Category Archives: change

LeaningIN for a clearer vision

This story originally appeared on the Lean In web site, created by Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg to empower and connect women. It has been edited slightly for context here.

My hand shook so hard as I dialed the number that I nearly dropped the phone. When the voice on the other end answered and asked for my name, I panicked and blanked out. For a moment, I couldn’t think, couldn’t speak, could scarcely breathe.

What if they don’t believe me? I agonized inwardly. What if they tell me it was my fault?

It was the early 1980s, and thanks to the work of the powerful women’s movement of the previous two decades, the Office for Women’s Affairs on the campus of my university had recently formed a support group for women who had survived violence and assault.

My childhood was filled with trauma and nightmares that to this day I still struggle to describe. It had caused terrible scars that left me, at barely 21 years old, so badly shattered I wanted nothing more than to find some way — any way — to end my misery. I was so depressed and hopeless that death seemed to be the only reasonable option.

Every night, on going to bed, I prayed the same prayer. “God, I think you know me well enough to know I’m not going to do it,” I prayed. “But I wish you would do it for me, and just get me out of here.”

Although I did not yet know it, God was answering my prayer. Not the one I said out loud, but the one that lay so deep within that I could not bring myself even to put words on it.

I didn’t really want to die. I just wanted to want to live.

Finding my voice, and the will to live

Within that group, among women who had stories to share that were much like mine, I found my will to live. And more than that, I found the courage to dare to dream big dreams. I was in that group for more than four years, and in that time, I discovered I had a voice worth hearing. I applied to a graduate program at one of the nation’s top-ranked journalism schools, despite my fears that I would not be good enough. And I excelled in that program, emerging with a master’s degree and a string of successes in the form of published articles and clear recognition of my talent from faculty and peers.

And, I emerged with high hopes for my future.

I thank God every day of my life for the miracle of that group, and for the work of the countless women who made it possible.

Stumbling block

But then I married, and so much of that work came to a grinding halt.

In large part, it came to a halt because, although I had exerted tremendous effort in doing the hard work of changing within, the man I married had not. He saw no reason to change within. There was nothing to motivate him — not even the possibility of a stronger, happier marriage — to examine deeply held and highly destructive beliefs he had learned in childhood. And I quickly realized that if I wanted to stay married to him, I must once again silence my voice.

I have always said that our toughest battles as women will be fought on the home front, with our own husbands, fathers and sons. In many ways, I think I was simply too far ahead of the times to be able to win on a front where many still hold to the pervasive idea that the husband has to be “right” at any cost, where so much lingering, latent suspicion remains that the wife must somehow always be found to be at fault.

A difficult choice

So when a major national magazine, which I had long dreamed of working for, showed real eagerness to interview me for a position for which I would have been ideally suited, I was faced with a choice that is all too familiar to women of my generation. My husband made it clear that he would not even attempt to find a job in New York. Wouldn’t send a resume anywhere. Wouldn’t check the job boards. Just flat-out wouldn’t try.

“We can’t afford to live there,” he said stonily. And that was that. End of discussion. End of that dream.

So there it was. The choice that I and so many others have had to make: Pursue my career ambitions, or stay married.

I chose to stay married.

I cannot entirely regret that decision, even though the marriage continued to spiral downward into an increasingly toxic quagmire. Because of that decision, I have raised two beautiful daughters who are full of life and strength and potential. I have instilled in them all the messages I wish had been instilled in me: to believe in their own dreams, their own worth and their own accomplishments.

But I know there has also been an underlying message for them in the trade-off I made, and in the nagging sense that a husband who truly loved and respected his wife could surely have put forth some effort to make her dream possible, especially a dream that was well within reach. And so my hope for them has always been that they will not be faced with the terrible choice I had to make … that the world will have changed just enough to allow them better options.

Just like old friends

Until recently, I was not certain that such a hope was realistic. Like Sheryl Sandberg, I have had the uneasy sense that so much of the important work that was accomplished by those earlier feminists has been stalled, perhaps even lost.

I feel as though I have been waiting most of my adult life for some evidence that all of that work was not in vain. The high-profile launch of Lean In gives me reason to hope that there are other voices that are once again speaking for change. It’s like reconnecting with friends who have been out of touch for many years.

With that comes the hope that my daughters will indeed be able to fulfill their potential, however they choose to define it for themselves.

And reason to hope, as well, that perhaps it is not too late even for me. Maybe not even for me. As of this writing, I have been free of my oppressive, parasitic marriage for a little more than a year. It’s been a wonderful, powerful year, full of astonishment at how much I have accomplished, how well I seem to be doing on my own — far better, in fact, than I ever did when I was the demoralized “lesser half” of a couple.

So I guess we’ll see what hope lies ahead for me. We shall see.

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Filed under change, Faith, family, fearlessness

Men Who Hate Women. And the therapists who love them.

A few days ago, I went to the library and checked out the book Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them. Partly, I was just curious. Because it has long been considered a groundbreaking work, I figured any modern-day feminist worthy of the name should be well-versed in the relevant literature.

So, I started reading. Susan Forward, the psychologist who wrote the book, had me at the first couple of sentences, in which she described a destructive relationship dominated by a man who systematically destroys the woman’s attempts to assert her right to equal treatment. We’ve all seen relationships like that. Some of us have even been in relationships like that. Dr. Forward hit the nail right on the head.

So far, so good.

Then I come to the chapter in which she describes how men learn to be misogynistic within their families. As she describes the influence of a misogynistic father in shaping his son’s distorted perceptions of women, that too has the ring of authenticity and truth to it. We all know fathers who deliberately indoctrinate their sons in the belief that women are inferior, second-rate, worthy of contempt.

There’s where the problem sets in. After disposing in a few short paragraphs with a toxic father’s impact, she devotes the remainder of the chapter describing in great detail  the damaging effects of the mother-son relationship in response to the father. Page after page sets out the various dysfunctional models for how mothers trapped in marriage to an irredeemable jerk damage their sons. But not one further peep about what the father in all his destructive glory is doing on a daily basis. The daily snickering over the stacks of Playboy magazine hidden in the basement. The constant belittling of his wife in front of their children, relatives, friends, casual acquaintances. The overarching intolerance for anyone’s will but his own. Somehow, none of that is considered nearly as powerful as the mother’s futile attempts to cope with a situation that is completely out of her hands.

Same old same-old.

So in other words, even when the father is a complete and utter swine, it’s still somehow all on the mother’s shoulders if the son winds up damaged.

Doesn’t sound very groundbreaking to me. Sounds like the same old claptrap we’ve been hearing for generations. And the sad fact is, that’s still pretty much the presumption most family therapists are laboring under.

A not-very-modest proposal.

So for the record, bear with me while I make an outrageous, preposterous, revolutionary proposition. I’m just going to go out on a limb here, because someone’s got to do it. I realize this may be the first time anyone has ever dared to suggest such a thing, so you might want to make sure you’re sitting down.

Sometimes–often, in fact–when a man grows up hating women, it was the father who taught him that. Not the mother. And just as often, when a family’s dynamics are pathologically dysfunctional, the problems begin and end with the father. Not the mother.

Ultimately, though, when a man continues into adulthood hating women, there is one person and one person only who is responsible for that.

Him.

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Filed under Articles, change, feminism, Quick takes, Uncategorized

Chasing the elusive Chapter 2

Some people devote their entire lives to finding a cure for cancer. Some spend their lives looking for true love. For others, self-fulfillment is a lifelong goal.

The Holy Grail. The fountain of youth. The One Ring. Whatever the object, the quest for something larger than ourselves is what drives human civilization forward and separates us spiritually and intellectually from the animals.

Yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, blah.

For me, I’m afraid, the goal is far more simple. At least it should be. I’d just like to finish Chapter 2.

Time to break the pattern

You see, it’s no problem for me, when inspiration nudges me toward yet another not-too-shabby book idea, to knock out Chapter 1. I have a long and impressive history of producing butt-kicking, attention-grabbing, spine-tingling first chapters. At last count, I had  six Chapters One for various books that never made it to Chapter 2.

Well, it’s time to break the pattern. Today I started working on Chapter 2 of the seventh pretty decent book idea that, come hell or high water, I am going to finish. Now. This summer.

And this time I’m pulling out all the stops, looking at every possible angle, studying every obstacle. And what I’ve discovered, as I think about all the distractions that have prevented me from forging ahead into the rest of whatever book I’ve started, is that my biggest obstacle is me, and how I always manage to get in my own way.

I have met the enemy …

I might call it something else. The dishes piled up in the sink. The papers that need to be graded. Serious questions about whether this is really going to be a marketable idea and, even if I succeed in landing an agent, who’s to say anyone will want to read it?

The reality is, those are all obstacles of my own making. I even understand the basic underlying principle here. If I never really make a serious effort, then I’ll never have to face the painful possibility that my best just wasn’t good enough.

No one has to tell me that this is the classic definition of failure. I already know from firsthand experience that the only regrets I have ever had in life are about the things I didn’t do. They’re never about the things I did do … even when those things didn’t work out as I’d hoped.

I know, too, that by sending myself my own rejection slips before I even get started, I am making sure no one else beats me to it. Unfortunately, in so doing I am also ruling out the possibility that somebody might be interested enough to take a chance on me. And that maybe somebody else–and maybe a lot of somebody elses–might actually be glad I made the effort.

Tell me what you think

Sound familiar? If so, I’d like to hear your thoughts. Please respond in the comments below and tell me what stops you from pushing through your own negative self-talk. And, tell me what tricks you use to get past it.  I’m looking for some good ideas, and there’s a good chance I’m going to try try some of your suggestions. If I do, I’ll write about it here and tell you how it worked out.

So there’s my challenge for my fellow authors out there. What does your negative self-talk look and sound like? What do you do to get past it?

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Filed under Articles, change, Essays, Quick takes, Uncategorized, writing

Be the change you wish to see

I have a simple suggestion for everyone who’s been posting anti-this and pro-that rants on the various social media about all the things you don’t like about where our country’s going.

Stop complaining and do something.

Pick one issue that really bugs you. Study it intensively. And by that I mean consult legitimate sources of information, not bias-riddled blogs and web sites, not your equally uninformed friends and colleagues who happen to agree with you, and for Pete’s sake not people who post inflammatory rants on Facebook or Twitter.

Go to the nearest accredited university library and start reading what the credentialed experts have to say on the subject. (Meaning that they have earned academic degrees from recognized universities in a pertinent academic discipline.) Pick one aspect of that issue that you might actually be able to do something about. Figure out one clearly defined area that every reputable person agrees is part of the problem. Figure out what you personally can do about that one thing to work at a solution. Then do it.

OK, maybe it’s not so simple. I recognize that complaining and insulting everyone who disagrees with you is much easier and more satisfying in the short term. But in the long term, if what you really want is a nation where things are working as they should, the solution can and must begin with you. Do something. Be the change you wish to see.

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Filed under change, Quick takes, social change