Friday, January 16, 2009

Jerks Come in Both Genders

A fellow LinkedIn member forwarded this article from The New York Times along with a request for reactions. It's not like I need an invitation for one of my rants but this latest tirade was provoked.

The columnist, Peggy Klaus, is obviously a thoughtful professional and a talented writer. In this opinion piece, "A Sisterhood of In-Fighting," she he did a pretty good job of avoiding the stereotypical and sexist language that is usually included in stories about competitive women. My problem is with her sensational choice of topics. Is this really newsworthy?

Are women sometimes less than supportive of each other in the workplace? Yup. Do they sometimes undermine their colleagues in an effort to look good in comparison? You betcha. But, men are guilty of those things, as well. Is The New York Times publishing a story about the motivation behind male professionals' cut-throat behavior? No, because it's not considered news or even an issue worthy of commentary.

Men are praised for being ambitious and competitive, even when it's at the expense of friendship. They are expected to be that way. But not women. When women fail to support their "sisters" in the workplace, they are referred to as "back-biting," "conniving," or with some other less-than-flattering character descriptions. While the author did not use any of these phrases, she did refer to female coworkers as "sisters." Unless a writer is talking about policeman, firefighters, or soldiers, they don't usually talk about male colleagues as "brothers." Male professionals are not expected to treat each other as siblings simply because they are the same gender. So why are women?

I am not excusing or defending the actions of anyone who tries to sabotage their colleague's success. I think it's wrong if men or women do it and, frankly, it's just not nice. I try to be supportive of my colleagues and treat them with the patience and respect that kind mentors demonstrated when I was starting out. Sometimes I try to treat them how I wish I had been treated. Sometimes, I fail with both male and female colleagues. On a bad day, I've been known to gossip about this or that co-worker who dropped the ball on something. I don't blame that failure on my gender, though. I blame it on my humanity.

My father didn't give me a lot of really useful professional advice, but he did give me this one gem that I try to remember when I'm faced with ruthless behavior: People can be jerks.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Moms Are...Like...SO Embarrassing!

Every woman I know who is fortunate enough to have children vows not to embarrass her offspring the way our mothers did to us. I'm pretty sure we all end up breaking this promise.

Somehow it's worse with my daughter than with my son. Maybe it's a gender thing. Maybe it's just coincidence that my daughter Ruby's personality is more sensitive to embarrassment than my son's more easy going nature.

When she was in third grade, Ruby told me about a new crush at school and immediately made me promise I wouldn't call anyone to spread the news. Technically, I did not break my promise. I WROTE about the boy but I didn't CALL anyone. So, in a court of law I would probably get off on a technicality. That having been said...I feel guilty. Hopefully, if Ruby reads the crush essay someday, she will think it's cute, and forgive me. Perhaps, she'll even be grateful that I captured this sweet childhood memory. Or maybe not.

A friend of mine read the crush essay and told me that her mom used to write about her in letters to the editor and it embarrassed her to no end. Uh-oh. Have I become her mother? Have I become MY mother?

When I was 15 years old, I lived with my mother while she was "finding herself" as a new divorcee. When she wasn't at work, she participated in some pretty weird stuff. At least weird for a mom. There was clog dancing, putting personal ads in the newspaper, and clowning.

The clowning was actually a pretty serious pursuit for a few years. She even talked about quitting her teaching job to go to Ringling Brother's Clown College. Her clown name was "Sunshine" and she wore a tutu while she did clown cheerleading at special education sporting events. I kid you not.

Some of my friends thought the clowning was cool. Ya-because it wasn't THEIR mom! One day, my friend Lynn Czerwinski either told my mom she wanted to see the clown costume or my mother offered to show her--I can't remember which and it doesn't really matter. One night, during my junior year of high school, Lynn and some boys were coming over to pick me up to go to the movies. I'm not sure if it was a double date or just hanging out, but I know I cared about what the boys thought of me. I cared about what EVERYONE thought of me in high school.

This date or whatever was the same night that my mom was going out to do clown cheerleading at the elementary school where she taught special ed. While I was getting ready for the evening, my mother was donning her striped tights, tutu, full clown makeup, rainbow-colored wig, and big funny clown shoes. Mom made the mistake of telling me that she couldn't wait to show Lynn her clown costume. I remember feeling sick and a little light-headed. I told her, in all seriousness, that if she came out in the costume, I would DIE.

I was not being overly dramatic. I honestly believed that I would keel over and stop breathing from embarrassment. I suggested (probably not very nicely) that my mother NOT come out and shame me with her craziness. I remember that she responded with something like: "Why should YOU be embarrassed by what I do? We are two separate people!"

I remember thinking that my mom didn't get me and, not for the first time, hoped and prayed that my real mother would appear one day to claim me after the hospital discovered that I was switched at birth with the daughter she raised as her own. I'm still waiting.

Fast forward to the horn beep outside when Lynn and the boys showed up. I raced my mother across the living room, shoved her out of the way, and slammed the door in her face, so I could run out to the car before they saw her. I almost made it.

I was in the car and the driver was pulling away from the curb when my mother bounded out to the porch with her clown pom-poms and started doing a cheer. There was a lot of jumping and flailing limbs and yelling of "RA-RA-SIS-BOOM-BA" The driver saw her and slammed on the brakes.

"Who the heck is THAT?!" he inquired while everyone else in the car stared at my mother on the porch. I sunk into the seat and prayed that Lynn was getting my telepathic message that she should NOT correctly identify the mom behind the clown makeup. Lynn got the message. Either that or she couldn't speak because she was almost choking with laughter.

"That's the crazy lady who lives upstairs," I mumbled. "Let's go."

So...If Ruby reads the crush essay one day and gets pissed, I'll just tell her, "Suck it up! I could have dressed up like a clown!"