This page is dedicated to my fellow (excuse the expression) female Boomers who, like me, are experiencing both the upside of the hard-fought gains we and those before us have achieved, and the down-side of those we have yet to win.
We are the first generation to experience the freedoms, as women, that we do. With that great advantage comes, in my humble opinion, great responsibility, to our progeny and our legacy.
Together, let’s take women’s rights & freedoms to the logical next level: complete equality to men; ensuring a world where all women are safe from harm; insisting that everything from health research to corporate cultures be based on gender-specific best practices when it impacts us, not normed on men when it’s for women.
Together we can finish the job we started in our youth.
According to a survey conducted by Vibrant Nation, a website just for Boomer women, almost 2/3 of the respondents indicated one or more of their adult children returning home to live, approximately half of them with one or more of their own children.
This means Boomer women’s caretaking responsibilities don’t end with middle age:
63% have an adult child living with them now, and most expect them to stay with them for more than one year
27% have grandchildren living with them
13% have parents living with them simultaneously
70% blame the economy as the reason for this outcome
71% report that living in a multi-generational household makes it harder for them to achieve their personal goals.
Many respondents also indicate that they are providing financial support to their new house guests.
So much for ‘empty nest’ syndrome.
November 3, 2009
A blog entry written by Ann Daly landed in various women’s sites last week, discussing “hidden sexism” over which she seems to believe we have little or not control, accompanied by a “top ten unwritten rules”: http://www.anndaly.com/blog/2009/10/top-10-uwritten-rules-that-could-sabotage-your-career.html
In case you don’t have the time to read the entire post for purposes of this discussion, here’s a salient outtake of the post, with the “10 rules” list she provides:
“…this patriarchal culture manifests itself in the workplace, often in the most inconspicuous ways.
I have put together a list of ten rules that apply to women in the workplace, whether or not they know it, like it, or deserve it (um, of course we don’t).
- Men get the benefit of the doubt
- Looks matter
- You won’t get sufficient feedback
- A working mother’s commitment is assumed to be ambivalent
- Actually, it is personal
- Men are bred for self-confidence
- Women are rendered invisible until they demonstrate otherwise
- Women don’t take charge, they take care
- Women are different
- Women make great worker-bees, but visionary leaders—not so much.”
This perspective in itself is destructive, for two reasons:
- the fact that the sooner women in positions at any level of power build our own support network, the sooner this still rampant sexism will dissipate (the sooner we stop seeing each other as “the competition” in a destructive, dare I say “catty” way, which we too often do…) – this goes unsaid
- the larger issue of our self-image – how much of this we do to ourselves – remains undiscussed here.
Those of you who have not yet gotten a copy of my article “Why Women Need to be More Like Men” (email me @email@example.com for a copy) please do so, because I cover this issue in it. The list above speaks greater volumes about us and how we are handling/responding to these slights than it does the fact the men still do it. They do it because we let them get away with it.
This issue as presented by Dr. Daly is real – that it is within our control to change it is what’s missing. What’s most worrisome about the list above is not that men still subscribe to it….but that we do.
Here is how this list can become a call to action to us rather than a mere bemoaning of a fate beyond our control:
- Men get the benefit of the doubt:
and we must insist on it as well…
- Looks matter:
in fact they do for us, too…looksism is rampant in our society and we perpetuate it as much as men do, sometimes more…
- You won’t get sufficient feedback:
then you must request it…consistently and professionally… men get it because they expect it & aren’t afraid to ask for it…
- A working mother’s commitment is assumed to be ambivalent:
this is now happening with working single fathers as well – so it’s less a gender than a parenting issue & must be responded to professionally but confidently….
- Actually, it is personal:
actually, often it isn’t be we make it so…and when it is, it’s our job to take it out of the personal & back into the professional… and by the way, women do this to each other just as often as men do it “to us”…
- Men are bred for self-confidence:
so we must boost our own, and now….
- Women are rendered invisible until they demonstrate otherwise:
this is the same for men, in fact… those who render themselves invisible, will be – it is up to us, then, to demonstrate otherwise..
- Women don’t take charge, they take care:
in fact, true leadership is doing both well…learning how to do that makes all the difference (thus my group coaching program “Leadership Development for Women Only”) – to make it professionally, we need not sacrifice one for the other…and many women in power have done just that…
- Women are different:
yes we are, and it’s up to us to make that a good thing….
- Women make great worker-bees, but visionary leaders—not so much:
this is the most important indicator of our self-image vs. that of us by men – we continue to see ourselves this way, ignore or down-play our own visionary capacities, and thus don’t follow/promote them..
Developing our own “old girl’s network” is key, pulling together to put a dent in the sexism that clearly still exists in spite of our women’s movement decades ago.
But, it is not the main piece. Until we change the way we see ourselves, all of which is displayed in the list above, we cannot expect men to change their image of us – it simply won’t happen.
And don’t take just my word for it. Here’s and excerpt from an OpEd piece in the Pulitzer Prize winning St. Petersburg Times:
11/2/09 by Susan Estrich
“More than 90% o the top earners and more than 80% of the board members are still men. And nothing about those numbers is changing. Every year I study the reports from Catalyst. The curves (bell curve for women rising in industry) is flat.
There are to be sure many reasons for this. Unconscious discrimination is hard to recognize and hard to fight. No one (men) says they’re looking for someone just like themselves; it’s something boards and top officer do unconsciously, replicating themselves in the process.
(but) Too few of the women who do make it into the room understand that they will have more power – not less – if they find chairs for other women join them. “Only woman in the room” syndrome is a disease for which other women always pay.
And, yes, too many of us don’t fight for what we want or deserve. ‘My children only have one mother,’ we say which is a very good reason not to let work get in the way. But too often it also becomes an excuse for giving up on promotions and opportunities that should rightfully be ours. Facing workplaces that have failed to accommodate the demands of family, we adapt to them rather than insisitng that they adapt to us.
No wonder we’re unhappy.”
Muhammad Yunus, the winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is the founder of the Microcredit Loan model that has been lifting particularly women out of poverty in third world countries for a decade. He has done more for women in the past 40 years than have women.
So, where are we?
According to the US Census Bureau, out of approximately 36 million people who live in poverty in the US, 20 million of them are women, and 13 million of those live in what the Bureau labels “deep poverty”. 38% of single mothers live in poverty.
When we give, of either our time or money, we need to put them to any and all causes, organizations, and efforts dedicated to pulling our sisters up and out of such dire circumstances. Then, continue to give our dollars and talents to get them far enough away from those circumstances that they will never go back
This is today’s “feminism” (along with ensuring equal pay for equal work, which is still not achieved) – and we Boomer women are in the position to once again take it up.
We started this cause in modern society; this is how we can finish it.
A recent study conducted by the American Sociological Association found that a stunning 70% of newly married women believe they “should take their spouse’s last name” and 50% believe doing so needs to be mandatory.
As we know, the history of taking your husband’s name goes back many centuries, to a time when women had few/no rights, were treated more like children than adults, and were expected to go from “their father’s home to their husband’s” lest they have no identity whatsoever, be labeled “old maids” or worse yet, be compelled to provide for themselves which offered few options and usually meant abject poverty.
Over the subsequent years, particularly those in the 20th century, our foremothers fought, many suffered prison and beatings, and some died, so we could vote. Many of us remember how difficult it was to get a decent job as a woman in the 60’s/70’s, let alone be taken seriously as a professional; look no further than the reminiscences of Sandra Day O’Connor as she started her law career in the 60’s and was told she could be a secretary after graduating third in her class at Stanford Law.
We started the “keeping our own name when we marry as a statement of our newly felt independence” as part of our 70’s women’s lib movement, and by the ‘80’s approximately 22% of us either hyphenated our own name with that of our husband’s, or simply did not change our name after marriage. Now, only 8% of women do so.
What happened? Did we change our mind about this, seeing it as a youthful frivolity that had no place in our real world adult lives? Did we allow ages-old traditions sway us back to the way things always were, especially once we felt some kick-back from older generations or our peers who did not feel so “liberated”? Or, did we come to see that such a formality as one’s name just isn’t the harbinger of true independence that we once thought it to be?
An ideal argument for option #3 is the fact that in some cultures that we consider to be less than enlightened when it comes to women’s rights, like Iran, women are not expected to take their husband’s last name. This could be easily used as proof that whose name we use has nothing to do with our worth or rights as a woman.
And in the US as well as throughout Westernized cultures, we have women in the highest offices, both governmental & commercial, we can vote, dress as we like, swear like a sailor right along with our men, smoke cigars, and generally experience little discernable discrimination based on our gender. So today, the taking of our husband’s name doesn’t hold the baggage it did so long ago, right?
When we take our husband’s name, we experience three significant repercussions:
- we have no credit in our name – get a divorce and you start from scratch which is why so many divorced women are at the low end of the socio-economic scale wo/alimony to support them
- our children now carry their father’s family’s name and our family’s name is lost generationally
- now that many of us are business women, we have been known for years by one name, and now we have another; this impedes needed professional continuity difficult, from being found by contacts who knew us by our original name only, to creating the need to rebuild our name recognition/reputation all over again.
And as for discernable discrimination, we still do not receive equal pay for equal work, we saw some clearly sexist backlash to Hillary Clinton’s run for the Presidency (and she continues to feel the down-side of sharing her husband’s name…), and we still do not have representation in the highest halls of governance/commerce equal to our percentage of the population – not even close. According to the 2008 US Census, women make up 50.7% of the US population yet:
- we own only 28.2% of firms
- only 13% of Senators are women and that’s considered historically high, and o
- of the thousands of Fortune 500 companies, women run only 20.
Ours is a culture where women want, and expect, fully equality to men. So, does it say something about mixed feelings when we abandon a part of our identity to take on our husband’s? Is there still just a little of the “I want to be taken care of” or “I don’t want to be completely on the hook for every part of my well-being” to which we still hold, thus we know that by becoming “Mrs. Smith” rather than remaining “Ms. Jones” we can play both sides of the proverbial fence, having some level of independence but with a fail-safe built in?
Perhaps changing our name when we marry is completely benign, but our slow progress toward full equality does not seem to be completely divorced from our lingering desire to give up a large piece of our identity when we marry. It seems a symptom of a larger issue; our own mixed feelings about full and complete independence, with or without a man.
Whatever the answer for you, one thing is very clear: we give up more than we are aware when we do this, both legally and generationally, and no amount of believing otherwise will change it.
August 10, 2009
We Boomers did much to advance women’s rights, and our daughters enjoy those gains therefore believing that the problem has been fixed so what’s the issue….?! As you can see from just 2 examples cited above (of the many more that exist), we have work to do yet….and in this millennium it is time to focus primarily internally, on ourselves, which will make all the difference externally – on the stereotypes and remaining inequities that, no matter how much we wish it were not so, dictate how far we will go, how fulfilled we will be, how much of our life on this planet will be within our control.
Unlike in the 70’s, when as youth we Boomers of both genders were feeling quite empowered to change lots of things, from environmental abuses to the Vietnam war and civil/equal rights, we women rode that wave to fight for and get historic changes in our societal roles: no longer must we stay in the home but instead can have a career; no longer must we remain relegated to the lower paying/no advancement jobs but instead can have any job a man can have; no longer must we be subjected to unwanted sexual advances or blamed for being sexually assaulted but instead have the protection of law against the perpetrators.
But once that wave subsided, and we settled into making a living and having a life, some unpleasant truths surfaced. We were still taking care of the home, just in addition to trying to have a career; we were still experiencing harassment, just in a subtler form; we were still limited in how high we could climb the corporate ladder and being taken less seriously than our male counterparts, but given just enough maneuvering room to keep us quiet.
And underlying it all: we were still not believing in, feeling, and acting on our own power – we were still relinquishing control of our lives to others, still feeling like we were not a whole person without a man by our side, still trying to be everything to everyone, still standing apart from each other instead of together. Unfortunately, our daughters have inherited much of that…and are doing many of the same things.
We have not changed enough internally.
Being assertive is grounded in feeling powerful inside. It takes a well developed sense of self-worth, a strong network of equally empowered friends and mentors, and a deeply held belief that you are very capable of taking care of yourself (e.g. in the case of human relationships, two halves do not make a whole…), to be capable of standing your ground calmly, saying no comfortably, negotiating for what your worth competently and without apology, standing strong and not second-guessing yourself merely because others disagree with your perspective.
So, for those of you of all ages who are struggling to get to assertive, make it a top priority of your life to do whatever you must to develop that inner strength. Because honestly, if you don’t, you will continue to feel unfulfilled and frustrated, continue making the same mistakes that keep you stuck, and for some, continue to blame others for all the problems you’re experiencing when in fact they are only one part of the equation.
No one will take you seriously until you do so yourself.