Waiting for Change, I mean Godot, No, I mean Change!

I have been working on this post for a couple weeks…it’s so complex and so wrought with emotion for me, I’ve had a hard time getting this into any kind of thoughtfully articulated observation. So, bear with me as I just rant….

My husband handed me an insert, a special report section out of his WSJ over the weekend. It’s title? Women In The Economy. The Journal report headline is this:

A Blueprint for Change: At a Wall Street Journal conference, business and government leaders examined what’s holding women back in the workplace – and set out an action plan for creating new opportunities.

This may seem an oddly bitter reaction to a seemingly well intentioned conference, but bear with me for a moment. In one month’s time my husband and I are traveling to London to participate in our business school’s TEN year reunion. Why this is significant is that while I was at the school, I was the founder of a “little” club known as Women In Business. I say “little” because it’s become a big part of the school, which I am very proud of. In our first year of existence as a club, we held a Women In Business conference (now held annually) called “Breaking the Mould”, and it was all about, in so many words, and I quote from above, “what’s holding women back in the workplace.”

Arguably, 10 years in the history of our country’s economic history is nothing more than a drop in the bucket. I could even go back 9 years from that, when I began college, and this topic was covered in women’s studies and business classes alike. So, 10-20 years? Maybe it’s nothing…but it just seems like more would have changed in that time. How life-long activists do it, I am now wondering. 10-20 years in and I already don’t want to hear about this any more. Or I should say, I would at least like to hear something different. Sometimes I wonder, what does it say about things in “the workplace” when the founder of the Women In Business club dropped out of !?

OK, not entirely true, as I gently come ‘back in’ by starting a small marketing consulting firm. This fits what I’ve often read – that women are often working part-time or under the radar. I can certainly appreciate that the reasons for this are being looked at – I just feel like that this is all that must have been happening over the last 10 years – looking. Corporates (not meant to be derogatory, I was one for a long time!) want to keep studying the issue, but where is the change – the real change? There was nothing promising in this ‘report’. Mentors and company supporters…yes, yes…we’ve heard it all before. The numbers do not indicate that it’s working.

As a founder of a Women In Business club AND as a woman/mother who dropped out of corporate America, it seems kind of simple – corporate life as we know it is not particularly conducive or appealing to women who are juggling family and home responsibilities as well. Women are still paid less, on average, than men (someone else who shares my sentiment, Another Equal Pay Day? Really?), so the economics of the family unit usually lean towards men working, women staying at home or taking another career path. Given all of the demands, I think many professional women choose not to work because they CAN (like said founder of WIB club). I say all of this both a) acknowledging that I come from a privileged class of highly educated, professional women so I GET that this choice is actually a luxury, and b) greatly hesitating to project my tattered career path choices onto other women who may be perfectly happy with the choices available and the ones they have made. But from what I have seen, many if not most women I know would like to be working to some capacity, but when the choice is current corporate world plus most family responsibilities OR just family responsibilities, the stressful life of a full-time working mother often just is not a very attractive option. For the record, I have friends who are making all kinds of choices – from staying home for the first years of their child’s (childrens) lives to those to working full time. Clearly, different things make different moms happy. I don’t mean to insinuate that all full-time working mothers are miserable, but I do know that whether it’s full or part-time, what most moms are looking for is a great deal of flexibility.

Isn’t this really what it comes down to? Flexibility? And is it so much to ask? Perhaps this issue is still being addressed – that there are not a representative number of women in powerful positions – because the systems (both political and business) don’t allow for much flexibility and still attaining these powerful positions? There is a company that I have found through my own search for flexible working, called Mom Corps (www.momcorps.com). It’s gnawing at the edge of this huge mountain of hope called, “flexibility”. My experience with the site, however, is that the part-time opportunities are few and far between. There is even a video on their website that suggests that it probably is better to look for full-time work that has a lot of flexibility vs. limiting oneself with the availability of part-time positions. At the end of the day, it’s still easier for a company to hire one person to do one job. And ultimately, there are enough people available to work full time. Otherwise this would change. So, I hate to admit it, but I do not feel optimistic about things changing any time soon. I imagine this “talk”, this “analysis” to continue for my lifetime.

My one beacon of hope in all of this? We just had a woman, a mom, almost run for president…so perhaps strides have been made. I will believe this when it becomes a trend. I also can see that what is positive is that my generation has choices that other generations did not – that working or not working is a choice, even if I am not fully satisfied with the range of choices. Perhaps I am just spoiled. But it’s really not just me – because what I, or presumably the Wall street Journal folks are not satisfied with are the numbers of women running this country. Or the numbers of women not running this country. What will it take to change? I am really looking for answers here – please comment.

It’s a weird world, afterall

The other night I watched a documentary that has been sitting in it’s Netflix envelope on my counter for weeks. You know Netflix – the company I pay a relatively small fee to receive movies directly to my home so that I can be entertained at a moment’s notice, so that I can relax, from my “difficult” life. The irony is that even this concept – Netflix – is symbolic of the world of differences we are living in. The movie is called God Grew Tired of Us (http://www.godgrewtiredofus.com/about.html) and it is about the ‘lost boys’ who wandered around Sudan to Ethiopia and then back through Sudan to “settle” in a refugee camp in Kenya. It is a fascinating story full of deep heartache and pain. What I was left with, sitting in the silence, staring at my 52″ flat-screen television, was “what a weird world we live in.”

Even with a fair bit of travel under my belt, and an interest in all things foreign, I am still amazed by differences in cultures across the world. But more than being surprised at how different cultures can be, perhaps I should be more amazed at how much globalization has actually changed cultures to be more similar. Regardless, I am not sure it is “culture” so much that strikes me as the different circumstances that people are born into. Being born on different continents is literally like being born into different worlds. Tied together almost solely by our being human, nothing else about some of these other experiences can even be compared to my own. These boys, born into families in Sudan, were, at VERY young ages ripped apart by bloody, terrorizing civil war. These small children saw their parents murdered and set out on treks of THOUSANDS of miles in search of some sort of safety or security of any kind. The fraction that survived these journeys then endured a life of separation, isolation and some hard-core BAD memories. Suffering never leaves their side.

And this is where it just gets weird. Even with all of the wealth that exists in this world, rather than there being any way that ALL of these boys can be helped in their now “homeland”, some of them have been brought to the U.S. – scattered in cities across the country – to build lives for themselves. I know this is supposed to be seen as charitable and a huge opportunity for them….but really? We have to take them completely away from any kind of culture or people that they know and understand and have them work 2-3 jobs to support themselves and, basically, to adopt an American way of life, and an impoverished one at that? Many of them have done “well” for themselves…worked hard. Some have been reunited with families and most have been able to send money back to families and friends back in the camp. While they are doing a lot of good for themselves and others, I wonder if suffering has actually left their side. It almost appears to be their lot in life, and there is a part of me that screams, “it’s not fair!”

I hesitate to contrast this with my own life. And I believe there are very few people, if anyone, in this entire country that can compare their experiences, despite there being immense suffering everywhere, to those of the lost boys. At the same time, who am I to judge another human’s suffering? But I was born into a middle class family in the mid-west of the United States. I had a loving family, shelter (FILLED with THINGS) and plenty of food. I was told to ‘think of the children in Africa’ when I didn’t want to eat it. Now I can’t stop thinking about them! Suffering for me, during these same years, might have been in the form of not being able to play with my best friend every day, or at it’s worst, in the 3rd grade I broke both of my wrists on the fancy PLAYGROUND at my SCHOOL, and had to go to the DOCTOR and spent 8 weeks in two casts up to my shoulders. I might argue that I grew up in a particularly privileged life, so it’s silly to compare, but this is exactly my point…the disparity, ohhhhh the disparity. I find it immensely painful.

My Buddhist background would have me explain all of this through Karma. Lifetimes worth of it. That’s how I had the privilege to be born into a “godly realm”, my African counterparts into what I am deeming a “hell realm” if there ever was one. While I intellectually can grasp this, I still find it difficult to accept the vastly different journeys that people are given in their short period on earth as human beings. I can do lots with this information – I can give money to their organizations, I could volunteer and give time. I could even fly to Africa and HELP! I could do it for this cause or that one. And I do give to this cause and that. I give less time volunteering these days, in this stage of my life. So there’s lots to sort out for myself how and what I can best give back to this world. Right now I am still sitting in the middle of this exercise of acceptance of this time that we live in – where parts of the world have nothing and others flow over with excess beyond imagination (think yachts that cost hundreds of millions of dollars, purchased by individuals). You would think that by 39, I wouldn’t struggle so much with this concept. But I believe it is just this – my being human – that does keep me struggling. I know very few people who do not feel the world’s pain on one level or another.

This is nothing new, it’s just very present for me these days. It’s always a good reminder for appreciation of one’s own life, but that doesn’t feel enough. I must do more…I will do more….or will I? Haven’t I said this before? Anyway, this world? It’s a weird one.

A Slutty Feminist

Ok – I think this is cheating, but then, not really because this is my blog and I did write this. I actually wrote it last year, but I didn’t have a blog last year, so only my sister saw it. Now I’m putting it on my blog so my sister, my mom and my two best friends will see it.

Ahhh Halloween. A much celebrated, if not misunderstood, holiday. Despite it’s roots as a Pagan festival where one took stock of supplies and slaughtered livestock for winter stores, it has, of course, taken on a culture of it’s own today.  It is, paradoxically, both a dark and a silly holiday – a chance for people take on and act out other characters and potential alter personalities. There are scary ones like your run of the mill witches, monsters, grim reapers and fabled frightful characters such as Dracula or Warewolf. Then there are the classic funny ones such as your clowns, animals, prison inmates, pimps and ministers (some only funny because of the particular level of ‘alter’ in the alter ego of the costume wearer). Civil servants serve as another useful alter ‘hero’ ego – fireman/woman, policeman/woman, etc. Hollywood also gets it’s fair share of costumes – insert any ‘it’ movie or animated character, particularly those conducive to costumes such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Super or Spider man, etc.  And then there are the just plain weird ones – aliens, cavemen, mad scientists, and an all time classic, the nerd. And in this Halloween culture, there is a lot of room for a lot of good fun, creativity and self-expression. Even if the costume idea is not unique, e.g. all aforementioned costumes, one’s execution of it will likely be. And for these reasons, I have always been a fan of Halloween. But this year, while perusing stores and websites looking for that unique costume or costume idea, I have become disturbed. Not by the gruesome images of death and violence that accompany Halloween, but by the underlying assumption that all women’s alter egos involve being a slut of one form or another – a slutty fill in the blank. A slutty vampire, a slutty witch, a slutty policewoman, a slutty clown, a slutty waitress, a slutty nerd, or in the case of what I wanted to go as this year, a slutty butterfly. I have to wonder, what is the cultural meaning of this? Do all women (other than myself) want ‘walk the streets’, so to speak, one night per year?

Please don’t get me wrong. I am a feminist and believe in open sexuality. And if that is your true alter-ego that you want to let out once a year, then you go girl. However, I am disturbed by the fact that every costume has politely overstepped ‘sexy’ (as the description might say), and is clearly ‘slutty’. The costume descriptions sometimes use ‘sexy’ as the adjective, e.g. the infamous “sexy witch”, (which, by the way, I have been many a hallows eve) but for most, the adjective is not needed. If it is a woman’s costume, it is, for a lack of a better word, slutty. Almost any of these costumes look as if they could be worn on stage – and I am not talking about Broadway.

So as not to offend anyone in the Halloween industry, whom I am guessing are all male, I actually did do a couple minutes of research. I typed in ‘slutty Halloween costumes’ into Google and there were, indeed, slutty Halloween costumes…. “Scandelous pirate”, “Racy Referee” and my favorite, “Mile High Captain”. But on this same site, when I clicked on the plain-Jane “nurse costumes” category, all but the 2 children’s costume easily could have fit in the slutty Halloween costume category. At least the children have been spared. Well, our girls are spared dressing as sluts, though I am sure they notice these costumes in the search for their own, and truly frightfully, pine for the day when they too can buy smutty costumes. So, a message to those (likely males) in the Halloween costume industry – and I know it’s really hard to believe, but not ALL women want to dress like a playboy bunny.

But alas, I am left wondering….if the invisible hand of the free market has led us to where we are now, maybe I am out of touch with the wants and desires of the majority of the American female population.  I suddenly feel old, or at least old-fashioned. The salvation of the holiday, for me, has come in the form of Good Will. Not the kind where we are truly nice to one another (not on Halloween, sorry), but the chain of second-hand stores. It is here that the slutty packaged costumes are left hanging and girls and boys, men and women playfully pull together wacky outfits and old clothes to resemble, if not replicate, characters and alter-egos. It is a place where creativity and self-expression do flourish – and where I put together my chic-goth-one might even call it sexy butterfly costume.

Land of the Lost

I spend an inordinate amount of time looking for kids’ toys. This is a frustrating activity, to say the least. We have a handful of the Cars ™ cars, and one moment I see Max playing with them. The next moment he’s asking, “Where did Old Paint Job Lightning McQueen (vs new paint job Lightning McQueen) go?”  My classic response is, “I don’t know, I wasn’t playing with him – where did you put him?” This response is one I see saying for years and years to come with about the same success rate – 0. Either my 3 ½ year old doesn’t have the ability to think back to the last place he was seen and to do some actual searching, or he’s doing a very good job feigning his lack of this ability.

After a couple days of him asking, the curiosity gets the better of me – and I really do want to find this much-loved toy so we can all move on with our lives – and I start the search. I look in the obvious spots – under furniture, in couch cushions and the like. Not there. Then I start looking in the slightly more obscure spots – in beds, bathtubs and the laundry room. Nope. Then I elevate to last resorts – in the car, garage, even kitchen cupboards. With a 15 month old wandering around, items can sometimes be found anywhere. One car (unfortunately not the famously missing Lightning McQueen, which, for anyone who knows the Cars movie, this statement is much more ironic than I intended. I guess we should start searching small forgotten towns in the west), was found after I had to investigate what was in the dryer sounding like someone had left metal marbles in their pockets. I then recalled Eliana wandering around with this little car in her hand, which obviously ended up in the laundry pile – I guess she thought it was dirty. Oh how I now wish Lightning would show himself in such a dramatic fashion. Mind you, this is already our 2nd Old Paintjob Lightning McQueen because the first one did a similar magical disappearing act in which he never returned. Now we have two Old Paint Job Lightnings that have gone AWOL. And this is what my life is affected by these days.

I don’t feel our house is overly cluttered or chaotic, or more so than any other home where a 15 month old and a 3 ½ year old reside. So, like the socks in the washer, I have to ask….WHERE DO THESE TOYS GO????? Some toys, of course, we know how we lose – we take them to the park or a restaurant and they don’t return.  But when I know that the toy didn’t leave the house, this drives me to the brink of insanity, which by the way, with the aforementioned 15 month old and the 3 ½ year old, I am never very far from at any given moment anyway. It’s not that I can’t let go of the physical toy – it’s just a toy, even if it’s one of the more loved toys. It’s that I KNOW that it is in our house that drives me mad. I’m in my 30’s now, well, way into my 30’s, almost on my way out, so I can let the missing sock thing go – but the toy thing is too new for me. I am having trouble with this one. I’ve enlisted the nanny, sitters and house cleaners – no one has yet to come up with either missing Lightning. What would the Buddhist in me say? Buddhism is all about letting go. Letting go. Letting go. Of everything. Ego. Attachement. Especially to lost kids’ toys. Letting go. It can’t be said enough. Let go. Let go. Let go. And I will. As soon as I check under our mattress, the kids’ sock drawer and the mailbox. Damn you Lighting McQueen!!! (Buddhism doesn’t say you can’t be dramatic in the process:) )