I am a Feminist: No Apology Included

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It’s 2017, and unfortunately, some people still think I need a provider. An anonymous buyer paid for this billboard to express his freedom of speech and belief that “Real Men Provide, Real Women Appreciate It.”

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This story popped up in my news feed, and at first I didn’t pay much attention then I realized that this is actually in N.C., where I live. That doesn’t surprise me. In many areas of the state, this would be conventional thinking; however, I live in the largest city in the state, and Charlotte is more diverse. As diverse as any larger city may be, there are opinions across the board. Everyone has a right to their opinion. These are mine. I own them and am comfortable expressing them.

I understand that whoever chose to pay the money to put this on a billboard has the right to do so. But I would argue that donating that money to a women’s shelter or other nonprofit would have been a better use of the money.

As a feminist, it does bother me that in some people’s opinion, my husband should do all the providing. But I’ve been paying my own way for all of my life. We are a two income household, and he does his part, which I appreciate. I’m not ashamed to say I make more money than him. I have never expected any man to pay my way. I learned this from my mom, who was a single mom who got little child support and no other help. My lesson from a young age was take care of yourself.

On the subject of feminism, it was recently brought to my attention that some think the classic definition of feminism is to be “anti-man and pro-abortion.” I had no idea. I thought being a feminist was about wanting to be on equal ground. As a feminist, I don’t hate men, even though I have many reasons to. I could write long paragraphs about all the horrible things that men have done to me over the years. I won’t. Those experiences don’t dictate my worth; I do.

My personal definition of feminism is that I believe gender should have nothing to do with opportunity. I should be given opportunity based on my skills and my talent. I want to see a day when they don’t say “female” in front of leaders or entrepreneurs who happen to be women. We don’t do that for men, except for the phrase “male nurse” because for some reason we need to make it okay for a man to be a nurse.

It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? From a young age, we are given these gender identities. Depending on how progressive your household was, you, as a girl, may have only been given dolls as toys and not balls. My mom was athletic and loved sports so I knew it was okay to be interested in things based on what I liked not what my gender was. Sports have never been my thing so I gravitated toward dance and more feminine activities. But I felt as though I didn’t have limits, unless they were self-imposed.

In my career, there have definitely been times when I knew I was getting paid less as a woman or wasn’t being given the opportunities to grow. I think every woman who has a career has probably experienced something akin to this. I feel a responsibility to be a strong voice for women. I shouldn’t have to apologize for being a feminist. It’s become an ugly word, one that conjures up stereotypes and bitterness. Has it become less powerful now that it’s a label? I love words. I think they can be very powerful. They can also be taken out of context or misconstrued. I’m just wondering how we got to this place. Strong women are the backbone of society. We work more hours and still are the primary caretakers. Is this fair? No, but it’s reality.

I’m not writing this to start an argument, but I wouldn’t mind a discussion. Do you think feminist is a negative word? What about the billboard? Is it misogynistic? Or a message to men to provide? To me, I’m not offended by it. I know where I stand. I am a feminist; no apology included.

 

What I Learned from 2016

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Well, 2016, you sure did not disappoint. It’s been up and down all the way through. And in the end, whether if just by a thread, I’m still here, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.

The year started with a break up; I left I job I loved for many reasons yet it was clear I needed to move on. What I hated leaving were mostly the people. These great people made a lasting impression on me. I learned a lot about myself through the eyes of these people and took some lessons from them as well. It’s a pretty amazing thing when you have the pleasure of being around fascinating people that make you want to just be better.

Since then my professional life has been on the rise. I got back to who I am and what I want to do. I relaunched this blog, which has been such a joy for me. To write about life and share my stories makes me happy. And I am motivated even more to keep telling more stories because of the response I’ve received. I’ve also been able to meet and work with many interesting and intelligent people on marketing strategies. My “day job” is a bit of a bore, but I’ve met many exceptional people.

Of course what took precedence most of the year was the remodel. I spent months with no floor, a few weeks with no kitchen and a few moments when I may have considered going to a hotel alone! And then finally, things came together. I won’t congratulate us just yet. We still have one more ceiling to scrape and two bathrooms, which means we’ll have to share a bathroom for a time.  Good luck to us.

While things have been mostly positive and joyful, the world itself has continued to be challenging. It’s nothing new. Conflict arises over the same things over and over – religion, race, power, money and anything that seems “different.” Have we learned nothing from history, have we really devolved? I’m not an expert on the human condition; I am however an observant storyteller. I’ve seen real anger and fear in the faces of many. Yet I’ve also seen beautiful signs of humanity. One afternoon on the way home, I saw a dog with no leash or human. It’s a busy road. He was definitely someone’s pup based on his good condition. I went to pull over and three other cars did as well. A lady jumped out and scooped him up as he was about to walk into the road. I needed to see that, it gave me hope.

I lost a lot of hope in this culture during the election. It showed a lot of the worst in people. I don’t believe that some people are all bad or good. I think people are all shades of gray, light and dark pieces in us all. But l learned something very important the morning after the election. I was on the train, earlier than normal. Two middle aged men were standing behind me on their way to offices in skyscrapers. They were complaining about lack of sleep because “They waited so long to call it.” Then one says to the other, “At least there’s not a woman in the White House.”

I don’t believe the race was lost because of gender. I’ve tried hard to dissect how and why things happened as they did. I get that things certainly aren’t as our founding fathers imagined. But I do know that when they wrote, all men are created equal, they meant white men like themselves. Everyone else has had to keep fighting for that equal. Those words I heard that morning helped me understand that I need to keep trying to be a strong voice and force for women in any way I can regardless of who is in office. I’m not burying my head in the sand. I’m going to stay as educated and informed as possible. Someone has to.

The year ended with a simple wedding, joining two people who are more concerned with a dazzling marriage. Marriage, and the wonderful man I now call husband, have taught me so much already. No matter what 2017 has in store, we will weather it together. This is perhaps the best lesson of 2016 – it’s the special moments and time with those we love that matter – everything else is just noise. I’m all for more joy and less noise in 2017. I’ll do my part; hope you will, too.

 

I am more than my body

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Since I can remember, my value as a human being has had a lot to do with the way I look. This is what it’s like to be female in this society or possibly planet. The first compliment to come out of someone’s mouth has always been about being pretty; not smart or funny or any other deeper quality. But for the record, I just want to say that I am more than my hair, more than my blue eyes, more than my shape, more than my skin.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be pretty. Of course I do. I wear makeup. I get my nails done. My hair is colored. I strive daily to lose weight. I wear clothes that show off my shape and heels that make me taller. I’m all in on beauty. My thirst for it has never been quenched.  I will never not want to be pretty.

Yet, no matter what I do or what I restrict, I still have doubts. As I get older, the doubts are looming larger. Although I’ve been told I’m pretty thousands of times, it’s not something I say to myself very often.

What I can and do say to myself is that I am smart, creative, accomplished, ambitious and a fighter. These qualities have nothing to do with what I look like. I know I am these things because of what I have achieved. I worked hard to be these things. They are much harder to question than beauty. I should probably be more pleased. Maybe I’m not because when I look in the mirror, these qualities aren’t easy to see. All the things wrong with the way I look are.

I still want to be more than my body. I made a decision about 10 years ago to do something that many women wouldn’t. I had a breast reduction. I’m pretty sure breast enhancement is the most sought after surgery, and here I was wanting them to be smaller! But there were a lot of horrible things about having such a large chest. No matter what I wore, all you could see or focus on was my chest. I’m not sure if anyone ever looked me in the eye. My shoulders and back hurt all the time. I couldn’t wear any type of shirt that was a button up. I once had to order a dress four sizes too big to get it to fit my chest. By the end of alterations, there was enough material for another dress. It was miserable.

Luckily my insurance paid for it because they realized this was a real health concern. The surgery itself was fine. It was outpatient. What took the longest to heal from was just being able to reach out my arms. I have scars. They aren’t so bad 10 years later but still apparent. Depending on what I have on, you can see them. But it changed my life for the better. Now, my chest fits the rest of my body. My neck and back hurt a lot less. I can wear clothes I never could before. It was truly one of the best decisions I ever made.

But I think I’m on the minority on this one. But to me, my breasts don’t make me a woman. They are simply part of my anatomy. I’d even prefer them to be smaller. They just get in the way sometimes. My breasts don’t have any purpose like being a vessel to feed a baby. Even though most men seem to be obsessed with them (unless of course they prefer another body part), I could care less. If I never had to wear a bra again, I’d be happy.

I’m not sure how women get past being more than their bodies. Men often won’t let us. But we share some of that blame as well. I’m not saying that women shouldn’t be proud of their bodies. Show it off if you want. Pose nude if you want. I’m not condemning or judging anyone. I just want the conversation to move forward. I want women to be viewed just as much by what’s inside than outside. I’m not sure what kind of shift will need to happen so that this can be the norm. My hunch is when more women become leaders and are truly treated equally – meaning we get the same pay and the same opportunities – a shift may occur. It’s amazing to think that at 50% of the population, we are still the inferior sex. Many men still want us to think this (been called sweetie or honey lately?), but women do, too. If we don’t believe in ourselves then there’s no way we will ever leave the shadow of men.

So my ask of you, brilliant, feisty women is to really believe we are more than our bodies. It doesn’t mean we have to stop wanting to be pretty. It just means we need to want everything else, too.

My Mom Wasn’t Perfect

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Mom & Me, 1984

My mom wasn’t perfect. She was an amazing person, teacher, daughter, friend and mother. She was also human and flawed. She didn’t always make the best decisions. She made mistakes. Of course, I didn’t always see things this way. It took time to realize this and accept it. I put my mom on a pedestal for many years. She was and always will be my hero.

I think it took me longer to realize her imperfections because I never really got to have an adult relationship with my mom. We were never really equal. I come from old school parenting. My mom said to me on more than one occasion, “I’m not your friend. I’m your mother.”

Because I didn’t get the chance to become my mom’s friend, I always saw her through rose-colored glasses. I didn’t want to take off those glasses. I wanted to remember only the good things, but in the end that hurt me, something my mom wouldn’t have wanted.

I never wanted to blame her for anything that happened when I was growing up – it was easier to blame myself. I did not want to take her off that pedestal. How could she not be perfect after her courageous battle against cancer? She was so brave, never feeling sorry for herself, never letting me see how scared she was. Very few people handle anything the way my mom handled cancer – with class and dignity.

It wasn’t until over a decade after her death and years of therapy that I began to see her as regular person capable of messing her kids up like every other parent. She would have never wanted me to see her as perfect; that’s now how she saw herself.

Listen, our parents fuck us all up in one way or another, even the great ones. We all know this is true. Parents are imperfect creatures trying hard to either be like their own parents or the opposite, depending on how they were raised. Guess what parents, whether you admit it or not, you’re going to mess up your kids so just own it.

Parenting today versus when I was a kid is drastically different. My best friend asked me if I thought she was a good mom. I said, “Of course you are. You are present. You play and entertain him. Did your mom play with you?” She shook her head no.

My mom didn’t really play with me either. She played games and cards with me. She gave me plenty of attention and filled my life with activities. But she didn’t get in the floor and play with me. She bought me lots of Barbies and books so I could entertain myself. That’s just how it was. I doubt her mother ever played with her either.

I’m not bitter about any of that. I never felt lonely as a child. I never was starved for attention from her. She was absolutely always there when it mattered. But there were boundaries. She did not coddle me or say I was always right. She was honest with me. She never treated me like a kid. I don’t really remember acting like one very much either. In a way, it felt empowering because I had responsibility and could make my own decisions. In other ways, it created big worries for a little girl. I worried about my mom a lot growing up. I remember worrying about her after my dad left. She was probably sadder about the situation rather than about him. I was really young when they divorced. I have no memories of them together. And to this day, it’s hard for me to picture them as a couple.

My worries for my mom never left and only got worse. It was hard for me to ever mention my stepmother in front of my mom. If I said anything nice, she would cry. I know she didn’t mean to be emotional. And she probably didn’t understand what it did to my little mind and heart. My loyalty was to my mom, which made be less than nice to my stepmother. This in turn caused even more of a rift between my father and me. Even though my father made a lot of bad mistakes and hurt a lot of people, my mom wasn’t helping the situation. It’s really hard to write about what it felt like to be a kid in this situation. Lots of kids have divorced parents. Some handle it better than others. My parents, due to the nastiness of what occurred between them, were in no way co-parenting. My mom was the parent. My father was just somebody I saw now and then. I can’t recall that he ever did anything that would register as parental.

It would have been more ideal if my mom would not have elevated me to adult status so quickly. I was always mature for my age. Maybe I wasn’t ever really a kid. It felt really great that my mom told me things. But it informed my opinion on everything – some good, some bad. This trust made it easier for me to share everything with her. This was until around seventh grade when I hated everything and everybody. Lucky for me, my mom was a teacher at my school. This was the ultimate embarrassment. I didn’t actually have her as a teacher, but my friends did. I couldn’t do anything without her knowing. I had this boyfriend that she adored. She was so mad at me when I broke up with him. I think I did it purely because she liked him. And thus the start of my rebellion!

My rebellious behavior got worse. I was no sweet, innocent girl by any means. Yet it was always important to me that she not know. She let me do a lot and get away with a lot. She trusted me to make decisions then deal with the consequences. She let me date at 14 and spend much unsupervised time with my 18-year-old boyfriend.

Me being open about my life and feelings had ended. I never told her when I lost my virginity or when I cheated on a boyfriend. I just didn’t want her to be disappointed in me. I wanted her to always have this image of me that I was her perfect little girl. I didn’t want to burden her with my worries; she had plenty of her own.

Maybe I did start to see my mom as more human during this time. It’s hard to see your mom sick; especially my mom because she was always so active and athletic. She was six feet tall and could hold her own. Until she couldn’t. Chemo made her weak. She lost a lot of weight and most of her hair. She didn’t look like the same person. So at that point, I knew she wasn’t invincible anymore. That’s a hard thing to learn about your mom, especially at 16. I try hard not to remember her that way. It’s difficult to erase those images. They are somehow burnt into my brain as a reminder of how fragile we all really are.

I know my mom made mistakes every day as a parent. She failed to protect me. She pushed me too hard sometimes academically without really ever asking what I wanted. She let me get away with probably too much. But she loved me fiercely and without condition. I’ve made a lot of decisions based on what I think she would have wanted both during her life and after death.

I still think a lot about the impact she made on my life and what she would do. But I’m my own person now. I’m not her. We are different, very different in some ways. Yet there’s still a lot about me that is absolutely her. I love those parts. I love it when my best friend tells me I’m making a face like her or if I say something that she would have said.

In the end, I think she would be impressed with how I turned out, despite those mistakes. I had an imperfect mother. She was wonderful and beautiful. I’m so glad I had her for the time I did. If I had to do it over again, I absolutely would even though I know how it ends.

I Just Wanted a Choice

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We encounter choices all day every day. Some decisions are easy; others are hard. But we like choices (or at least the illusion of them). It makes us feel like we have control over our lives. Until something happens that leaves you choiceless. I’ve made lots of choices in my life; some good, others less than good. But there is a choice I never got to make: becoming a mom.

Look, I will be perfectly honest. I don’t  really know much about motherhood. I’ve certainly witnessed a lot of it. It’s hard work; not for the squeamish. But it comes with big rewards. Being a parent means you are responsible for this human being and that child must become your priority.

On the other side of motherhood, I can tell you that’s how my mom made me feel. I knew I was the most important thing to her. But we all know not everyone has that experience.

My mother and most of the mothers I know made a choice. The choice was to be a mom. Some got there easier than others. But it was a driving want in their lives.

I’m not sure I ever had that. I never heard any ticking from my biological clock, and I’m more likely to be maternal toward animals. And I’m not alone. I have many friends who have made the choice to not have children.

Because we do get a choice now. This probably wasn’t the case 50 years ago. You got married and had babies. That was the story. There weren’t many alternatives unless you were wealthy. And if you could not have children then you were damaged and unfit.

My road to my choice started as a child. I preferred Barbies to baby dolls. Barbies dressed up and went to work. Babies did nothing. I was not impressed.

Babies were not on my mind during my teenage years, but by chance somehow I ended up as a nanny in college. I spent a lot of time helping raise other people’s kids. I enjoyed it. Most of the kids I worked with were good kids. I tried to be fun, but I’ll admit I was strict. Good manners were expected. During the summers, I took them to museums, parks, the pool and on adventures. This was probably the first time in my life that I thought I want to do this for real some day.

Not long after graduating from college, I became serious with the man I would eventually marry. We talked about kids. He was less enthusiastic than me, but we were really young. We had plenty of time to figure it out.

Of course that’s not the way life works; things happen. I had less choices and time. Because at 23 I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was major. I lost an ovary, but the doctor said I was young. I’d be fine. It wouldn’t come back.

But it did. And I had another surgery. There was still a slim chance I could get pregnant. My oncologist was saying that he couldn’t guarantee me any more time. If I wanted a baby I had to make the choice now. I considered freezing my eggs. I even made an appointment.

I still felt unsure. And I knew that having a child would not fix me or my marriage. Even though I thought a lot about having a little girl sitting in front of me looking like me, my mom and grandmother, we never tried.

Then I became choiceless. Because shortly after turning 30, my cancer was back. And this time, the doctor had to take everything.

So there I was: 30 years old in menopause going through a divorce. The physical pain was bad, but no matter how old you are, knowing that you are barren changes you.

It informed my thoughts about myself and my choices. How could I date again? The scars were bad enough but what was underneath was worse: nothing.

So my choice was not to say I can’t have kids but to say I don’t want kids. It wasn’t a lie. That’s probably the decision I would have made. I just never got the chance to decide. That’s what kills me the most; having no choice. Don’t wish for something you can’t have kind of logic.

Infertility isn’t a first or second date subject. But then I began a relationship with a man who knew of my health because he was a friend. Even though he was over 10 years older than me, I began to think that maybe we’d get married and want to have a family. He didn’t have any children. I thought we could adopt. There were options. But that was a delusional fairytale. He and I were not meant to be. There was a lot of hurt probably none more than the day he said, “I want to have children with someone who can have children.”

To hear this from a man you love is soul crushing. I forgave him. But everything changed for me after that. I stopped believing in our happily ever after.

So I made a choice to be on my own. And why did I want a baby anyway? No sleep, stretch marks, baby brain. No thank you. I was free to make so many choices and do what I wanted.

Then I found real love. And I knew all the baggage I had about babies could be discarded. His kids were grown. He wasn’t interested in anymore. He knew my situation and had no qualms. He only cares about if I’m healthy.

I still occasionally think about what choice I would have made. I think I would have been a good mom. But motherhood isn’t for everyone. And it isn’t fair either. I’m at peace with knowing I’ll never be a mom. I’ve grieved it and accepted it. Sometimes I linger on it, wishing I could have the experiences my friends have as a mom or longing to have someone call me mommy. I’m not sure if that will ever go away, but I don’t live a life of regret. This was not the hand I was dealt. I’m meant to do other things. And my heart and empathy go out to every woman out there who has experienced any type of infertility.
Having your choices stripped away, regardless of the situation, is hard to move forward from. But I can’t be stuck in the past. I can’t change what happened. What I have the power to do is make great choices every day about how I live my life. And my choice is to share my story so that anyone who reads this might find some solace.

The World is Different for Women

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Being a woman is different than being a man. Even in such a civilized and progressive country as ours. I had to pause for a moment after typing those words because these days I’m not sure how civilized or progressive we are. But this world is different for a woman; I don’t have every option that a man does. Everyone women knows this to be true. This is a reminder for all men.

Women, in this country and most others, are too often defined by their relationship to men. Women have prominence or celebrity because they are someone’s wife. After all, a billion dollar franchise was created on this notion yet many of the stars of this show aren’t even housewives.

If we are not defined as a wife then we are praised or shamed based on our ability to be a mother. The president of Turkey recently said women are deficient if they don’t have children. Great to know so much progress has been made. When you really consider where we are, at least in the U.S., remember it’s not been that long since we couldn’t vote, own property, get jobs outside of female professions or have an opinion.

I was lucky in that being raised by a fierce, independent single mom, she never mentioned that my gender would somehow hold me back. Maybe this gave me a false sense that anything was possible. Maybe I should have been prepared a bit more. Ultimately, I think she was aware of the still present barriers for women; she just didn’t want me to see them.

I never noticed the differences while pursing my education. I never saw favoritism toward males, and I had many female professors. Things got more noticeable when I entered the working world. I have not had many female managers. Unfortunately, the one female boss I had until now was no role model. She was the stereotypical female; almost a caricature of the role, something you’d see in a bad rom-com. She was arrogant, petty and jealous. She had no desire to develop the talented women that worked for her. She only wanted to keep us in our place and take any opportunity she had to humiliate us. Years later, I had the opportunity to manage several women. I can certainly say I had a different approach. I worked hard to coach them up and let them know they could trust me. I’m still not impressed by the number of female leaders in business. I’m in an industry (marketing) that seems to skew somewhat female, but there still aren’t that many female CMOs (Chief Marketing Officers).

And while we are on the topic of career opportunities, the pay gap is still a real thing. Men are considered the breadwinners who need to support their families. So does that mean women just work for fun? And we don’t need the money? I’ve seen men get raises because they had a child on the way. I’m not saying that those men weren’t deserving of a raise, but the reasoning isn’t fair. Your salary should be based on your skills, education, experience and what you produce. The mentality has to change. Women should have the opportunity to earn the same salary and seek the highest position. I have worked with a lot of great women who were great leaders. They just weren’t given the opportunity.

This cycle of inequality is not just because of our patriarchal society. Women are the problem, too, as I’ve described above. Women believe they are second class citizens. They don’t want to be seen as emotional or too aggressive. Women are constantly reining it in so as to not seem too intense. I want to see women working together to lead, not tearing each other down or feeling threatened. I have no idea how to solve the disparity. I can only say that I support other women and celebrate their successes. I’m also not afraid to call any man out who is being misogynistic.

What I hold on to is the example set by my mother and grandmother. I grew up believing I could be anything with no thoughts of a glass ceiling. The ceiling for now has been raised but not shattered. It’s there every time a female leader is criticized for being a woman or when a women is asked about her appearance rather than her ideas. That ceiling is still visible every time a woman is identified as the wife of even when she has her own identity or every time a woman is paid less than her male counterpart.

I’m glad to be a woman. I have no desire to walk in the shoes or the shadow of a man. I know in this country I’m, at least for appearances sake, on the same level as men. There are many women in the world who have to deal with all kinds of atrocities simply because of their gender. My great hope is that eventually there is no hesitation when a woman assumes leadership or speaks her mind; that we are simply considered based on our abilities and that gender isn’t part of the conversation.