Archive | Feminism

Gender Gap in Silicon Valley…

So the other day I was reading The New Yorker — the actual magazine, not the tablet version. I hate reading magazines electronically. They force me to read chronologically, when for me some of the joy of reading a magazine is flipping through the pages and reading whatever I want, in whichever order. Yes, that means I’m always about two weeks behind, but hey — if you want to know what the hot restaurants were in late October, I’m totally your gal.

Anyway. So the other day, there was a short article about the gender gap in Silicon Valley, written by James Surowiecki.  Titled “Valley Boys,” the article described what we all already know: the leadership in the digital world is overwhelmingly male. Sorry Sheryl, it seems that leaning in isn’t getting the job done. Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 10.17.25 AMThe article sketched out some of what is being done in an attempt to change this problem, which is, in fact a problem.  At the end of the article, Surowiecki cites an oft-cited study by McKinsey, which found that “organizations with the most diverse executive teams had dramatically higher returns on equity and earnings performance than those with the least diverse teams.”

Want a higher return on your investments? Invest with the company whose board doesn’t look like a poster for the Old White Guys society. Wait, what’s that you say? That’s what most of the Republican party looks like?  Er… well, ‘Murrica, hope you’re not expecting a quality return on that particular mid-term investment.

But I digress.

The next article in the magazine was titled “The Programmer’s Price,” by Lizzy Widdicombe, and focused on an agency whose specialty is hiring out computer programmers and techies.  Here’s the photo that ran with the article:

The agency 10x has nearly eighty clients, mostly in North America, though one codes from India and one from beaches in Thailand.

Nice-looking bunch of fellows, aren’t they? Especially the lad with the gingery tresses in the front.

So here’s my question: did the editors at the magazine intend for this piece to be a visual commentary on the “there are no women in tech” article? Or are we witnessing unintentional editorial irony?  There are no women in that picture and the only mention of women in the article is the fact that this digital talent agency only has three women on its roster, a fact that one of the agency’s owners says he is “bummed” about. Yeah. I’m sure the gender inequity is, like, totally a drag for him.  I’m sure that the  the women trying to break through the ranks of coding machismo in order to land one of the plum coding jobs (or should we say Apple jobs?)  are bummed about it too.

It’s no surprise to find irony in the pages of The New Yorker; I’m just not used to seeing the articles silently comment on one another in this fashion. I appreciate the irony–and realized too that if I had a daughter, she’d be learning to code.

 

 

 

Continue Reading · on November 29, 2014 in Children, Education, Feminism, tech life, Uncategorized

Ladies Night at the Ice Rink

The image of the veiled woman remains a potent symbol of the “mysterious” Middle East and the question of “do you have to cover…”  is almost always the first question that anyone asks me when I tell them where I live.   It’s easy, particularly in the West, to lose sight of the fact that behind the veil is a person, and to keep in mind that gender politics are complicated here — but then again, point me to a place where gender politics aren’t complicated.

I wrote about Gloria Steinem and feminism the other day, and then the other day, at the ice rink, of all places, I was reminded that “feminism” has many different forms.  I had gone to the ice rink in the ginormous sports complex where Liam and Caleb play football because Caleb and I had to wait for Liam to finish practice, Caleb was hungry, there is a pizza place inside the ice rink, so off we went…only to be told that Caleb couldn’t come inside.  It was Ladies Night, no men allowed, not even nine-year-old men.

Inside, the place buzzed with energy as girls of all ages skated, watched the skaters, or walked around gossiping with each other, safe from the eyes of the men working in the restaurant kitchen:

IMG_8520

I bought Caleb’s pizza and brought it to him outside on the patio.  I’ve never seen so many people coming to the ice rink as I did that night, including some who were clearly coming for the gossip and a night out, and not for the skating, at least judging from her shoes:

IMG_8525can you see the heels she’s got on? Four or five inches, at the very least

The girls in the skating rink seemed entirely delighted to be there, and many of the girls on the ice were twirling and jumping and speeding around with the ease that comes only with a lot of practice.

Did it seem strange that “ladies night” kept out my little boy?  Yes.  Am I reminded that change happens incrementally, in loops and swirls and swerves, and not in a straight unbending line? Yes.

Because that night at the ice rink, sitting outside with my son, I was reminded that the girl in the abaya isn’t a metaphor but just a chick with a wicked slapshot, who perhaps daydreams about an Olympic medal in women’s hockey.

IMG_8524

 

Continue Reading · on March 31, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Feminism, Gender, Politics, UAE

happy birthday, gloria steinem. I wish you didn’t matter.

Gloria Steinem spoke at my college graduation back in 1986.

At the time, as a graduate of a woman’s college, I thought to myself “oh good lord, her. Couldn’t they find someone more relevant?”  It was the era of “divest now” and “free Mandela;” we’d just spent four years at a single-sex college where “gender issues” were as pervasive as the scent of the clove cigarettes many of us smoked.

Yes, it was the mid-1980s: there were shoulder pads, bad perms, Billy Idol on the radio, and we all smoked like our lives depended on it.  We thought that abortion rights were sacrosanct and that surely there would be a woman president before we turned 30, which was about as old as any of us could imagine being.

Now I’m fifty and Gloria, omigod, is eighty and we all of us, men and women, should hope that we do eighty the way that Gloria is doing eighty. Because her eighty would exhaust my fifty, that’s what I gotta say about that.

But how wrong was I—about so many things — lo those many years ago: we’ve recovered from clove cigarettes, bad perms, Billy Idol, and shoulder pads–but women still don’t earn equal pay for equal work.  Mandela was freed, apartheid was overthrown — but the statistics for sexual violence against women in South Africa and elsewhere in the world continue to rise.  We’ve seen the erosion of abortion rights in the U.S. and elsewhere; we’ve seen health care programs for poor women and their families slashed from state budgets.

And ironically, on the same day I was reading gossip on the internet researching very important researchy things, I saw an article on Jezebel about New York State’s new educational guidelines, which have been overhauled to fit with the new Common Core History Curriculum.

I know, I know, it sounds so totally exciting!  But you have to understand: I’m a literature professor. I actually like to think about things like “curriculum” and “reading lists” and “rubrics.” Well, okay, not so much rubrics, but the other stuff? Love it.

So I read the article and here’s the gist: in the pages devoted to all the elements that students in high school will have to learn about US and Global history, would you like to know how many women get name-checked? About seven.  Would you be shocked to find out that on the lists of What You Should Know there are many, many more men?  Jezebel doesn’t connect the dots they way I do, though, in their discussion of the women who are mentioned on this list: Mary Wollstonecraft, Ida Tarbell, Ida B. Wells, Jane Addams, Margaret Sanger, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe.  All of them are writers and reformers. None of them are, you know, world leaders.

I’m just wondering … if you’re talking about English history, I’m thinking that Liz I (Tudor, not Taylor) might be a name to consider; ditto Isabella of Span, who I guess maybe didn’t do anything except, I don’t know, bankroll the guy who stumbled into North AmericaAnd what about in the category of “imperialism?” Dontcha think maybe Queen Victoria might have warranted a mention?She’s got an entire era named after her bad dowager self.

A person could read through this list and come away thinking that women have never been involved with any aspect of world governance, anywhere in the world, at any point in time.

I realize lists like these can fuel the “what about” arguments for days; I’ve fought with myself about what to include or leave out, as I write syllabi for my classes (upside? I always win the fight).  I am sure that these guidelines are the product of hours, months, maybe years of people meeting and talking and yelling, of sending endless emails back and forth, of cutting-and-pasting and then cutting-and-pasting some more.  And I know these are “guidelines” and “conceptual” and not meant to be proscriptive or definitive or absolute.

And yet.

If I’m a busy, probably underpaid teacher (yes, I know, hard to imagine but just imagine, okay?) and I were being asked to re-vamp my curriculum for the next school year,  I might just scan these guidelines and zip zap zoop, add some names from the list, swap some titles on my current reading list for the ones mentioned here and be done with it.  Yes, we’d all hope for more thoughtful and considered revisions but I know how hard it is to write a syllabus and I know that it is really tough to teach a brand-new course, much less make sure that I can get all my students to pass a set of proscribed exams as a result of my brand-new course—all of which suggests that following the guidelines to the letter becomes really, really tempting.

That’s how “convnentional wisdom” starts, I think: not with conspiracy or patriarchal malice (okay, maybe a little of that), just an insidious, easily overlooked neglect, and then suddenly there we are (again): women do the soft stuff, men do the hard stuff; women write books and news articles, men write treaties and doctrines and foundational texts; women report on things, men do things.

Happy Birthday, Gloria.  I wish I’d been right, all those years ago: I wish you were irrelevant. But you’re not.

Gloria at my commencement

Continue Reading · on March 26, 2014 in aging, Education, Feminism, Gender, Politics

On Turning Fifty

So I’ve been fifty for an entire week and so far things are going pretty well.

It didn’t look good there for a while, though, because I inducted myself into my fifth decade not only with a horrible cold but also with a violent stomach bug that had me barfing so hard and so long that I threw out my back.  All that vomit, without even a riotous party to precede it.  I followed the sneezing and coughing and barfing by peeling off a chunk of my thumb when I was peeling carrots for soup a few days ago. Left a lovely trail of blood across the cutting board but I’m pretty sure the scrap of thumb-flesh did not end up in the soup.

Fifty. I’m trying to buy into that whole “you’re only as old as you feel” thing and  “fifty is the new thirty,” but then you know what happens?  Some well-intentioned person says “You’re fifty?” which is meant as a compliment but the tone of the compliment sounds like sweetjesusfiftythat’sfreakingancient.  And that means that what’s really being said is “fifty means one foot in the crypt and for someone teetering on the edge, you don’t look half bad.”

Fifty. It’s not that old (and it’s getting younger all the damn time. Like, hourly).  I mean, there are lots of fantastic women who make fifty look good. Sandra Bullock turns fifty this summer, Michelle Obama just turned fifty, Madonna is fifty-four (sweetjesusthat’sfreakingancient).  I figure that  I’ve ridden buses driven by lunatics, I’m married to a handsome brown man, I’ve even danced to “Vogue,” so pretty much I’m going to age as fabulously as they are, right?

Fifty.  When the things you want down (weight, blood pressure, gray hair) go up, and the things you want up (back fat, boobs, good cholesterol levels) go down. It’s like a whipsaw in here as my body re-aligns itself to its new status as an AARP member (the card, I believe, is in the mail).

Of course, I have no intention of AARP-ing myself any time soon; like the plague victim in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” I have to say “I’m not dead yet…think I’ll go for a walk this afternoon…”  At fifty, I’ve still got an entire lifetime in front of me–it’s  just not quite as much “lifetime” as I had, say, fifteen years ago.

Here’s a thing that’s happened as I hit the far edge of late middle-age (or as that far edge hits me, whichever)–a kind of consolation prize, if you will, for the sagging skin and aching joints:  “fifty” gives you license to ignore the “shoulds.” Probably I should’ve learned to do that a long time ago (see what I did there?), but I didn’t, so now I have.  All those scripts that others want you to follow, all those conventional ideas about what a woman should do or shouldn’t do, all those commitments you’ve made because someone thought it would be a good thing for you to do?  Screw it. You’re fifty. Yes, you have a long time left on this earth, but not so much time that you should spend any of it doing anything other than what you think matters most.  You think Madonna is taking meetings she thinks are stupid? Nope. And you don’t need to wear a spike-encrusted bustier to follow her example (I hope).

So yeah. I’m fifty. And I can almost say that without wincing.

birthday candles

 image source

 

 

Continue Reading · on January 29, 2014 in aging, Feminism, growing up, me my own personal self, ranting

The HerStories Project

It’s been a big week out here in the ‘Dhabs, I have to say, starting with the Rain Day two weeks ago.

What is this “rain day,” you ask? Well, my dears, that’s when the serene desert skies bust open and it pours, like a veritable rainpocalypse.

Or at least, that’s what you think it is if you grew up in the desert. For those of us who grew up in parts of the world with, you know, weather, it was just kind of wet and windy.  But the schools closed at noon because people were afraid of flooding. Or getting wet. Or something.

Big Event Number One.

Then? Less than a week later, schools were closed because Dubai won its bid to host the World Expo 2020.  We got the notification that schools were closing at 10:15 PM on Wednesday.  Schools closed Thursday, which was Thanksgiving Day in the US but here was — theoretically, anyway — a work day.

Big Event Number Two.

Then the day after Expo Holiday, our dear friends and neighbors hosted the fourth annual expat Thanksgiviing, with many small children, several new babies, three turkeys, the best sweet potatoes I’ve ever had in my life, and way too many pies. (Although really, can you have enough pie? )

Big Event Number Three.

Then? National Day Weekend, which meant two more days off from school and work, plus parades, air shows, decorated cars, fireworks, and of course, silly string. (All you want to know about National Day: here, and here, and here.)

Big Event Number Four.

And now? As if all of that isn’t enough? Now, I’m going to blow the horns and bang the gongs for the publication of a wonderful anthology, edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger.  These two writers have put together The HerStories Project (Histories, HerStories, get it?), and have included an essay of mine in this volume, which includes writing from Alexandra Rosas, Galit Breen, and an introduction by Jill Smokler, aka Scary Mommy.

And THAT is Big Event Number Five, which pretty much trumps all the others.

Guess what? You don’t have to admire the book from afar — oh no,  my friends, you can get one for your very own self.  Plus it’s holiday season, so you can get one for pretty much everyone else you know. See? Holiday shopping, fait accompli.  You’re welcome.

 

 

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Continue Reading · on December 6, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, Books, expat, Feminism, reading, UAE, writing

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