Women Aren’t Broken, Let’s Stop Trying to Fix Them

I have a few obsessions and one of them is a reflexive distaste for the idea that any problem that women have can be solved by women being … different. Better. Using different words, getting more education, standing up for themselves. The list goes on and on.

This editorial in today’s Sunday Review articulates one specific piece of this — the basic idea that if women asserted themselves they would get the raise, the promotion, and would not be a victim of harassment. This is all nonsense of course since women do ask for raises and promotions and definitely say “No.” to harassers. But the myth persists — if only they asked … more nicely, less nicely, some other, unspecified but definitely different way.

The writer flips this entire notion on its head — maybe the problem isn’t women. Maybe it’s men. Or, to put it better: maybe prizing everything men do, say, think while also denigrating everything about women is the actual problem.

I remember thinking this when Kate Middleton married Prince William. There were stories about women planning to get up at 3am in the US, organizing viewing parties where everyone would dress up and drink tea, that sort of thing. And then the stories and commentary inevitably turned to criticizing the frivolity of it all. Women just want to be saved by a prince. Caring about a huge, expensive wedding is just so … shallow.

And yet. When men go to some kind of sporting event in a crazy outfit with the teams logo and colors painted across his face that is viewed as silly, perhaps, but not as evidence of some basic lack of value. We certainly don’t believe that a guy who engages in this kind of trivial ritual can’t also command an executive meeting on Monday. 

In The Room Where It Happened

Photo by Picsea on Unsplash

The cover editorial in today’s NYT Sunday Review asks “Who Is Going To Save The American Family?

That’s a loaded question if ever there was one, and the editorial is written by a conservative woman who has predictably conservative answers. The decline of the American family is the fault of feminists. By sending women into the workplace we’ve created a “two-income trap” where families can no longer survive on one income. And this is a problem because, you see, men want to be breadwinners and women want to be caregivers.

The two-income trap is real, but what the analysis is missing is discussions of what has caused men’s wages to fall. It’s not women entering the labor force.

But the piece is also missing any discussion of how women would gain true economic and political power within a system that is bifurcated by gender. It’s all well and good to say that being a mother is “the most important job in the world,” but that doesn’t change the fact that women are underrepresented, relative to the population, in all spheres of influence. Yes, of course this means political power, where despite significant gains in 2018 (notably on one side of the aisle) women are still less than 50% of elected representatives and we’ve never had a women president. (Despite many qualified female candidates, 2020 isn’t looking great for that to change.) But I also mean power more broadly. Women hold fewer than 5% of Fortune 500 spots. Most estimates put women at 15 to 20% of C-suite positions. Women of color, of course, have even less access to power.

Does that matter? I saw “Hamilton” on Broadway last night. My favorite song, by far, was “In The Room Where It Happened.” It is sung by Aaron Burr and it’s his lament that he was not in the room when Hamilton and Jefferson made a deal to move the capitol to Washington, D.C. He reprises the song later, when he’s running for President, because he wants to be sure he’s in the room where it happens.

Women need to be in the rooms where stuff happens. Where laws get passed. Where corporate decisions get made. It matters. Nancy Pelosi remarked that when she first ran for Speaker it was Democratic men who asked her “who said you could run?” They pleaded “Just tell us what you want and we’ll do it.” Um, I don’t think so.

Does this mean we need to turn every American woman in a corporate wage slave and every American family into stressed-out hamsters running on a never-ending wheel of bills? Of course not. But there are plenty of proposals that would support all families and also support women who want to participate in civic and corporate life. And, by the way, policies that would support men who want to play a greater role in the lives of their children.

It strikes me that we are at a point in our cultural history where we could start to think different about our economy, family life, and gender roles in ways that would open up a lot more possibilities for everyone. Harkening back to the ideas of Phyllis Schlafly isn’t the way forward — it is literally the way back.

Making Room For Women’s Voices (Literally)

Image result for alison stewartOne of the media organizations that was impacted by #MeToo was WNYC — New York City’s public radio station. Three men were accused of harassment — Jonathan Schwartz, Leonard Lopate and John Hockenberry. Two of them — Lopate and Schwartz — were fired as a result (Hockenberry had left when his contract expired before the incidents were made public).

One result of these changes is more women on the radio. The lineup used to be:

  • 10am Brian Lehrer
  • Noon Leonard Lopate
  • 2pm Teri Gross
  • 3pm John Hockenberry

And now it’s:

  • 10am Brian Lehrer
  • 2pm Teri Gross
  • Noon Alison Stewart
  • 3pm Tanzina Vega and Amy Walter

In terms of hours it’s now 4  hours of women’s voices and 2 hours of a man vs. 1 hour of a woman and 5 hours of men. Also significantly, the one hour of a woman in the past was Teri Gross with a nationally syndicated show broadcast out of WHYY in Philadelphia. I love Fresh Air, but sort of shocking to consider that it was not very long ago that WNYC didn’t have a single female voice represented in it’s weekday line-up.

Have Certain Elite Men Leveraged the Women’s Movement to Consolidate Power?

I’m pretty obsessed with how it can be that decades after women have reached and even exceeded parity with men in academia they haven’t come close to parity where it really matters — in the halls of power.

And the thought I find myself having lately is this: Has women gaining parity in  attaining higher education and consequent lack of parity beyond school led to a situation where a smaller number of elite men rule the world? Has power ultimately been concentrated in an even small number of hands?

I think about the famous Warren Buffet quote — “I was so successful because I was only competing with half the population.” Is it possible that today’s Warren Buffets are competing with even fewer people?

Don’t Ever Leave Me a Voicemail Like This

“Hi Tami, this is [name redacted] from [company redacted] at [phone number redacted]. Again that’s  [name redacted] from [company redacted] at [phone number redacted]. Have a good day!”

Who? Why? I have no clue who this person is or what his company does. I’m pretty sure I’ve never spoken to him before.

What is the point of this message exactly?

Congratulations if you ticked off the box next to the notation to “call Tami Forman at Return Path” but you should know that the chance that I will call you back is less than zero.

If you aren’t willing to work to get the job, how can I believe you’ll work at the job?

I’ve been stunned, throughout my career, how little effort some people put into finding work.

On the bright side it means that it doesn’t take very much extra effort to make yourself stand out above the bumbling masses.

I’m a fan, when I’m looking for talent, of assigning some little task as a “test.” I picked this up in publishing. It’s basically impossible to get a job in publishing (both online and off) without taking some kind of writing or editing test.

These tests can tell you a lot about candidates, even before you read a word.  A colleague and I are currently searching for an intern for the summer. We got lots of resumes.  LOTS. Some were good, some just okay. We sent them a test and asked for some pre-written samples. The test was ridiculously easy: write a blog post about email and a Tweet to go with it.

So far we’ve gotten completed test from just three candidates. THREE.

My feeling on this is simple: If you aren’t willing to expend just a little bit of effort to get the job, how can I believe you’ll work hard when you have the job?

Of course there is a flip side, too. In my time I’ve been asked to do some crazy things. Looking back on one particularly arduous test — it had six parts, required me to write an editorial letter, come up with ideas for new quizzes and interactive tools, write part of a new quiz AND do a competitive analysis — I should have charged the company a consulting fee! I would now look at that kind of “test” as a red flag. Because the flip side of my question is this: If you are going to make me work this hard to get this job, are you going to expect me to have no life outside work when I get the job?

But the bottom line there is only so much you can learn from resumes and interviews. Some kind of reasonable “try out” just makes sense. If you want to work with me, expect it.

You do your job, I’ll do mine

Our dishwasher broke. So we called Sears and they sent a repairman out. He looked at it, said we needed a thingie-ma-bob piece that had to be ordered. He made an appointment to come back but told me if the thingie-ma-bob arrived early I could move up the appointment.

The thingie-ma-bob did come early and so I moved up the appointment to today. Of course today a different repairman shows up. And he says to me “So, what’s wrong with it?”

Um, hello? That’s your job, right? I’m guessing that thingie-ma-bob that the other guy ordered is broken. But that’s really a guess. He keeps asking me questions … Did the guy do this test? Did he call anyone? I don’t know and I don’t know and furthermore, I DON’T CARE. Just fix my dishwasher.

If this guy would like to put together an online press room for Return Path I could think about switching places with him and fixing my own dishwasher. But somehow I don’t see that happening.

Gwyneth Is More Fabulous Than You Could Ever Be

First let me say that I HATE Gwyneth Paltrow. I know I should probably save my energy for something more useful than hating Gwyneth. But I can’t help myself.

So it’s not surprising that she really bugs me in this article in Vogue.

Read the whole thing if you want your head to explode, but here’s a few of my favorite bits:

Gwyneth on the logistics of her life: “I keep everything very simple. I think the thing that drives most working mothers crazy is this idea that they can’t do everything … if you’re going to cook dinner, so that you and your husband can invest in each other, don’t make duck á l’orange. Learn six recipes that are simple, easy, that you can do when you put the kids to bed.”

Yes, Gwyneth that is exactly the problem of the average working mom. She’s trying to make duck á l’orange.

On self-care: “I do think it is important for mothers to take some time for themselves.” (However, even now, despite the fact that her job requires an extremely beautiful body, Gwyneth will work out only while her children are either at school or napping; “otherwise, I would feel like this is really indulgent.”)

Great. So if I leave Maddie with a sitter so I can go to the gym does that make me a bad Mom?

On style: Her style has changed dramatically in the last few years; once a girl who was in a different designer every night, Gwyneth is now photographed more often than not in jeans, boots, and a cozy jacket. … With three closets in two countries, she’s decided it’s easiest not to move clothes between them. “I find that it is very helpful to have a sort of mother uniform,” she says as we pull up outside the Alexander McQueen store. “Like, I say, OK, this winter I’m going to wear minidresses and tights and this pair of jeans and these two coats. Done. I wear either these Lanvin boots every day or gray Chloé ankle boots. It’s like I want to eliminate all of the fuss.”

Seriously? Is this woman serious?

On clothes shopping: She has given up attending fashion shows because the last one she went to, Chanel Haute Couture in 2005, “was just too much. I don’t enjoy the photographers being that close and that aggressive. They don’t stop, and there’s no control. You know what I do now? If I want to see the clothes, I go to the couturier, but also, I so rarely have an occasion to wear that stuff now.”

Yes. When I want to see clothes I just call my couturier. I can’t even get the personal shopper at Nordstrom to return my phone calls. (Now at this point I feel compelled to point out that part of what bugs me about this article is the author, Plum Sykes, who might just be even more full of it than Gwyneth is. After that couturier bit the very next line is this: “She may be starting to sound dangerously normal, but make no mistake, Gwyneth’s life is hardly average.” Oh yes, Plum, you almost had me fooled!)

I could go on and on, but you get the point.

So now this infuriating article seems to have been turned into a whole website — GOOP.com. If you want to be as fabulous as Gwyneth then just sign up for this little email newsletter and voila! It includes a lot of the same kind of nonsense about how you can make your life better by adopting a designer uniform, doing workouts by video chat with your trainer (Why via video chat? Because the trainer is on tour with Madonna. Natch.), and inviting your friends over for a make-your-own-pizza party in your garden, which, of course, has a brick-oven pizza oven.

I have to go lay down now. My head hurts. Someone has to make this woman go away.

NYT to Dad: Happy Father’s Day. Now shape up!

First let me just say that I have mixed feelings about Lisa Belkin. Sometimes I think she gets it. Other times, not so much.

I actually really like this story which ran in Sunday’s NYT magazine. But I just think it’s mean that they ran it on Father’s Day. The cover headline (not seen online) was also a little much. “Will Dad Ever Do His Share?” it blared. A bit like asking, “So, Mr. Smith, tell us, when did you stop beating your wife?”

But with all that windup, the article itself is good and raises a lot of interesting questions. It’s easy to make fun of some of these couples and their spreadsheets to track who does what. But the truth, which the article points out really well, is that most of us fall into gender role patterns without even realizing it. And these patterns are ingrained — even when they look like rational choices.

Telling stats from the article:

  • In households where Dad works and Mom is home full-time Mom does about a little more than 3 hours of housework for every hour Dad does.  This makes sense, given the set up.
  • In households where both Mom and Dad work full-time, Mom does almost 2 hours of housework for every hour Dad does.  Of course this doesn’t make sense.
  • But here’s the really crazy part: In households where Mom works and Dad is home full-time, Mom still does the majority of the housework.

And then there’s this anecdote, which I think really illuminates the issue, which is that perception is reality.  A social researcher relayed the story of two different couples.  One couple, the man is a physician and the woman is a college professor.  The second couple, the woman is a physician and the man is a college professor.  In both cases the couple declares that the woman’s profession is very flexible and the man’s is not.

At the end of the day the answer isn’t any one way — but to choose a way that works for everyone in the family.  Which is Belkin’s real point, as she elaborates in this blog post.  And, in the process of making your “choice” to see how much of your perceptions are colored by gender role expectations that have not changed nearly as much as we like to believe.