Cat Wisdom: Yes We Can!

I think it’s time for a new quote. And since Barack and Hillary have been on my mind a lot (Husband and I spend a good amount of time talking about politics and researching information about the candidates), I wanted to share this quote from the debate. Husband and I are very, very enthusiastic about the election this year…for a long time I was feeling jaded and apathetic, like it didn’t matter, it would be more of the same and the democrat wouldn’t be progressive enough to get done what we wanted. But that’s changed. There’s a real atmosphere of enthusiasm, of inspiration and motivation, of the feeling that we CAN do these things. We can make the changes and move in the direction we want. Of course I realize there’s still going to be the slow pace of change overall – it takes generations for opinions to change drastically, for society to really strive towards equality. But here, now, is the time, the time for a major stride forward. The time for the first black or female president of the US! That’s exciting on its own, but what’s also exciting is the policies that they’re advocating are more liberal than I ever would have thought possible even a year ago. Back when Sicko came out, I thought a national debate on universal health care was out of our reach. And yet here we are, with both candidates making major promises to reform the health care system.

For much of my life I’ve dreamed about what it would have been like to live through the 1960s and 1970s in America. The civil rights movement, the second wave of feminism, Vietnam war protests…Martin Luther King, Gloria Steinem, JFK…hippies, woodstock, the early days of Bob Dylan. Now, major players from that era are coming out and endorsing Obama. Ted Kennedy is having a great time on the campaign trail for Obama, and as you watch the videos you can see the enthusiasm in the crowd. People are coming together around hope! JFK’s daughter Caroline Kennedy has come out to endorse Obama, saying “I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans.” Even the Grateful Dead are reuniting to play a benefit concert for Obama. And current artists are coming out to fight for him:

Celebrity-filled music videos have been used to support many social movements, from famine relief for Africa, to support for American farmers, to opposition to apartheid in South Africa.

But rarely have celebrities and musicians banded together to create new music in the heat of a presidential campaign.

The Black Eyed Peas’ frontman, songwriter and producer known as will.i.am, along with director and filmmaker Jesse Dylan, son of another socially active musician, Bob Dylan, released a new song Friday that attempts to do just that.

I wanted to embed the video but I seem to be having some difficulty. Watch it here.

There’s so much excitement in the air. Last week’s debate made me proud and happy to be a part of this, which is a feeling I hadn’t had in a long time – it seemed so historic, to watch a woman and a black man as the only two candidates left vying for the democratic presidential nomination, and in a year where there’s a good chance that he or she will become the next President of the United States. One thing in particular that made Husband and I happy was this statement of Obama’s:

So the question is can we restore a sense of balance to our economy and make sure that those of us who are blessed and fortunate and have thrived in this economy, in this global economy, that we can afford to pay a little bit more so that that child in east Los Angeles who is in a crumbling school, with teachers that are having to dig into their own pockets for school supplies, that they are having a chance at the American dream, as well.

So, finally, here is the new cat wisdom quote, from the speech that inspired the Yes We Can video:

We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics…they will only grow louder and more dissonant ……….. We’ve been asked to pause for a reality check. We’ve been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope.

But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.

Now the hopes of the little girl who goes to a crumbling school in Dillon are the same as the dreams of the boy who learns on the streets of LA; we will remember that there is something happening in America; that we are not as divided as our politics suggests; that we are one people; we are one nation; and together, we will begin the next great chapter in the American story with three words that will ring from coast to coast; from sea to shining sea —

Yes. We. Can.

~Barack Obama

Splitting up home chores

A friend of mine was recently talking about how she splits up various household chores with her husband, and so I’ve been thinking about it myself. I thought I’d share it here because it’s interesting to me how different things work for different people. To give you an idea of how long we’ve been working on our own balance of chores: Husband and I have been living together for 3.5 years but have only had our own apartment and the chores that go with that for 2 and a half years. And we’ve been married for a year and change :-D.

For Husband and I, it’s always a bit hard to tell if we’re splitting work equally, because we both tend to consider not only effort but pleasure or nuisance level as well, and our individual perceptions of that are not straightforward. So instead of just saying “You spend x hours and I spend y hours and they’re even (or not)” we look at how much we like or dislike those hours.

With cleaning, this has led to an imbalance in hours spent because Husband has a much lower cleanliness threshold than I do. It’s hard to make him clean a room constantly and in a timely manner when I can tell the disorderliness doesn’t disturb him at all. So I settle for asking him to help clean up sometimes, when it reaches a level that I dislike, and he doesn’t mind, although sometimes he’ll ask to do it later in the day. It’s like that for lots of chores – I can get him to split cleaning the dishes (no dishwasher) with me, but it requires that I not mind them sitting there for up to a day. Sometimes, I just feel like I don’t mind it as much – I don’t always see it as a nuisance (sometimes I even find it a bit relaxing), so why should I make him do it when it’s clear he really dislikes it? So I guess we maybe split the dishes like 10% him 90% me in the long run, unless I’m going through a stressful time and ask him to help with it more.

However, he does help out with things that he doesn’t enjoy doing. We don’t have laundry in our building so we drop it off a few blocks away and pick it up the next day or two. We agree for him to do it because neither of us likes it but it requires lugging a heavy cart up two flights of stairs on the way back.  He always makes the phone calls (deliveries, bill pay issues, troubleshooting, etc) and takes the trash out (down the stairs and around the building into the alley…fun).

He never cooks dinner for us both (maybe once a year he’ll make a tortilla pizza that he gets into), but I don’t cook when I don’t want to. He either makes himself something simple (his menu options are usually: ravioli; beans, cheese, tortillas; cereal and milk) or orders food. He’s a creature of habit so this is good enough for him. He never asks me what’s for dinner, and genuinely treats it as a special thing when I do make dinner, even when I do it as often as 2 or 3 times a week. But the rest of the time we just take care of ourselves for food. Sometimes if he wants something and I only sort of want it, I’ll agree to make it if he keeps me company in the kitchen, but he doesn’t help cook. We just talk while I do the work.

So our cake-cutting algorithm has led us to this, for most household chores: It likely won’t get done if I don’t ask for it to be done. Sometimes it’s done better and faster if I do it myself (cleaning bathroom, floors, dishes; cooking). But, he always acknowledges the work that I do, and would never, ever ask me to do any of it because he wanted it done. He says thanks when I do different things around the house, and I make sure to do the same for him, even when they’re small things. (i.e. Thanks sweetie for remembering to refill the ice cube trays!) This definitely helps us to avoid feeling unappreciated.

My point is, if you just look at what he does and what I do with regards to cooking and cleaning, it would seem uneven. But, we talk about it often enough, and he takes on some chores I don’t enjoy and runs various errands for us both. We’ve tried out arrangements where he did higher amounts of housework, but I was constantly being the household manager and it just didn’t feel right to me because it was adding stress. He always appreciates when I do do things and never minds or asks about them when I don’t do them, so up to now, this has worked for me.

A big thing is we don’t have kids yet, so who knows what will happen then?!

What is your household chore split up like, or if you live alone, what would you think is acceptable?

Maternal Profiling

I wanted to share this, which was sent to me by MomsRising. This form of discrimination is one of the gender related discriminations that I see most strongly in the environment around me – I’m glad it’s finally getting some attention.

Maternal Profiling: A New York Times Buzzword

Written by Mary Olivella, Joan Blades, and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner

Every once in a while a word or phrase is introduced into the lexicon that sheds light on a widespread practice which hasn’t yet entered the national consciousness. These phrases take hold because we need them.

A few days ago, the New York Times listed a sampling of 2007’s newly coined buzzwords – words “that endured long enough to find a place in the national conversation.” Maternal Profiling was one of these. The New York Times defined it as:

“Employment discrimination against a woman who has, or will have, children. The term has been popularized by members of MomsRising, an advocacy group promoting the rights of mothers in the workplace.”

Credit is due to Cooper Monroe from MomsRising.org who coined the phrase to describe the profound bias mothers face in the workplace. The phrase has struck a cord at a broader level for all mothers who feel pegged and discriminated against whether in the labor force or as stay-at-home moms.

Maternal profiling is a term being used by the more than 140,000 (and growing) MomsRising.org activists who are bringing the concept into the public consciousness.

Although seldom discussed until fairly recently, maternal profiling is a significant and shared problem which negatively impacts vast numbers of women, particularly since a full 82% of American women become mothers by the time they are 44 years old.

The workplace impacts of maternal profiling are jaw dropping, especially given that three-quarters of American mothers are now in the workforce. In fact, the American Journal of Sociology recently reported a study which found that mothers are 79% less likely to be hired than non-mothers with equal resumes and job experiences.

Mothers also face steep wage hits and unequal wages for equal work. One study found that women without children make 90 cents to a man’s dollar, but women with children make only 73 cents to a man’s dollar. And single mothers make about 60 cents to a man’s dollar.

Even in well-paid positions, mothers face discrimination. A Cornell University study found that mothers were offered $11,000 less in starting pay than non-mothers with the same resumes and job experience, while fathers were offered $6,000 more in starting pay.

That same study also found that mothers were held to harsher work standards than non-mothers and were taken off the management track for reasons that were not justifiable when compared to the behavior of other workers.

The dirty little secret of the American workplace is that maternal profiling is alive and well and has been for a very long time. We just didn’t have words to label this form of discrimination.

The repercussions of this discrimination are far reaching and they are intricately linked with issues of poverty, a deficit of women in leadership positions, and the future of our country’s children.

A quarter of American families with children under six are living in poverty. Having a baby has been documented as a leading cause of “poverty spells” in our country — a time when income dips below what is needed for basic living expenses such as food and rent.

Right now, the vast majority of workplaces are still structured from the era when it was assumed that there was a wife at home full-time with the children–even though this has never been the case for many low-income families. The majority of women, of mothers, are in the workplace to stay now—and it increasingly takes two incomes to support a family.

The good news is that we know how to narrow these wage gaps and how to stop maternal profiling. Countries with family-friendly policies (such as paid family leave after the birth of a child and subsidized childcare) don’t have the same degree of maternal wage hits as we do here.

But we have work to do. It’s time to catch up. The United States lags far behind other countries when it comes to supporting families. For instance, Harvard researchers studied over 170 countries and found that the United States was one of only four nations without some form of national paid leave for new mothers. (The others were Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.)

Unfortunately, so far only one state in our nation, California, provides for paid parental leave though Washington State will follow soon. The lack of paid family leave often causes parents to either quit much-needed jobs to care for their newborn (and thus lose their job-linked healthcare coverage), or else the financial hardship of living without paid leave drives women back to work earlier than they would have chosen. Yet when parents return to work, they face a chaotic and costly childcare system where the cost of care for two children can easily be upwards of $20,000 per year.

Then there’s the ever present question of what to do if you, or your child, gets sick. The absence of policies supporting a minimum number of paid sick days can force parents to choose between leaving a sick child at home alone, or staying home to care for their child and consequently losing income or possibly being fired. And, here too we lag behind other nations. Looking at the twenty countries with the top economies in the world, the United States is the only one that does not have a national minimum standard for paid sick days.

Given that we lag behind on family-friendly programs, it is not surprising that we also lag behind on the health of our children. Although we spend more per capita than any other country on healthcare, the United States is ranked a low 37th out of all the nations in respect to childhood mortality. International studies have shown that paid family leave policies decrease infant mortality by an impressive 25%.

All of the above is compounded by the fact that one in eight American children doesn’t have any health care coverage at all. (This is yet another area where we lag behind: The United States is the only industrialized nation which doesn’t have some form of universal health coverage).

It’s easy to see how having a baby in a nation without support for families could cause a downward financial spiral that lasts a lifetime—and how a lifetime of maternal discrimination can create a vicious cycle for the next generation.

We can solve these problems. We can end maternal profiling. American mothers and families are struggling, not because of an epidemic of personal failings, but because we need changes in our national policies, our workplaces, and our culture to reflect that women are in the workplace to stay and that the majority of them have children.

Women across the socioeconomic spectrum, and across the diverse backgrounds of all American families, are negatively impacted by maternal profiling. They (and many men) are becoming progressively more vocal about the need for our country to create family-friendly policies.

Another related phrase, “family responsibilities discrimination,” has been popularized by legal scholars such as Joan Williams to describe discrimination against employees who have care giving responsibilities. The Center for WorkLife Law has seen a 400% increase is such cases filed during 1996-2005 over the previous decade.

MomsRising.org was launched in 2006 to offer mothers and others an opportunity to collect and amplify our voices in order to bring about a cultural shift and policy changes in how our country treats mothers.

We can take the next step towards gender equity by ending maternal discrimination and by building a family-friendly America where having children does not create economic disparities for women. Just as the term sexual harassment transformed American workplaces, maternal profiling can contribute to creating workplaces that do not discriminate against mothers and other caregivers.

Maternal profiling – it’s as bad as it sounds. Let’s get rid of it.

Setting boundaries with Mother-in-Law?

I hope all of my American readers had a good Thanksgiving weekend. (I hope the rest of you had a good weekend too!) I had a much more relaxing weekend than I had anticipated. I didn’t end up babysitting at all, and I had a good time at the houses I visited.

But there was one thing that really bothered me – my mother-in-law’s behavior. When I first saw her, she, as I expected, told me how pleased she was that I was wearing a skirt. Fine, I thought, I do like to wear dresses and skirts sometimes. She made another comment about how I was dressed like a girl and how much she loved it. Ok, still ok.

What bothered me most about her behavior was that one of the very first things she said to us – we had met up less than 10 minutes earlier, for the first time in a few months – was, as she sidled up to me, “So, Flicka Mawa, when are you and Husband going to go on a diet?” Excuse me?! I had always known she would come right out and say things about Husband’s weight, and that it bothered him. As such, it bothered me too, and I thought it was horribly rude and downright mean. In fact, I was apprehensive about seeing her this time precisely because I was worried she would say something about Husband’s weight. But this time, she really crossed the line – saying something about my weight too. How dare she think it’s ok to do that? I was so flabbergasted I was literally speechless. I just looked at Husband, who responded pleadingly and in annoyance, “Ma, let’s not do this today. It’s Thanksgiving.” This was a bad enough breach to leave me pretty annoyed, but I only got more concerned about my relationship with my mom-in-law as the day went on.

We got on the train and there was a decent buffer zone between us, so not much issue there. When we got off the train, she used my arm for support as we walked – her in pointy high heels, mind you, despite her serious back problems. When I had noticed this earlier, I had come right out and commented on it, letting her know that I didn’t think heels were important enough to risk physical pain especially for someone with her history of back trouble. Anyhow, we’re walking down by the side of the train tracks, and she decides to continue to gush to me about how I’m wearing a skirt, and how wonderful it is. As some of my readers know, I’m definitely a feminist, and so this really began to grate on me. You know what? It doesn’t matter if I wear a skirt or pants, I still look like a woman, thank you very much. I believe I started to tell her, in a playful tone, that if she said much more about it I wouldn’t want to wear skirts around her anymore. But then I got a phone call, so I excused myself and left her to walk on her own or grab someone else’s arm while I fished around in my purse. It was my brother, and his timing couldn’t have been better. Thanks, bro!

My husband’s brother’s girlfriend’s family picked us up, and they were all very friendly. Her mom drove Husband and I and my mom-in-law, and the others drove in a different car. Between driving to the first apartment and the second, I sure got to hear a lot from my mom-in-law that didn’t make me too happy. The mom driving us was telling us how she had recently become a grandma and her granddaughter was going to be at the first apartment, which made me very happy because I! LOVE! BABIES!!!!! Anyhow, my mother-in-law was telling her about how her first grandchild was a girl and it was so great after all those boys (she has 4 sons and no daughters), but that she didn’t know what to do with her, because she was a girl. As a baby?  The same things you do with a boy!  The implication that even as a baby you’d need to treat the two sexes differently really annoys me.  Aside from, of course, slightly different care of the privates, particularly if your son is circumcised, there is no difference.  My mom-in-law is, in my opinion, rather sexist, and it never bothers me more than when I am reminded of what kind of influence she could have on my children.

So of course, while I’m thinking about how I really want to minimize how much time she spends with our kids, one of the next things out of her mouth is “And by the time these two have a baby I’ll be retired and will be able to spend all my time with him,” referring to us and our first baby. Great. First of all, she doesn’t work. She’s on disability because of that back problem that I mentioned when I described her shoes. She’s been looking for a decent enough job that accommodates her back issues to risk going off disability (once you go off, you can never go back on for the same problem because you’ve shown that there are still jobs you can hold) since I’ve known Husband, which is about 3 and a half years. So I don’t know what this “by then I’ll be retired” crap is. Second of all, we’re sitting right here! She knows we can hear her. It never occurs to her that she might need to find out if we want her spending all her time taking care of our baby. Husband and I have discussed before how important it is to put up boundaries with her, because she’ll always try and push them until she can come visit us without calling first. I think Husband does an ok job of doing this, but it’s hard – she’s rather set in her ways. Often it results in her leaving for us angry or tearful phone messages because she thinks we don’t pay enough attention to her.

Honestly, once she confided in us that her dream was to move into a house with the two of us. Right, that would work. We do both love her, but we could never, ever, not in a million years live with her. It’s hard enough living in the same borough of NYC. Between all the things she unabashedly said to our courteous host about how much she’s looking forward to spending lots of time with our first child, how to raise babies her way, and how differently she thinks girls and boys need to be treated, I found myself spending most of the second car ride silently wishing I could move out of the area. All the way across the ocean wouldn’t be so bad. The Netherlands, here we come.

Question for my readers: How do you set up boundaries with your mom-in-law? Have they worked? Does she resent you for it? Did you start setting these up before you had your first child, and if so how long before?

Women in science clubs

I went to a meeting today for women grad student scientists at my university, and I came away feeling a bit down. Somehow, I’d gotten it into my head that I might actually meet people there who were also concerned about work-life balance and were maybe thinking about having children. Jangor (a fictitious lobster god my friends and I all pray to) only knows why. For some reason, I thought: Hey, I’ll be meeting grad students from other science departments, even departments that are part of the larger university but not part of my particular school. Surely in this larger, more encompassing community, someone there will also be thinking and wondering when she might have a baby soon, and how that might work out, and what the school/program/adviser’s response will be.

Well, silly me. A whole new group of scientists, but why would they be any different than the ones I’d already met in my own school? Of course none of them have children, or even know any others who have children (I asked the group’s leaders if they knew anyone who had a baby or child at home, and they thought and thought and all they could come up with was a pregnant post-doc.)

I’m at a top research institution, and most of the women here are completely career-oriented. And anyone who’s not (like me!) probably hides it when they are on campus, so realistically speaking I shouldn’t have thought I might even find someone there with whom I might have this baby fever in common. Just because the group was unknown to most students of my own school, to them they were still with colleagues and coworkers amongst whom the professional appearance is important, and the decision to have a baby is a private matter. Even if any of them there were thinking about such things, it wouldn’t necessarily come out at the meeting. And if there are any female grad students at my school with a baby, they certainly wouldn’t have been at the meeting, since they would have rushed home after the day’s work to see their child!

So in retrospect it was silly of me to feel sad about not having found a new instant friend at the meeting, but the clear career interests (workshops, job panels, etc.) over enthusiasm about the work-life balance programming was enough to sadden me. I know I’m not the only person who cares about work-life balance in the women in science community at my school, but no one wants to talk about it much, and in the end I just felt so completely alone. Late this evening, I found myself staring up at the building I work in, thinking about what the university was for and whether I belonged there. I felt like in this large research institution, there was little old me, stuck in the wrong place, perhaps fooling myself into thinking I might be able to have a family with multiple children and a career in science.

I do feel better now, that I’ve had time to think about it, and I have not given up on the idea that I can have a family and a science career. I just don’t know how to go about finding a community of people with whom I can talk about my concerns and we can help each other through the decisions and the work involved. I mean, aside from the lovely blog community, which is great. But it would be nice to know some real-life women at the university too, the kind that I could see in person and smile at and even get a hug from on a tough day. How do I find these people? Any suggestions?

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

I just watched this movie today, which stars Julianne Moore as a 1950’s housewife who raises 10 children with an alcoholic husband who has abusive tendencies. She manages to keep the family going by continually entering, and winning, many contests to write advertising slogans for various products. I really loved the movie, and I think it will touch a lot of people; I want to share it with my mom, and my aunt, and my grandma. From what I’ve heard, it sounds like there are a good amount of similarities between the lives of the family portrayed in this movie (which is based on the memoir of Terry Ryan, one of the 10 children) and the lives of my mom and her siblings and my grandma and grandpa. It portrays very realistically the pressures that the 1950s consumer society, where people had many pressures to fill specific gender roles, put on both women and men. Although for time and generation this movie is much closer to my mom and grandma, I also saw bits of myself in the character of Tuff, the daughter who wrote the memoir (The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less) that the movie was based on. I recommend checking out the movie, and I myself intend to read the book as soon as I can!

Does anyone know of any similarly themed movies or books, preferably memoirs or movies based on true stories, that they could recommend?

A children’s book on women in science

So I was browsing the NOW store this morning, and I came across their selection of children’s books.  I’ve been sure to bookmark it for when I have children.  One book in particular stuck out to me:

History of Women in Science by Vivian Sheldon Epstein

Epstein introduces older children (ages 9-14) to the many women who have made strides for all of us in the fields of science and technology.

Sounds pretty cool to me!