Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Opting Out?" author on podcast and in Durham next week

Sociologist Pam Stone has done all Moms a great service with her book Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home which is currently my pick for the top motherhood book of 2007. When Stone began to wonder about the back stories of stay-at-home Moms who had formerly held high-powered jobs, she didn't rush to judgment. Instead she put in the hard work required to research the trends in Moms and employment. Her book is compassionate, intelligent and thorough. It has influenced my thought about "life choices" and reframed the issue. Stone understands why women like me would naturally embrace a narrative that we have "opted out." She tells women's stories with great compassion--and at the same time she blows the lid off the opt-out storyline and shows why it does us a disservice. Stone shows us that far from "opting out," many women are "pushed out" of their careers despite efforts to keep working. Instead of blaming women for their individual situations, Stone puts the focus back on employers and the workplace. I hope that over the next 5 to 10 years we can develop some win-win strategies that will address these issues on a society-wide level.

Pam was the headline guest on North Carolina Public Radio's program The State of Things earlier this week, and you can access it here by podcast through WUNC's archives (also available on iTunes--free in either case). We are blessed to have this uncommonly good show produced right here in our community, with a extraordinary host, Frank Stasio, so I recommend the show to you.

Pamela Stone will be visiting North Carolina in person next week, for a book reading and signing at The Regulator Bookshop in Durham. She'll be appearing next Wednesday, October 3 at 7 pm.

If you can go, you should GO, even if you can only get out by yourself. I know it can be hard to mobilize a Moms' Night Out but this one is worth a serious effort. Unfortunately, I will be out of town, or else I would be there. The Triangle is full of incredible women who have important stories to share, so why not go, introduce yourself to the person next to you, and make a new friend.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Made to Stick: Funniest eBay Auction Ever

My brain feels like it's going to explode today, in a good way, if that is possible.

I have been hanging out with a whole bunch of different groups lately, from, to the Women's Media Center, to book clubs and women at work groups, to the two-day Breastfeeding and Feminism symposium this week at UNC. I've had a great time pulling these threads together and making connections in different ways.

We talked about how to get breastfeeding accepted in society, and how to attract positive media coverage, and I recommended that we all read the book Made to Stick to help us create pithy, simple, memorable stories.

Then today I was reading Sarah Zeldman's Solutions for Busy Moms blog and she pointed me to her pick for the "Funniest eBay Auction Description Ever!"

On this eBay auction, a busy Mom of 6 kids writes a long, involved, funny story as she sells off a LOT OF POKEMON CARDS THAT MY KIDS TRIED TO SNEAK BY ME. (Go ahead and read it and then please come back.) She not only got $142.51 for her troubles, she got 179,000 people to read about her auction!

The author, Dawn, is also a blogger who writes Because I Said So. Now it seems inevitable that she'll get a book deal as a result of her eBay posting.

Most writers would kill for this kind of attention, I suppose each of us has to wonder how much you can plan for this type of response, and how much is just lightning in a bottle. Dawn seemed genuinely surprised by the attention to her auction. She was amazed by 14,000 hits and a bid of $40.00 last time she posted a comment on eBay. The auction ended over a month ago so the fact that people are still blogging about it and reading the auction description tell you that this story has gone viral and taken on a life of its own. She's received over 10,000 emails in response. (Read Dawn's late August Because I Said So blog entries to find out how it all exploded.)

It turns out that Dawn's eBay piece does fit all of the Made to Stick criteria for memorable ideas. It is a simple, concrete, unexpected (her blog didn't explode, her eBay listing did!), concrete, credible, emotional story. For me her genuineness was part of the fun...not to mention the allure of an ordinary Mom getting revenge on the kids who pulled a fast one on her.

We haven't heard the last from Dawn. The media has gotten wind of all this, of course, and she may show up on ABC World News in the near future.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

I don't love Dooce but I do love Bossy

I'm going to leave it to PunditMom to tell me when I cross over from blog friendship and admiration to plain old ripping her off by writing riffs on her posts.

I am willing to risk crossing that line today because I have pass along this video Bossy Loves Dooce. The Movie. which tickled my funnybone in just the right way to make me laugh this morning.

We need more funny Moms! (Could this be the best use of YouTube since the invention of the JAM mashup? Okay, maybe not quite, but any chance to put in a gratuitous mention of and link to The Office.)

I don't love Dooce but I do love Bossy after watching her video. You should also read Bossy's Homage to Fashion Models with commentary on New York Fashion Week photos (it wouldn't be as funny if I excerpted it so just read it!) and her sendup of the new Vera Wang fashion line at Kohl's.

I don't know if Bossy will hear back from Dooce but I hope that Bossy is picking up new fans left and right.

[Update: I wrote about this in the comments but wanted to put it in the post as well. I don't actually know Dooce very well, so when I say "I don't love her" I don't mean any disrespect against her. It's just that I can't compete with Bossy's admiration for Dooce.]

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Monday, September 17, 2007

There's something in the air: More Opinionated Women

Since hitting the "publish" button this morning I have been ecstatic to find that more of my favorite bloggers have also been talking about opinionated women:

Earlier this morning I went over to read PunditMom's blog as a reward for finishing my post, I found that last Friday she had written about The Power of Words, asking:

Why is it that women who blog get loads of attention if we're criticizing one another, but not if we want to engage in a real discussion on important issues?

Good question, one that groups like the Women's Media Center are working hard to address.

Which brings me to Deborah Sigel, author of Sisterhood Interrupted and the Girl with Pen blog, has an exclusive piece out today through the Women's Media Center. In her Wired, She Wrote essay, she exhorts:

Did Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell say, “I’m too old for a blog!”? Did the Freakonomics authors think, “No time to learn new tricks!”? Time to get over any residual technophobia, ladies, and embrace our collective presence online!

And finally, my extraordinary friends Cooper Munroe and Emily McKhann gave me a shout out on The Motherhood Link List this morning. They have one of the best new sites around, and their link list is perfect for busy women who don't have time to scan every blog every day (which describes just about every mother I know).

Being connected with other women who are out there creating a presence, writing, speaking out, and supporting each other has really helped me get my mojo back. So it feels like a good day to link to them and say THANKS!

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The View from 39: Opinionated Women

Last month I turned 39, and about a week later I called a good friend whom I've known since grad school. When we met, she was 22 and I was 26, and she seemed impossibly young, so I remarked with surprise that it was hard to believe that she'd be having her 35 birthday next month.

Maybe she thought I was bringing up her milestone a little early and decided to poke me back, because she replied, "I can't believe you're turning 40!" to which I stammered, "Yeah, in 50 weeks!"

So, like election coverage that spans 18 months, and Christmas catalogs that arrive in the 100 degree heat of August, I am taking an early look at what it means to be 40.

I've decided that reaching 40 is not just a milestone, it's a process, which I am in exploring as The View from 39.

Each decade of life presents new lessons. For me, my twenties were about figuring out who the heck I was--not just as someone's girlfriend, but as ME. My thirties were about adjusting to motherhood and finding my voice. And it looks like my forties will be about developing the courage to keep speaking in the face of criticism and opposition.

My experience blogging for has given me personal perspective to back up the concept that the online world is part of our culture that can be a particularly hostile environment for women, one in which hate speech operates under the cover of free speech. I thought I was prepared to weather criticism, assuming it would be a critique of my logic and arguments. However, I was not prepared for attacks on my motives and character. The comments on CNET haven't been too terrible, but when the Broadsheet blog on reported on one of my CNET posts that raised concerns about the lack of a child safety strategy for "$100 laptop" computers that are already being given out to kids in the developing world, many of the comments left by Broadsheet readers were really nasty, accusing me of being ignorant, racist, classist and paranoid.

There is no doubt in my mind that there is a huge element of sexism in these reactions. It still astounds me to see how opinionated women are reigned in by the cultural boundary patrol, over and over again. On CNET, it was interesting to see that when I wrote an irreverently critical review of the iPhone, a reader reacted with this comment,

Oh Please, not her again....Come on Cnet,[sic] are you really so hard up for content you have to publish this dribble [sic] again. Amy has no business writing about, much less owning an iPhone. It's obvious she has absolutely no experience with technology. The iPhone WAS an impulse buy for you, and you should be punished for being such a tool.

Would a male blogger ever be told that he didn't have any business trying out the latest gadget? Does it even matter that I have been an early adopter of almost every new Apple product since buying my first Macintosh in 1986, and have relied on the Mac platform for all my professional activities since then?

I am embarrassed to admit that stupid comments like this do hurt me. I thought I had a thicker skin, but I am not there yet. The criticisms of my child safety concerns gave me more than one sleepless night. I realize that I am experiencing in miniature what many women have to face in a MUCH harsher form on a daily basis. I can only imagine the defenses that Hillary Clinton has had to develop. I have learned to observe my own reactions to her more carefully--whatever criticisms I may have of her as a Senator or potential President, I don't want to fall into the trap of unconsciously adopting sexist arguments against her.

I am doubly embarrassed to admit that I had not paid more, earlier attention to the story about tech blogger Kathy Sierra receiving graphic, anonymous death threats that caused her to cancel professional appearances and ultimately led her to close down her technology blog, Creating Passionate Users. When Computerworld interviewed Sierra to ask her for her perspective about what started the wave of threats, she said:

For some reason [contributors to site] really hate me. I asked one of them why. He said it is because I am just so optimistic. They are about rage, and if you are optimistic and positive you are part of the problem. It spun out of control kind of like a mob or crowd. Meankids was supposed to be a place where they could be as nasty as possible. It was like a feeding frenzy. Once they started down that path of anything goes, they weren't going to stop. Who crosses that line and makes comments like that as an adult? These aren't kids on MySpace. Anyone who is unstable enough to actually say these things, then I don't want to take a chance.

Several years ago I read the book At the Root of this Longing: Reconciling a Spiritual Hunger and a Feminist Thirst by Carol Lee Flinders, and it has become a source I have returned to again and again. The book is about the connection between feminism and spirituality, and I keep getting drawn back to the chapter "A War Against Women." Flinders begins with the stories of three young women who had been kidnapped and killed, including the well-known case of Polly Klaas, and builds an argument that violence against individual women and children serves a patriarchal social function of collectively controlling all women. It is a difficult argument to accept, and I have spent plenty of time resisting it, yet when I think about an incident such as the threats to Kathy Sierra, or Don Imus' racist, sexist rant, I remember Flinder's description of how the system of control works:

Silently it persists, much like the electronic perimeter fences many dog owners install around their homes. The fence is underground--you never see it--but the dog very quickly gets an idea where it is because her collar gives her a good sharp ping whenever she starts to cross it. --"At the Root of This Longing," p. 219

Our voices are so valuable, so necessary, that we need to develop the courage to keep speaking. We still have a lot of work to do, individually and collectively, to create a society that does not allow women to be controlled by violence. We can start by supporting each other, and hope that by doing so, women like Kathy Sierra will find a safe path back into the public discourse.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Something had to give... my schedule and lately it's been blogging.

I knew I was behind in Mojo Mom blogging but it truly boggled my mind this morning to see that I hadn't posted since August 31. My apologies!

I thought that once school got back into session I'd smoothly pick up and move forward with all my newly restored work time. But I've been faced with a juggle of daily projects versus long-term projects. Always a tension between the two, isn't there? Getting the daily writing done makes one look productive, but sometimes you have to focus on a long-term project or it won't get done. That's where I a have been.

I'll announce my new project soon and I hope to catch up on my writing as well. I have some good pieces developing in my head that I am itching to get down.

But first I have a story that may be helpful to others who are going through change. We have been raising caterpillars over the past several weeks. At first we thought they were monarch caterpillars that we found in abundance last summer. But once they pupated, instead of the green-with-gold-flecked jewel you'd get from a monarch, the chrysalis was an ugly, brown, barklike nugget. In my book I wrote that it's important not to romanticize change. The unexpected homely chrysalis was a good reminder of this for me. Change can be hard work, difficult, scary. But in the end, we can hope that a wonderful new butterfly will come out of it all.

It turns out that our caterpillars are black swallowtails. Here's an amazing time-lapse video of one pupating into a chrysalis. And here is the butterfly that will emerge from the transformation. A beautiful image to focus on!

I can't be the only Mojo Mom who is facing more change than she expected this fall. Let me know if you are, too.

An update: I found this video of a monarch caterpillar changing into a chrysalis. You have to see it to believe it. The change comes from the inside as the chrysalis splits the old caterpillar skin open. I had always thought the chrysalis formed from the outside. Very interesting. There were several videos to choose from on YouTube but this was my daughter's favorite.

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