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Parenting and work

Feminist Home Makeover

There have been some changes on the home front. Radical changes. Distinctly woman-liberating changes.

Behold. Feminist Home Improvement #1:

A photo posted by An Honest Mom (@anhonestmom) on

An aside: Some would argue that even categorizing a dishwasher as a woman-liberating machine is sexist. Isn’t it equally liberating to the droves of men elbow deep in dish suds? Well, no. It isn’t. Because the vast majority of dishes are done by women. What a load of crap! Down with the patriarchy! And, for the time being, this particular consumer took the easy way out and used her distinct privilege to buy a machine that creates an illusion of gender equality in her own home. And the oppressive wheels of sexism roll on.

On the dazzling day I walked home to see this beauty in our kitchen, I walked in a stupor around the house muttering, “Oh my Goooohhhhhd, Oh my Goohhhhhhhd.” That first night, after we’d put the kids to bed, AJ and I loaded her up, pushed the “On” button and just sat on the floor and watched. “It’s washing our dishes right now.” AJ said, rapt. “It’s a storage container where we get to put our dirty dishes, and then it cleans them,” I replied, awestruck.

But wait! Feminist Home Improvement #2 is even more revolutionary.

Where there was once a changing table and later a crib in our bedroom, there is now this wondrous thing:

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Take it in. Because what you just saw was a radical feminist photo of a radical feminist desk. I’ll tell you why. I did not try to make everything in my picture look tidy and perfect. I even left the overflowing laundry basket out and the new desk chair in my closet, where I usually keep it, since our bedroom is too small for the desk and chair to just sit and hang out. At first, I wanted to make the picture perfect, because I like pretty pictures just as much as the next person, but I held myself back to prove a point to me and to you. It’s the point none of us can get enough of these days: all of our lives are messy no matter how many pretty pictures we post online.

This radical feminist desk is taking up space that was once devoted to caring for babies and little children, and now, it’s devoted only to me. A desk of one’s own. Eat your heart out, Virginia Wolf. It’s the first space I’ve had in my home that is only for me and completely under my control since Jo was born over 7 years ago. We are talking revolution here, people.

I choose what goes in it and sits on it, and my kids are not allowed to touch or turn any of those things into weapons. It’s the fixed place in my house where I get to do whatever damn thing I want. I sat there and wrote an effing letter to a friend yesterday. On paper. With a pencil. And today, here I am writing this to all of you. Taking up space in my house and in the hours of my day and in the world to share my stories about being a woman and a mother.

“There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman.”
― Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl 

That shit is radical. And it’s mine.

Why leaning in and minding the confidence gap is a help, not a hindrance, to feminism

The thing I love most about blogging is the conversation it inspires. I have a whip-smart blogger friend who responded to my Mother’s Day post about Katty Kay and Claire Shipman’s article The Confidence Gap. She wrote,

I don’t disagree with the sentiments in this article, but in general I’m not wildly keen on this new direction feminism seems to be taking, of the Lean In ilk – i.e. the reason women don’t have equality with men is an intrinsic problem with women, e.g. that we aren’t confident enough, or that we don’t “Lean In” enough rather than external factors such as discrimination, workplace policies etc.

i.e. it’s not the system that needs fixing- it’s you.

This kind of thinking is becoming increasingly common and gives a way too easy get out clause for employers and law makers in my opinion.

She shared Jessica Valenti’s article that calls the confidence gap “a sham,” citing it as a good summary of her own criticism of Kay and Shipman’s (and Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In) focus on addressing sexism from an internal, confidence-building perspective.

This argument has become very familiar because I’m a woman and I live in the Bay Area and I’ve read Lean In. I’ve had a version of this conversation too many times to count.

Photo by Mark Biddle
Photo by Mark Biddle

I understand the worry that my friend and Valenti and a lot of the feminist critics of Lean In have — shifting our focus to ways that women can/should “fix” themselves blames inequality on women and lets the larger structural forces of inequality off the hook. I see their point. If the whole story isn’t told, then it is an easy way out–if the towering structures of sexist oppression go unmentioned, then discussions like these can easily slip into a 101 on why women are the problem. But doing the equal and opposite–throwing Sandberg and Kay and Shipman under the bus in order to defend a focus on structural inequality–deprives all of us of a revealing and potentially empowering part of this story. And ultimately, it weakens the cause we’re all trying to advance.

The reason I and many other women dig Lean In and The Confidence Gap is because they reveal to us that our chronic self-doubt or perfectionism or shrinking back in meetings is not an isolated personal problem, but rather it’s an individual reaction to a structural problem–a micro symptom of a macro structural issue.

Suddenly, I can see the forest for the trees! I doubt myself because as a woman, I’m constantly being doubted. My talking less and making sure my proposal is perfect and only applying for the job when I meet every single qualification are all fair responses to a system that’s stacked against me. It’s not because I’m a terrible communicator or because I’m an idiot, it’s because I exist within a structure that breeds that kind of behavior.

Feminism is a cause that needs to be championed internally and externally, because its effects are both internal and external. And when we throw out the baby with the bathwater, as Valenti does in her article, we waste the energy of our cause on posturing rather than parsing out the specifics of our disagreements.

Even so, this criticism of Valenti’s is well-founded.

Kay and Shipman dismiss the importance of institutional barriers upfront, writing in the introduction that, while there’s truth behind concerns about sexism, the “more profound” issue is women’s “lack of self-belief”.

Women’s lack of self-belief is a huge effing problem. Is it “more profound” than their earning less than men for the same work or crippling second shift that women shoulder as working mothers? No. But is it a symptom created by the larger structural issue? Yes. And we do ourselves and our cause no favors by leveling such blunt criticism at writers who are analyzing research that reveals the individual symptoms of structural gender inequality. We desperately need to illuminate both the symptoms and the causes if we’re going to cure the disease of sexism.

Don’t we all agree that structural sexism sucks and needs to be addressed? Can’t we also gain some liberation from seeing how those structures influence the way we see ourselves and choose to act in our every day lives? This is a case of the micro and the macro both feeding into each other. Pitting one against the other is not productive.

I’m all for addressing the towering structures of misogyny and inequality built into our system. I’ve also felt better and bigger and stronger in my few days since reading Kay and Shipman. I resisted my own urge to over-prepare for a meeting yesterday and was able to think more creatively and on my feet as a result. And instead of saying, “I know a little bit about script writing” in response to an inquiry at work, I replied, “I’ve freelanced as a script writer. I’d love to help.” Surprise, surprise, I’m now on the script writing project. And I love it.

In leaning in and addressing my own internal confidence gap, do I feel like I’m shouldering responsibility for gender inequality and letting the system off the hook? Hell no. In fact, I feel pretty kick-ass and more equipped to go out and deal with all that structural crap.

The cause of feminism will only benefit from sexism being addressed both internally and externally. Let’s support women who contribute to telling the whole, complex story of inequality and throw this either/or thinking out the window.

The one thing you should read on Mother's Day

If there’s one thing worth reading on Mother’s Day, this is it.

The confidence gap

I’ll tell you why.

1) It’s really long and involved. So if you are a mother yourself, you can plea Mother’s Day and hole up in the bathroom, or luxuriate in bed even!! and have about 20 minutes to yourself while reading it.

2) It may rattle you, just like this statement rattled me:

The natural result of low confidence is inaction. When women don’t act, when we hesitate because we aren’t sure, we hold ourselves back. But when we do act, even if it’s because we’re forced to, we perform just as well as men do.

And the great thing about being rattled is that it can lead to us trying, in small ways every day, to change our habits.

2) If you are a man, you should also know about this, since it affects all of the mothers you’ve ever met, including your own. My hope is that after you read it, you’ll encourage the women in your life to take up more space and to try on crazy statements like “I’m gonna try this and see what happens.”

3) Using this article as a springboard to change our habits can create a world filled with a bunch of self assured women with children. Legions of moms who proudly and unflinchingly answer the question, “Do you work?” with “Are you asking if I have a paid job? Or about the work I do all the time of raising human beings?” Imagine seeing the women in your life champion their expertise on a daily basis and take their mistakes in stride rather than talking themselves down. The thought gives me chills.

If I haven’t convinced you already or if you just don’t have the time or inclination, then you can just read my little cliff notes version here and talk to your friends like you did read it.

If women continue to habitually make self-effacing comments like, “I think so, but I’m really not sure” or “I’m really bad at this,” then our children will learn what we did: It’s most important that women not ruffle feathers and play nice. Fit in. Don’t talk too loud or too much. Before you trot your ideas out into the world, make sure they’re perfect.

I’m shocked at how much more easily and instinctively the men in my life step up and take their place. AJ applies for jobs even when he doesn’t meet and exceed every single requirement. He assumes he is smart and can figure it out. He authoritatively offers his opinions even when he’s not 100% sure. There is just a fundamental way that I see AJ and the men around me taking up space like it’s assumed that they should. The women I know often struggle with this, because we’ve been coached implicitly and explicitly our whole lives to make room for others, be kind, defer.

…the result is that many girls learn to avoid taking risks and making mistakes. This is to their detriment: many psychologists now believe that risk taking, failure, and perseverance are essential to confidence-building. Boys, meanwhile, tend to absorb more scolding and punishment, and in the process, they learn to take failure in stride.

As I was reading this I had to work through my own criticisms. “Not all women want to be CEOs. What’s wrong with wanting to be a stay at home mom?” My answer to myself: nothing. Nothing in the world. My second answer: Women CEOs and stay at home moms would all benefit greatly from a confidence boost–a willingness to turn their ideas into actions even if they’re not 100% sure they’ll succeed. The impact of our children watching us try new things and sometimes fail but not blame ourselves and try again is just as powerful as a woman exec. changing company policy in the direction of more paid maternity and paternity leave.

I’m also resistant to any argument that women need to be more like men in order to succeed. But couldn’t we take the confidence page from the man playbook and make it our own? Couldn’t we turn more of our ideas into action and assert more of our opinions and put our own female spin on it? What would our confidence look like if we internalized it to the point that we didn’t have to look to the example of men to remember how to do it?

Today, on Mother’s Day, I will practice confidence.

It is the factor that turns thoughts into judgments about what we are capable of, and that then transforms those judgments into action.

I will practice thinking that I am capable. And using my capability to try. And if it doesn’t work out, I’ll try not to blame myself and to shrug it off and try again. Sigh. This sounds hard. Like any sort of work I’ve ever done in trying to shift my habits.

But they’re just habits, people. We can change ’em.

Winter update: light and dark

Where to begin? It’s been a long time since I’ve written, and I feel all clogged up with words and thoughts that have been knocking around for weeks, trying to get out.

There was Christmas, for which I only managed to decorate this much.

Christmas Lights

Somehow, this string of lights managed to pick up on my lack of motivation, and all but 6 lights fizzled out.

I felt some guilt about this, since I have young children, and I feel some ambient social pressure to drape our house in all sorts of festive finery and set up jolly, felted craft projects. I just honestly didn’t have the energy, and Jo never asked to decorate. To be honest, craft projects hold his attention for about 6 minutes at the most, and if we had decorated, I’m 90% sure that I would have spent all of my time explaining why ornaments are for hanging on trees, not for throwing as ninja bombs.

And then there was the night of the glorious power outage on our entire block. It lasted for hours. We could see more than the requisite 16 stars, and our house was DARK. Not just we-turned-out-all-the-lights-before-bed situation, when we still have the eerie, golden, sodium streetlight glow seeping in all the windows. It was the darkness I remember as a girl, growing up on the mesa. The darkness that happens when the sun sets and night falls and you’re out on a mesa in the dark, with coyotes.

AJ wanted to light candles, and I wouldn’t let him for the first hour or so. I just wanted to lay on the couch, curtains and shutters wide open, in that quiet blackness.

There’s just more room to fall back when it’s dark like that. To rest your weight and be still.

But then we did light the candles, which felt sort of epic, since these were all the candles that the women in my life gave me to light when I was having the home birth that never happened.

Candles

So they’ve been christened now, and I love watching them burn, late on these winter nights.

Seems like I’m circling around a theme of light and darkness here—not bad for these days as we’re slowly climbing out of the pinpoint funnel of solstice. I often wish I had more quiet in the winter, to contemplate and breathe about the fallow, slow darkness.

As always, my project is to slow down. Drive the speed limit or less. Walk so that my body is upright instead of lurching forward towards the next and next and next thing. But not so slow that I lose all inertia and wind up on the couch hypnotizing myself with the 407th season of the Bachelor and a pint of coffee ice cream…

OH! And there were all of your fabulous photo responses to my call for pumping room portraits, about which I will write a post soon, so that you can see them in all their glory. And I have a pumping room update of my own–all of your Facebook comments inspired me to do some advocating for the lactating women at my office and there have been some developments. Namely, a new pumping room. That’s heated. Isn’t that something? Portrait coming soon.

The Pumping Room

There is no more salient reminder that I am a mom at work than the pumping room.

I spend at least 20 minutes of my work days in one, meditating on the dulcet tones of my Pump In Style’s relentless motor. It’s a stark shift to the day. One moment, I’m sitting at my desk like any other 9-5er. Headphones cutting out ambient cubicle chatter. Fingers clicking away at the keyboard and mouse.

And then this: sitting on a discarded office chair, shirt hiked up to my neck, holding what amount to two suction cups up to my boobs so my nipples can be rhythmically sucked of milk. I do not feel remotely “In Style.”

I’ve taken to calling my sister while I pump, since she’s usually in her office eating lunch at the same time. I told her that she should check out her company’s pumping room, since if she ever decides to have kids, she’ll probably spend a lot of time in there.

“Oh, I’ve heard it’s pretty luxurious,” she said. She works at an investment firm. She hasn’t seen it, but has heard rumors of extremely plush chairs, footrests and amazing views.

I suddenly had a vision of thousands of pumping rooms, some extravagant, some threadbare. Re-purposed corner offices, closets, bathrooms.

So I offer this: a portrait of my pumping room.

Yes. That is an upturned-recycling-bin pump shelf.

#pumpingroomportrait

A post shared by An Honest Mom (@anhonestmom) on

So where are you pumping, back-to-work moms? I’m intrigued, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Thanks to the glorious world of social media, you can show us.

Rumor has it, if you take a picture of your pumping room and then share it on Instagram or, god forbid, Tweet it, then you can declare its identity as a pumping room portrait with ye olde hashtag #pumpingroomportrait. I can’t believe I’m recommending hashtagging. But I am. It’s for a good cause.

Whatever your particular social media leaning, go for it. And if you don’t want to share your portrait from any of your personal accounts, send me a message with your photo on my Honest Mom Facebook page and I’ll share it anonymously.

Let’s lift the veil on the nooks and crannies where we pumpers are spending our valuable time. I’ll share our photos in an upcoming post, so we can start forming the social commentary that will surely come from having a compendium of pumping room portraits.

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This blog post originally appeared at Get Born. And if you haven’t checked it out, you should.

Mostly stay at home mom tries to carve out space for another job

I’m about to find out just how much work I do everyday. Next month, I’ll have 12 hours less every week to launder and nurse and clean and shop and cook and shuttle and coordinate.

I got a job.

The acquisition of this job was a complete miracle.

As I bounced Cal down for one of the first naps after AJ returned to work after his paternity leave, I thought one of those thoughts that feels three dimensional. It popped up like a glossy cartoon bubble with words dressed in a distinctive font above my head:

I think I want a job.

It’s time for a big caveat now because, as we all know, I already have a job. A big, fat raise-2-children-and-keep-a-house-going job. And since I had Jo, I’ve had many paying jobs—freelancing video production or taking doula clients. But the cartoon bubble thought was about an employee job, an I-do-what-you-tell-me-to-and-you-keep-the-work-coming-and-sign-the-checks job.

Literally (and I mean Literally!) half an hour later, I got a phone call from a woman I’d met at a 4-year-old birthday party the week before, and she said, “Hey, this is Ada from Lex’s birthday party. Do you want a job?”

Why yes, I do.

And so now I have one. Weird.

The day before I got the job, I was lamenting the oceans of time I had at home. I could go into existential fits about the next sink of dishes or diaper change—“Is this all there is?!”

I’d find myself fantasizing about this.

Photo by Tim Caynes
Photo by Tim Caynes

The day after I got the job, I started clinging to Cal, and feeling all nostalgic hanging the laundry up on the line. I would actually find myself enjoying, nay treasuring the idyllic fantasyland that is staying at home with your children.

IMG_1726

Grass is greener anyone?

I start mid-November, and I’m nervous about all the logistics—getting Jo to pre-school, then Cal to the nanny share, then me to work. And then, 6 hours later, do the whole thing in reverse, burst into the house and start sorting dinner out while I try to deeply re-connect with one kinetic 4 year old and one snuggly 5 monther.

The amount of energy and coordination it is taking to free my time for 12 regular hours of paid work is extraordinary.  It’s as though I have to build up enough speed to catapult myself into orbit or something. I have to coordinate childcare schedules for two different kids at three different locations, re-work my participation schedule at Jo’s pre-school, figure out the whole breast pumping palava and wonder how, after all is said and done, the groceries will find their way home and the clothes will get washed and the food get to our table.

At the risk of sounding like a privileged, ungrateful whiner, I’m resentful about the particular overwhelm I’m feeling during this transition into work.

I wanna get all 4-year-old trantrum-y and stomp my feet. It’s just not fair that I feel like I’ll still have all the same responsibilities AND 12 hours of paid work to do every week. If I don’t initiate some conversations with AJ about a significant re-organizing of responsibilities and maybe finding a house cleaner, I’m basically expecting it to look like a hell hole around here in a couple weeks. I want someone to step in and equitably re-arrange everything so that AJ and I both have equal and manageable responsibilities on the home front.

I think that person will have to be me.

Well, would you look at that—another new job.