Everyone’s got some sort of laminated badge hanging from a chain or a ribbon or clipped to their belt.
As a self-employed writer, my business cards, in two styles, and my website (which I had professionally designed for me) help to identify me to potential coaching students and clients.
But, as 19th-century American poet Walt Whitman wrote, I — like all of us — contain multitudes.
I’m a wife
I’m an immigrant/expatriate
I’m an athlete
I’m a collector of antique and vintage objects
I’m a photographer
I’m an obsessive listener of radio
I’m nominally Episcopalian/Anglican, although I haven’t attended church regularly now for almost two years
I’m a feminist
I’m socially liberal
I’m a Francophile
I’m a traveler
I’m a mentor
I’m a teacher/coach
I didn’t even think (?!) to include my race (Caucasian) or gender (cis-female) because, to me, they’re not worth mentioning….which in itself is a sign of privilege.
I get it!
Nor do I mention my age because it’s a quick and unpleasant way to pigeonhole and minimize me and my value in a culture that fetishizes and rewards youth. I don’t identify with my age group at all, even if perhaps I should.
My husband, American-born, is Hispanic and, while he speaks no Spanish — nor, as friends once asked me, does he wear a guayabera or dance salsa (!) — he likely identifies most as a photographer and photo editor.
We have no children, so the default roles of parents/grandparents are not ours.
I’m endlessly fascinated by how people identify themselves, and which identities they choose to foreground and which they choose to hide or deemphasize.
We live in a time of competing and loudly shouted identities, when intersectional feminism often gets angry and frustrating, as women try (and often fail) to comprehend one another’s challenges.
We live in a time of extraordinary income inequality, where identifying with a particular socioeconomic class can be relatively meaningless when there are millionaires who consider themselves “poor” in comparison to those with billions. Those who who fly only first class looking longingly at those who only fly private.
We live in a time of deep political division, where civil conversations stop dead, or never even start, so identifying yourself with one camp or another can be dangerous.
Well-behaved women seldom make history — Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, 1976
The photo above is me, age 37, fencing at nationals, among the women who made U.S. sports history by being the first to fence saber at that level.
Loved this recent column by stroppy British business journo Lucy Kellaway, initially published in the Financial Times:
Being difficult at work is not generally thought to be a good thing. On Amazon there are 1,387 titles on how to deal with difficult people, including Since Strangling Isn’t an Option. I failed to find a single volume called What to do When the Difficult Person is Me. Or How to be Difficult and Influence People.
As a columnist, being difficult is part of the job – if you do not enjoy sometimes getting up the noses of readers, you are too bland to be any good. Indeed, as a journalist, being personally difficult can serve you rather well. I can think of one or two writers who are so impossible their text is never tampered with. Their words invariably command pride of place because no editor can face the fuss that would result from doing otherwise.
Being difficult has other advantages too. It means that people tend not to lean on you for small favours. As one of the most important tricks to survival in the corporate world is to avoid grunt work, this makes it a powerful weapon. Being difficult also means you are likely to be better at getting your own way. It is a balancing act – you must be difficult enough to insist that things are done as you see fit, without being so difficult that people refuse to work with you.
In my first ever newspaper job, at 26, for the national daily Globe & Mail, I won that moniker as well.
I like it.
I’ve been reading Roxane Gay’s book of essays, Bad Feminist, in which she ponders the problem of being likable, of needing and wanting to be likable — and how playing along with the status quo so often weakens us as women.
“Even from a young age I understood that when a girl in unlikable, a girl is a problem. I also understood that I wasn’t being intentionally mean. I was being honest (admittedly without tact), and I was being human. It is either a blessing or curse that those are rarely likable qualities in a woman.
Women who stand up for themselves, and others, are often labeled “difficult” — as in non-pliable, not sufficiently obedient or deferential or polite or, worst of all, just not very “nice.”
As though these were the most crucial attributes a woman can offer to the world.
A must-read book for every woman who wants to remain alive, safe and free from criminal predation is The Gift of Fear.
I was given it by a man I dated in 1998 — a con man, a convicted criminal I discovered had served time in Chicago and moved to New York where he found fresh victims, which included me. Being a lot more difficult would have kept me safe from him, but I was lonely, isolated and vulnerable to sustained attention.
This smart, tough book, written by a security expert, makes very clear that our wish to be seen as kind or welcoming, as unthreatening, can kill us.
Of course, no one wants to work with or live with or marry or be friends with someone who’s always a frosty bitch or a draaaaaaama queen or queen bee.
You can be “difficult” and still be someone people love deeply and respect the hell out of — it just might be a much smaller circle.
When I meet a woman, or hear about one whose accomplishments I admire, I rarely care if she is or was a likable person.
Better she be passionate, compassionate, principled, intelligent, articulate, active,connected, courageous.
As resistance to Donald Trump grows, one American writer credits women with reinvigorating the left.
Women, with women of color at front and center, can be the engines of new progressive activism in all arenas. It’s a rebuke to the theory floated by some on the left that there is a disjunction between “identity politics” and politics, a rebuke to those who suggested in the wake of Trump’s electoral win that the future lies in moving away from divisive “social issues” and identity-framed movements and back to economic policies.
What this event did, on the most massive scale we have seen in this country, is reaffirm what has always been true: The impact of identity bias has always been economic, and economic issues have always most powerfully disadvantaged those who experience identity bias. Or to put it another way: Women’s rights are human rights.
It takes guts and determination to fight oppression.
To ask for the job.
To speak truth to power.
To ask for a raise.
To leave a crappy marriage.
To stand up to a bully, even one who’s not talking to you. (Bitch!)
To challenge the status quo.
It also takes having some money in the bank, a fuck-you fund to pay the bills when the boss decides you’re just too annoying.
The New York Times (yes, for whom I freelance frequently) posted this enormous story (we call ’em ‘heaves’ for a reason), a front-page face-palm over the fact that women at elite colleges (the rest of you, meh) are not having committed sex with their fiances, but are in fact hooking up for fun and…you, know, sex.
And — because any story about: 1) sex; 2) young women; 3) elite university students; 4) hooking up is going to be fucking catnip for the finger-wagging crowd, the story had gathered a stunning and possibly unprecedented 788 comments within hours.
Here’s some of it:
These women said they saw building their résumés, not finding boyfriends
(never mind husbands), as their main job at Penn. They envisioned their
20s as a period of unencumbered striving, when they might work at a
bank in Hong Kong one year, then go to business school, then move to a
corporate job in New York. The idea of lugging a relationship through
all those transitions was hard for many to imagine. Almost universally,
the women said they did not plan to marry until their late 20s or early
In this context, some women, like A., seized the opportunity to have sex
without relationships, preferring “hookup buddies” (regular sexual
partners with little emotional commitment) to boyfriends.
But Elizabeth A. Armstrong, a sociologist at the University of Michigan
who studies young women’s sexuality, said that women at elite
universities were choosing hookups because they saw relationships as too
demanding and potentially too distracting from their goals.
In interviews, “Some of them actually said things like, ‘A relationship
is like taking a four-credit class,’ or ‘I could get in a relationship,
or I could finish my film,’ ” Dr. Armstrong said.
One of the things I enjoy about Broadside is that I have readers from their teens to people their grandparents’ age, some of whom are devoutly religious and for whom pre-marital sex is taboo. I get that and respect that.
But this is for/about people who are going to have sex and beyond the really tedious heteronormative strictures of getting engaged/married/pregnant, certainly right out of college — i.e. by your early or mid 20s.
You actually can be pretty, smart, ambitious and deeply ambivalent about wanting to permanently attach yourself to a man (or woman) before you have a clue who you are! That might mean years, even a few decades of sexual experimentation, travel, graduate study, volunteer work, returning home — or all of these.
You might never wish to marry at all.
You might not want to have children.
This hand-flapping over when, where, how and why young women are having uncommitted sex is — to my mind — pretty old hat. Many of us were having, and enjoying, uncommitted sex in the 1970s when I was in college, long before herpes, then AIDS scared everyone into abstinence or commitment for a while.
Now everyone with a brain uses condoms to protect themselves from both (and HPV, chlamydia, etc.)
The notion that young, educated women are incapable of — the term is accurate, if crude — sport-fucking — is absurd.
It may deeply comfort people to assume that all women, everywhere, all the time, from puberty to death, only want to bonk people with whom they are deeply in love and with whom they are really dying to rush to the altar.
Love this thoughtful and insightful rant (they can be all those at once) about the death of third-wave feminism — by Mark Morford at sfgate.com, commenting on an Atlantic magazine think-piece by a woman:
It is something to behold. Right now I’m vainly attempting to cross-reference Hanna Rosin’s fascinating mixed-bag article from the Atlantic that ran under the delightfully obnoxious headline “The End of Men: How Women are Taking Control of Everything,” and mixing it with all the feverish stories about California’s landmark political races, Carly and Meg and Pelosi, too, influenced by everyone’s favorite winkin’ ditzball from hell, Sarah Palin.
And I’m tossing in a dash of pop culture, all the MIAs and Lady Gagas and Miley Cyruses, the Kathryn Bigelows and the ditzbombs of “Sex and the City,” trying to parse and understand and see some sort of through-line.
I am not having much success. Most women — and many of us men — are cheering madly at all the newfound roles, powers, titles, successes and attentions, from Hillary’s stunning presidential run to Bigelow’s Oscar to (even) Meg Whitman’s pile of billions that could very well buy her the election.
But…many are…entirely furious that many of third-wave feminism’s cornerstone values — abortion rights, humanitarianism, anti-racism, don’t kill stuff — are being violently, stupidly co-opted, inverted, perverted, repackaged…
In short, most progressive women are right now discovering a brutally painful truth, one that men have known for millennia: With power, glory and long overdue cultural advancement, comes a whole delightful s–bag of downsides, drawbacks, jackals and bitches to poison the party. Fun!
See, long was it believed, via some utopian/naive vision held by “enlightened” men and women alike, that if and when the feminist movement — all three waves of it, really, from Virginia Woolf to Betty Freidan, bell hooks to riot grrls — finally started to get everything it desired, there would surely be some wonderful sea change in the culture, a new paradigm to replace all the ugly, outdated structures of power and ego erected by old white men, something far more fluid and interesting, liberal and heartfelt and, well, nonmasculine.
Well, as if!
One of the delightful issues with power — wanting it, buying it, voting for it, getting it, keeping it, getting it back after you’ve blown it — is…you have to flex some serious muscle to get, own and keep it. Whether that power is physical, emotional, financial, political, intellectual (and they’re usually fairly entangled) sexual, or spiritual, some of it, if not all of it, is going to freak out and piss off a bunch of other women who think naked raw power — and showing how much you really want it — is a male thing.
That women are de facto gentler and kinder and all dance to the moonbeams’ glow. Snort.
While some women have been exercising whatever limited powers were granted to them (sexual, emotional) from the dawn of time — resentful others have silently seethed in the corner for having less-to-none of it.
If there’s anything more annoying than not having the power you so crave, it’s watching women whose behavior and values you loathe have tons of it and mis-using it. The economics of scarcity make it ugly.
But…claiming (your) power takes guts, putting your value out in front of others to judge. They may very well find you wanting.
That’s the price of admission to the boxing ring of power. Someone’s going to punch you in the face and you need a skilled and loyal cut man to keep you in the game.
Which is why I loved Hilary Swank in the 2004 Clint Eastwood film “Million Dollar Baby”. It’s nominally about a female boxer and her trainer but it’s just as much about finding a man (could be a woman) who knows what it takes to hit your peak and will push you to achieve it.
I hate Sarah Palin, Lady Gaga and many of the women who keep attracting media attention for polticial views I loathe, rampant stupidity and/or and tacky, skanky behavior.
But that’s the price of feminism, isn’t it? Everyone gets to play.
Teenage feminists are a mighty minority. You may find us in the malls, mingling amongst girls who carry bags plastered with the image of a naked torso and the word “Abercrombie.” We’re even at football games, willingly crushed between excited pubescent bodies. Maybe we’re the girls in the hoodies rolling our eyes as the cheerleaders jump around, but we are there. The fact is: we’re not always the hairy-legged girls with makeup-less faces scowling through the daily grind of the high school experience, clutching a battered copy of The Second Sex. Sometimes we are. But we’re not always that easy to spot.
Why? That image is a stereotype most feminists, let alone teenagers, don’t fit. We can be the girl at the game, the girl shaking her ass at homecoming, or even the “girl next door.” So, why can’t you recognize us? Most teenage feminists don’t even know that they are teenage feminists. How could you?
How are we supposed to identify as feminists when most of us don’t even know what a feminist looks like? Role models are important. They help us figure out who we are as we sit in a cafeteria full of people who are defined by a single word. Prep. Jock. My favorite: Slut. Role models help us figure out what we want to be rather than what everybody else has labeled us.
But who are our role models? Most teenage girls don’t know who Gloria Steinem is, or they believe that Hillary Clinton is a whiny bitch (like this winner), because that’s how the media portrays her. It’s sad but true. If these women are even on our radar at all, they’ve probably already been made unpopular by the media. And nobody wants to be unpopular at sixteen. We fear the hatred of others like our parents fear taxes.
But by 1969, as the women’s movement gathered force around them, the dollies got restless. They began meeting in secret, whispering in the ladies’ room or huddling around a colleague’s desk. To talk freely they’d head to the Women’s Exchange, a 19th-century relic where they could chat discreetly on their lunch break. At first there were just three, then nine, then ultimately 46—women who would become the first group of media professionals to sue for employment discrimination based on gender under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Their employer was NEWSWEEK magazine.
In 1970, 46 women sued Newsweek for gender discrimination. Today, three young writers examine how much has changed.
Until six months ago, when sex- and gender-discrimination scandals hit ESPN, David Letterman’s Late Show, and the New York Post, the three of us—all young NEWSWEEK writers—knew virtually nothing of these women’s struggle. Over time, it seemed, their story had faded from the collective conversation. Eventually we got our hands on a worn copy of In Our Time, a memoir written by a former NEWSWEEK researcher, Susan Brownmiller, which had a chapter on the uprising.
In countless small ways, each of us has felt frustrated over the years, as if something was amiss. But as products of a system in which we learned that the fight for equality had been won, we didn’t identify those feelings as gender-related. It seemed like a cop-out, a weakness, to suggest that the problem was anybody’s fault but our own. It sounds naive—we know—especially since our own boss Ann McDaniel climbed the ranks to become NEWSWEEK’s managing director, overseeing all aspects of the company…
Yet the more we talked to our friends and colleagues, the more we heard the same stories of disillusionment, regardless of profession. No one would dare say today that “women don’t write here,” as the NEWSWEEK women were told 40 years ago. But men wrote all but six of NEWSWEEK’s 49 cover stories last year—and two of those used the headline “The Thinking Man.” In 1970, 25 percent of NEWSWEEK’s editorial masthead was female; today that number is 39 percent. Better? Yes. But it’s hardly equality. (Overall, 49 percent of the entire company, the business and editorial sides, is female.) “Contemporary young women enter the workplace full of enthusiasm, only to see their hopes dashed,” says historian Barbara J. Berg. “Because for the first time they’re slammed up against gender bias.” [NB: added boldface here mine]
My first New York City job — oh, I had high hopes! — was for Newsweek’s international edition, the skinny, onion-skin-paper version I’d bought in Africa and Europe myself. I was offered a job tryout of a month. I was warned they already had someone in mind, male, with a fresh Ivy graduate degree (I have no graduate degree). I was also competing with a friend, a lower-level employee there.
I opened the desk drawer to find Tums and aspirin. I got an attaboy note on one of my four stories, one per week, but was still shown the door, as foretold, after a month in their hallowed halls. I did get to go out for dinner with fellow staffers to a nearby Japanese restaurant, everyone confidently using only chopsticks. Luckily, I could too. The conversation was competitively smart.
I interviewed three more times over the years at Newsweek, never hired. I admit, I shrivel in job interviews — even with a book, five fellowships, two major newspaper jobs and fluency in two languages. “Do you write for The Atlantic? Harper’s?” I was asked the last time. Of every smart, ambitious, talented writer, about .0002 percent will ever crack one of those two markets, probably two of the most difficult in American journalism to penetrate.
Naively thinking this was intellectually possible without engaging my sexuality — sort of like trying to drive in neutral, as it turned out — I tried, briefly, to get to know a very senior editor there after I left my try-out, hoping he might take an interest in my work and help me try for another chance there.
To my dismay, and shock, he leaned in close at one of our lunches and said, “I can’t smell your perfume.”
Excuse me? He was older, married. I was engaged and living with my fiance. None of which matters. My perfume?
Bennett, at 28 a “senior writer” after four years there, said: “We were mesmerized by the descriptions of what went on back then. We just couldn’t get enough!” Thanks to buyouts over the years, the women who’d managed to get in and hang on at Newsweek had left. “A lot of institutional knowledge was gone,” said Bennett.
Said Povich, “It’s hard to be a feminist in a ‘post-feminist’ world.”
I’d write off my own lunchtime weirdness with that editor as something dinosaur-ish, impossible today, but for the Newsweek staffers’ current stories:
If a man takes an interest in our work, we can’t help but think about the male superior who advised “using our sexuality” to get ahead, or the manager who winkingly asked one of us, apropos of nothing, to “bake me cookies.” One young colleague recalls being teased about the older male boss who lingered near her desk. “What am I supposed to do with that? Assume that’s the explanation for any accomplishments? Assume my work isn’t valuable?” she asks. “It gets in your head, which is the most insidious part.”
A recent study of the top 15 political and news magazines found that their male by-lines (the credit line for a story’s writer) outnumbered those of women seven to one.