Category: work

4 Books to Read if you Have Ovaries

Every female has her flavor of womanhood, her ‘brand’ of femininity. There’s no one right way to be a modern woman, but we make
decisions that serve us and enslave us – for better and for worse.

After my first year of college I posed a question to my older sis that had been vexing me: “What does it mean that I like to cook and bake and play hostess? I like my room to be in order. Does that make me a bad feminist?” My wise older sister paused, replying, “No, it doesn’t mean that at all. Feminism is about choices. You absolutely can enjoy cooking and cleaning and keeping order. Feminism just means you no longer have to do those things just because you’re a girl.”

In addition to my older sister, the following four books indelibly influenced my thinking about what it means to be a woman. In different ways, they cut through societal expectations and lift the veil of structural inequality and power imbalances. But these books don’t pummel you over the head with femi-nazi rhetoric; they serve up thought-provoking ideas with humor, insights, stories from their lives and examples through their characters.

1)  Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, by Lori Gottlieb
Because pleated pants have nothing to do with whether he will clean up kid vomit.

Before you pick this book up know that it’s written from the perspective of a 40+ educated, single mom looking for a husband. Also, it’s not nearly as inflammatory as the title wants you to believe. Even if you don’t want marriage and a family–or don’t know if you do–this book is surprisingly insightful about women in the dating game. Taking advice from life coaches, matchmakers, friends, pop culture, and dating services, Gottlieb provides a reality check for those still waiting for a man that meets every criteria on their list of ‘ideal husband traits.’

The point: whether he wears sport socks with sandals, is balding or stands three inches shorter than you—these ‘faults’ say nothing about his quality of character or quality of life partner. I’d rename the book “Dating Smarter, not Harder – since it’s about getting everything you NEED, which may not be everything you WANT. Read this when you’re tired of meeting men at bars.

“What matters is finding the perfect partner – not the perfect person. It’s not about lowering your standards – it’s about maturing and having reasonable expectations. There’s a difference between what makes for a good boyfriend and what makes for a good husband.”

2) The Second Shift: Working Families and the Revolution at Home, by Arlie Hochschild
Because running a household is work, and like any good business, the load must be negotiated and shared.

The first class I stepped into for my undergraduate education was “Sociology of the Family,” and this book served as required reading. It changed my world. Have you ever wondered why women send all the family Christmas cards and buy the birthday presents? Why Pinterest is angled at weddings and hairstyle and entertaining children? Why dads “mean fun, but moms mean business?” (Yes, that’s a quote from Honey I Shrunk the Kids).

As Hochschild points out through her work with couples and families, if you add the time it takes to do a paid job plus housework and childcare, women work roughly 15 hours longer each week than men. Over a year, they work an extra month of 24 hour days. Most women work one shift at the office and a “second shift” at home. This book isn’t about man-bashing, though; it explores the assumptions we make about who is supposed to do what in relationships. Read this when you set up a joint household.

“A twenty-six-year-old legal secretary, the mother of two and married to a businessman, said, “[My husband] empties the garbage occasionally and sweeps. That’s all. He does no cooking, no washing, no anything else. How do I feel? Furious. If our marriage ends, it will be on this issue.””
3) The Edible Woman, by Margaret Atwood
Because your worth isn’t determined by anyone but yourself.

While pouring out my heart to a dear friend, herself divorced and pursuing a rewarding new relationship, she recommended this book. Already a fan of Atwood’s from The Handmaid’s Tale and Year of the Flood, I was open. Atwood is largely known for the female protagonists who represent “every woman” struggling with victimization and marginalization by gender and politics.  Or, as a friend recently phrased it, “Atwood’s a pretty hard-core feminist and all-around kick-ass person.”

In The Edible Woman, a young woman gets engaged and finds that she’s unable to eat. She grows increasingly concerned that consuming food mirrors how her fiancé is consuming her identity. This book pre-dates eating disorders and the feminist movement, which makes it ring even more authentically. The plot is less of the point than how Atwood handles a young woman facing the loss of her individuality into coupledom. This isn’t a book about spiritual enlightenment or quick solutions; it’s a book to make you think. Read this when you have time to mull on it, perhaps with a glass of wine and a piece of cake.

“You’ve been trying to destroy me, haven’t you,” she said. “You’ve been trying to assimilate me. But I’ve made you a substitute, something you’ll like much better. This is what you really wanted all along, isn’t it? I’ll get you a fork,” she added.”

4) How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran
Because life is too short to feel guilty about not being a perfect woman. Let’s get real.

Caitlin Moran is wicked funny and painfully, awkwardly truthful in this book. Rather than harp on the theoretical implications of modern feminism, Moran skips the arguments and says simply, “Feminism is having a vagina and wanting to be in charge of it.” Ding ding!

She manages to address the horrors of childbirth and the joys of parenting, the conundrum of naming of vaginas, and the unnecessary discomfort of women hiring domestic help – all with a deft hand and abundant use of italics. As an added bonus, you’ll learn a fair amount of confounding British slang.  A girlfriend gave me this book, and I continue to pass it forward. I wonder what amazingness would occur if every girl received this book on her 15th birthday? We could all save ourselves so much time, effort and angst! Read this book now, then give it away.

“No one has ever claimed for a moment that childless men have missed out on a vital aspect of their existence, and were the poorer, and crippled by it. Da Vinci, Van Gough, Newton, Faraday, Plato, Aquinas, Beethoven, Handel, Kant, Hume, Jesus. They all seem to have managed [childlessness] quite well.”

What books influenced your thinking about what it is to be a modern female?

3 Unrelated, Thought-Provoking Articles

In no particular order:

1. How to Ditch Happily-Ever-After and Build Your Own Romantic Narrative. Courtesy of Good, a site that routinely posts articles and perspectives that challenge or intrigue me. This article made me a little uncomfortable, but in a good way. An excerpt: “Though society’s stock romantic narratives and rigid gender roles may seem like childish stories you grow out of with age and experience, I’ve noticed that the older I get, the more they attempt to exert their influence over my life. My peers and I—out of the dorm room but not yet into a mortgage—have found ourselves squirming under the slow suck of societal pressure, which encourages us all to settle down and get married already, or else acquire our dozen cats and our witching license and shut ourselves in forever. Intellectually, we know that these narratives can be sexist, boring, and alienating. But emotionally, they can be clarifying, simple, and temporarily satisfying…”

2. No Money in a Dirty Kitchen: The Repercussions of NYC’s Restaurant Grading System. Huge fist pumps for this one from The Atlantic. “After almost two years of the program, the earliest quantifiable returns are coming in and the mayor couldn’t be more pleased. Salmonella cases are down 14 percent and diner satisfaction is sky high.” Score one for public health! I have no sympathy for restaurant owners. If you do your job right there’s no fine and no illness. Of course the inspections are random, that’s the point! Yes, you get fined to incentivize following protocol – because sticks work better than carrots.

3. Is Everything I Do Actually Killing Me? Thanks to Lifehacker, at least I’m not the only cynic who asks this question. What’s the point of not heating food in plastic, avoiding sucralose, or skipping carcinogenic tasty BBQ since I’m gonna get cancer or have a heart attack anyway?

Okay, I lied – there are actually 4 articles stuck in my brain today:

4. Aurora Tragedy Shines Spotlight On Medical Schools.I’m not familiar with this site, Popehat, but I am intimately acquainted with the medical school system, and health care system. Several friends whom I respect – and who are caring doctors – reposted this piece which made me take a look. I don’t think there’s a causal relationship between psychopaths and medical students, but I agree that we should pause and examine the type of people that medicine accepts and produces. We assume that soldiers who face death and killing and high stress return from deployments with a very different outlook on life. Why are doctors so different? Maybe the medical environment is more sterile, but hierarchy is absolute, death is part of every day, the powerful overule the powerless, people lose their humanity and become faceless cases. And don’t forget the infamous doctor as god complex.

If I Had a Personal Chef

Yesterday was a long day. I got to work early, stayed late. I ran interference, demurred, cajoled, led, prompted, sighed and try to align the hours in the day to the ever increasing to-do list. Gym plans? Nixxed. Getting home with daylight remaining? Nope. Calling my friend back for a leisurely catch up? Not even.

For one reason or another, I haven’t walked in the door until nearly 8pm every night this week. Which means I’m hungry, cranky and tired. And last night it was my turn to cook. Normally I’d round up a cart full of groceries earlier in the week and be down to the creative recipes by Thursday night, but we’re leaving town today for 4 days and who wants to come home to a $5 bag of organic lettuce turned to slime? Our cabinets contained ramen noodles, butternut squash sauce, goat cheese and a lemon.

Solution: Whole Foods. Yes, I am aware of the backlash regarding their high prices, the touted elitism of shopping in their stores, and the exacerbation of racial and class disparities their stores highlight. But I am a single, professional adult living with another single, professional adult (Hello DINK) and I choose where to spend my money. And their food tastes good.

I wanted something easy and healthy, and settled on a menu of:
Tequila-lime salmon
– sautéed asparagus with garlic, salt and lemon juice
– 90-second Brown rice quinoa blend
– $5.99 bottle of white wine that was not memorable but very drinkable
– Fistful of chocolate chips (Okay, I already had these at home)

Within 20 minutes, the food was cooked and plated and I was plopped on the couch, just in time for me to get it on with Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. Which brings me to my point: sometimes I wish I had a private chef.

Performance Review

Update 12.9.11: Success! All is well. I can breathe easy and continue my kick-butt work, while pursuing a new area of interesting work in 2012. Whew.

My three goals for today:

1. Don’t cry during the performance review.

2. Be prepared to make a case for new professional goals that genuinely interest my passions, suit my skills and support the organization.

3. Don’t cry during the performance review.

Anxiety is part of creativity, the need to get something out, the need to be rid of something or to get in touch with something within.” – David Duchovny

being grateful during a crummy week

Work sucks. It’s raining. I’m swamped. But I’m going to pick 5 things this morning – and throughout the day – that I’m grateful for.

1. My bus stop has a roof so I didn’t have to pop open my umbrella while holding 2 bags and digging for my wallet in the rain.

2. Ham and egg breakfast sandwiches. High protein, filling me up, comforting and healthy enough to feel good. They’re right next door, fast and on whole grain wheat makes ’em hard to beat on a running late day.

3. A meeting got cancelled! I got 30 minutes back in my morning to breathe and post this, and remember that this too shall pass.

4. I had one pair of tights in my drawer, though I haven’t the foggiest reason why. Which made dressing easier so I could get out the door faster.

5. Trader Joe’s Quinoa frozen veggie mix was awesome last night and now I have leftovers for lunch. No fuss, great flavor.