I Don’t Throw Like A Girl

Editors Note:  This is second in a series of guest blog posts about the experiences of women in a variety of settings.  Niki Rudolph, a professional in higher education, discusses the role men in her life have played in shaping female professional identity.

I Don’t Throw Like A Girl

by Niki Rudolph

I have never considered myself a competitive person, but I always enjoyed being one of the first girls picked for sports.  Playing organized sports was limited for girls when I was a kid, but I still honed the double play in our backyard that was perfectly shaped like an infield, and I had a nice shiner from a line drive to prove it.

I am thankful that my mom never seemed phased by the fact that I wasn’t into pink or Barbies. I owe an incredible amount of my strength to her, a working mother with a backup plan always at the ready.  Many of us can rattle the list of women who were influential to us, but it is important for me to also acknowledge how the men in my life have shaped my identity as a female professional. I am privileged, as you will see, to have such All Stars in my life.

The Manager: I spent most of my childhood listening to Al Kaline call Tigers’ games on the radio with my father. A prosecuting attorney, whose calm demeanor is more fitting of a judge, has only ever raised his voice at hockey games. I still remember his smirk when I came home ranting about my college not allowing an LBGT organization to be recognized, angry that we were hiding behind our denominational history. He simply stated, “You’re right, so what are you going to do about it?”

The First Base Coach: Although I gained three stepbrothers later on, my big brother has been with me through everything. He’s the ultimate ally. You need someone to share the inside jokes and to keep you from getting too full of yourself; to keep you focused but relaxed. If ever I am honored with becoming a university president, he will still call me Buffalo Breath at my installation.

The Third Base Coach:  An actual baseball coach, my stepdad was not prepared to inherit an emotional teenage girl after raising his three boys. His favorite line, “There’s no crying in baseball!” has become an inside joke between us. And even though we are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, I could not ask for a better go-to person, to tell me when to bunt, to cheer me on, or to wave me home. I admire how he loves my mother, and I appreciate how, even though he would never call himself a feminist, he would be outraged if I was not afforded the same opportunities as my brothers.

The Lead Off Batter:  Howard Ward was the Dean of Students when I was an undergraduate. He is the reason I am in student affairs. No conversation with “H” is ever small talk. He pushes me to think. He sets the bar high for me. And when I feel like I just don’t have it in me, hearing his warm baritone say, “Hey, baby girl, how’s it going?” is like medicine. I hope to mentor like he has, and I hope to beat him in golf someday.

The Fielders: I have been supervised by some of the most caring and competent supervisors in students affairs, all of them men until my current role. Jim, George, and James have each role modeled support and humor. They have allowed me to make mistakes and to exceed my own expectations. But most importantly, they have each demonstrated that it’s about the students. Period.

We all have people who have become part of our definition. I have been shaped by the negative people as well, but that’s just dirt in the skirt, right? I am more concerned with appreciating the ones who have brought me confidence, opportunities, and laughs.  I have learned from the wisdom of my team. I am my own player, shaped and challenged by those around me. I have chosen my own style, my own finesse, and my own way of being a woman in higher education. After all, I don’t throw like a girl.

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Reality Bites

Ah, reality shows.  How I love thee and loathe thee at the same time.  From “American Idol” to “Project Runway” to “The Amazing Race”, these shows allow us to see people in the midst of and overcoming oftentimes extraordinary circumstances – whether they be self-imposed or externally applied.  Nothing resonates more with our American spirits than this type of “make it or break it” situation in which – against all odds – someone overcomes these challenges and wins.  However, when these “real” situations become stereotypical, that’s when everyone loses, regardless of the ending.

 “The Bachelorette” is quite possibly one of the worst examples of exploitation of gendered stereotypes currently on television.  Long story short, you have a woman who is “looking for love”, she gets a big group of men vying for her attention, and on national television she will “choose” one of these men (who generally proposes marriage), and will live “happily ever after”.   So what we really have is a woman who, in line with traditional fairy tale lore, will not be complete as a person until she finds her one true love (a man).  I’ll take “Things That are Wrong” for 1000, Alex.

I would expect (not excuse) this from “The Bachelor”.  Nothing like a gendered cattle call of desperate women (either for attention, love, or fame) lined up to be picked over and judged by the leading man.  Whether it be because of looks, personality or some other unknown, if a woman does not conform to stereotypes (and all the ‘winners’ do), she is eliminated from the “competition”.  The man is the “prize”, and the “reward” is a fairy tale ending that women have been spoon-fed for years as the ideal. 

Part of me thought “The Bachelorette” might be somewhat empowering for women.  Maybe we’d get a woman who was making smart choices, who would stand up for herself and what she truly believed she wanted, and who would walk away from the mess if it didn’t meet with her expectations.  This would at least allow other women to see that – in this arrangement – women were fully in control of their choices. 

What we really get is a scripted melodrama of garbage that would rival the absolute worst daytime soap opera.  Moments of “real love”, meetings in exotic places, “romantic” dinners, and the eventual meeting of the families are meant to pull at our emotional centers and make us believe that this woman will find life-long happiness with one of these men vying for her attention only to have this “relationship” fall apart weeks, sometimes days, later.

Absolutely.  Completely. Stupid. 

This entire genre of show (think ‘Flavor of Love’, ‘Teila Tequila’, ‘Rock of Love’ and this stupid ‘Bachelor’ and ‘Bachelorette’ garbage) only continues to box women into a stereotypical, gendered role.  Whether the producers show women to be demure, sexy, romantic, bitchy or weak – they continue to portray these stereotypes.  And women watch the show in droves, with their friends, parents, aunts, and their children.  Women are the single highest demographic watching these romance-based reality shows – these shows that put women in a box.  And don’t get me started about the UNrealistic image these women portray – all fashion model thin and perfectly coiffed.  That’s another blog post entirely.

And what are women learning?  Maybe we should look at what they aren’t learning.  Women are not learning that the old “Jerry Maguire” line of “You complete me” isn’t true.  The only way you can be truly fulfilled is to love and believe in yourself.  Women are not learning what the true foundation for a solid and real relationship should be.  Women are also not learning that a lifelong partnership doesn’t have to be with a man – just think about any of the women who are lesbian or who are single by choice.  These shows simply reinforce that their sexual orientation or chosen lifestyle is “wrong”.

Simply put, these shows need to go.  They serve no purpose and they reinforce unrealistic, gendered stereotypes that are impossible to live up to.  And for those of you out there who watch these shows and tell others, “You know, I don’t know why I watch it.  It’s kind of like passing a car wreck – you can’t help but look”, let me just use a phrase we all came to love in the 2008 Presidential campaign – “Yes you can.” 

So I call on you to not watch these shows.  Don’t even DVR them.  Don’t support any of the sponsors or advertisers of these shows with your money or patronage.  And call, email, write, or visit your local ABC affiliate and tell them that “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” need to be taken off the air for the good of women everywhere.  For if you don’t, who will?

Creating a New Normal: Navigating Marital Expectations in the New Millennium

Editors Note:  This is the first post in a series of guest blog posts about the experiences of women in a variety of settings.  Esmerelda Jones (pseudonym), a professional in higher education, discusses shifting expectations of traditional marital roles and behaviors.

Creating a New Normal: Navigating Marital Expectations in the New Millennium

By Esmeralda Jones

Over 30 years ago my mother got pregnant and the mail started pouring in from friends and family.

These weren’t congratulatory cards or gifts but rather they were letters and checks asking my mother to have an abortion and offering to fund it themselves. The odds were stacked against her. Young, unmarried twenty-something sleeping with a man 30 years her senior who had once been married to another woman in our family years before? My mom had been prone to make bad decisions and this was the “worst one yet,” or so the letters said.

Despite the peer pressure, my mom would not listen to them (stubbornness runs in our family) and thus this sassy, baby girl was born. My mom likes to recall fondly the story of how the nurse asked her if they could use me as the “demonstration baby” to show the new moms how to give their newborns a bath.

“Sure, but why my child?” my mother innocently inquired.

“Well, she never sleeps and she keeps talking loudly to the other babies so we thought we would get her out of the nursery for awhile and let the other babies sleep,” the nurse said frankly.

This makes so much sense to anyone who knows me.

My father died when I was a toddler and so it was just my mom and I. She was more like my roommate. We decided what part of the city we wanted to live in together, what school I should attend and of course what we should order for dinner. Take-out was a staple in our home. I don’t think I saw a vegetable before age ten.

My mom is a good person, even if she didn’t/doesn’t really know how to be a mom. I grew up with no rules, restrictions or curfews and my mom’s parting words to me before I would go out with friends in high school were “Remember, if you get arrested or pregnant, no one is going to help you.”

Gulp. I managed to avoid staying out of that kind of trouble.

I share this story about my mom because when it becomes time for adults to decide when/if they want to have children we are undoubtedly shaped by our own familial experiences. There are virtually no men in our family. My mom says that my female relatives only use men for reproductive purposes but we are too independent to actually keep one around. Ah, my mother, the eternal romantic.

I met my partner in my early 20’s and 6 years later we defied the odds and actually got married. Danny* (name changed) has definite opinions about marriage. A child of divorce, he has a father who is a recovering alcoholic and had infidelities both domestically and abroad. He watched his mother, passive and silently accept this arrangement until Danny left for college. Danny didn’t really believe that marriages work.

We got past our uncertainties by playing by our own rules. We didn’t care what anyone else said about what you “had” to do when you got married. We live by the motto that Carrie Bradshaw in SATC 2 accurately echoed “Take the tradition and decorate it your own way.” So we did.

I kept my last name.  We keep our finances absolutely separate (no joint checking for this pair). We have separate bedrooms (mine beautifully decorated in pink and frilly pillows with more shoes, perfume and jewelry than you could ever fit in a shared space and his in non-descript blue and grey.) We don’t do things with other couples very often. I have my friends and he has his. This suits both of our independent spirits.

And while some of our friends and family weighed in on these seemingly odd things “How will I address your Christmas card if you have different last names?” asked an incredulous friend. Another stated “How can you feel connected to your husband if you don’t share a bed?“ To which I calmly state, 1) You can address the card to us the same way you have for years when we lived together before we were married–with both of our names. 2) I don’t know about you but I work 14 hours days. At the end of the day I want to climb into my sweet-smelling room with fluffy pillows and not hear snoring or be accidentally kicked during the middle of the night. Danny has enthusiastically agreed to this from the beginning of our relationship He says the guys at work are jealous of our arrangement.

So, we got over the perceived weirdness of our relationship and decided to love “us” just the way we are. We have been a couple for a decade. We must be doing something right.

As moderately successful 30-somethings we are constantly bombarded by the “Kid Question.” As in “when are you having them?” and “how many do you want?” and “do you want a boy or a girl?” I struggle with answering these questions in the way that reflects my frustration with their assumptions.

The truth is we are childless by choice. Unlike my mother the deck is not stacked against us. We are married, totally in love, stable financially and enjoy our careers. We are not willing to give up our precious little time together, our sleep or our extra spending cash for anything other than going on a vacation. This probably makes us seem selfish but I think it makes us honest.

Here are the reasons why mothers hate me when I talk about why I am childless by choice:

1) My boss always says “Mothers can have it all, just not at the same time.” While I really like this idea I am pretty sure no one is telling this to fathers. What if I want it all at one time? Why are the career aspirations of mothers so significantly impacted but not fathers?

2) Mothers lose a significant amount of income and opportunity for promotion because of time spent away during pregnancy and days off being the primary caregiver when children are sick. The most recent number is a loss of $700,000 (AAUW annual report) over the course of a lifetime for college-educated mothers.

3) I don’t want my body to change. I work really hard to stay fit and I spent a decade crafting a wonderfully tailored wardrobe of professional and evening attire. I know my body won’t ever be the same and I am not sure I am OK with it. Moms aren’t supposed to care if they fit in their dress pants because they have brought a life into the world. But I won’t be going out into the world much if I am forced to wear mom jeans. Just being honest.

I have dozens of wildly successful female friends who are also moms. God(dess) bless them. I don’t know how they do it but I am in awe of them. I just know that I personally couldn’t manage both career and kids and I have made my choice, just like they made theirs.

I share my story because I hope that other women will be content with creating their own rules for marriage/partnership and will learn to love their lives, exactly as they want them to be.

So, my husband I will continue to be the freaks among the spooning couples and the triple-baby stroller set.     I will now go console myself ordering take-out. Mom taught me well.