Archive | February 2016

Battle Wounds

There comes a time where you have to sit down to reflect on recent events and you realize that you did not resurface from your life adventures without battle wounds. This post is in honor of a dear friend of mine who lost her mother a few hours ago.

When I was a teen and even late into my 20s and 30s I felt invincible. Things were falling into place, obstacles were removable with the right amount of ambition and willpower, and all my goals somehow appeared within reach. Everything was a different shade of black and white, but never grey. Never really difficult. I married, had kids, landed a job, was promoted, ran a sub-4h marathon without really training hard, and could afford anything I wanted. There was not a lot I truly needed. And my desires were all met.

Then I reached a point where I thought that things are just not as simple and that life can become complex or grey. The first time I had to breathe a little harder was when my grandmother died. Suffering intensively from dementia induced by diabetes. I really felt I needed to turn a corner and change my way of life or better my health not to fall into the same trap every one of my family members seems to fall into — Die of heart attack or diabetes. So I went the low carb route, eliminated most grains and sugars. And have only occasional binge events — Chocolate is just my weakness.

The next time is when I noticed that I outgrew a friend. I just noticed that all her wishes, dreams, and ambitions from her 20s and 30s were all just talk and she did not follow through on any. I just could not support her anymore and be a friend when all our conversations focused on why things right now are bad and how she just needs to engage in this one thing to improve. And then she never puts in the effort required to actually get to her goals. Talking to her became a drain and so I stopped seeing her.

Then the hardest part of my growing up happened. People started disappearing. Role models died, promises were broken, and my support system was not as good as I thought. I needed to rely more on myself, needed to make my own decisions, develop my own thinking, and work on my own strength. I noticed that not everything is as simple as “putting your mind to it” and thus achievable. Sometimes hard work does not pay off. You all know how I feel about feminism and hitting the glass ceiling has become a reality for a lot of us woman. Something that in my 20s I would have not believed. I thought that personal aspiration would be sufficient to overcome any barrier. I thought of the glass ceiling as a fog more so than a true hard stop. I might still be right — the glass ceiling might still be just perception, but instead of fog it is most definitely a honey or mud. Something that requires a lot of work to get through.

Battle wounds occur when you encounter obstacles and a mark is left. When you get to a point and you look at all your scars and all those scrapes and you stop and think “Did I really experience all this?”

Our scars are making us who we are. They shape our perception and our opinion. They determine our next steps and how we want to plan our future. Sometimes they scare us. Not everything is worth reliving.

It took me a while to realize that me and my friends are going through battles with life and are all developing our own experiences and that right in front of us a story is forming that is worth writing a novel about.

As a teen you all are idealistic; an outlook that does not always change too much before you reach 30. And even then you are just simply dealing with progression. It is mostly steps forward. As you get older you occasionally have to step back.

I have friends who deal with unemployment, abuse, divorce, substance abuse, problems with kids, and parents dying. Things that are more than obstacles. Things you do not easily recover from. Things that leave deep marks. What do you do?

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Choices we make become more important. Despite all the marks, scars, battle wounds we received, we will have to emerge with strength and continue to learn and progress. We need to continue setting ambitious goals and to pursue our dreams. Sometimes it is more important later in life to allow ourselves to be challenged and actively work on defining a future than when we are teenagers.

Time slips away too easily. And when we realize that the fix points and constants in life are actually are also only temporary it is too late to turn back to pursue opportunities you did not prioritize before.

Why not sign up for a marathon or learn a new skill? Why not write the book you planned on writing when you were 20 but never found the time for?

Pick a new goal today to honor something you lost! Revive and old dream!

Learn how to fly, there is not need to restrain yourself.

 

As We Age…

It is happening — I am on the side of the fence I would have never thought I would be. I am counting as part of the old school or old wave. Why am saying this? I watched Bill Maher the other day and listened to the interview with Gloria Steinem. Nothing really sparked me as a controversial … until I read the news the next day. Here. Here. Here. And here. 

I am not offended, because I am not affected or meant by Gloria Steinem’s indirect criticism. I am not part of the young feminists voting for Bernie Sanders. That I am also not voting for Hillary Clinton is a different story primarily driven by the fact that I am not a US citizen and legally not allowed to vote. Nevertheless, I listened to Gloria. And I agreed.

Women are losing power as they get older.

Young women are more inclined to assume that whether you vote for a man or a woman is irrelevant if the candidate supports the appropriate feminist agenda. Not sure if they are naive, because they have not, yet, hit the glass ceiling, or if they are smarter than I ever was, because they understand a political agenda and vote out of conviction.

The experience I gained over the course of the years is very straightforward. Ambitious women are labeled as “trying too hard” and “cold”. If you experience this one too many times in a performance review you can only draw two conclusions:
First, you are indeed cold and trying too hard. Or second, you are measured by an unrealistic stereotype biased standard that is inevitably higher. When Sheryl Sandberg did a panel discussion at my work a few years ago, she asked the question “Who of you women was ever told that they are too aggressive in a performance review?” Most women raised their hands; at least 80%. She asked the same question to the men and hardly anyone raised their hands. Mind you, there were not a lot of men in the audience to begin with.

I later talked to a female executive who arrived late to the event and stood in the back. She told me how shocked she was by the amount of women who were told they need to tame down. She had always assumed that it was just her being told to soften up. She is very outspoken and determined in meetings not unlike all the male executives, but definitely more than the women.

Most ambitious women you talk to will tell you anecdotes of how they felt shortchanged for promotions and opportunities. Where with the apparent same behavior the male candidate was preferred, sometimes even with less experience. Most women will tell you that while men seem unaffected by frequent management changes, the female colleagues seem to have to start from scratch and prove their worth every time a new manager walks through the door. I myself have been told before “Your performance review from last two years is really great, you are top of the list for both years, and it states that you are looking for a promotion. Well, now you can prove to me that you actually deserve this rating.” A friend of mine had to go through extra training, because her experience in people management  was questioned when she was promoted, while a male colleague with less experience and promoted that same year into the same team did not need to go through any additional training.

These examples are too numerous to be ignored. And unfortunately always considered one time incidents, exceptions, or rare cases. There is always a good explanation why someone else was chosen as the promotee. There are always good reasons why the experience or the behavior of a woman is being questioned.

The crux is though that men do not face these obstacles with the same frequency. If a man makes a mistake, he might get scolded, might get dinged, might see a penalty somewhere. If a woman makes a mistake, it seems very hard to erase it off her track record. And often enough a woman is perceived more negatively when displaying ambitious, straightforward, and outspoken traits.

Case in point. Trump is saying a lot of extremely stupid things. Yet, he still is in the running for president. Gloria Steinem is saying one unfortunate thing — just an opinion that you can agree with or not. And an entire generation of women is ready to throw her off the throne, question her legitimacy as a feminist icon, and putting all her achievements into a negative context. Do not “boomersplain to me”… well, maybe sometimes listening to experience will save you from experiencing pain yourself. Sometimes lessons can be learned without actually having to see for yourself.

Maybe just sometimes when you cast your vote you may want to think why you choose Bernie over Hillary. If it is because of personality traits like “authenticity, passion, down-to-earthness, easy-going-ness, gets-my-generation-ness” maybe it is time to wonder why you believe that Hillary is trying too hard, too outspoken, too fake… Are you really voting based on the political agenda? Can you claim that you are free of the gender stereotyping bias?

I for one am hoping that this is not telling me I am approaching middle age. After all I am siding with Gloria who is twice my age.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Experience or Ideology?

I joined Emma Watson’s feminist book club. It appeared so simple. I love reading, I am a feminist, I admire her work for the UN, and I am somewhat political.

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Here is what I learned.

Most of the participants are women in their 20s. Not all of them are married or have kids. Women from every country. A very diverse mix with very different perspectives and even different understandings of what feminism is. There are some pretty engaged and open men also part of the conversation. From various countries as well.

The mods do  a good job organizing, directing the conversations, there are basically hardly any trolls. This makes the exchange of words very pleasant to any other open forum on the net where any feminist reflection gets belittled, negated or even attacked like you would see in this write-up by Melissa Davey.  Just reading the comments to a well throught through articles makes me question society as a whole. If this is what women are up against, there is only limited hope that we will ever achieve equality.

So Emma’s forum should be the best basis for a diverse, fruitful, and intriguing environment for any open dialogue around feminism. But is it?

I am not so sure.

It starts by young women with no experience of their own leading conversations based on ideology only. Conversations drift easily to a “this is how it should be” compared to an environment where the complexity of life is appropriately recognized. This becomes very clear when talking about the sexual attacks in Cologne. Generalizations are common on either side of the debate and evaluations are more based on dogmas (you cannot discriminate all men, you cannot discriminate immigrants, all men rape, the general law in Germany is flawed…) instead of talking about the actual issues at hand.

The same applies to the conversations where women compare what countries are more sexist. Comments like “I never experienced sexism” or “women are allowed to go to University here, too” are not helpful to drive a suitable conversation about the actual state of equality across various nations. The worst to me is when these younger forum members discount or belittle other women’s experience of direct sexism or assault as a “this was just a one time incident” or “I am sorry this happened to you, but you cannot draw conclusions based on that”.

Even I in my 20s would have denied the fact that sexism is still alive in Germany. After all, I never experienced anything like that. Some of my best friends were male. I was studying at highly recognized University, I was allowed to study abroad, and I immediately landed a very well paying job in a male dominated industry. Everything looked as bright for me as it did for my male counterparts. I felt my generation had overcome sexism or the need for feminism.

And this is the behavior I am seeing in the younger women in Emma’s forum as well. They are still in a state of their life where inequality has not touched them. Where they were not asked to chose between kids or work. Where they have not been questioned in their choice to pursue a career. Where they did not see their male counterparts pull past them even though these men did not work more or perform better. These women are still at the starting line of the game of life and they have not, yet, been confronted with the obstacles that get thrown into their way.

I think Gloria Steinem captures this quite well, when she states:

Women tend to be conservative in youth and get more radical as they get older because they lose power with age. So if a young woman is not a feminist, I say, ‘Just wait.’

We as a society and as feminists owe it to our predecessors to listen to their experience. To learn from what they have done and seen. Right now the women movement fails too often, because every woman seems to be out there alone. Women organize by generation and neglect prior ones. Yes, the lessons Gloria learned still apply and only if we recognize this will we be able to progress equality in a sustainable way.

 

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