Friday, October 26, 2012

Europeans and Bigotry

I wanted to follow up a bit more on the previous post.

I have traveled throughout and even lived for a school year in Europe.  As a student, I have studied its languages, its literature and its art.  Later in my life, I have worked with Europeans in professional settings.  For several decades, I have had close personal friends who are from Europe.  Though I don’t purport to be an expert, I do know something about the cultural attitudes of Europeans.

In my experience, Europeans are not exactly highly evolved on gender issues.  I mention this because Americans often view Europe as highly progressive on social issues, so this is counterintuitive to many of my countrymen and women.  After all, Europe has outlawed the death penalty and has provided universal health care.  European nations have been leaders in providing legal recognition of same sex unions.  And the people of Europe have high levels of literacy and education. But in my experience, we Americans sometimes overestimate how progressive Europeans actually are. 

From an American perspective, I’ve often been shocked—and at times simply horrified--by bigoted things that I’ve heard come out of the mouths of modern Europeans  in casual conversations.  A number of specific examples come to mind, but frankly I don’t feel comfortable repeating them in a public forum.  To an American audience, such comments would be viewed as inflammatory and very hurtful.  They are simply not the sorts of things that are said in polite company in the United States. 

And I’ve been surprised because such comments have typically come from well-educated, young, otherwise progressive Europeans.  I’ve also heard such shocking things come out of the mouths of Hitler-era Germans, but sadly one might expect that more readily.  Such comments are akin to hearing the bigoted things that I’ve heard from my own white relatives who grew up in the Jim Crow South. 

The sorts of bigoted comments of Europeans that I’m referencing have primarily been disparaging of people of color, especially people of African, Asian or Middle Eastern heritage who have migrated to Europe for economic or political reasons.  But I’ve also witnessed a good deal of stereotypical attitudes on gender and a lack of sensitivity on gender equality issues.  In my experience, women are often viewed in sexualized terms by others and even themselves. 


1 Corinthians 12:12

Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Encouraging Girls to Become Scientists

This summer I heard a radio news report on an EU effort to encourage more girls to pursue studies and careers in scientific fields.  The report was produced by PRI’s program The World.  It is available at the link below.

I heard this report as I was contemplating Dr. Slaughter’s article and the varied responses it inspired.

The gist of this EU effort to attract girls to science is that we attract girls by showing them that female scientists are sexy and attractive to guys.  The girls in the ad are highly sexualized. They are wearing high heels and very short mini-skirts.  They are wearing make-up and have spent a lot of time on their hair. 

Frankly, the girls in the ad look to me like street-walkers.  But maybe that is just my take on it.  In the circles I run, I don’t see a lot of females dressed like this.  I have not actually spent time in areas where prostitutes solicit customers on street corners.  But based on pop culture representations, this EU ad jives with my own mental image of how such sex workers look.

The EU campaign was apparently inspired by an underrepresentation of women in science.  I agree that is a problem.  When women are not represented in various fields, those fields (and society as a whole) does not benefit from the insight of their perspectives and concerns. 

Traditionally, women have been underrepresented in law.  Even today, after over a decade of gender parity in law school, women still only account for about a third of practicing lawyers.  It is no surprise that issues concerning women (e.g., sexual assault, custody and property division to stay-at-home spouses) have been overlooked.  It is astounding to read old cases on the law of rape when there were no women lawyers on the bench or appearing at bar.  The law of sexual assault has evolved somewhat now that there are women involved in the development of our laws.  But it is still far from perfect.

Women have also been underrepresented in the ranks of doctors and medical researchers.  It should not shock anyone that the bulk of medical research has historically been done on health challenges of males.  It has been relatively recently that we’ve begun to focus more on female health issues like breast and cervical cancer.  But there is still a lot more to do.

So, I do not disagree with the goal of the EU in trying to encourage girls to go into science.

However, the approach of the ad is so simplistic and frankly insulting.  It fails to understand why girls don’t go into science.  Personally, as a former girl who didn’t go into science, and as a former educator of middle schoolers, I doubt the gender divide has much if anything to do with an image of scientists as unattractive.  Moreover, I find tragic beyond words any campaign based on girls building their self-image and self-worth on the amount of attention they get from males. 

I personally cannot fathom what the discussions must have been when a PR firm came up with this ad.  I’m guessing that no women were involved in the discussions.  I’m also wondering if the people in the room were smoking a substance that impaired their judgment.


Proverbs 14:6
A mocker searches for wisdom and gets none, but knowledge comes quickly to the intelligent.



Friday, October 12, 2012

Having “Enough,” Not "All"

The following is a response to Dr. Slaughter’s article by Kara Baskin.  Ms. Baskin writes a blog at the Boston Globe site and has one child.

At times I think Ms. Baskin is a little harsh with Dr. Slaughter.  But many of her characterizations are very insightful.

Ms. Baskin describes Dr. Slaughter as one of “the elite” whose life “is all about economizing time, squeezing one more second from every day for preservation.”  Ms. Baskin writes that Dr. Slaughter and her “high-achieving peers” are “shuttling from obligation to obligation without any sense of true fulfillment.”  She summarizes: “Behold life at the top: One long astonishing feat of compartmentalization executed for fear [of] letting someone down.”  Ms. Baskin criticizes:

Slaughter is strong on mechanics, but there’s something missing from her story: a sense of joy. Before women ask themselves if they should work from home or opt out for a couple of years to have kids or wire their homes for video-conferences, why not take a step back and redefine fulfillment? Colleges prepare us to land the job, but they don’t teach us how to balance a checkbook. This is similar. Slaughter wants to tell us how to balance the marquee moments (Show up for work! Show up for soccer practice!) but not about actually living them. She is big on ideas but small on details.

Later, Ms. Baskin adds an interesting analogy:

I see this as an extension of the egalitarianism that has affected elementary schools across the country. These days, every kid is a winner at field day. Everyone gets the gold star, whether they deserve it or not—because, for some reason, the end game has become about winning.

This is field day for adults. Yet not every adult has to be crowned a “winner” in the classic sense. (And by the Atlantic’s definition, being a winner sounds pretty damn tiring.) In real life, not everyone will get the big promotion, land the fancy job, and produce the well-adjusted children. Men have dealt with this for years: In life, quite simply, there are trade-offs. Why can’t we accept that? Not every kid gets the blue ribbon at field day, and not every parent gets to be wonder-woman or superman. Doesn’t true fulfillment, a true sense of “all,” come with knowing that? This should be liberating, not a letdown.

Ms. Baskin concludes:

We’ve earned, after all these years, the right to ask that question. We shouldn’t feel compelled to fulfill some feminist obligation paved by our mothers to be and do it all because women before us didn’t have the option. The very point is that now we do have options; we can define happiness for ourselves. There is more to life, for some of us, than a briefcase and a baby. All is an old word. Enough is more to the point—having enough to make you happy and, hey, maybe actually enjoying the ride. Success is about more than just showing up.

I agree with many of the sentiments that Ms. Baskin shares.  But ironically, she too is really describing a female perspective that is privileged and relatively elite.  She is explicitly speaking for women who’ve been to college.  And implicitly, she is speaking for women who do not need to work for a living.  Ms. Baskin seems to condemn Dr. Slaughter’s comparmentalized, tread mill of a life unless Dr. Slaughter is actually enjoying it.  “[T]rue fulfillment” is the driver per Ms. Baskin’s perspective. 

But my critique of Ms. Baskin’s critique is that pursuing such fulfillment is a luxury.  Most people on this planet work hard to meet their basic needs (and those of their dependents).  Many parents would love to spend a day “calling in sick, eating cold pizza for breakfast, spending the day watching bad TV or playing with our kids,” but grumbling tummies don’t permit such indulgences.  Not everyone gets paid leave.  Not everyone has a permanent job.  Heck, not everyone even has a phone on which they can call in sick. 




1 Corinthians 12:8-11

A word of wisdom is given by the Spirit to one person, a word of knowledge to another according to the same Spirit, faith to still another by the same Spirit, gifts of healing to another in the one Spirit,  performance of miracles to another, prophecy to another, the ability to tell spirits apart to another, different kinds of tongues to another, and the interpretation of the tongues to another.  All these things are produced by the one and same Spirit who gives what he wants to each person.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Felicity Huffman on Societal Expectations on Motherhood

As a follow up to the prior post, I wanted to explore a bit more our society's expectations with regard to women's attitudes towards motherhood.

I myself really love, love, LOVE being a mom. If I had my way, my husband and I would adopt a dozen kids. Kids are just amazing to me. Being a mom is such a beautiful experience. I get teary eyed at those P&G commercials celebrating motherhood. Because I'm so enthusiastic about my role as a parent, I fit the societal expectations we have about moms. 

If you are a mom, per society’s expectations that role is supposed to be the center of your being and a spiritual experience like no other. I may not live up to most traditional societal expectations of women, but I do meet that one! But does that make me a superior person? Of course not. It is simply a matter of my passion lining up with societal preconceptions for my gender. Lucky me.

But I’m very cognizant that not all women live up to such societal expectations. However, I had never really thought about the existence of such expectations until I heard an interview with actress Felicity Huffman on 60 Minutes in 2006.

For those who are unfamiliar, Ms. Huffman played the character “Lynette” on Desperate Housewives. Her character was beloved by many because Lynette was a mother of a bunch of kids, but she was no June Cleaver. 

Lynette was a brilliant woman whose career meant a lot to her. She made a lot of mistakes as a mom and didn’t always spend much time parenting them. Her kids were a mess at times. She was not always thrilled to be pregnant and adding to her clan. One famous scene from the series involved Lynette in the waiting room at the OB-GYN’s office during her umpteenth pregnancy. Her blunt words to a dreamy-eyed first time mom were seen as honest by some, cynical by others. Regardless, in that famous scene, Lynette scares the heck out of the new mom who has just had her rose colored glasses removed.

In the 2006 interview, Ms. Huffman is asked by Lesley Stahl about whether motherhood is the best experience in her life. Ms. Huffman replied, “"No, no, and I resent that question, because I think it puts women in an untenable position, because unless I say to you, 'Oh, Lesley, it's the best thing I've ever done with my whole life,' I'm considered a bad mother. And just when I said no you, you went back."

The rest of the interview was insightful too, but consider this quote.  Lesley Stahl, another famous working mom, had apparently shown a negative physical reaction and literally was taken aback when Ms. Huffman said motherhood was not the best experience in her life. Clearly, this was not the expected response! I had never thought about it before this interview, but we expect women to just talk about how wonderful parenthood is and we think badly of them if they don’t think parenting is the best thing ever.

I agree with Ms. Huffman that even the question puts women in an “untenable position.” Socially, they have no option but to answer in the affirmative. So it takes real guts to do otherwise. It is also very honest to do so. To even recognize that in oneself, I think takes a lot of honest self-reflection. Many may not want to admit they enjoy or get more fulfillment out of something else. That is not what women are supposed to say. They are supposed to love being mommies. Even to the exclusion of other activities.

I really do love being a mommy. Cleaning up puke and diapers is not so hot. But I have to admit my husband has done more of that than me, so I’ve had it a bit easier in that area.   It is hardly glamourous to do the hard work of disciplining kids and not being a perennial Santa Claus. But I do find being with and raising children to be a terrific experience. I am amazed at how they grow and develop. I find it amazing to look at my kids now and think back to all the milestones they have achieved already. It wasn’t that long ago they were not too verbal and getting to the potty in time was a real challenge. Now they express their ideas (sometimes with fairly sophisticated words), read books (some without pictures), fold laundry and chop vegetables. Before long they’ll be driving and voting. How exciting to get a front seat to all of this and hopefully have some influence in the amazing people they are becoming.

But again, I do not think that these attitudes make me a more noble person than someone who is not as gung ho on kids and parenting. God endows each of us with talents, he puts different dreams in our hearts. We need to respect that individuality. Not all women are the same. Having a vagina doesn’t ipso facto mean that you’re going to love children or be a good parent. I’ve known amazing women who followed their calling in ways that didn’t involve motherhood. I’ve known women who just didn’t know how to relate to kids. That is ok. That doesn’t indicate a character flaw. It is not a sign of immorality. Parenthood is not their calling, their gifts lie elsewhere. We have to remember that and not impose a one size fits all preconception that not all women can satisfy.
Romans 11:29
God’s gifts and calling can’t be taken back.