Friday, January 25, 2008

Family and Career

I clicking through some career columns on the WSJ, and ran across a piece on a law blog on a younger law associate who was planning on having her children in her 20s to increase her chances of making partner later on.
Erin Foley Lewis, a 28-year-old associate at Cadwalader. Foley Lewis (Wake Forest, Harvard Law) talks about how having an early start on having children might help her career.

“By the time I’m at a point in my career where I am going to be making partner, my kids are going to be old enough to be playing on their own and sleeping on their own,” said Lewis, who recently had twins. “If I had waited until 33 to have children, I’d have newborns at the time I would be up for partner.”

This is one thing I often think about. I'm still considering an MBA, which my new employer will help pay for after my first three months here. I'd want to finish an MBA before having a child (which is still not a definite), but I often wonder if it would be better to have a child earlier so that by the time my career takes off, I won't be looking after a newborn.

But if one trawls through the post's comments, one finds this insightful reply:

This is exactly why women who want kids should not be attorneys. She wants it all? Can’t be done, selfish B. If you want part time kids, convince your sister or brother to have some you can borrow from time to time, or just rent some for the weekend.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is a man writing. The misogyny against career women is definitely alive and well in this commenter. I wonder if this man is married and has children. I wonder if his wife is a homemaker.

I take great offense at the "Can't be done, selfish B" part most of all. Why must women who actually pursue real careers because they want to be labeled as bitches? Nate knows very well that if we have a child, I'm not planning on quitting working to stay home, and he supports that.

The other issue that Mr. Misogyny is ignoring is the option of the father staying home, or pulling for a flexible schedule to help with childcare. Women who leave at 5 to pick up the kids are labeled as being unfaithful to their jobs; men who leave at 3 to see their children's soccer games are labeled devoted dads. Women who take maternity leave are often pushed out of jobs; men who become new dads get promotions and raises since they are now "supporting a family." So if a man wanted to work part time and help raise his children, I'm sure he would be much more accommodated than a woman who wanted a flex schedule.

Why must we always go around and around in circles on this issue? Men are qualified to take care of children. Mommy shouldn't be the default position for women. And employers need to throw the anti-mother standard out of the window.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Out With The Old, In With Botox

I wouldn't consider myself a hip dresser, particularly when I look back at high school and realize that my imitation prep actually made me look more like an old-school librarian than any of the authentic preppies I went to school with. These days I tend to go for the classic tailored look, preferably vintage if I can get it.

But while I've tweaked my appearance, particularly in the last half year, I've never worried about looking old. You might be thinking, "She's not even thirty!" but really, people my age do worry about looking old. You might notice that the women in the anti-aging cosmetics ads (Olay Regenerist, Neutrogena Microdermabrasion) are probably no older than 35 anyway. And there are more of those cosmetics available these days anyway. You used to buy them in department stores from Estee Lauder or Clinique, and now they're in CVS or even the health aisle of the grocery store.

But it doesn't stop at wrinkles. These days, a woman needs to go to the gym, do yoga, eat organic food, dye their hair, and undergo cosmetic surgery--in order to stay young. I used to think this really only applied to the women in Hollywood, who, with the exception of Diane Lane and Susan Sarandon, usually see a career tank after their 30s.

Today, I passed this piece about the effect of aging on women's careers. Natasha Singer writes:

IN a new self-help book called “How Not to Look Old,” chapter headings in screaming capital letters warn readers of the dreaded signs of aging that are to be avoided at all costs.

“NOTHING AGES YOU LIKE ... FOREHEAD LINES” admonishes one chapter introduction. Another chapter cautions: “NOTHING AGES YOU LIKE ... YELLOW TEETH.”

Nothing, apparently, also carbon-dates you like GRAY BROW HAIRS or SAGGING SKIN or RECEDING GUMS, according to the book written by Charla Krupp, a former beauty director at Glamour who writes a column for More, a magazine for women over 40.

The book is the latest makeover title to treat the aging of one’s exterior as a disease whose symptoms are to be fought to the death or, at least, mightily camouflaged. But the book offers a serious rationale for such vigilant attempts at age control, arguing that trying to pass for younger is not so much a matter of sexual allure as of job security.

...

“Whether we want to admit it or not, in male corporate America we would rather have a cute, sexy 30-year-old working for us than a 50-year-old with gray hair who has let herself go and looks out of it, not in the swing of it, like a nun,” said Ms. Krupp, a blonde who blurs her age by personifying her advice about donning highlights, bangs, heels and sheer lip gloss. After all, nothing ages you like dark lipstick.

...

“Ageism is one of the last frontiers of discrimination where people think that a way around it is not to be seen to age, but we would never say that women should try to look or act more male in order to avoid sexism,” said Molly Andrews, a psychologist who is a director of the Center for Narrative Research at the University of East London.


And what I find interesting about this is that the ageism discussed in the piece really only applies to women. Bill Clinton has his famous white hair, but no one starts doubting his ability to keep up his career because he looks "old." Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is slammed for looking like what she is: a woman in her 60s.

Men are praised for their longevity in the boardroom; grey hair makes them "distinguished." Women must dye greys, lest they lose their "freshness." For example I know a wonderful woman who, although her own hair is pure white at this point, still dyes it reddish-brown. She's not fooling anyone, and I think she'd look a lot better if she just let it go natural. Her sister's hair has gone white, and she looks stunning. It's silly to pretend, in my opinion.

And yet, America clamors for youth. And while I perhaps can't convince everyone else to just accept that we all get old, I'm going to personally fight it. If my hair goes grey, it will stay grey. If I get wrinkles, I'll get wrinkles.

At one of my previous jobs, I worked with a woman who had a ton of wrinkles all over her face. But I thought she looked great. All of her wrinkles were the kind made from smiles. She is a fantastic woman, she's been a teacher, a softball catcher, and still goes whitewater rafting every year. When I look at her, I don't see an "old" woman. I see a woman who's lived a great life, and still is. I hope someday I have a face full of wrinkles that mark me as having an extraordinary life too.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Dose of Levity

Today, I am reposting Bob Herbert's column from the New York Times Opinion page. Bob Herbert is probably the journalist I most admire for his earnestness in tackling issues that most people ignore, or don't want to talk about, like today's topic: misogyny.

Politics and Misogyny

With Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s win in New Hampshire, gender issues are suddenly in the news. Where has everybody been?

If there was ever a story that deserved more coverage by the news media, it’s the dark persistence of misogyny in America. Sexism in its myriad destructive forms permeates nearly every aspect of American life. For many men, it’s the true national pastime, much bigger than baseball or football.

Little attention is being paid to the toll that misogyny takes on society in general, and women and girls in particular.

Its forms are limitless. Hard-core pornography is a multibillion-dollar business, having spread far beyond the stereotyped raincoat crowd to anyone with a laptop and a password. Crowds of crazed photographers risk life and limb to get shots of Paris Hilton or Britney Spears without their underwear. At New York Jets home games, men regularly gather at Gate D to urge female fans to expose themselves.

In its grimmest aspects, misogyny manifests itself in hideous violence — from brutal beatings and rape to outright torture and murder. Fifteen months ago, a gunman invaded an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania, separated the girls from the boys, and then shot 10 of the girls, killing five.

The cable news channels revel in stories about women (almost always young and attractive) who come to a gruesome end at the hands of violent men. The stories seldom, if ever, raise the issue of misogyny, which permeates not just the crimes themselves, but the coverage as well.

The latest of these obsessively covered stories concerned a pregnant marine, Maria Frances Lauterbach, who had complained to authorities that she had been raped by a fellow marine. Her body was found last week buried in a backyard fire pit in North Carolina.

It just so happens that the Democratic presidential candidates are campaigning this week in the misogyny capital of America: Nevada. It’s a perfect place to bring up the way women are viewed and treated in this society, but don’t hold your breath. Presidential wannabes are hardly in the habit of insulting the locals.

Prostitution is legal in much of Nevada and heavily promoted even where it’s not. In Las Vegas, where prostitution is illegal but flourishes nevertheless, Mayor Oscar Goodman has said that creating a series of legal, “magnificent” brothels would be a great development tool for his city.

The fundamental problem in all of this is that women and girls are dehumanized, opening the floodgates to every kind of mistreatment. “Once you dehumanize somebody, everything else is possible,” said Taina Bien-Aimé, executive director of the women’s advocacy group Equality Now.

A grotesque exercise in the dehumanization of women is carried out routinely at Sheri’s Ranch, a legal brothel about an hour’s ride outside of Vegas. There the women have to respond like Pavlov’s dog to an electronic bell that might ring at any hour of the day or night. At the sound of the bell, the prostitutes have five minutes to get to an assembly area where they line up, virtually naked, and submit to a humiliating inspection by any prospective customer who has happened to drop by.

If you don’t think this is an issue worthy of a presidential campaign, consider the scandalous way that women are treated in the military and the fact that the winner of this election will become the commander in chief.

The sexual mistreatment of women in the military is widespread. The Defense Department financed a study in 2003 of female veterans seeking health assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Nearly a third of those surveyed said they had been the victim of a rape or attempted rape during their service.

The Associated Press reported in 2006 that more than 80 military recruiters had been disciplined over the course of a year because of sexual misconduct with young women and girls who had considered joining the military.

There continue to be widespread complaints from women about rape and other forms of sexual attacks in the military, and about a culture that tends to protect the attackers.

To what extent are the candidates of either party concerned about these matters? Do they have any sense of how extensive and debilitating the mistreatment of women and girls really is?

We’ve become so used to the disrespectful, degrading, contemptuous and even violent treatment of women that we hardly notice it. Staggering amounts of violence are unleashed against women and girls every day. Fashionable ads in mainstream publications play off of that violence, exploiting themes of death and dismemberment, female submissiveness and child pornography.

If we’ve opened the door to the issue of sexism in the presidential campaign, then let’s have at it. It’s a big and important issue that deserves much more than lip service.