Why Gender Rules Matter

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Asking the right questions is fundamental to finding the right solutions

Have you ever wondered why women's representation, across all levels of government, has been stalled for decades at less than 25%?

Although women have long had entree to careers in business, law, and medicine, why are women CEOs and those in C-suites such a rarity - and what happened to all the potential managing partners and department chairs?

Are the anti-discrimination laws we have the ones we need to close an array of gender gaps?

What are the consequences over time of the significant gender imbalance in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers?

If we were to educate students differently, would it change the numbers? And what would "differently" look like?

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Staying at Home, Part 4

Here is a partial list of work I did while staying home with my kids:*

    Room mother
    Auction catalog organizer/co-writer
    Secretary of Parent Board
    Member of Board of Trustees
    Library volunteer (my favorite)
    Organizer of a student film competition
    Yale interviewer
    Unofficial secretary of my 28 year old Book Club — writing correspondence, keeping    records, creating and managing our website
     Co-writer of the proposal for a how-to book about our Book Club.  (We were too easily discouraged and gave up after three (only three!) agents passed on the project.)  

Clearly I am a person who likes to be busy, prides herself on contributing, and has a multitude of interests.  I didn’t have to do most of the things on the list; I chose them.  With my husband frequently out of town or working long hours, I wanted to spend time with adults, so I volunteered at school.  I wanted my Book Club to be successful, and took on its organization.  I read books on the sidelines of all kinds of sports games, looking up to cheer when I heard other parents cheering.  I wondered if my kids should be made to practice musical instruments if neither of their parents played, so after about a thirty year hiatus I took up piano again.  I made (beautiful, if I do say so myself) embroidery samplers while watching Rug Rats with the kids.  I learned Quicken so I could keep track of our finances…  

Just making such a list makes me sound defensive, right?  And I am.  I’ve watched too many eyes glaze over when I told them what I was up to.  Graduating from Yale garners expectations from employers, friends, and family along the lines of, “Designed any Mars Landers recently?”  The daily work of being a mom is not the stuff of exciting narrative.  It can be engaging and even fascinating from a “student of human nature” perspective, but that’s something you only know from the inside.
 
Other parents, who had to work outside the home ran the gamut in their appraisals.  For each, “Thanks for everything you do, here’s your annual room parent gift,” I’d hear “It’s so unfair that you get to do all these things with and for your children.”  The issue is fraught, from all perspectives.

But challenges abound.  Think about being the Type A person who sits on a playground bench.  Learning to be “in the moment” with my children instead of always busily accomplishing was the (highly unsung) personal triumph of that time in my life.  Frankly, it’s the best thing I could have learned, though I can’t say I’ve quite got it yet.

I was challenged in so many ways, some quite similar to life in the “working” world.  I had carpool schedules, snack schedules, hot lunch schedules and meeting schedules.  Plus practice, game and rehearsal schedules.  If one thing fell out of place, there were back up plans.  In Los Angeles all these things require driving.**  It’s a wonder no one gave me a gold watch when the last kid went to college.  

Every parent has her (or his) own story.  I can get judgmental with the best of them, but I try not to jump to conclusions about staying home vs. working.  When I see young mothers, which occasionally I do, I like to hear their stories, their concerns — their realization that they’ve just talked to the casher for five minutes because she’s the first adult they’ve seen all day.  Looking around during such conversations, I often note disapproval from eavesdroppers.  The unasked question: why do you care about her day with her child?  It’s not politics, it’s not art or business, so is it really worthy of discussion?  My answer:  without our mutual interest in how our children are raised — from the grand ethical questions to the minutia of daily rituals — childrearing will become even more devalued than it is already, and the women (and men) who stay home for whatever reason will continue to be marginalized.  In some ways that’s why I think I decided to write this blog.

 



*I couldn’t have done any of it without part-time help, which I had until my youngest was about five.

**Yes, there’s a whole other conversation there about everything from public transport to helicopter parenting but we’ll leave that for the moment.

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My Yale Day of service project in Japan for the tsunami victims

I gave a concert for the tsunami victims and with Choir Musette who are tsunami victims. The idea for this concert was inspired by the Yale Day of Service philosophy. It was a very successful and emotional fulfilling experience.

nina deutsch

mma yale 1973

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Stay-at-Home Mom Saga Continued. Part 3

Working Mom:
the best-laid plans.

My husband and I had a plan for being parents —  we would trade off work.  Film is a project-based industry, so we thought this was both practical and realistic.  Our scheme succeeded for about the first six months, largely because my husband’s job continued after our son was born.  Then it was my turn.

My husband would stay home, but the demands of his career meant that he was always on the lookout for work, which in turn meant phone calls (which back then, tied him to the landline) and meetings.  We hired an au pair, B, whom our son instantly adored.  B adored him back.  Finding someone so loving and trustworthy — I now realize — was a matter of luck, pure and simple.

The deck seemed clear for me to return to work.  I had the will, the breast pump, and an offer of a short job ten minutes from home.  The hours were long, so B would bring my son to me for at least one daily feeding.  But, where breastfeeding at home in a rocking chair was something I had conquered, there was no couch or private office in my warehouse-like building.  Solitude could only be found in the  large industrial Ladies Room where there was no (hygienic) seating.  Balancing my baby in my arms “just so” for even twenty minutes, was stressful, to say the least.  

Remember, it was 1987.   Working mother’s issues were very much under the radar.    

Next time, I wanted shorter hours.  I contacted my former bosses.  I should say here that they pretty much rolled out the red carpet to help me.  They supported every request and every change.  They were truly exceptional in an industry where traditionally only top-tier execs and highly-sought actresses receive accommodations.  When I decided to try being their Sound Librarian (a 9 to 5 position) they welcomed me back.  But a librarian’s take-home is about a third of an editor’s, and I barely made enough money to cover B’s salary.  Plus, I had a 45 minute commute.  

My next idea was to work at home.  I converted our study into my editing space and since those were pre-digital days, the company moved in a Moviola™, editing bench, rewinds, bins and supplies — all at their own expense.  

By then my son was a toddler.  Those of you who have been there can recognize this as a major flaw in my plan.  Moving gears, sharp metallic surfaces, bright and shiny objects — it was all there behind closed doors, along with his beloved mother.  He was allowed to visit, but the boundaries became fluid all too soon.  If my husband or B got distracted for even a second, in marched my son.  Sound editors wear headphones so I couldn’t even hear the door open.  Eventually his sippy-cup of orange juice tumbled into a bin of sound I had already cut.  Sugar does bad things to magnetic tracks.  I had to clean, check and recut almost everything.  

I tried again, moving my whole set up into our ancient detached garage.  Keeping tracks clean was a constant battle.  My son still knew where to find me.  When I found myself cutting background “gas chamber ambience,” for a disturbing scene in a bad movie I  seriously questioned how I was spending my days.

It wasn’t like I’d always envisioned myself as a sound editor.  It was a skill, a skill I was proud of and good at.  It appealed to my love of craft, my puzzle-solving compulsions, but wasn’t essential to my well-being.  My husband had a new job, a bigger film.  So I threw in the towel — the splicer, the paycheck — and discovered I was relieved. 

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Literary Ladies Unite! Annual Book Club BBQ: A New Yale Women of NorCal Tradition

Last Saturday August 2nd, the lovely Michelle Fait (Yale SOM '93) hosted a fantastic group of Yale women as part of the YaleWomen of Northern California Book Club BBQ. Altogether, about 15 literary ladies gathered in the early evening to grill some grub, get nerdy and meet some fellow Yale ladies in the Bay Area.

(Special blog contribution by Teresa Tapia, PC '06)

 
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YaleWomen Northern California: Preventing Sexual Violence

On June 4, YaleWomen of Northern California along with the Yale Club of San Francisco and the AYA hosted a discussion on "Preventing Sexual Violence: The Workplace, the College Campus, and Other Sexual Ecologies," featuring Yale faculty Melanie Boyd (Assistant Dean of Student Affairs; Lecturer, Women's Gender & Sexuality Studies) and Inderpal Grewal (Chair, Department of Women's Gender & Sexuality Studies).

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YaleWomen Global Newsletter | June 2014

YaleWomen Global Newsletter | June 2014

  • Welcome to the new YaleWomen website!
  • Announcing YaleWomen's 2014-2015 Governing Council
  • Save the Date: YW + WFF Conference
  • From the Desk of the YaleWomen 50/50 Media Initiative
  • Chapter Highlight: YaleWomen NorCal hosts Title IX Talk
  • A Gathering of Yale College Women
  • Celebrating Yale's First Female Lecturer
  • Get involved
  • Stay Connected
  • Join Our Mailing List
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The Gender Divide in Hobbies?

Hobbies are very personal: some people like sports, others like cooking; some people like making art, others like making music. At Yale, we saw opportunities for many of these activities, and some even counted for course credit –whether as Drama School courses or as college seminars. There was a joke about the Basket Weaving course supposed to be offered at some “cool” and not-so-academic colleges. 

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25 -- wait, no, 35 years later...

I vividly remember reading Lisa Belkin’s 2003 article, “The Opt-Out” Revolution.  My sons were 9, 13 and 16.  

Belkin’s article was the best I’d seen about the pros and cons of choosing to stay home with children.  It was also the only article I’d seen.  I had dutifully read what felt like hundreds of pieces about women-in-the-workplace, even though I’d left my own career in the film industry more than ten years before.  So when Belkin’s article came out, I was thrilled.  But I was older than the women in her article and had older children.  It made me feel a bit late to the party — like I feel when I see all the great baby paraphernalia invented just after I could have used it — the car seat that would have saved my back, the stroller that really does collapse easily.   
The next year was my my 25th Yale reunion.  I think the Belkin article contributed to my confidence in “coming-out” as a stay-at-home-mom among all my classmates and their extraordinary accomplishments.   I filled out the catch-up-with-your-classmates form (which I’ve edited it for length) as follows:

If you'd ever told 20 year old feminist-me that I would be raising three sons and not working I would have laughed in your face.

Nonetheless, here I am, 25 years later, and it's the most satisfying thing I could have done… One of us needed to be around [for the kids], and I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that I wanted it to be me.  Also (and don't discount this as motivation) at home, I am the chief.  The person in authority.  The Queen.  And even though two out of three of our progeny are now teenagers, I still get listened to more in my house than anywhere in the outside world.  

However, Yale career codes notwithstanding, [alumni forms offer a list of career choices to check off] I am not a homemaker… What I am, and am proud of, is a mom.  That's why I picked the “career counseling” code option [when I filled out the form], though I do not work outside the boundaries of my family circle or have any degree that would entitle me to advise non-family members.  Whether it's on the soccer field today ("KICK IT") or their eventual careers after college, I'm here to tell them how to do it.  They don't have to listen, but I'll tell them anyway.  

.… In the meantime, I'm really busy and mostly surprised and pleased to have found the value and contentment that I have in the life I lead.

I was happy and proud.  I was in the thick of it, I felt needed and I was busy.  If I wasn’t writing that novel yet I could see a glimmer at the end of the tunnel where I might be able to do something “for me.”  I had a certain amount of guilt about all the outside-world promise I had not fulfilled, but as the above indicates, I was singing, “Always look on the bright side of life…” for all the world to hear.  

When the Ten-Years-Later follow-ups to Belkin’s article appeared last year,  my newly empty nest gave me the leisure to read most of them, starting with Judith Warner’s.  I learned some valuable things which I hope to share in the upcoming months.  For example, why didn’t the bright side stay all shiny, especially when my kids got older and I could and did start writing?  My answers, of course, are specific — to our family, my heritage, my friends, and where I live.   

By the way, a few weeks ago, I attended my 35th reunion.  And however bright — or not — my current outlook, the funny thing is I still felt right at home at Yale and with my fellow Yalies.  But more about that in another post.

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It never occurred to me that I would be a stay-at-home mom.

It never occurred to me that I would be a stay-at-home mom.  

My plan:  I would use my ample salary as a sound editor and the time between individual film projects to create my own films, which would fall somewhere on the scale between “artsy” and “avant-garde,” and establish me as a Woman in Film.  I’d enter these gems in festivals and bask in their successes.  I knew I wanted children, but when that happened, I’d play it by ear.

By my late twenties, I had a great career going as a sound editor.  I was in the union and I was in demand.  But the first glitch in my plan had emerged — in between films, when I was supposed to be creating Art, I needed to recover from the seven-day weeks.  Do some laundry.  Balance the checkbook.  I wasn’t even sure I wanted to spend my life cutting sound — I had happened into it and I was good at it, but it didn’t compel me the way my husband’s career in film production did him.

And then, the game-changer: pregnancy.  My husband and I agreed that we’d be flexible — we’d alternate working and childcare between us. I had no idea how I’d feel post-birth, and I knew no other (female) sound editors with young children.   My husband was experiencing success, so his salary had begun to surpass mine.  It gave us the financial wherewithal so if I wanted to be a “stay-at-home mom,” I could.  

The film industry is tough on any kind of personal life.  Our first child was anxious by nature.  And I had my own plentiful anxieties and a (possibly pathological) sense of responsibility to my children, which I could not have foreseen before motherhood.   Between my early attempts at continuing to work when my eldest was a toddler, and what I’d have to call my intuition about what was right for all of us, I simply stopped trying to “have it all.”  

My sons are 26, 23 and 20 now.  They are what I am most proud of in this world.   But the world isn’t necessarily proud of me back.  My decision was absolutely the right thing for them.  I have not one shred of doubt about that.  However, now that they’re off leading their own lives (a wonderful thing to celebrate) I have to admit that I’m way behind.  I stayed home — as it turned out — to the detriment of my marriage, my resume and my bank account.

At the heart of my discouraging conclusion I see society’s deep distrust and dislike of what has been called women’s work.  Time spent with children — people who are uncivilized, selfish, uneducated and often difficult — is not intellectually stimulating, even if you happen to love children’s books, board games and team sports.  The hours are terrible and the rewards are ephemeral.  Talk to a preschool teacher about it (and so on up the school ladder).  If I want praise for my decision to stay home, it’s up to me to provide it, because I’m not going to find it elsewhere.  If I had even a ounce of native Zen (or came from a less ambitious background and social group) I’d have no regrets.  In another place or time, I’d be resting on my laurels.  As it is, I remain fiercely proud of my decision, and yet (not so privately now) deeply ambivalent. 

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