Telling Senator Warren to Shut Up? Hell No! When They Go Low, We Will Too

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The maelstrom over Mitch McConnell’s insulting “shutting up” of Senator Elizabeth Warren has provoked some thoughtful commentary on how very typical it is for women to be silenced in majority-male environments.

“The unpalatable truth is that women encounter this behavior in most professions,” writes Susan Chira in The New York Times. “It often comes from well-intentioned men who are horrified when it is pointed out or oblivious when it is going on, as well as those who are less enlightened.”

I have encountered this kind of behavior many times in my own profession. For example, one man who I’m sure would think of himself as “enlightened,” recently stormed out of a meeting in a rage after a woman colleague, tired of listening to him hold forth interminably, dared to interrupt him in order to insert a thought of her own.

Yes, women still struggle to get a word in edgewise, not only because of the behavior and expectations of others, but also because of our own internalized socialization, which enjoins us to be polite, wait our turn, speak only when we’re very sure of the value of what we have to say.

In the wake of the Women’s March on Washington and all the solidarity marches around the country and around the world…in the wake of the Drumpf administration’s retrograde and quite open attack on women’s rights…in view of the extreme seriousness of our historical moment…

IT IS CLEAR THAT WOMEN CAN NO LONGER AFFORD TO BE QUIET.

For many of us, the idea of speaking up in a meeting or a crowd can be frightening. We may not think of ourselves as community leaders, or want to step outside the comfort zones of our carefully defined personal and professional lives.

But these are not ordinary times.

We stand on the precipice of a future that may well be more cataclysmic as anything the 20th century threw at us.

We are told that Bannon, the evil genius behind the throne of the orange man, is eager to foment World War III. Through his golem, DT, he is provoking and needling our allies, sometimes by making friends with common enemies like Russia; he is weaseling his way into the Vatican and trying to stir up dissension among the Cardinals under the current peaceful, green-minded Pope; he is going out of his way to exacerbate the climate change problem by putting the full weight of the presidency behind fossil fuel extraction and distribution, the hell with environmental impacts.

A new “axis of evil” is being laid out for us, the conditions for war made artificially inexorable, just as they were in 2001 when Bush & Co. lied to America and threw us into the needless Iraq war.

I stand for reproductive rights just as much as the next woman, but American women, I’m telling you, we have even bigger battles to fight right now.

Women’s rights are human rights; critical issues of economics, geopolitics and environment are women’s issues; women need to be seen and heard—loudly, nastily, stubbornly—on every issue of concern to our nation and the world today.

Mitch McConnell is going to find that while he may have silenced U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren on one evening, there are going to be dozens, if not hundreds and thousands of women standing up to take her place. Thought we may not be welcome in the august chambers of Congress, we can barrage members by phone, email, snail mail and social media to make our voices heard.

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We can and must work in our communities to plan the ousting of the idiots in the 2018 elections, when every single House seat will be up for grabs, along with a good number of Senate seats and governorships.

We have to get used to the idea that the Repugs will play dirty, and be willing to fight fire with fire. No more “when they go low we go high.” When they go low, we have to go low too, in the interests of winning!

Women, especially white women, are a key demographic in upcoming elections. Progressive white women need to reach out to the 53% of white women who voted for Drumpf and find out why. What did they see in the slimeball–I mean, the guy? Are we seeing some sad version of Stockholm syndrome here?

This is a time for coalitions across all kinds of borders. We can win the battle for our country and our future, but only if we put aside perceived differences and focus on what unites us.

I am remembering “Me and Bobby McGee,” the Janis Joplin song from the 60s, with the refrain “Freedom’s just another name for nothing left to lose.”

American progressives, we don’t have much to lose now. We have everything—EVERYTHING—to win. Let’s get out there and WIN THIS!!

 

Useful organizing links:

Indivisible Guide to Resisting the Trump Agenda

Women’s March on Washington Next Step: Huddles

People’s Climate March on Washington, April 29, 2017

General strikes, including “A Day Without Women”

Guide to the Anti-Trump Movements

The Epic Stakes of the 2016 Presidential Election—Electing Clinton is Just the Beginning

Yes, it’s exciting—thrilling, even—to see a female-bodied person finally heading the ticket for the Democratic Party. Yes, it’s historic that a woman will be President of the United States. And yes, when we are shown footage of the original Hillary, the idealistic young college student, the hardworking young lawyer/mom, we can see shadows of the woman we’d like to elect.

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But to contrast that earlier Hillary with the image of the tough-as-nails politician she has become is to understand why it’s so hard for women to succeed in the American political landscape—or the corporate workplace, for that matter. You have to learn the fine art of being a fe-male, a man in the guise of a woman.

unknownWhile outwardly conforming to the dominant beauty standards for women—dyed and coiffed hair, generous make-up, body-flattering clothing, heels—you also have to be commanding and aggressive, a no-nonsense sort of leader that everyone will automatically respect.

It’s no accident that our first woman president will be a woman in her golden years. Only when a woman has outlived the possibility of being a sex symbol can she command the necessary authority, with men and women alike, to hold the highest office in the land.

How many women have the stamina—to use a buzzword from the campaign trail—to stay the course over years of trials and hurdles, all the while walking the tightrope of being simultaneously attractive and authoritative?

Donald Trump, bless him, has brought right out into the open the everyday harassment that women have to deal with. Who is unluckier: the attractive woman who gets constantly groped and ogled, admired for her body while her ideas and smarts are ignored; or the unattractive woman who is ignored on both the bodily and mental planes, if not actively booed and hissed from the public arena?

gettyimages-613703308-0Trump is like a stand-in for every boorish man who ever held power in America, whether a boss or a husband, a rich client or a random stalker on the street. Men like Trump elevate their own fragile egos by putting down others, with women being a convenient, always-in-view set of targets.

Hillary has shown us just where to aim our defensive kicks, but she is also evidence of the toll this type of psychological warfare takes on a woman. She’s damned if she “acts like a man” and also damned if she’s “too womanly.” She basically has to become as genderless as possible, and we see that in her carefully chosen suits, cropped but coiffed hair, and in the cold tautness of her heavily made-up face.

I hope that when Hillary gets into the Oval Office, she will not pull up the drawbridge behind her, but will make every effort to use her power to make things better for the girls and women coming along behind her.

Women should not have to give up their femininity to become powerful. Men shouldn’t either! When are we going to understand that gender is a continuum, not a binary; that all humans have estrogen and testosterone running through them in different measures; that every human has the capacity to be both tender and tough, sensitive and aggressive?

29906170001_4818348677001_capturePerhaps that was part of what I admired so much about Bernie Sanders—his easiness with being nurturing and warm, even cuddly, on the campaign trail. No doubt this gentleness comes easier for men as they age and no longer have to prove themselves through aggression.

My dream is that it won’t have to take so long for women like Hillary and men like Bernie to be accepted in the American public sphere.

My dream is that our society will shift away from cheering on the superficial, cartoonish values represented by the Donald Trumps among us, and get back in touch with what really matters: living in right relationship—that is, in respect and caring—for every person, no matter what they look like.

And of course, my dream goes beyond this re-valuing of human rights to encompass the rights of every living being on the planet.

jb-solstic-mountaintop-copyWhenever I turn away from the glare of the brightly lit television screens and stage sets of our political moment, back to the green and gold of the forest, I am reminded of what really matters. The water protectors at Standing Rock know it; the Treesisters know it; the Bioneers know it; the Buddhists know it. Human beings have not evolved on this planet to rape and pillage and turn the green to dust. With our unique intelligence and capacity to understand time—history as well as prophecy—we are here to be the wise stewards of the planet, to nurture and protect the complexity of the ecological web that nourishes us.

I can’t say I trust Hillary Clinton to understand or undertake this role. She is a 20th century woman, still living out a 20th century drama of war and destruction. That is why we will have to follow Senator Sanders’ model in creating a drama of our own, too big and urgent for her and her business cronies to ignore. Mother Earth will do her part—we can see it already in the constant litany of storms and floods, wildfires and searing heat.

If we humans fail in our evolutionary mission of stewardship, the Earth will simply start over, as she has many times in the past. It’s time to do everything we can, each one of us, to head off that epic fail—starting with defeating Trump and installing Clinton.

And then we will continue stubbornly, with determination and love, the great work of transforming our society into one based on a new fundamental watchword: no, not freedom this time.

For the 21st century and beyond, our core value must be RESPECT.

Stepping Out With Confidence on International Women’s Day 2015

Although far less widely known and celebrated in the U.S. than Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, International Women’s Day is a much more interesting holiday.

It is one of the few truly global holidays, observed in most countries around the world (hence the prominence it gets at the United Nations, that international enclave in the heart of New York City).

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Unlike Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, IWD is not a romantic or family-oriented holiday. On International Women’s Day, women accept recognition for their hard work and achievements in both the public and private spheres, and gather to advocate for further advancement down the road to full gender equality.

Gender equality looks different depending on where in the world you are located. But at its core is one of the fundamental principles of human rights: that no human being should be discriminated against on the basis of their physical attributes.

Even in the U.S., supposedly a bastion of liberal values, we have a long way to go before we arrive at the goal of gender equality. This is partly a vision problem: there is still a fair amount of confusion over what a society in which men and women were treated equally would look like.

In every society in transition, there is anxiety about change from those who have been benefiting from unearned privilege (in the U.S., that would be white males, especially of the Christian variety). Giving up privilege is hard.

It was good to see Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant make the case in The New York Times this week about why gender equality, “in the boardroom and the bedroom,” will make both men and women happier, healthier, more successful and less stressed out.

It was also good to see a group of Afghan men taking the unprecedented step of standing up for women’s human rights in their country by donning burkas themselves—in much the same vein as the “Walk A Mile In Her Shoes” campaign that has men marching together in women’s high heels to protest sexual assault.

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Burkas and high heels are very different in intention—the one aimed at completely covering up a woman’s body and face, the other aimed at accentuating and drawing attention to women’s legs—but similar in effect: these are dress codes that hamper women’s ability to stand strong and step out comfortably and confidently into the world.

I know Western women who will argue that they feel more confident wearing their heels, and I’m sure there are Afghan women who prefer to step out in public shielded by their burkas. But this has everything to do with the world in which they operate, dominated by an often hostile, or at least aggressively attentive male gaze. It’s not about their own comfort in their own bodies.

No, we’re not going to get back to the Garden in which Adam and Eve romped about gaily without so much as a fig leaf coming between them and their lovely natural surroundings.

But this International Women’s Day, let’s reaffirm the basic principle that all human beings are created equal and deserve equal human rights, no matter what they look like and no matter where they live—beginning with the right to step out confidently into a affirming, welcoming world.

As U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon puts it, “To be truly transformative, the post-2015 development agenda must prioritize gender equality and women’s empowerment. The world will never realize 100 per cent of its goals if 50 per cent of its people cannot realize their full potential.”

Amen to that! And as the International Women’s Day 2015 theme says, it’s time to “Make It Happen!”

The Berkshire Festival of Women Writers: A Big Tent for Honoring and Encouraging Women’s Creative Voices

Stockbridge, MA.  Photo J. Browdy 2015

Stockbridge, MA. Photo J. Browdy 2015

We’re still in the deep-freeze here in the Berkshires weather-wise, but the bright sunshine is telling us that underneath the ice and snow the buds and shoots of spring are stirring.

And we creative women of the Berkshires are stirring too, as we launch ourselves today into the big beautiful Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, the biggest celebration of Women’s History Month happening under one banner anywhere in the U.S.A.

Do you know of any other grassroots Festival that spreads itself out across the whole month of March, with an event celebrating women’s creative expression and unique perspectives every single day from March 1 – 31?

We can do it here in the Berkshires because of the generous talent of our creative women, who are willing to step up and out into the spotlight to share who they are and what they know with our appreciative audiences; and because of the generosity of our sponsors and donors, who know that when more women and girls share their ideas and talents in the public sphere, the whole community benefits.

Mary Pipher used the figure of Shakespeare’s Ophelia to describe the loss of confidence and self-esteem that can often undermine teenage girls, just as teen boys are becoming louder and more self-confident. More recently, research has shown that while many boys have a socially reinforced tendency to take risks, many girls tend to keep their hands down, literally and figuratively, unless they’re absolutely sure they have the right answer.

This means that teen girls and young adults often have less practice in taking the risk of speaking out in public settings, and over time, they tend to fall into the habit of observing rather than participating, following rather than taking the lead.

I know, because I was that girl. As a child, my mother describes me as being a chatterbox who loved to show off my knowledge—for example, I had an encyclopedic knowledge of the names of local birds and flowers, which were taught to me by my grandmother, a biologist and nature lover. I could rattle off the names and characteristics of a hundred birds, and I knew where to find dozens of different native plants that grew in the woods and fields around our home.

JB at 15But that generous volubility did not accompany me out of childhood. As a teenager I was the girl who got an A on every paper, but almost never spoke in class. When I did take the risk to speak, I was overcome with a fear that set my voice trembling and a flush rising uncomfortably to my face. It was much easier to just stay silent.

It took me many years of forcing myself, as an adult, to step into the spotlight to teach, give presentations and lead community groups, before that unwarranted stage fright dissipated. For many other women, who don’t have opportunities in their professional life to speak up, the habit of silence and hanging back persists.

I would like to believe that with more and more women entering the workforce and doing well in their careers, this gender imbalance is fading, but I know that’s not yet true. Even the fabulously successful Sheryl Sandberg is aware of how important it is that women and girls are encouraged to take the risk of speaking their minds, and to do so with poise and confidence.

That is my underlying goal with organizing the big Berkshire Festival of Women Writers: to open up multiple opportunities for women and girls in my home community to inspire each other and their audiences with their creative voices, in order to build a momentum that will continue to grow and develop year-round, flowing out into our communities in ways that we can’t entirely predict.

Amber Chand performing her one-woman show, "Searching for the Moon: A Heroine's Journey" in a BFWW event

Amber Chand performing her one-woman show, “Searching for the Moon: A Heroine’s Journey” in a BFWW event

Men and women may be equal, in theory at least, but we are not the same. We have different sensibilities, born of our different biological composition and our different experiences—differences that should be celebrated and honored.

I am looking forward to a joyful month of celebrating women’s creativity in the Berkshires with many friends, neighbors and visitors. The momentum we build, event by event, will send us soaring into our much-anticipated springtime.

Bypassing the Old Boys’ Club

As we move exuberantly into the second half of the 2014 Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, my mind is sparkling with memories of the powerful, indeed heart-stopping moments that have already taken place at Festival events this season.

DSCN4609Grace Rossman extending a powerful poetic hand to the drowning Ophelia in so many girls today; Ruth Sanabria impersonating both her mother and the fascist regime that unjustly imprisoned her in a fierce poem about the impossibility of stamping out the love between mother and daughter; Kate Abbott celebrating the cultural diversity of the Berkshire hills as she works quietly and steadily to make it more visible; Barbara Bonner eloquently describing the spirit of generosity that seeks and needs no recompense.

The list could go on, and it will, as the Festival continues to unfold day by day this month, and throughout the year in the on-going readings, workshops and writers’ circles that will be taking place under the Festival banner.

This is important work we’re doing together at the Festival—creating multiple entry points and platforms for women writers to step into the spotlight and shine.

The truth is, such opportunities are still all too rare for women writers, and creative women more generally.

Overall17-316x173At the end of February, just in time for Women’s History Month, the non-profit, all-volunteer group VIDA published its annual Count, revealing the continuing disparity between men’s and women’s voices in literary and upscale magazines and journals.

Overall14-316x173I invite you to take a look for yourself: the results show clearly that in literary circles (think The New Yorker, the Times Literary Supplement, The New Republic, The Atlantic, the London Review of Books, The Nation and the New York Review of Books), the old boys’ club is alive, well and holding steady at an average of 75% male voices represented in their pages over the past year.

The same is true in the film industry, the theater industry, and in the television industry. 

It’s the same in book publishing, which may be one reason why women are so interested in exploring new opportunities for self-publishing and self-promotion.

publishing_quadrant1222These days in publishing, it’s like the Berlin wall coming down—gates thought to be invincible are simply crumbling away, with their keepers revealed in all their flabby ordinariness.

Having spent far too much of my life not even trying to take myself seriously as a writer because I knew exactly how high the odds were stacked against my success, I’m excited about the DIY spirit of the new publishing landscape.

I’ve got a book that’s almost ready to launch, and buoyed by the lively, can-do spirit of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, I’m thinking seriously about bypassing the old boys’ club entirely and taking responsibility myself for getting my words out into the world.

No more sitting on the sidelines complaining that “they won’t let us in!”  No more waiting to be asked to dance.  No more hiding my light for fear it won’t be appreciated.

BFWW-square-logo-2014If all of us women started supporting each other and working collaboratively to create the opportunities we all need to shine, we could change the creative cultural landscape for the better, turning those red and blue pie charts a lovely shade of purple.

What a beautiful world it would be!

Daring to imagine a brave new post-patriarchal world

When was the last time you uttered the dreaded P-Word?

Patriarchy, that is.

Somehow the word itself comes out sounding like a challenge, even when it’s not meant as one.  Calling attention to the fact that men still rule the world is considered poor taste.

Women who dare to use the P-word in conversation run the risk of being labeled as strident femi-nazi ballbusters, resentful unfortunates to be avoided if at all possible.

Am I exaggerating?  I don’t think so!

What happens when we all agree to participate in the collective delusion that gender equality has been achieved?  Who loses and who gains?  What opportunities are lost and forfeited?

I’m tired of living in a society that calls strong men “leaders” and strong women “bossy.”

I want to encourage more girls and women to step into leadership roles in every public arena, and be applauded for it by both men and women.

I want to see all leaders supported by excellent child care, fabulous schools and reasonable flex time at work.

When women and men take time off to focus on their families, I want to see that time recognized as valuable—indeed, essential—to maintaining a healthy society, and rewarded by Social Security accrual down the road in retirement.

Last week I spent time with two young mother-writers who came to present their work at the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers.  Both spoke of how hard it is to keep their professional lives going strong while also nurturing their families.  I certainly remember that struggle myself, and it’s not all in the past tense!

Hillary Rodham Clinton, late bloomer?

Hillary Rodham Clinton, late bloomer?

Is there any wonder that women are so often late bloomers when it comes to our professions?

But actually, let’s do away with the term “late bloomer” too, at least when it comes to women who do what makes perfect sense: focus on their families during their 20s and 30s, and get back to their careers when the childcare pressures ease up.

Those women have been blooming all along, or at least they would be if they lived in a society that supported and applauded their efforts, and encouraged men to share the burden of housework and childcare equally.

The patriarchy locked women in the domestic sphere for many long centuries, while devaluing “women’s work” as lower-paid and lower-status.

It’s time for us to celebrate women’s work as essential and invaluable, while also insisting that the whole category of “women’s work” has to be dismantled. We don’t need a gendered division of labor anymore, in the public or the private spheres.

What we need are strong, capable leaders to step up and help us evolve quickly into the resilient, collaborative, respectful human society we know we can be.

Women in Combat: Honoring the Androgynous in Human Nature

U.S. Marine Corps soldier

U.S. Marine Corps soldier

Hearing that the U.S. military is finally going to allow women in combat is something akin to hearing that the Berlin Wall came down.  Something that had seemed so fixed and immovable is all of a sudden just…not…there.

The military led the way in racial integration back in the 1970s, and it is finally showing its willingness to get with the times and become a leader on gender equality as well.

That’s good!

So why don’t I feel like celebrating?

It’s true that women were already on the frontlines, doing dangerous work without the training or the equipment, and, importantly, without earning the credit.

And it’s no secret that the quickest way to advance in the military is to be recognized as a brilliant combat veteran.

Women who never officially saw combat were always held back at promotion time.

So in that regard, this is going to be very positive change that will help put many more fine women soldiers into the promotion pipeline.

In terms of wanting to do everything possible to generally increase women’s equality of opportunity and compensation, the broad example of the military, with its huge payroll, will make a difference.

So why am I feeling ambivalent?

I guess this just feels like one more example of women joining the male-dominated status quo and living up to patriarchal models and expectations, rather than women being able to bring our own different-but-equal perspectives to bear on the playing field.

Does “equality” mean that women have to conform to the social structures into which we were born and bred, which have always been, at least as far as any of us can remember, male-dominated?

This question has been the subject of extensive, impassioned debate among feminists over the past 20 years or so, ever since I entered the fray in the late 1980s.

Are women “essentially” different from men, or are we all humans, the same inside, just with different bodily accessories?

It is dangerous, assert many feminists, to argue that there is something essentially different about men and women, especially if you want to argue that men are essentially more aggressive and competitive, while women are essentially more nurturing and collaborative.

To assert this puts us just one step away from saying that women make better teachers and nurses and mothers, while men make better soldiers and stockbrokers and lawyers.

No feminist would want to say that, at least not while we live in a patriarchal society that puts a much greater value on soldiers, stockbrokers and lawyers than on people in the caretaking, nurturing professions.

Having pondered this long and hard over many years, I am convinced that gender identity is not an either/or proposition, but rather a spectrum.

That is, we are not 100% women or 100% men, but have some of the characteristics of both, to differing degrees. Depending on our social context, we move ourselves along the spectrum, seeking approval and rewards.

We all have it in us to call on whichever side of our nature, the masculine or the feminine, is most needed in the moment.

Women can be socialized to become tough soldiers, just as men can be socialized to become tender, loving fathers.

It’s no accident that mama bears have the reputation of being the most fearsome creature on earth if their cubs are endangered; I know as a mother I have felt an incredible level of aggression rising in me when I’ve felt my little ones threatened.

Yes, women can fight.

We can kill.

We can take orders, and we can dish them out, too.

But I hope that by fully integrating the military, from top to bottom, we will begin to have a subtle effect on the culture.

I hope that just as women in the military are encouraged to cultivate their masculine sides, they may also begin to allow and encourage men to let their feminine sides show up for duty a little more often.

We are learning slowly that winning wars is not just about overwhelming force, shock and awe; it’s more importantly about winning hearts and minds, about making a lasting positive impact in a territory that we are forced to occupy militarily.

Without this crucial component to war-making, the peace will never last.

As someone who is deeply non-violent, I believe that the purpose of war should  always be to create the conditions for long-lasting and productive peace.

Women and men in military service who honor the full spectrum of their gendered natures, from masculine warrior to feminine peacemaker, will best be able to make this vision a reality.

Leadership revisited: from ruthless and reckless to thoughtful and wise

This week I finally had a chance to see the new documentary film that has a lot of people buzzing, MISSREPRESENTATION, written and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom.  The film clearly and graphically makes the argument that women are systematically objectified and dumbed down in the media, and that this is connected to the on-going gender disparity between men and women professionals.

Having taught women’s and gender studies classes for more than a decade, the film didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. But it presented the information in a slick, well-argued way that had the audience gasping, nodding and cringing by turns.

I was somewhat disappointed with the conclusion of the film, however, which mostly urged the audience to take personal action to challenge the misrepresentation of women in the media and in business and politics, and to personally resist social pressure on women to focus on how they look rather than how smart they are and what they do.

Yes, raising personal awareness and mounting personal resistance is important.  But what’s really needed is systemic change.

A great illustration of what I mean by systemic change came my way this morning through a New York Times reprint of a Reuters piece by Chrystia Freeland, “Cultural Constraints on Women Leaders.”

Freeland discusses a new study by University of Toronto business professors Soo Min Toh and Geoffrey Leonardelli, who asked a simple question: Why aren’t there more female leaders?

You can read the article yourself to find out more about how they answered the question.  What interested me most was the author’s conclusion: that even in societies that have been relatively open to women’s advancement, “the one thing women around the world have failed to do is create paradigm-shifting companies.

“None of the great technology start-ups — for example, Google, Apple and Facebook — were founded by a woman. Nor were any of the leading hedge funds, the innovators in the world of money, established by a women. Women are not just underrepresented in this space of transformative entrepreneurs — they are entirely absent.”

Freeland concludes that “the final frontier for women, even in societies that allow them to lead established institutions, is to be ruthless and to take big risks, essential qualities in world-changing entrepreneurs. Instead, as the authors found of female entrepreneurs in Malaysia, women often have to “lead as if they were mothers or teachers.”

This conclusion just demonstrates the extent to which even a very intelligent woman like Chrystia Freeland is still a prisoner of her social indoctrination.

Because the point is that it’s those risk-taking, world-changing entrepreneurs–all men–whose reckless leadership has so endangered our planet that we live in constant fear of the “sixth great extinction event.

It would be a profoundly GOOD THING for our planet and human civilization if our leaders guided us “as if they were mothers or teachers.”

Yes, I am writing this on an Apple laptop which I love, with my iphone on the desk beside me. Yes, I use Google and visit Facebook daily.

But is my attachment to these gadgets and conveniences more important to me, or the world, than our very survival as a species?

What good will my iphone do me when global heating goes out of control, leading to food shortages, storms of biblical proportion, and general lawlessness and fear?

The mother and teacher in me knows that those who look to me for guidance depend on me to choose a safe, wise path.  I will not lead them over a cliff.  I will weigh the risks and benefits and make the decision that benefits the group as a whole.

That is not true of the risk-taking cowboys who have led us to the brink of environmental, financial and social collapse as the 21st century dawns.

We need more men and women to come forward as responsible leaders and tell old-school folks like Freeland, in no uncertain terms, that her ideas of leadership are profoundly flawed.

It will do us no good if women achieve leadership success in the same old masculine terms.  If we are to survive the challenges that await us in the coming years, we need to change the paradigm of successful leadership.

Lead as if you were a mother or a teacher.  Let’s try that on for size.

Is College Worth Its Salt? Hint: It’s Worth More For Men…

My friend Audrey (with whom, it should be noted, I went to college) raises an interesting question.  Is college worthwhile at all?  Particularly for families for whom it’s a huge financial stretch, often involving bigtime loans that take many years to pay off–is it really worth it?

For most of us, I think the answer would be yes.  College is not just about a nice shiny credential to paste at the top of your resume, although I have seen many students, especially during my time at SUNY Albany, for whom the goal seemed to be little more than that.  For these students, the B.A. might prove to be simply a rubber stamp, a certification of having successfully jumped some hoops, scored some goals and not messed up too badly.

That is not the kind of education that’s worth much in the way of sacrifice and effort.

The kind of college education that is worth a young person’s time, effort and financial investment is the kind that opens up new pathways which they might very well never have found any other way.  For instance, I don’t think I would have ever sat down and read all of the novels of Virginia Woolf if Jamie Hutchinson hadn’t led me with passion and enthusiasm through my first one, To the Lighthouse.  His obvious delight at Woolf’s language and the way she structured her novel inspired me to go down into the musty stacks of the library and find some more of her books, and I’ll never forget the magic I felt reading Mrs. Dalloway, The Waves and Orlando for the first time.  Her books cast a spell on me from which I never wanted to wake up.

For my son, now a senior at Simon’s Rock, it was the world of science that opened up for him in college.  He had been bored in all his classes in the 10th grade, and had no idea what he was interested in focusing on for a potential career path, other than his original dream, first expressed when he was two years old, of being “an underwater photographer.”  A college class in marine biology showed him that his dream could become a reality, and started him off on a scientific journey that led him to study eels in the Hudson River as an intern on a faculty summer project; take a junior semester in Baja California studying octopi and other marine life there; win a summer fellowship to work as a paid intern at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, working on a faculty project on eelgrass habitat; and now to do his senior thesis project on a major riverfront restoration project.  None of these doors would have been open to him, or would even have been visible to him, had he not been enrolled in college.

And of course, there’s the social side of college too.  From the social networking with like-minded peers to the ecstatic meeting of kindred souls, the late teens/early twenties are when the most sparks fly, socially speaking, and college is the best place to meet the kind of people who are likely to be focused, goal-oriented and at least relatively stable.  This is not to say that there aren’t all kinds of flakes and basket cases in college.  But even those people are there because their families care enough to make sure they have the best chances in life, and are willing to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to help them over the difficult shoals of early adulthood.  Having a peer group like that counts for a lot.

Much is always made of the value of a college degree in terms of increased earnings.  Interestingly, in looking at the census data, earnings still remain skewed by gender.

Even though more women are now finishing college than men, still, college-educated women earn significantly less than college-educated men:  “women earned 67 percent of what men earned overall and earned 76 percent of what men earned when working full-time, year-round. At the lowest attainment level (not a high school graduate), the difference was 63 percent overall and 75 percent within the full-time, year-round worker population. At the highest attainment level (advanced degree), the difference was 66 percent for the total worker population and 69 percent for the full-time, year-round worker population.”

Is it worth it to go to college? Yes.  But we women have got to learn to be more forceful in advocating for ourselves with our bosses!  There is no reason why in this day and age women should still be earning only 70 cents on the man’s dollar.  Could it be that our vaunted education has the subtle effect of making us reluctant to question authority and speak up for ourselves?  Why doesn’t it have the same effect on men?

Dr. Leonard Sax has proposed some interesting hypotheses in answer to these questions, namely that boys are socialized to show off and act aggressive in school, while girls are socialized to be demure and wait for recognition.  These behavior patterns can get boys into a lot of trouble in the early years of school, and may turn some off from school entirely.  But at the higher levels of schooling, being aggressive is often rewarded, just as it is in the marketplace.  Boys and men tend to exaggerate their strengths, while girls and women tend to exaggerate their own weaknesses.

These are complex socialization processes for which there is no quick fix.  We’re all only human.  But it’s important, particularly for young women, to be aware of the likelihood that we will not receive equal pay for equal work unless we step up and demand it.

If their college education was worth its salt, it would give young women the skills and confidence to do just that.  And it might just teach young men some humility along the way too.

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