Women and politics

I hadn’t heard of Kirsten Gillibrand, the Democratic senator from New York, until recently. She was appointed to finish Hillary Clinton’s term in January 2009, when Clinton became Secretary of State. Gillibrand won the special election earlier this month, and she feels strongly that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell should be repealed. She’s the youngest person elected to the U.S. Senate, and she’s a mother of two boys.

When I read a recent Vogue article about Gillibrand, I was struck by what she told an interviewer:

“Very few women want to be in a profession where you will have an opponent who says mean things about you every day, where the news may not be fair on a given day. It’s such an adversarial profession… Many women don’t want to expose their family or their children to something so rough and so aggressive and unfair and not honest.”

It illustrates an interesting difference between the baby-boomers and later generations. Although baby-boomers (my mother’s generation) and their parents (my grandmothers’ generation) paved the way for women to work outside the home, women in their 40s (and 30s and 20s) are still forging ahead in male-dominated areas today, including careers that aren’t conducive to having families. At some point, are all women faced with prioritizing their careers or their families? Or are women faced with that decision every day, after they get married or have kids?

In 2007, several traditionally male-dominated sectors (law enforcement, civil engineering) were seeing huge increases of women. CNN predicted by 2014, men would be about half the workforce. In February 2010 The New York Times reported the milestone had been reached, possibly due to the recession hitting male-dominated industries, such as construction and manufacturing, harder than industries women are more likely to work in, like health care and education. (Now that I think about it, my dentist and my doctor are women, as were most of my teachers until college.)

Politics is pretty much still a man’s world. Take a look at the U.S. Senate and the House — mostly middle-class white men. Gillibrand has a family history in New York politics. She knew how difficult politics would be, because she grew up with a political family.

I thought about the fine line women in politics (and probably any male-dominated profession) still walk, despite being about half of the workforce, and the majority on college campuses. Vogue focused on a PR rep’s take on the different standards for fashion in New York and Washington, DC. “You know, skirt length, heel height, cleavage. Let’s just say there are different . . . rules. Such a time warp in Washington.”

Are women judged more harshly than their male counterparts? During the last presidential campaign, no one commented on Obama’s or McCain’s suits. But Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Sarah Palin all drew media attention for what they were wearing on the campaign trail.

So women have made impressive gains in the last 30 years, but, in politics at least, women are seemingly still held to a different standard than men. I wonder, is this true in every profession?

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Guest Post on Brazen Careerist

On Friday, my guest post was published on Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist. I read about it in the dentist’s office, waiting for a cleaning at 7 AM. I’m not a morning person, but I booked the earliest appointment I could get, because I wouldn’t have to take unpaid time off from my job.

I’ve read Penelope’s blog for more than a year, and I like that she is direct. She writes about things that are relevant, and provocative. And I enjoy the posts about farm life, since it’s something I relate to, after growing up in a small rural town in the Midwest.

The guest post illustrated three things for me:

1. The power of Twitter.

2. Ideas, not a long resume with years of experience, are what matter to my generation. This is essentially what Brazen Careerist is about. Your ideas are your resume. If you have a good idea, despite having only a few years of experience, you can still make a positive contribution — to your company, your family, your friends, your community, etc. The guest post was a good idea from an unknown 20-something.

2. Writers need thick skins. I hadn’t written for an audience larger than 10 people since 2006, when I graduated from college. When I wrote the guest post, I wanted to write well, since it would be seen by presumably thousands of people. I thought about being clear and concise. I didn’t consider if the comments would be positive or negative. They were mostly positive.

And really, it doesn’t matter what the comments were. I was interested to read from other people who had worked as temporary employees, or became consultants, or considered internships or temp jobs, because they weren’t satisfied with their stable, full-time jobs. My generation changes job every two years. We are willing to take calculated risks. If we’re not happy, we will look elsewhere for better opportunities. We’ll take initiative — and that might mean taking a different job, and maybe for less money, if we enjoy the work more.

I was just excited to write, and to have this opportunity from a blogger than I respect. Writing has been a hobby of mine since I was eight years old, writing short stories in pencil on wide-rule notebook paper for my third grade teacher, Mrs. Koehn. I started a blog as a creative outlet, and I was flattered to write for a larger audience.

Thank you, Penelope, for running my guest post.

On a related note, my contract was extended. I’ll be temporary employed through Christmas, and hopefully in 2011.

Fall

Fall Leaves

I’m missing the summer sunsets at 8 pm, especially since the sun now sets around 4:30 every afternoon. When I leave work around 6, the city is illuminated with the grid of traffic lights between skyscrapers, but the sky is pitch black. When it’s so dark that early, I want to come home, curl up on the couch, watch old episodes of Mad Men and make tapioca pudding, a remnant from my childhood.

We carved pumpkins for Halloween, I splurged on an expensive new pair of boots (they were on sale, but still a splurge) last weekend, and the leaves are falling. It’s fall and very, very soon, it will be winter.

Pumpkins

Restating the obvious: We’re Mac people.

 

Fall is beautiful, but I’ve always hated winter. Even though “winter” in Seattle means rain and 40 degrees, (instead of my Midwestern memories of snow, below-zero windchill, snow plows, mittens, blizzards, and three different ice scrapers) I’m not looking forward to it.

Winter in Seattle

Winter in Seattle

Midwest Winter

Winter in the Midwest

 

My dislike for the season isn’t helped by predictions of a harsh winter — that, and I live on a very steep hill, and Seattle drivers don’t know what to do in snow. Every morning I jaywalk across 4 lanes of traffic to the bus stop. When it snows for the first time, my morning commute will be interesting, assuming the buses are running that morning. Luckily, I still have a pair of snow boots. I bought them my last winter in South Dakota, on sale at Cabela’s, and I’ve worn them exactly twice. They are not fashionable, but they are warm, even in several inches (or feet) of snow.

Red State, Blue State, Green State

I read an article in the New York Times today that hit close to home. It was about energy efficiency, politics and the Midwest. “Being green” has become synonymous with being liberal, but a few communities in Kansas were dispelling that myth. Energy efficiency is often associated with being “left-wing” and a “tree-hugger,” phrases that aren’t usually compliments in the Midwest.

You can be energy conscious and conservative, as several communities in Kansas are showing. Which is pretty amazing, when I think about it. Someone doesn’t believe in global warming, and they’d rather give up red meat than hear another word about Al Gore, but they’re interested in energy efficiency?

Yep.

The Midwest has very interesting politics, as Thomas Frank’s book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” illustrates. I read it when George W. Bush was president, as a democratic college student in a red state. Even back then, I was one of the foreign-car-driving, “latte-sipping liberals” mentioned in the book — and proud of it. Frank explained how several divisive issues (same sex marriage, abortion) became part of the standard party platforms, which explained why these people who might have voted as democrats, or populists, were voting for republicans. Being green doesn’t mean you have to be a democrat. And these people in Kansas are proving it.

“If the heartland is to seriously reduce its dependence on coal and oil, Ms. Jackson and others decided, the issues must be separated. So the project ran an experiment to see if by focusing on thrift, patriotism, spiritual conviction and economic prosperity, it could rally residents of six Kansas towns to take meaningful steps to conserve energy and consider renewable fuels.”

“The project’s strategy seems to have worked.”

It all started during a kitchen table discussion, with the observation that “even though many local farmers would suffer from climate change, few believed that it was happening or were willing to take steps to avoid it.”

So they separated the environment from the politics. Instead of being politically motivated, energy efficiency was about being thrifty and creating jobs. And it tied into religion and the Christian obligation to care for the earth. In a way, it’s like mixing a child’s medicine in a spoonful of sugar, like in Mary Poppins. Instead of this horrible connotation of left-leaning tree-huggers, now energy effiencency was related to faith, saving money, competing with your neighbor and adding jobs to the local economy.

Energy efficiency became a competition among local towns, which is a good strategy. A little friendly competition is healthy. Hometown pride ranks pretty high in the Midwest — I think it’s somewhere between taking pride in your mother’s and/or grandmother’s cooking and the Nebraska Cornhuskers, which are definitely in the top 5 on the list of “Midwestern Things to be Proud of.” Personally, I’m not a fan of the Cornhuskers, but I rooted for the Minnesota Twins when they played in the post-season, and I’m convinced my mom’s biscotti (a recipe she got from my grandmother) are the best biscotti I’ll ever have.

A more important factor than being proud of the hometown team or family recipes, is practicality. Midwesterners are practical. Stubborn, perhaps, but they are definitely practical. These communities in Kansas didn’t need to believe in global warming to become more energy efficient, because they believed in the almighty dollar. Saving money  and improving the community are great motivations in a small town.

“Whether or not the earth is getting warmer,” a grain farmer was quoted in the article, “it feels good to be part of something that works for Kansas and for the nation.” He wasn’t convinced about global warming, but he didn’t see the sense in our country’s dependency on foreign oil.

It’s pretty amazing that that a town that wasn’t convinced global warming even existed successfully lobbied for a wind turbine factory to come. This will create several hundred local jobs. Farmers can lease part of their land for the turbines, and boost their income by doing so. (I’d venture a guess that wind turbines are much less labor-intensive than raising cows, soy beans or corn.)

Nice to see that the Midwest is taking an interest in energy efficiency, regardless of the politics involved. Proof that you don’t have to be a democrat, or particularly care about the environment to become more energy efficient.

The Great Outdoors

It all started on Highway 12, by mile marker 180.

After a rainy night of camping and a breakfast of bagels, cream cheese, and a bottled coffee drink from PCC, we had arrived at the rafting site near the Tieton River, near Yakima, Washington. Camping hadn’t gone exactly as planned. I’d borrowed a tent and sleeping bag from my dad, but hadn’t asked about a tarp. We didn’t think about the possibility of camping in the rain, since Eastern Washington is usually dry, unlike Seattle.

The tent

The tent

Not taking a tarp was our big mistake. The sides of the tent were wet and the rain wasn’t letting up. So we slept in my Honda Civic, which actually went pretty well. The front seats are more comfortable to sleep in than I thought.

It was my first time rafting, and the first time I’d gone camping in two years. Although I’d hiked a trail at Mt. Rainier last summer, I hadn’t done many outdoor activities lately… dating a bicyclist doesn’t count.

I felt out of place, but my friend and I were both first timers, so we told ourselves “Here goes nothing…” and signed the release forms at the white tent the rafting company had set up. We both smiled when we saw four college girls who looked slightly more clueless than we were. With the borrowed synthetic pants, I thought I presented the illusion that I knew what I was doing. I’m sure it wasn’t convincing.

I was nervous as I pulled a damp, cool wetsuit over my clothes. By the time I received my helmet, life jacket and what I called a “rain slicker,” I was excited but very anxious. Would I fall out of the raft? When was the last time I went swimming… 2003 maybe?

Riding in the old yellow school bus on the way to the launch site, I noticed the bus driver’s old marathon t-shirt. His curly hair peaked out from underneath a weathered baseball cap. It wasn’t until we shuffled off the bus that I noticed the purple polish on his toenails. It added to my romanticized idea of what rafting life was like. I tried to imagine what it would it be like to wear a wetsuit or board shorts to work, instead of my standard jeans and black flats or boots. I imagined the pace of life was slower. I envisioned a life of riverside camp fires, and a wardrobe entirely from REI, the outdoor store where I’d climbed “the Pinnacle” twice and purchased my three rain jackets.

After hearing about the “river position,” the desirable position to take in the event you fell out of the raft, we divided into groups of 5 or 6, and practiced our paddling. Our guide explained that it was important to just start paddling when she commanded, then try to adopt the same rhythm as the other rafters. Not having much upper body strength, I was nervous that I’d be exhausted long before the end of our 3 hours on the river.

The river was shallow and not very wide, a category III, which meant the current moved pretty quickly. We rafted on the river through the canyon, an entirely different view than what we’d seen from the highway and our campsite. We paddled intermittently, at the commands of our guide, and avoided rocks, pools, and the two big obstacles called “High Noon” and “Waffle Wall.” The names sounded like something from the Old West or a Super Mario Brothers Nintendo game.

Our guide, Nikki, a mother of two girls, got certified in 1986. She’d married another rafting guide, and we’d meet her husband and two daughters, ages 7 and 9, at our lunch site. After almost two hours on the river, we got out of the raft and warmed up with hot tea around a campfire. They’d prepared a delicious lunch of warm roasted vegetables, chicken, salad and corn on the cob.

By lunchtime I was invigorated. I wasn’t completely inept on the river. I felt a sense of accomplishment after feeling the resistance of the river when I paddled. No one from our raft had fallen into the river, although two people had falled out of the other two rafts in our group. I’d surprised myself, which is a pretty good feeling.

At the take out point, we hoisted the raft on our shoulders and carried it over the river’s bank to the trailer. After pouring what felt like two inches of water from the boots, I peeled off the wetsuit and immediately regretted that I hadn’t brought towels, but at least we had dry clothes. We rinsed our wetsuits in the river and gave them to our guide’s daughters, who used paddles to stir the suits in makeshift laundry buckets.

We stopped at a fruit stand along the highway before we reached Yakima, at a Starbucks in Ellensburg, and we reached Seattle by 8 pm. We were home from the adventure.

Why I love a temp job

Because it’s fun.

I enjoy the work much more than what I was doing before. Now, I schedule site content and work with HTML and XML code for a well-known internet retailer. No more answering phones and ordering office supplies. I’m happier in my daily life because I enjoy my work, instead of complaining how much I hate my job.

The resume boost.

I think the skills I’m acquiring now make me more qualified for the full-time jobs I want. I see possible room for advancement within the company, either as a temporary or full-time employee.

The company is young and motivated.

The company culture is driven, innovative and creative. Ideas are encouraged. My coworkers are highly motivated people who take initiative, and they’re young. I’m 26 and everyone in my department is under 35, including my boss.

A risk paid off.

I’m not a risk taker, but I took a calculated risk to become a temp. The enjoyment I feel after a 10-hour day confirms that I made the right choice, even though I have no guarantee that I’ll be employed in a few months. For me, loving what I do is so refreshing and important.

It’s an adventure.

I’m only there for a few months, so I’m doing my best to take initiative and learn as much as I can while I’m there.

Inspiration at work + coffee

The past few weeks have been a blur of work, two Mariners games, Capitol Hill and Vancouver, BC, the Seattle bus system, and my mom’s visit last week.

Mariners Game

Lovely day for a Mariners game

My job interview was a month ago, on my 26th birthday. I started a week and a half later, and since then I’ve learned a lot. I no longer worry about getting lost on my floor in the building, but I’m still uncertain and slow with certain tasks. But today I worked almost 11 hours, and it was a good day. Remember that saying, “Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life”? It’s true. Even if it’s just temporary.

I’m already thinking about coffee tomorrow morning, because I’m not a morning person. And I’m going to need a large cup of the “nectar of the gods” if I want to leave the house at 7 am, as I have done for the past two days.

Chai

It’s not Stumptown, but it works. When I live in Capitol Hill (or Ballard) next year, and Stumptown or Cupcake Royale are a few blocks away, I will drink Stumptown Coffee. My rent will go down, so I can spend a little more on really good coffee.

Today felt like a Seattle day.

I didn’t mind that it was gray, even though I’d love a few more sunny summer or fall days. The view from the office is surreal when it’s foggy. Like we’re in the clouds, looking down from a dark tower on downtown, hundreds of feet above the busses, sirens, taxis and pedestrians.

7 am. Waiting for the bus on my way to work, hating humidity. Wondering if I can rent a tent, sleeping bag, and other camping supplies from REI.

3 pm. Meeting with a copy editor. I wonder how long he’s been working for Amazon. Five years? Ten years? I smile when he cautions me and other employees in the meeting about exclamation marks, and when I see exclamation marks are against company style.

I like this copy editor, because I can tell he has a sense of humor and he’s good at his job. And then I wonder if his cardigan is from American Apparel.

4 pm. REI Rentals has tents and sleeping bags for rent. Luckily I’m an REI member, so for about $20 I can rent a tent overnight. River rafting is still possible this Sunday. I hope it doesn’t rain Saturday night.

7:30 pm. The rain had stopped and I was on the bus, going home after an inspiring day at my new job. Wearing boots and a rain jacket, I was listening to a Death Cab EP on my iPhone, after an 11-hour day at work, I felt oh so very Seattle.

10:30 pm. Listening to This American Life podcasts, and it is delightful. I think about last year, when I used to listen to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me! and This American Life on Saturday mornings. I wonder if I’ll do that next year, in our new place, while sipping Stumptown coffee and making banana pecan pancakes with the boyfriend. Vegan banana pecan pancakes, of course.

I quit. For a temp job.

A week ago, I quit my steady full-time job to start a new journey.

Tomorrow I start a temporary position at Amazon, as an Assistant Editor/Site Merchandiser in the Apparel Department.

I’m taking a risk in my career, but 26 is a great time to take risks. If not now, then when? I’m not a risk taker. Especially when it comes to my financial stability, I like guarantees and knowing when I’ll see my next paycheck. Taking a temp job is out of character, but I could see the benefits of this adventure outweigh the risks.

The interview was on my birthday, which happened to be Friday the 13th. Note to self: if possible, schedule future interviews on my birthday, or Friday the 13th. I wasn’t sure if I’d get the job, but I was relieved to have the interview finished. It was a gorgeous sunny day in Seattle, and life was good. After the interview and lunch at a great sandwich shop in Capitol Hill with my boyfriend, we left for Vancouver, BC, where I tried not to think about work.

Friday was my last day at my old office – my first full-time job in Seattle. It was surreal to give my boss my notice. She was surprised, but wished me luck on my new path. I’m trading stability for a big opportunity, even though my new adventure has no guarantees. I could be unemployed in three months, and I’m well aware of that. Goodbye paid vacation, sick time and reliable paycheck. Hello, scaled back health insurance and uncertain financial future.

I see this temporary job as a stepping stone. Perhaps a stepping stone to a more fulfilling full-time job, either at Amazon or another company. This will build my skills and add a well-known company to my resume. (Couldn’t hurt, right?) I was ready for a change, and this will certainly be a drastic difference from my former workplace, a small non-profit in the north end of Seattle.

It would be a gross understatement to write that my new environment will be a BIG change from the old workplace. Much different location, job tasks and company culture. This is an entirely different world. And one I think I’m lucky to be in, if only for a few months.

Interestingly, I was at my first job for one year and nine months, before I quit to move to Seattle. I spent the same amount of time at the old place – a year and nine months – before taking the temporary job. This timeline illustrates how I’m representative of my age group.  Typical twenty-somethings change jobs every 18 months.

So wish me luck. This time tomorrow, I’ll be working at Amazon.

Things I never thought about before living in Seattle

Next month marks two years since I quit my job, packed up my Honda Civic and drove the 1,500 miles to start a new life in Seattle. What better time than reflecting on how living here has changed the way I think about a few things?

Living in an educated city means you need a bachelor’s degree to be a receptionist.

I never considered that since about half of the city’s population has a higher education degree, entry-level jobs have more competition from over-qualified people. My generation is willing to work hard, but with the cost of living in this city, a receptionist job at $12 an hour is not going to pay for rent, groceries, student loan payments, a bus pass and the occasional drink/dinner with friends.

Nannies.

Last week I overheard a woman casually mention that her nanny potty trained her kids, and how thankful she was. She went to an ivy league university, and is a motivated, intelligent, caring and capable person. I respect her intelligence, and see that this was a good choice for her. I don’t want a nanny to potty train my (hypothetical) child, nor will I likely have the resources to pay a nanny. Interestingly, this shows she delegated a very personal task in the past, but doesn’t do a great job of delegating at work. Why do we do things at work that are so completely out of character?

Compost. And Recycling Guilt.

Where I grew up, people still burn their trash on farms. My university, with approximately 12,000 undergrads in a liberal town (well, liberal for South Dakota) didn’t recycle until a few years ago. In the dorms in 2004 (and in all my apartments until I left the Midwest in 2008) we would throw plastic soda bottles, beer cans and wine bottles in the garbage. Recycling wasn’t an easy option. No companies picked up recycling, and most college students don’t have the space or patience to store recyclables and take them to a recycling center.

In Seattle the city picks up our recycling every other week, and our garbage and compost weekly. The amount of garbage is much less than the contents of our recycling bin.  Living in such a green city has changed my way of thinking, even though I grew up in an eco-friendly household. My mom recycled, and did her own compost in the 70s. When I was a kid we would go on walks and pick up trash along the street in our small town in Northern California.

When I visit the Midwest now, I feel guilty that I’m not recycling and composting, because the infrastructure doesn’t exist. I always disliked styrofoam, but now I feel guilty the 3 times a year that I see it.

I have a soft spot and nostalgia for various Midwestern things. Except for snow.

This was unexpected, since I longed to distance myself from the Midwest. I’ll probably never own cowboy boots again, and it took months to find a plaid shirt I liked without feeling like a farm girl. I smile when I see a Midwestern license plate in traffic, or when I found a pub in Portland that serves my beer of choice in college. I still have several ice scrapers and my snowboots, although they haven’t been out of the box since I moved. No one in Seattle was more excited for our latest winter without snow. My first since 1993.

Being vegan.

If you know me well, you already know that I have been dating a vegan for several months. I got over the awkwardness of sitting at a sushi bar with him and I’m no longer self conscious when ordering Pad Thai with chicken. I never cooked with quinoa before we started dating. It has certainly been a learning experience. So far, so good.

Adventure and an American Travesty

Last week I was invited to dinner with my dad, his girlfriend and two family friends, Alex and Mona. They met my parents in the 1970s, when the four of them were enjoying their 20s in San Francisco. One of the greatest parts of their visit was watching the interaction with my dad. After 30 years of friendship, the interaction is more like family members who haven’t seen you in a long time, but they know all the indiscretions of your youth.

Alex and Mona are jewelers; they were in the Seattle area for a local art fair, but still lived in the small town in California that I remembered from my childhood. I can still picture the lemon tree in their front yard, the jasmine climbing the railing on the front porch, and the arbor of old grape vines in the backyard. They lived and traveled through numerous European countries and Mona still has Norwegian citizenship.

While we enjoyed our steak, green salad, potato salad and various drinks, I was content to observe most of the conversation. The food was good; the conversation and the feeling I left with was better than the actual meal. Hearing Mona tell the story of how they got married in Denmark, when they went to inquire about a work visa. The official, who looked like an owl, peered down at them from his spot on the top of a ladder at a very tall bookshelf. “Well, do you love each other?” He asked. They said yes. “The wedding in English is on Monday.”  And so, they got married. And 35 years later, if my math is correct, they are still happily living and working together.

Hearing of their adventures in France, collecting eggs and building windows in exchange for rent, made me think a lot about my life. Granted, I don’t want to be penniless in France, but I would like some adventure in my life.

The conversation eventually turned to my work, friends and love life. It was then that I mentioned I was considering moving in with my significant other in about 6 months.

My dad’s girlfriend voiced the opinion that I’ve had, but have been reconsidering lately. She said “I still think it would be nice to live alone first.”

Alex replied, “That’s an American travesty! You love someone, you jump in.”

I smiled, expecting a reply like that from Alex. After all, it worked out well for them.