Thursday, March 29, 2007

"The Feminine Mistake," part 2

I wrote about Leslie Bennetts' book The Feminine Mistake earlier this week, when I was halfway through it. After finishing the book I am definitely less positive, largely because her chapter called "Backward Progress" unfairly slagged Gen X women. One interviewee sums up the Boomer perspective when she says, "Where are the leaders, not to mention the troops? These young women could be the cutting edge, but what they're doing right now is sort of like being a blunt knife and complaining. Maybe they're too comfortable."

That condescending, uninformed attitude permeates the chapter, and to a large extent the whole book. I am more sensititve to the generational button-pushing than the stay-at-home Mom button-pushing.

Still, we shouldn't be afraid to read things we don't agree with. A magazine publisher recently passed on the advice that "You don't own an idea until you've written about it." I encourage you to read The Feminine Mistake, write out your response and then submit it as an review, posting on your own blog, or comment here.

I submitted my full review to Amazon almost 2 days ago and they haven't put it up yet, which is puzzling and frustrating.

Here's the part of my review that I added after finishing the second half of the book:

In later chapters Bennetts' negativity and strong point of view ultimately start to collapse under their own gravity. Her insistence on caricaturing stay-at-home Moms as lazy, dependent idiots is just not fair. I can say from extensive experience that the vast majority of stay-at-home Moms are intelligent, dedicated women who do have lives of their own. The choice to take time away from a paid career has its financial vulnerabilities but it does not mean that mothers are not living worthy lives, by any means. Being a stay-at-home Mom is also not a one-way street, as many women's lives are fluid and changing, including ongoing employment. There is still far too much of an "us versus them" mentality reinforced by this book. Women move back and forth between "camps" and they don't suddenly become stupid because they are not employed.

My second major criticism is that Bennetts oversells the strength of her supporters' arguments and undervalues other viewpoints. This was especially true with the voices of Boomer critics who think that younger Gen X mothers are wasting their lives. I could barely make it through her "Backward Progress" chapter because of this biased coverage that gave short shrift to the new motherhood movement and third-wave feminism. Her research needed to be a lot stronger and deeper. She touched lightly on the work of some Gen Xers whom she could have quoted more extensively to present a more balanced picture. I live in the world of Gen X women who are reinventing motherhood, career and activism. It is happening!

Finally, Bennetts missed a golden opportunity to present resources to help women get back into the workforce. Her book is well-referenced but lacks an appendix of resources. Bennetts' topic and point of view should definitely be followed up with next steps for women who are swayed by her argument. I would encourage her to expand her website to make up for this oversight.

In the final analysis I am giving "The Feminine Mistake" 3 stars, but it is an oversimplification to reduce it to such a rating. All mothers should definitely read "The Feminine Mistake," but be sure to make it part of a "balanced diet" that includes more optimistic works. Read a variety of books and don't just judge which author is right; decide what you think for yourself.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Nicholas Kristof and for Naptime Activists

Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times Op-Ed columnist Nicholas Kristof is one of my heroes. His suit-and-tie headshot looks misleading to me. I get the feeling he is most at home out in the world in Afghanistan or Africa, talking to ordinary people and sharing their important stories. It's funny to me that he's considered an "opinion" columnist in the light of his extensive field reporting.

Kristof caught my attention a few years ago when I heard him interviewed on Fresh Air (June 25, 2003) sharing the story of women who suffered from childbirth injuries and not only lost their babies, but faced lives of permanent disability and social ostracisim. This injury, an obstetric fistula, is a tear between a woman's birth passage and one of her internal organs that develops during obstructed labor, resulting in permanent incontinence. Women are often shunned and virtually abandoned after developing this injury.

Obstetric fistulas can be prevented access to to emergency obstetric care such as cesarean sections, or can be repaired for about $450--a high price for a woman in the developing world but an incredibly valuable investment in saving a human life.

Kristof has continued to use his powerful media platform to bring attention to the issue of maternal mortality. Fistulas affect 100,000 to 500,000 women worldwide each year, yet most of us have probably never even heard of this issue. He wrote again recently about childbirth dangers and the struggle to prevent maternal mortality in Somalia and Ethiopia. You shouldn't miss his extraordinary video report and column, "They Think They've Been Cursed by God." You will want to know how you can help. I felt overwhelmed by this story. There are so many worthy causes in the world, including many that governments and the global community should address strategically, that are being largely ignored. The plight of poor women seems to eternally fall into this category. I knew I could at least pass the story along to my blog readers and hope that it inspired you to work for the cause of reducing maternal mortality.

This week Kristof reported on, a website that feels like the ultimate resource for Naptime Activists. provides microfinance loans by matching ordinary people as lenders to fund entrepreneurs worldwide. The experience of the Kiva website feels like a combination of My Space, eBay and the best of venture philanthropy. Kiva works with reliable Field Partners who evaluate applications and adminster the loans. Connecting people through this mechanism has never been cost-effective in the past, but thanks to the internet, as Kristof wrote, "You, Too, Can be a Banker to the Poor" (echoing the title of Nobel-Prize winner Muhammad Yunus' autobiography).

There are many worthy organizations that work on a similar grassroots model. I have volunteered for Women for Women International for several years, and I continue to be incredibly impressed with their accomplishments.

What I found unique and inspirational about Kiva is their website experience that allows you to individually choose businesspeople to loan to, and shows you the other people who have chipped in to fund the loan. You can see a global community developing to make this effort possible. Loans can run $1000+ but each lender can add as little as $25 to the pot. Explore my lender page on if you want to see how it works.

There is a lot to be said for the lending model, most impressively the fact that microcredit can be self-sustaining and profitable. Worldwide, microfinance loans are generating a 97% repayment rate and to-date Kiva has achieved a 100% repayment rate. With Kiva the entire amount of your loan goes directly to the entrepreneur you are funding, with an optional donation requested to help offset Kiva's overhead. As your loans are repaid, you have the option of withdrawing your money or extending another loan to a new entrepreneur.

The bottom line is that you have the power to change someone's life. No matter how busy you are, no matter how tight your budget is stretched, if you can afford to add $25 to the microcredit pool you can contribute to a renewable resource that will be spread worldwide to help others better their lives.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

New Must-Read: "The Feminine Mistake" by Leslie Bennetts

If you are a stay-at-home Mom, Leslie Bennetts' new book The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? will challenge, terrify and offend you. And that's exactly why you should read it.

Bennetts expounds at length on the financial vulnerabilities of mothers, shattering the fairy-tale fantasies we unconsciously carry with us. She and I agree on the basic point that "A man is not a financial plan." Others have said this, notably and Ann Crittenden, but Bennetts lays out the harsh realities of financial depenency through story after story of women who were caught up short by unforeseen twists of fate: divorce, unemployment, disability, or death. These obstacles are quite obvious on a macroscopic level but it is tempting to carry on with the wishful thinking that calamity will never befall us personally. Bennetts' book is strong medicine, but one that every woman should take. Better to read one harsh, challenging book than to sleepwalk through life without a backup plan for self-sufficiency.

As mothers we need to become comfortable with ambivalence and contradiction. Bennetts' book is well-researched AND opinionated. Inflammatory AND valuable. Her sometimes exaggerated style and pessimism feel maddening at times, but even if you don't agree with Bennetts' opinions or analysis of her research, the great news is that she interviewed many women and presents their stories and voices through extensive quotes. I guarantee that at least one of those women will have something valuable to teach you. This elevates Bennetts' work above other recent individual polemics of all political flavors.

I had covered Bennetts' Glamour article in a recent blog post, and I encourage you to read her book. The more stories you hear of women's blindess to their financial vulnerability, the more you can understand Bennetts' passionate advocacy to encourage you to find a way to keep your career alive. She pierces through cultural denial and taboos by pulling back the sentimental mask of motherhood, love and marriage. Her work may be inflammatory, but I liken it to the inflammation that you'd get from a vaccination. We may prefer reading books that validate our life paths and choices, but it can be even more valuable to read the opposing view and formulate an intelligent response.

I am proud that I devoted a chapter to career development and financial planning in Mojo Mom. I covered much of the same ground as Bennetts in abbreviated and much more optimistic form. Read both books, and don't just judge which of us is right; decide what you think for yourself.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Last Mimzy--Message from the future

I love well-made kids' movies (Toy Story, A Little Princess, The Incredibles, Wallace & Gromit) and hate bad ones (Shark Tales, Madagascar). My daughter and I saw The Last Mimzy today, and it gave me a surprising amount of food for thought. I really didn't know what it was about other than that it had a sci-fi/fantasy element to it and it co-starred one of our household's favorite actors, Rainn Wilson, aka Dwight Scrute from The Office. In Mimzy I was expecting E. T. and it was a bit of that, with thematic "save the planet" echoes of Happy Feet and The Terminator (but much more kid-friendly), and a surprising Alice in Wonderland-inspired storyline. The film was based on the 1943 science fiction story Mimsy Were the Borogoves which I am going to give a read next week. It doesn't sound like my usual cup of tea but I am intrigued.

The film version of The Last Mimzy presented a big New Age-y message that I loved for the most part--some of the details were overblown--but I am just waiting for the conservative backlash to begin, a la Happy Feet. You know you aren't just in a typical kids' movie when the film's original song is written by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd and at times Mimzy's special effects reminded me of the Pink Floyd Laserium show!

But I digress. If you don't want to know any more about the movie, stop reading, but I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that the movie revolves around people from the future reaching back into the past for help. What I loved is that it made me think about the importance of my mission as a mother. Today's parents are sending leaders into the 22nd century. Literally, not figuratively. I have to double-check this statistic, but around the time my daughter was born, I remember reading that an American girl born in the year 2000 has about a 50% chance of living to be 100 years old. Our children will be the leaders of the 21st century and will share their knowlege first-hand with the leaders of the 22nd century. When I think about problems like global warming and our society's looming financial crises, it is discouraging to think that these challenges will take generations of work. It also highlights the importance of education and support for today's children and families.

We aren't doing that well in these areas, which is why I put my efforts into advocacy groups that work toward raising the profile of these issues, and insisting on a better outcome. I've talked at length about The Last Mimzy brought to mind Montessori education. In the film, the kids play with toys that open their minds to a totally new way of learning. Montessori education incorporates a large number of manipulative teaching tools, like the kids encounter in the movie. Montessori education is a 100-year old system of teaching that was truly ahead of its time--successful in Europe but initally shunned by early 20th-century educational theorists in America, Montessori was revived in the US starting in the 1960's and has grown from this rebirth.

The Montessori method "focused on the early stimulation and sharpening of the senses, the development of independence in motor tasks and the care of the self, and the child's naturally high motivation to learn about the world as a means of gaining mastery over himself and his environment."(1) All of these things happen in The Last Mimzy as the kids interact with "otherworldly" teaching technology. I would love to ask the filmmakers whether they had a specific Montessori inspiration or relationship, because in addition to the thematic elements, in the last brief scene that shows the heroine's kindergarten class, the setting looks very much like a Montessori classroom.

My daughter is in her 5th year of Montessori education. We choose her school because it was a good preschool, and we stayed for elementary education because we can't imagine her anywhere else now. I am especially intrigued with the Montessori approach to math education. It is truly a different mind-expanding experience than the way I was taught in traditional public school. I recently attended a parent education night that explained the math curriculum and allowed parents to experience a brief math lesson. One of our Upper Elementary teachers spent about 15 minutes demonstrating a lesson about "powers of 2" using the manipulative teaching materials, and much to my suprise, it truly elicited a new mental model of exponents. If 15 minutes could change my math thinking, at age 38, what insights will 12 years of this system (ages 3-14) give my daughter? It made me wish I were still an active neuroscientist, as I would love to do a functional MRI study of Montessori-educated students mentally solving math problems, to see whether they engage a wider range of brain areas in their math processing than non-Montessori students. I predict that Montessori students would engage their visual cortex to a much greater extent in match conceptualization and problem-solving. I have just been reading Sharon Begley's book Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, which inspired the idea for this experiment. I hope such a study will be done some day.

Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius author Dr. Angeline Stoll Lillard criticizes our dominant American educational system as being based on two poor models for children's learning: the school as a factory, and the child as a blank slate. Montessori proposes a very different system, which was empirically based on Dr. Montessori's observations of how children naturally learn.

I would love to find a way to become an advocate for expanded, public Montessori education. I firmly believe this educational model is well-suited to teach our children the skills they will need to face the challenges of the 21st century and beyond. I don't have a firm plan yet to determine how I will be part of this process, but like The Last Mimzy, I am sending my intentions out to the universe and waiting for a response. One of the questions that the movie proposes is, "What is the universe trying to tell you that you aren't listening to?" I feel the call to work to support Montessori education on a broad level, and I am willing to be patient to discover how I can help.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Inspiration beyond any infighting....

Through last week's New York Times article about writer Catherine Orenstein's work teaching Op-Ed writing, I found The Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership.

The Woodhull institute offers many retreats and classes to foster women's leadership. If you can get to New York it sounds like a fabulous place to network and study. Catherine Orenstein's upcoming Opinion Writing Class, 4 Tuesday evenings in May, is also accessible through phone call-in. I was told this morning they have a few slots left--if you are interested, you should register soon.

Institute namesake Victoria Woodhull was a 19th century feminist who "was a fearless lobbyist, businesswoman, writer and investor who advocated for a woman's equal status in the workplace, political arena, church and family."

The Woodhull Credo, as posted on their website, gave me just the inspiration I was looking for this morning:


To manifest, teach and learn in our relationships ethical conduct and compassionate leadership.

To create an environment of trust, respect, kindness, safety and open-mindedness.

To commit to honoring a higher purpose through our work.

To act with honesty, compassion and courage.

To recognize the essential equality and dignity of all.

To avoid negative gossip.

To bring up problems constructively and directly.

To find common ground in our differences.

To be of service to one another and to the community at large.

To take the risk of speaking out about injustice.

To be grateful for what others have done for you.

To be responsible for our actions and to practice forgiveness.

To tithe time and income.

To celebrate the achievements of ourselves and of others.

To understand that what we send out into the world comes back to us.


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Dialogue with Linda Hirshman

Linda Hirshman posted a comment to my last piece, "Wake up and smell the money." My reponse to her got pretty long, so I am going to put it up as a new post.

Linda Hirshman said...

Dear Amy,
I am having a little trouble understanding your position. Bennetts is talking about the opt out group and cites the new BLS data that it is for real. Graff says the opt out story isn't true and is a damaging lie to boot. Which is it?


Dear Linda,

As you point out in your latest blog post, the analysis of the labor statistics is in flux right now.

Let's agree for the sake of this discussion that many elite women are "opting out." You see this as a huge mistake, while I insist on seeing it as an opportunity. Perhaps this is in part due to the fact that I became comfortable with career change before having a child. I have worn many hats and I expect that my career will continue to evolve over time. Leaving the 9 to 5 workforce freed me to become an entrepreneur and create opportunities for myself. I feel that entrepreneurship is an underutilized possibility for career-changers of all kinds. I will be speaking to UNC and Duke MBA students on this topic this Friday at their Women in Business Conference, and it will be sure to report back what they have to say on this topic.

I am what you would call a "third wave feminist transformed by childbirth" and I have channeled that transformation into a call for women's leadership. I have become a published author, entrepreneur, media analyst, and activist after "opting out." Not just because motherhood magically transformed me, though motherhood definitely opened my eyes to the non-elite realities of the world. I have said before that I would love for our policy makers and leaders of the ruling class to be made up of people who have had first-hand caregiving experience. I wish we had a much more diverse roster of characters in our Congress: more women, racial diversity, people with substantial careers other than "career politician" and yes, people who have been primary caregivers at some point in their lives.

I view as a great example of a group of women creating a community that allows them to put their education and talent to use in service of a larger social cause.

My message about "opting out" is that no woman should view being a stay-at-home Mom as a one-way street (or should I say, blind cul-de-sac?). I will probably have a 40 year work career, with 3 years of full-time motherhood in that mix. The mistake comes when women feel like the time home with their kids is the end of their story. It's not, and women need to take charge of their financial future, and responsibility for planning the next phase of their lives.

You would probably say that if childcare is such a great experience for women, why shouldn't men be doing it too? I agree that we are not there yet and I am not sure when we will be. I find this a challenging area, walking the line between individual accommodation and larger structural issues. I have been able to create a relationship that feels equitable, a marriage in which we each feel cared for and generally happy with our roles in home and work lives. Am I accommodating within a sexist system? That's the question I still grapple with. I want to make sure that my own personal comfort level doesn't keep me from looking at the big picture and working for social progress.

Thanks for your comment.


I have just received a copy of Leslie Bennetts' The Feminine Mistake and I will reply with a full review when I've read it.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Wake up and smell the money

"Will you regret staying at home with your baby?" Author Leslie Bennetts pushes this emotional button to get women to wake up to the financial risks of giving up a career. Bennetts makes her case in her online Glamourarticle and in her new book, The Feminine Mistake.

Deep breath here. This is a tough topic and Bennetts' approach is designed to stir controversy. But she is getting at important truths about marriage and motherhood. It's very tempting to live in denial of these hidden risks of financial dependency, but by the time a crisis happens, it is too late to prepare. One of her interviewees says, "It's very nice to believe, 'I don't have to worry, I can have someone take care of me. But you never know when he's goign to stop wanting to take care of you, or lose his job, or drop dead. There are too many what-ifs to be lulled into a sense of complacency like that.'"

I devoted a chapter to this topic in Mojo Mom. Rather than telling women not to take time away from the workforce, in "Keeping Your Resume Fresh and Financial Future Secure" I emphasize the skills and strategies women can use to stay competitive. I encourage you to take a life-long view of your career. Becoming a stay-at-home Mom should not be a one-way street and it's unfortunate that we tend to view it that way. The Opt-Out narrative has certainly been overwritten. (The Columbia Journalism Review has an excellent article on "The Opt-Out Myth." Thanks to Cooper for pointing out this article to me.)

Mojo Mom's strategies for a healthy financial future:

1. Take charge of your financial life. Be a full participant in your family's financial planning--do not delegate this responsibility to your life partner! Make sure you know how much money your family has, what your joint financial planning strategy looks like, and what your credit scores are. Do you know whether your bills are all paid on time? How much credit card debt and other liabilities do you have? Make sure you have credit cards and a few household bills in your own name to develop your own credit history. Start saving for a 3-months-expenses emergency fund in your own name.

2. Keep in touch with your professional contacts. Set up regular meetings or lunches with your former colleagues. Show up in your professional persona and talk about your expertise, not just your kids. Look for opportunties to stay active in your field and keep building your resume, even while you are out of the full-time paid workforce.

3. Continue developing new interests and skills. The "stay-at-home" period can be a chance to reinvent yourself. Take short courses, online classes, or enroll in a degree program. Many jobs these days require a Masters' degree, and even if you don't intend to return to work for years, you may be very glad that you made the effort to get those qualifications under your belt now. I have known semi-retired women who had to go back to the workforce full-time when they were suddenly widowed. Even with decades of valuable life and work experience, they found themselves shut out of many job opportunities due to the lack of an advanced degree.

4. Develop an entrepreneurial spirit. Your life is your "start up" company! What do you want to make of it? Yes, it can be hard to re-integrate into an inflexible workplace with a family. But more flexible options are opening up and starting your own business is one way to make that happen. I don't mean to be overly optimistic about these possibilities but I truly believe that a "results oriented" work approach that is freed from rigid schedules will become common in the near future.

5. Take advantage of the opportunity to make progress when you are in calm times. I have learned this lesson the hard way! Over the past year my family has faced several unexpected crises. If I hadn't stayed on track to finsih Mojo Mom when I did, it would have been hard to get it done over the past year. Always keep your own projects simmering, and turn up the motivation when you have the chance. If you stay focused you can get a lot done. I finished a novel and wrote a screenplay when I only had 6 hours per week to write, while my daughter was in a toddler preschool program. I valued that time like a hidden stash of gold and I didn't squander it.

Leslie Bennetts brings up excellent points about the financial penalities of taking time out of the workforce. I look forward to reading her book as a bracing wake-up call. Women do face a serious financial burden by becoming mothers. Ann Crittenden has famously said that becoming a mother is a top risk factor for women being in poverty in old age. And college-educated women can expect to lose a million dollars in lifetime wages when they raise kids. But this isn't just our individual responsibility, it's a societal issue. This is one of the problems of the Opt-out narrative. As E. J. Graff says in the CJR piece:

"The moms-go-home story’s personal focus makes as much sense, according to Caryl Rivers, as saying, 'Okay, let’s build a superhighway; everybody bring one paving stone. That’s how we approach family policy. We don’t look at systems, just at individuals. And that’s ridiculous.'"

So my final appeal to you is to get involved in advocating for pro-family social policies, and to work to fight employment discrimination against mothers. This is a huge societal issue. This is why I am so excited to work with There are many groups and individuals working on these issues, and MomsRising gives us a mechanism to work together to give mothers a strong political voice.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Money, power and housework

Many thanks to blogger--and dedicated Mojo Mom Podcast listener--Adena for pointing me to a recent Boston Globe article "The Job Without Benefits" about the complex relationship between men, women, money and housework.

Adena's blog posting is well worth reading along with the original article.

Kudos to reporter Kris Frieswick for taking an unusually throrough look at the structural and invidivual factors that could explain why women still do more housework than men, regardless of, and sometimes in spite of, their outside work.

Frieswick reports the sad paradox that some breadwinning women do more housework in an attempt to neutralize their guilt about working and "deviating" from established gender roles. (Paging Caitlin Flanagan?)

I address many of these issues in my book. My Mojo Mom mantra is: "make the invisible work visible, and then divide it fairly."

It's up to each family to define what "fairly" looks like to them, but it's safe to say that it helps to be able to take guilt and resentment out of the equation. If everyone is contributing and no one feels like they're being taking advantage of, you are on the right track. Easier said than done, but a worthy goal.


Two generations of Indiana Jones?

I wasn't sure that anything could get me tryly interested in the Indiana Jones 4 movie, but reported today that Cate Blanchett has signed on for a starring role. I love her, and honestly I can't think of any other actress my age who I would enjoy seeing paired with Harrison Ford. If they insist on going that route, I trust Cate Blanchett to make it work.

Which is ironic since I LOVED Harrison Ford growing up. He's one of the few people I actually wrote a fan letter to. I could mark my entrance to adolescence by the moment that Han Solo suddenly seemed hotter than Luke Skywalker. (This epiphany happened about a week after seeing The Empire Strikes Back. At first my friends and I couldn't believe that Leia would choose jerky Han over cute Luke. There must be some hormone that kicks in to make bad boys seem more attractive.)

But with Indy 4 I feel like pop culture has finally reached time-warp treadmill status. Raiders of the Lost Ark came out in the summer of 1981 when I was 12 going on 13. Now I am 38 years old with a 7 year old daughter and Harrison Ford is....still Indiana Jones? Paired with women my age onscreen and off? And Diana Ross is performing live on American Idol? ...Paul McCartney has a child younger than mine? ...The Rolling Stones are still touring?

You knew I'd work my Gen X/Baby Boomer obsession in here somehow. Now that our icons from the 1960's and 70's are reaching their 60's and 70's, it's hard to imagine what will happen when these stars can no longer just slip into the same old roles.

And what about the double standard for men and women in entertainment? Remember that in Raiders of the Lost Ark it was a plot point that Indy was scandalously 10 years older than love interest/former teenage prey Marion. Now 27 years later, he'll be paired with a woman truly young enough to be his daughter, but it's so common in film that it barely even registers on the cultural yuck-meter.

We can only hope that for us old school Indy fans, Speilberg and Lucas will find a way to bring back Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood for this latest (final?) episode!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Finding your Op-Ed writing voice

I am in a whirlwind today so I'll have to take a blog shortcut of a quick post with a link to a fantastic article from the New York Times this morning. "Stop the Presses, Boys! Women claim space on Op-Ed Pages" profiles Catherine Orenstein, a writer and activist who teaches women the techniques of editorial opinion-piece writing. Don't let the cheesy headline turn you off--this is an important, well-written article.

Orenstein says of editorial writing, "It's a teachable form. It's not like writing Hemingway. You show people the basics of a good argument, what constitutes good evidence, what's a news hook, what's the etiquette of a pitch."

Many women are never taught these key structures and formulas, yet we need to learn them if our voices are to to be included in media coverage of all the key issues of the day.

The Times feature shares enough of Orenstein's tips that you'll learn just from reading this piece. I'll be on the lookout for opportunities to bring you more of Catherine Orenstein's wisdom.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

What would Linda Hirshman say?

I am sure that mean-feminist pundit Linda Hirshman would love to think that we are all sitting around wearing "WWLHS?" bracelets as we judge our lives by her standards.

Not gonna happen....but I did think of Linda this weekend as I read the Time Magazine article "The Zeal for the Job" about "why we work...successful professionals: the choices they make, the paths they pursue." Time praises people who have followed their passions into interesting, zig-zagged career paths. Robert Norton, 37, had jobs as diverse as tour guide, fish exporter, real estate agent and baseball translator. He then went to law school to fill a demand for Japanese-speaking lawyers.

Hmmmm, what would Linda Hirshman say? It doesn't sound like he'd fit Hirshman's definition of a "serious" lawyer to me. (See my June 2006 post, The Flawed Philosophy of Linda Hirshman for more about her work.)

I think it's wonderful that people can look at life as a journey to explore, not a ladder to climb. I can't wait to read a new book mentioned in the Time article, The Escape Artists--True Stories of People Who Turned Their Obsessions into Professions. My only question is, why don't we celebrate these interesting paths and career transformations when motherhood is a step along the way?

Okay, motherhood is a lot less exotic than selling chocolate in Jamaica and exporting sea urchins from Maine, but I would argue that motherhood cuts deeper to a person's core, leading us to explore who we really are. Motherhood is a turning point, one that may well throw us off our original path, but that doesn't mean that our original path was "right" or that leaving is a failure or disappointment. When 1970's feminists get impatient with Gen X women who have taken time out from careers to raise families, I want to shout, "Our story has not been written yet!" I know women who are doing amazing things at all stages of their lives. They may be unsung heroines now, but they are leaders nonetheless. When I consider that my daughter will be out of the house by the time I am 50, and I may have another 30-40 good years left in me, God willing, it really hits me that our generation is pioneering a new kind of life path. I can't even conceive of "retirement" except as I see it practiced by my creative, brilliant, entrepreneurial neighbors who are technically retired but busier than ever before.

And as for us women who are looking for flex-time/part-time/telecommuting options: we may be getting flack from some people but I truly beleve that we are on the leading edge of the future workforce. Linda Hirsman's criticism sounds like something straight out of the Industrial Revolution, where raw materials went into factories and came out products. Linda insists that a rigid path like student--->law school--->lawyer--->partner is the way to meaningful work.

A "Creative Class" model of work is replacing this outmoded industrial model. I came of age in Silicon Valley in the 1990's, where work was about creating something new and taking the risk of launching it into the world. This thinking has influenced so many industries, including publishing. Self-publishing used to carry the stigma of "vanity" press. Now self-publishing feels to me like any other startup. I published Mojo Mom on my own and was accepted by a national distributor who places my book in stores alongside the products of the major publishers. My work competes in the marketplace of ideas.

My father-in-law's career contrasted with my husband's provides another telling example. My father-in-law was an inventor who worked at General Electric for over 40 years, straight out of Stanford grad school. In another era, with a good publicist, I am convinced that he could have been known as "a Thomas Edison of the late 20th century," but he worked in relative anonymity within the GE system. My husband attended Stanford as well but used it as a leaping-off pad in Silcon Valley: he bailed from the Ph. D. program after a year and a half to start a software company with two friends. They pooled a few thousand dollars together, ran T1 lines into their apartment and started the world's first Open-Source software company. That was almost 20 years ago and my husband is still a major figure in that field. So while he's had career longevity akin to his Dad did, a 3-man start-up and General Electric couldn't be more different.

And in case you're wondering, yes, Mojo Mom has led to some interesting paying gigs. I am going to work tomorrow for a stint of training at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School. I am convinced that I'd never have had the opportunity to work as a consultant at the business school if I hadn't taken a career diversion that went through the land of stay-at-home-Mom-hood, and led me to write my book. WWLHS about that?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Glad to see a favorite writer back at work!

Yesterday I stopped by Broadsheet,'s "cheeky" women's blog, and I was so glad to see that Lynn Harris is back as a contributor after taking maternity leave last fall. I met Lynn last summer when she interviewed me for her Glamour magazine piece, Infertile in a Baby-Crazed World. Through that connection I discovered her work on Broadsheet and made the blog one of my regular daily bookmarks. I missed Lynn's eye for good stories and ear for snappy wordplay while she was away.

How could you pass up her new Broadsheet post called "My Vagina's School District"?

Welcome back, Lynn, and I am wishing you the best as a new Mojo Mom!

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

What was your "Naptime Activist" awakening?

There is nothing like motherhood to expand our view of the world. For me, becoming a mother was the experience that truly shook up my comfortable and complacent life, bringing me into the community of women and the challenges we face in the United States and worldwide.

What happens when this awareness comes at a time when we are personally overloaded with our own commitments? I want to introduce you to a community of "naptime activists," women who find a way to work for social change even in the midst of busy family and work lives. The great news is that even if you have just an hour to spare here and there (for example, while you kids are asleep, hence "naptime activist"), thanks to the internet there are ways to get connected to significant opportunities that will allow you to make a difference.

I am partnering with to bring you the Naptime Activist Edition of The Mojo Mom Party Kit, which will help you explore ways to become involved. A first step can be very small, as long as you are paying attention to the possibilities that are before you. In the Party Kit you'll read my story about how something as simple was watching TV led to a life-changing opportunity for me.

To get started, why not gather your friends for a Moms' Night Out with a purpose, to watch this the MomsRising documentary film The Motherhood Manifesto. We provide you a complete set of party and discussion ideas. The Mojo Mom Party Kit is a free download. You can access all 3 sessions through my home page,

To celebrate this new partnership, this week's Mojo Mom Podcast features an interview with MomsRising naptime activists Cooper Munroe and Emily McKhann. This dynamic duo started the Been There Clearinghouse immediately after hurricane Katrina struck, creating a "community bulletin board" that brought together people in need and donors who wanted to help. This grassroots effort mobilized truckloads of aid to the Gulf Coast, starting during the crucial early days when FEMA was paralyzed. You can read about Cooper and Emily's continuing adventures on their Been There blog.

I am so fortunate to have met such an amazing group of women through Start listening to their stories and I guarantee you'll be inspired.

Please share your story with us as well! Did motherhood open you up to the world in a new way? I'd love to hear about your own "naptime activist awakening."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

My Worst Nightmare!

The New York Times has an amazing feature today Whose Bed Is It, Anyway? about parents putting up with their age 5+ children demanding to sleep in their parents' bed. These "reluctant co-sleeper" parents are living through what to me is hell--never getting a decent nights' sleep unless they give into the tyrannical demands kids who are way old enough to know better.

Actually, the kids are savvy. They know how to get what they want, and they are behaving in a perfectly logical way given their parents' response. The parents are reacting to this abominable behavior with variable ratio reward, the most powerful reinforcement there is. Mom and Dad are paying off like slot machines. Tug on their arms long enough, whine enough, and you're in.

One tired Mom admitted as much:

But sleep is good, sleep is best. Indeed, the best nights, she continued, are the nights when “we don’t actively try to fix the problem, when we just give in and everybody gets a good night’s sleep.”

“It’s when you’re trying to actively parent that nobody gets any rest,” she said. “We’re so tired we only ‘try’ to parent like this once or twice a week.”

There but for the grace of God go I. We were a co-sleeping family, but when it stopped working for us, we moved on. Our daughter slept in our bed until she was about nine months old, then we moved her to her crib in her own room. She didn't really sleep through the night until she was about a year and a half old, and that was because one night we moved her to a room farther down the hall and I couldn't hear her whimper. I had been rushing in way too fast and reinforcing her frequent wakefulness. Forget "Ferberizing"--I was by her side before she was even fully awake. By the time she was nearly two years old, I was a sleep-deprived basket case. I had a full neurological workup and sleep study and in the final analysis, my doctor told me that I desperately needed to "pay back" the sleep debt I had accumulated since becoming a Mom. It took me several months of disciplined early-to-bed routines to get myself back to normal, which was completely worth the investment.

In my non-sleep expert view, it's okay to have a newborn in bed or nearby, but the tranistion to a baby's own crib is key. The article about these unhappily co-sleeping families showed what can happen otherwise: Dad and 5-year-old son sleeping in the parents' four-poster bed ("Harrison...has taken command of his parents' king-size four poster, pushing his father, Paul, to the edge and his mother out completely") and Mom and 3-year-old daughter upstairs in the pink princess bed.

The kids in this report are totally ruling the roost. The article is designed to push buttons and boy, does it succeeed. The kids' behavior comes across as the very definition of "spoiled"--a word I really hate by the way, but I couldn't stop thinking of it reading about this situation. The parents in this article keep talking about failed attempts to "tempt" their kids into choosing thier own bed, by buying lavish beds and decorations for the kids. These particular kids sound like they will never "choose" to move on. The only solution is for the parents to bite the bullet and INSIST that everyone sleeps where they each belong.

I am convinced that my daughter would still be in our bed if we had left the choice up to her--heck, she'd probably still be nursing if I let her! I have had to learn to stand my ground and develop firm boundaries, for her sake as well as mine. Nobody likes a bully and I am afraid that is what kids become when parents don't set limits.

One of my husband's sayings is that "puppy training was parent training." Nine years ago we brought home an adorable, HEADSTRONG Shiba Inu puppy. He is one of the most dominant dogs I have ever met, and it taught me such a lesson to learn how to exert my leadership over him. We were told that if a Shiba Inu senses a leadership void in the house, the dog will be more than happy to fill that role, and be warned that nobody wants to live in a house with a Shiba Inu in charge (think chewing and peeing everywhere)! My husband and I went through a year and a half of obedience training with the dog to reinforce OUR behavior to make sure that we were leading him properly. This was truly the most helpful pre-parenting education I could have received.

Would you want to be ruled by this fuzzball? Trust me, you wouldn't!

Now years later we have a headstrong yet lovable dog, and a headstrong and lovable girl, and I am so grateful for both of them. I am an expert on motherhood but I do not consider myself a "parenting advice expert." I still make mistakes, every day. Ironically, today I had my first checkup with my neurologist since my sleep study 5 years ago. He said I still need to brush up on my own sleep habits: less caffeine, more exercise. But at least I have put the co-sleeping struggle behind me!