What We Talk About When We Talk About Money

Making dough. Earning a crust. Breadwinning. None of the most iconic phrases that have to do with making money speaks of luxury. It’s all about getting each day our daily bread. Regardless of our careers, and how much money we need or think we need to succeed, the hard truth is that work is not an option. Continue reading

Sincere Thanks

I’m thankful today for real people.

I’m thankful for those who strive to live somewhere between the falseness of two-dimensional political identities and the otherworldly mess of unhinged lives. I am thankful for those who strive to succeed but don’t lie about their failures. They make it possible for me to look up to them as real human beings.

I’m thankful for men who challenge masculine stereotypes in order to be boyfriends, husbands, fathers, mentors, and friends to women who want to have “it all.”

I’m thankful, as I am every year, for my family, my teachers, my local Rotary Club, and the taxpayers who made public higher education affordable when I graduated high school. Without them, my life could have turned out very differently.

Finally, I’m grateful for the trailblazers, in politics and elsewhere – real, flawed, human women who have been unafraid to live sincerely in public.

I am thankful for Afghanistan’s Young Women for Change, and the brave Afghan men and women – including religious leaders – who speak out for women and for their nation’s future. I am profoundly grateful that I have been able to support their courageous work.

I am thankful for Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and for all the women who dare to define misogyny clearly and attack it head-on.

I am thankful that this brilliant, powerful, thoughtful, change-making woman has been my boss. I am thankful for glimpses into her evolution and her humanity.

I am thankful for so many women and so many initiatives and so many opportunities that to list them all here would leave me no time to go out into my life and thank the many individual people who have made me who I am. So let me leave it there, and wish you a day filled with thankfulness yourselves. Because no matter where in the world you are and no matter how big the obstacles you face, there is always someone who has gone before you and made your way just a little bit easier.

Hiding in Public

The most thoughtful piece from this weekend’s New York Times was Christy Wampole’s “How to Live without Irony,” which, if you haven’t already, you should read immediately. But she missed something huge. Something that has consequences for all of us, no matter how far from the hipster type we are.

Wampole argues that the Internet has “helped a certain ironic sensibility to flourish,” because of how easily it can be disseminated. She missed the fact that it is the online commons itself which created this monster. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Sex

I’m reposting this after writing the most recent entry, on hiding in public. That is, after all, what professional women must do with their sexuality in order to succeed. It’s the subject that very few of the women in my binder want to talk about publicly, even though it’s there every time they open their closet to get ready for work – especially if they’re single. What’s the right amount of makeup to signify that they’re single and looking without painting themselves into a low-ceilinged corner? Is it possible to be young, sexy, and successful?

While the policy world and pop culture are far apart, we have to start with our society’s general ideas about female sexuality. Over at the Atlantic, Ashley Fetters is arguing that Ke$ha “is 2012’s answer to The Feminine Mystique.” What she means is that Ke$ha’s life and attitudes – her imitation of a particular version of masculinity  – embody what “our” feminist foremothers dreamed of for us.

Fetters might be right, but forgive me for being unimpressed. She quotes the pop star saying, “[I] can work and party as hard as any man.” As any man. Ke$ha’s feminism is merely an imitation of agressive masculinity. The images – dancing with her mom in a penis costume, bragging about objectifying men for sex, even sitting quietly on a rock and deciding she’s a warrior – don’t add anything new to the universe. They merely pretend to subvert it. This is Tuckerina Max and nothing more.

Is that really what Betty Friedan and Virginia Woolf and Naomi Wolf had hoped for? Perhaps it’s the logical extreme of some of their ideas, but I would argue that all Ke$ha does is reinforce an idea of masculinity that is as harmful to men as it is to women. I’ll never be a whiskey-swilling frat-boy partier who’s all, “Let’s not make this a thing.” If I want a warrior princess, I’m going to have to look elsewhere.

Cue Beyonce, who, in “Countdown,” articulated a version of femininity that I could get behind. I like to get all up in the kitchen in my heels. I want to win a man’s mind and show him I’m the flyest. Like Beyonce, I want to make it through the tough times with someone, have a love that grows with the years, and still be lip lockin at the end of the day.

But I can’t say that – not in my career.

Luckily for these ladies, they’re in a business where sex sells. It isn’t easy, but redefining our ideas about womanhood is kind of their job. What about the rest of us? I have known a lot of successful women in politics, but with all due respect to Madeleine Albright, I don’t want to be known for my brooches. The closest I’ve got to a Beyonce in my profession is Huma Abedin, and even she couldn’t find a man who was worthy of her.

Whether we’re discussing Holly Petraeus or Hillary Clinton, what no one will say in writing is that these women – pantsuited, “frumpy,” put aside for more openly sexual alternatives – played the role we cast them in. In politics, you can be intelligent or you can be attractive, but to be both is to be under constant attack. A colleague I was dating over a year ago actually told me that, because I dressed cute for work and wore makeup and talked about my weekend interests, he didn’t think I wanted to be taken seriously. I dumped him, but I kept my red lipstick. I am inspired by the women in my binder who do the same. They are incredibly brave.

If I’m lucky enough to be so successful that I’m one day tapped as Ambassador to TinyWar-TornCountryNoDonorWouldEverConsider, I’m sure this post, along with every sexy picture of me ever posted to Facebook, will be fair game for Congress – proof that I’m an unserious floozy who can’t be trusted to represent America. Someone will make the argument that no male diplomat in his right mind would talk about his love life online.

And they’d be right. Because men don’t have to choose. They’ve got James Bond, Bill Clinton, and David Petraeus in their binders. Meanwhile, women like me still need someone to look up to.

So keep singing, Beyonce. You’re all I’ve got.

In Another Woman’s Binder

It isn’t the point of this blog to comment on everything that happens, and I’m not touching the Petraeus side of this thing with anything shorter than the following hyperlink. While everyone is wringing their hands over the high-profile mistakes that have been made by men, let’s take a second to notice that the women here weren’t necessarily on the seducing side (isn’t that stuff usually mutual?) and might have stories of their own. Fascinating ones.

Fortunately for us, Paula Broadwell is in somebody else’s binder, where she talks about “having it all.” Just like General Petraus, she is an outstanding public servant who’s made a huge mistake that is costing her both personally and professionally. No doubt, thanks to the media, Petraus will come out relatively unscathed.

Not that I’m condoning what Broadwell did. I hate to see it happen, and it’s cases such as this one that cause nice people in traditional countries like Afghanistan to say, No way we’re letting our women go to work! Shoulder to shoulder with men? That can only end in dishonor. Our country’s still pretty traditional in that sense, too, and it’s a sad thing for all the talented women who want to serve it when a scandal breaks and all the closet misogynists can come out wringing their hands about the dangers of letting women hang around. It’s not quite as extreme as putting women in a burqa to protect them from men’s lustful eyes, but the thrust of the message is the same: Boys will be boys, oh, why can’t women see that and leave them alone! I’ve got an answer, and it’s an easy one: Because the women can’t have what the boys have unless they have the boys themselves. We won’t let them.

See, what I haven’t heard anyone talk about yet is that it’s probably less about sex than it is about power. Paula Broadwell, for all her service, her experience, and her obvious talent, was never going to get to be a general. She was navigating a culture that was as friendly to her as Sterling Cooper was to Joan Halloway, and she did pretty damn well for herself. Petraeus lived in a world where he always got his way. They probably would have been better off being with someone more like themselves in the first place. But you can’t get to be a general without a wife who stays at home to do the unrecognized labor of the military’s social and family life, and you can’t get to be a respected woman without a fancy home in the burbs and a couple of kids.

Two great citizens tried, and failed, to have it all. Once we’re done reproaching their otherwise phenomenal characters, we might step back and ask ourselves where it really all went wrong.

Women in Danger

It’s hard to be told that what you do doesn’t matter, or that it doesn’t matter enough for you to take risks in order to do it – especially when you believe in your job as thoroughly as I do.

It has been strange and disturbing to watch the word “Benghazi” become a political football, and there is no relief in sight. I don’t expect the thoughtful piece by Robert Worth in this week’s New York Times Magazine to end that, but I hope it will shed some light.

I’m treading carefully, and I am deliberately leaving many topics untouched. I want to hone in on an essential confusion that I think has heightened Americans’ emotional response to the attack: Although they don’t know it, diplomacy is dangerous.

It’s more dangerous, in many ways, than military work – save direct combat. We have an important role to play in keeping our nation safe, free, and prosperous. It involves everything from nurturing alliances with states that advance our interests in foreign policy to developing trade relationships that help our economy to assisting Americans overseas in distress. We can’t do that by sitting inside a fortress. In fact, many of us believe that it’s counterproductive to sit there, blind to what’s really happening, demanding that any visitors go through an extensive and infuriating (read: TSA-like) security check before coming to see us, at which point we hope they will still feel like telling us the truth, so that we can be reasonably sure that the information we send to Washington is accurate. We have to go out, unprotected, and talk to people. It’s hard to make friends when you show up at someone’s front door with a gun in their face.

But the response to Benghazi shows that many Americans don’t accept our explanation. “Where are the Marines,” my relatives demanded, those boys – almost always boys, in their minds – “who are supposed to keep them safe.” Not knowing that Marines are at diplomatic missions to protect classified information, not to start wars. The message is that it’s okay to put our troops in danger – it’s okay when their bodies come home draped in flags and full of holes – but not our diplomats.

What does this have to do with women? I can hear you asking. When I went to Afghanistan, people were especially worried about me “as a woman.” While women in rural Afghanistan have it rough, it was the Americans was afraid of. Cooped up 24/7 on a compound with primarily men, including some who treated me as if I were unqualified for my job, I was worried that stress and frustration would do me in – and they nearly did.

While reading some of the reports on women in the military prior to Veterans Day, I found myself face to face with words in print that echoed words I’d heard: that women don’t belong in combat, because it’s dangerous. Better than the argument I remember most from growing up – that women can’t fight wars because they menstruate and are therefore both dirty and hysterical – but still disturbing. (Although that argument, perhaps not shockingly, is still being made.)

To address it, women in the military have pointed out that their jobs are dangerous, even if they are excluded from the traditional definition of “the front lines.” Activists against the Ground Combat Exclusion Policy point out that by not being allowed to serve in combat, women are held back from promotions, deployments, and the shared experience with male counterparts that would give them the moral authority to lead. A test policy went into place earlier this year that allows women in some units to take on combat-related roles, but it isn’t complete. (An excellent overview of the issue was published by the Christian Science Monitor after the policy was announced in May 2012.)

As a diplomat, a woman, and a fiercely patriotic American who wants to serve, there is almost nothing more frustrating than to be told that I ought to stay behind. I applaud the noble spirit behind men who want to protect their fellow Americans, but not the spirit that lumps women in with children, as if we were defenseless. Perhaps the best field officer I saw in Afghanistan was a woman, fluent in Pashto, who sat down face-to-face with elderly men in village shuras and got the kind of information that kept the troops posted there safe, not the other way around. 

That, then, would be my long and somewhat inarticulate plea: As a diplomat, as a woman, as an American with talents that can only be put to use out there on the front lines, let me serve.

Is Work-Life Balance for Whiners?

Look, I’m the first to admit: We’ve got first-world problems. Way back in my binder are some pioneer women who managed to survive and raise two digits’ worth of children, working soil that wouldn’t grow a thing. In their day, if you didn’t have a house, you built one. My great-grandmother was in her 50s when she got her GED. She would have loved to have the opportunities that we are blessed with today.

So why are we so anxious about our careers? Continue reading

Happy Veterans Day

Among the more colorful phrases I’ve been taught by friends in the military is “STFU”: Sack the F*** Up. At least, that’s the spelling I prefer. The safe-for-work explanation has to do with picking up your ruck and getting a move on, even when the thing’s heavy.

Nobody does that better than the women of our U.S. Armed Forces, who lift an extra heavy load. Continue reading

Fifty Shades of Feminism

Fox News – we’ll get to that in a minute – reports on women in the Muslim Brotherhood, who object to a more internationally accepted model of feminism:

Secular feminists, she [Muslim Brotherhood representative Azza el-Garf] argues, are out of step with Muslim-majority Egypt’s conservative society.

“We speak on behalf of the street,” said el-Garf, who like most Egyptian Muslim women wears a head scarf. “Egyptian people are very religious, devout people. If (the liberals) continue to separate religion from normal life, people will not listen to them.”

Before anyone jumps to accuse me of endorsing sharia law, female genital mutilation, or anything along those lines, let me explain why I think it’s important not to dismiss women like el-Garf – or, for that matter, the women who watch Fox News Continue reading