality is misguided at best, and exploitative at worst. 


The Ancients II

This is the second photo in my "Ancients" series. The vision of the first photo was that of an Ancient Assyrian goddess, long forgotten by the humans from which she drew her power, wandering the streets of the Middle East. Given the oft-cited belief that immortal power is drawn from mortal faith, I questioned what would become of her. 

Here, we come across her a little while later. Still present but less ethereal, having witnessed the harsh realities of the modern age. Gone is the sadness at having been forgotten by man, woman and child. She no longer mourns their lack of faith, for she is far too busy trying to keep pace with the frenetic world in which she’s found herself. 

She gapes at humanity’s seeming inability to be still. Both man and machine are in a constant state of motion, and she cannot gather her thoughts. Though it is not in her nature, this inability to center has shrouded her in a veil of anxious suspicion from which she is desperately trying to break through. And because she cannot yet be seen, she cannot ask where she might find sanctuary from the unyielding commotion that is modern humanity.

Fathers Matter: Standing Up For Paternal Rights In The Workplace

Josh Levs filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission when they denied his request for paternity leave. More fathers should follow suit. 

Time Warner Cable is to be commended for having a family-friendly workplace policy of providing up to ten weeks of paid time off to care for a newborn child. There are too many companies that don't even offer paid maternity leave, let alone paternity leave. However, for some reason, this policy applies to everyone but biological fathers. Why adoptive fathers of newborns can utilize this policy but not biological fathers is a question that has yet to be answered by Time Warner. 

When Josh Levs asked for ten paid weeks off so he could stay home with his wife and their newborn daughter, his request was denied (11 days after the baby's birth), leaving him with limited options. 

Under Time Warner rules, I have only two choices: stay out for 10 weeks without pay, or return to work and hire someone to come to our home each day.  Neither is financially tenable, and the fact that only biological dads face this choice at this point in a newborn’s life is ludicrous.

Levs followed all of the proper internal procedures when making his request, and he initially thought that the failure to apply the policy to biological fathers was simply an oversight, because it just doesn't make any sense

To understand how misguided this policy is, think of the following scenarios.

Here’s one an attorney gave me: If I were a woman, but other elements of my situation were the same — I was still with the same woman (so that would be a same-sex relationship), and she gave birth to our child, legally I would have to adopt in order to be co-parent.  I would then have the option of 10 weeks off, paid.

Or how about this: If I gave my child up for adoption, and some other guy at Time Warner adopted her, he would get 10 weeks off, paid, to take care of her.  I, however, her biological father, can’t.

When Time Warner finally informed Levs that they were "unable" to grant his request, without any rational explanation for the gross disparity in treatment, "this issue stopped being a possible oversight that the company could have resolved quietly. it became an active, deliberate decision to discriminate." 

Fathers should take note of this complaint and feel emboldened to exercise their rights as fathers and employees. Paternal involvement in family life has been steadily increasing and fathers are now more than ever involved in the everyday raising of their children. This is a good thing. 

Employers should institute policies that help support mothers and fathers. Fathers who believe they are being denied the benefits that are afforded to others, should do exactly what Levs is doing and ask (or fight) for them.  Call out employers who claim to be "family friendly" but do not provide comparable leave for mothers and fathers. Call out employers who publicly spout about "family values," but whose internal policies reflect the exact opposite. 

Fathers matter. The more we normalize the reality of paternal involvement and familial responsibilities in the workplace, the closer we will get to equality in other important areas of life. 


On The Praise Of Maternal Martyrdom

Why Do We Praise Maternal Sacrifice Instead of Trying to Fix The Conditions That Make It Necessary? 

We've all heard many a successful person thank their mother for the sacrifices she made to raise them. This praise usually follows the story line of mom completely giving up any career or educational aspirations she had in order to raise her children full time, and is usually followed by an approving round of applause from the audience. I can't help but think at moments like this: "But what if mom didn't want to make that sacrifice? What if mom, while obscenely in love with and proud of her children, also secretly resents the fact that she was forced to give up everything to raise them?"

While we've come a long way since the days when women were immediately fired upon informing their boss of their pregnancy, we still have a long way to go when it comes to providing the type of support that is necessary for the modern family. 

If the roles were reversed, and it was in fact dad who had to give up all of his hopes and dreams in order to raise his children, would we still applaud? Or would we bemoan the fact that a father had to make such a hard decision when he should have been able to have both children and a career? Would we ask what we as a society can do to ensure that fathers don't have to make such a harsh sacrifice? We often see fathers having to stay home to take care of their children as a social and economic fluke to be remedied because of a stale economy or some other social phenomenon, but we don't blink an eye when mothers are the ones who make the sacrifice. In fact, mothers are universally praised for doing so regardless of whether it was truly their choice or not. 

Here's a question: If we were told that a mother cried herself to sleep every night for the life she knew she would never have, would we still applaud? While that may sound harsh, the reality is that more often than not, fathers are not faced with having to accept the type of personal and professional sacrifices that society expects of mothers.

When I talk about sacrifice, I'm not talking about a mother who decides to stay at home with her children permanently or for the first couple of years because that's what she wants to do. Because that is a choice, and a legitimate one at that. I will never disparage any parent who decides that staying home with their child is the best thing for their family.  That is their choice to make. Period. 

What I'm talking about when I talk about sacrifice are the mothers who have no choice but to forgo continuing their education because they have no reliable and safe daycare. I'm talking about the mothers who have no choice but to stop working because private daycare is too expensive. I'm talking about the mothers who are forced out of jobs (and ultimately, careers) they love by people and policies that offer no support to someone responsible for a family. And, let's face it, society still puts the overriding burden of familial responsibility on women.

Let me be clear, I'm not saying that being a parent should not entail making sacrifices. Quite the contrary. The definition of parenting is sacrifice. Of time, of sleep, of energy, of opportunity, etc. Anyone who thinks otherwise is living under a rock. And I'm not saying that fathers are immune to sacrifice when they have children. 

What bothers me is that we continue to expect and to praise women who give up things that are important to their identities to raise their children, but we do not place this expectation or this burden on men. This public martyrdom of mothers contributes to the sexist notion that a woman's only true calling in life is to have and raise children. And it implies that women who don't make that choice (when they have one) are somehow lacking. 

I'm not trying to minimize the importance of parenthood by any means, but a human being can be (and is) more than just a parent. It's possible to be a parent and a painter; a parent and an architect; a parent and a nurse, etc.. But, as a society, we aren't interested in policies that help women maintain their identities outside of motherhood. In fact, our policies (or lack thereof) seem to do everything possible to pigeonhole women into only that role. Think lack of paid maternity and paternity leave, sick leave, and flex time. Think lack of subsidized child care. Think wage gaps and mommy tracks. All of these primarily affect mothers and their ability to care for their families.

Lack of paid maternity leave means that women who need to stay home to care for newborns and to heal risk losing their jobs and financial security. Lack of paid paternity leave sends the clear message that, from the moment a child is born, it is the mother and not the father who should be the primary caregiver, regardless of whether that is the desired family dynamic. The ongoing wage gap between men and women almost always leads to the woman having to stay home when family finances determine that is necessary. Working mothers who, prior to having children, were rising stars in their chosen profession, are often placed on the "mommy track," where they see their already-lower wages fall and chances of promotion disappear. And because the onus of familial responsibilities is still largely placed on women, the fact that they have to leave early to pick up children, or take them to doctor's appointments, are convenient excuses for employers to lower pay or fire employees. 

The result? Women are often pushed out of the workplace because they no longer feel welcome and/or they are too exhausted from trying to be everything to all people.

Instead of constantly praising mothers who are forced to make this sacrifice (the reasons for which are legion), why don't we work on changing laws and instituting policies that will truly support families so that women are not constantly faced with having to choose between abdicating entire parts of their identity and having children? 

Gen Y: Political Explorers That Will Transform Politics

"Millennials are poised to have an outsized influence on our politics due to their sheer size. But their values and beliefs have been misunderstood, if not openly maligned, largely because they are not seen in the context of this group's unique generational experiences." 

They came of age in an era of unprecedented access to alternatives and a steady stream of information from nearly any region of the world, yet they are expected to get excited by orchestrated events and scripted interactions.

A study released last month by Michelle Diggles of Third Way, a democratic think tank, dives into the demographics and experiences of millennials to determine what impact their unique experience will have on the Republican and Democratic parties and the future of politics and policy in general. Her conclusion? The political loyalties of Millennials like myself are up for grabs. 

If knowledge is power, then Millennials have been empowered at an earlier stage in life than any other generation.

Unlike prior generations, whose access to news and information absolutely pales in comparison to the real-time, non-stop, 24/7 news cycle, Diggles notes that Millennials possess "a network of connections and options" which makes them "self-reliant explorers seeking out solutions from any corner of the world."  The ability to find the answer to any question at any time leaves them with little patience for the "behind-the-curtain" antics.

Carefully stage-managed personalities - in politics, entertainment, or any field - may alienate Millennials who crave immediate feedback and the truth behind the mirage.

Brand loyalty just isn't what it used to be.

At the moment, I can't think of one specific brand to which I am 100% loyal. For anything. If it works and I like it, I buy it. If I find something better, I don't hesitate to switch brands. Apparently, I'm not alone. 

Much to the chagrin of many in marketing, Millennials are much more willing than previous generations to switch from even their most favored brands if they can get a better deals or more of the features they want. Millennials don't feel limited by brand loyalty - true in the marketplace of goods and services as well as politics.

Diggles chalks this mentality up to the "choice and personalization rule":

They expect brands to genuinely engage with consumers and won't be satisfied with simply being ignored or having someone sell them a pre-made product. Living in an a la carte world with unlimited options, Millennials don't feel they have to choose between two limited choices. if they don't like a product, think the price is too high, or don't agree with a company's role in society, they are likely to switch brands. 

From a political standpoint, Diggles states that the a la carte lifestyle to which we've become accustomed makes us less likely than our predecessors to stick with the political party with which we initially aligned. In addition, not only are Millennials less likely to stay loyal to a political party, we are less likely to be happy with having a choice of only two

Political strategists often assume that once a pattern of partisan voting is established, voters will stick with their party, regardless of substantive policy disagreements that may emerge. But Millennials are less brand loyal than other generations at the outset, less likely to be satisfied with two static choices, and more apt to be swayed to change their tune then the voters who came before them. 

Translation: you can win us over, but you'll have to fight to keep us. And according to the stats, which indicate that "at least half of younger voters now refuse to associate themselves with either political party," both parties have some work to do. 

We still think/hope that government can be effective and helpful...for now.

According to Diggles, the one characteristic that set Millennials apart from every other generation was "a deep belief that government can play a positive role in people's lives." 

In a 2011 Pew intergenerational comparison, Millennials supported a bigger government providing more services (56%) over a smaller one providing fewer services (35%), a near reversal of their Baby Boomer parents, who supported a smaller government (54%) over a bigger one (35%). 

Just a year earlier - the year of the Tea Party takeover of Congress, in fact - 53% of Millennials said the government should be doing more to solve problems compared to 42% who felt the government was doing too many things better left to individuals and businesses. No other generation cohort said government should do more. 

Make no assumptions about where our loyalties lie.

As noted above, the days of lifelong party loyalty "just because" are gone.  While it may seem that the political winds blowing towards the Democrats, we will have no problem whatsoever deserting if they don't deliver. 

[The Democrats] must demonstrate that government can function effectively and make good on its promises, rather than just relying on an initial openness to a more activist government.

The extreme and exclusive rhetoric currently coming out of the Republican party is doing them no favors among Millennials.  We came of age during the financial collapse which means we heard story after story after story about people who lost their entire life savings through no personal fault of their own as a result of the "market". Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we aren't particularly swayed by the traditional "bootstrap" rhetoric.  We want solutions, not grand speeches on principle. 

For Republicans, an anti-government agenda, lacking constructive suggestions to solve big problems, will likely fall on deaf ears with this generation. Millennials may be cautious about "big government solutions" in the wake of perceived failures and shortcomings by lawmakers or new programs. But an agenda based solely on individual responsibility and market solutions to the challenges we face will be unlikely to garner widespread support among Millennials or inspire a new generation of voters.

All we know about this magical "free market" is that we are in debt up to our eyeballs with nothing to show for it.  

The Starbucks barista with a master's degree cliche exists for a reason, and Millennials aren't buying the "let the market decide" approach for now.  According to the study, 72% of Millennials believe "that a free market economy needs government regulation to serve the public's interest."

With high levels of student loan debt and unemployment, the basic bargain Millennials were offered - work hard and earn a college degree so you can get a good job - has seemingly disappeared overnight....

The market appears to have failed Millennials, and they are unsure that corporations and large financial institutions are acting in the public's best interest. 

We are "spiritual" but not "religious".

Millennial views on gay marriage and other social issues still maligned by the Church (and Republicans), have have a clear negative impact on both relationships.

The role organized religion continues to play in modern American politics - primarily concentrated on the far right with an increasingly vocal fundamentalist tilt - is squarely out-of-step with many of younger people's views...And the fusion of orthodox religion and Republican Party social conservatism has saddled both of them with the problems of the other in the minds of Millennials. 

Diggles goes further and states that like the free market, "the church appears to have failed [Millennials] as well - protecting priests embroiled in scandal and devaluing their gay friends and family as unequal and unwelcome." 

We are tolerant and super diverse, but can be somewhat naive about civil rights and gender equality.

It should come as no surprise that Millennials are more tolerant of other cultures and lifestyles than our predecessors. In addition to online globalization, which enabled us to explore and interact with different cultures from our bedrooms, changes in the 1960's to immigration policy led to a substantial increase in legal immigration. 

Millennials are not just composed of a greater diversity of racial and ethnic backgrounds than older generational cohorts, they also have relatively higher levels of interaction with people of other backgrounds. This has exposed them to the unique political, economic, and socio-cultural traditions of communities not traditionally dominant in American political discourse. 

While we are much more enlightened when it comes to gay rights and immigration policy, Millennials appear to take for granted other rights that many fought so hard to obtain, but which "do not necessarily resonate with today's younger generation."  While overt racism and sexism have, for the most part, been eradicated from civil society, there are still many latent barriers for women and people of color to overcome.  But many Millennials "see both racism and race-based affirmative action as relics of an earlier age." 

Among younger Millennials, 63% do not believe that race or gender will impact their future career prospects.  And only 23% of those under 40 years old supported using race as a factor in university admissions, with a whopping 62% strongly opposed. 

We are a slightly less "America! F$@* Yeah!" 

Pointing out that "the oldest Millennials were eight years old when the Berlin Wall fell," and that "few remember the Soviet Union," Diggles states

Millennial concerns with international engagement stem from questions of style and form. While 70% of Americans say that the U.S. is the greatest country in the world, only 58% of Millennials agree. Given their racial and ethnic diversity, access to information from all over the globe, and high proportion of immigrant parents, Millennials are less likely than others to claim superiority for their country. 

Millennials prefer a case-by-case approach to determining if a situation warrants international intervention which Diggles describes as "cooperative engagement." 

They want us to take allies' interests into account even if it means we have to compromise or emphasize diplomacy over military strength, and they worry that emphasizing military force breeds hatred and leads to terrorism. 

I wonder how we came to that conclusion? 

The bottom line:

Neither party can afford to take Generation Y for granted, and neither party should get comfortable. Each must grasp early on that they will be held accountable for any promises they make, because the tide has the potential to quickly turn against them if they fail to do so. Parties will be judged by their actions and not their words.   

This means compromise, not stubborn adhesion to the status quo to protect an abstract political ideal. This means transparency, into process and people.  This means flexibility and willingness to change if something isn't working. 

Millennials are not interested in catchy slogans and feigned interest in issues that affect them. They are interested in getting results. If they don't get them from one party, they will simply move on to another. 


I'm Tired of Employers Getting a Free Pass

Leaning In Will Not Solve Pay Equity Because Leaning Out Is Not The Problem

For fear that this post could be misinterpreted as accusatory or malicious (not my intention at all), I want to preface it by saying that in no way do I think the intentions of all involved are anything but genuine and true. Nor do I question the validity or integrity of the panel in question. I have personal relationships with the women involved and I witness their fierce dedication to issues affecting women and girls on quite literally a daily basis (they are exceptional, really). This invite simply served as a catalyst for discussion of a broader issue.

I received an email this afternoon from The Women's Fund of Central Ohio, in collaboration with The Columbus Young Professionals Club, inviting me to a panel discussion on April 8th, 2014, Equal Pay Day, entitled Equal Pay: Leaning into your full potential.  

Here is the full text of the email introduction:

I read the email a few times trying to determine what it was about the invite that was bothering me. Then it hit me. The basic premise of this panel as outlined in the introduction rests on an implicit assumption that there is a legitimate reason why women are not being paid as much as their male counterparts for the same work, and that reason is the women themselves

The battle over pay equity revolves around the fact that women are not paid the same amount as men for equal work. If women aren't being paid as much as men because they aren't "leaning in to their full potential," or because they don't "feel confident and capable in the workplace," then there isn't really a valid argument for equal pay is there? In fact, these are precisely the excuses that many employers offer when they are confronted about this issue. The false assumption that women are somehow less committed to their jobs than men is one that continues to be internalized by employers and employees alike, which results in male workers being paid more than their female colleagues for the exact same job. Just ask Lilly Ledbetter

Lilly Ledbetter was a supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber’s plant in Gadsden, Alabama, from 1979 until her retirement in 1998. For most of those years, she worked as an area manager, a position largely occupied by men. Initially, Ledbetter’s salary was in line with the salaries of men performing substantially similar work. Over time, however, her pay slipped in comparison to the pay of male area managers with equal or less seniority. By the end of 1997, Ledbetter was the only woman working as an area manager and the pay discrepancy between Ledbetter and her 15 male counterparts was stark: Ledbetter was paid $3,727 per month; the lowest paid male area manager received $4,286 per month, the highest paid, $5,236.

I can't help but feel that hosting a panel discussion about leaning in on Equal Pay Day sends the wrong message. It tells women that it isn't your employer who needs to change, it's you. Institutional sexism is not the reason you are being paid less, you're being paid less because you aren't "leaning into your full potential," and because you don't "feel like your true value is being seen and appreciated." I will acknowledge that there are situations where these reasons do, in fact, play a part in pay disparities, but I don't necessarily think that Equal Pay Day is the appropriate time to address them. 

Pay equity and leaning in are two distinct problems that don't always overlap. There are millions of women who can "lean in" until they are blue in the face (many lean in to multiple jobs), but that will not increase their pay. There are millions of women who can take any and all steps to "feel confident and capable in the workplace," but that will not increase their pay. Women make up the majority of workers in minimum wage jobs in which they have practically zero power and influence in relation to their bosses. Plus, the reality is that the many women do not have the luxury of being able to stroll confidently into their boss's office to ask for a raise. 

I think the reason we spend so much time talking about what we as women can do is because we feel like it is the only thing over which we have any power. We can change ourselves but we can't change other people (or organizations). If we lean in just a bit more and work just a little harder perhaps it will make a difference. 

But it isn't enough. 

What about the employers?

At what point do we ask what they can (and should) be doing? We discuss "leaning in" and other empowering mantras every other day of the year, but talking among ourselves about what we as women can do, means absolutely nothing if employers aren't on board. As long as employers can get away with paying some employees less than others, they will continue to do so. Quite frankly, providing a space for female employees to talk about what they can be doing better to merit better (or even equal) pay, instead of demanding it from the employer is pretty convenient for the employer

The panel invite is right. We, as women, do have the power to change the pay disparities between men and women. But not just through modification of ourselves. Through social advocacy and awareness and changes in public policy. Just ask Lilly Ledbetter.

What can we do? 

Instead of discussing more actions that women can take to address pay equity, what if we use this one day to host a panel of candidates for public office, elected officials, CEO's, and other community leaders who are proactively working with businesses and employers on policies that will help further the cause?

What if we use this one day to highlight businesses and employers that are taking (and have taken) steps to create a more equal workplace and the positive changes those steps have brought about? 

What if we invite employers to a panel discussion that asks if they are leaning in to their full potential? Are they recognizing the "true value" of their female employees? 

Adventures in Infrared

"Go then, there are other worlds than these..."

I loved infrared photography from the moment I saw my first photo. I had no idea what it was or how it was done, but I immediately thought "I have to learn how to do that!" I have hundreds of unprocessed photos that I've started wading through looking for some goodies. Here are two that I processed yesterday. They were taken at the Scioto Audubon Metro Park just outside of Downtown Columbus, Ohio. 

Are We Ever Going To Treat Young Men As Autonomous Human Beings?

Evanston, Ill., middle school bans leggings. Students protest for the right to wear them.

These middle school girls are protesting a new dress code policy that will no longer permit them to wear legging or yoga pants to school because they were proving "too distracting to boys." Too distracting for boys.

Amanda Hess puts it nicely:

The girls’ cause is about much more than the right to bear L’eggs. By emphasizing the disruptive consequences of leggings, administrators are attempting to fix boys’ juvenile behavior by placing an unfair burden on the girls who are supposedly distracting them. (As Hasty put it: “Not being able to wear leggings because it’s ‘too distracting for boys’ is giving us the impression we should be guilty for what guys do.”) The result is that the school is actually preventing these girls from focusing on their schoolwork by asking them to pay more attention to their own bodies.

Years ago, I distinctly remember overhearing a conversation between two coworkers over the lunch break. One colleague's daughter went to a private kindergarten that required school uniforms. The day before, she received a letter from the school informing her that from that day forward, the little girls would be expected to wear shorts underneath their already-mandated skirt uniforms. The reason for this change in dress code, according to the letter, was because the little boys were running up to the little girls and pulling up their skirts, exposing their underwear for all to see. This was consistent enough of an issue to warrant the change in dress code for the girls only. 

Just so we are clear, rather than taking the boys aside and explaining to them that pulling up their classmates' skirts was inappropriate behavior, and then punishing them accordingly if they continued to do so, the school put the burden on the parents of the little girls to purchase additional and unnecessary items of clothing for the girls to wear. The message from the school was clear: This inappropriate behavior is inevitable. You can't expect us to teach children how to behave. 

The one phrase that I'm sure was used over and over to justify this new policy? "Boys will be boys." No, boys will not be boys. Boys will be whatever society tells them they can be. If the girls were consistently going around pulling down the boys' pants, would the school have sent a letter home to the boys parents notifying them of a new policy requiring all boys to wear suspenders? No, because punishing the victim with additional burdens instead of teaching the perpetrator right from wrong would be ridiculous. 

But that is exactly what we do to young girls and women on a daily basis. We don't ask rapists why they rape, we ask the victim what she was wearing. We don't teach young boys and men to control themselves, we teach young girls and women to take actions to protect themselves from the boys and men

As Hess points out, schools have every right (up to a point) to impose certain dress requirements

[b]ut there's a fine line between deeming a type of clothing as distracting, and declaring a body itself to be disruptive. And if boys are really spending too much time staring at leggings (or legs) instead of at the chalkboard, then that's a behavior that boys should learn to regulate before they're accused of sexual harassment once they graduate to the workforce.

You would think that men in general would be insulted by the implicit assumption that they are unable to control even their most basic behavior at the sign of naked flesh (or anything that may remind them of naked flesh). But then again, most people are loathe to protest any sort of policy or social more that benefits them.