What Are We to Make of Ourselves?

Published on by Lisa Gates.

It seems to be women's week or women's month or women's year in the news, the academic research and the blogosphere.

Should we be naughty or nice?  Sexy or forbidding?  Relational or directive?  Motherly or professional?

If we can't have it all, can we have any of it?  

Are we our own worst enemies or one another's frenemies?

How about assuming that we can control our own individual conversation and, in the process, become as idiosyncratic, multi-dimensional and textured as we want to be.  

And while we're at it, why don't we give each other a break by letting our sisters and our daughters, our mothers and our grand-daughters, our nieces and our women friends of all ages be just as feminine (or not) or "motherly" (or not) as each one of us wants to be.

I know a lot of dads who do this ~ live within their skin more than they do their gender.  Lots of them are engaged with the lives of their children and make lifestyle (and career ambition) choices in accord with their preferences.  Because I practiced law for 25 years at a time when women were just beginning to figure out career vs. motherhood, I know a lot of women who chose profession over career.  Their husbands more often than not chose to be the primary caretaker of the children if there were children.

So what are we to make of this week's New York Times Magazine piece on "the new" new woman embracing her "mama Grizzly" on both sides of the aisle?  Or of Andrea Schneider's and Bridget Crawford's observations on research demonstrating that women lawyers escape negotiation-punishment for crossing gender boundaries "because their role, status, and expectations as a negotiator do not fit into the 'feminine' stereotype but rather the 'lawyer' one."  An observation that rightly leads Crawford to ask the obvious and important question whether we women lawyers (or executives, physicians, nuclear physicists, or engineers) still have a hard time negotiating for ourselves.

The answer to that question, by the way, is yes.

The full paper both law professors are writing about is available here.

Here's what I have to say about all of this:  we don't need no stinkin' badges!  We're in the midst of a human revolution at the end of a long line of racial and gender and nationality and sexual preference wars.  Anyone who wants to challenge male dominance, go for it and do so without the tisk, tisking of your sisters telling you that you shouldn't kvetch or whine or trouble anyone with your (wholly justifiable) complaints about wage and promotion disparity. And while you're at it, read C.V. Harquail's post on viewing TED conference speaker invitations as curation rather than meritocracy as a new way to think about inclusion and diversity.

Anyone of us who wants to sell the "brand" of ourselves as uniquely "feminine" or "motherly" likely has those qualities in abundance and can use them in good stead for all of us.  And those of us who were taught to "cut the bastards a few extras assholes" should be able to admit to doing that as well (or at least continuing to think of certain contests in that manner and to actually talk about them in that way without scandalizing the neighborhood).

Those who wish to stay at home with their children, breast feeding them for a year as I'm now told is not simply beneficial but absolutely necessary for the health of the next round of humans on the planet ~ if they can do that and want to do that they should go ahead and do that.  And those who wish to fight the fight for medical insurance to cover breast pumps so that young mothers who must, or want, to work during their child's first year should be writing letters to the editor and their congress people, blogging and making telephone calls or simply learning the right medical "code" to get the bureaucracy to pay.  

I once read a ridiculously simplistic book that everyone was reading, but I did so only after someone I actually loved ask me to do so "as a favor."  So I skimmed Jonathan Livingston Seagull out of duty but landed on a single line that I've never forgotten and have always taken to heart.

When we argue for our limitations, we get to keep them.

Let's be brave enough and bold enough and creative enough and secure enough to screw everybody who thinks I should be a woman in a particular way doing a particular thing for a particular reason.  As e.e. cummings wrote, in essence, dont' bother me, I'm busy being born.

Feminism, Pay Equity, Implicit Bias

Published on by Lisa Gates.