The One with Bossy

There has been a lot of “bossy” talk in the media this week. Sheryl Sandberg would like to have the word banned from use.

As an opposer of censorship, I don’t support encouraging the banning of words, but as I writer, I see her point. Words are powerful — the pen mightier than the sword and all that — which is perhaps why we shouldn’t throw around the term “ban” either, but that’s the topic of another post.  Interesting how the word bossy can have two implied meanings. From the Ban Bossy website:

When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.” Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead.

The site goes on to say that girls are more likely to be interrupted in class than boys, perhaps leading to a precipitous drop in self esteem. Between elementary school and high school a girl’s self esteem is  3.5 times lower than a boy’s.

When I was a senior in high school (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth), my physics teacher sat all the girls in the back of the classroom and only directed questions to the boys. If a girl did try to answer, the boys simply talked over her, loudly, until she stopped talking. We girls learned quickly to keep our mouths shut, lest we be labeled pushy or arrogant.

The bossy stigma continues into adulthood. Bossy has a much different connotation when used for a woman than for a man. The definition of bossy in the Oxford American Dictionary uses this example of the word in a sentence: She was headlong, bossy, scared of nobody, and full of vinegar. And: We’re hiding from his bossy sister. It’s also very interesting to think that anyone who is “fond of giving orders or domineering” is considered bossy, but when applied to a girl on a playground it takes on negative overtones in our minds. Not so for boys. And when that girl grows up she’ll be called a b**ch, while her male counterpart will be called assertive and confident.

It’s amazing to me that this is still such an issue in 2014. So, this being women’s history month, let’s take a moment to celebrate some “bossy” women. Last year, photographer Jaime Moore was looking for new ideas for her daughter’s  birthday photos. She came across a lot of princesses. Jaime decided to go a different route.

It started me thinking about all the REAL women for my daughter to know about and look up to, REAL women who, without ever meeting Emma, have changed her life for the better…I wanted her to know the value of these amazing women who had gone against everything so she can now have everything.

Jaime chose five women in honor of Emma’s fifth birthday. “Let’s set aside the Barbie dolls and the Disney Princesses for just a moment, and let’s show our girls the REAL women they can be.”

You can see the entire “NOT Just a Girl” series on Jaime’s site, (including my personal hero Jane Goodall!) but here’s a peek. How awesome is this? Brings tears to my eyes.

Amelia Earhart and Emma

As a side note, Jaime has plans to expand the NOT Just a Girl series. She has an Indiegogo site to help raise funds to continue spreading the word about the real women girls can become.

Did you experience negative reactions because you spoke up?  If you have (or have had) daughters, did words like bossy influence their self esteem?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

The One with the Pretty

Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton

Every now and then I come across a book that has been collecting dust on my shelves. I’ll buy a book, add it to the pile and then for some reason never get around to reading it. Right now that book is Edith Wharton’s masterpiece The House of Mirth, published in 1905. This one has been squirreled away on my bookshelf for so long I think it has come with me on two apartment moves. I don’t know what made me finally crack open the cover last week, but I’m so glad I did.

Wharton (the first woman to receive a Pultizer Prize for literature) paints a portrait of New York high society in the time when the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts reigned, and she does it with satire and humor. So much humor, in fact, I’ve regularly laughed out loud while reading on the subway.

But this “old New York” she writes about so eloquently wasn’t all glitz and glamour for the women on the inside of these closed ranks. Marrying “well” was of the utmost importance, something the character Miss Lily Bart must do, because really there isn’t another viable option for her. After her father is financially ruined and dies, Lily and her mother cling desperately to the only way of life they’ve known. Their last ditch effort to secure Lily’s future relies solely on her appearance. (I’m realizing that my description here doesn’t sound hilarious, but trust me that this book has light moments too.)

Only one thought consoled her [Lily's mother], and that was the contemplation of Lily’s beauty. She studied it with a kind of passion, as though it were some weapon she had slowly fashioned for vengeance. It was the last asset in their fortunes, the nucleus around which their life was to be rebuilt. She watched it jealously, as though it were her own property and Lily its mere custodian…

She [Lily] liked to think of her beauty as a power for good, as giving her the opportunity to attain a position where she should make her influence felt in the vague diffusion of refinement and good taste.

This last tongue-in-cheek line got me thinking about using beauty “as a power for good.” Is that even possible? There’s no doubt that Miss Lily Bart’s beauty opens doors, which benefits the holder, not the beholder. This is just as true today as it was in Wharton’s time. Attractiveness certainly has its advantages, but I’m not sure that Sofia Vergara’s gorgeous hair or Jennifer Lawrence’s perky nose is helping anyone else. My neighbor is stunning, but other than occasionally thinking, “Wow, she’s gorgeous,” I’m not realizing any benefit from her beauty.

Then I saw this short clip from the Black Women in Hollywood event wherein Lupita Nyong’o, who would go on to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress a few days later, was honored. How can beauty be used as a power for good? This is how…

I remember a time when I, too, felt unbeautiful… And my one prayer to God was that I would wake up lighter skinned… My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome… I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy.


March is Women’s History Month, and I’ll be exploring some inspiring women in my posts this month.

What does beauty mean to you? Do you think beauty can be used for good?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

The One with the Eavesdropping

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” ~Ernest Hemingway

I wholeheartedly agree with Hemingway on that point. Being a writer, I am a shameless eavesdropper. The best way to get a feel for the rhythms of natural speech is by listening when I am not a participant in the conversation. I have a distinct advantage in this area because I live in a busy city. Conversations are always swirling around me: at the coffee shop, on the subway, through the closed window of someone’s apartment. (Just kidding!) (Not really!) I can’t not eavesdrop.

Here are a few of the gems I overheard this week.

  • Boy: But I want to sit doooowwwwnnn!
    Grandmother (mostly to herself): Oh, hush now. You got young legs. My legs are old and tired. When you old and tired, then you can sit. Complaining to me about sitting when you as good as new. I got things to complain about. My back aches and my feet ache. And I got the gout. Boy, when you got the gout you can sit. Count your lucky stars you don’t have the gout.

 

  • Twenty-something woman talking on her cell phone: I’m just exhausted, like really stressed. (Audible sigh) I know I just need to slooww down…I dunno…If I could just get some kind of disease. Not like a really nasty one or anything. Something where I could just sleep for like a week…Right, like mono. You know anyone who has that?

 

  • On the 2 train, morning commute…a legally blind man sits with his seeing-eye dog resting comfortably at his feet. The dog is wearing an orange vest and a harness.
    Woman: Oh, what a lovely dog! She’s gorgeous.
    Man: Thank you. The woman reaches down to pet the dog. Please don’t pet her.
    Woman: Why not? I’d really like to pet her.
    Man: She’s working now.
    Woman: She’s not working. She’s just sitting there. Then she says to the dog: Whuz the pwobwem wit a wittle pat, huh?
    Man: She knows that when she has this vest on, she’s working and she can’t be distracted.
    Woman: What if you take the vest off? Then can I pet her? To the dog: Take tat wittle west off.
    Man, getting frustrated: I can’t take the vest off now. She’s working.
    Woman: But I’d really like to pet her.
    Another man: Hey buddy, this is Fulton Street. You wanted to know when we got to Fulton Street.
    Man, grabbing the dog’s harness and dashing off the train: Thank goodness.

 

  • Australian girl: Mommy, why do they call it New York? New. York. What’s so new about it?

 

  • A woman is riding the 2 train with a large suitcase
    Woman:Excuse me. Does this train go to JFK? Because I think I…
    Woman # 1 with super long fingernails: Gurrrl! You on the wrong train.
    Guy #1:What you got to do is get off at Atlantic, transfer to the D going uptown. Uptown, you hear me? Then take the N or the R…
    Guy #2:The D?! What are you talkin’ about? Lady, don’t take the D. Listen. I’m gonna make this real simple. Stay on this train to Franklin. Take the S. That’s S like suave, if you know what I mean. Now the S will get you over to the A…
    Guy #1:Man, the S doesn’t go to the A. I’m tellin’ you.
    Guy #3:This is all wrong. She just needs to backtrack to Fulton Street.
    Guy #1 and Guy #2 simultaneously:Fulton Street!?!
    They continue like this for three more stops.
    Woman #2:Where are you tryin’ to go, miss?
    Woman with the suitcase, visibly flustered:The airport?
    Woman #2, shakes her head:Naw. You can’t get there from here. You shoulda taken a cab.

 
Have you overheard any interesting conversations lately?
Have a great weekend, everyone!

 

 

The One with the Birkenstocks

A job interview is like a first date — you know within the first five minutes if there will be a second date. A few years ago when I had an entry-level position available in my department, I felt like I’d been on an endless speed-dating circuit of potential job candidates. In the case of one particular interviewee, the moment the young woman walked into our conference room, I knew there would be no second “date.” She was probably twenty-two or twenty-three, fresh out of college. She flung her giant purse on floor and plopped into the seat across from me with a resigned sigh.

Honestly, I sensed something was off a few days earlier when I left a voice mail to set an appointment for the interview. The outgoing message left me a little, well, concerned. It was along these lines, but worse. Two words: hip-hop.

I tried not to let the message color my opinion of her. This was back in the day when people had answering machines. Perhaps she had mischievous roommates. Perhaps she was auditioning to be a member of a Sugar Hill Gang tribute band. Perhaps she thought the message was a memorable way to set her apart from the other job candidates. Well, score one for her.

This was a particularly hot and humid summer afternoon in New York City. The air was thick and the sun was unrelenting. It was the kind of day you’d want to spend at Coney Island or ensconced in your apartment with your window air conditioner set to “North Pole.” Waiting on a sticky subway platform with fetid, stale air and walking blocks along steaming sidewalks to an interview while praying that your handshake won’t be sweaty is the last thing you’d want to do.

So, give her another point for showing up.

I’d located her in the lobby based on the fact that she was the only person waiting there, not because her demeanor screamed Interviewee.  I should pause here to note that my company is not conservative with regard to our dress code (or our conduct, but that’s another post). This isn’t the Financial District. State dignitaries don’t routinely walk our hallways. I have never seen the president of our division in a tie. The employee handbook simply asks staff to use their best judgment, and one would guess/hope that an interviewee would err on the side of formality.

Maybe she was confused. She thought that today was the day she was interviewing for the lifeguard position at the Red Hook pool or the day she would be taking over for her friend at the Summer of Love cart in Union Square.  Because she showed up wearing a tank top (yellow), tie-dye broomstick skirt and Birkenstock sandals.

I have nothing against Birkenstocks. Or tie-dye. I have tied and dyed with the best of them. But I had to question her ability to handle the workload of this position when she obviously had issues grasping the gravitas of a basic corporate job interview.  That, and her feet were caked with dirt.

Maybe these were her "formal" Birkenstocks.


Maybe these were her “formal” Birkenstocks.

Before you get concerned that I wrote off this young woman based solely on her appearance, worry not. Talking to her was a bit like her answering machine message: lots of babbling but nothing interactive.

Alas, there was no second date for the Birkenstock girl. Or the guy who listed “anal retentive” under the Special Skills section of his resume. Eventually I found the perfect fit for the position. He had sweaty palms, but he wore a white button-down shirt.

What was your most memorable interview experience?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

The One with My Favorite Literary Love Stories

I will preface this post by stating that I’m not your typical Valentine’s Day person. I usually don’t go in for the over-the-top, heart-shaped, bow-and-arrow trappings of the holiday, but, in my humble opinion, if you’re doing the Valentine’s gift exchange thing there’s no better present than a book.

And what better book to give (or get!) on Valentine’s Day than one inspired by the holiday? Here are ten of my favorite literary love stories.

Me Before You by JoJo MoyesFor those who enjoy unconventional love stories: Me Before You, by JoJo Moyes. It came as no surprise to me that this book was on many “Best of…” lists last year, and I don’t think I’ve read a bad review. Nina Badzin writing for Great New Books summarized it perfectly:

Louisa “Lou” is a woman down on her luck. She has no money; she lives with her parents who also need money; and she’s been stuck in a going-nowhere relationship as well. Once she loses the food service job she should have left years earlier, she accepts a position as an aid to an extremely wealthy man who is a quadriplegic. Will and Lou instantly dislike each other, but over time their working relationship gets more complicated.  

This isn’t a traditional love story. But neither was Casablanca or The Fault in Our Stars (see below). Let me just say this: if you want a life-affirming, gut-checking story that will stay with you long after you close the cover (or turn off the e-reader, as the case may be) get this one.

The Fault in Our StarsFor as honest a love story as you’ll ever find: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. Where to begin?  This is quite simply one of the best books I’ve read in the past few years. At its core, it is a love story narrated by 16-year-old Hazel who has overcome stage IV thyroid cancer — for now. Sounds depressing, right? I mean, she is still tethered to an oxygen tank and receiving heavy doses of chemo. But Augustus Waters, a fellow cancer patient at Hazel’s support group, falls for her and together they embark on the journey of their lives. Hazel says, “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” It’s about the fine lines between love and disappointment; heroism and bravery; legacy and truth. It’s also about showing up and daring greatly (Hello, Brene Brown). I’m afraid this description doesn’t do the story justice. It feels like this is the story author John Green was meant to tell. When people tell me that literary fiction is pointless, I refer them to this book.

All Creatures Great and Small, by James HerriotFor animal lovers: All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot. Who says that a great love story has to be between two humans? James Herriot was just beginning his career in the 1930s as a veterinarian in the rural areas near Yorkshire, England. As a country vet his patients ranged from dogs and cats to pigs and cows. Herriot (whose real name was Jim Wright) wove his animal tales (pun intended), while painting a beautiful portrait of the windswept moors and the hardy, hardworking farmers (and even wealthy socialite widows). It’s warm, but not sappy; insightful, but not preachy. From caring for his patients in the depths of winter on the remotest homesteads to dealing with uncooperative owners and critically ill animals, Herriot set a charming scene with humor and compassion and love. Pick it up if only so you can use the term “flop bott” at your next cocktail party.

The Girls from AmesFor those who want to celebrate friendship: The Girls from Ames, by Jeffrey Zaslow. Just as a great love story need not be between two humans, neither does a great love story have to be a romantic one. The Girls from Ames (Iowa) celebrates a friendship between 11 women, which began as many female friendships do, in high school. Now, 40 years later, scattered over eight states, the women have maintained a close bond that shaped every aspect of their lives — their sense of themselves, their choice of partners, their need for validation, their relationships with their mothers, their dreams for their children — and reveals how such friendships thrive. The writing is a bit sparse toward the end and at times the descriptions of the friendships bordered on cliche, but it was worthwhile read and reminded me how much I value these important lifelong relationships.

Major Pettigrew's Last StandFor those who like witty romantic comedies: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson. An unexpected friendship between Major Pettigrew, a retired British army major in an English, village, and Mrs. Ali, a widowed woman of Pakistani heritage who runs the village shop.  Major Pettigrew believes in honor and duty and tradition. That’s why he wants his father’s heirloom guns returned to him, but his son has other plans–he’s going to sell them for a tidy sum. Major Pettigrew finds an unlikely ally in Mrs. Ali and they discover they have quite a lot in common. The story builds to a page-turner (I won’t ruin it for you) as Simonson brings the fates of the guns and Pettigrew and Ali to a climax. Simonson says she wanted to explore characters who felt like outsiders because that is what makes them so interesting — the part that lies outside the norm.

The Mermaid Collector, by Erika MarksFor a boy-meets-girl story: The Mermaid Collector, by Erika Marks. This novel weaves together  two love stories in Cradle Harbor, Maine. More than a century ago, lighthouse keeper Linus Harris left his beloved wife, Lydia, and was lost at sea with three other men trying to reunite with their mermaid lovers in the Mermaid Mutiny of 1888. In modern day Cradle Harbor, the connection between newcomer Tom Grace and Tess Patterson is a woodcarver with a romantic streak. Tom has mysteriously inherited the lighthouse, leaving the townspeople to wonder what he intends to do with it. Only Tess’s step-father knows the truth. I enjoyed all of the characters in the story – too many to list here — they were interesting and complex, but I never lost track of them or felt any were superfluous. If you’re looking for a book with a little bit of history, a little bit of romance and a lot of layers, this is a great choice  To read an interview with Erika Marks, check out Julia Monroe Martin’s blog.

Call Me ZeldaFor those who like to uncover love behind the celebrity: Call Me Zelda, by Erika Robuck. In the 1920s, the Fitzgeralds were the “it” couple, the equivalent of a modern day Jay-Z and Beyonce (ok, maybe that’s a stretch). Erika Robuck takes a look at the private lives of this very public couple: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. What happens when the shiny veneer of their Jazz Age exploits are worn away, and they have to accept a new reality for themselves? Interwoven in Zelda and Scott’s unraveling is her nurse, Anna, who is in need of some healing of her own as she nearly gets swallowed by the Fitzgeralds’ larger-than-life personas. Anna and Zelda begin a sympathetic friendship that lasts years as they both navigate the road to recovery. A compelling read  about a deep, abiding love amid its destruction.

Love PoemsFor poetry lovers: Love Poems, by Pablo Neruda. This one is a no-brainer. Although it’s not a love “story” per se, this is a lovely collection to share with a special someone. For those of us who are poetically challenged, it’s amazing the way Neruda spins large passion into an economy of words. The fact that he wrote these poems while living on the island of Capri in Italy, makes it even more seductive.

Never Let Me GoFor those who like to read about love against all odds: Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. As I’ve mentioned before, dystopian novels tend to give me sleepless nights. Never Let Me Go was no different, but the driving force of this story is the love between Kathy and Tommy. They had an adolescent crush when they lived at Hailsham, a private boarding school, where they were kept isolated and taught that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. (I’m not going to give you the spoiler here!) Nearly a decade later Kathy and Tommy are reunited and they fall in love…but (and didn’t you know I was going to say this) there is a dark secret behind the purpose of Hailsham and they must face the truth of their childhood — it’s a matter of life and death.

Pride and PrejudiceFor those who love the classics: Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. A cliche choice? Perhaps.  Out of fashion? Never. There’s not much I can write about the proud Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet that hasn’t already been written. This is my favorite of Austen’s novels and as classic a love story as you can find. The esteemed Eudora Welty described it as “irresistible and as nearly flawless as any fiction could be.”

What are your favorite love stories — books or films?

Have a great weekend, everyone.