Where’d She Go?

I just got some hits on this page today after a long while, so I figured I should leave something here letting you know where I’ve gone. I’ve come out of the closet, as it were, and am now writing about a whole range of issues on a blog that bears my name: Candace Writes Here. I would love to engage with you over there, if you’re so willing.

This project is still ongoing, it’s just taken a different form. Thanks for following, and I hope to stay in touch!

The Power of Negative Thinking

First of all, apologies to anyone who is an RSS feed subscriber and got a long, very personal rumination on depression the other day. It was not meant for this blog.

But now that the cat’s out of the bag, let’s stare it down in its hissing face.

This morning, I had the honor of hearing the incomparable Donna Brazile speak at the Women’s Funding Alliance Amplify breakfast. A veteran political strategist, humorous public speaker, and savvy commentator, Brazile was inspiring – exactly the kind of woman that younger women like me can look up to. You may have seen her on CNN or ABC, where her commentary is courteous but direct, in-your-face but more of a firm caress than a slap. As a friend said of her Louisiana accent, “It’s like she opens her mouth and a whole culture comes out.”

Brazile didn’t dwell on the reasons she should not have succeeded or belabor her story with complaints about growing up poor, Black, and female. She just told her story confidently, without compromise. She made me think about how often I and the women I know have faced moments where we were pressured to compromise, and the anxiety that still brings. We know we have it in us to do a job, but somebody tells us we’re too young, too inexperienced, too feminine, not feminine enough, not wealthy enough, not educated enough, not connected enough, and for a split second, we wonder: Is it true?

How we answer that question determines everything.

In one camp, we have the pragmatists, who warn women not to be naive. I can’t help thinking of a quote from the NYT article published on September 7, “Harvard Business School Case Study: Gender Equity“:

At an extracurricular presentation the year before, a female student asked William Boyce, a co-founder of Highland Capital Partners, a venture capital firm, for advice for women who wanted to go into his field. “Don’t,” he laughed, according to several students present.  Male partners did not want them there, he continued, and he was doing them a favor by warning them.

It’s fair to say that pragmatism alone never leads to change.

In the second camp, we have the optimists, who tell women that they can do anything they set their minds to. Here I place projects like the documentary Girl Rising. I believe deeply in girls’ education, but at the scene of a group of Nepalese girls singing their friend out of bonded labor, I nearly walked out of the auditorium. “Change is like a song,” they said, and my mind retorted, No, change requires more than singing. It requires organization, analysis, and action. Not every person can sing her way out of slavery. And, as I learned as a grants manager, meaning well does not equal doing good. The path to hell – or, to be less melodramatic, to lost jobs, undermined causes, and ineffective program management – is paved with good intentions.

It’s fair to say that optimism alone never leads to change.

In the third camp, we have the realists. They tell us that women will sometimes be punished for speaking up. Many women who raise their hands for jobs or boards or political office will never be selected. Straight women who call themselves feminists may find that there aren’t enough enlightened men around to meet their demand. Young women who apply for jobs that demand more experience than they have may well be unqualified to perform them. Women will continue to judge other women for what they wear.

This is reality. And it’s fair to say that reality can be changed.

When the HBS deans radically revised their program to facilitate women’s success, they were very realistic. They did more than tell girls to try harder or to “lean in.” They changed the way students and teachers were evaluated. They enforced gender-sensitivity across all aspects of campus life. They even tackled deeper, thornier issues like socioeconomic inequality that were keeping HBS students from living up to their full potential. They had some successes, they learned some lessons, and – most inspiringly – they changed some lives.

They did it by being optimistic in their vision and pragmatic in its execution. They held on to their vision, but they did not let it blind them to the obstacles before them. They chased unrealistic dreams not in their imaginations, but in reality, using their influence to nudge the world in the right direction.

I worry sometimes about the message we are sending young women when we tell them to “lean in” and then, when they ask how, shrug our shoulders. I worry about women like me, who are told our whole lives that we’re amazing and can do anything, who then discover that the tools of self-promotion we were taught to use make us more enemies than friends. I worry that, rather than giving girls a solid foundation to stand on when they encounter obstacles, we are putting them in balloons and then closing our ears when, at some less adorable age, they pop. Positive thinking alone won’t save the world. But without it, no worthy effort will get off the ground. That’s the power of negative thinking.

I’m thankful to Donna Brazile, Jamie-Rose Edwards of Young Women Empowered, and of course the many people who make up the Women’s Funding Alliance for this welcome reminder that, when it comes to making real change, it is best to err on the side of optimism.

Third, some changes are coming. It’s almost time to pivot. I’m looking forward to retiring this blog and reviving it as something different, based on the balance of optimism and pragmatism I’m seeking to promote. Thanks, in the meantime, for all your support this past year.

Coming Out

For professional women, writing about any aspect of one’s personal life is pretty much verboten. That is part of why I embarked on my binder project in the first place: Until more of us share our stories, the stigma will remain.

My own fears of being judged, combined with the fact that my previous employer forbade me from speaking up without the U.S. government’s permission, explain why the author of this blog has remained anonymous. But the time has now come to take the project to the next level, and that means I need to come out of hiding.

I can think of no better way to do that than with this video from new friend and social change-maker Michael B. Maine, who kindly featured me in his latest Inspiration project video. Michael is a photographer/filmmaker/media strategist with a head for smart communications and a heart for social impact. He’s the kind of person who inspired me to give up my steady, high-income job and join Seattle’s vibrant hub for social change. I can think of no better way to spend my life than by working with people like him, who have likewise decided to devote their time, talents, and treasure solely to causes they believe in.

Please forgive the shameless promotion of my book project and my friends. I mean it: I am inspired by everyone, male or female, who has chosen to live with purpose. It’s just that the women in my binder do it in such defiance of expectations that I cannot help but ask you to be inspired by them, too. Thanks, dear readers, for your support.

Positive Thoughts for the Weekend

This isn’t breaking news, but there was a lovely post on the Harvard Business Review blog network last month by the Blackstone Group’s Joan Solatar, titled “Truths for Our Daughters.”

She calls for a change to the way we talk to young women about career success, moving away from criticisms of what women have not yet achieved to narratives about those who have. As I read it, I thought, Yes — that’s exactly what In My Binder is about. 

As Solatar writes, “There is no Secret Formula X for success.” All of us have to adapt to different circumstances, and all of us bring different talents to the world. But there are some universal truths that emerge from all our narratives, including some surprising ones – like the truth that women make great warriors, mathematicians, entrepreneurs, and political leaders, not just at-home nurturers. 

That alone is powerful. Combined with the advice and shared knowledge of women across professions and generations, our stories can change the world. Especially if hearing the stories of others gives us the courage to continue living out our own. 

Have a beautiful, empowered weekend. 

 

Empowered Women Get Raped Less… Eventually.

Okay, I’m paraphrasing. Shankar Vedantam at NPR says this much more elegantly, citing a wide range of studies. (No kidding – if you’ve been waiting your whole life for a comparative analysis of Norwegian, Japanese, and North American pornography, this story is for you.)

When women stand up for themselves, or, in today’s catchphrase, “lean in,” they advance powerful social changes that lead to reduced violence against women. 

But there is a second conclusion, less obvious and also less pretty: When women first achieve greater power, a certain subset of men gets angry. In the short term, that backlash causes all of us to suffer:

One analysis of 109 U.S. cities over three decades found that “the short-term effect of gender equality is an increased rape rate via increased threats to the status quo; whereas the long-term effect of gender equality is reduced rape via an improved climate toward women.

Or, in plain language, it gets worse before it gets better.

One phenomenon Vedantam doesn’t touch on is the tendency of some women to join in the backlash. By distancing themselves from “feminists” and even attacking them, women protect themselves as individuals. It’s a lot like the reaction of kids on a playground when someone finally stands up to a bully. Even if a majority is suffering, it usually stands by and lets the bully take out all his or her rage on the one kid who dared to confront the issue. 

There is no easy way out of this moral trap. If the research is correct, those of us who choose to stand up for women’s rights put everyone at greater risk. It’s no wonder some women get angry at us and wish we would just honor the status quo. Some of them will suffer for a cause they did not want to get involved in. Of course that is unjust.

But what is more unjust is to condemn our sisters, daughters, and granddaughters to discrimination and sexual violence. It doesn’t take much. You don’t have to share your rape story, run around topless, or even support abortion to be a feminist. All you have to do is stand up for yourself — and support other women when they do the same. 

Stashing Scraps

I don’t have any additional comments to make at the time, but I don’t want to lose track of these great conversations currently happening in the world of working women:

* Rachel Rose Hartman pumps breast milk in the White House bathroom. Apparently women journalists have it especially tough when it comes to making motherhood work.

* Megan McArdle compares finding a spouse to the problem of Grandma’s lamp. She might be right, but I think the problem lies with the lamp market, not the living room. There are two options: women can lower their standards, or men can raise them. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the latter is probably best for humanity.

* Rachelle Fawcett offers an overview of (Arab) Islamic feminism.  One of the things I find most fascinating about women’s issues is how much we have in common, no matter where in the world we are from. I’m reading this in the context of the Heinrich study (summarized here by Ethan Waters) and wondering just how well the idea of global feminism holds up and what it says about global notions of gender and gender roles. Nature vs. nurture: the debate continues.

* And finally, everyone’s talking about how Catherine Rampell’s “Lean In, Dad” states the obvious: that men need to demand a greater role at home just as women do at work. I’d love to instigate a National Day of the Kick-Ass Husband.

Onward and upward.

 

 

The Final Verdict in Steubenville: The rapists are the victims

One year. That’s the minimum sentence for these boys. Delivered with sympathy by your U.S. media, lamenting their bright futures as if this were a tragic mistake for them and not a trauma for the victim herself. How sad, the “lasting effect” on these boys, rather than the lasting effect on the young woman. How tragic, that Ohio law has “placed on them” the “label” of designated sex offender.

Others have articulated the issues with this better than I can, but I have to wonder how many tears that young woman has cried, off camera, while someone rubbed her back and said, “You know, this is why you shouldn’t drink.” Because that’s how it goes for the rest of us. That’s what happens when you speak up about something atrocious that happens to you. You, victim, are a life-destroyer; you, victim, should feel guilty about what you have done. It will not be easy to change this, but I do think it is worth signing the petition to hold CNN accountable.

Here’s your roundup, should your heart feel up to it today:

* Laurie Penny, at The New Statesman: “Steubenville: This is rape culture’s Abu Ghraib moment”

* Dave Zirin, at The Nation: “The Verdict: Steubenville shows the bond between rape culture and jock culture” [related: “The Trouble with Football”]

* And Michelle Dean, from two months ago at the New Yorker:

… these tweets and photos, as far as public discussion should be concerned, are proof of the flippancy and indifference with which some part of America greets the report of sexual assault. If you want to know why sexual assault is so difficult to prosecute, you needn’t look much further than that.

To which I quietly add one word: Amen.

Stay Encouraged

Photo courtesy GO Interactive Media.

Photo courtesy GO Interactive Media.

Four years ago, living lonely in an enormous apartment overseas, I found company in that most welcoming of places: the Internet. At least once a week, I would clear a space on my hardwood floor, crack open one of the vertical windows that faced my alley, and spread out my yoga mat. Arlene Bjork’s warm voice, captured in a podcast that sometimes crackled when the mic got too closer to her lips, filled that overwhelming space with laughter and wisdom. I didn’t know her, but I considered her a teacher and a friend. In the shakiest moments, when holding a particular pose just didn’t seem realistic, her voice would echo off the empty walls: Stay encouraged.

Easier said than done, perhaps, but it’s also easier done when someone is telling you that you can. That’s why, on this occasion of International Women’s Day, I am especially encouraged by the profile of Ruth Bader Ginsberg in this week’s New Yorker, which offers this insight:

Although Ginsberg graduated at the top of her class, in 1959, she did not receive a single job offer. (Neither did Sandra Day O’Connor when she graduated from Stanford Law, seven years earlier.) Ginsberg scrounged for work. A famous professor, Gerald Gunther, essentially extorted a federal judge in Manhattan [to hire her].

As difficult as it is to imagine Justice Ginsberg ever “scrounging,” I am grateful for this insight into her early struggles. If she and O’Connor hadn’t stayed encouraged, hadn’t persevered, hadn’t tenaciously sought out opportunities to prove themselves, and if others hadn’t come along and supported them, we might still be looking at the Supreme Court and saying that putting a woman there just isn’t realistic.

I planned to visit Arlene at her studio in Richmond one day. I wanted to let her know how much her teaching meant to me. How I had carried her encouragement off that yoga mat, out of that empty apartment, and into my life, building something I became very proud of. But after a while, I noticed that there were no new podcasts. When I finally searched the Internet for answers, I learned that Arlene had passed away.

Sometimes we do not get to see the impact we have on others’ lives, whether we are the ones mentoring them or whether we are simply making brave choices for ourselves. But even if we never live to accomplish all that we dream, and even if our voices are only heard in some disembodied future, it’s worth it to keep telling ourselves and others to stay encouraged. You never know what we will achieve.

She-Bullies

I once heard Deborah Tannen speak about observed gender differences in the social behaviors of children: Whereas boys were quick to establish a social hierarchy, young girls tended to push everyone toward the mean. It seems that, for a moment, females might actually be born more nurturing and team-oriented.

Doesn’t last long.

In spite of Madeleine Albright’s warning that there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women, undermining fellow females has become something of a workplace sport. Sometimes they’re even more adamant about solidifying alpha status over other females than men. Worried that there’s only room for so many women at the top, they fight to keep those places for themselves instead of helping other women advance.

As psychology professor Peggy Drexler points out in an essay for today’s Wall Street Journal, woman-on-woman workplace abuse goes far beyond cutting another woman out of a meeting. Women even do some of the sexual harassment ourselves. They attack one another’s wardrobes, hairstyles, voice registers. She’s too thin; she’s too fat; she wears too make makeup; she doesn’t try hard enough

It is really difficult to respond to gender-based criticisms such as these. No matter how you dress, how much makeup you wear, or how “masculine” you act, there will always be someone who finds fault with it. Sometimes it can get so bad that you’re literally afraid to go to work in the morning, and you might just find yourself trying to get revenge. She withholds information from you, so why should you share with her? She calls you a frump, so why shouldn’t you comment on her 3″ hemline?

The short, painful answer: It simply doesn’t work.

It’s hard to watch someone receive accolades for work you helped her to do and not get credit for it. It’s hard to suffer in silence while someone attacks you behind your back. And it’s especially hard if the person is your manager. But the only thing worse than seeing your bully get off scot-free is getting sucked into mutually assured workplace destruction. You might take down her reputation, but I can guarantee you’ll go down with her.

So how can you get through it? There are some helpful suggestions out there (to which I add my personal list: yoga, Rescue Remedy, trying to make your bully a sympathetic protagonist in your next work of fiction). All these strategies can do is help you to maintain your own calm in a toxic environment. They don’t really address the root of the problem.

The truth is, unless you have a more powerful protector or some other form of recourse, you have very few options. I once tried the “kill her with kindness” method against a bully, and I was really upset when it didn’t change her behavior. That’s because I had it all wrong. The only “her” you can kill with kindness is the bully inside yourself.

Of course, all this is easier to say with perspective–it’s a lot harder to keep your cool when you’re being pushed around at work and nobody stands up for you. But in the long run, the best thing you can do is not to be that kind of woman. Share information with others, both women and men. Mentor. Stand up for your colleagues, even bullies, when their appearance or sexuality is used to take them down professionally. Watch your own behavior for signs of bullying–you may be cutting people out without realizing it. Keep in mind that there is still a lot of room for more women at the top.

After all, our little-girl selves understood something important: When nobody gets left out, everybody has more fun.

High-Powered Women + Love + Motherhood Roundup

Articles worth your time (all, not coincidentally, written by women):

ABC News‘ Sarah Parnass and Dana Hughes on the end of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State:

A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Dec. 6 shows 57 percent of participants saying they’d back a run by Clinton to succeed President Obama.

Asked about his wife’s Oval Office ambitions last April, Bill Clinton said he would be happy either way.

“If she comes home and we do this foundation stuff the rest of our lives, I’ll be happy.  If she changes her mind and decides to run, I’ll be happy,” the former president said. “But that’s light-years away.”

Janice D’Arcy for the Washington Post magazine on the challenges of sharing parenting responsibilities:

Marriage historian Stephanie Coontz says American parents have higher expectations of themselves than any previous generation. Modern parents, she says, do not realize how much they are up against as they try to change the child-rearing rules while living up to heightened demands. “People don’t anticipate in advance what a strain this will be.” They end up “turning on each other.”

Better, she says, would be “less indignation at each other and more at our society” — our familial infrastructure, the schedules of schools and offices that remain fixed in a two-parent, single-income world.

Related, and old, but not yet dated, Jan Hoffman’ for the New York Times on the importance of date night:

“The Obamas really are products of the culture,” said Christine B. Whelan, a sociologist at the University of Iowa who studies the American family. The Obamas exemplify what sociologists call the “individualized marriage,” she added, where a thriving relationship is marked by love and mutual attraction, not just duty to family and social roles.

Jill Flynn, Kathryn Heath, and Mary Davis Holt at the Harvard Business Review list the six paradoxes women leaders face, including:

6. The Careful-What-You-Wish-For Paradox. Women have more opportunities to work today, yet they are opting-out in high numbers. It has been nearly a decade since Lisa Belkin’s article “The Opt-Out Revolution” made headlines in 2003, yet recent statistics illustrate that more women than ever aspire to walk away from work to stay home full-time to raise children. This paradox underscores the reality that women today still feel pressure to have it all and can become stressed and discouraged when that dream is revealed to be impossible. All women (and many men) feel the pressure from conflicting priorities, yet when good women leave work it is organizations that suffer the most. 

What did I miss?