Sexual Harassment Isn’t Funny, and it’s Time We Shut it Down

Recently, I was sitting in a local coffee shop grading papers, trying to mind my own business. Two young women were working behind the counter of this intimate little shop, and I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. It began with casual talk of guys—cute guys, flirting with guys, which guys had hit on them recently, and what Halloween costumes they wanted to wear when they went out partying with guys (Sexy Baseball Player was mentioned). It was innocent enough, just two young women sharing their thoughts about the attention they were getting, or wanted to get, from men.  But then the conversation, while remaining light hearted and full of giggles, took a turn I never expected.

They started telling tales of sexual harassment they had experienced at work.

I grew furious-not at them, but at the realization that for all the advancements women have made, some things still haven’t changed.

Like women being sexually harassed at work and standing for it.

This was a public establishment, and these women had to know their words would reach the patrons’ ears. But they didn’t seem to mind. In fact, their tone did not change—the exchange did not become conspiratorial, their voices didn’t become hushed. They spoke about it as if it were completely normal, completely acceptable, and maybe even welcomed. They joked about it as if their shared experience was nothing but harmless workplace antics. I was confused, and my heart was breaking.

It started with the recounting of something the manager had said to one of them: “You know, you shouldn’t come to work so clean, it makes me want to taste you.”

“Oh my God, he said that?” responded the other woman, with a hearty laugh.

They laughed together. My stomach dropped.

And then: “Remember that time he had me pinned up against the register? It was all I could do not to gag and push him off of me.” The laughter continued, no trace of them being indignant.  I kept waiting for them to begin a discussion about what they were going to do to address the unwelcome and inappropriate behavior.

They didn’t.

I was completely distracted, torn between angry disbelief at their acceptance of this behavior, and the protective instinct to tell them it wasn’t their fault. I wanted to say, “You know, you don’t have to put up with that kind of treatment. You don’t deserve that.”

No woman does.

But I kept quiet. What if they enjoy it, I wondered. Maybe I am taking this too seriously. Maybe they encourage these advances and I should just keep my nose out of their business.

But here’s the thing: convincing ourselves that it is no big deal allows men to think they can behave this way. It is what leads to pussy grabbing and forced kisses and uninvited groping and comments about our bodies.

It’s what leads to sexual assault.

I don’t think there is a woman alive who hasn’t experienced this in some form. In 1989, I worked with a man who was flirtatious. He was more than twice my age. He fed me tidbits about his sex life, and sometimes asked me questions about mine. I was fifteen, I had no sex life, and I didn’t know that I was being harassed. I enjoyed this attention from an older man. It made me feel grown up. He never touched me and I never spoke up. But looking back, I know that it was harassment, and he should have known better.

Has nothing changed in twenty-seven years?

Women, young or old, should never have to accept harassment. So why did the young baristas laugh it off? Maybe their laughter was a way for them to cope with an infuriating situation without the risk of losing their jobs. Maybe their shared laughter was a way of saying, “I hear you.” Maybe it is because it is still so pervasive and so acceptable to treat women this way that we don’t even see it when it is happening to us. Maybe it’s simply easier to convince ourselves that it isn’t a big deal.

It is a big deal.

As women, we have a responsibility to say no to this nonsense.  It devalues us as equal human beings. We cannot make light of it anymore. As a mother of boys, I will work tirelessly to teach my sons to respect women, but it’s not enough. We all need to empower our daughters to reject harassment. In a time when our country is on the brink of a women’s revolution we, as women, have a critical role to play. We have to demonstrate to our daughters what we will and won’t stand for. We have to say enough is enough.

Sexual harassment isn’t funny.  It isn’t cute.  It isn’t something we can afford to be quiet about any longer.  If we want to be valued as equal creatures to men, and we want to be paid equally for equal work, we cannot simply laugh it off when we are treated as objects to be toyed with.

We have to take control of our own worth, and set the bar for how we expect to be treated.


Five Things to be Thankful For on Mother’s Day

Recently while showering in my new home I noticed the words “Happy Mother’s Day” written in steam on my bathroom mirror. I started to think about who had put it there for the woman who occupied this home before me. Was it her husband? Her children? And what were they thinking about when they wrote that lovely message?

It is likely they were thinking about all of the traits we think of when we hear the words “Good Mom.” Caregiving, keeping house, kissing boo boos, and nursing the sick. Driving to practices, games, recitals, and music lessons. Having the neighborhood kids over for pizza and sleepovers. Helping with homework. Putting the needs of the children above her own.

All of these things are wonderful reasons to celebrate moms.

But why not celebrate more than mothering skills? How about celebrating the smart, independent, hard working, passionate, sassy, silly, tough women moms are. I hope that someday my sons will have a deeper understanding of who I am as a woman, and recognize the things I did that modeled independence, individuality, and strength. I hope they will be thankful for this, and respect and applaud women who have their own lives, passions, hobbies, and jobs.

Don’t get me wrong – motherhood is the bomb. By all means let’s celebrate it! But it’s the non-motherly things that are silently shaping our kids. They benefit from seeing us dancing, playing instruments, working outside the home, creating art, volunteering, having friends of our own, traveling on our own, exercising, coaching, going on dates with our partners, writing books, mentoring…these teach our children invaluable lessons about being an individual, and working to succeed.

Here are five things I hope my sons will someday realize made me more than just the lady who made lunches, read books at bedtime, and nursed them when they were sick.

  1. My mom had a job that she loved, and she was good at it.

This one is especially important. I am NOT at all downplaying the importance of staying home with your kids, if that is your jam. But working mothers bring something to the table that cannot be undervalued – we teach our kids that it is ok to have a career outside the home, and to love it. Excelling in a career is something to be proud of. Contributing to society and using your education are good things. Follow your dreams, work hard, and you can have a career you love. What a message! Not to mention it helps our children understand that they are not the center of the universe, and sometimes we have to go to work even when we don’t want to. Yeah…that’s life. Get used to it.

  1. My mom had hobbies she enjoyed and it made her a happier person.

Sometimes the kids have to entertain themselves and let mommy get her rock and roll on! Just as I support their desires to play sports and video games, they should support my desire to play guitar. Why should our kids be the only ones that get to “play?” I would argue that finding time for a hobby teaches our kids about balance. It teaches them that finding things you enjoy is a healthy part of adult life too. I am not suggesting we ignore our children when they are in need so we can rock our favorite pastime, but it won’t kill them to have to wait for your attention while you enjoy 30 minutes of you time. After all, it makes us more pleasant moms if we take time to do something that doesn’t involve macaroni art or watching animated television.

  1. My mom took care of herself and felt good.

You can interpret this however you choose. It could mean exercise, eating well, doing yoga, or meditating. It could mean regular massages, gardening, or therapy. It could mean dancing with abandon or walking in the rain. It is different for each of us, but whatever it is you need to do to feel healthy in body and mind, do it. Show your kids you feel good about yourself. The healthier we are as women, the better we can care for our children. And feeling good about our bodies and our minds teaches our kids about healthy body image and self esteem. The better we feel, the less likely we are to put ourselves down. Exercising in front of our kids doesn’t have to translate into looking better, but simply feeling strong. Eating well doesn’t have to mean dieting for weight loss, but simply choosing to put nutritious foods into our bodies because it makes us feel strong. Who wouldn’t want to pass these values down to their kids?

  1. My mom loved her partner and it showed.

What better way to teach our kids about healthy relationships than to show affection to our partner. Hugging, kissing, saying kind words, and being helpful are all great ways to model what it means to respect yourself enough to be in a loving relationship. Sure, we all have days when we are frustrated and just want to be left alone. But the relationship with our partner is the template that our children will refer to when entering their own intimate relationships. If they never saw us smooch, and only heard us complain, how will they sustain a healthy, loving partnership? I am not condoning subservience, or accepting a bad situation just to save face. But when two people are in a happy, loving relationship they should show it in the many little ways that keep a relationship strong. I want my boys to be excellent boyfriends/partners/husbands some day, and how will they know how to do that if my husband and I didn’t show them?

  1. My mom was a unique individual.

If someone were to ask my sons to talk about their mom, I hope they would say more than just, “She was a great mom. She took great care of us.” While I would gladly take that compliment, it would mean so much more to me if they could express what makes me unique. I hope they have seen my personality shine through, and will appreciate that I was more than just “mom.” In my wildest dreams, it would go something like this: “My mom was a strong, independent woman. She was a teacher and scientist, loved to write, loved to run, and loved guitar. She was opinionated and not afraid to speak her mind. She was always willing to have a dance party, and loved the ocean. She sang.  She joked.  She taught us how to be adventurous, and always encouraged us to try new things and find our passions. She overcame her fears. She was a great woman.”

Is that too much to ask?

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, for being great moms AND for being great women.

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President Grandma and the Shrill Working Mothers

Women are just more emotional than men. Have you heard this statement before? I sure have. Much like, “Like a girl,” it seems to have a negative energy surrounding it. It is never said like, “Wow, women are so much more emotional than men,” but more like, “ugh, women are just so emotional.” It belongs in the same pile of crap as statements such as, “Women aren’t as tough as men,” or, “Women don’t have a thick enough skin,” or, “How will she make good decisions when she is on her period?” Or maybe even the dreaded, “She is a mother. How will she do her job and be a mother?” Yes, we have probably all heard something along these lines in our lives, if not directed at us, then in mainstream media stories, or from friends or family members who have experienced it. Example: Charlie Rose asks Bill Clinton on “CBS This Morning” whether Hillary would rather be a grandmother or president of the United States. Excuse me, what? Would Hillary rather be a grandmother or the president? How about both? How about all of us smart, capable, working women would rather you not ask fluffy, idiotic, useless questions about how our dedication to our families might impact our work. Sorry, I had to rant for a second, but seriously…come on with this shit. In my experience, women who are dedicated to their careers are perfectly capable of doing amazing things in their jobs AND being good mothers. Or grandmothers, sisters, daughters, friends, aunties, cousins, wives, and the multitude of other roles they play. Women who want to make it work, make it work. Women are great multi-taskers, way better than men (I have lots of anecdotal evidence to support this).   The way Mr. Rose asks the question about Hillary, with a gentle, sweet intonation and tilt of the head, is so saccharine sweet it makes me want to barf. (If you want to see for yourself check it out here – I am particularly loving how Bill almost chokes on his drink)

The way Chuck dances into the question is almost an admission that the question is completely insulting. It makes it seem as though he is conveying, “I am not really saying she cannot do both, but we want to know how a woman is going to do the extremely difficult task of being president while her daughter is raising a child, because that means she will be a grandmother and she couldn’t possibly be a grandmother and run the country.” Has anyone EVER IN THE HISTORY OF BROADCAST MEDIA asked a man who was running for office (or thinking about running for office), “How will you manage to be a dad and a public official!” No. Because it doesn’t even cross our minds that a man’s familial connections might interfere with his ability to be a strong leader. Now a woman, that is another story. Is it possible that a woman, with estrogen coursing through her body and her brain clouded by emotions, could be a strong leader when the going gets tough? (In case you haven’t noticed, this is dripping with sarcasm). This notion that women are too soft, too meek, too tied up in familial roles to thrive in high powered careers, is completely outdated and not supported by any concrete evidence. And, it makes me want to barf (wait…I said that already. It is worth repeating. Barf.)

In my own life, having children has made me way more efficient in my job. That is really just a more formal way of saying I have limited time to fuck off. Basically, I have no time to fuck off, and have to get the most out of every minute of my workday. Additionally, when I do have time with my boys, I have to be present, engaged, and fully embrace the limited time I have with them. In that way I cut down on the time I waste worrying about work when I am with my kids, and the time I waste worrying about my kids when I am at work. When I spent a summer working part time at a large petroleum company (I won’t say which one, but it is LARGE), I witnessed men standing around drinking coffee shooting the shit every single day, for hours at a time. I never once saw a woman engaged in this nonsense. Why?   I suspect it is because by and large working women are at work to get shit done. They often have kids to get home to at the end of the day so they buckle down and get shit done. I am sure there are exceptions, but in general I see men wasting time at work more often than women. It might have something to do with the fact that they don’t necessarily have to be home at a certain time to be with the kids, or maybe it’s just that they feel it is accepted to need to work late, but to working mothers working late can feel unacceptable. Even with all that coffee drinking and shit shooting men get paid more than women do, on average. They must need the extra cash for all that coffee.

I believe whole heartedly that children, boys and girls, benefit immensely from seeing their mother as an independent, self sufficient woman who has a fulfilling career or other passion that sometimes takes her away from the home and the family. Kids, Mama has a life outside of this house and it is important to me. Get used to it. But it also might be important for kids to see Dad spend more time at home, or at least for them to get the sense that being home is a priority. Just like it is accepted for Moms to be the ones to rush home for kid duty, it is generally accepted that Dads will be at work late more often than Moms. I know there are cases in which this is reversed, but even when Mom is the breadwinner, kids want Mom home. If Mom has to go out for some reason, after work hours, kids balk. When it’s Dad, kids seem fine with it. Kids are pretty honest, saying it like it is, and the truth is, Moms are just expected to be less engaged with work and more engaged with kids.  But spend too little time at work and a woman risks the criticism that she cannot be both a good mom and a good career woman.

A couple of days ago a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook, an opinion piece from the NY Times. It was written by Tara Mohr (see link to her website in my links at right), and is entitled Learning to Love Criticism (see article below).

Tara writes about a study that looked at workplace performance reviews given to both men and women, that found that managers (both male and female) generally had more negative feedback for female employees, and that much of the negative feedback given to women had to do with their personalities. 76% of negative feedback to women included personality criticism, while only 2% of men’s negative reviews included anything related to their personalities. This is not surprising to me at all. I have written before about the double standard women face at work, and how as a teacher I have felt this double standard personally. If I am tough in the classroom I am a bitch, but when my male colleagues are tough they are considered, well, tough. The study explored some interesting ideas, such as the impossibility of doing substantive work without being criticized in some way, because to make progress sometimes you have to make tough decisions that not everyone is pleased with. I think it is much like parenting in that way – sometimes the troops don’t like the tough love, but it might just be the best thing for ‘em. But perhaps the most frustrating interpretation of the study is that women have to strive to be liked, by everyone, all the time. And when we are not liked, we are supposed to have a thick skin and take it like a man. Wait. What?  Let me get this straight. I am supposed to be tough, but not so tough that people don’t like me, but if someone doesn’t like something I do or say I should expect to be told, and to deal with it without any emotional reaction, but if I don’t have emotions people won’t like me…AAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!! Should I be bitchy sweet or sweetie pie bitch? How about I should be myself and see how that goes? It seems as a woman, being myself is not always good enough when it comes to being liked in the workplace. Being trapped in an impossible situation seems to be a common theme for women across many careers. It is also that way in motherhood, as we strive to make our children happy while simultaneously proving our worth in the workplace.

What is really interesting in Tara’s piece is how she draws a parallel between how women used to need to be friendly to survive (literally), and how being friendly in our work life allows us to survive in our careers. When women couldn’t own property or have money of their own they relied on others in power to take care of them. It helped to be liked. Now, women can take care of themselves, but we are still held to the impossible standard of being liked by all, while still being tough, smart, strong, and able to make hard decisions. Does a male leader have to be liked? No way. In fact, in movies, television, and books, the male leaders are often surly and gruff, with a strong exterior that is hard to penetrate. We never quite know what their emotions are, and it makes them seem formidable and deserving of respect. The women usually wear their hearts on their sleeves and are often portrayed as weepy messes, just trying to survive among all the tough men.

The last part of the NY Times piece suggests that women should learn to accept criticism, not let it bother them, and take from it clues about what our clients or employers need from us. In other words, it is all just feedback and we can use that feedback to our advantage. I agree that feedback, both positive and negative, is extremely valuable in propelling us forward to increased success. Hell, most of the feedback I ever got as a PhD student was negative, but somehow I graduated, published some stuff, and got a pretty darn good job. Trying to break into the world of writing is full of negative feedback (as evidenced by the many rejections I received when trying to land an agent). Look ladies, rejection sucks, criticism sucks, and it is never going to feel good. What we do with it is what really matters, and I agree with Tara on this point. We can rage, get pissed off, let it hurt our feelings, throw up our hands, yell at the people who are criticizing us, run and hide. Or, we can try and find something valuable in the criticism that we can use in our mission to climb the ladder, find an agent, achieve that goal, publish that book, and move forward.

I would add, though, the observation that the statistics from the study are quite striking and should have us all concerned. WHY are women criticized about personality traits so much more than men in the workplace? It can’t be because all women have crappy personalities and all men are just delightful. In my experience women work harder to be liked, and yet, women are being criticized for personality traits more often than men. There is something going on here that is deeply disturbing, and women finding a way to learn from it is only one part of the solution. We should be asking why so many women are criticized about their personality traits. Is this even appropriate for a performance review? Unless your personality traits are interfering with your job performance I would argue, no. Does it truly serve a purpose to tell a woman she is abrasive or judgmental?   How about strident, which means having a shrill, irritating quality. This was one of the words frequently used in the evaluations of female employees. Strident. Shrill and irritating. I cannot think of two more insulting words someone could use to describe a woman.  Shrill and irritating.  I wonder how many men were called strident? How is telling me I am strident, or abrasive, going to help me improve as an employee? It isn’t. These descriptive words are used simply to highlight something negative about a person. “Hey, you are shrill and irritating but you can learn from that and grow in your career.” Really? I don’t think so. You are calling me shrill, and that is a flat out insult. Why do you even want me on your team if you think I am shrill and irritating? Why should I have to find the lesson in that and learn from it?  I just learned that you think I am shrill and irritating, but I cannot change who I am.  Even more shocking is that women managers criticize their female employees’ personalities too! A woman telling another woman she is shrill and irritating, that is irritating. Ladies…where’s the love, the support, the constructive criticism?

And why is it a bad thing to have an emotional reaction to something? Call me crazy (or maybe, shrill), but to me having an emotional reaction means you are human. You have feelings. You have empathy, and sympathy, and you care deeply about other human beings. Aren’t these qualities you would want in a leader? If someone is going to be making decisions about the well being of an entire nation, and possibly intervening on behalf of those who are oppressed or abused, don’t you want them to have empathy, sympathy, and a deep caring for others? Being a tough as nails automaton with limited emotional investment doesn’t make you better, stronger, or more capable. It kind of makes you a jerk. (Oops, sorry, maybe that was too direct.  Just take it and learn from it).

So yes, ladies, feedback in all its forms can be useful. We can learn from the suggestions, observations, and constructive criticisms of our peers, bosses, and mentors. But being called shrill, or abrasive, or judgmental…this is not constructive criticism. This is woman bashing, and serves no professional purpose. If men are going to be evaluated on their personalities in the workplace then fine, bring it on. If personality traits become part of the mainstream career evaluation criteria of both genders well, okay then. But until that day, we as women should expect no less than to be evaluated on our skills, abilities, and performance in our careers.

Is that too straightforward (i.e., barefaced, direct, veracious, outspoken, frank, or guileless) of me? Should I be nicer about it? Maybe say, “pretty please could you find it in your heart to judge me on my merits?” Would it be too straightforward for a man to expect to be judged solely on his skills, abilities, and performance?  Would he beg sweetly for that appropriate type of evaluation?

Well, I’m not gonna beg.  Give me something valuable and constructive that I can use or get the fuck out of my pretty little face. How’s that for shrill?



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The Goldilocks Syndrome Dichotomy

The Big Bang Theory (the sitcom, not the theory about the birth of the universe) premiered tonight.  The women on the show are an interesting mix that pretty much sum up our stereotypical views about women – Penny, the pretty ditz who isn’t too bright and wants to be an actress. Amy Farrah Fowler, the brilliant, frumpy, geeky scientists who can’t get a boy to kiss her. Then there’s Bernadette.  Thank goodness for Bernadette, the buxom blonde, super smart scientist who is both girly and opinionated. As far as role models go, that could be just right.  The Goldilocks female role model?

Look, it is a great time to be a woman. The zone of feminine domain has been utterly redefined over the last century. Once upon a time, the idea of womanhood was intimately tied to pursuits of the home. It was unusual for women to step out of that comfort zone and push the boundaries of the human experience. When a woman did show the audacity to journey beyond the usual womanly ways, she was an oddity of such magnificence that she became famous purely for the fact that she did something outside the female norm. Marie Curie. Amelia Earhart. Sally Ride. Joan Rivers. These women did things that other people (men) were doing at the time. Don’t get me wrong, these chicks rocked! But it is interesting to consider that doing something men already do, when you have a vagina, somehow makes it spectacular. It still happens today. We hear about the first women to do all sorts of things that men have been doing forever, and somehow we are compelled to gasp and comment and discuss. Humans are still fascinated when a woman dares to do something outside the confines of our comfortable view of what women do.

Now I ask you this: Why don’t we gasp, and comment, and discuss the fact that women are STILL being judged on their exterior attributes more than their intellect and abilities? The double standard for women is alive and well. I have seen it and heard about it from more women than seems reasonable in a modern society where women can vote, and hold political office, and run their own businesses, and anything else they damn well please. The idea that you should be pretty but not too pretty, sweet but not too sweet, tough but not too tough – Jesus Christ, the rules for how to succeed at ANYTHING when you are a woman are just downright confusing and often completely unreasonable. This Goldilocks standard for women is a real problem. Not too much of anything. Just the right amount of everything. Fuck that. I don’t care if you think I am too hard, too soft, too hot, too cold, or just goddamn right. I am who I am. Deal with it.

When I started as a lecturer at the University of Arizona I was pretty young (31 to be exact). I have always looked young for my age, and a couple of my male colleagues told me that I should dress up when I was teaching, to make sure the students took me seriously. I had already planned on doing this, since I enjoy dressing up, I like being girly, I like heels, and wearing dresses, etc. But out of curiosity I asked a few of my male counterparts if they had ever worried about dressing professionally when teaching. I asked my husband, who is slightly younger than me, if he was given the same advice when he started teaching at UA a couple of years before. Not one of the males I asked had ever been told to consider dressing professionally for teaching. Not one. I don’t know if any of you have ever taken a geology course, but chances are your instructor (probably a white male) was wearing shorts, sandals, hiking boots, jeans, a fleece vest, a baseball hat, or something in that vein of attire. Even the female faculty in geology (and many other science) departments tend to be less frilly and more no nonsense in their attire. My male colleagues teach in all manner of dress, from dress pants and button downs (my husband), to jeans, Hawaiian shirts, and Teva sandals. They are always taken seriously. Furthermore, if they are strict as instructors they are considered tough, smart, serious, and rigorous. However, if I am strict in my class I am considered a bitch. That’s it. Not smart. Not rigorous. Not, “Wow, she is amazing, she has really high standards and I want to exceed them because she might know a thing or two.” Just a bitch. It has happened to me so I know of what I speak. I have fist hand knowledge of this phenomenon. A male colleague of mine from the astronomy department told me about this double standard a few years into my UA appointment. He is strict, and a hard ass, and pretentious as hell, and the majority of his students love him for it. But he warned me that if I chose to try running my classroom as he did I would be asking for a bitch designation. I experimented in my classroom, and tried some of his techniques after watching the well-oiled machine that was his classroom. It worked so well for him in part because there was a healthy dose of fear amongst his students. Fear that they would be kicked out of class. Fear that they would feel stupid. So I tried some of his techniques in the hopes of running a similarly well-oiled machine. And they failed. Miserably. My teaching evaluations suffered that semester, and I had students write negative comments about me for the first time in all of my years of teaching. Negative comments about me, not just about the class. Me, a.k.a., The bitch. I postulate that as a woman, students expect me to be a kind and nurturing mother hen in the classroom, but they expect their male professors tough and strong. Gender stereotypes, anyone?

Now on to something somewhat related that is just too damn good not to draw your attention to. The video below is John Oliver raging about pageant competitions, in particular, the Miss America pageant. Perpetuation of gender stereotypes, anyone? Ladies, listen up…we CANNOT expect this double standard on women to ever change, we CANNOT ever expect women to be taken just as seriously as men in the workplace (or anywhere), if we continue to put ourselves into positions in which we are judged on our looks alone. Yes, we put ourselves in this situation. We choose to allow someone to spray-glue a bikini bottom onto our butts and traipse it around in front of a bunch of people who judge us worthy or unworthy of a title, a crown, and maybe a scholarship. It is so damn dangerous to the forward progress of women’s equality. I have already said on many occasions that I like dressing up pretty and doing my nails and wearing heels, so it is not at all about that. I even enjoy a nice compliment every now and then about my clothes or shoes or how I look. Who doesn’t? There’s nothing wrong with that. It is not about being less womanly. Or being less girly. Or downplaying your looks. Hell, I am all about loving yourself and dressing it up nice! It is about strutting around in a bathing suit and pretending that is what makes you worthy of positive judgment.  It is about being ogled because of your body, and then told you are valued for your mind, or your talents, and buying into that shit. Let’s be real – it is all about what you look like in these pageants. They are called beauty pageants for a reason.

Watching a woman stand on stage and proclaim to the millions of viewers of the Miss America pageant that they offer $45 million in scholarship money annually, when in actuality they pay out less than half a million, is disgusting. She should be ashamed of herself. She is perpetuating this culture of downplaying the value of women as a force in society. A force not because they can turn heads with their boobs, but because they have thoughts in their pretty little heads that are quite possibly meaningful. I know. Shocking.

I put the onus on women to expose this crap for what it is. Don’t tell me for one second that the women on that stage are there for any other reason than to be crowned most beautiful, gorgeous, hot princess of ‘Merica and walk around waving at their admirers and wearing a sparkly tiara. I don’t buy it. Please forgive me if you are reading this and happen to be a strong, smart woman who chose to participate in a beauty pageant simply for the academic opportunities. If you truly subjected yourself to a beauty pageant simply to gain access to an academic opportunity and nothing else, who are you and what is your story? But I am skeptical that it could be so. Mainly because we still live in a world where women are primarily judged by their looks before all else, and even women value this type of judgment. Really? It has nothing to do with the title? It has nothing to do with feeling oh so pretty? It does. Period. Women are judged on their pretty packaging, and men are judged on their brains and/or balls. (Not what their balls look like, but the size of their cojones) The first impression of a woman is intimately tied to her looks whether we like it or not.  What if Amy Farrah Fowler was doing yoga in tight pants in her apartment one episode while Penny sat in a frumpy, dumpy brown skirt reading scientific articles, wearing no make up, and donning huge glasses?  What if that was how they introduced these characters?  Would we still watch the show?

And here’s the kicker. As a woman you cannot really win, especially as a woman in science. If you are too pretty, people might judge you as ditzy or not serious. But if we want to encourage young girls to go into STEM fields, one of the ways we can do it is to show them that real, girly women can also be smart scientists. The Pennies of the world can be scientists, not just the Amy Farrah Fowlers.  This is one of the barriers we face today to getting more girls in science – not enough female role models who look like the girly girls these young girls want to be. Wait…but if I dress too pretty I am a ditz and won’t be taken seriously. But, as Donald Trump says to the reporter in the video, “You wouldn’t have your job if you weren’t beautiful.” What. The. Fuck.

If you are trying to make your way in the difficult world of science, being too pretty can be a disadvantage. But being yourself, whatever that means to you, is so much more important than bending into the perceived picture of a scientist, or doctor, or professional hockey player, or anything else.  Picture this: We, as women, who want to model a positive sense of womanhood to our daughters, stop telling our daughters that the ultimate score in life is to be a princess. We, as women, stop putting ourselves on display for judgment purely defined by our looks while trying to justify it by saying it is for scholarship opportunities.   We, as women, are ourselves in any situation, whether that is tough, emotional, girly, outdoorsy, intellectual, bubbly, serious, or anything else we truly are, and expect that we will be taken seriously because of our merits and abilities. We, as women, EXPECT this. Imagine if we all did.

Imagine. How pretty would that be? I think it would be pretty damn beautiful.




All the Single Ladies (and I DON’T mean your status)!

Recently I read a piece in which the author, a woman, was discussing the notion that she, as a woman, had to be, “everything to everyone.” She was reflecting on the idea that the roles that are central to her existence are defined by how they relate to other people. Mother to her children, wife to her husband, and so on. It got me thinking about the roles I fill and how the vast majority of them are indeed centered on the needs and feelings of others. A mother, which often requires complete selflessness.   A wife, through which I have learned that of key importance, is learning how to negotiate another human being’s needs and feelings. Add to the list daughter, friend, employee, and teacher and there are few, if any, roles I play that are purely for my own hedonistic desires. Even writing, which is something I do because I truly love it, has to happen around the schedule of my children’s sleep habits and my work commitments.

This reminded me of an incident that happened several years ago in which I introduced a female colleague to another colleague as someone’s wife. I used her name first, as in, “This is Jane, Dr. Jones’s wife.” (Note: names have been changed) Immediately after I said it, I could feel her energy change next to me. I knew as soon as we were alone, she would gently but firmly chide me for calling her someone’s wife by way of introduction. She is an accomplished woman, with a career of her own, and I absolutely recognize and respect her in that way. But the person I was introducing her to knew of her husband and his work, so it seemed natural to relay their connection. At the time I didn’t think much of her strong reaction to my referring to her as this man’s wife. After all, she IS his wife. I know she is proud of her husband and have heard her speak extremely highly of him on many occasions, so why is it such a big deal to highlight the fact that she is married to him?

Years later, thinking about my own roles as a woman, and how hard it can be for women to carve out their own identity in a world of motherhood, wifehood, and all the rest of it, I totally get it. I mean, I sincerely get it. I have fallen into the habit of trying to be all things to all people, and quite frankly it sucks. Why should I have to be everything to anyone (my kids included)? Why should I not be singularly concerned with being everything to myself? Why are women so quick to label themselves as someone’s mother, or wife? Ask yourself this: How many men have you met, say at a work function or in a professional setting, who have introduced themselves by saying, “Hi, I am Joe, Jennifer’s husband.”  It doesn’t count if you are meeting a girlfriend’s husband or boyfriend for the first time.  I mean, meeting men who have no connection to you through a woman.  Those of you who are married or in a relationship, ask your significant other (if the significant other is of the male variety) to go one week only introducing himself to others as your husband or boyfriend or cabana boy, or whatever it is they are to you. Ask them if they would be willing to do it. If not, ask them why? (I know, I am stirring up some trouble now).   I bet it has something to do with the natural desire to put our own accomplishments, or career title, or other self-defining characteristic on display when meeting someone for the first time. I get it. But it seems to me it is rare for a man to put those personal accomplishments on the back burner when meeting new people, and very common for women to do so. Is it just because we women so love to gush about our sweeties that it feels more important to recognize that bond when meeting new people than to toot our own horns?

So I propose this: All of us ladies, married or not, mothers or not, are really single ladies in the sense that we are individuals. We are separate from our spouses, our children, and everyone else who wants a piece of us. That is not to suggest that we should abandon our roles as mothers and wives and friends and say, “screw you,” to the whole damn world and spend the rest of our lives alone, drinking cosmopolitans, binge watching Downton Abbey, and shoe shopping. Wait…that sounds pretty freaking amazing, maybe I should reconsider….No, no, no. We don’t need to completely disconnect ourselves from those we love. But I for one spent over 30 years feeling like I was defined by my usefulness to other people.   I dedicated a lot of time to thinking about things such as, 1) Am I a good enough girlfriend? 2) Am I a good enough wife? 3) Am I a good enough teacher? 4) Am I a good enough mother? And so on and so on. Never did I ask myself, am I getting enough from my husband? My friends? Are the people around me recognizing me for who I am, not for what I can do for them? If all of these people were to disappear, how would I define myself? I don’t say this to elicit any, “Aw, poor baby, you are such a martyr,” type feelings or comments. I am simply observing that being a woman is often synonymous with being a giver, and with defining ourselves as satellites to someone else’s planetary being. Floating around them, providing gravitational stability, influencing the ebb and flow of their tides, but never really asserting our own independent significance in the system.

OK, this is the part where women who love their men and love being introduced as so and so’s wife or girlfriend or old lady are going to tear into me and accuse me of being a man hating bitch and a detached mother. But quite the opposite is true! I love my kids, I love my husband, and I love nothing more than sharing their accomplishments with those around me. All I am suggesting is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be introduced as something other than someone’s wife. Wanting someone’s first impression of you to be of YOU as a single person. As an individual. As a woman with value, and worth, and kick ass accomplishments all your own that don’t necessarily include pushing small, screaming humans out of your lady parts. That’s what I mean by “single.” I am not connected to any other human being inseparably, whom I rely on for my very existence and belong to completely. No. I am a single, solitary woman who happens to have a lovely husband, two beautiful, clever kids, and family and friends. They are very important to me, but they do not define me. It might seem like being the best mothers we can be requires us to drop everything at any given moment and bow down to the whims of our children. Sometimes it does, like when your child is puking his guts out in the middle of the night. But other times, it is perfectly appropriate, and I would argue preferable, to let your kids know that you are involved in something else and cannot be their everything right now. It is perfectly appropriate to tell your spouse the same damn thing, and you should probably start doing that sooner rather than later. The truth is, the day will come when my kids want nothing more than to get the hell out of my life and build lives of their own, and I will survive because I am a fully functioning human with or without them. I relish the thought of that day, because if I am doing a decent job as a mother, they will be fully functioning humans too, and will go forth into this world and tear it up! It will be so much fun to watch them discover their true selves. So why shouldn’t I discover mine?  Why shouldn’t we all?

And so, all you single ladies, married or not, what defines you? What do you love about yourself? If someone asked you to describe your single most valuable asset, and it cannot have anything to do with another person, what would it be? How would you want people to remember you after you are gone? Good wife and mother are not bad things to include. But after 40 years of getting to know myself, if that is all I can assert about myself, and all others can assert about me, then I haven’t done enough to promote my single SELF! I haven’t examined my own personal strengths, passions, and uniqueness enough. I haven’t shouted loudly enough, “Hey, I am not just someone else’s. I don’t belong to anyone but me.” Do we really want our children, our spouses, or our friends, to see us as everything to everyone…but ourselves?

Relationship status be damned. I am a single lady. An individual. A woman. A writer. A runner. A teacher. A geologist. A music lover. And if that ain’t enough…a wife and mother too.


You’ve Got Pluck

I am a woman of extremes. I pretty much go balls to the wall with anything I do. That is not to say I am an Olympic level runner (I run), or an award winning scientist (I do science), or a best selling author (I write). It just means that if I say I am going to do something I freaking do it. If I need something done, I do it. I might bitch and moan about it at times, or take a minute or two to wallow in the realization that nobody else is going to make shit happen for me. But when the rubber meets the road I put my big girl panties on and get shit done. This approach to life isn’t inherently negative, in and of itself, but it can be stressful, and some would say I am just controlling and need to let go, that good things will come to me if I put good energy into the universe. Well, sitting around beaming sunshine through my pores and believing something is going to happen to me just isn’t my jam. I believe in making things happen. I also believe that I have been fortunate in my opportunities. But the older I get, the less inclined I am to buy into “luck” as some puppeteer driving my success, and more inclined to recognize that hey, I worked my ass off to get to where I am and I deserve all of the associated accolades, rewards, and perks. It hasn’t always come naturally to me to feel proud of my successes. I have often found myself thinking, “How did I get here? When will they wise up to the fact that I am utterly under qualified for this gig and boot my ass out the door?” I think most of us have felt this way at some point in our lives, and it probably means we have a healthy sense of humility.

There have been incidents in my past that go beyond healthy humility, and have fueled my thoughts of self-doubt. There have even been people in my past that have validated these feelings by flat out confirming their truth. Case in point. In 1999 I was a young, unsure, terrified PhD student in a world class graduate program in a kick ass earth science department, and someone very influential in my life at the time said these words to me: “You’re not that smart.” Wait…WHAT? What in the fuck do I do with that? I am not that smart. Wow. I am not that smart. I mean, I didn’t think I was Stephen freaking Hawking or anything but, shit, I am not that smart. Imagine someone telling you straight, “You’re not that smart.” Just roll those words around on your tongue for a few minutes. Say them out loud. Would you say those words to a friend? A colleague? Your child? Someone you believed in? Those words are loaded. It reminds me of the Sex and the City episode when Miranda, overhearing two women chattering on the street about why a date didn’t call back, tells them confidently, “He’s just not that into you.” The women react with disgust and disbelief, and they proceeded to chastise Miranda for saying what was undoubtedly the truth, albeit a truth they did not want to hear.   She prefaced her statement by saying what she was about to tell them would save them a whole lot of time and trouble. In other words, come on ladies, face it…he’s just not that into you. Or, in my case, come on dumbo, face it…you’re just not that smart. When this bitter little nugget of truth was unleashed on me, I immediately started down the dark path to fear and self doubt, believing that this person, who was brilliant in his field, must know something that I didn’t know and I should probably take heed. It was a beautiful example of all the things I want to push women to rage against – someone else defining your worth, or convincing you that you are less than you are. It was an unexpected bomb dropped on me on a warm California afternoon, while sipping tea with a trusted advisor in his sun-filled office. In what world does this actually happen?

But here’s the part of the conversation I haven’t told you about yet. “You’re not that smart,” was only the first part of that sentence. “You’re not that smart,” was the only part of the sentence that stayed with me for many years afterward. But believe it or not, that sentence was one of the kindest, most complimentary sentences I had ever had the good fortune to hear. Because here is the punch line of that seemingly awful joke. The second part of the sentence went like this: “…but you’ve got pluck.” Pluck. At the time, all I heard was, “you are a dumb ass who has no business being in this field.” In reality, I was being told that regardless of my mental acumen (or lack thereof), I could thrive in this field that I felt so utterly adrift in. I was being given a compliment, but I couldn’t see it through my haze of hysteria.

If you look up the word plucky in the dictionary you will find synonyms such as courageous, determined, spunky, and spirited. I cannot think of four words I would rather have used to describe me than courageous, determined, spunky, and spirited. What an absolutely generous compliment, especially from someone who intimidated the hell out of me and was a world-renowned expert in his field. “You’ve got pluck.” Well shit. Ain’t that something.

In the years since that core shaking incident I have come to accept (i.e., not give a shit) that I am not as smart as most of my colleagues in the scientific community. It is a community inundated with people of particularly powerful perspicacity (that is smart speak for intelligence – take that!). I live with a man who is a geological genius. I work at a world-class research institution where scientists have designed machines that can fucking land on Mars! I will never win a Nobel Prize in physics, or chemistry, or any other scientific field. But I know how to survive in a field that is male dominated and full of beautiful minds. I am brave, and spunky, and spirited, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I hope my sons, regardless of their level of traditional intelligence, grow to appreciate the value of being able to find their strengths and use them to excel in whatever passion they want to pursue. I hope for all the young girls out there, who will undoubtedly come up against someone, somewhere, who doubts their ability to do something, that they can be brave, and spunky, and spirited, and find their pluck and push on through. We have no control over whether or not we have genius IQ’s. But we can choose whether to let someone else’s assessment of our abilities hold us back, or to quit whining, put on our big girl panties and get shit done. Do I wish science came easier to me? Hell yes. Do I wish I didn’t have to pause, think real hard, and use my fingers when adding up simple numbers? You bet. Would it be nice to have people think of me as the world expert in something, anything, scientific? Yeah, that would be cool.

Is it even more amazing to be my plucky self? You bet your smart ass.

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Journeying Beyond Your Comfort Zone

This is me after a four-day excursion, on foot, up a steep walled, snowy valley in Tibet.  I was sunburned, bloated, exhausted, and could barely stand up, but damn was I feeling amazing!

This is me after a four-day excursion, on foot, up a steep walled, snowy valley in Tibet. I was sunburned, bloated, exhausted, and could barely stand up, but damn was I feeling amazing!

Welcome to my blog, where I will explore anything and everything related to journeying beyond your comfort zone. I write about topics such as pushing your limits, trying new things, being independent, adventure, the outdoors, scientific discoveries and advancements, women in science, women in the arts, womanhood, finding your true self, education, amazing things women are doing or have done, and how we are affected by the things we choose to do. While I consider myself a LOUD and PROUD advocate of all things womanly, I am not a man hater. This is not a place where I will rant uncontrollably about the evils of men, and implore women to rise up against them. I love men. I have been privileged enough to have exceptional men in my life. In fact, I may dedicate an entire blog post in the future to waxing poetic about the fabulous men I have had in my life. In this blog, I want to promote the ideals and experiences that make us, as women, stronger and more confident humans. I want to explore what it means to get off our asses, get out of our comfortable, sometimes mediocre existences, and try something that seems scary, or unusual, or impossible. I want to inspire women of all ages to live unabashedly the lives they want to live, and to explore possibilities that fall outside their norm.   Believe it or not, there are possibilities that may not even be on your radar yet, but they will present themselves when you least expect them. Take notice! You never know what waits just around the corner.

Let me be clear about what I mean when I say, “journey beyond your comfort zone.” Inevitably there will be someone, somewhere, who reads this and begins to rave about the fact that I am advocating for women to be pushed into situations that make them uncomfortable. That is absolutely NOT what I am advocating. There are things in life that each of us is completely uncomfortable with, for good reason. We all have individual boundaries that cannot be crossed, and things we would never do. Things that cause us to be less than our authentic selves. Things that we have tried before and had horrible experiences with. Things that cause us pain. I would never encourage anyone to do something that feels fundamentally wrong or uncomfortable. By journeying beyond our comfort zones I don’t mean we should do things that make us sacrifice our personal beliefs or lose our true selves. What I am suggesting is that there are places to go, experiences to have, which might seem off the beaten path of our normal lives, and that is exactly where we should go. I know some of these things are easier said than done. That is the whole freaking point!

I also want to put right out there that this blog is not a place where I wish to shame or judge anyone for the choices they have made and the lives they choose to live. I have read countless articles and blog posts, often written by women, that criticize stay-at-home moms, working moms, women who didn’t breast feed, women who cook dinner for their husbands, curvy women, skinny women, women who dress sexy, single women, women who home school, women who don’t indulge their child’s every whim, and so on. Look, I suspect all of us women are just trying to do the best we can do with the lives we are living. None of us knows what another woman’s life is all about. But no matter who we are, we don’t have to limit ourselves to things that are familiar, or usual, or easy. Housewife, hippie, CEO, artist, doctor, teacher, astronaut, porn star, scientist…we all deserve to take the journeys that will shape our human experience and make us better women.

I hope you will be entertained, and possibly inspired, by my words and experiences. My stories are often embarrassing, brutal, and outrageous, and I am happy to put my vulnerability on display for the sake of a good laugh and maybe an, “I’ve been there,” moment for a reader.   If you read something here you can relate to, please get in touch! I love connecting with other women and hearing about their experiences. If you have journeyed beyond your comfort zone, tell me about it! I am always looking for guest bloggers to add to the conversation.

Ultimately, nothing I have ever done that was life changing was easy. At the same time, I realize I have been fortunate in my opportunities. But there are all different forms of journeying beyond a comfort zone, and I believe everyone can find one. It doesn’t have to be a grand adventure. All it has to be is something that, when it is over, you look back on it and say, “I cannot believe I did that. I kick ass.” And you do. You will. So lace up your boots. Saddle up your horse. Pick up that microphone. Enroll in that class. Book that trip. Start your engines. Kick up your heels and put down your self-doubt. It’s time to take a journey beyond your comfort zone!