Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: discomfort

One Thing That Google Memo Got Right: Ladies, This One May Hurt

I’ll skip all the stuff that you can guess I’m going to say about James Damore’s memo on “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.”

Like, no, women aren’t naturally prone to gregarious extraversion, which leads to them to avoid negotiating their salaries.

They don’t usually try to negotiate salary because they fear how asking for more money will be perceived by their future employer. And, it turns out, they should be worried about that. Because future employers very often rate women who ask for more money as “unlikeable” and “pushy.” For more on this read Linda Babcock’s Women Don’t Ask or Iris Bohnet’s, What Works: Gender Equality by Design.

Better yet, here’s a decent video summary of What Works:

And don’t get me started about the point about women being naturally neurotic.

***

But like I said, I’m skipping Damore’s points that I disagree with.

One thing Damore gets right is the assertion that he makes that is actually informed by his own personal experience (not what he imagines is the reality of women). He says,

The male gender role is currently inflexible…Feminism has made great progress in freeing women from the female gender role, but men are still very much tied to the male gender role. If we, as a society, allow men to be more “feminine,” then the gender gap will shrink, although probably because men will leave tech and leadership for traditionally “feminine” roles. (emphasis added)

First, my criticism: I have a hard time believing that just rethinking gender roles will lead to more men pursuing “feminine” roles. Money talks. And as long as the jobs that are traditionally done by women (TEACHERS) continue to offer piddly salaries and boatloads of responsibility, ain’t no guys gonna stand for that shit.

But as to Damore’s first point, YES. YES. YES.

The male gender role is inflexible.

What makes it so inflexible?

Shame.

Shame from all sides.

Sociologist Brene Brown writes about this very issue in her book, Daring Greatly. Women and men experience different shame triggers. For women, body image and motherhood are key triggers for shame.

But for men, the key shame trigger is weakness.

She tells this vivid story of a man who came up to talk to her after one of her lectures. He had been brought to the lecture by his wife and daughters and had just listened through a lengthy talk that Brene had given about women’s shame triggers. After watching all the head-nodding between his daughters and wife, he took time to talk to Brene about the lecture, out of earshot of his wife and daughters. And this is what he said:

We (men) have deep shame. Deep shame. But when we reach out and share our stories, we get the emotional shit beat out of us. Before you say anything about those mean coaches, bosses, brothers, and fathers being the only ones (who experience that shame)… My wife and daughters–the ones you signed all of those books for–they’d rather see me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall off. You say you want us to be vulnerable and real, but come on. You can’t stand it. It makes you sick to see us like that. (p. 84-85).

She then connects this story with another story of a twenty-year-old man who participated in a focus group on the topic of men and shame. Here’s how that young man described the confines of the male gender role.

‘Let me show you the box.’ I knew he was a tall guy, but when he stood up, it was clear that he was at least six foot four. He said, ‘Imagine living like this,” as he crouched down and pretended that he was stuffed inside a small box. Still hunched over, he said, ‘You really only have three choices. You spend your life fighting to get out, throwing punches at the side of the box and hoping it will break. You always feel angry and you’re always swinging. Or you just give up. You don’t give a shit about anything.” At that point, he slumped over on the ground. You could have heard a pin drop in the room… ‘Or you stay high so you don’t really notice how unbearable it is. That’s the easiest way.’

Before reading Daring Greatly, it was very easy for me to laugh at any comments from men that fell into the sentiment of “men have it tough.” I have been steeped in not only feminist literature and the psychology of prejudice, but I have also spent years and years addressing misconceptions and bias towards immigrants and international students. (Why are they here? Are they planning on staying?)

I’ve had a world-class education in identifying systems of oppression that work against the marginalized.

So I guess that led to my implicit conclusion that simply being male was probably a much more pleasant experience than being female.

Naive? Definitely.

But then again, I was drawing conclusions based on my outside observations about men. Even though I had been married more than ten years at the time that I read Daring Greatly, I don’t ever remember having a conversation with my husband about men and shame. And even if I knew what to ask (or even that we should talk about this), was I really ready to hear what my husband had to say?

Just as the man pointed out to Brene, was I really ready to see the man I loved completely fail? Completely fall apart? Be completely wrong? Be the loser?

Tough questions.

Striving for gender equality isn’t just a matter of lifting up women or leveling the playing field or sensitizing men to the struggles of women (although, yes, all of those things are important.)

If women are really ready for gender equality, we need to embrace the breaking of the male gender role.

We need to be comfortable with letting the men that we love cry and doubt and fail and lose. Instead of recoiling in their moments of pain, that is when we need to reach out and embrace them and say, “This messed up version of you? I love this. I love you.”

This also means that we have to re-imagine new love stories, ones that don’t hinge on a strong, capable man swooping in to save us from whatever problems we face (bonus points if the problem you need to be saved from is yourself!).

And perhaps more important, we have to reassure men that we don’t want that fantasy anyway.

We have to be open to relationships that don’t fit all the movies or all the songs. And hey, the best guy for us probably isn’t the one who only shows his soft side in the privacy of the bedroom.

The best ones are the ones who do the tough, emotional work that doesn’t come easy for guys. And doing that emotional work in full view of others. Like asking for forgiveness. And moving through rejection. And learning to love again. And expressing grief.

We’ve got to stop loving the image of the silent, stoic, lonely cowboy. Or the unbreakable superhero. Or the cold-as-ice mafia man.

We’ve got to teach our young girls to look for arousal beyond stories of men who dominate and control women (Fifty Shades of Grey), even if the premise is that they’re “protecting” them from danger and doing so for our own good (Twilight).

And, ladies, we have to stop putting all of our hopes and dreams into their hands. And then blaming them when they’re not able to live up to our lofty standards.

I mean, really, who can?

***

Of course, I wouldn’t be writing about any of this had James Damore not written his memo. I’d just be sitting on these little nuggets of information that I had previously gleaned from my own personal reading… And not sharing them at all. Because I didn’t have any current context to draw my readers into this piece.

So there’s another thing that he got right: We should talk about these issues.

It’s hard, yes. For women, we often immediately go on the defensive, anticipating yet another frustrating conversation in which we’re called upon–once again–to solve men’s problems of blindness toward gender inequality. I get it. Really. I want to write off Damore as another guy who just doesn’t get it. That’s so much easier than trying to contribute to any discourse on this topic.

But that doesn’t get us anywhere.

And we’ve got a long way to go.

The inflexibility of gender roles drives a lot of the thinking that leads to guys like Damore concluding that, It’s probably women’s biology that’s holding them back, which is a hop, skip, and a jump away from, This is just the natural order of things.

We know this inflexibility hurts women.

But, let’s be honest: it’s just as damaging to men.

***

Since Damore’s memo went viral, he has doubled down on his stance that Google is promoting an ideological echo chamber. It’s not surprising. He’s being attacked from all sides.

What does our society say men should do when they’re attacked? It tells them to fight back. To dig in their heels. To be a man and stand up to confrontation. And he’s doing just that.

So the question remains…

Women of the world, are we ready to embrace those moments when men experience vulnerable moments of weakness?

Or will we shut them down?

Week 30: Sitting in the Discomfort

I wish I were talking about the physical discomfort of pregnancy. The concrete discomfort that grows heavier and heavier as these third trimester days pass one after another.

But I’m not.

***

I was struggling with the idea of going to church on this first Sunday after the election. I knew that I would be worshipping God alongside people who had voted for this man. I knew the anger and frustration that I would feel. I knew someone would say something that would send my blood pressure soaring.

But I went.

Because I needed healing. I needed to hear, Help,  save, comfort, and defend us, Gracious Lord.

I sat in an adult Sunday School classroom in which, at nearly 35 years old, I was the youngest person in the room.

We listened to an episode of a DVD series by Max Lucado called You Will Get Through This. Before the election, those words had comforted me through the difficult moments of pregnancy. Now, those words address a completely new range of emotions.

I told myself, No. You will not bring up the pain of the election. You will not be the one to instigate a conversation. You are not here to argue. You are here for healing.

But it didn’t matter. It was on everyone’s mind.

I mean, look at this last election, an older man said. And now people are protesting like this? What has happened in the last twenty years? How did we get here?

I think it’s an erosion of values. Look at the young people of today. They have 1,000 “friends” on Facebook, and they think that’s connection. When I was a kid, we talked to each other. Young people today aren’t really connected to each other.

Yes, I’ve noticed that too. When I was a kid, there was more expectation of looking out for your neighbor. We’ve lost that neighborliness. And we need to bring that back.

It’s Christian values specifically that are being eroded. I mean, I can’t speak to what Muslims are teaching, I don’t have an understanding of it, but we’re starting to see a real decline in Christian values among our young people.

Right! Young people aren’t going to church the way they used to. And why? Where did they go? Why aren’t they coming?

Well, there’s a lot of reasons for that, ones that I don’t know that we can get into now, but it’s having an effect for sure. We see those values falling away more and more.

It was at this point that I thought about leaving. My heart was racing. I was fuming.

Geez, I have no idea why Millenials are leaving the church, I sarcastically mused. Could it be because they don’t think there’s a place for their opinions? Could it be because they are being labeled and dismissed as whiny and disconnected? Erosion of values? What about the values that more Millenials have than Baby Boomers? Values like respect for sexual orientation and differing religious views?

I am a regular contributor to this class. I don’t just sit there and say nothing. I open up. I offer personal stories from my life. I allow myself to be vulnerable in this classroom because, usually, I feel surrounded by supportive fellow Christians. But the next words out of my mouth were going to be full of hurtful, angry words.

So I shut up that morning. Because my words would have only fueled the fire already ablaze in that room. Because there was only enough time to really get pissed off at each other. Not enough time to actually talk through an issue.

Not that morning. That morning, I needed to calm down and think.

I needed to sit in the discomfort of being generalized and labeled and dismissed. I needed to feel the way that millions of working class Americans have been feeling for years. I needed to shut up and listen.

I haven’t been doing enough of that lately.

I let this room full of Baby Boomers talk and I listened to their concerns. I listened with the intention of understanding how they were drawing conclusions.

***

My epiphany didn’t happen in that moment. It didn’t even come to me on that day.

The next day, as I listened to NPR’s Morning Edition, I heard a segment on interviews with working class voters in New Hampshire. Then, a light bulb.

The way that I felt in that Sunday School classroom was the same way that many of the rural, working class of America has felt for years. They have felt that their ideas and concerns have been too often generalized, labeled, and dismissed. They have felt forgotten and unimportant. And in Donald Trump, they saw a person who has pledged to not forget them.

The racism, the sexism, the xenophobia, the lying, the bad business practices… All of that just comes along with Trump’s package. But for many of these voters, all of those vices are not horrible enough to deny Trump their vote. And as disturbing as I find that dismissive attitude, I have to acknowledge that their decision is coming from a need for self-preservation.

He’s going to make America great again.

He’s going to bring back our jobs.

He’s going to bring life back into our dying towns.

Even if he doesn’t accomplish all that he says, at least we’ll get something.

And what about racism and xenophobia? When everyone in your immediate social circles is white and native-born Americans, these vices tend to not rank high on the list of disqualifying characteristics in a candidate.

After all, it doesn’t affect you.

It doesn’t affect your family.

Sure, it will probably affect someone. But that someone is probably a “bad person.” They probably deserve it. And it won’t affect your life.

Perhaps it’s quite telling that the people who have been downright mourning this election for the past week are people who have family, friends, and coworkers who belong to the targeted groups that Trump has scapegoated for the past year and a half.

For them, this election has hurt those they love. They have real fear and anxiety over the future and those fears aren’t completely groundless. Overt racism and hate crimes have jumped since this election. At my own university, faculty and students of color have reported racial bullying on our campus.

***

It used to be that tensions were higher between different cultural groups. Now, tensions are high even between generations of the same cultural group. Our realities are wildly different.

In talking with my own mom, I saw it.

Why are people just now acting racist like this? She wondered aloud. What makes them think they can act like this?

Mom, the racism was always there. It was just under the surface. Now, it’s coming out.

I just can’t believe that.

Of course she has trouble believing that.

Because she grew up in white Christian America. She doesn’t have a non-white friend who was flipped off by white men in a pick-up truck sporting proud Confederate flags. She doesn’t have students who were denied entrance onto a public bus, “unless they took their burqas off” (they were wearing hijabs, but I’m sure the driver didn’t know the difference).

For my mother, it is incredibly difficult to see this racism–because she doesn’t have much interaction with people who aren’t white and aren’t Christian.

But I have to admit that I am also blind.

Because I have benefited from globalization, I don’t have to live in a world where I can’t find a job. A world in which I have been outskilled by a younger, more educated workforce. I don’t have to face that everyday.

Believe it or not, I have empathy for this situation. Because it happened to my father.

He was a working class man with a high school education who was left further and further behind by the increasing technological demands of his job. The burden became so great, he had to retire early. For a man who relied on his work to define his identity, the blow of leaving his job was so crushing that he never truly recovered from it.

***

We have to start recognizing our blind spots.

We have to start trying to understand why many of us view this election as another example of how racism and sexism continue to go unchecked, overlooked, or downright condoned.

At the same time, we have to start trying to understand why many of us view the ability to consider racism and sexism in this election as an absolute privilege.

I can just hear the working class voices right now: Wow, must be nice to be able to be upset about racism and sexism. I’m furious that I can’t pay my rent every month. That I can afford even Obamacare. But, you know, sucks to be you.

When we say “let’s come together,” God, I hope we mean, let’s compromise.

God, I hope “let’s come together,” doesn’t mean, “Just accept that you’re wrong already and come over to the good side. The ‘American’ side.”

But we can only hope to recognize the importance of compromise if we find those spaces in our lives where we connect with people who are different from us. Different in education, race, religion, social class, and on and on. We need to hear different voices. Many different voices. And if we can’t hear them in our immediate communities, we need to seek them out.

***

The other day, I went to seek out how some of my more conservative family members–aunts, uncles, and cousins–were responding to the election. I looked up a few on Facebook and read through their recent posts.

When I got to my uncle, I did a double-take.

Do you know this person? Facebook asked me. Then it showed me a green button to Add Friend.

My uncle had unfriended me on Facebook.

I thought it was a mistake.

But no. He had definitely unfriended me.

Did I say anything to him to offend him? Did I like or react to something that he didn’t like? What did I do?

I still don’t know. Other than being a left-leaning family member.

My heart ached.

To be fair, I didn’t grow up with regular contact with this uncle. We lived in different states. We might have met a few times at family reunions. But just two years ago, he drew close to me and my siblings when my father, his brother, passed away.

He started sending me and my siblings weekly remembrances of my father, who had just then died. Every week or so, he would email some thoughts and memories that he had of my dad. He opened a window into who my father was as a young man. In time, he fell out of the practice of sending us those stories. I didn’t begrudge him of that. We’re all busy. Grief remains, but time marches on.

Our connection to each other became his occasional pictures in my Facebook feed. Fishing and flowers, lakes and his shadow on the ground. Picture of his wife, my aunt.

Now: Gone.

No more window into my father’s life.

What this election is doing to families is sad. Just plain sad. Politics shouldn’t override family relationships. Family should be sacred. We might disagree with each other, but families shouldn’t decide to cut each other off because of political disagreements. Just because what we say to each other makes us uncomfortable.

So I will sit in this discomfort.

I won’t walk away from the table.

I’ll keep going to church.

Even though we are a divided country, I will continue to show up. I will continue to represent the groups to which I belong.

Millenial. Mother. Liberal. Academic. Lutheran.

I’ll keep showing up. I’ll listen to you.

I hope you’ll keep showing up. And that you’ll listen to me.

 

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