We, The Bloodthirsty

Read this now. It’s a brilliant, powerful, shocking piece by Italian freelance journalist Francesca Borri under the somewhat misleading title, “Woman’s Work.” She briefly addresses her gender head-on, but it’s the media establishment at large that is truly damned.

See, it’s not just Aleppo that’s “all gunpowder and testosterone.” It’s the newsrooms.

Earlier this year, I strongly considered going into journalism. I already spent a year in Afghanistan and speak one local language fluently, the other enough to break the ice. I thought perhaps I could use that to build connections and bring their stories to the world. When I started pitching story ideas to traditional outlets, I realized that my background was more interesting only if I were willing to throw my former employer under the bus or use my skills to uncover some sort of scandal. Apparently, where people put themselves at risk to do good, there’s no “story.”

I admire those who put their lives at risk, as Borri does, regularly, for almost no pay. But for every much-lauded story of a journalist (male, almost always) who grows a beard and embeds with an Afghan National Army unit or dresses up like the Taliban or rides a motorcycle across the desert, there are dozens of positive stories that are intentionally overlooked by newsrooms consumed by bloodlust, like the editor who asked Borri to live-Tweet her captivity. We need to make space for thoughtful young Afghan men and women telling their own stories. We need to make space for other truths.

My Afghan friends are frustrated by the stories foreign journalists empower. Those stories feed back into the local media and influence the way people think. If the Taliban are just going to win anyway, why should any Afghan stick around? If the only stories you read are of terror and failure, then it is hard to picture any other reality. In describing only suffering, we in fact perpetuate it.

That is not to knock what Borri and others do. Millions of people are huddled there, in that “dark, rancid corner,” begging the world to do something. Here’s one thing we can do: Instead of empowering only narratives of death and destruction, we can hold hands with a Syrian refugee, buy soccer balls from a Pakistani child, choose to read stories about people making a difference.

We can dare to live and love and speak our truth, even in a world that is “no place for a woman.”

The Big Picture

Three core beliefs motivate this blog and my work on women’s issues:

  1. By making the world better for women, we make it a better place for everyone. 
  2. There is no better way to make change than to make it yourself.
  3. Change only happens when people take action.

For the past several months, while continuing to work on the In My Binder book project (if less so on the blog), I have also been involving myself in the startup community and global projects such as Escape The City. I am inspired by the positive approach these people have taken to the workplace. Instead of just criticizing the status quo, they are challenging it with compelling alternative models. 

By now, “the new freelance economy” is no longer new. Forward-thinking policies such as the Affordable Care Act, even though they fall short of perfection, enable more Americans to strike out on their own. For years, I have watched with envy as my federal contractor colleagues exercised their flexibility, navigating through uncertainty without panicking, taking advantage of whatever opportunity seemed best. I was so immersed in my institutional bubble that I was slow to recognize that my experience was not unique: In the private sector, thousands of dynamos throw in the towel every year and strike out on their own.

Yes, the start-up community, like everything else professional, is still dominated by men. There are plenty of good reasons why men might be more willing to take the big risk of jumping ship: their choice is more likely to be perceived as brave, rather than manic; their skills tend to be more highly valued in the marketplace; they know that they will always be perceived as the breadwinner and therefore entitled to fair compensation. But there are also a number of incredibly inspiring women who’ve made the leap. They’re not leaning out; they’re just leaning in another direction.

I am now following in their footsteps. Leaving a tenured, well-compensated FTE position without independent wealth seems crazy to a lot of people, but I know that I can do more professionally and have a happier personal life outside of an institution that undervalues my work. It’s a little bit forceful – I am basically asking the economy to work around my priorities instead of accepting things as they are. But isn’t that precisely how change is made? 

Henceforth, you’ll see some changes to this site as well. Stay tuned.