The Ambition of the Go-Giver

This sentiment stopped me mid-scroll. It sums up a mentality I had growing up and reminds me of the perspective pivot that I (and perhaps we all) so badly need now, particularly when applied to the context of women and motherhood. It rings true in the example of my own mother and many I know. And in the kind of mother I task myself to be one day.


I wholeheartedly believed (and propagated) the feminist undercurrent of the past that said working moms were more heroic and more valuable than stay-at-home moms because they never submitted to gendered limitations, battling inertia and complacency to get what was rightfully theirs. They were in the trenches of a male-led workforce, on the front lines of a movement. They were moving forward themselves! They were crusaders of gender equality! I held on to this notion with an unrelenting grip throughout my teens and early 20s, etched more deeply in me perhaps because I came from Indian parents and a conservative community upbringing, juxtaposed against a progressive American world. One foot in either place, it felt crucial that I pick a side.

At the time, being a stay-at-home mom was typical of the Indian women I knew; it felt exasperatingly but expectedly primitive. I didn’t understand the choice, and I judged. If she wasn’t a go-getter, if she was content without employment, without enlisted projects, without contributing skills to society, her value was lost on me. She was stagnant, “staying” at-home, not moving. Spending days not achieving felt wasteful; her talent felt nervously close to slipping away. I couldn’t see past all the visions of strong women I had conceived to recognize any other manifestation of strength; I was blind to any other definition of “working.” So, I condescended the notion of staying-at-home and dismissed the women who chose to.

Today, I regret that dismissal and those assumptions.

Today, I understand feminism. I think! It is about choice, choice free of judgment or penalty. In this inclusive brand of feminism, membership is extended to women of diverse heroism – now inviting in many more of the women I grew up with and have met since. I am learning that women come as givers or getters, or both – just as men do. That choosing to give your time and your talents to your family, free of charge, makes you a defender of gender equality just as much as anyone else. And that fostering positivity, inspiring creativity, and making better humans beings are as vital contributions to society as any other.

The stay-at-home mom who shares so much of herself – her intelligence, her optimism, her presence of mind, her innovation, her resilience, her leadership, her creativity (all traits that companies covet and promote in their employees) – with her loved ones instead of her clients, decided at some juncture that giving was a worthy path. I think it is with this belief, armed with this mission, that my mother gave all of herself to all of her own. Putting everything in my upbringing set me up for success in a way she had always intended; I see now it was a purposeful choice, not a serendipitous turn of events. She selected this path for herself out of all her options, and thus gave me mine. Still, her choice wasn’t valued by the world or even by women like me, who were direct beneficiaries of it. Go-getters earn accolades and validation from our society – working towards the next promotion and award as a marker of their success. But our go-givers with as much ambition and as many proof points of success, see their choices as a silent sacrifice. Go-givers are praised for “never needing thanks,” which is an outright injustice and a shame.

I regret that it took me so long to see this disparity, but even more that I perpetuated the disparity for so long.

We need more go-givers in this world! Especially in a sociopolitical climate like this one. But for that we need to start to value the ones we already have, those that chose to give where it all begins – our stay-at-home moms. Because how successful, how valuable, how powerful is she who gives herself to the growth of others! And how important that we celebrate her choice to do so.

Find other vocal change-makers of this cause, here: The Pregnancy Pause

 

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The Silent Feminist

A rare and candid smile radiates from this woman of few words. In my short time with her she taught me something about feminism that I’d never heard before or would ever hear elsewhere: that there is great power in listening, in making others feel heard. And that although silence sounds a lot like submission in a woman, it can be anything but. Being thoughtful in her choice of words was her greatest asset in a world of assertive voices, speaking up only in defense of another was her greatest strength and source of peace, and the most valuable inheritance I could ever hope to receive. On her 11th death anniversary, and in an arguably more divisive world than when she left us, I wish she was here to cast this same smile my way. To settle my anxious heart and channel her pervasive peace through us. But I’ll take her lesson of listening & thoughtful action, etched in my memory as the strongest woman I’ve ever known & the one who made me feel heard #imstillwithher 

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“Put in Her Place”

clinton3Why has the first female presidential nominee also been one of the most disliked candidates in history? That is no coincidence. I’d argue she’s earned a disproportionate amount of hatred for actions that pale in comparison to some of her political compatriots. (See the Mitt Romney email scandal, Colin Powell Blackberry scandal, and the Bush Administration email scandal. Email scandals would appear to be a rite of passage).

What we are seeing here is a deeply intrinsic and pervasive bias against her, stemming from a core audience of men (unaware that they are only faux-progressive) and participatory women (unaware of the harm they are doing) for whom Hillary hits a nerve they cannot explain. This is not everyone, of course. These are specific tribes that span across the partisan divide, planted within communities around the country, upholding a bias that is neither Republican nor Democratic. Just sexist. This bias has become normalized, so much so that we almost cannot make this argument overtly. Because no one wants to admit that this record dislike for Hillary is truly sexism at work.

The fact is that those who oppose her reach for policy reasons yet point to her dishonesty as the chief cause. But we are forgetting that lesser men, more dishonest men, have walked the same path before her – some with weaker policies, grayer ethics, and more flagrant scandals. And now, when her opponent is the clearest winner of the scandal-immorality-lack of policy-general degradation of the American people-battle, she is still seen as dishonest standing up there next to him. All of a sudden her detractors portray her as the first person to have ever behaved in a self-serving way. As if now our moral bar has been raised because we have a woman to evaluate.

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It is too convenient and too instinctive for some men to want to see women punished for self-centrism or ambition, because it goes against the classic, nurturing (Mary) stereotype this country and much of its politics was built around. Men, when standing alone and striving for success, are driven and ambitious to any end, comforted by the fact that that is their God-given role in the world. Women, when standing alone, when not in service of men, are suddenly a cesspool of scandal and immorality. Unfairly judged against their opponents because their role was always meant to nurture their male counterpart and they chose against it; they chose themselves instead.

“In truth, the Hillary haters seem to resent her more than disagree with her. They demand to be humored and catered to. They hold her to wildly different standards than her male counterparts. They regard her with an unprecedented degree of suspicion. Above all, they really, really want to see her punished. And an aggressive male presence—even if dangerously incompetent—seems to comfort a great many of them.” – Larry Womack, HuffPost

This is what our election has come down to. Those of us that consider ourselves progressive but do not support her may want to believe gender equality is possible – – just not via Hillary. But let’s not fool ourselves. What we are actually saying is that we will not vote for a woman who chose herself. And we will put her down until she, and all the women watching, remembers that she has a place.

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AdAge & Girl-Power Marketing

My favorite excerpt from an article in this mornings’ AdAge newsletter, by  & . It describes a new era of girl power with exactly the right candor and passion. An issue we all need to champion, without the labels and the stigma of “feminism”:

Don’t call me feminist

Feminism is as prevalent — or even more prevalent — as a marketing theme as it was in the heyday of women’s rights pioneers like Gloria Steinem, but it has taken a 180-degree twist in tonality. The stridency of “You’ve come a long way, baby” has given way to an inclusive message of female empowerment. Today’s Enjoli woman wouldn’t just bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan; she’d also conduct a cooking class for young girls aspiring to be chefs.

GoldiBlox won Intuit's contest for a 2014 Super Bowl spot.
GoldiBlox won Intuit’s contest for a 2014 Super Bowl spot.

“I don’t think anybody wants to talk about feminism anymore,” said Ms. Swanson. “It’s one of the most misunderstood and controversial words out there. [But] if you talk about it as ‘girl power,’ that’s purely positive. At its heart it’s not that different from feminism, but it is a fresh new way to think about it … The key is, can advertising get to a point where women are in leadership [roles], where women’s perspectives inform the ads, and the products aren’t actively dangerous to the health, safety or equity of women?” said Ms. Pozner [founder and executive director of Women in Media and News]. “Until Donna Draper is making as many decisions over the content of advertising as Don Draper, and the products being sold don’t sell women out, then this trend is nothing more than another selling tool — and that tool won’t work very well in the long run.”

Update: Emma Watson’s #HeforShe campaign is another example of the evolution of the “feminist” and the power of joining hands across the gender divide against a common cause. Girl-power, indeed!

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The Point

“What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?”

– John Green

Effort = Reward: A Digital Solution to the Health Equation

When it comes down to it, we humans are motivated by results and proof, a personal return on investment. We put in effort only if we can see a worthwhile result. A what’s-in-it-for-me mentality that doesn’t make us selfish, per se, just efficient. We need to see some evidence that what we’re doing is working and has a purpose. Because the worst thing we could do is give something up without getting something back, wasting our efforts and more importantly, our precious time. This theory, I believe, is never truer than when applied to health and weight loss.

It’s not about incentivizing, we’re above that. Don’t give me extra points or even money as a prize, what I’m looking for is deeper than that and more valuable. It’s validation – it’s the affirmation that I’m a smart and capable person.  And validation is what we need on every level, in return for every healthy step we take. Not eating that slice of cake doesn’t fill my tastebuds with glee, so where’s my pat on the back for my self-restraint? Taking the stairs should, but doesn’t, lead to my pants instantly fitting more loosely, so where’s my chorus of hearty congrats? The absence of a reward slows me down, so I’m looking for the the results to justify my effort, and if not, at least a stamp of approval that I’m on the right track. Check out Walgreen’s “Balance Rewards” commercial for an example of a totally on-point messaging strategy.

In analyzing why we need this sort of validatScreen Shot 2014-08-28 at 2.38.37 PMion for something as basic and innate as our health, a few hypotheses arise. Maybe it’s a result of generations of helicopter parenting, rewarding children for participation and mediocrity. Maybe we crave validation now because we’ve been trained to receive it for anything we do, and we feel we deserve it. Or perhaps, doing something so difficult as refusing a delectable dessert feels so big that the reward should be equal and immediate.

However we look at it, there’s a need for validation. And that’s where digital health solutions, like FitBit or SIMBAND, come into play. When digital technology calibrates proof for you in increasingly advanced ways (e.g. number of steps taken today, average calories burned a week, growth in cardiovascular stamina this month) and shows you in real-time that what you’re doing is working, justifies your efforts as you drip with sweat, you get all the validation you need. Trade the bagel for a protein shake and now, instead of feeling deprived and grumpy, watch yoScreen Shot 2014-08-28 at 4.12.35 PMur numbers adjust in your favor… the ultimate high-five. Indisputable data tells you you’re on track, your efforts are working, what you’re doing is worth it, and you’re heading toward your goals. Suddenly that protein shake tastes better and you’re confident in your ability to be healthy. No need for imaginary fireworks or confetti celebrations to make you feel like your efforts are recognized, because your progress is your true validation.

 

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The Sea Link

On the Sea Link bridge in Mumbai, if you use your imagination for a second – just one – it feels like you’re suspended in time and space. Not late for anything – not near or far from anything.Bandra-Worli-Sea-Link When you’re on it – you’re safe. Safe from measurement and from a schedule, safe from disappointing yourself and from disappointing others. For those few minutes you’re free to really see into or past the colorful slums, your choice. Or look out on the water, into an endless gray mist of nothingness. You’re free to let your mind wander without a focus or end goal, to let relief wash over you. For those few moments, the burden of today is lifted off your shoulders. And just as you begin to grasp it, barely begin to cherish it, you come to realize: it’s a freedom you cannot hold on to.

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#100happydays

Sometimes you’re too happy to stop and take a picture, and sometimes the most memorable happiness is the kind you #share with no one.

Silhouette of young woman sitting on sea front fence at dawn

 

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TV: The Renewal of Intelligence

After many decades of complaining that TV is rotting our brains, and many (many) seasons of sitcoms, adult cartoons, and trashy reality TV, we’ve finally seemed to turn a corner when it comes to our beloved home screens. However you like your TV (live, DVR-ed, streamed, on-the-go), the fact remains that what we’re watching today is significantly different, and I’d argue improved, than what we were watching 10, 5, even 2 years ago.

Of late, many TV series and broadcast dramas that premier on syndicated channels are offering a more selective, dare we say, more intelligent array of content. We’ve heard TV is the new cinema, and if we surveyed the landscape ample examples arise. Mad Men, Newsroom, House of Cards, True Detective… to name a few on specialty channels. Suits, How to Get Away with Murder, White Collar, House – more mainstream but still steps away from the usual couch-friendly sitcoms that flooded prime time slots in the 90s and early 2000s.

Part of this widespread popularity and repeated success seems to be derived from their common theme: a plot line centered around an intelligence-driven skill set. Law & Order, CSI, and others like them were initial attempts at this genre – but held on to a slow, long-form, soap-opera feel that is thankfully missing in popular content today. Let’s look at a team of doctors who diagnose illnesses and identify the not-so-medical cause, lawyers who find brilliant and often less-than ethical solutions in airtight cases, and ex-criminals that piece together forensic clues and decode the cryptic psyche of the fraudulent, to name a few. All these complex skills distilled down into pithy language and quick plot twists that are just-difficult-enough so that you end the show feeling part of an elite, discerning audience, with a nose slightly turned up. Whether you then switch back to Family Guy or Keeping Up with The Kardashians, is irrelevant. In that moment as the credits roll to some wonderfully apt indie tune, you’re reeling in the deliberate and stimulating triumphs of Don Draper, Annalise Keating or Frank Underwood.

Let’s have a round of applause for shows that make you feel intelligent, entertained in a way that requires your participation, and disallows you from sitting there, trance-like, staring into an alternate universe. In reflecting on these strides in TV content, it becomes clear that the mass audience’s interests are evolving; we are shaping ourselves into a more discerning group with standards we want, no demand, to be met. Granted, we’re not there yet, but we’re moving towards a new, intelligent consumer of TV. 

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Monica Lewinsky on the ‘Culture of Humiliation’: Her Incredible Story

Monica Lewinsky’s self-reflection, coming-out-of-hiding piece in Vanity Fair is incredibly poignant and insightful. She looks back and evaluates the cruelty of the media and society for putting a “24 year old girl through the wringer.” And she’s so right! She talks about what that shame looked like, felt like, how she dealt – and didn’t deal, the feminists that didn’t show up to the conversation, and how tied her life became to the political calendar. She says:

Monica Lewinsky photographed by Mark Seliger in her Los Angeles home

Monica Lewinsky photographed by Mark Seliger in her Los Angeles home

“When I hear of Hillary’s prospective candidacy, I cannot help but fear the next wave of paparazzi, the next wave of “Where is she now?” stories, the next reference to me in Fox News’s coverage of the primaries. I’ve begun to find it debilitating to plot out the cycle of my life based, to some degree, on the political calendar. For me, it’s a scenario in which the personal and the political are impossible to separate…I turned 40 last year, and it is time to stop tiptoeing around my past—and other people’s futures.”

This is the first I’m hearing of her, and definitely FROM her, since my kid-self saw her face all over the news and didn’t quite understand (and was, I gather, purposely not told) what “she” had done. She explains how she became the object of fault, a scapegoat, forever symbolic of  “That Woman.” Yet she never bashes the Clintons, never points a finger anywhere, and firmly states that it was always “a consensual relationship.” Monica Lewinsky proves in this piece, she’s a woman of integrity.

She made an interesting point about being defined by the media:  she didn’t let the “Interngate” scandal define her, but she was so young, she didn’t have an identity to fall back on. And that is what she hopes to prevent in her efforts against cyber-bullying, a voice of sympathy and reassurance that one event, however public, does not define you.

Impressed, to say the least. And excited for what she’ll bring to the anti-media-bullying table. I hope its not the last we hear of her. Her story is incredible, and one of strength and resilience.

 

 

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