An Intergenerational Conversation

By Emily Mathis
 
Fast Tube by Casper

When I signed my mom and I up to attend the Starr Community Conversations’ event, Work and Life: An Intergenerational Conversation, I didn’t think much about the fact that by having her attend with me, I was starting my own intergenerational conversation.

My mom and I started out the evening thinking that it would just be an interesting panel and some good topics; work/life balance was something that interested both of us. However, as the talk progressed, I realized that in addition to just wanting to enjoy the night with my mom, I had hoped that listening to these talks would help my mom find her own work/life balance, something I had seen her strive for my whole life.

One of the more poignant moments of the night for me, was when one of the audience members talked about how she felt a certain stigma for choosing to stay home. She commented how she thought feminism should be about choice but instead she felt that some women and men made her feel like she was contributing to preventing feminist progress by choosing to stay home. I have to say that while I was listening to her, I agreed with her thoughts about how feminism should be about choice. Her comments also made met think about how my mom had chosen to both stay at home with my brother and me and to work in the corporate world at different times in her life and I had hoped that she never had to feel any stigma about her choices.

The woman’s comment, and my own experience with my mother’s struggles to find a balance between work and home, got me to thinking about how not only was that lady right, that there is still stigma surrounding a woman choosing to quit her job to stay home with her family. But the panelists were also right: that we need to change how we think about work and that we should be more creative with it to allow for more flexibility.

To say that the stigma surrounding women choosing to stay home is widespread and that everyone thinks less of a woman who does that would be over-generalizing, but I do think that there is a lack of respect for women who do that.  I know some feminists who believe it is counterproductive to the progression of women to choose to go back into the home. But shouldn’t feminism mean choice? My mom chose at different times in my childhood to stay home with us and to work, and I have to say, neither one made her any less amazing. I respect her for how far she was able to get in the corporate world and I respect her for choosing to stay at home.

I think that the conversation about women choosing to stay home ultimately leads to what the panelists referred to as “thinking creatively” about work. As a country we do need to change how we think about work/life balance and get creative about how we approach work so that women and men are able to enjoy flexibility that will allow them to succeed professionally but also personally. Maybe we do need to look at how other countries are trying to allow for more balance — Sweden comes to mind.

Attending the Starr event with my mom allowed me to see things that maybe I wouldn’t have picked up on otherwise, like how work/life balance means different things for everyone. My biggest struggle with work/life balance right now is finding enough time for school, work, and the rest of my life, but my mom has really been faced with hard choices about how she and my dad would be able to enjoy our family and to earn a living as well as enjoy their careers. Our perspectives are very different, but that is what makes an intergenerational conversation valuable: you are able to see issues in a different light than your own and if you are really lucky, you get a greater appreciation for someone else’s struggles.

Raging Feminism

The blog below is a guest post written by S. Sloane Simmons.  Sloane is a member of the Chancellor’s Advisory Board to the Women’s Center and also co-owner of STUFF.  Her article also appears on the the Starr Symposium Blog and will soon be posted on the STUFF website.

First, a few statistics: I am 45-years-old; I have been married to the same man for 24 years; I have one child; I own my home; I co-own a small business with my sister; I am Caucasian; I finished “some college” but did not obtain a degree; I am an active community volunteer and currently serve on several governing and advisory boards. I am happy.

I sat in a public auditorium the other evening and, after arriving late, tried to settle in after a long and varied day to absorb four women’s words. They all chose great stories to share and their answers during the Q&A were heartfelt and well received.

But I found myself making notes on paper – a questionnaire I had been handed upon arrival became my notebook – about what had brought me to that room. These women spoke eloquently and from many perspectives that were different from my own. In the end, the questionnaire was not fit to be turned in. This morning I re-visited my notes and noticed that my emotions ran to thankfulness to the woman who was older than me for forging a path, to hopefulness because the woman who was younger than me had much to teach me and I delight that the women who were right near my age were finding themselves coming into their own.

The symposium was an intergenerational conversation about work and life. It was presented by Women Girls Ladies in conjunction with the UMKC Women’s Center and the UMKC Women’s Council. I figured it would be worth my time, given that I was a woman, a girl, and a lady and I had a life and I worked. Perfect fit right?

It was more than perfect. My time in the auditorium reminded me that I had been raised by a woman – my mother – who is a raging feminist, and that I had been deeply molded by two women – my grandmothers – who would have never admitted to being feminists in any form. These women gave me their best and let me catch glimpses of their worst. What shakes me to my core is that I never think about being a feminist myself, because I really don’t have to very much. It is ingrained in me to believe that women can do anything and be anything. I have visual memories of the comics at the back of Ms. Magazine that reminded me as a teenager to make more of myself than the boys around me and to insist on more than 69-cents to their dollars earned. I have had a hand in raising a child whose biggest argument at school to date (including middle school!) is the one he waged about there not being “boy colors” or “girl colors” in art class when he was ribbed because pink was his favorite color and he used it without fear in his work.

The phrase, “been there, have the t-shirt” could not be truer about my feminism. My family has cycled through 2 generations of NARAL t-shirts, National Women’s Political Caucus t-shirts, Planned Parenthood t-shirts, and we have all treasured the posters, magnets and bumper stickers from the past. They remind us that “A woman’s place is in the house . . . and the senate”; that “war is not healthy for children and other living things” and a female newborn is a “baby woman.”

This week I am co-chairing an event for the American Civil Liberties Union in my hometown. It’s going to be a wondrous evening full of amazing art and talented people. The ACLU will always need funding to continue their work protecting all of our civil liberties. I don’t work in those trenches every day, but I am thankful for those that do. Every issue women face – every obstacle they overcome – was and is a civil liberties issue. It wasn’t very long ago that women couldn’t vote, that women couldn’t own property and that women had very little control over their bodies and its intended freedoms.

If you asked me if I was feminist, I wouldn’t deny it nor would I immediately embrace it. The true feminists to me are those women who changed the world as we know it in the 1970’s, not me. I can vote, own things and speak openly with my doctor. I just get to be me . . . a raging feminist.

What a Way to Kick-off a Conversation!

By Emily Mathis

Since 1993, the Starr Education Committee has put on an annual Starr Symposium, a forum that is used to address women’s issues at home and with the family. The committee brings in leading experts from around the country to take part in these forums.

This year, however, the Starr Symposium is adding a twist. Instead of just one forum they are putting on multiple discussions all focused on one topic – this year it is Work/Life Balance. By adding these extra forums they are encouraging discussion about all different facets of an issue such as how creative families approach work/ life balance and another one that discusses the “three faces” of the work-family conflict from a socio-economic perspective.

The kick-off for these Community Conversations is taking place this coming Tuesday, September 28, at 6:30pm at the University Academy located at 6801 Holmes Rd. This conversation is titled “Work and Life: An Intergenerational Conversation” and has an amazing panel of women: Gloria Feldt, Courtney E. Martin, Deborah Siegel, and Kristal Brent Zook. Each of the panelists has a diverse background in working with women’s issues and is going to bring a unique perspective to this issue.

The event is sure to be fun and interesting. I can’t wait to go and listen to these women and join in on the conversation about Work/Life Balance, something that affects us all. The event is free but requires a quick registration at: http://starr2010.eventbrite.com. So spread the word and come out and join us!

Changing Attitudes About Family Roles

Image from flickr.com

Recently, the New York Times published an article discussing women in the workforce – specifically mothers and the job market. The article makes some valid points about the disparities that still exist between men and women in the job market, most of which are examples of why we still need feminism today.  The article states that, “There are still only 15 Fortune 500 companies with a female chief executive… Overall, full-time female workers make a whopping 23 percent less on average than full-time male workers.”  For the most part, the article is right about how we need policy changes that allow people with families, mainly women with children, the freedom and protection to find balance between their family responsibilities and advancing in careers; however, I found that the article made some statements that bothered me.

Not too far into the article, the writer, David Leonhardt, plays into gender stereotypes by saying, “What’s going on? Men and women are not identical, of course. Many more women take time off from work. Many more women work part-time at some point in their careers. Many more women can’t get to work early or stay late.”

Maybe it’s not just Leonhardt gender-stereotyping, but the fact that this is a pretty common attitude about women that really bothers me.  Moreover, the stereotype tends to emphasize that most women are unable to devote adequate time to their careers. In all fairness, Leonhardt’s piece does a good job of outlining how new policy would have a positive effect on the job market, not just for women, but for all people with families.  In addition to this, he stresses that it will take a combination of legal and cultural changes to make a difference. However, the article brings up an interesting question: Why are there still so many negative stereotypes about females in the workplace, especially females with children?

It seems the stereotypes and the fact that more men than women are CEO’s is a result of this ongoing cultural idea that a woman can’t do the job as well as a man. This idea is one that feminists have been fighting against for a very long time. And while we have made headway in the fight against gender discrimination at work, society still needs to change the way they view women.

Leonhardt’s article also mentions that “women can’t get to work early or stay late.” I focus on this line mainly because it seemed confusing to me. Is he saying that women with families obviously have more work around the house to do and are mostly responsible for childcare, and these reasons are why they can’t get to work early or stay late?  Is he assuming, then, that men with families don’t have to do as much around the house or have the same responsibilities for childcare, so they obviously can devote more time to work and their careers?

This gender stereotype, about women’s roles in families, is perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to changing both the cultural and legal landscape for the job market. In Sweden, both men and women take leaves to take care of the children, equally. Granted Sweden is much more work/life balance friendly when it comes to people being able to take leave from work and not be penalized, but it is a great example of the gender equality the U.S. needs to aim for.

Women in the U.S are constantly expected to be either “career-driven” and, therefore, have no family.  Or they have a family and, therefore, can’t be “career-driven.” It is a double-edged sword for women who ask, “why can’t I have both?” Men can just as easily stay home and take care of the kids, or assume an equal share of the household and family responsibilities.  And many of them today do. But much of society works under the impression that that is still the “woman’s job.” Clearly if America is ever going to see gender equality in the workplace, our society needs to start with changing how we define family roles.

Flex-Work Helps with Work/Life Balance

Recently, NPR took an in-depth look at women in the workplace through a 3-part series about Flex- Work.  According to the report, women now hold half of all jobs and are faced with the demands of balancing a career and family more than ever.  In order for employers to retain some of their most valuable employees, many of whom are working mothers, more and more businesses are joining the trend to create more flexible work environments.  By offering flexible work schedules, telecommuting options, job sharing, or a results-only work environment, working mothers have the flexibility to create their work schedules around their kids’ school days or extra-curricular activities. What this means for women is less stress worrying about after-school care, snow days, or a sick child, and less guilt about missing out on school activities or family time.  What this means for employers is happier, more focused employees who feel valued and trusted; resulting in higher productivity and employer loyalty.  It’s a win–win for both sides.  Listen to or read the full series and find out how several women have benefitted from Flex-Work including one report on how Flex-Work can make low-income jobs more family friendly.  Then think about your own workplace.  Could it use a little flexibility too?

Work-Life-Social Media Balance

The discussion about the balance of work and social life is one of the oldest with many suggestions. A recent article in WAtoday brings up these factors and also a new one. Not only are people balancing their work-life, family, and social life, but now they have to balance social media. This aspect includes trying to find the right balance between social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Researchers from the data tracking company say that 70% of Australian internet users are on social networking sites, up 29% from last year. Data like this has people thinking “What does this mean for the family life and family time?” Some people think that websites like Facebook and Twitter will help the family stay in touch more. While others say social media will never take the place of face-to face contact.

With all this said, being a member on social media networking sites including Facebook and Twitter, I do agree that there is a third dynamic to the old work-life balance relationship having good and bad outcomes. Speaking from personal experience, these websites do a great job helping me stay in touch with friends and family, but it’s nothing like being able to give your mom or spouse a big hug at the end of the day. This just does not compare.