Month: September 2011
Here are the words that scare people when we speak about women : empowerment, independence, power, strength. These terms regardless of culture ( contrary to popular misconceptions) are usually synonymous with terms such as demanding, dominating, bossy, stubborn, difficult.
How can we forget the Michelle Bachmann Newsweek cover where she was labeled “Queen of Rage”. Regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, every woman ( whether she admits it publicly or not) was a little offended and well, familiar with the whole characterization. Any woman who has had to get things done on time, hold people accountable or pushed herself to motivate others may have been seen as the Queen of Rage. Yes, men have really defined these stereotypes right? Wrong. The person who chose Bachmann’s description for Newsweek was a woman. Yes indeed.
Why do majority of women empowerment discussions somehow manage to bring in what role men play in the process? I don’t mean to sound naive or even sarcastic. I actually think it’s a very important question women should ask themselves.
See, I am not a woman who feels women empowerment or helping women gain their personal power means blaming men, being dominant over men, or any body for that matter to gain strength. Perhaps I never fully understood the depths of the feminist movement. I am not saying the movement was misguided, I just never understood the dynamics of it. This is the definition I found online :
I think there are variances within such a feminist movement itself. Those variances is what I really feel women empowerment is all about. A woman’s right to be able to choose a role or work in a relationship dynamic that makes her happy (exceptions being emotional or physical abuse of course ). The operative word being “choose” . I never understood why women who were gaining independence for themselves or on a journey to find their true authentic self were actually encouraged by others to first figure what the men in their life were doing to hold them back. The truth is —- it’s not about the men in our lives.
When I am not thinking about kung fu panda, real housewives or doing family time ; I actually spend my time doing what I went to law school for : resolving legal disputes. I focus on mediation and sometimes I have had the honor to work with couples contemplating divorce. In many of these cases I see amazing women who are struggling with their relationship, who they are and how they have handled their marital issues in the past. Many times I see a pattern. I call it the blame HIM game. We are designed to see independence of ones self as the freedom from oppression of the other. But the real question is what if the oppressor has been yourself?
I always tell my clients that regardless of what the circumstances are : lack of college degree, too many kids or too little time, poor role models etc., lets start pointing the finger at ourselves first. This goes for men and women. If we take personal accountability for not speaking when we should have, not taking steps to protect ourselves when we should have or even not taking the steps to take proper counsel in situations, then we can actually start changing our own circumstances.
The truth is I am always on the journey to become empowered in myself. To speak the truth, to make my actions consistent with my words, to not be fake, superficial …etc. You get it. We all try to be better and like many I have failed numerous times. I try to do this most importantly to be a good role model for my daughter. Thus I am always reminded that as a woman, I have a larger responsibility for the sake of her.
But as empowered( variety of definitions) as other people may think I am. Here is the real deal. My husband is my life, my shoulder to lean on, my best friend, my person that I call when I can’t understand how to work the hi tech media system in our house. The person I discuss a simple non-complex issue with just to take his counsel. The person I call to help me find where the birthday party is while I am in the car because I cannot really understand the navigation system, or how to use the blue tooth. Or the person I always expect to take out the garbage ( the bags get so heavy!!) and fire the grill and flip the burgers. Does that sound like an empowered person to you? Many women empowerment advocates will say “NO, learn how to read a map!”
But, I feel I am or at least on the journey to be empowered. Because I like how I need him. I like asking him for things. It reminds me that he is there to take care of me as I am for him. I choose that he takes care of me. Now, if I was ever lost in a desolate location and needed to figure out which wire goes into what socket in my Macgyver like episode, then I should be upset at my dependence and blame the appropriate person. Myself. I always need to take accountability for my own circumstances. People are in our lives for a reason. They all help us grow if we allow them to. It is up to us to see them as assets or liabilities. I know my biggest asset in helping me become an empowered woman – my husband.
So, the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills just wrapped up Part 1 of its Reunion Season. As usual , we see passive aggressive jabs, double speak compliments and back handed praise – yes all the yummy stuff. Lisa the Queen Bee is falling of her thrown and Brandi and Kyle are becoming allies by finding a common enemy. I wrote this piece about Real Housewives when the phenomenon just started, but now with reunion season again and the show still having such success, I thought it was so timely relevant and a discussion needed to be had. I still feel we need to ask – Real Housewives – Is this really who we are?
I am just as guilty as all of you. I laughed when the table was thrown on the New Jersey episode. I loved seeing Bethanny and Jill have a full on fight on who was a more sincere friend. I cheered when Kyle finally told her sister she needed to stop living off her husband. AND I thought it was ridiculous that Camille pranced in a bikini and kissed her husband’s friend on the lips. I also fell on the floor with laughter seeing Ramona Sonia and Alex team up as blonds and go against the brunettes on the reunion. For those women who are more evolved than I am, I am speaking about the latest guilty pleasure of women around the globe : The Real Housewives.
What is it about the show that makes it so amazingly popular? The fights, the gossiping, the subtle digs, the competition on looks, money, homes, cars, kids, husbands .and of course hand bags. It is a raw image of how women can behave in the company of other beautiful and successful women. In the show, it seems there is no sincere conversation that can take place between two women. One woman who opens up her heart as a confidant ultimately can use it as ammunition to another’s deepest secrets and insecurities. The question that really needs to be asked : Does this show remind us of other women we know, or does it remind us of ourselves?
Lets be honest, no person is without flaws. No human being is free of failings of jealousy, insecurity and misguided competition. We are all trying to navigate through the complex circumstances that life throws at us. However, is it really fair to have a television show that only thrives on showcasing a person’s weakest moments? All the women on these shows have the capability of being influential powerful positive mirrors for other women by the sheer power they have from being on a national television show. They are businesswoman, wives of wealthy men with access to resources and connections, former t.v. personalities…but yet the only attributes the show helps them share are their worst weaknesses. I do not solely blame them, they after all are marketing themselves at the cost of what is popular to watch; their sometimes ungraceful bad moments. Do we enjoy watching these women embarrass themselves, because at least—- its not us?
Another important thought : Who makes these shows ( the ones that are exploiting womens’ weaknesses) successful? Is it smart marketing and multitude number of reruns that are making them have high ratings? Or rather, is it driven by the consumers themselves. Have we, as viewers choosing to watch these embarrassing moments
of real live women allowed the industry to reaffirm that a woman will always choose a cat fight, a gossipy rumor and backstabbing girlfriends over an uplifting show that portray women as strong. powerful leaders? I challenge that we indeed have. We have created an appetite among ourselves that has allowed Bravo to market to a niche- unhappy, bored and jealous women who love to sit at home and watch other woman fall from grace from their living rooms.
Let us remember two television shows that did indeed have strong female characters. Commander in Chief, starring Gina Davis as president of the United States. What was the fate of this show – canceled in the the first season. Chicago Code, where Jennifer Beals plays superintendent of the Chicago Police Force. Yes. Canceled in the first season. Women did not tune in to see strong women playing complex roles, but we do tune in to watch them be simple caricatures of crumbling egos.
And of course, many always tuned in to watch Bay Watch. We as viewers either make women who are fighting famous or women who are half naked worthy of appreciation.
This actually leads into a much deeper discussion of womens’ relationships. If art is indeed imitating real life and popular art parallels real life claiming to be the majority, then women are suffering from unhealthy relationships.
But, I beg to differ. I have had the honor to meet very sincere and thoughtful women who have been a source of support in my life. In fact there are very few times that I have had a run in with a difficult woman. But I do sincerely believe like all people, most women have bad days. Days where one is not as gracious, forgiving and patient as they usually are.
The point is that shows like Real Housewives will have you believe that those bad days are the majority of a woman’s life and therefore can be translated into being a permanent emotional disposition. I would argue that “real” housewives are busy scrubbing crayons off walls, packing snacks for after school games, taking evening classes and trying to balance dinner, work and being a “always present” family member. Real Housewives hardly have time to throw a table at a girlfriend, compete on throwing the best birthday party for her princess or take an hour and a half to do hair and make up.
It is time for viewers to choose watching women who remind us of our “real” selves, who we are majority of the time. We are caregivers, natural mediators, peacemakers and pragmatic multi-taskers. It is time that women choose to watch other women have their brightest moments and cheer them on, not their darkest missteps. If we do, eventually the industry will have to recognize a new market niche : Real Women.
WOMEN AROUND US ARE INSPIRATIONAL. DO WE TAKE THE TIME TO NOTICE THEM?
When one thinks of inspirational women our minds go to political leaders, women in history, celebrities for charities or global humanitarians. These are all images we have seen growing up. These women have changed lives and moved mountains. As I was growing up I often thought about how I could emulate such women. I wanted to be as humble, courageous, kind and powerful as the famous women I had seen in history.
Now that I am an adult, I often think about how the images of powerful inspiration women come about. Perhaps, the images have been incomplete. We all come across so many women in our lives every day. Can it really be that only the few mentioned in history books are the ones that are worthy of being considered inspirational? Perhaps the term inspirational and how we use it needs to change.
What about the women who do not have time to get covered in the media, lead armies of change or market their contributions through power, money or beauty? What about the ordinary women who work every day, fulfill their obligations and give all their heart to their loved ones without ever a mention of wanting gratitude?
I specifically am speaking about the women we all know. The mother who wakes her kids up for school three or four times and still manages to get herself ready and serve breakfast. The mother who stays up all night helping her child paint planets for a science project. The sister who is the cheerleader for her younger siblings, when everyone else doubts them. The woman we always talk though our internal issues with, get free therapy and a scalp massage- our favorite hairdresser. The daughter in law that goes out of her way to prepare the best turkey for thanksgiving and matches the linens with the room decor for her guests. The mother in law who welcomes new daughter in laws to her family with open arms not knowing if the love will be returned? The woman who knows exactly how you like your coffee every morning as you rush through the drive thru. The girlfriend who always picks up the phone, she does not text- rather calls you back. Are these women not consistent, loving, present and sincere? Are they not making an impact on peoples lives everyday? Are they not indeed inspirational?I say that they are.
They are the foundations of the positivity around them. They move mountains little as they may be, every day. Why have we failed to recognize the inspirational world around us? I wrote this piece because I thought about how wonderful my inspirational vault , my daughter’s nanny is. She is loving, consistent and sincere. In her arms is where I leave my treasure when I have to run out to work a few days in the week. I would not leave my baby with anyone for even a minute unless they could do what my nanny does. She indeed is an inspiration. A perfectionist to the core, she would put high paid CEOS to shame.
We are all blessed to have such amazing women around us, it would be a loss not to value the opportunity to appreciate and learn from them. This is what the Skinless Project wants to remind women. We should be a world of real women helping real women. We have inspiration around us and we probably inspire others without even knowing it. One does not need to be a celebrity in a fancy business suit or charging a historical movement to bring change and inspire- we just need to be real. We need to do what we do with love and our inspirational energy will flow. Next time you are feeling empty with daily rituals, tap into your own inspirational vault . Most probably, she is the woman who is so consistently there for you that you did not even notice. Smile, be grateful and be inspired.
BEAUTY IS A HAPPY ACCIDENT. LETS TEACH OUR DAUGHTERS TO BE MORE.
Every little girl is supposed to want to grow up to be a beautiful princess. How can you blame her? She grows up knowing that a glass slipper from the prince will change her destiny. She also knows that she may fall into a deep slumber only to be rescued by a Prince’s kiss. Let’s not forget the fairest of them all : she manages to be loved for cleaning after seven short men. Wow, the world we have created for our beautiful creatures.
I watched all these cartoons. I imagined my prince choosing me over all the others. I imagined dancing across the ballroom while everyone’s eyes followed my graceful steps. I was the envy of every ball in every childhood fantasy.
These fantasies were quite a contrast to my reality at home. Now allow me to elaborate before you jump to conclusions, I had a fantastic childhood.
From as young as I can remember my mother kept my hair short. As a toddler this meant wild red curls. Majority of my pictures were of me in funny poses. One with my fathers big glasses, another with ketchup all over my face, and another swinging off a gate at our home. There are very few pictures where I am sitting like a pretty proper girl with perfect clips in my hair. In fact I remember always getting scraped and having yet another bruise on my knee.
As I got a little older, my classmates had perfect pig tails and long pony tails or fancy clips. I remember looking at the flowing locks of hair wishing I had the same. I had a boy cut. Yes, famously known as the “Diana Cut”. Surprisingly, I looked nothing like Princess Diana. Instead I looked like a skinny boy with bruised knees, short black hair wearing a dress. In fact I once went on a strike and refused to go to the salon so my mom was forced to grow out my hair. I think I lost the battle when I started looking like a 1800’s philosopher with a side burns and thick hair on top.
According to my mom, it was so I could enjoy being a kid. So I could run, jump, swing from the monkey bars without having to worry about a pony tail or braids getting undone.
Finally, I started looking like a girl. Nonetheless it was a long journey. I still was not able to do what other teenager girls did. For some reason, I was not allowed to wear lip gloss, blush or mascara. Instead I would get a nivea face cream, some nice clothes and I was sent on my way.
This actually lasted all the way to high school. I finally put on eyeliner senior year in high school and also experimented with lipstick. But by then, all the girls were way ahead of me. They had been putting on makeup for years. They knew what foundation, blush, concealer primer was. I was just getting started, there was no way I could catch up. After all, I just realized I could straighten my hair.
So, I am assuming when you read the scenario I describe above you feel very sorry for me. I sound like a plain jane feeling like an ugly duckling when all she needed was a pretty set of pig tails and lip gloss.
Well, here is the catch : I never felt ugly, and never even knew I was a plain jane. I never felt I needed lip gloss and I certainly never felt I needed any concealer to conceal anything– ever. Other than wanting long locks of hair, I was simply perfect in my mind.
In fact now that I look at pictures of the plain jane I am so surprised of how pretty I felt inside. I only know that because I was able to try so many new things, take risks and excel in so many different things in school that I must have honestly thought I was pretty amazing all the way around. I am not saying this to brag, I am simply analyzing how a plain jane surrounded by beauty queens managed to be a well rounded extremely confident young girl. I did see not myself the way I see myself in those photos now. Now, that I know the power of concealer, blush and eyeliner. I also did not see myself perhaps how others saw me.
I saw me how my mother saw me.
My mother never called me beautiful. In fact she never called anyone beautiful. My mother only talked about other girls as smart, funny, classy or confident. Thus, naturally I started to appreciate those qualities in other girls and wanted to emulate myself to be a girl with such attributes. Thus, in turn others responded to me in kind. I thought I had it all and knowing that I knew that- they believed it too. What a lesson for life.
Beautiful was powerless to me. It was a word that had no value in my mother’s eyes. It was a happy accident and perhaps why it was never impressed upon in my home.
When I look at my pictures as a teenager, I see the brilliance of it all. The calculated strategy my mother imposed on my to help me gain inner confidence without relying on my exterior. In fact it was not until I reached adulthood, mid-twenties did I realize how others viewed me physically. It was through the eyes of strangers, that I realized how much people really respond and judge you on your looks. Luckily, I had blossomed from a plain jane to someone who understood the power of MAC and PRESCRIPTIVES make up by then. It was actually a disheartening reality. Specially, when I realized that older women analyze the beauty of younger girls. Women are unnecessarily tough on others. Perhaps it is because a lot of women have been victims of the cycles themselves, always feeling that they were not pretty enough.
Just last week, my mother was casually telling me why I had a boy cut when I was four. It went beyond the fact that she wanted me to run and jump without hair in my face. She simply looked into the face of her granddaughter ( my 2 year old daughter) and elaborated “You looked so cute,the short hair was part of your charm.” How wonderful I felt even now to hear those words. My mother really thought even as a child, her daughter’s charm was the most important.
I myself have a daughter with wild beautiful curls and I let them run wild. They jump as she jumps. I can only hope I make her feel beautiful in the same way my mother made my feel beautiful : By never telling her.