Category Archives: Glossed Over.

What Do Women (and Men) Want From Work?

More Magazine Great Careers 2011 Virginia Sole-Smith

Yesterday I brought you up to speed on some of my recent writings, but I saved this one for its very own post because it’s a bit more of a thinker. 10 Great Careers for Women Who Want a Life is online now and ran in the November issue of More Magazine.

As part of our research for this story, the More editors commissioned a survey of 500 professionally employed women (aged 35 to 60 with at least a college degree, and annual household incomes starting at $60,000 to $75,000) to find out what women want out of careers today —  and the results were pretty surprising. In a word: Flexibility, which 92 percent of women say is important in a job (second only to salary) — up from 73 percent in 2009. 43 percent of survey participants also said that they are less ambitious now than they were ten years ago; 73 percent said they don’t want their boss’s job.

But this isn’t yet another story about women opting out of the workforce or being unable to have it all. Because what our research showed — and what my own very unscientific surveys of friends and myself confirm — is that women are still ambitious as hell, but we’re defining ambition differently and more holistically now. For starters, I’d venture the possibility that anybody saying they’re less ambitious now than they were a decade ago has just been really efficient about getting sh*t done… she may have checked a bunch of things off her professional to do list and be feeling like she’s made the mark she wanted to make in the world. And I sure prefer on that glass-half-full interpretation over the glass-half-empty idea that women are giving up on trying to achieve their dreams because it’s all just gotten too hard.

This research says they haven’t — it’s just that the dreams have changed. A lot of women (and, I’m pretty sure, men too, if we’d asked ’em!) don’t want the corporate America definition of ambition and success — corner offices and big paychecks that come with crazy hours, pressure and politics. 65 percent of women surveyed said it’s more important to have time in their life than to make more money at their job. Women do want rewarding, challenging careers, plus time to be with their families and time to pursue their own interests and passions —  in other words, they want a life. (Hence, our headline.)

Which I think sounds pretty cool and exciting. Most of my friends are a tad younger than the women More surveyed. We’re still piecing together what ambition means to us, what we want out of life and whether those goals conflict or can possibly support each other. And we worry a lot about how to have careers and families. Because this kind of ambition is new — we don’t have a ton of role models for doing it precisely this way. Especially since the recession, we’re more used to seeing women who are stretched too thin, doing too much and not really loving any of it. Over on Eat the Damn Cake, Kate wrote about being haunted by an invisible baby last week and sparked a fascinating comment thread of women at all different stages of the game sharing their perspectives on such matters. A lot of us are hella nervous about the whole thing. To which I want to offer this reassurance, via the More women:

Household or childcare demands have prevented 16 percent of woman from trying to advance in their careers. But 53 percent say those demands have never gotten in their way.

I mean, it’s only a tiny majority — and 31 percent of women apparently didn’t advance for other reasons? — but I feel like I can deal with those odds.

But there was some bad news in the More survey, too: 33 percent of women agree that at most companies, employees with flexible schedules are promoted less often than employees who work regular hours. Yeah. It’s one thing to decide for yourself that you’re ready to boldly go into these uncharted “new ambition” waters. It’s another to convince your boss that it will all work out if you’re still in corporate America. Especially because 54 percent of the women surveyed said that other women had never helped them advance in their careers.

54 percent! That number is so depressing. Apparently I’m part of a (lucky) minority because I have other women to thank for virtually all of my career. So ladies, listen up: We need to be doing way better here. Women aren’t helping women nearly enough and unfortunately, I think this new ambition concept can actually get in the way, because it becomes one of those questions (like SlutWalks) that divide young feminists and old feminists. Women who fought really hard to get out of the kitchen and into the boardroom don’t understand why women today want to be in both rooms.

And that’s where we need to take this whole conversation past gender altogether — because workplace flexibility isn’t just a way of keeping working moms sane. (Here’s proof: The women in the More survey were even more likely to say they’d take flexibility over a bigger paycheck if they were single!) But as long as we keep making this a women’s issue, it will remain an easy to dismiss window dressing kind of concern that employers can use to divide employees into their definition of “ambitious” and “successful” or not. When the fact is, flexibility is something women and men want because it creates a more employee-friendly culture that’s better for everyone (employers, too).

So here’s the good news: There are some industries that have already gotten this memo. Which brings me back to 10 Great Careers for Women Who Want a Life — and men too (they just don’t read More). In case you’re already charting your way out of your current inflexible work existence and need some ideas.

Thoughts? Do you feel like our idea of ambition has changed? How much do you value flexibility in your career — and do you have as much of it as you want or need? 

PS. Ooh, plus the whole project has been generating some nice media buzz: Check out my editor, the incomparable Jennifer Braunschweiger (see above re: women helping women with careers!) on the CBS Early Show and MSNBC, talking through the data. Meanwhile, I got  a shout-out from this Chicago Sun Times blogger, though wow, do I think she misinterpreted the story’s takeaway message. Women naturally derive more satisfaction from their home life while men naturally care more about work? That kind of reductionist thinking is helping exactly nobody, male or female.

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Filed under Career Opportunities, Glossed Over., Press

Body By Glamour Spoils You For Choice

Glamour Don't

On page 160 of the December issue, Glamour invites you to “design your best body,” explaining that the difference about — weight training? society’s expectations? democracy? it is unclear — today is “you can pick your look.”

So. Big decision time. Do you want to be a tall, leggy blonde like Gwyneth? Or a tall, leggy blonde like Cameron? Are you confused by the many, many options here? We can go over them again. Slowly. Does it help to know that Gwyneth has wee little muscles (aka “mini”) while Cameron’s bulkier brawn was apparently named after a feminine hygiene product? No? Then however will you decide? 

Surely, you aren’t still wasting time loving the body you currently have, no matter how lacking in blonde legginess it may be. Glamour set us all straight on that notion months ago.

Oh lady mags. Surely, we can raise the bar just an inch or two more?

PS. Thanks to Kate of Her Two Cents for the tip (and the scan!) on this.

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Filed under beauty standards, Glossed Over.

[Glossed Over] Pretty is Actually Plenty, Thank You

“Pretty is not enough,” explains this new Bare Escentuals ad campaign. “Pretty is nice. It’s fine. […] But beauty? Beauty can change the whole world.

That’s because pretty — as in just a pretty face — “is what you are,” but beauty is “what you do with it.” Bare Escentuals wants us all to “be a force for beauty” because “when you put pretty into action, there’s NO LIMIT TO WHAT YOU CAN DO.”

Confused? But sorta inspired? Maybe suddenly thinking about buying a new eye shadow?

Then this ad campaign hit its mark. And I am thoroughly annoyed.

This isn’t the first time a cosmetics company has borrowed positive body image rhetoric to sell lip gloss and foundation. Last year, COVERGIRL’s “Stand Up For Beauty!” campaign featured Drew Barrymore, Ellen Degeneres and other celebrities defending beauty as some kind of inalienable right of women, then gave away $50,000 to the winner of their YouTube video contest who talked about how she was beautiful even though she had to wax her mustache.

These ad campaigns sound brave and empowering. They include all the right words and phrases. (Bare Escentuals: “Be bold! Show your beauty!” COVERGIRL: “Stand up for beauty that makes you LAUGH. That makes you THINK.”) But they aren’t actually saying anything — it’s as if the brands’ ad writers Googled “inspiring phrases that women like” or maybe, “words Oprah uses a lot,” and slapped them down on paper.

And these ad campaigns are doing even less. On both company’s websites, the commercial pages, filled with moving stories from “real women” examples of beauty, are swiftly followed by links to find your perfect foundation. There’s no call to action to get you to actually change your personal definition of beauty. Nobody is going into schools to help young girls understand that their self-esteem stems from more than just their appearance. They aren’t pushing for more diverse representations of women in media. They aren’t doing anything — except selling you makeup. To make you more beautiful according to our culture’s relatively narrow definition of that idea.

Even more troubling: If “inner beauty” is now the province of cosmetic companies, it means we can commodify that just like we’ve put a price on physical beauty, says my girl Autumn Whitefield-Madrano over on Sociological Images. She writes: “The customer takeaway is supposed to be that Bare Escentuals, more than other companies, recognizes that beauty comes from within. But the net effect is that we are shown how ‘being oneself’ is now subject to standards of beauty.” Instead of broadening our definition of beauty, we might be narrowing our definition of individuality — by saying that everybody has to be pretty all the time, inside and out. 

When the COVERGIRL campaign launched, plenty of you guys told me I was overthinking it, and we should just be happy that a major cosmetics brand was taking messages of body positivity and inner beauty to heart. It’s better than the alternative, right? But now that Bare Escentuals is pulling the same party trick, I’m more convinced than ever that it’s not. Ad campaigns like these want you to believe we’re making real progress — but most of all, they want you to buy more makeup, and the same old restrictive beauty standards to go with it.

 

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[Never Say Diet] Princess Perfect

Princess Perfect Kate Middleton Royal Wedding Never Say Diet Virginia Sole-SmithY’all know I have some strong feelings about princesses. Which means the Royal Wedding cannot pass us by without a discussion of the relationship between princess culture, beauty and body image. Only this time, it’s not just the kids we’re worried about.

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Filed under beauty standards, Glossed Over., Happenings, Never Say Diet

Baby Botox and Virgin Waxing

photo of Sad Little Girl Doll by Rinoninha

I mentioned this in the Price Check on Friday — but had to take a little time to mull it over so I could give you a response more coherent than “WTF?!”

Which is pretty much the only appropriate reaction to the news that a British mom named Kerry Campbell (living in San Francisco) gives her eight-year-old daughter Britney Botox injections every three months plus monthly leg, arm, and bikini waxes. Both treatments are intended to stave off physical flaws — those would be wrinkles and body hair, otherwise known as basic functions of your skin — before they start, so Britney can grow up to be a famous pop star. Britney says:

“I feel like a supermodel and if I do ballet or go swimming I don’t have to worry about hairy legs. Although the pain makes me cry, I feel like a cool grown-up when it’s all over.”

In case you haven’t already read the coverage on this, I’m going to give you a minute to have your own WTF moment and process and all that.

We good? Okay then. Continue reading

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Filed under Beauty Labor, beauty standards, Glossed Over., Happenings

The New Toddlers in Tiaras

This is my three-year-old niece, Lorelai.

Lorelai as Snow White

Obviously, she’s just about the most adorable kid you’ve ever laid eyes on. We’ll just all spend a moment thinking about that before I get to the point.

So cute, right?! And funny, too! I know!

Okay then.

Lorelai is also — in case you hadn’t already guessed where this is going — super into princesses. Continue reading

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Filed under beauty standards, Glossed Over.

[Never Say Diet] Plastic is (Not So) Fantastic

Barbie NEver Say Diet

Don’t get all googly-eyed on me about the recent Barbie and Ken lovefest. She still 11 inches of body image distorting plastic and that’s what I’m talking about today on Never Say Diet. (Where I’ll also be guest starring tomorrow and Thursday, yay!)

Go on, click and chime in.

PS. If you want to do even more to keep raising awareness about body image issues this week, check out the NOW Foundation’s Love Your Body video campaign. Hot.

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Filed under beauty standards, Glossed Over., Happenings