I’m Just a Girl in the World…That’s All That You’ll Let Me Be

Image representing Sheryl Sandberg as depicted...
Image via CrunchBase

No Doubt’s first album. Yes I know its a bit cliche, but  it fit the point.

A few months ago there was the big debate over whether women could “have it all.” Here are the commentaries from the two major players: Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and  Anne Marie Slaughter, a former State Department official. I thought I would talk about it, as Sandberg is starting to do press for the release of her new book that expands that talk, Lean In. I am sure there are other people we could add to the debate. Marissa Mayer, current Yahoo CEO, who started the job a month or so before she was due, and decided to work through her maternity leave, which drove some people crazy. Also others are throwing her under the bus with the new Yahoo work from home recall.

I’ll admit I heard the Sheryl Sandberg TED talk first and I loved it. Her three points are as follows: 1) Sit at the table. She talks about how too often women literally dont sit at the table. They will often assume the table is for people more important than them. Women also attribute their success to outside factors, while men attribute their success to themselves, which removes women from the table as their circumstances made them good – not them.

2) Make your partner your partner. We should treat our spouses as actual partners, instead of taking on most of the housework and other chores in addition to full-time work. I also read an article that says women often feel uncomfortable with men doing household work as it makes them feel like less of a woman, or failure, and also can emasculate the men in their eyes.

3) Don’t leave before you leave. Women often start acting as if they other responsibilities before they actually have them. They start thinking about what if they have children some day and then start making work decisions NOW about what that someday should look like. This can mean not taking on projects or promotions because it may not leave enough time in the future.

This third point is probably the one I like best. I am often in conversations with women where I find that I am the only one thinking long-term about a full-time career. Im planning on how many years I want to work internationally, and how I can get the experience to rise up within an organization and how can I build up my consulting practice before I start expecting it to be my primary income. And while no one ever asks me about kids or marriage – another odd quirk of being me: you’re exempt from typical life event questions – I also dont have any right now and they arent even a possibility. No one is putting sperm in the uterus. So no Im not making decisions now based on what I may need to adjust when I do finally have the little ones. Im also not tempering my ambition because of a someday. Yes, that means I will be making more money than most men I know – and we all know what the stats are saying about women and men and income disparities. But it also means that I can afford to live the kind of life I want to have without relying on someone else to create it – Ive realized that recently Ive been fulfilling the dreams I had when growing up poor without a real way to accomplish them, and its really a fun road, despite hoeing it alone.

I dont think all women should work. I have no agenda for our gender as a whole, other than this: whatever you choose to do, be the best. If you are choosing to be a stay-at-home mom, then be involved in fighting for your children, educating them and creating an environment where they will grow into great adults – like the one my mother created for us even though she was working.  If you choose to work – then work! Take promotions, be the best, dont shrink to make anyone more comfortable with you and own the growth you can make at work. And if you choose to switch or combine in the myriads of available ways – then lean into those. I just want us not to settle for lives that are below our capabilities in any sense. Lets make real choices for ourselves. Let us know what we are giving up and gaining in whatever role we take, and embrace fully the direction we are choosing. Let us not default to a stereotype that does no one a service, including the men, children and family we may be trying to protect and appease. We do not need to be CEOs to continue to shape the world in a better image, but we do need to be fully conscious wherever we are. That to me is the take home message of Sandberg.

Ill talk about Slaughter’s argument later, as it combines some other interesting issues in the debate.

What Have I Become? Something Soft and Really Quite Dumb

Istanbul from the sky - Topkapi Palace
Istanbul from the sky – Topkapi Palace (Photo credit: CyberMacs)

Ingrid Michaelson. I dont think Ive done her yet.

Its odd to travel right now. I feel like everything is buzzing by me at the speed of light and I cant hold onto anything Im experiencing. In the last week I have been in 4 different countries, and crossed like 4 time zones. Im in Instanbul for another day or so and then its off to the western coast of Turkey, and it just seems like so much so fast. There’s just something so insubstantial about being here. While I can understand that I am no longer in Utah or America, its very hard to accept that Im in Turkey. In addition, Im feeling pushed – like I keep doing things that are out of sync with what I would want/need to be doing. I like going to the touristy spots (to an extent), but Im a people/experience person. I want to interact with my environment, or learn the culture or observe the people. Right now, Im just a photographing fool who keeps getting accosted by sales people. Today one wanted to give me a gift, and then put ice chips in my hand. So weird.

I just realized that this is the most classic me situation ever. Im always getting into conundrums, where I let shoulds dictate my life – especially when it comes to doing things with other people. I feel I owe them something per some unwritten contract and I push myself until Im exhausted and cranky and give up. It becomes hard for me to voice my feelings or needs, except in snarky – bordering on bitchy ways. I end up acting less than and stuffing myself down, which used to work a lot better before all the self-actualizing crap of the last 9 years. 

Its especially difficult, because Im traveling with a friend that I have not really spent significant time with since high school. As far as I know, there are two people that I have actually still kept in constant contact with over the years. We were really good friends in high school, and still are, but being with someone, in a demanding situation like travel after 13+ years is an interesting experience. So the old me was a passive audience member to my incredibly gregarious friends. I mean I was always a talker, but Ive had many friends who are the life of the party for as long as I can remember – and I sort of laughed and clapped at the appropriate times. Ive changed since then. Ive learned to accept a new role in my life – one where Im more often the life of the party, and even when Im not, I dont do passive anymore. My friend and I have also been talking about this blog – and he immediately recognized it for the platform it could maybe be one day. That its a unique perspective I hold, and despite the fact that hes not religious, he understands how important my religion is to me, and what I could do given the social changes facing the LDS church.

I know better what my needs are and have spent copious time learning how to say them, deal with the aftermath of it and keep relationships alive. But the old habits come back hard. Fortunately my extreme jetlag has lowered my tolerance level, so its either accept the increasingly bitchy version of myself or “woman up” and remember who I actually am.

Starting with, this girl likes massages, so Four Seasons it is! (its 30% off at 7am :)). And choosing which relationship to prioritize and then dealing with the aftermath of making big girl decisions about how to handle it. Which in the last 3 hours since this realization is going exceptionally well. Thats the thing I always forget in the initial no-win solution: I know how to handle myself and it usually works out ok. Plus this whole traveling thing is supposed to be fun right? In honor of that, Ive changed my header picture – this is one I took at the Hagia Sofia two days ago. Beautiful place, but I will write about that later.

If I Could Take it All Back Now, I Wouldn’t

English: Sultanahmet Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey
English: Sultanahmet Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Its not my blog without some Eminem. Ive seen him twice in concert and both times were awesome.

So Im in Turkey and have been for a few days, after a few days in Jordan. I literally have no idea what time zone Im on, what day of the week it is or when Im supposed to be sleeping so its 2am somewhere in the world and Im awake. For a little bit – I used to think the story I told myself about getting back from China and only being awake for 3-4 hours at a time and then sacking out for 8 over a two week period was a ridiculous story. I now recognize it was completely accurate.

Life in Turkey is interesting after 1.5 days in Jordan. In both places, I am a novelty. I am taller than everyone in the country it seems, especially as a woman. I have seen very few Black people in either country, but the ones that are there are usually African and I dont dress or act African. I also have insanely curly hair. How people deal with those differences is the big rub.

In Jordan, I was with my best friend. When we go to restaurants, people do not look at or address me – it would be considered extremely impolite until I ask to be addressed. Although it seems many women in the country would expect the man to be the public face in that situation. Its not that different than in America, where perhaps the man might order for you – but its sometimes considered paternalistic and archaic. Well not in Jordan. People were very kind and willing to help. Its like there are no lines between the in-group and out-group, at least not publicly. A man standing on the side of the road when we are trying to get a suitcase into the car feels extremely comfortable weighing in on how we should position it for best use.

On the streets, there are just large bands of roving boys/men. The few women you see are always accompanied by a man, or you see them in the restaurants or shops, never just out on the streets with friends. When I catch someone staring at me, which happened constantly in the day I was there, they always look away quickly so they do not get caught staring impolitely at a woman. The roles inside the home seemed rather traditional as well. The family we visited – the woman was primarily responsible dealing with the children when they were problematic; but, the father spent just as much time playing with them and attempting to discipline them – they just didnt listen. 🙂 She did not speak much English and I spoke very little Arabic, so most of our interaction was the four adults sitting in the room watching Nick cartoons (which are really weird) and then some BBC programming. While the kids ran in and out with the new toys we had gotten them, that made a ton of noise. Im pretty sure the parents will disown us soon.

Turkey is a whole different world.  We are staying in the extremely touristy section of Istanbul – Sultanahmet. I got off the tram, after three hours of traveling from the airport, and immediately got accosted by a man selling carpets. I am apparently incapable of figuring out how to say no, without feeling guilty and rude, so I followed him around the corner and down the stairs of this building – knowing that I  would be the star of Taken 3 – Im an idiot. Fortunately, they just wanted to give me apple tea and try to sell over priced carpets to me. The next male encounter was on my way back from taking some scenic pictures of Istanbul that night. People just throw random English out to see if you will take the bait, and I did. He eventually showed me a phone full of pictures of random Asian women he had also taken pictures with. And then made me link arms with him as he walked me back to my hotel – I originally just thought he wanted me to eat at his restaurant! Apparently I was wrong, because when I forced him to leave me before he found out where I was staying, a kiss on the lips was requested. I quickly said no, and ran away, taking a detour just in case he tried to follow me. These interactions quickly made me miss the ignoral of Jordan. Here, Im just another American tourist, to sell cheap crap to, and potentially hook up with.

So a novelty in both worlds, but such different interactions. There is something dehumanizing about both styles though. In both, I feel like less of a person – one as an object to be held apart and the other as an object to be exploited  Neither seem to consider me and what I would want, although of course neither is my culture so I probably do not warrant an entire change of style, based on my mere existence. I dont know how I will make friends in either world. Im a third gender in Jordan. Men treat me more like they would other men – they can say things they would never say in front of their wives, sisters, mothers, (mostly consisting of gay jokes and farts), but I am still not a man. They still must treat me far more conciliatory than they would normally, without the strict structure surrounding their interaction with Muslim women. In Turkey, Im a tourist. Im neither gender nor human – Im money. And considering I do want food, and jewelry and maybe even a rug by the end of the trip, it will probably work for them to “Ask me one question” before I go. 

Im sure things will continue to feel unsettled – this is a lot of change for me in a short time, after what seems like a lifetime of same. And I miss my bed and my own bathroom and not traveling while having a period. But so far, I still embrace my decision to leave the known and travel out into the world that I still cannot believe I found. Im sure there will be many more surprising things to encounter during the next two weeks in Turkey, but I will try to post some pictures soon. My new hobby (photography) awaits.

So I Stand, Still Boring and Bored

Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum (Photo credit: sharnik)

Brought to you by Frightened Rabbit courtesy of the AVClub.com.

I have a hard time being bored, which accounts for many of my more eccentric decisions over the years. My most recent has been to take off for the next six months to the Middle East and parts unknown before I start working full-time. The one trip for sure is to Turkey for a few weeks and then figure out where else to go. Its the first time in 11 years I will be leaving the country and Im both overwhelmed and really excited to see what the world will look like outside of my current vantage point.

I truly believe that the larger world needs to be experienced, to be seen, in order to have a life worth living. There are so many wondrous things that you cant understand until you are standing in front of a pyramid, or the wall, or the people. You will miss the hum of other cultures, the sharp smells and the bright amazing colors. Americans really are drab in comparison. And thats just what man has put on, there are so many other things that are just the world’s offerings. Canyons and rivers and deserts and Dead seas.

Both times traveling now I will be going to cultures that are extremely foreign to the Western way of life. In the Middle East, being a woman is going to be an entirely different experience. Men will be overly formal and have difficulty discussing topics in the same way as when just men are present. Ive already had the experience of being out with my best friend in a Middle Eastern store, reaching out to scratch his back and he pulled away and put a scowl on his face. He didnt even realize he’d done it – but apparently thats what men do in the Middle East when some forward girl touches them – pull away and make it seem like they did not like it. We will not be allowed to hang out just the two of us very often, because men and women do not really interact. Women, of course, get more access to other women in the Middle East. He has never really gone into the private portion of his friends’ homes or met their wives: men stay in the front, public sections of the home when visiting. Then theres the whole everything is transacted in cash, which I suppose will prepare me for living in NYC where you have minimum purchase amounts, if there even is a card machine available. And living in a primarily Muslim country, when Ive had very little association with the religion in the States. So I have to pick a few more countries to visit and figure out how to function in the oldest of the old worlds. No more being bored – its adventure time.

You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman

English: Wild hair
English: Wild hair (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My newest thoughts brought to you by Aretha Franklin. So for me the point of this blog is to talk about all three categories of my fabulously obvious title. So I try to mark by category what I think each post refers to although there is apparently massive overlap. Hard to tease them out in my life.

Today’s topic: Good Hair. I still havent seen Chris Rock’s documentary (on the list), but I have mostly whats considered good hair. Its curly and crazy, but it grows pretty long and stays straight with enough heat and no humidity. When I was really little, I used to cry everytime my mother tried to comb through my hair, and my sisters and I wore it in a ton of random braids sprouting out of our heads with the bubble bands that used to pop your finger and hurt terribly when you missed. But in 7th grade, surrounded by mostly white students with awesomely straight hair I desperately wanted to wear my hair out.

Thus began my Fridays of sitting 3 hours in a chair, while I was burned by extremely hot combs that sat in little metal ovens. You would sit in various chairs, while the sylist feathered other people in and out of your appointment time. It took HOURS to get it straight, and then no washing for as long as you could stand it and then back to the chair. Its a different life than most people – everything dries out black hair and scalps, so the less washing the better – and it does handle oils better than most white hair, but still it gets dirty. So every two weeks back in the chair. I tried relaxing it once in 8th grade. That resulted in me cutting most of my hair off, as it was damaged, not at all straighter, and it never grew past my boob again. It used to be all the way down my back. Im still occasionally sad about that experiment.

So I kept up that schedule – the chair and two weeks, through volleyball practice, track meets and summers, until college. Going east one would think it would be easier to find someone to deal with my hair, but even black hairdressers there had problems. So I started washing it on my own and trying curly every once in a while – in a big ponytail at the back of my head. It was crazy. And then when I moved to Utah – I let a white stylist handle it and it wasnt so bad. It didnt get as straight as it used to in California or for as long, but it was better than straightening it myself, which was never going to happen.

That story may feel fairly benign, but its amazing how much all women define themselves by their hair. Maybe because it takes so long – men can buzz their heads look like an idiot for two weeks and then its over. Hair grown back. Women are sort of committed to those bangs the second the first cut is made. I dont think even I realized how much having crazy frizzy hair was bothering me until I went to Hawaii, and I saw the Islanders walking around with their version of combed out fro. It was like heaven, and the first time I saw a white girl with her blond straight hair I was incensed. What were they doing here ruining the minorities’ good time? Ive never so quickly irrationally hated a person or group except for that first week in Hawaii. It was like paradise marred by the people I had finally escaped. The feeling of having found my people, my place was  lanced every time I saw straight short skinny mainlanders. I got over it eventually, but its probably why I like New York. It feels like freedom from an oppressive standard – and while it may not be their fault, its certainly stiffling to try to live amongst them as one who can never conform enough, even if I wanted to. Genetics is drawing that line in this instance.

So I finally gave up. I mean a bad short haircut saved by me figuring out that curly hair actually worked in it forced my hand, but still, in the past year and a half its never been straightened. Its a whole new world. I didnt do it to reclaim an identity or make a statement – it was too much money and time to maintain the straight look and I decided I no longer cared. Its amazing how much my hair means to people. To my mother, born two generations ago, its claiming “bad hair” and looks wild and crazy and unprofessional. To her, Im giving up the fight to assimilate in and gain the privileges her generation fought for but so clearly showcasing the things that are different between the two races. On the other hand, I get so many compliments I get on my hair from all people. Black, white, asian, etc who just looooove how much volume I can get and how it just seems to work. For me, I love waking up each morning to the ever growing mass, sticking in a few random bobby pins and going outside. Its my own liberation from myself and the norms I thought I had to live by. Now I spend my money trying new curly hair products – I still swear by Kerastase and now Devacurl – in case anyone was wondering.

So now there are people who know me who have never seen my hair straight. Its funny how we can change so much so fast – even though it seems so small. Maybe one day Ill go back to the occasional blow out, but until then, freedom is looking pretty – literally.