Monday, May 28, 2012

Ripping off the Mask - not everything is a gender issue

The more I think about the Imposter Syndrome, and how many women have bought in, the angrier I get.  Here is the thing: I think to imply that the imposter syndrome is a gender thing is doing men a disservice.  I can’t tell you how many of my male friends have indicated that they too, fake it until they make it, and even then feel as if they have fooled their bosses; that sooner or later someone will call them out; and that they will be asked to go home any day now.  Like women do.  I don't think women get to claim this one.  I think that may be they are more likely to cop to feeling this way, but it isn't something that women can claim as theirs.

To imply that women only feel this way is to create a gender issue where there is none.  In fact, it gives tacit permission for women to buy into the same old, same old implication that women are not as good at science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) that men are.  Except, we are the ones who think that now. The benevolent sexism that women subject themselves to when buying into the Imposter Syndrome as female based helps us not.  In fact, it only serves to reinstate and validate the status quo of the male as the engineer who is changing the world.

Yesterday, at a memorial service for a man who never once treated his daughters as less than, his best friend’s wife told me that she thinks that women have done themselves a disservice by wanting equality.  After all, she told me, men have an ego that is a little more fragile, and to ask for equality leaves them blinking in the dust and not knowing their role.  I was startled, and while a part of me understands that she sees herself as a strong woman, I can’t help but think she got there at the expense of her husband.  To me, that attitude infantilizes men.  It creates them as children who must unwittingly follow the female lead in order to feel good about themselves.

This is not the kind of equality I am fighting for. 

And I am not sure that having a gender role is a good thing, so maybe leaving them blinking in the dust is okay.  They will either step up, or get left behind.

I think all of us have gotten ourselves into situations in which we need to sink or swim.  We either begin paddling and stroking for shore, or we go down in a spectacular puddle of bubbles.  I don’t think this experience is specific to a gender.  Some things just are not gender issues.  And I for one, am navigating a new world of technology and social interaction, as are many of my friends.  Maybe it is the reason why I am still single, but I think we are all negotiating our way in the world, in relationship, in technology, in a new job, in a new career.  I am not sure my gender plays a significant part, at least in this.  Or maybe I am just really bad a at navigating.

photo credit: mikebaird  (this photo is one of my favorite mini stories)

Monday, May 21, 2012

There is no Just World, just a world that changes

Okay, so one of the worst things that can happen to a person has happened.  The career that I trained for, the doctorate that I traded my soul away for, it has all been taken away by a broken person, who isn’t smart enough to compete against my left pinky.  She got lucky and nailed me on a technicality that she wasn’t even aware of, and that legally she can’t nail me for.   The truth is I wasn’t aware of it either or I would have taken care of it.
In a Just World I could go after her.  But if I did that I would be scorching the earth behind me like a petulant child, and hurting people who have been good to me in the past.  It is not, sadly, the right thing to do.  Even though it is Just.
            It is seductive to believe in the Just World.  That if we are good people who do the right thing and listen to the teacher when she says not to eat the paste, we will get good grades and be a good person.  There must be a blueprint out there somewhere on how to do this, right?  So many people seem to have gotten those homework notes.  I missed them somehow.  It has never been clear where I fit.  Until I walked into the classroom, and began to teach.  Until I left grad school with an understanding of how to do research to understand human behavior.  And let me be clear with this last one, I understand how to do the research, but not all of human behavior (human behavior surprises me still).
            And if I look at this objectively, this is not the first time I have encountered the ridiculousness of morality, and not the first time I have been the one in the room with the least amount of power. I spoke Truth to Power.  Usually, this works out well, and I am appreciated and even promoted for doing this.  Not this time. 
            I think this is a good thing, even though at first I wasn’t sure of that.  I still love teaching and I still understand how to do research, and I am fascinated by the human computer interaction.  So I am going back into a grad program to learn more about this and then back out into the corporate world to use this knowledge.  I am pretty excited for the next chapter, even in my 40s when I am supposed to be living a settled life and own things I don’t own (like a house).  It will be interesting see how this works out, and whether or not I will ever own a house.  (Not that I necessarily want one).  And whether or not I will ever understand Human Behavior.

photo credit:lindsetya

Sunday, May 20, 2012

This is not the life I ordered

This is not the life I ordered

Growing up in the seventies and eighties we were all sold a bill of goods that seemed left over from the fifties.  Well, the girls were anyway, and especially the girls I knew in the South.  North of San Francisco had some similar homilies.  The message ran a bit like this: study hard, go to college, find a partner, get married, have a kid or two and by the time you are my age, have a rock on your left hand the size of a small tropical island and travel to Hawaii, Cabo, Tahoe, and Paris every year.  You are to own a house that either you or your husband paid for that you regularly show on house tours, and your children are sparkling golden versions of yourself.  Everyone loves you and your 50th Birthday party thrown by your loving spouse is the event of the ages, or at least the event of your small pond.  You are tan and fit and one of the privileged.

I didn’t do any of that. 

Instead, I studied not at all.  It came very easily to me, and when it didn’t, I was usually not interested.

I went to my local Junior College.  Sometimes.

Bored with that, I went to Australia and surfed my days away, slung beer and chips and night, and fell in love with men named Nigel and Stuart, who thought my Yank accent cute. I left them behind.

I came back home, joined the Coast Guard, jumped out of helicopters to pull drunk old fat men out of the water every three day weekend and got a bit bitter.

I decided to return the script as written, walked on to the Swim Team of the college I got my undergrad.  I got a scholarship, became a resident advisor, and walked away with a couple of degrees before heading off to Graduate School, by myself, half a state away.  By this time, my parents had fled California, returning to North Carolina, and I was alone in every way. 

Wait, that wasn’t supposed to happen.  Wasn’t my mom supposed to live across town in her quirky way, and have my (non-existant) family over for Sunday supper?

Graduate School kicked my ass.  I gave up everything I thought I valued for my Ph.D.  It took a long time to get myself back, and I still have reservations about spending money on anything but books, computers, good food, and thrift store clothes that I can make work. 

I taught community college for years (13) and not a real school because I didn’t have the publications, and then I entered a fight with a terrible woman who soured me on Academia.

And now I find that I am changing my life, yet again.  I am entering into another graduate program that will allow my to update my degree and enter the corporate tech world doing something really cool (at least to me).  I am in my 40s now, still not married (no prospects), still no kids, and am tired of living like a graduate student. 

How many other women out there feel like they are not living the life that was scripted for them or are changing (yet again) their careers to do something that matters to them?  In my life there have been so many starts and stops that I wonder at the women who live the scripted life.  Is that what they want?  Sometimes I think it is what I want.  It would be a lovely life, and I would still want more.

I would still be the girl reading all the time and reading everything I could get my hands on.  I would still wander through thrift stores and upcycle furniture, this time as a design choice.  I would still eat well and have as many friends over for dinner as possible, because I would still be the girl who believes in the laughter of a summer night with good people as the most awesome thing in the world. I would still want to be the one seated next to the biologist who talks about arthropods during dinner, or the tech nerd who tells me about the app she just created.  I’m in.

It may not be the life that was ordered for me and I have no idea what is coming next, but as far as the quality of my life goes. I am perfectly happy with my serving.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Why weight is NOT, in fact, a Race issue.

 There are so very many reasons why I am tired tired tired of body commentary in the blogosphere.  It is mainly because while I am plus sized girl – the last time I was a size twelve, I WAS twelve – there is more to me than my size and how I feel about it.  In fact the only time I am reminded of it is when other people point it out (rude and their own issue) or I feel unhealthy.  When this happens I generally address it by changing my eating habits, starting to walk and swim more or enter into an exercise or counseling program.  Just like people who are not plus sized.  This creates me as normal.

Opinions and articles out there range from what is wrong with us at a given size, to how a woman feels about being a given size, to the politics of being a given size, to why it is okay to be a given size.  I mostly agree with the latter (as long as one is healthy, size does not matter).  There is another category and I never quite know what to say or how to feel about it.  I am not sure I get to weigh in on this one because I am white, but I certainly have some thoughts on it.  So if I offend you with this, so be it.
May 6th, 2012 the New York Times Op Ed section ran an article called Black Women and Fat by Alice Randall, who I normally like.  In it, she remarks that Black women are fat because their men want them that way (um. What?) and therefore they want to be fat (um. What?!!?).  She cites historic references to poetry remarking on the beauty of big-hipped black woman.  I got no problem with the poetry.  I got a problem with Alice Randall’s interpretation of it.  She interprets the poetry as further evidence of A.E. Shaw’s book “The Embodiment of Disobedience: Fat Black Women’s Unruly Political Bodies.”  Shaw argues it this way: “Fat black woman can be a rounded opposite of the fit black slave,” and thus creates a remark on the prosperity of the Fatter Woman, much like Samoa.  The heavier you are, the richer you are (less work).

She also goes on to encourage her community of women to get fit, although the terminology she uses is to “get smaller.”  I am a fan of the fit, not the smaller because genetics are not even mentioned, nor is a person’s natural size.

First, I think having an opinion is a good thing.  Second, I don’t think extrapolating size to an entire culture is.  Third, making excuses based on race is never a good idea, and finally my feminism is outraged at the idea that I become fat and unhealthy in order to keep a man.  What a crock of shit!  That asks an entire race to collude in its own oppression because of sexism.  And that if you are a skinny black woman you are somehow not black enough (as written about by xojane). Bringing me to the idea that weight is a race issue.  Um. No.

Curvy CEO says she is tired of the “what is wrong with Blackwomen” meme.  I agree.  I am also tired of the “what is wrong with fat women” meme. Exercise is a luxury for many women in that no one has time. It is also expensive, except for walking and running.  (And I don’t run. Ever.)  If there are kids in the picture, their needs come first, and for many women, regardless of race, this is a truth.  To be chastised for not caring about themselves enough is just insult to injury.

Body size is an ongoing issue in that social comparison is an ongoing issue.  It isn’t about race, or men, or women.  I have reached an age where, when I see a lovely woman, or a good-looking man, I simply tell them.  It doesn’t take anything away from me to give a compliment.  My success is not dependent on someone else’s failure.  So, lets stop.  Lets stop with the “this is whys” and the “here is how I fixed myself” and the race politics of image.

Image matters.  Image matters in that when we feel good we look good.  Enough with the size justifications and apologies.  Enough I say.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Masked Ball - The Imposter Syndrome

I went to a conference held, run and coordinated by Stanford women in the engineering program.  It was called She + + and was specifically for Women in Technology.  It was great and I hope to go back next year.
I had a few motives for going:  a) It was free, b) I am really interested in this topic for a number of reasons, all of which will be discussed at various times on the blog, c) networking, and finally d) to really understand the mindset of women in technology because even though I am not user stupid, and I am also not as user savvy as I want to be.  I am learning how to code, but do not feel as if I can confidently say to someone I can code.  At the moment, I feel like an imposter, and I am scrambling to become legitimate.
So did everyone else at that conference.  Not surprisingly, this feeling got called the Imposter Syndrome and was brought up by Tracy Chou of Pinterest agreed with by Kimber Lockhart of and became a reoccurring theme throughout the day.  When a question was asked later if anyone else had ever felt this way, every female in the room and a couple of men raised their hands.  We were given the advice "Fake it 'til you make it." Later demographics found that the eldest woman there was 63, and the youngest, 16.  We all feel as if we are sneaking onto the playground.
I found this to be remarkable and I have been thinking about it ever since.  Women feel like imposters in the world of men.  We feel as if we will never know enough, be quick enough, learn code better, hack well enough, design better, even those of us who know we are smart.  This is especially true for those of us who know we are smart.  The playing field changed.  We are not competing in the same way anymore.  And because we don’t know the landscape we have no way to lead the younger women.
In grammar school and high school there were three kinds of girls.  The pretty ones, the smart ones and the cool art girls who were usually smart in a feminist way.  I fell into the latter category sometimes.  Mostly I was just fucked up, and trying to do my own thing and find some peace.
The pretty girls got married and are still in my hometown.  The true nerds majored in biology or engineering with mostly male counterparts, and got married to one of them.  They continue the status quo and find a dearth of women behind them.  They are the ones still wearing jeans, t-shirts and ponytails.  They are still reading fantasy science fiction and still rocking the code.  Old School.  These were the women who were always comfortable with being a nerd, and being immersed in tech.  Being a nerd was not always cool, especially if you were pretty, or an art chick.
The cool art girls who are smart in a feminist way are the ones who are still in the world doing art, being smart, being feminist and realizing that they need to change their knowledge base to keep up.  And aren't sure how to do it.
The smart ones always went to a good college and majored in something that would make them money, and are now in Human Resources or Management and trying to figure out the tech world like the rest of us. 
Because this is a new world, we are still navigating its waters and still trying to figure out how to be both comfortable female and comfortable being tech savvy.  So instead of hiding our smarts to be thought of as more pretty, or not wearing a ponytail or showing that we too read the vampire and dragon books, we went out into the world to discover as we dove into careers, that technology had sped by us, and we have to double step to keep up.  And who has time?
So we make it up as we go along and hope no one notices.  It isn’t a bad thing to be an imposter, but it can be lonely. You can't tell anyone that you aren't cool any more.  Even though people probably know it anyway.

This topic is not done, and these thoughts are not over.  I get the feeling this is a reoccurring theme.