My family has been isolating here in DC since March 12th.

I’m grateful that we’re healthy and able to live our social-distance lives without some of the more serious stresses being experienced by the poor, the disenfranchised, the service workers, the health care workers and the first responders.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember it’s not a competition. We can all put our suffering in perspective on a scale from near death to absolute luxury, but it doesn’t change the fact that each of us are suffering.

Yeah, yeah, first world problems and all that, but shaming folks for feeling lousy about their own personal circumstances doesn’t actually DO anything productive. Except possibly let the shame-er (is that a word?) do a little virtue signaling and feel self-righteous about their social awareness.

In my privileged, bougie life during Week 1 of isolation I did the following:

  • Stared at the bedroom ceiling in paralyzing grief. I do not recommend this as an alternative to sleeping.
    • The grief was and is a combination of the empathy over the struggles my clients are experiencing, my own loss of clients & income from March – September 2020, and the anticipation of what this world event means to a whole generation of young people.
  • Had 1-2 glasses of wine every single evening while telling my husband this is an absolutely acceptable coping mechanism for both of us.
  • Took 4 naps. This may not be a big deal for others but I haven’t napped since the first trimester I was pregnant with my daughter 22 years ago. Since I am not pregnant I’m going to file the napping under depressed escapism.
  • Spent 68% more time reading news on my devices (yes multiple) according to those highly annoying reports they give you each week.
  • Read 7 magazines on the library app Libby.
  • Took a long walk every day with the kid to notice flowers, cute dogs, and interesting architecture.
  • Purchased Fellowship of the Ring movie (extended version)
  • Read good two novels, abandoned one mediocre book.
  • Took turns sharing my office with my husband so we could each make phone & video calls in privacy.
  • Baked bread.

Week 2 had a bit more structure

  • Decided to give away coaching to anyone who needs it (pay-what-you-can). Because being of use to others is more important than money right now.
  • Stared at the computer screen for several scheduled hours a day NOT writing the book I’m working on.
  • Flipped through 3 cooking magazines on the library app.
  • Reached out to clients, family & friends to see how everyone is doing.
  • Read one good novel and abandoned 4 more that the library recommended but were too uninspired to continue.
  • Baked some more bread.
  • Started to do yoga in the mornings with the kid (who is herself adapting to college online)
  • Downloaded three self-help books from the library and started plotting out my much needed self-improvement.
  • Purchased Two Towers movie (extended version)
  • Removed my essentials and gave my husband my office as he is on video calls nonstop at this point. The dining room table is now work-from-home central for both me and the college student.
  • Started converting my professional development workshops and trainings to Webinar format. I’ve resisted this for years for a variety of reasons but that’s another blog post.
  • Scheduled some video appointments with my therapist (Yay me!)

Now we are heading into Week 3 and I am setting my intentions in the hope it will keep me accountable. In week 3 I will:

  1. Write at least 250 words a day. A modest and therefore achievable goal.
  2. Bake the biscotti I have been craving and not judge myself for eating it with my mid-morning coffee.
  3. Create a daily schedule EVERY DAY! and then use it. Several days in the last few weeks are a complete blur which is disturbing.
  4. Do 30 minutes of yoga or other exercise.
  5. Finish the really good book I discovered so I can start the next book in the series.
  6. Resist the urge to check NYT, WaPo, BBC, Reuters, Twitter and FB every hour. Yes resist is a loose goal because I don’t know what my tolerance for this is yet.
  7. Practice using loving kindness when the urge to judge or give in to outrage overwhelms me. Especially when indulging in #5 above.
  8. Find one good thing every day to reflect on before I (hopefully) sleep.
  9. Take melatonin every night because the majority opinion is that its not addictive and what can possibly be bad about being addicted to getting full 6 hours of sleep anyway?
  10. And finally, – maybe I should make this #1? – I will forgive myself if I do not execute on any of my intentions for Week 3.

I hope you and yours are healthy and treating yourself with gentleness.

Hit me up if you want a video chat or need some coaching. That is a serious offer.

an isolated beach in Spain
A beautiful, isolated beach visited last year

 

 

 

 

Anti-Semitism is on the rise. The series of attacks and incidents taking place almost daily over the last several months have been a surprising wake up call for folks who don’t normally pay attention to such things.

I work hard to pay attention by following statistics about hate crimes and white supremacists through the DOJ, SPLC and ADL websites. I also read both extreme left and extreme right rhetoric on Twitter, and as much objective & non-mainstream news as I can manage.

Some days this is hard to take.

I had a really hard day recently when my kid sent me an extemporaneous essay she wrote after talking to her grandmother. My daughter is Jewish like her grandmother and the rest of her father’s family.  She gave me permission to post her essay on my blog.

________________________________________________________________________________

My grandmother asked me to stop wearing my star of David necklace when I traveled. She said “you never know when someone might be crazy, might hate you”. I wanted to tell her don’t be silly.

I wanted to say that growing up as an American Jew in the aftermath of the Holocaust, she inherited fear that is no longer relevant. And remind her that although the Ku Klux Klan had burned crosses on her college campus and her college roommate had asked to see her horns, that was fifty years ago. I wanted to remind her of the strength of the Jewish community where I grew up, where I live now, around the world.

But then I thought about having pennies thrown at me growing up, back when I didn’t even know what that meant. I remembered boys in school, people I considered friends, saying the Holocaust hadn’t happened and laughing at the expression on my face. I remembered literally being fetishized by multiple men who thought my religion made me sexually exotic. I remembered the faces of my students who told me kids at their school didn’t like them because they were Jewish. I remembered Pittsburgh. I remembered Nuremburg. I remembered the shiver of fear I felt when someone wearing military fatigues stepped inside the synagogue on Yom Kippur, and my family’s shaky, relieved laughter after services when we realized that every one of us had had the same reaction.

 I can’t dismiss what my grandmother said. And I can’t write off how I sometimes hesitate before I tell people I’m a Jewish Studies major. I don’t want this hesitancy. Judaism is the thing that I feel most passionate about, that helps inspire me and order my life. It’s given me a community [at my university], and connects me to a worldwide family that stretches back 2,000 years. I don’t want to be afraid for myself or anyone in my global community. We have gone through much before, but I fear that we have much left still to endure.

I know it’s important to keep ourselves safe at this time, but it feels just as important to shout from the rooftops – I’m Jewish, I’m proud, I’m human.

I am afraid to wear my Magen David. But I’m also afraid to hide it.

_________________________________________________________________________

Magen David translates literally as “Shield” rather than “Star” of David. And while it pisses me off that a piece of religious jewelry (and a boatload of empowered bigotry) could make my child vulnerable in the world, I am glad she is fierce enough to carry her shield.

When my daughter was younger, like many parents, we marked important days with a photo.

First day of school for every grade, first rock concert, plays, awards and music performances.

Beginnings and endings are the tidy bookends we use to mark time and make sense of all that messy stuff in the middle.

But now the milestones and moments zip by mostly unmarked.

Tomorrow my daughter and I will drive 10 hours to her college (Go Badgers!) to move her into her first apartment. A car full of kitchenware, clothes and few decorative items to be merged into a household with a couple of roommates.

For whatever reason this transition is landing a bit harder than move-in-day at the dorm.

The dog days of August always trigger a melancholy, nostalgic mix of sadness, excitement and fear that, for much of my youth, was sparked by the announcement of the fall schedule by network TV.

Summer ends, you get a new pair of jeans, school starts, and boom – there are new episodes of M.A.S.H and Happy Days to look forward to.

Somewhere between my first grade excitement of new pencils & crayons, and chucking everything in my locker into a trash can the last day of high school, a whole buncha life happened.

And now my kid somehow has gone from running away from me on the playground, to running away to college and never coming back.

Ok it’s not that bad.

But like I said, something about her moving into an apartment feels more permanent. As in her life is now permanently on a parallel track to the track her father and I are chugging down.

Now we are separate. As we should be.

And that’s another first.

I’ll be happy and sad, irritated and irritating, a helpful mom & a bossy pain in the ass before it’s all over. It’s how it always goes when we surf these transitions together, and we end up just fine.

Got a bag of potato chips, a package of Tim-Tams and an excellent Spotify playlist ready for the drive.

One of our favorite sing-a-long at the top of your voice road trip songs to start the trip.

**** postscript****

By the way- writing a blog post on an airplane at 1 am almost guarantees that you will forget to hit publish. The 10 hour drive is nearly done.

There are some milestones in life where there is an expectation that we engage in a little self-reflection. Big moments like the birth of a child, or the death of a parent, and small moments that mark the passing of time like school graduations, the new year and birthdays.

Time spent reflecting is never wasted in my book. Usually when I reflect, I write.  I write for my clients, for the “book-in-progress” that remains in-progress, and for this blog.

Since June 2017, for a variety of reasons, I have become increasing reluctant to push the publish button on my blog.

In honor of my birthday today I am giving myself permission to publicly reflect on my last trip (or two) around the sun.

13 Things I’ve Done (most with Mr. Man by my side):

  1. Sold a house
  2. Moved three times – in two years – to two different cities
  3. Downsized three times (So! Much! Stuff!)
  4. Sent a daughter off to college
  5. Changed jobs twice
  6. Lived apart from Mr. Man for extended stretches of time
  7. Put down one of our cats
  8. Gave away almost all of my house plants
  9. Buried my childhood friend
  10. Reconnected with some friends from the past
  11. Welcomed a new cat to our family
  12. Made some new pals
  13. Met a whole lot of people from other parts of the US

6 Things Learned while Reflecting on 13 Things I’ve Done:

  1. Needing people doesn’t make me needy, it makes me human. Wanting connection and community isn’t a flaw, or evidence of weakness, it’s part of who I am as an extrovert. Being upfront about asking for help & friendship falls into that “big learning” category, but without friends, family, acquaintances and even strangers I’m not sure I could have managed all the transitions.  So an extra thanks to all the folks who loved, helped and/or put up with me over the last few years.
  2. I discovered I have a unique set of skills that makes me good at what I do. I’ve always downplayed any “uniqueness” because I thought – wrongly it turns out – that a) if I could do it anyone can, and b) people doing my kind of work are a dime a dozen so nothing makes me particularly special. Let’s file that under “wrong-headed things I believed for the last 10 years” and leave it at that.
  3. Humidity makes me crabby. I think I knew this in theory but living in a sub-tropical climate really brought it home.
  4. I get depressed if I have to work in an office without a window. This is now officially a deal breaker for any future work offer. After 7 months of 8 – 10 hour days with no window, part of that during the short winter months,  I was flabbergasted at how quickly my mood improved with daily sunlight. Never again.
  5. While I still love phone calls, letters and cards, I discovered you can actually maintain long-distance friendships through text, messenger and SnapChat and still feel connected when you see each other in person.
  6. I can endure a lot of change and discomfort but it takes strenuous attention and determination to learn from it. A friend shared a meme recently that said “I just want some experiences that don’t make me stronger!” Yeah, I can get behind that.

So from a distance, looking back at my trips around the sun, I wouldn’t actually change much about the past two years because they got me here.

And I like here.

Here has my favorite things because when you winnow and winnow and downsize and donate you end up with just your favorite things.

Here has Mr. Man and being in the same city and time zone as your partner is a big perk.

Here has a great deal of potential for me to do even more of the work that I love and that is double plus good.

And finally, here is the place where I will commit to writing and sharing my thoughts during this next trip around the sun because I remembered that it helps me think and it makes me happy.

Many happy returns of the day to me!

birthday wishes

Today is my 20th wedding anniversary.

Mr. Man and I are apart this year because he’s attending a leadership program at Harvard Business School (yay!) and I’m preparing our house & life for our move to Montgomery, Alabama in one week (yikes!).

It’s actually better this way because I haven’t yet settled on an appropriate gift. For whatever reason I am bad at remembering dates and coming up with good gifts. It’s a flaw. Or maybe each relationship only has room for one person to be good at that stuff.

Anyway as I was trolling for gifts I came across some really idealized representations of love & marriage that got me to thinking.

Back in the 70’s there was a super popular comic strip call “Love is…” that featured naked, cherub-like adults and cute quotes like “Love is… giving him a lick of your ice cream.” There was no escaping the cuteness. They were in the newspaper, in books, on coffee mugs, t-shirts, posters, greeting cards, sheets and towels.  A modern version of the strip still runs with updated quotes like “Love is… not letting technology interrupt your leisure time.”

I have some quotes drawn from the last 14 months of my life that I’d like to see in a new “It’s gettin real up in here” series.

Love is…

  • ….taking the phone call even though you know it’s bad news.
  • ….living apart for 6 months so one of you can take their dream job.
  • … holding your friends hand in the ICU.
  • … putting your pet down when they can no longer enjoy their life.
  • … helping your child take a leap into adulthood.
  • … knowing a couple of bad days doesn’t make a bad life.
  • … when you keep on keepin’ on.

The 70’s also gave us the book & movie “Love Story” which sold everyone the nonsense that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”.

Wrong.

Love means, among other things, saying you’re sorry, and trying harder, and knowing when to let it slide and when to call BS. And mostly, love means not giving up on love because love really is the raison d’etre.

A post on the Facebook group Pantsuit Nation made me cry this morning. It was by a young woman of color working as a Staff Assistant in the U.S. Congress sharing her exhaustion and despair.

I stopped writing about politics on this blog six months ago for a couple of reasons.

First, the sheer volume of blog worthy political activity seemed to quadruple over night. The constant churning of the news cycle meant I was still ruminating the implications of some development when the next one dropped center stage. I could never make it as a journalist with a deadline. Props to those who do!

The second reason I stopped writing about politics was my kid. My strong, compassionate, deeply political, social activist daughter teeters on the edge of an existential crisis because she sees the potential for disaster in her future.

Current events now make previously far-fetched outcomes frighteningly possible in the USA. Things like authoritarianism, populism, decreased civil rights for women and minorities. (Frankly I don’t understand how anyone watches “The Handmaid’s Tale.”) And always the spectre of nuclear war.

As US politics is currently dominated by white men of the generation prior to mine, my daughter has a very real fear that she may not have a chance to do the work in the world that she is driven to do.

The woman in the post this morning wrote, “But I can’t leave this [work] … To leave would be disrespectful to the communities that supported my journey into politics.”

Yes, please stay. We need you. Each generation relies on the next to fix our mistakes.

As I cried tI added some words of encouragement to the 7,000+ comments already on her post. Maybe the outpouring of love and caring from strangers will help.

I think what all the young people dedicated to public service – this woman, my daughter – need right now are trail maintainers not trailblazers. People dedicated to chopping brush, moving aside storm-tossed obstacles, and placing fresh markers so they can see the path.

Ranting in outrage about injustices, or analyzing political maneuvers, feels to me like creating obstacles rather than removing them, so no political rants from me for the foreseeable future.

There is other work to do.

 

“What would you say if I asked to have my boyfriend sleep over?”

My daughter and her friend asked for my reaction because the friend had just convinced her parents to allow her boyfriend of several years spend the night. The argument was two fold:  first that anything they were doing, they were already doing without spending the night and second, it would be nice to just fall asleep together after hanging out rather than one of them going home at 2:00 in the morning.

The request was actually to sleep rather than a euphemism for sex.

My first reaction was “Well that a perfectly logical request and I see your point.” Not allowing them to sleep together restricts a perfectly benign level of intimacy. My second thought was “Yeah, but do I want to be that parent?”

We are extremely permissive with our daughter and have been since she was about 12 and was clearly capable of making choices against our wishes and without our knowledge. It started because all her friends lied about their ages and got facebook pages before they were legally (or parentally) allowed. We told her (and continue to tell her) our perspective and wishes on her decisions, and said we know that we have zero ability to “make her” do anything.

So we trust.

She has no restrictions on where she goes, who she goes with or when she returns, but we ask her to be safe, make smart choices, and tell us where she is and who she is with. Trust but worry.

We lucked out. She isn’t a party girl, likes to go to bed before midnight and considers waking at 8 am sleeping in. She’s never violated our trust so why did I hesitate when she asked the “sleeping together” question?

As I discussed with her and her friend – she insisted it was a purely hypothetical question and she wasn’t really asking – it came down to my feeling of vague discomfort. What would condoning that level of intimacy say about me and my husband as parents?

I’m not sure either of the girls perceived it as the intimacy that “sleeping together” signals to me. Their interest was in the practical aspect of not having to drive or be driven home late at night after hanging out by the fire pit or watching movies.

Later when I relayed the conversation to my husband he had an immediate “Absolutely not” reaction, followed by his pointing out that it wasn’t just our decision the boyfriend’s parents would have a say as well.

It’s weird because my daughter and her friends are all 18 years old at this point and a legally “adultish.” Meaning they can buy cigarettes, enlist in the army, get a tattoo and a whole slew of previously age-restricted things, but we still feel funny about this mature concept of “sleeping together.”

There is no defined age for maturity that I can see. Some people are able to be on their own at 16 and others can’t be trusted to water the plants at 27. But whether or not my daughter or her friends are mature enough to have boyfriend/girlfriend sleep overs is only partially relevant.

What makes it such a tough question is a combination of societal expectations and our personal comfort level acknowledging our children as sexual beings.

I don’t know what the response would be if this wasn’t hypothetical and our daughter was really asking for our permission. I can’t imagine saying no to this request if/when she visits from college with a boyfriend in tow, so what’s different now?

Still thinking. Comments welcome.

It’s not quite time yet for looking back on the highs and lows of 2016, but going to the Board of Elections and voting today threw me into a reflective mood. Off the top of my head I counted five unexpected milestones in my life so far this year.

#5 – Charging what I’m worth.

When I started consulting years ago it never occurred to me that I should be paid. I was very invested in helping people and using my skills for good. I was doing people “favors.”

One day a good friend expressed shock  when he found out that I didn’t charge for consulting and it woke me up to the fact that I was perpetuating another female stereotype by not valuing myself. Of course I started by charging ridiculously low fees and being embarrassed by the transaction.

I have been slowly creeping up to industry norms for coaching and consulting even though my impulse is to offer a discount to every nonprofit, or women’s organization, or client who I imagine is paid poorly.

It was never about the money but now that I have quit my job to consult, the reality of paying bills and a kid soon to be in college means I am biting my tongue and charging what I am worth. And so far no one is complaining. Which brings me to…

#4 – Quitting my job.

When I resigned from Case Western Reserve I had been employed there in one position or another since 2001. I was hired one week after I’d finished my Masters and two weeks before my mother died. It was a big transition year.

I loved many things about my work at CWRU, and I accomplished a great deal over the years, but it was time to move on.  Letting go of the habit of over work has been the strangest transition so far. Between consulting nights & weekends, and volunteering various places, I was working a 60-70 hour week for about five years. Now working 40 hours feels lazy. If I take on more clients that may change but right now it gives me time for …

#3 – Separating from my kid.

Along with the frenzied senior year activities of college visits, applications, essays and, of course the FAFSA, I am getting a glimpse of the future where our daughter is no longer a satellite in our orbit, and we become a satellite in hers. This is a very good thing and a very deep lesson that won’t be mastered quickly.

In the meantime because I am working from home I can generally stop what I am doing and have lunch with her and hear about her day when she gets home. I joke that for her senior year she gets the stay-at-home mother she craved when she was in elementary school.

It’s actually an unexpected and lovely byproduct of quitting my job that we have extra time together for the next 10 months. Even though she is spending a great deal of time out of the house taking some college courses, doing her extra curriculars, and volunteering as a fall fellow for the Clinton campaign. Which brings me to …

#2 – Voting for Hillary Clinton.

That was one for the books. Even though our entire family and almost everyone we know is donating money and working like crazy for the Clinton campaign, I paused before I filled in the bubble on my ballot. I suddenly felt emotional that I was actually voting for a woman for president.

And specifically this woman who I admire and respect and disagree with.

So far during this election cycle I have cried three times. First during Hillary’s acceptance speech at the convention, and then while watching some particularly disturbing reporting and awful backlash about sexism, and today when I filled out my ballot. I didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime.

#1 – Milestone for 2016

I am planning to add the final milestone to this list on November 9th with something else that I didn’t think would happen in my lifetime. And I’ll probably cry.

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A New York Times opinion piece about work/life balance (“A Toxic Work World“) is making the rounds and stirring up a storm of comments. The author points out, among other things, that the culture of  overwork is not a gender issue but a work issue where equity will mean we value care giving.

We have a definite bias towards exhaustion and “110%” as proof of value in our culture. Its a system that benefits men overwhelmingly as Joan Williams brilliantly explains in her book and in nice bite sized video bits.

My reaction to the piece was colored by a conversation I had a few days before it came out. I was in a salon getting a service and chatting as you do about kids and current events and the nice for a change weather.

The woman waiting on me has a daughter a year older than mine and is deep in the college selection process that we’ve been nibbling around the edges. She was telling me her daughter wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer and was working with the guidance counselor trying to find the right school in their price range.

But she was convincing her daughter to drop law because no one can have a family with that kind of lifestyle. If she goes into the health field she doesn’t have to be a doctor, she can be something where she can go part time for a while when she has kids.

I understand that every family is different. I understand that we all have our own values.

But I don’t understand why a 17 year old girl should make life choices today to accommodate possible future children that she may or may not want or need to stay home while they’re young.

I tried a few examples, anecdotes and facts to shake the mothers view. But she would not be persuaded her daughter could have it all. She knew better.

Our culture limits us and we limit ourselves.

Lets try not to limit our children.

“Waiting your time, dreaming of a better life
Waiting your time, you’re more than just a wife
You don’t want to do what your mother has done…”

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As Women’s History month drifts to a close I feel like we are running in place with once step forward, two steps back on improving gender equity.  And don’t get me started on intersectionality.

I read the article reposted below and agreed 100%. But I can’t count the number of times I have advised women clients on how to be more assertive without crossing the invisible line into being “a bitch.”

Saying ‘Stop interrupting me’ sounds like a good idea until you get called uncooperative and hostile. And saying ‘I just said that’ may feel good until you’re told you always try to take credit for everything.

It’s a dilemma, and a dance, and a lousy reality. So please don’t tell me that we don’t need these “special months,” or that we should have a “men’s history month if we are going to be equal.” I write a lot about gender and racial equity in this blog, so you can look up all my radical opinions that support my argument if you like.

Or you can ponder the fact a post tagged “Girly Things” gets double the click rate of a post tagged “Feminism.”

The post below is long. And true. And makes me wonder if teaching my daughter manners has hobbled her for life. Bad feminist. Bad mommy.


By Soraya Chemaly / alternet.org

“Stop interrupting me.”  “I just said that.” “No explanation needed.”

In fifth grade, I won the school courtesy prize. In other words, I won an award for being polite. My brother, on the other hand, was considered the class comedian. We were very typically socialized as a “young lady” and a “boy being a boy.” Globally, childhood politeness lessons are gender asymmetrical. We socialize girls to take turns, listen more carefully, not curse and resist interrupting in ways we do not expect boys to. Put another way, we generally teach girls subservient habits and boys to exercise dominance.

I routinely find myself in mixed-gender environments (life) where men interrupt me. Now that I’ve decided to try and keep track, just out of curiosity, it’s quite amazing how often it happens. It’s particularly pronounced when other men are around.

This irksome reality goes along with another — men who make no eye contact. For example, a waiter who only directs information and questions to men at a table, or the man last week who simply pretended I wasn’t part of a circle of five people (I was the only woman). We’d never met before and barely exchanged 10 words, so it couldn’t have been my not-so-shrinking-violet opinions.

These two ways of establishing dominance in conversation, frequently based on gender, go hand-in-hand with this last one: A woman, speaking clearly and out loud, can say something that no one appears to hear, only to have a man repeat it minutes, maybe seconds later, to accolades and group discussion.

After I wrote about the gender confidence gap recently, of the 10 items on a list, the one that resonated the most was the issue of whose speech is considered important. In sympathetic response to what I wrote, a person on Twitter sent me a cartoon in which one woman and five men sit around a conference table. The caption reads, “That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.” I don’t think there is a woman alive who has not had this happen.

The cartoon may seem funny, until you realize exactly how often it seriously happens. And — as in the cases of Elizabeth Warren or say, Brooksley Born — how broadly consequential the impact can be. When you add race and class to the equation the incidence of this marginalization is even higher.

This suppressing of women’s voices, in case you are trying to figure out what Miss Triggs was wearing or drinking or might have said to provoke this response, is what sexism sounds like.

These behaviors, the interrupting and the over-talking, also happen as the result of difference in status, but gender rules. For example, male doctors invariably interrupt patients when they speak, especially female patients, but patients rarely interrupt doctors in return. Unless the doctor is a woman. When that is the case, she interrupts far less and is herself interrupted more. This is also true of senior managers in the workplace. Male bosses are not frequently talked over or stopped by those working for them, especially if they are women; however, female bosses are routinely interrupted by their male subordinates.

This preference for what men have to say, supported by men and women both, is a variant on “mansplaining.” The word came out of an article by writer Rebecca Solnit, who explained that the tendency some men have to grant their own speech greater import than a perfectly competent woman’s is not a universal male trait, but the “intersection between overconfidence and cluelessness where some portion of that gender gets stuck.”

Solnit’s tipping point experience really did take the cake. She was talking to a man at a cocktail party when he asked her what she did. She replied that she wrote books and she described her most recent one, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild WestThe man interrupted her soon after she said the word Muybridge and asked, “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?” He then waxed on, based on his reading of a review of the book, not even the book itself, until finally, a friend said, “That’s her book.” He ignored that friend (also a woman) and she had to say it more than three times before “he went ashen” and walked away. If you are not a woman, ask any woman you know what this is like, because it is not fun and happens to all of us.

In the wake of Larry Summers’ “women can’t do math” controversy several years ago, scientist Ben Barres wrote publicly about his experiences, first as a woman and later in life, as a male. As a female student at MIT, Barbara Barres was told by a professor after solving a particularly difficult math problem, “Your boyfriend must have solved it for you.” Several years after, as Ben Barres, he gave a well-received scientific speech and he overhead a member of the audience say, “His work is much better than his sister’s.”

Most notably, he concluded that one of the major benefits of being male was that he could now “even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.”

I’ve had teenage boys, irritatingly but hysterically, excuse what they think is “lack of understanding” to [my] “youthful indiscretion.” Last week as I sat in a cafe, a man in his 60s stopped to ask me what I was writing. I told him I was writing a book about gender and media and he said, “I went to a conference where someone talked about that a few years ago. I read a paper about it a few years ago. Did you know that car manufacturers use slightly denigrating images of women to sell cars? I’d be happy to help you.” After I suggested, smiling cheerily, that the images were beyond denigrating and definitively injurious to women’s dignity, free speech and parity in culture, he drifted off.

It’s not hard to fathom why so many men tend to assume they are great and that what they have to say is more legitimate. It starts in childhood and never ends. Parents interrupt girls twice as often and hold them to stricter politeness norms. Teachers engage boys, who correctly see disruptive speech as a marker of dominant masculinity, more often and more dynamically than girls.

As adults, women’s speech is granted less authority and credibility. We aren’t thought of as able critics or as funny. Men speak moremore often, and longer than women in mixed groups (classroomsboardroomslegislative bodiesexpert media commentary and, for obvious reasons religious institutions.) Indeed, in male-dominated problem solving groups including boards, committees and legislatures, men speak 75% more than women, with negative effects on decisions reached. That’s why, as researchers summed up, “Having a seat at the table is not the same as having a voice.”

Even in movies and television, male actors engage in more disruptive speech and garner twice as much speaking and screen time as their female peers. This is by no means limited by history or to old media but is replicated online. Listserve topics introduced by men have a much higher rate of response and on Twitter, people retweet men two times as often as women.

These linguistic patterns are consequential in many ways, not the least of which is the way that they result in unjust courtroom dynamics, where adversarial speech governs proceedings and gendered expression results in women’s testimonies being interrupted, discounted and portrayed as not credible according to masculinized speech norms. Courtrooms also show exactly how credibility and status, women’s being lower, are also doubly affected by race. If Black women testifying in court adopt what is often categorized as “[white] women’s language,” they are considered less credible. However, if they are more assertive, white jurors find them “rude, hostile, out of control, and, hence [again], less credible.” Silence might be an approach taken by women to adapt to the double bind, but silence doesn’t help when you’re testifying.

The best part though is that we are socialized to think women talk more. Listener bias results in most people thinking that women are hogging the floor when men are actually dominating. Linguists have concluded that much of what is popularly understood about women and men being from different planets, verbally, confuses “women’s language” with “powerless language.”

There are, of course, exceptions that illustrate the role that gender (and not biological sex) plays. For example, I have a very funny child who regularly engages in simultaneous speech, disruptively interrupts and randomly changes topics. If you read a script of one of our typical conversations, you would probably guess the child is a boy based on the fact that these speech habits are what we think of as “masculine.” The child is a girl, however. She’s more comfortable with overt displays of assertiveness and confidence than the average girl speaker. It’s hard to balance making sure she keeps her confidence with teaching her to be polite. However, excessive politeness norms for girls, expected to set an example for boys, have real impact on women who are, as we constantly hear, supposed to override their childhood socialization and learn to talk like men to succeed (learn to negotiate, demand higher pay, etc.).

The first time I ran this post, I kid you not, the first response I got was from a Twitter user, a man, who, without a shred of self-awareness, asked, “What would you say if a man said those things to you mid-conversation?”

Socialized male speech dominance is a significant issue, not just in school, but everywhere. If you doubt me, sit quietly and keep track of speech dynamics at your own dinner table, workplace, classroom. In the school bus, the sidelines of fields, in places of worship. It’s significant and consequential.

People often ask me what to teach girls or what they themselves can do to challenge sexism when they see it. “What can I do if I encounter sexism? It’s hard to say anything, especially at school.” In general, I’m loathe to take the approach that girls should be responsible for the world’s responses to them, but I say to them, practice these words, every day:

“Stop interrupting me,”

“I just said that,” and

“No explanation needed.”

It will do both boys and girls a world of good. And no small number of adults, as well.


Soraya L. Chemaly writes about feminism, gender and culture. She writes for the Huffington Post, Feminist Wire, BitchFlicks and Fem2.0 among others.

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I asked my daughter what she might say to help a friend have the courage to do something new even though they were scared.

After clarifying that the scary thing wasn’t something I was trying to trick her into doing, she gave me some good advice.

“Tell them to remember that its only scary for the first few minutes and then when you get there, someone is usually nice and says hello. Or you will see someone you know that you can go stand with, or there is something you have to do like fill out forms, or find a seat. And afterward you won’t remember what you were so nervous about.”

I asked her advice for two reasons. First, because of her personality and style, she usually has a different perspective from me, and second, because I found myself on the receiving end of an invitation that I found scary, so I was gathering multiple opinions about what to do.

In my coaching practice I often work with clients who are attempting new and often scary transitions.  When that happens I help them question the assumptions behind their fears, so they can hopefully start to align what they say they want, with what they have to do to achieve it.

This recent “scary situation” helped me categorize some habitual excuses:

  • “They don’t really want me there, they just invited me to be polite”  (Protecting Self)
  • “I don’t know anyone, it’ll be awkward for everyone” (Protecting Others)
  • “I don’t really have the expertise to belong to this group” (Imposter Syndrome)
  • “I have too many other things I need to do” (Martyr Syndrome)

I ended up not attending for these and other reasons. Instead, I spent those hours, and days afterward, mentally berating myself for being so cowardly.

Then, as I was getting ready for meeting with a coaching client, I noticed that several times between sessions they hadn’t followed through on a plan, or “taken the risk”.  My notes showed we worked together to adjust plan or break it down into smaller steps. I helped them, encouraged them, provided additional tools and information.

I didn’t call them a coward.

In fact I can’t think of anyone I would call a coward for any reason. Except myself of course.

Ouch.

Based on this experience I think “learn to be nicer to yourself every day” will be my meditation for the next thirty days. I also forget sometimes to give myself credit for the risk I take every time I publish a new blog post. My opinions, flaws and ruminations are readable, searchable, and if we believe in the power of the NSA, permanent on the internet.

So maybe not totally cowardly.

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My sister and niece were over the house to celebrate my daughters 16th birthday yesterday and, as usual, a bizarre bit of our childhood folklore floated to the surface of the conversation.

My daughter loves these glimpses into our past. Of course it never seems odd when you are living it, but it sure can sound that way thirty years later.

My sister and I were talking about my Dad’s various hobbies and I mentioned the Gee Haw Whammy Diddle.

Yes its an actual thing. A small propeller nailed to a stick with some notches cut into it. A second stick for making the propeller go right (Gee) and left (Haw). And there you have yourself one country boy, homemade toy.

It’s not like we were so poor we played with rocks and sticks, it’s just that my dad liked to make stuff. And he liked colonial era, boy scout, do-it-yourself from raw materials (possibly with the help of an expensive lathe) kind of projects most especially.

For a good stretch of my childhood he dabbled in leather goods (he had an account at the Tandy Leather Factory), and then he made candy dispensers out of mason jars (I still have one), and for a while he enjoyed working on wood-turning projects which meant everyone received wooden vases as gifts.

My all time favorite project of his was empty tuna cans with both lids cut off, spray painted gold and soldered together into a Christmas tree shape. He then attached a gold Christmas ornament inside each tuna can. That creation decorated the front door each Christmas for a couple of years and clanked impressively each time the door was opened.

Hard to beat the Gee Haw Whammy Diddle for sheer fun though. The name never fails to get a laugh followed by a  “Wait. What?”

Here is a link to the plans for how you too can make your very own Whammy Diddle. Impress your friends.

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I recently saw a picture of Cinderella’s slipper with the caption “If Cinderella went back to pick up her shoe she wouldn’t have become a princess.”

Whatever your feelings about that ashy inspiration, I personally find it useful to occasionally look back and see what if anything I am learning. So 10 lessons in no order.

1. I got no chops.

I auditioned for a staged reading that sounded interesting and realized that whatever limited acting talent I once possessed has rusted to a point beyond embarrassment. I got nuthin but a decent reading voice anymore. I need to find an acting class and a patient director in 2015. Followed by a completely desperate community theatre.

2. Dancing makes me happy.

I always knew this but sometimes I forget to do it. Dancing by yourself, while slightly less enjoyable than grabbing a friend or stranger, is at least not the same slippery slope as smoking weed or drinking by yourself. Jazzercize – even though I can’t follow half the choreography – helps take the edge off the need to move.

If I were to resolve something it would be throw more house parties in 2015 so I can dance to loud music with other sweaty, happy people.

3. Talk less, listen more (in meetings and other difficult situations)

Whenever I remembered to do this I was always happier walking out the door afterward.

4. Not everything broken can be fixed.

‘Nuff said.

5. Everyone’s a little bit racist. (Including me.)

The first time I heard that song in Avenue Q I laughed so hard I could barely hear all the lyrics. Too bad it doesn’t get sung by school choirs like that annoying song from Rent.

If it was, if this song was considered appropriate content for school children and their parents, maybe we could start these desperately necessary conversations about institutional bias and white (and male) privilege from a different place. Just a suggestion.

6. Just because I can’t deliver what a client wants doesn’t mean I’ve failed.

Multiple clients this past year engaged me as a coach to help them create a road map for a new career or a new direction. The problem is you have to know where you want to go before you can decide how to get there. Sometimes when clients don’t know what they want, they think coaching doesn’t work. Unfortunately, I didn’t get issued a magic wand when I completed my training so I can’t make (vague and often unarticulated) wishes come true.

For the first time acknowledging my limitations feels like strength rather than weakness.

7. I am an optimist trapped in a pessimist body.

My daughter says people see me as “proper” (isn’t she polite?), I also get called “serious” and “intellectual” all the time. With a little push some folks might be persuaded to talk about my “Bitch Face.”

It’s obvious I’m not a smiley person, but it may be less obvious that I am a deeply hopeful person.  I really do think that individuals make a difference agitating for change in their communities and in the world. I think the world is full of good people doing the best they can. I believe I have a responsibility to stand up, speak up, lend a hand, hold a hand.

My hope for change and my committment to action just doesn’t show up on my face, or on my T-shirt. Its just how it is. And, once again, I resolve to smile more to help my face reflect my heart.

8. People change.

I am not  the same person I was twenty years ago and neither is my little sister. We may not have had much in common through the years but a conscious choice to see if we like each other now has led to a new circle of family that hasn’t existed for a long time. And I am grateful.

9. I am a writer.

This is a silly thing to have to learn but I have resisted ever referring to myself as a writer, no matter what I write or publish.

However, I need to write. I need people to read my writing. I want to spend more time writing in 2015  and more time acknowledging that writing is part of who I am.

10. Everyday is a second chance.

It’s all a do-over. Right here, right now. Life is what we make of it so live it up.

 

I know I learned more along the way but we have a party to go to where I hope there will be dancing.

Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015!

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We all have moments that take the stuffing out of us and make us question our worth. When in full command of rational thinking these are moments that build character. Occasionally an experience requires distance to reduce the sting so you can learn from the mistake. Other times all you can do is acknowledge and wallow in your failure.

The last few days have found me staring failure in the face as I attempted to create darts and hem a dress for my daughter. The dress, issued by the school to every girl in the symphony, needs to fit many sizes of bodies so it fits no one well.

My petite size daughter with her generous bustline was issued a dress that fits exactly that one part of her body. Everywhere else the dress needs to be taken in and up and every other damn thing.

I have always failed at being a “crafty mom”. I can’t sew, knit, crochet, quilt, draw, paint, sculpt or do any craft of any kind. My talent is strictly limited to coloring in coloring books and using a Spirograph. I have no imagination for Halloween costumes, or gift making or any other clever, useful, transformative skill.

The acres of black polyester made my headache with anxiety. I could taste the copper tang of failure in my mouth as I spent thirty minutes threading the damn sewing machine I bought in desperation at Target just before closing on Monday night. I then read the directions four times before I gave up for the night with nary a stitch stitched.

Last night I fully embraced my imminent failure, and armed with double stick tape, StitchWitchery, and safety pins I attacked the dress. I spent 90 minutes measuring, pinning, re-measuring, re-pinning, taping and ironing.

It is done. I have fulfilled my maternal duty. The dress looks lumpy and a little lopsided but it’s short enough and she won’t trip while carrying her double-bass.

Bring on the next failure.

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When my husband and I decided to have a baby reactions to my pregnancy usually included a story or some bit of advice. A horrific three-day labor without drugs, a sister-in-law/cousin/friend who barely made it to the hospital in time, or how once I met the baby I would want to be a stay at home mom. And so on.

One reaction I never understood was the malicious and gleeful recounting of the many ways that “your life will never be the same”: no more going out to shows, no more hanging out with friends, no more fun of any kind. No more tablecloths – this was from my mother-in-law and I still don’t know why she said it.

I distinctly remember one of my sister-in-laws cackling while she said, “Now you’re gonna see what its like!” Why yes, yes I will.

I think people forget that “life as you know it” is over all the time. Yeah adding a human to your life is a big change but so is graduating HS, changing jobs, moving out, breaking up. Burying folks close to you. It’s just life.

The really secret part of parenting that no one tells you about because it would result in a rapid population decline, is that you actually have no control. Zero.

Once they leave your body you suspect – but it takes a while to believe – that you can’t actually protect your child or keep them safe.  Safety is an illusion perpetuated by parenting books and the advertising industry. Parents cling to this illusion as long as they can, sometimes through the pre-teen years.

Car seats and helmets, rules and regulations, pesticide-free organic foods are all ways to try to impact that which (you think) is under your control. Actions to help soothe the “am I a good enough parent” panic that gets you by the throat every now and again. Foundational actions that, like calcium for building strong bones, you hope will pay off in the long run.

The truth is, baring outright neglect and abuse, you can’t stop life from happening to your kid no matter how much you might try. You can’t cushion the blows, or keep your kid from being buffeted, or hurt. There is nothing you can do to prevent the fights with friends, the breakups, or the disappointments. The best you can do is patch them up when it’s over and toss them back in the game.

Maybe not literally. My daughter is still furious that I made her get back in the game after she got popped in the mouth with a softball. It was a chipped tooth and a little blood on the shirt I didn’t think it was that big of a deal but she clearly did.

My husband and I knew we didn’t have real control when the kid was 12 and wanted a FaceBook page. You’re supposed to be thirteen to have a FaceBook but “all her friends” lied about their age to get one. We told her we would prefer she not sign up until she was 13, but that we knew we couldn’t stop her from signing up without our permission. She didn’t.

The Honor System takes the place of outlet covers and baby gates.

On the opposite end it soon becomes clear that you can’t make them do anything once they are cognizant and mobile. We want the kid to get good grades, we expect the kid get good grades, but all the consequences in the world are not going to make the kid study or write a decent essay. And you just have to hope that when they leave the house in the morning they are not ducking into a friends house and changing into a burqa.

The honor system, trust and believing they are smart enough to make their own decisions are the meager tools left in our parenting box.

Intrinsic motivation is in the teenager driver seat. Parents are just along for the ride. Harder than 2 am feedings, toilet training or letting them walk without holding your hand, it is damn hard to not be a back seat driver.

No one tells you that part.

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