Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

And then there’s that ceiling. The one made of glass.

In Uncategorized on April 8, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Originally posted at BlogHer on September 10, 2008

My generation is known for being lazy, selfish, needy and good at talking the talk but not walking the walk. Though I suppose that’s what happens when you grow up with the world literally at your fingertips. When you want to know something, the answer is there in a matter of seconds that is if the wifi hasn’t suddenly gone out. I am of a generation of people who have been very, very lucky.

With that luck though comes the cost of forgetting what happened prior so as not to make the same mistakes over and over again. We don’t want to relive history and we try to be anti-establishment and set our own pace because that’s how most of us have been brought up. That we – male, female, black, white – can be whatever we want to be. For this particular generation we have never been told that we can do something based on a specific set of caveats and presets but instead hat we can do something based solely on our willpower and working hard. While idealistic and possibly naive, it’s still how we were raised: If you want it, you can do it.

The way the triteness drips off that last statement is causing me physical pain and yet it’s the truth. I was brought up as an black female with parents that never emphasized that I am a double minority. In fact it was rarely an issue. My parents – one from Birmingham circa the Civil Rights Movement, the other circa Queens in the 1960’s – never started off a sentence with “Because you’re a girl…” When I told them that I wanted to run for Congress and that I wanted to pack up and move to Washington, DC because I saw some other woman do it, they were all Go for it! And in Washington I encountered a slew of other young women just like me. The kind that were raised by parents – mothers specifically – who helped fuse the backbone of the Feminist and Civil Rights movements and so it was automatically ingrained in us that with that basis we can and should do what we want to do.

It was in Washington when the ‘feminist’ bug bit me. I wouldn’t call myself a feminist necessarily and the definition of such is fluid but how my mother raised me has a lot to do with the woman that I am now. The woman who when she wants a job goes after that job and will negotiate the hell out of a salary. A woman with strong beliefs on birth practices. A woman who isn’t necessarily ant-patriarchy but one that doesn’t feel that marriage is a necessity for happiness and that if married couldn’t be paid enough to change her last name. Obviously all of this could change but the beauty of being in your mid-20’s is that you get to be a little credulous. And I was surrounded by other women my age with the same beliefs of what a woman can do (EVERYTHING) and that we should go forth and take over the world. We were all supported and inspired by our parents, peers and professors. For me college resembled this New York Times article by Hannah Seligson:

I WAS born in 1982 — about 20 years after the women’s rights movement
began. Growing up in what many have called a post-feminist culture, I
did not really experience institutional gender bias. “Girl power” was
celebrated, and I felt that all doors were open to me.

When I was in college, the female students excelled academically,
sometimes running laps around their male counterparts. Women easily
ascended to school leadership positions and prestigious internships. In
my graduating class (more than half of which was female) there was a
feeling of camaraderie, a sense that we were helping each other succeed.

The above is one of the onslaught of articles that have popped up in recent weeks where women have to be reminded of their place and that while we’ve come so far we still have far to go. Perhaps they’ve always been there lurking but with the “equal pay for equal work” mantra during the Democratic National Convention and the Palin – Is She a Feminist or Isn’t She – factor at the Republican National Convention it seems as if all that can be discussed is that there are cracks in the glass ceiling. 18 million cracks to be specific and we women need to fight and stand up for ourselves and thrust ourselves into the debate of where a woman should be if she has young children.

These articles and arguments are mostly coming from people a decade or more older than I am. These people are far wiser so who am I to protest what they’re saying and yet they forget one thing: They forget that there is an entire generation of women, like me, who were raised to believe that women as leaders in the corporate or political world is a natural thing. What has been happening as of late is a big deal and yet it isn’t. It feels like it’s time and yet there’s that feeing from many young women that it’s an obvious ‘DUH’ to have a woman as vice president so what’s the big deal and she doesn’t win there is more time. We work for women who could be us. I’ve spent the majority of my fairly brief career around other black women so the assumption that someone like myself can have the job that I have and do what I want to do isn’t all that far fetched. Again, basing this all off of MY personal experience. Yet Seligson points out again that in this day in age things are still strikingly imperfect and imbalanced:

But outside forces are only part of the story. I have also seen
young women — myself included — getting in the way of their own
success. I have found that we need to build a new arsenal of skills to
mitigate some of our more “feminine” tendencies. Having lived in a
cocoon of equality in college, we may have neglected these vital,
real-world skills.

In my own case, I realized that I needed to
develop a thick skin, feel comfortable promoting myself, learn how to
negotiate, stop being a perfectionist and create a professional network
— abilities that men are just more likely to have already.

There’s this odd dichotomy and I am quoting a simple statement from American Princess who said “In this day and age, I tend to believe (or at least wish) that women
are recognized as the equal of men. I know that’s not true all of the
time…” I’m not that starry-eyed and fanciful and yet in the back of my mind I’ve never had to think or say Why aren’t women allowed to do this? It’s more like Why not? Lately though, I keep being brought back down to Earth where most everyone else lives. Based on response from the pundits and the public that we’re still debating the things we’ve always been debating and that there have been giant leaps yet more steps need to be taken. It’s almost like every time I feel ready to stand up and for every time that I have stood up, the second I raise my head, it’s met by this hard surface. And when I look up to see what’s above it’s just that stupid glass ceiling always in the way. Yeah, it’s got a few cracks but perhaps if I bang my head a bit more, I’ll finally be able to crash through.

Heather B. also blogs in such obviously complacent fashion at No Pasa Nada. She apologizes in advance.


It Was a Bittersweet Convention

In Uncategorized on April 8, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Originally posted at BlogHer on August 31, 2008

When people ask me why I moved back to Upstate New York the answer is a very succinct “Because of the money”. And then I shrug and say that it’s just ok. When people ask me how I ended up in Washington, DC for six years, the story is longer. I don’t shrug or give it a brush off, I happily go through each step starting with my early acceptance into American University and crying in the middle of Houlihan’s when I was accepted.

Oh but where to begin? I guess when Hillary Clinton decided to run for the Senate from New York. I was 16 and already well versed in senatorial politics and thought that CSPAN was – and still is – far more exciting than MTV. But there was no exact feeling when she announced her intentions. Perhaps I was too young? But it slowly turned from a blase attitude about a First Lady to finally warming up to her. Then again that is how I approach any new relationship with anyone. It’s a long process, with quizzical looks from my end and general suspicion.

The first time I met Hillary Clinton was a few months shy of my 17th birthday at an event in Rochester, New York. President Clinton let her enter the green room by herself so as not to overshadow her and I felt my heart begin to beat faster and my palms began to sweat as she approached me and had the audacity to ask my name. ‘Heather’ which is two syllables, came out in a whisper as she shook my hand and I was suddenly hooked.

She won her election easily and I was afflicted with Hillary fever. I wanted to be her. I wanted to meet her again and shake her hand and stand in awe of her because there was something – that thing that I couldn’t put my finger on at the time something that both she and her husband had- about her that brought me to my knees. And so I had options of Cornell, The University of Chicago, Boston College, Syracuse. But I chose American because; and I couldn’t make this up if I tried; I wanted to intern for Senator Clinton. That was my whole goal for DC ;to stare at her slack jawed and call it “work”. I had big dreams, let me tell you.

Working in that Senate office was like having the business end of a chopstick shoved into my esophagus each day. I was miserable. I hated the work (I am not meant to work a Xerox machine) and because she was THE Hillary Clinton I was one of four from the Great State of New York. But I suffered through and met her when she swooped into the office and each time just stared and drooled a bit because despite my misery, it was still Her.

I’m talking about the woman like she’s Jesus or something. Putting my pronouns in caps but it’s the way that this woman affected me. Perhaps our kindred spirits or that we have the same birth date thus making us both completely Type A possibly obsessive women who want what we want and will try and try and try until we get it. So when I think of it now I owe every minute of the past seven years to her. To her mere presence that drove me to pursue some unknown and haphazard career in Democratic Politics. Because of one woman I met on a crappy day in Rochester – She is who I want to be.

That was eight years ago. And what has happened in that eight years for me personally and professionally, (and my God, in the world as a whole), will be fodder for decades to come. When she announced that she was running, I can tell you the exact feeling that came through me: That’s it. It’s her. It will be her. There wasn’t a single doubt in my mind. (A brief digression to tell you about my friend Zack who at one point early on said that no one would ever vote for “some obscure black man”.) She was going to be it. They might as well start fitting her for a new State of the Union pant suit today.

Their platforms weren’t dissimilar, this is true. And for me and for most New Yorkers who loved our “favorite daughter” it was because we knew her. We knew how hard she had worked and I know right now how completely trite this all sounds but she worked her ass of for us. To prove herself and to understand a state that she had only recently adopted as her home.

In College I took a course on Electoral Politics. I know as much about as Electoral Politics as I do about the third season of the Real World (Read: A LOT). During that course we debated the primary process and I was the only person who brought up how unrepresentative New Hampshire and Iowa are. They are two lovely states, I’m sure, but lovely states that are fairly homogeneous. It felt as if two states that didn’t represent the country as a whole were effectively choosing who would be a Presidential nominee. Ludicrous at best and fairly undemocratic. As a firm believer in democracy and the democratic process I cannot tell you how thrilled I was that the Democratic Party changed the primary process. I know that politics isn’t kindergarten and that things should be fair but we all should be able to choose from a pool of greatness not just from one person essentially dictated by two states in January.

Oh and the things that were said about Senator Clinton towards the end. What got me most were those who decided that THIS election they were suddenly interested in politics and were often the same people – on both sides – who would then stamp their feet and say that if the other won, then they would have to vote for the Republican. Are you kidding me? Really? If I spent my entire career stamping my feet after each and every disappointment due to my political party then I would currently be slinging hashbrowns at The Waffle House. People who said that she should drop out for the “good of the party”, how about the good of democracy and voting and everything that this country is based upon?

Anyway, I still had hope. Even at what seemed like the end. I was standing in a kitchen on Capitol Hill at a fundraiser on June 3rd when it was all said and done. It was raining and I took a shot of Patron because I was sad. It was like when John Kerry lost after I had spent my entire fall as a full time staffer on his campaign. When someone you believe in loses an election it feels like a little part of you dies.

I won’t recap the months leading up to the convention except to say that for some reason I still had hope. Far fetched hope and belief like the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus were going to show up at the simultaneously and drop off $800 under my pillow and a new lens under the tree, respectively. Everyone speculated as to what would happen at the convention. That because Her name was placed on the ballot that it could still happen. Look, even the biggest Hillary fan girl knows that somethings are just impossible but that doesn’t quell the want for a different outcome.

I was at the New York State delegation breakfast when she spoke and sincerely told all of those from her home state to join with Barack Obama. I was there when during a massive rally/press conference last Wednesday afternoon when she released her delegates. And then it felt over. It felt like the joy and any modicum of home were suddenly sucked out of that room. I was there, when we all filed out and grown men and women were in tears. I turned to my bosses and said ‘Well this sucks’ (they hired me because of excellent vocabulary. And I was there during the roll call when she and Shelly Silver and everyone other New Yorker on the planet – or so it felt – got up on that stage and nominated Barack Obama by affirmation. And I was there, sitting in section 102 of Invesco stadium, screaming and waving my flag and tearing up and texting everyone and their brother, when Barack Obama accepted the nomination.

It’s hard to want something badly and to fight for it with everything that you have – as I saw so many do – only to see it disappear in what seems like such a fleeting manner. It all has gone by so quickly and yet the last eight years have been EIGHT years. I know actual eight year olds who are fully functioning and can crack jokes. That’s a long time. As hard as it all is, it’s somewhat comforting to have someone – and you can call the woman what you want but she can lead like no other – who does know when to call it quits and does so with class. It wasn’t that she fought to the bitter end, she just let every American have their chance to vote and to use their voice. She believes in democracy and the good of this country and as cliched as this all has sounded, it’s because of that, that so many believed in her.

Heather B. rarely writes about politics but is always this full of cliches at her blog No Pasa Nada. She is totally now afflicted with Jobama fever.