Saturday, April 17, 2010

Don't Think Like an Elephant

Recently I was at the SeeJaneDo conference where I heard this story. I was so moved by it that I immediately had to include it in my forthcoming book about women's relationship with power--No Excuses, to be published in October--despite having already having turned in what were supposed to be the last changes.

It’s said that when a baby elephant is being trained, she is tied to a post almost immediately after birth. During the first few weeks of life, she attempts to break free of her restraints, but she’s not strong enough. So she comes to believe she can’t get away from what is holding her back even after she has grown large and plenty powerful to uproot the post entirely. As a consequence, even as an adult, she remains tied to the post due to an internally motivated behavior that is no longer rooted in external reality.

Wow, that just perfectly describes so many of the women in my generation, including myself. If women want to embrace our power we must reject baby elephant thinking and throw off the shackles of learned behavior that no longer serves us. And when older women talk with younger ones, they might have no reference point for the barriers we older ones are all too familiar with. No wonder there can be strains on communication across generations!

One of the most heartening differences I have found among the generations is that the younger women are, the less likely they are to hold such false restraints in their minds. But the older women are, the more likely they are to have a sense of engagement with the women's movement that has fought for the very advances that created the amazing possibilities women today have to do or be whatever they choose. Without a movement, it is easy to start going backward. History is replete with advances that turned into retreats because people didn't know how they got there.

All of this is why I feel the conversation engendered by WomenGirlsLadies is so important, and I invite you to participate in it here on our blog or in person if we are so fortunate as to be invited to your university or organization.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Paradox of Reproductive Choice

There's nothing that gets the intergenerational dialogue churning like that ever-elusive quest for a balance of love, work, and babes. My column this week highlights some of the specific forces that are influencing my generation. An excerpt:
This year -- the year I turned 30 -- the birth-control pill is turning 50. As Elaine Tyler May points out in her new book, America and the Pill, that little technology promised a whole lot of change -- feminist liberation, angst-free sex, world peace -- that it hasn't quite delivered. Another thing that the pill didn't do was eradicate the modern woman's wrestle with those tricky twins: time and fertility.

I've recently left my 20s behind and people have started asking me if I'm going to procreate. I don't blame them. I'm acutely aware of the fact that time is already not on my side. Most studies indicate that fertility takes a downturn for most women in their 30s; most studies also indicate that men's sperm become less hearty as well.

This race against time is nothing new for people who want to have children but also want to enjoy their work, leisure, and autonomy. We still don't have federal legislation or a workplace culture that supports working families. We still haven't figured out the child-care hustle in our private lives.

What is new is the specific cultural moment in which we struggle.