An Idea Comes of Age in My Own Head

I’m in the Pacific Northwest today where I planned to blog about vacation pleasure like hunting for agates and arrowheads, learning to pick nettles and digging for clams. But I can’t get that image out of my head. The open cavity where her nose once was haunts me. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about because it’s likely that you can’t forget it either.

Flickr CC 2.0 Comedy

A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with a female colleague. She was frustrated with feedback that she’d received regarding her competitive demeaner in the workplace. I commiserated and afterwards lamented that suffering the same issue, I probably wasn’t as helpful as I should’ve been. I forwarded an article published by Harvard Business Review titled Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership. In the article, the researchers identified what is called the double bind penalty for women.

The double bind penalty denies women the benefits of being warm and considerate because people expect it of them. Men however, reap total approval for nice behavior. Likewise, men get away with being unhelpful, but women do not. The findings show that men can communicate in a warm or a dominant manner, with no penalty either way. I commit to circulating the article amongst male executives at our office.

Two weeks ago, had you asked me about feminism, I’m not sure how I would’ve answered. I mean, I probably would’ve said that I’m not sure exactly what it means and that it was a movement and that perhaps that movement is history now. I’m sure this is disappointing to some. Shortly after our lunch, the same colleague sent me a link to Isabelle Allende speaking on passion.

I’m mesmerized by this talk. Her words flow as artistically when she is telling a story orally as they do on the page. She’s funny but I finish watching somewhat ashamed. I’m thankful I haven’t been asked about feminism. I’m one of the Western women blessed with so much that I haven’t acknowledged the plight of women who aren’t and I have given little thought to the issue of being a feminist. Allende blows stories to life with data like 80% of the world’s refugees and displaced people being women and girls and individual examples of abuse and torture. But she rounds it out with hope – hope that comes from passion and much of that passion is feminine passion.

Coincidentally (?), during my travels on Friday, I see the photo. It wasn’t at a newsstand but rather, on a blog. I read that Time magazine is criticized because the cover is controversial but I’m glad that they are shaking us up in our cushy Western existence with the stark realities of what it means to be female in other parts of the world. I find the photo beautiful and I hate it at the same time. I hate the story. I don’t know if I’m thankful or disappointed that her lovely hair hides the places where her ears once were.

I think about women in need that are within my reach; in my own community, at my church, at my company, and within my family. I consider what I’ll call my double bind advantage – the ability to be both warm and strong and I commit to nurturing both in others.

Allende began her talk with a Jewish saying. “What is truer than truth? The story”. We can all create better stories.

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52 Comments

  1. I love this post. I saw the picture on CNN, and was just as moved as you. My sister was the first to send Isabel Allende’s talk to me, and I can watch her over and over again and always come away with that sense of hope for other women and conviction to do something.

    Reply
  2. Judy Swartz

     /  August 2, 2010

    Thanks Tammy for your thoughts! I believe you are gifted at being both warm and strong; whether you are male or female, it is good to have a balance of both (even in the workplace).

    Reply
  3. Thank you thank you – these are issues that we all need to recognise and think about. Tutoring in Sociology is making me feel a sense of responsibility towards my students in regards to getting them to question silent gender/race/power biases in our, and other cultures, and I’m going to make a note of this double penalty concept for later weeks.

    I also sometimes feel a bit conflicted about Allende – she was one of my favourite authors as a teenager (Eva Luna is amazing), and yet it doesn’t sit comfortably with me that she’s into plastic surgery. Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile that with her feminism, but I guess feminism is a very diverse concept, and I shouldn’t let my own value-systems get in the way of appreciating what she has to say about it!

    Reply
    • Keep examining your thoughts around Allende. I hadn’t heard that she is into plastic surgery and it is at odds with the other things we think about her. It also surprises me given her comments about Sophia Loren but that said, reconciling with age is a very hard thing and sometimes even harder for powerful women who want more time. I’m not saying that is what is going on with her but we do have to watch our own value systems. Thanks for your thoughtful comments and please do make note of that article.

      Reply
  4. Rena

     /  August 2, 2010

    Thank you for this post….I, too, was mesmerized by the video….the thoughts and information on feminism are disturbing…..we want to believe it is getting better and then you see/read this and wonder…what can we do? it starts with awareness and then action of some sort

    thanks for making that happen!!

    Reply
    • Yes, that is what I found disturbing – that I do not think about these things, that I am caught up in my own comfort. First and foremost we must start by supporting each other. There is too much pulling each other down in our own community that must stop if we are to make a bigger difference.

      Reply
  5. Tammy…Thank you so much for this post this morning. It has provided a much needed grounding for me as I go though my day. It is a reminder that even the smallest of intentions (a seed) can ripple (watering) towards change (a forest). Today I will plant a seed.
    Diane

    Reply
    • That is a wonderful thing to say. Thanks for visiting. I noted from your own blog that the Omega Institute has a powerful women’s conference where Allende and others have spoken.

      Reply
  6. Sally Mom

     /  August 3, 2010

    It is amazing really that in our high tech, constantly changing world, “old traditions” still run strong. We accept things basically, that we THINK we cannot change and in our illusions of what we are taught is normal although often dispising, accept them.
    Through history we have had very powerful female leaders that have led the way for change, but there is a vast arena of complex history and values painted across this world, that causes change to be painfully slow.
    Your article brings up a lot of emotion, as does Allendes’ speach. Hearing the truth is difficult and taking action is even harder but the time is here for change and it takes community and hard work and often pain and sacrifice to make it happen.
    Thank you Tammy for being a bearer of the flag and helping to bring this to the surface.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment Sally. Sometimes I think we don’t even realize that change is necessary – especially when we are so comfortable.

      Reply
  7. Excellent post, Tammy

    Check out Global Fund for Women ~ provides seed money to women so they can start small businesses:

    http://www.globalfundforwomen.org/

    Reply
    • Nancy, great resource. Thanks so much. I was looking for something like that and saw Worldpulse. I’d like to travel with a group like that.

      Reply
  8. Once again, a powerful, thought-provoking post. The cover you speak about came directly to my home, but I’ve yet to be brave enough to read the article. Sometimes I wish I were stronger, but my heart breaks easily at the thought of others’ pain. I feel helpless and ashamed. So, I simply do my part, day after day, to make my little corner of the world ‘good’.

    Reply
    • And that is exactly where you have to start. I also felt ashamed that I didn’t know these stories were so prevalent.

      Reply
  9. Very beautifully told by both you and Ms. Allende! Isn’t she the best? I consider myself a feminist in the sense she speaks of. My agenda is FGM among others. Your perspective is very insightful and eye opening. I love it when authors like Allende get up to speak and show us the world through different eyes. When is it going to be YOUR turn? This post shows great potential in that area.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the kind words Idella. What is FGM?

      Reply
      • Oh Tammy its an awful practice in which young girls are mutilated in their private areas. That’s the most tactful way I can put it. I think you can Google it by the acronym. I warn you now about any photos. They are painful and sickening. Sorry to be melodramatic.

        Reply
  10. Mstrongair

     /  August 3, 2010

    Excellent post!

    Reply
  11. My husband subscribes to Time magazine and the horror of seeing that cover lying on my kitchen table will stay with me for a long time.
    It’s just too awful and has to be stopped.

    Reply
  12. Thanks for sharing these insights and the video! I’m fascinated by gender studies and I can’t help but wish it was a bit easier for women. It is amazing that a strong women today can still be called a b while you’d never think of doing that too a man!

    Reply
    • Yes, that is, in fact, the conundrum. And obviously it gets much worse for the women outside of the Western world.

      Reply
  13. Lisa H

     /  August 4, 2010

    The cover of Time arrived at our home a few days ago. My heart cried out for the young woman–she was incredibly brave to let the photographer use her for such a powerful message. Often, in America, we forget, or want to forget, the atrocities outside our borders. I also wept knowing that there will be those who will become angry that such a moving photo is in full view for everyone to see. The helplessness I feel is overwhelming, so I turn my focus to my children…working to make them as compassionate, strong, and sensitive to others who are not as fortunate as we are. I thank daily the women who came before me who worked and sacrificed so much in order for the next generation of women to be the person of their own making. There is still so much to work for, as strong women are often viewed in a different light than men. We have many women to thank, such as you, Tammy, who pave the way for our future young women, and the young men who will view them as an equal colleague.

    Reply
  14. What a thought provoking post. I had not seen either the cover with the beautiful Time cover or the video. Both are fascinating for me. I think the woman’s eyes in the photo show a strength of character and that she is not defined by what happened to her face. I am curious as to why you hated the article, I did not find the link when I looked.

    The talk is fascinating and I love the way she weaves the stories and humor – she is indeed a talented story teller and her selection of tales is interesting.

    I work with a non-profit, Astia that helps women led startups and it is rewarding to be able the help the results. I cannot remember the numbers but it is shown that only countries that recognized the role of women will be able to achieve any sort of economic stability. Additionally, given that women now are the decision makers in many financial transactions but that same voice is not recognized in business, if you just look at the numbers. It just makes no sense. Wouldn’t you want someone that represents your target customers to help guide your decisions?

    I sometimes get frustrated by the entire discussion because when I hire or when I look at roles I want the person to fill the role be the best qualified, not to meet some minority quota, but I understand we have to start somewhere. Its like the gender quota on boards in Europe, the results of having women on the boards (and it has been proven in their earnings) should speak for itself.

    Reply
  15. Thank you for this post—Allende is indeed a marvelous storyteller with a potent message. And, the TIME cover is important: we live in an age of sanitized wars, insulated from the harsh realities that women the world over endure. Story is Everything.

    On a side note, I read, maybe on Huffington Post, that the young woman on the TIME cover has now arrived in the US for reconstructive surgery. People were indeed moved by that haunting portrait. For her one plight, now being heeded, there are no doubt scores more that go overlooked.

    Reply
  16. I would love to hear more about your vacation to the pacific northwest, we have been thinking about doing that. But being from the east coast, we aren’t very familiar with the area and what is good. :)

    Reply
    • I will be happy to share as I absolutely love it here. We are having fine weather and that is important. For me the biggest difference is in the water temp. No way I’m going in the Sound but I’ll jump into the water on an East coast beach any day.

      Reply
  17. I agree that we need shaking up. When I read a novel set in the past, say World War 2, I always wonder what I would have done. When I’m honest with myself, I say probably nothing, because I do nothing about all the injustices in the world today. Your post has made me think.

    Reply
    • Great! Thinking and awareness is a first start.

      Reply
    • I expect that if we had lived back then, we wouldn’t be so complacent and comfortable and lethargic.

      We would probably have made the same sacrifices that everyone else made in order to forge a better future for the world.

      Too much success . . . spoils the children.

      Reply
  18. Tammy, thank you for posting this. It was both humorous and terribly sad listening to Isabelle. I felt all sorts of emotions listening. It’s hard to know what we can do to help. I am involved in sponsoring a sister in Rwanda right now through Women for Women International. It’s not much, but it really is a good group. http://www.womenforwomen.org/

    Reply
    • I think my husband sent me a link to this organization earlier today. Those women actually wear a picture of their sponsors and their letters around their necks – great place to expend energy.

      Reply
  19. I am moved by this post today. I make me pround of mysef and make me wanna be stronger and kinder. Thanks for the wonderful and inspiring post!

    Reply
  20. Welcome to the feminist fold! ;^) This translated “hope” to me.

    Reply
  21. This is one of the most amazing posts I’ve read so far, and I can’t shake the image out of my head either…

    Reply
  22. What an amazing and moving post you offered us, Tammy. I am very grateful that you talked about these painful and so important issues. Isabelle Allende has always been one of my favourite writers, she is a passionate person too. In my humble opinion, helping educating girls and women could well be the key to a definite change in their status and an improvement in any society. It would also give them back their dignity and make them aware of their rights and not only of their duties. Sponsoring efficient associations working in this field is essential. I have witnessed this when I lived in Central Africa. But also, looking around us and reaching out to those women who are in dire need of a friend, of a job, of being less lonely in their daily struggle. Thank you so much Tammy.

    Reply
    • I agree with you Isa. I believe that in order to make an improvement in society we need to elevate women. And in order to do our part, we have to reach out to those women in our daily path.

      Reply
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