Tuesday, November 20, 2012

More Overtime, Less Overtime Pay

The prior post quoted Allison Pugh, who stated that “Americans work more hours than anyone in the universe.”  Well, obviously that is a bit of hyperbole. 

Frankly, we don’t know how much (or how little) anyone works on other planets.  (That’s a joke.) 

On a serious note, it is important to recognize that people in developing nations definitely work very hard for very little.  Indeed, I remember seeing an article not long ago that indicated people in Mexico worked the most of any nation on our planet.  And we know that the people in the People’s Republic of China often work long, hard hours under exploitive conditions to fill our big box stores.  (That is something important to remember later this week when we flock to stores and retail websites.)

So workers in other countries have it worse than we do.  But compared to other prosperous, industrialized nations, Americans do work a lot. 

This first hit home for me when I lived in Europe.  Month long vacations where an entire nation goes off to resorts and factories close down.  Paid maternity leave to care for new family members.  People routinely take off hours mid-day for long lunches or to run errands.  Amazing concepts to an American.

The disparity between Americans and the rest of the industrialized world hit home even harder for me when I was an employee of a large multinational.  I had occasion to work with employees at affiliates in Western Europe, Australia and Canada.   Such non-American employees were often restricted by law to only work a certain number of hours each week—even professionals like lawyers and accountants might not be allowed to work more than 40 hours in a work week.  The non-American employees at our company also got weeks of vacation time each year that American employees would get only after decades of service. 

In the base case, this disparity was quite a thorn in the side of similarly situated American employees.  But when such employees took expat assignments to work for a period in the United States, they got to keep their generous employment conditions.   The thorn is more painful when the disparity is in your face, not separated by an ocean.

I once worked with a European colleague who was on such an expat assignment.  Almost immediately upon arrival, he married his girlfriend and went on an extended honeymoon.  He combined that honeymoon with some vacation time to not come into the office for about six weeks.  This European colleague couldn’t have been more than 30.  I was a more senior employee but only had two weeks vacation each year.  Moreover, I had to pick up some of the slack at his prolonged absence.  It was hard to not be envious or bitter under such circumstances.  Meanwhile, I had only had one American colleague ever take off that much time.  He was in his 60s and he went on a long vacation not long before he retired.

Anyhow, last summer I came across the news report below, which hits upon the issue of Americans working long hours. 

For decades, the news has reported that we Americans have been becoming more and more productive, and we’re among the most productive people in the world.  The report above sheds some light on this high productivity.   The productivity comes from working a lot of hours, not necessarily due to efficiency.

Most “exempt” employees I know work well beyond 40 hours each week.  People don’t even call it “overtime” anymore because 50-90 hours/week is the expected norm.  Many American workers have significant fears of not meeting that expected norm.  In most professional settings, if you don’t work those long hours, management thinks you’re a slacker and your colleagues get resentful that you’re getting away with something they aren’t. 

But the report at the link above doesn’t focus on such “exempt” employees.  The report describes allegations that non-exempt workers (e.g., hourly wage earners) are being pressured to work longer hours—for free.  These allegations have led to class actions.

When a single parent or two co-parents have to work excessively long hours, there is little time left over to care for one’s family.  Again, as mentioned in the prior post, in such situations, one’s focus understandably is to take care of the most urgent responsibilities, i.e., to make sure everyone is fed and clothed.  A second tier of responsibilities are next in the pecking order, e.g., dental appointments and making sure homework is done.  For too many families these days, bonding and instilling values in children are a luxury that is easily sacrificed.  It really concerns me what happens to the next generation and to our society when child-rearing is relegated to such a low priority.



1 Corinthians 12:27

You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.  In the church, God has appointed first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, the ability to help others, leadership skills, different kinds of tongues.  All aren’t apostles, are they? All aren’t prophets, are they? All aren’t teachers, are they? All don’t perform miracles, do they?  All don’t have gifts of healing, do they? All don’t speak in different tongues, do they? All don’t interpret, do they?  Use your ambition to try to get the greater gifts. And I’m going to show you an even better way.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Spoiled Children and Overworked Parents

I’ve been focusing a lot on women’s issues recently.  As expressed in the last post, I see this as an issue implicating Christianity because women have traditionally been a segment of the population who have been denied basic civil rights and have been viewed as second class citizens.  Such treatment is incompatible with Christ’s model when he walked this earth.  

However, another reason I have been so focused on women’s issues recently is that such issues are so intertwined with family and children.  Women in our society have long been the primary caregivers of children.  Whether paid as school teachers, nannies or babysitters, or unpaid familial caregivers (e.g., full-time moms), women still tend to be primarily responsible for and thus have the most impact on child-rearing.  Issues impacting women thus have a huge impact on families and on children in particular.  Christians tout family values.  And in the Gospels, Christ demonstrated a particular concern and sensitivity towards children, who were the most inconsequential persons in the pecking order of their society.  As I understand, their status was even lower than women in first century Palestine.

So, with this perspective, I was intrigued by the article below, which I came across last summer:   

The article discusses the notion that American kids are very indulged relative to children in other cultures and that outside the United States children help do household chores at an early age.

The article quotes a sociologist, Allison Pugh who notes that a child in another such culture isn’t “born chipping in; she was taught.”  Ms. Pugh also notes the impact of the “demands of the American workplace” that lead to American children not being similarly taught.  She explains:

“Americans work more hours than anyone else in the universe.  There’s a drive for efficiency.  It’s more efficient to do chores yourself or outsource them rather than teaching children to contribute.  That’s a shame, but I don’t think it’s a children’s shame, and it’s not just the parents’ fault.  There are only so many hours in the workday.” 

The article also quotes a writer and mother of five, Meagan Francis:

“Frankly, expecting kids to pull their weight—and enforcing those rules day in and day out—is tough.  When I had ‘just’ two kids, the daily trade-off hardly seemed worth it; It was better to just do it myself than try to oversee a pair of rambunctious, clumsy, pint-sized employees.”

The author of the article summarizes, “This seems like a practical, rational conclusion: We don’t discipline our kids because it takes time, and we often quite literally don’t have the time.”

In the United States we are often fairly callous to issues involving the challenges of child-rearing.  Often the attitude is: “You chose to bring that kid into the world, he/she is your problem to deal with.”  Personal responsibility is paramount; so many people are unsympathetic to the difficulties facing American families. 

I admit I used to feel like that before I was a parent myself.  If I were on a plane or in a restaurant where a kid was loud or kicking my chair, my attitude was to think poorly of the parents: “Why don’t they do something, their brat is bothering me.”  I was focused on my own annoyance and inconvenience.  I never thought about how difficult it is to completely control another energetic little person who does not have the same sorts of self-control and societal filters as an adult.

When I became a parent, I absolutely ate crow.  I began to realize how difficult it is to raise kids.  I find it a joy, but you never get a break.  You’re always on.  It is just exhausting.   So many of my fellow working moms neglect their own health by going years between check-ups.  Some wonder aloud if the constant exhaustion they feel is the sign of a serious health issue.  But when so many other working moms have the same symptom, it is easy to discount.  And no one is perfect when doing such a non-stop job, particularly if you feel exhausted most of the time.  At some point, we’re all going to fail under such conditions. 

It is also a challenge to be held responsible for everything your child does, even when he/she is not with you.  It is one thing to try to control their behavior when they are in your presence; that is frankly tough enough.  But it is another when they are not with you.  At such times, you have to hope that the lessons you have taught have taken root and they behave appropriately when they are not in close proximity.

That situation is difficult for every parent.  But in my opinion, it is particularly tough if you hold down a paying job and don’t actually get to spend much time with your child.  If most of your waking hours are spent attending to workplace responsibilities, the little time you have at home is often spent on the most pressing items like feeding hungry tummies and trying to make sure folks walk out the door wearing relatively clean clothes.  Time permitting, parents with paying gigs then attend to a sort of second tier triage which typically includes items like making sure homework is done and getting kids to various obligations from dental appointments, church services and/or soccer practice.  Realistically, in many families, disciplining and molding a child’s character become aspirational goals that are easily compromised in the constant time crunch many parents experience.  That is a horrible situation, but it happens.  It happens a lot.

I completely appreciate the need for efficiency and the issue of supervising “rambunctious, clumsy, pint-sized employees.”  My husband and I have seen that in our own up-bringings, the raising of our own children and our friends’ experiences raising their kids.  Instead of inviting a child to help with lawn care, laundry or toilet scrubbing, it is faster to do it ourselves in the little time we have available for those tasks. 

But as parents, we miss valuable opportunities to coach and guide our kids on important life skills when we take that more efficient route.  My father-in-law is an amazing amateur carpenter, but unfortunately he never passed those skills on to my husband until he retired and my husband had his own family.   When I have to bake for a church potluck or other event, I try to incorporate my kids into the process.  But invariably that prolongs the event considerably.  I have to fight the stress I feel from the time pressure.  I have to suppress my inclination to discharge my “pint-sized employees” and do the baking myself.  Beyond teaching my kids life skills in the kitchen, those are important bonding opportunities. And they are invaluable opportunities to encourage my kids to work through challenges.  Just because the egg cracking didn’t go smoothly the first time, doesn’t mean you throw a fit and give up.  Even if you don’t think you’ll ever incorporate all the flour into the creamed sugar, you keep trying and see it through until the end.
Proverbs 22:6
Train children in the way they should go; when they grow old, they won’t depart from it.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Europeans and Gender Equality Part III

Recently, I came across an interesting article relevant to the themes in recent posts.  The link below pulls up an article about male attitudes in France towards women.

The article describes how deeply ingrained sexist attitudes are in French culture.  Even in elite circles of well-educated men who should know better, and in circles of Socialist men who purport to value equality, women are viewed in sexualized, condescending terms.  Women are viewed as sex objects first and foremost.  Other potential contributions are secondary at best.  Incredible in this day and age.

The article focuses on sexualization as evidenced by members of the French government, but I don’t believe this is in any way a phenomenon only exhibited by politicians. 

I first began studying the French language when I was in 7th grade and ultimately it was one of my undergraduate majors.  To improve my language skills and learn more about French culture, for years, I would watch French films whenever I could.  One thing I noticed over the years was that it was apparently mandatory that the leading actress appear topless at some point in every film.  It didn’t matter the type of film.  It could be a period piece about fictional characters or people from history that took place decades or centuries ago, or a modern drama, but at some point we had to see some female breasts on the screen. 

And there didn’t always seem to be a reason for it.  I remember one film where a very respected actress stood in front of her closet naked for several moments before choosing an outfit and getting dressed.  It was silly.  Isabelle Huppert, Nathalie Baye, Isabelle Adjani—no matter how impressive an actress was the star of the film, she was apparently always required to strip for the cameras.  Funny but the same was not also demanded of the male actors.  Indeed, I watched a lot of French films over the years, but I don’t remember seeing the men naked much.  Perhaps seeing Gerard Depardieu in the buff is not a big box office draw.

When I lived in France, I was stunned to discover that what Americans would label “pornography” was broadcast on French media.  As a student and au pair, I was pretty busy during the day and early evenings.  But I’d get some time to myself after I had cleaned up from dinner and the kids went to bed.  At such times, I’d listen to the radio with earphones while writing letters or doing homework in my room.  I listened to various radio stations but particularly those with pop music.  On one such station, sometimes the music was interrupted by a woman talking for prolonged periods.  Typically I was multitasking and the radio was background noise, so initially I didn’t pay much attention to this woman talking.  When I listened to the radio at that hour, I wanted to hear some good music, not someone talking.  And obviously she was speaking in French.  My language skills were still improving, but I would have had to really concentrate to be able to follow her message. 

At first, when this woman would speak I thought it was just the DJ and they’d return to music before long.  But then I noticed the music breaks were fairly long, and one night instead of flipping to another music station, I listened to try to figure out what she was saying.  When I did, I realized she was telling a story.  Ok, that was odd.  Interrupt music to tell a story.  Hmmmm.   

And the story wasn’t particularly gripping.  It was something mundane about a young man taking his new 14 year old girlfriend home to meet his parents for the weekend.  After a few minutes, the station would go back to the music, but later the same woman would come back on air to tell more of the same dumb story. 

This woman had a very distinctive voice and she spoke in an odd way.  I’m not sure how to describe it, but she was clearly trying to sound sexy and alluring.  I’m not sure how to explain what I mean, but trust me on this. 

Bits and pieces of the story interrupted the music over several hours.  It went on and on like that but towards the end, the story became more and more sexual.  Towards the end of the evening, it was extremely graphic.  I was shocked.  I wasn’t staying up particularly late.  Kids could be listening.  And even without the issue of kids, why would this be socially acceptable to broadcast over the radio the telling of a story with an obviously prurient aim?! 

My French family didn’t have cable and rarely watched TV.  That was fine by me.  French TV is not that good anyhow.  At one point towards the end of my time with them, they loaned me a small old TV to keep in my room.  Because the family’s main TV was right by where the babies slept, no one could watch it once they went down for the night.  The little TV they gave me for my room didn’t get good reception, so I didn’t watch it much. 

But one night I couldn’t sleep and turned it on to see if there might be anything worth watching.  Maybe a French David Letterman or something.  Indeed, I stumbled upon some sort of a comedy show.  But it didn’t take long to figure out the comedy was highly sexualized.  It was really graphic.  And at one point there was some female nudity that seemed to serve no real purpose. 

Again, I was horrified.  This show was borderline pornographic.  This was just being broadcast across the airwaves.  I guess most kids were asleep at that hour.  But why was it socially acceptable to air such filth?  The show seemed to be scripted by a couple of junior high boys going through puberty.  How did this get produced?

Europe has become increasingly secular over the years.  When I lived in France, it was depressing.  Churches were dead places.  They were typically these large, old, decaying structures.  Services were infrequent and sparsely attended.  Often I was the only person under the age of 60 to attend.

As an American and as a Christian, I cannot help but wonder if this rampant sexualization of women is at least in part a reflection of the secular culture of Europe.  Maybe I’m wrong.  But if you don’t see women as children of God created with inherent value and purpose—beyond simply sexual pleasure—then perhaps it is easy to be dismissive of them and to treat them in such a disrespectful manner. 

Indeed, if one's worldview informs that there is nothing worthwhile in this life but the pursuit of pleasure, it makes sense to me that prurient media would be common place.  Further, in a society dominated by men, it makes particular sense that the images of women in the media would be so sexualized.

What a sad state of affairs.



1 Peter 3:3

Wives must not let their beauty be something external. Beauty doesn’t come from hairstyles, gold jewelry, or clothes.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Europeans and Gender Equality Part II

Beyond extreme insecurity over their appearance, I have also noticed interesting dynamics in the relationships of European couples.   With respect to the couples I have known, the men seemed to call the shots disproportionately.  While women worked hard to not get fat and to dress in an impressive manner, many of the men I met overlooked anniversaries, said unkind things about their wives’ appearance (even in front of other people), and felt free to wander from their relationships.  And much more so than in the United States, I have known a lot of Europeans in May-December romances.  It seemed to me to be tough to be a middle-aged European woman. 

I didn’t understand why the European women I knew put up with such ca-ca.  And I often thought that the American women I knew would not put up with it.

Certainly, things are not perfect on this side of the pond.  Plenty of American women complain that their partners are not always thoughtful.  And infidelity also occurs in the United States.  But when I’ve known American men who leave their wives for another woman, in some ways it wasn’t a shock.  Either the men were always jerks and their wives were saints to put up with them.  Or the men had some mental illness or addiction such that they weren’t acting rationally.

By contrast, I’ve just been shocked by otherwise kind and generous European men I’ve known who were without any mental illness or addition but who’ve suddenly left marriages or other long-term relationships without any real reason or even warning.  And at least in my observation, their partners seem to not be terribly upset or shocked by such things.  Maybe they are, but they hide it well.  Maintaining dignity seemed to be a huge priority to the European women I knew.  The attitude I observed was if a man got bored or was no longer interested, so be it.  That happens.  No crying over spilt milk.  Don’t let them see you sweat.  As an American, I found this a curious response.  In my observation, American women are more likely to raise a fuss and not take it lying down. 

Also insightful, in the 1990s, when I lived with a French family for a year, I remember comments about how Europeans don’t understand Americans’ fascination with political candidates’ spouses.  It really annoyed them apparently.  Hillary Clinton was first lady at the time, so the issue was a big deal back then for the Europeans I knew. 

I began to think about why we Americans pay attention to political spouses—apparently more than Europeans.  After reflecting on the difference, I have come to suspect that it has something to do with our American attitude that families are a unit and a central part of our lives.  In that context, marriages are partnerships.  As such, a candidate’s spouse is an important reflection of the candidate and may also be an informal advisor behind the scenes. 

By contrast, the Europeans I knew explicitly and emphatically told me they thought the candidates’ spouses were irrelevant in politics.  They told me family was separate from how one did one’s job in office.  I thought that delineation was odd.  I couldn’t imagine such a complete lack of integration of one’s private and public life. 

In the 1970s, I grew up with Rosalynn Carter as first lady.  She used to attend her husband’s cabinet meetings.  She took her role as helpmate very seriously.  In my teen years, Nancy Reagan had been first lady.  She was known for playing an active role in her husband’s work.  She reportedly had great influence in the people with whom he surrounded himself, as well as the schedule he kept.  Barbara Bush had been first lady when I was an undergrad and had a more hands-off approach, but that was a brief anomaly in my view.  When Bill Clinton ran for president, he suggested it was a “2 for 1” deal because we’d get brilliant, articulate Hillary for free.  Indeed, at least initially during her time as first lady, Hillary took an even more formal role in advising her husband.

But in Europe, the idea that a spouse may give advice (official or unofficial) to a politician was rejected out of hand by the people I knew.  Indeed, several French women told me that Francois Mitterand’s wife, Danielle, was an ideal political spouse because she “stayed out of the way.”  That sounded rather dismissive and insulting to me, but at the time I didn’t know much about Danielle Mitterand.

 However, not long thereafter, Mr. Mitterand died and like many Americans I was horrified that next to Danielle and her children were Mr. Mitterand’s shadow family (i.e., his long-time lover and her children with the former president).  To me, that familial structure spoke volumes about the low status of women in France.  Perhaps polygamy was not legally permissible, but it was apparently practiced in a de facto manner.

That was a while back, but more recently Nicolas Sarkozy was elected to the same office and displayed similarly repulsive attitudes towards marriage—and arguably by extension similarly repulsive attitudes towards women generally.  Already divorced once when he was elected to the presidency, Mr. Sarkozy and his second wife, Cecilia, were viewed initially as a power couple.  She actually had a role in his administration as a chief aide.  However, she left him in 2005 and they divorced in 2007, not long after he was elected president.  Less than a month later, Sarkozy met a singer/model, Carla Bruni, whom he married the next year.  Cecilia Sarkozy was about the same age as Nicolas; Carla Bruni was over a decade younger than her husband. 

I doubt an American president would ever do such a thing.  He would be reviled for it and it would ruin his political career.  I know plenty of American women who loathed Bill Clinton after it became known that he had cheated on his wife during his White House years.  As if his infidelity was not bad enough, the lying was worse.  Who can forget Hillary defending her husband and blaming right wing conspiracies on national television?  To betray and humiliate a women of such high intelligence and compassion is pretty horrific.  I actually know women who were so deeply repulsed by Bill Clinton’s disgusting behavior that it prompted them to leave the Democratic Party and refuse to vote for Democratic candidates in the future.  Imagine how much worse the reaction would have been if the Clintons’ marriage had ended and Bill had married Monica Lewinsky or another young woman. 


Matthew 5:28

But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Europeans and Gender Equality Part I

In contrast to the explicit, shockingly bigoted things I’ve heard from Europeans on racial and cultural issues, the gender bias I have witnessed has been much more subtle.

There have been lots of little things.  Unfortunately, women around the globe are judged on their appearance, but I have been shocked to the extent that is true in Europe.

For example, women in Europe are just hardly ever overweight.  It is unthinkable to be even a little pudgy.  It is actually so unusual that months into my stint living in France, I was on the subway when I saw a woman who was chubby and I actually did a double take.  I was shocked.  To be clear, this woman was not obese.  And in the United States, she would not have attracted attention for her weight.  But when I saw this French woman on the subway, it was the first time in months that I’d seen an overweight woman. 

Indeed, when I lived in France, there were only four sizes, in which women’s clothes were sold.  And typically stores just stocked clothes in two of those sizes.  The other two sizes were fairly rare.  Woe be to the woman whose weight did not conform to that narrow range. 

The year I lived in France, I personally only knew one overweight woman.  And she certainly wasn’t obese.  Perhaps because of my American basis of comparison, I didn’t even consider her truly overweight.  But my host family matter-of-factly described her as “fat” when she wasn’t around.  They did so not in a mean-spirited way.  She was a friend of the family and they loved her very much.  They used the “fat” label in a descriptive way as other objective terms might be used, e.g., brunette, tall, young, etc.   Again, this friend really wasn’t all that heavy in my opinion, but she wasn’t skinny, which was apparently the reason for the “fat” label.  Nonetheless, this woman had actually had to learn to sew because that was the only way she would have anything to wear!

Another thing that got my attention in Europe was that when you go to pools or beaches, bikinis are de rigueur.  I had European female friends tell me that if you wore a one piece swimsuit, people think you are hiding an ugly body and you are ashamed.  I love swimming, but frankly such attitudes intimidated me to the extent that I didn’t swim the whole time I lived in France.  Upon returning to the United States the next summer, I had occasion to go to a water park with my family.  I distinctly remember being grateful for the range of body shapes and sizes around me.  In that context, I didn’t feel so self-conscious in my one piece swimsuit.

I’m certainly not celebrating the obesity epidemic in America.  It is not healthy.  But in my observation, health is not the driver in European women staying slim.  Smoking is rampant.  In my observation, smoking has often been used as a proxy for eating to avoid weight gain.  Indeed, the diet in many European countries has a heavier emphasis on rich, fatty foods than I was previously used to.  I had never cooked with real butter and cream until I worked as an au pair and prepared meals for my French host family.  Rich cheeses are a common dessert.  Europeans also eat a lot more meat than my family ever did.  I was a vegetarian in college, but consciously gave it up when I began my year in France.  I knew it would be incredibly difficult to maintain that diet in Europe.

Another thing I have noticed is that European women seem to put more energy into how they dress and seem less inclined to dress in ways that make them comfortable.  In conversations I had with a number of women, there seemed to be a lot more concern for how they would be judged based on their clothing. 

Years ago, I remember one French young woman studying in the United States told me that we American women dressed very shabbily.  I tried to not take offense as she explained that European women were much more careful to wear attractive clothing, even though they often had fewer garments in their wardrobe than we Americans did. 

Later when I went to Europe myself, I saw what she meant.  The women did dress up more.  If you saw a woman in tennis shoes, she was probably an American tourist.  Tennis shoes are a standard part of American attire, but in Europe the women wore a variety of non-athletic, leather shoes.  Tennis shoes are not considered pretty and that is what counts.

When I lived in Europe, I had a friend from Germany who had spent a year as an exchange student living with an American family in California.  I remember her making similar comments to that of the aforementioned French exchange student.  At the time, my German friend made her comments, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be offended.  She told me she had really liked her California hosts, but had been horrified that the mother would run errands in sweat pants, tennis shoes and t-shirts.  My friend took pains to assure me her California mom had been not a fat woman; that would really have been catastrophic, apparently.  No, my German friend assured me that her California mom could have actually fit into more fashionable clothing, but she chose not to.  Despite being smart and well-educated, my German friend just couldn’t wrap her mind around this.  No amount of physics, Goethe or calculus helped her figure out this riddle.  She said that at first she was actually embarrassed to be in public with her California host mom.  Without missing a beat, my German friend said she eventually got over the embarrassment--when she began to understand this was normal in the United States for women to be seen in public looking like slobs.  What a cross-cultural insight! 

I remember another interesting discussion with several thirtysomethings who lived in the same neighborhood as my French host family.  It was a co-ed gathering.  They were all parents of young children.  The dads were all sole breadwinners and the moms were all stay-at-home moms.  These adults wanted to practice their English, so we would occasionally get together and talk.  Many of the topics involved sharing cultural insights and discussing different perspectives on various topics. 

One time, these adults mentioned they would never want to work in the United States because we were overly sensitive about gender in the workplace.  I frankly didn’t understand what they were talking about and asked them to explain.  They said they had heard that in the United States if a male co-worker innocently complimented a female co-worker on wearing a nice outfit, he would be fired for sexual harassment.  I explained that was not quite how it worked.  But I also shared that in a professional setting, it didn’t seem relevant to spend much time noticing or commenting on colleagues’ appearances.  Perhaps an occasion good-natured compliment when someone gets a new haircut or is wearing a particularly snazzy outfit.  But from my American perspective, paying too much attention to colleagues’ physical appearance would be odd because the focus should be on getting work done. 

Fascinatingly, one of the moms really took issue with this perspective.  She had only worked professionally for a brief time many years previously and frankly she seemed to resent this; motherhood was not her calling and she seemed to be depressed to not have a glamorous, international career where she could use the many foreign languages she had studied.  This particular mom expressed that one ought to have the right to express sexual attraction to one’s co-workers.  Indeed, she asserted that there was nothing wrong with a workplace where people were routinely flirting with one another.  I was perplexed and more than a little horrified by this attitude.  She was a married woman and I didn’t understand that she was looking to change that situation.  I asked why people would want to flirt on the job—especially if they were already in a committed relationship. 

Her response astounded me.  She said that women want to know they are “still attractive.”  As she put it, if she were flirting with co-workers, it would make her feel good about herself to know that even in her thirties she still “had it” and “could have” other men if she wanted to.  I remember appreciating her honesty but being so stunned and not knowing what to say.  Blame it on my relative youth and naiveté.  Blame it on the shock of such a stunning admission.  But my response probably was not terribly sensitive.  I shared that I would hope most women would know their own worth as human beings so they didn’t need ego boosts through such silly tactics. 

I think I really did use the word “silly.”  And in retrospect, I’m sorry because I must have hurt her feelings.  She was a nice woman and I didn’t mean to be insulting.  But frankly what she was describing was the sort of thing that girls in junior high did.  I was in my mid-twenties at the time, and thought women grew out of that.  After my less than delicate response, the poor woman didn’t say anything more on the topic and we moved on to another.

As I write all this and reflect on what I’ve witnessed, it causes me to re-think my attitude to the EU ad encouraging girls to consider a career in science.  Maybe I was overly harsh in that prior post.  Perhaps that ad is ludicrous and insulting from an American perspective, but perhaps it makes sense in a European context.  Maybe the people who created the ad were well in tune to their European audience and it spoke a certain truth.  If that is the case, I find that to be truly depressing.


1 Timothy 2:9

[I]n like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing.