Get over the F Word

Lately I’ve seen a rash of articles about feminism that have me feeling itchy.

Even more maddening, I haven’t been able to name my response.  I just know that it is visceral.

I think it started with this op-ed about the conservative women candidates who celebrated victories in the June primaries.  But as I got deeper into the Great Schism of feminist ideology, bloggers like Taylor Marsh coming down on one side and Kathleen Parker from The Post on the other, I felt my ire rise both at the coverage of Sarah Palin and at my inarticulateness in the face of that coverage.

Sarah Palin makes me cringe.  She speaks almost exclusively in cliches and colloquialisms.  She has the gall to mock things like “hope” and “change” in a country where 50% of the population has felt dissatisfied or outraged for (at least) the last decade.  I think she is akin to one of those wind-socks at a car dealership, blowing furiously for attention, bending this way and that way but lacking actual substance. 

But if we’re to believe her latest campaign commercial, not everyone feels that way.  She was Governor of Alaska and a candidate for Vice-President of the United States so she must have something going for her besides her aw-shucks, Annie Oakley-style rootin’ and tootin’.  Right?  I mean, right? 

With all due respect to Ms. Steinem who categorically denounces Palin as unfeminist by reason of her anti-choice stance, I think she missed the point.  

This isn’t about linguistic copyright infringement.  Saying Palin can’t join our club doesn’t carry any weight because she has her own clubhouse and doesn’t care about our “rules.”  This is about leadership and mobilization and public relations.  She is getting extraordinary media coverage and promoting the idea that she leads a movement of like-minded women.  And we’re complaining that she misused our secret handshake.

There is a beautiful line delivered in the West Wing series by the character Ainsley Hayes where she says, “I don’t think whatever sexuality I have diminishes my power. I think it enhances it.” “And what kind of feminism do you call that?” Celia asks. “My kind.”

There is no doubt that women in politics can be mean girls who deliver catty comments.   There are plenty of arguments for how Feminist Blogs are guilty of the same strong-arm, mind-melting that Women’s Magazines use like in this one from Slate.com.  Feminism shouldn’t pit women against other women.  (It shouldn’t pit women against men, either.)

But Palin is undoubtedly speaking to and for a segment not aligned with Ms. Steinem’s views.  She’s charismatic, and passionate,  and of-the people.  She’s the female version of George Bush with the same bumbling statements and embarassing, you-should-know-better public gaffes.  

I’m of the opinion that the Head of State should be a Statesman (or woman).  A dignified, learned leader and orator who inspires confidence and exemplifies moderation and exercises diplomacy.  I think we have that now.  But about half the country thinks we’re going to hell in a handbasket. 

So wouldn’t that tell us that we have slightly more important things to debate than whether or not Palin is allowed to use the word ‘feminist’ to describe herself?  I mean, you can’t exactly put the toothpaste back in the tube. 

So let’s get over the F-word. 

Reproductive rights are critically important for women to participate fully in society, full stop.  But what of that society?  Is it even worth participating in? 

Or maybe we need another F-word… like F-ocus.  Shine the Feminist spotlight on women’s issues like the war, no, the other war, the economic crisis, unemployment, the obesity epidemic, the oil spill in the Gulf, the energy crisis, the breakdown of our education system, our dwindling competitive advantage in a free-market economy, our crumbling infrastructures, our international relations, our civil unrest, or the growing divide between rich and poor in this country.

F, yes those are women’s issues. 

We are F-amily.  I got all my sisters with me.

Nothing says ‘I love you’ like a Mixed Tape

Or in this case, a playlist.

I walked the hills of my neighborhood yesterday with the peanut in her stroller.  It had been a while since my iPod was charged (another bonus of packing – you find everything you ‘lost’) so I had a huge number of playlists to choose from.

I picked the one I made for my daughter right after she was born.

I am no musician.  I can’t read music.  But I do play an instrument – my voice.  While I may not be the greatest singer in the world, I can certainly hold my own.  The songs that inevitably end up being my favorites are ones that I love to sing.  Lullabies were not very high on that list.

My daughter’s official song is “Georgia Rae” by John Hiatt.  It reminded me of her even in utero so when she was born 22 inches long and 10 lbs. 1 oz., I cackled at the line “She don’t wanna play basketball.”  Plus my daughter’s name can be substituted for the refrain perfectly.  The lyrics are really lovely and John Hiatt is a favorite songwriter of mine.  He’s got a unique tone to his voice that floats somewhere between Joe Cocker and Ray Charles.  Listen to him.  Or at least that song.  You’ll know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, the thing that stuck out the most while I was listening to the songs I chose for the peanut’s “mixed tape’ was that I am a total sap!  Good lord, each song was more emotionally gooey than the next.  And here’s another zinger for you:  I still love every single one. 

Ugh!  What has become of me?!?!?!!  Have any of you been guilty of this unabashed mommy-gushing too? 

I had smiled the entire walk.  And believe you me, those hills are nothing to smile about!  But that positivity has to count for something, eh?

If you’re looking for a little “I grow humans, hear me cuddle” music for your own iPod, here’s my list of lovey-dovey, mommy music:

My Wish by Rascal Flatts
Something in the Way She Moves by James Taylor
Now That I Found You by Terri Clark
Over the Rainbow by Brother IZ
What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong
Georgia Rae by John Hiatt
Your Song by Elton John
Only Love by Wynonna Judd
She by Elvis Costello
Shower the People by James Taylor
Holdin’ You by Gretchen Wilson
Baby Mine by SHeDAISY

Why these songs?  Lyrics, baby.  I’m a girl to the core and lyrics get me every time.

Lines like “Yours are the sweetest eyes I’ve ever seen,”  “If it feels nice, don’t think twice,” or “Out of all the flags I’ve flown, one flies high and stands alone – only Love”  can apply broadly but take on new meaning when applied to your child.  And “She may be the beauty or the beast,”  “All that I need is right here.  Holdin’ You holds me together,” and “While you’re out there gettin’ where you gettin’ to, I hope you know somebody loves you” absolutely MUST be about children, I just never knew.

“Baby Mine” is from Dumbo, which may be the saddest Disney movie in the Universe and made me bawl even as a child because of the poor Mama elephant.  SHeDaisy does a really nice job covering this.  “From your head to your toes you’re not much goodness knows.  But you’re so precious to me, cute as can be, Baby of Mine.”  Rock your little one and sing that.  I DARE YOU NOT TO WELL UP.

My favorite by far is from “Georgia Rae” and says “There’s no telling what she might do before her doin’ days are through, but right now she can’t even crawl.” 

No telling, indeed, Peanut.  XO

Signs of a Mama

If you catch me without makeup on, you might think to yourself, “Voldemort 1, Schugarmama 0.” 

I have a ‘Harry Potter mark.’

Right down the middle of my forehead is a jagged stripe of skin that doesn’t tan.  Or rather, the bulk of my forehead has turned brown save for a lightning strike down the middle.  I also have little patches that are reverse raccoon eyes (white instead of black) but those are less obvious, I think.

I’m not sure exactly when I got them but sometime during my last few months of pregnancy, they showed up. 

I understand the phenomenon is called “Melasma.”

The other day we went to Toddler Time at the Rec Complex and I noticed several of the other mums had similar masks on their faces.  Others had spots.  Not freckles but big brown spots. 

I’m not sure why, but I was fascinated seeing these women.  I did my best not to stare, because honestly… swimming suits are a recipe for self-consciousness as it is.  I just thought they looked beautiful.

The interesting thing about Toddler Time was that the pool was filled with all pint-sized kiddles and their folks.  The parents ranged from a few years younger to a few years older than us. 

There were thin mums and round mums.  There were mums expecting another baby.  Some mums had great arms, some had great legs, some had great abs.  (How is this possible?)  All of us had an extraordinary amount of skin exposed.  This is the same skin that has browned and bleached, dimpled, torn, scarred and stretched, mostly as a result of pregnancy.

The crazy thing is that I didn’t feel at all out of place. 

And ordinarily, I feel like the biggest person in the room.  Even if that room is the whole world.

Have you ever seen Gok Wan’s show? (Carson is fine, but Gok is Divine.) He does a queue of his naked beauties and asks women to place themselves in the queue by size.  They are always wrong – sometimes horrifically wrong.  It is amazing to me that we can be so wrong about the body in which we live.

It wasn’t as if I didn’t see these women’s flaws.  I have no doubt they were aware of mine.  But somehow, with only our scraps of lycra, sunnies, and sunhats to camouflage us, we were comfortable in our skin.

And that, my friends, is a Sign of a Mama.

Lean Legacy

I love food. 

I have lived and traveled all over the world and sampled cuisine in the most unlikely places that makes my toes curl.  I am an adventurous and confident cook and view dinner guests as my personal focus groups for new, sometimes bizarre recipes.  I love recreating restaurant dishes at home and embellishing cookbook instructions with my own culinary insights.

But I also hate food.

I blame food, rather than my dysfunctional relationship with it, for my over-curvy figure.  I know I’m not alone or even terribly unique.  A reported 68% of adults are considered overweight or obese in this country.

There was a time when I had the lean, tight body of an athlete.  I was a softball catcher in high-school and a swimmer in college.  In my 20s, I enjoyed a brief window of physical perfection after a particularly bad break-up and subsequent work-out obsession.

But that was all a long time ago.

I don’t remember weighing myself until I was in my late 20s…  I never dieted in high-school or college.  I think that makes me somewhat of an anomaly nowadays.    Yet I distinctly remember when my weight went up and stayed up. 

Somewhere in my 20s, I stopped eating for love and started eating for pain. 

I am certainly guilty of ingesting my share of cheese fries, pizza, and processed junk but it has more likely been the volume of food I eat that has kept me from being at an optimal weight.

I would probably go my entire life without addressing the source of my disorder were it not for one small reason… my daughter.

My beautiful girl will undoubtedly inherit her share of my bad habits despite my best efforts to tame them:  my temper, my bossiness, my outspokenness, my mischievousness.

But I would be stricken with grief if she inherited my unhealthy relationship with food.

Of course, children learn what they live.  Girls especially, copy their mother’s habits, mannerisms, and behavior.  How soon will she recognize that mommy eats every bit as much food as daddy?  How soon will she notice that mommy snacks even after a full meal?  Too soon, I’m afraid.

I often joke that I was my healthiest when I was pregnant because my body was a temple to motherhood.  I protected that little life inside me against my normal “toxins”.  Why couldn’t I do that for myself?  Aren’t I worthy of being protected too?

As I watch my daughter mimic my loving cuddles with her dollies, I hope I can also find a way to show her how to love herself and value her health.  She is so precious and worthy to me.  Can I make sure that she feels that same way about herself? 

I don’t believe in “do as I say, not as I do” living or parenting, so my challenge is both real and immediate.  Eating habits are established young.  Body confidence as a woman is difficult enough without adding unhealthy weight to the problem.  How many of us are still harboring low self-esteem that originated in our adolescence? 

It isn’t a charity or celebrity chef raising my daughter.  It’s me.  And there isn’t anything I won’t do for her.  Including breaking some old habits.

There is a legacy of motherhood that fascinates me.  In giving life to our children, they often save ours.

(This article was first posted on www.STLFamilyLife.com on May 10, 2010.)

Small Town, USA

This weekend marked the anniversary of our nation’s decision to initiate our independence.

During the celebrations with fireworks and bar-b-ques, family gatherings with apple pie, flags, parades, and gratitude, I really want to live in a small town. 

And I do, sort of. 

Many here in St. Louis will roll their eyes at me and gripe that at nearly 3MM people, St. Louis isn’t “small.”  But that population number includes all the little municipalities surrounding the city, including Webster Groves where we live for another 28 days. 

Yesterday, hub and I took the peanut to the Webster Groves Independence Day parade.  Nama and Papa came too.  It was every bit of a July day in St. Louis (think swamp but with sunburn and without gators).  We found a scrap of shade on the main street and camped out to watch the scene. 

The floats were mostly amateur.  Many of the signs were hand-written by someone who had never taken art.  Politicians dominated the line up (annoying), Planned Parenthood (5 people) and Pro-Life (50 people) marched for their causes.  There were beauty queens and politically-correct queens.  There were football teams, cheerleaders, clowns, cops, firefighters and military.  It was all very conservative and small town. 

I loved it. 

Watching my daughter ‘Oooh’ and ‘Aaaah’ over the bubble bus and the big trucks and the nice people tossing candy just about choked me up.

This is why we decided to move out of a big city in the first place.  Family was the primal pull, but giving the bub access and exposure to simple joys like home-town parades, neighborhood aquatic centers, and a yard were paramount in our decision.

One woman I met at the gym summarized it perfectly.  She said that not long after she and her boys had moved from Chicago to St. Louis they had walked by a man outside a shop who smiled at them.  She returned his smile.  Her boys were VERY alarmed asking, “Do you know him, Mom?”  She explained that no,  she didn’t know him.  But that when someone smiles at you, it is polite to smile back. 

They were dumbstruck by this revelation.  It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

At the opposite end of the spectrum of living in a small town is the risk of  “otherness.” 

During a client meeting here in St. Louis, we were marveling at how all of us lived in Webster Groves.  My colleague, however, singled me out by saying, “Yeah, but you just rent.” 

It would never have occured to me to categorize someone that way or to judge them so baldly for it.

People have many ways to say, “You are not like us.  We don’t know what to do with you.”  We’ve experience quite a few in our short stay from strangers, frenemies and even family.

I love the line in “My Cousin Vinny” where Pesci tells his girlfriend she ‘sticks out like a sore thumb.’  In her hilarious Jersey accent, Marisa Tomei retorts sarcastically, “Oh, yeah. You blend.”

Growing up here, I felt like a sore thumb most of the time.  There was a certain expectation of conformity that I both craved and rejected desperately.  Rejection won.

In big cities, the population is rife with “others”. 

The first time I moved away from St. Louis, I was pretty certain that escape was necessary for survival.  This time, however, we were so fortunate to find some “others” who were transplants by marriage, ‘misfits’ by profession or creed, or simply cosmopolitan spirits who don’t give a damn where we went to high-school.

In the end, it was an economic decision to pick the big city over the small one.  We believe in reading what the universe writes out for us and in taking the next step when it is revealed.  For our family, for now, we belong back in Chicago.

And to the friends whose welcome has made us feel cherished and valued, I am reminded of the closing lines from “The Prince of Tides”:

“Admit it.  You just love [them] more.”

“Not more, [my friends].  Just longer.”

This One’s for the Girls

I once had an interviewer tell me that his favorite hires were single women.  Why?  Because they had to support themselves (necessity is the mother of invention) and they were hell-bent on proving themselves (ambition, competition, workaholism).  I wanted to be offended but couldn’t be.  In my case, he was absolutely, bang-on right. 

It’s hard to argue with the truth.

My career was one manifestation of “Fake it until you make it” after another.  I own this; I don’t even hide the fact anymore because I actually did ‘make it’ in some sense. I’m also reasonably sure that 92% of people are full of crap so what’s the use of impressing them?   I know that I have a particular set of qualities and experiences that might be interpreted as skills to some.  I also know that those skills are pretty damn valuable. 

So when I was recently offered a consulting role in addition to my full-time position with Technorati, I had no problem turning down the opportunity because it didn’t pay enough. 

What is ‘enough’?  That’s highly subjective but my calculation went as follows: 

What is my hourly wage for my full-time job?  Easy enough:  Salary + Commission / 50  weeks / 40 hours.  But consulting would be in addition to those 40 hours.  It would be subtracting from time spent with my daughter and  husband.  They’re worth every bit as much as I am so the answer is 3x(hourly wage) = HIRED. 

Do I need three times my hourly wage? No. 
Would I do work for less than that?  Probably. 
Do I deserve to be paid that much?  You bet your @ss.  And so do you. 

Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge your value before discussing your bargain rate doesn’t KNOW your value. 
Why work for anyone who doesn’t know your value?

But what absolutely bewilders me is that women who are wildly accomplished in their field still feel that tape-worm of doubt gnawing away at their moxie.

Last night I enjoyed a social media event here in St. Louis that was well-attended by some such women.  These women have marked achievements in marketing, journalism, social media and the like.  They are successful writers, speakers, strategists, and entrepreneurs. And every single one of them said some version of the following:

“I don’t know what I’m worth.”

WHAT. THE. BLEEP.

There’s no easy way to say this:  If you don’t know your value, don’t expect anyone else to know it.

Now that I’m back in the comfy embrace of my media world, the reciprocity switch has been firmly locked in the upright position.  Peers, colleagues, strangers, clients, and headhunters have all materialized with ideas, projects, jobs, searches, requests, and business. 
The universe has affirmed my decision with a dance in the end-zone.

When connecting some industry friends to one particular job opening, I heard it again – the hushed tone that ordinarily uninhibited women use when admitting some perceived shortcoming.  This time, that shortcoming was social media knowledge.  This branch of marketing is so nuanced with tentacles in search, design, writing, word-of-mouth, reputation management, and CRM that nearly everyone I have ever met in my entire life has some kind of knowledge to contribute. 

Yet, these women were essentially counting themselves out because they hadn’t written the book, or any book, on the topic.  This is just crazy talk.  Everyone can’t be Chris Brogan, and even the man with the plan makes mistakes.

Me thinks there be a branding opportunity here:  The Dove Self-Esteem Project  for business women? 
No?  Ok, well we’ve gotta do something because y’all are too damn talented to keep underselling yourselves. 

Next time you forget that, call me.

I’ll tell ya.

The Devil Wears Pixels

I watched a deliciously girly movie tonight on FX – and amid the pomp and circumstance of the fashion and fuss, I was reminded of some amazing lessons I’ve learned in my career.

I’m not one of those people who is overly critical of movies. I consider films great if I laugh or cry and absolutely phenomenal if I get to do both. Beneath the gilded tapestry of lines in the Devil Wears Prada are some wholly un-materialistic value messages.

There’s a scene where Andi and Miranda are in a town car in Paris. Andi says “I could never do what you did” and Miranda retorts “You already did.” If you’ve seen this scene you know exactly how cutting this exchange is. If not, it is like your mother holding a mirror up to your face the morning after an all-nighter. You feel shame and disgust and guilt even if you didn’t do anything.

The thing is, I am so fascinated by the way women treat each other in life and in business. One of my favorite sayings is that ‘only ugly girls are catty’. If one looks ok on the outside and is still obsessed with cutting and undermining, well… that ugliness lives somewhere.

I remember in my teens and early twenties, I proudly pitched myself as a guys’ girl. I simply didn’t have anything in common with other women. They were idiots or bimbos or superficial or prissy or backstabbing or bobbleheads. And then I realized I was simply hanging out with the wrong women.

I credit my friend Martina with helping me embrace my universal sisterhood. As a transplanted woman, she focused exclusively on cultivating friendships with strong, smart, fun women. Since we’re still friends, I’m going to assert that she was wildly successful in her venture.

It took me a long time to figure out how to navigate the treacherous and often treasonous world of female friendships. Admittedly, I sometimes still get it wrong. But for all of the mistakes I’ve made (too often drunk at weddings when I felt my most awful and insecure), I have done some things right.

I believe in giving women compliments. I give them all the time. I give them to people I know and to total strangers. I don’t care if anyone knows or hears except for the recipient. Women don’t know enough good things about themselves. Women NEVER hear enough good things about themselves. There is nothing like a spontaneous compliment to plug the leak in the self-esteem drain.

I also believe in honesty. False support/friendship is a weakness and should be banished from our gender’s repertoire.

I promote the idea that two wrongs do not make a right. And a shallow, caustic comment should not inspire an equally biting retort.

This goes for work environments as well.

In advertising, I have felt privileged to work with a lot of women here, here, and here. I mean that. Privileged.

That doesn’t mean that I liked or respected all of them. And that doesn’t mean that my first impression was right all the time. But here’s the thing…

It is a mistake to stab people in the back, or the front.

Anytime.

No matter what.

In the movie, Andi goes to Paris instead of Emily. She says she had no choice – it was to preserve her future. Miranda scoffs at Andi’s repugnance with the comment “Everyone wants this. Everyone wants to be us.”

I

think

not.

(SIDE NOTE: Robyn Williams delivers a great speech to Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “Patch Adams” about being a dick. He says, in effect, that it is a mistake of youth to think that one has to be a dick to get ahead in life and naivete to think that that is a new concept. This is a brilliant statement to me. Simply brilliant. Because for all of our striving and struggling and scratching and clawing… what, in effect, will our legacy be?)

For me, I am laying down once and for all any feelings of betrayal or indignation or rage. People make choices that we cannot understand or explain or accept. But that is really, in the end, only their problem. It becomes ours when we hold onto it.

As for me, I plan to love and be loved. I plan to teach and to learn. I plan to hope and to laugh.

And to wear fabulous shoes.

Here’s to good women-
May we know them,
may we be them,
may we raise them.

(Reposted from Facebook, 8.31.09)

Reluctant Capitalist, Unapologetic Feminist, Fire-Breather.

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