Reading Michelle Obama’s memoir

Since she became a public figure during the first presidential campaign of her husband, I have felt an affinity with Michelle Robinson Obama. While on the surface it would seem that an African-American woman from the South Side of Chicago couldn’t have much in common with a European-American from a tiny New England town, there are a number of similarities. We are close in age, having been born in the last few years of the Baby Boom. I have long felt that we youngest of the Boomers, who were young adults during the Reagan recession when unemployment was high and mortgage rates even higher, are fundamentally different from the elder members of our cohort. Michelle and I are both mothers of two daughters and women who have been blessed with a close and long relationship with our own mothers. We have close women friends and mentors. We are both community-minded, and also recognize the importance of educational opportunity for ourselves and others. We each have a long, loving, and intact marriage. And we are both women of our time, which means we have experienced sexism and the challenge of tending to both our private and public lives.

Becoming, Michelle Obama’s memoir published late last year, reinforces my sense of her on all these points. She writes honestly and beautifully; I was especially impressed with the way she wrote about her feelings about what was happening and not just the events themselves. She also frequently gives context of what happens either before or later with a particular place or event, such as the changes over time in her South Side neighborhood.

I particularly enjoyed reading about Michelle’s childhood, teen, and college years, as the stories from that time before she was a public figure were mostly new to me. I also appreciated knowing how she felt about many events and causes during the campaigns and her eight years in the White House, as well as her take on the current president.

What was most enlightening to me was hearing how being a black female impacted her life at every stage and added to the pressure to excel and to be an exemplary person at all times. As the first African-American first family, it seemed that every move the Obamas made was scrutinized. I admire that Michelle and her mom, who was also in residence at the White House, were able to protect First Daughters Malia and Sasha from most of the intrusiveness of the press corps so that they could grow up (mostly) out of the public eye.

Many people share my admiration for Michelle Obama and her accomplishments. Her book tour includes venues that seat thousands of people and her book has sold over three million copies, making it the bestseller of 2018.

She can definitely add best-selling author to her already impressive resume.

Advertisements

How to Be a Woman in a Man’s Idea

A powerful poem from Heather Dorn, current director of the Binghamton Poetry Project and the creator of Sappho’s Circle, a women’s poetry group. She has been invaluable to me as an emerging poet. Congratulations, Heather!

Slink Chunk Press

by Heather Dorn

I fall down the stairs like a rag doll

again and again when I’m four.

The hat rack breaks my body’s tumble

and I thump to a stop. Nobody ever

moves that hat rack, maybe worried

I’d crack headfirst into the wall instead.

Better to be impaled. There is something

slippery about being four and next to the steps

in my house. There is something

that still pushes me over the edge

of that first step now. I have seen how

this is inherited. I watched my brother

bang his three year old head into

concrete over and over again. He is too

sturdy to fall down the stairs and has to

break himself another way instead. I see

my mother’s face, like blue ink spilled

on her eyes. She did not fall, whatever

she says. I watch my father’s fist raise

above her, gripped, as if…

View original post 283 more words

The “Confidence Gap”

The last several years in the United States have seen a number of articles, books, and studies about why women remain much less prominent than men in the upper echelons of business and government.

Some put the onus on women themselves for (variously) taking time off or cutting back responsibilities at work to tend to family, lack of self-confidence, and lack of ambition.

Research has made clear, though, that our country and our businesses, which we all like to think are meritocracies, are in fact, not.

What research has found in brief:
Women in the United States have been graduating from college at a higher rate than men and often have higher skill levels.
Though women are more skilled, they are also more likely to be humble. Men tend to exhibit a confidence level that they can’t actually back up with their skill set.
Despite this, managers tend to promote confident but less-competent men over more-humble but more-competent women.
If women adopt behaviors that are more confident, even when they have the skill set to back it up, they are viewed negatively, considered pushy, bossy, etc.

While women have been blamed for not being confident or ambitious enough, the bottom line is that the system is executed in a way that favors male-prevalent behavior patterns and penalizes female-prevalent ones, while also penalizing women who adopt more stereotypically male behaviors.

We need to stop blaming women and start changing corporate practices. Make assignments and promotions on the basis of demonstrated skills, not on who talks a good game. Actively solicit ideas and opinions from everyone on the team. Organize work hours in a way that helps people to manage their other responsibilities to family, community, etc. This is not just a women’s issue. Men also need to juggle multiple commitments.

To continue in the current mode is a waste of some of the knowledge, skills, and talents that women can bring to our companies, organizations, and government.

It’s (past) time for a change.