Archive for October, 2009


I am freaking out.  Seriously. FREAKING.  OUT.

There I was, peacefully sitting on the couch, surfing the web, looking for corner desks to go in the office so that, someday, that room can be used for something other than file storage, when HC started nagging me about the second bedroom.

Because of a fight I lost the day we moved into this house – a fight that I didn’t even realize was happening because my mother and aunt, who very nicely agreed to come to the nation’s capital to help me move in, had already made the decision without consulting me – Hal’s clothes went in our bedroom closet and mine were relegated to the second bedroom’s closet.

If you’re wondering, my mother and aunt explained it to me this way:

Aunt:  Hal’s got all his suits.

Mom, quickly and cutting Aunt off:  And those shoes!  I’ve never seen a man with so many shoes. G-d, and they’re so big.  You could kill a person with those shoes.

Aunt:  His stuff needs to be in this closet.  He’ll only annoy you about it later.  You can have the two big closets in the second bedroom.

Me:  What?  That’s bullshit.

Mom:  Now that room is yours.  Trust me, it’s a better deal.  You’ll see.

While I was annoyed with this decision for a long time, Hal was present when the conversation was happening and grabbed onto their loopy rationale.  The decision was made.  I had to cut my losses and learn to be okay with having my stuff split between two rooms.  I’m still not okay with it, btw.  But I make due.

Anyway, what’s nice is that, usually, HC ignores that second bedroom, rarely commenting on how it looks and how neat it is.  Our bedroom, on the other hand, which is where all of HC’s closes pile up, gets constant scrutiny from me.  Okay, maybe this is an okay deal.

This morning, however, for reasons that I won’t go into other than to say that he used AM to make a point, HC made some comments about the unkempt-ness of the second bedroom.

Let’s go back for a second.  I’ve been out of town a lot lately, living out of a suitcase in a way reminiscent of a vagabond.  That’s a longer story, but suffice it to say that I had some family matters to attend to over the last few months which brought me to NJ, like, A LOT – AND – because my brother and parents hate me and want to make sure I know it, my brother got my parents those cats, which my parents love more than me or my brother, which I am highly allergic to, precludes me from spending more than 20 minutes in my parents house – my childhood home, if you will – let alone spending the night.

Wow… anyway…  I still haven’t totally unpacked myself from that trip.  Instead, my stuff and HC’s bag are just laid out all over the bed in the second bedroom.  Normally, I would have gotten to this already.  But I have been so sick lately that the idea of doing anything that doesn’t involve my couch and TV remote are simply off the table.  So there the room sits, with our stuff strewn about, going on two weeks now.

Fine.  I should deal with it.  I know that.  But I want to vomit all over the place, so I figured I’d ignore it further.  Then HC starts in with his AM nonsense and how she’s coming over for dinner tonight and we never tidy up for her and that’s rude and blah blah blah.  Whatever.  What HC doesn’t realize is that, by NOT cleaning up – yes, you got that right, by NOT cleaning up – before AM comes over, I’m actually showing her the highest for of compliment and closeness.  Basically, it means:  Honey, you’ve seen it all.

But fine.  I should deal with it.  And AM is coming over tonight.  So fine.

I headed up in the bedroom and surveyed the area.  Not that bad, really.  Shouldn’t take too long.  Then I looked out the window and saw it:

Disgusting Prehistoric Spider


OH.  MY.  FUCKING.  CHRIST.  You’ve got to be kidding me.  This thing is fucking HUGE!  Seriously, I’ve never seen a spider this large in real life before.  Yes, there are bigger spiders in the world.  You know, on TV.  On the Discovery Channel.  But this thing is gigantic.

Once I caught my breath, I confirmed that it was, indeed, outside the window.  Oh, thank G-d.  But it was still there.  Just sitting there in it’s largess.  I quickly walked into the hallway.

“HC!…  HC!  Can you come here for a minute?  I need you to look at something.”

HC gave a big sigh to indicate his irritation that I had interrupted his private i-Pod listening session about how the glaciers are melting or how the penguins need saving or whatever and headed upstairs.

“HC, can you please go in there and look at the window?”

HC shuffled over to the window, still irritated that he was not lost in his climate change world, looked out the window and our convo went sorta this way:

HC:  Whoa…  Cool.

My face, What the fuck?

HC:  Wow.  That guy’s big, huh?

Me, in my head to myself, but no audio is working yet:  Big?  It might be a tarantula.  We have a fucking tarantula a outside our fucking window.

HC, in amazement:  Did you see that web?!  Man, that’s like a Spider-Man web!  That’s awesome.

Me, finally able to speak out loud:  What?  No, I did not look at the fucking web.  I can’t get past how fucking big that guy is.

HC, still mesmerized:  That’s pretty cool.

Me:  HC, I’m going to throw up.  Seriously.  I may start crying.  (And almost on cue, the tears started.)

HC, not noticing the tears or taking my anxiety attack seriously:  Well, it’s not poisonous.

Me, internally again:  How the fuck do you know if it’s poisonous?!

HC, finally noticing that I’m melting down a la the Wicked Witch of the West:  Casey, it’s fine.  It’s outside.  There’s a window there.  It can’t open the window.

Me:  I know it can’t open the fucking window.  Okay, I know that.

HC:  Put a sheet over the window.

HC starts fumbling with some pillow covers, and I say:  Wait, not those.  They’re clean.  (What the fuck am I talking about?!)

Me:  I can’t deal with this right now.  I have to go downstairs.

HC:  Okay, it’s okay.

I immediately proceeded downstairs and begin this post.  HC came down a few minutes later and said that he had covered the window, “So, you see, it’s gone.”

Gone?  GONE?!  Does he think I’m five fucking years old?  I know it’s still there, HC.  I know that you did nothing to protect us from this prehistoric killer.  I know I can’t do anything about it, because it’s just too big.  But we may have to move.

Perhaps it’s apropos that I saw this prehistoric killer on Halloween morning.  But I don’t like it.  Not one bit.  And I may never go in that room again.  Ever.


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Feminism and Palin

AM just sent me this article from U.S. News and World Reports about a new book on Sarah Palin.

Palin Book: Feminists Jealous of Sarah’s Rise

October 26, 2009 04:23 PM ET | Paul Bedard | Permanent Link | Print

By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

Talk about timing. With former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin readying the release of her own 432-page campaign tell-all, Going Rogue: An American Life, now would be the perfect time to pop out another Palin book, and that’s exactly what Weekly Standard‘s Matthew Continetti has done with The Persecution of Sarah Palin.

With his 226-page defense of Palin and slap-down of the media coverage she has faced since being selected by Sen. John McCain as his 2008 veep, Continetti is likely to ride the next wave of Palin frenzy that will accompany her book release set for November 17. If you like Palin, it’s a good read. If you don’t, well, check it to see what the other side thinks of the potential 2012 presidential candidate. We won’t review it here because Whispers just received the book earlier today. But here are some highlights:

— The press, duh, didn’t like Palin and didn’t fact-check all of its stories on her. Worse, writes Continetti, the press had it out for Palin because she didn’t fit the image of an Ivy League-educated national candidate, just as former President George W. Bush didn’t. “The left recoils at a certain swagger, a manner of speech, and a lack of cultural embarrassment that the two share. Neither Bush nor Palin mind the fact that they are not part of this country’s cognoscenti. But until Palin showed up, one could have written off the liberal reaction to Bush as simply anti-Texan bias. That wasn’t it, however. Palin proved that at its root the reaction to these folksy Western politicians is a form of anti-provincialism; revulsion toward people who do not aspire to adopt the norms, values, politics and attitudes of the Eastern cultural elite,” he writes.

— McCain’s aides messed up her debut and campaign. First, the book says that the McCain press office had no biographical information ready when Palin was picked. Not only had the campaign not done its homework to defend Palin, but it wasn’t prepared for the media backlash. In their defense, aides note that had the campaign flooded the state with officials snooping for info on their veep pick, McCain’s surprise would have been ruined. Continetti does cite some press tactics that worked, such as the anti-Obama “Celebrity” ad.

— Liberal-leaning feminists, especially comic Tina Fey, the 30 Rock star who portrayed Palin on Saturday Night Live, were jealous of Palin. “Palin’s sudden global fame rankled those feminists whose own path to glory had been difficult. To them, Palin was less a female success story than she was the beneficiary of male chauvinism,” writes Continetti. He holds out Fey and her TV character for special criticism. “It was telling that Fey should be the actress who impersonated Palin. The two women may look like each other, but they could not be more dissimilar. Each exemplifies a different category of feminism. Palin comes from the I-can-do-it-all school. She is professionally successful, has been married for more than 20 years, and has a large and (from all outward appearances) happy family. And while Fey is also pretty, married, and has a daughter, the characters she portrays in films like Mean Girls and Baby Mama, and in television shows like 30 Rock, are hard-pressed eggheads who give up personal fulfillment—e.g., marriage and motherhood—in the pursuit of professional success,” he writes. “On 30 Rock, Fey, who is also the show’s chief writer and executive producer, plays Liz Lemon, a television comedy writer modeled on herself. Liz Lemon is smart, funny, and at the top of her field. But she fails elsewhere. None of her relationships with men works out. She wants desperately to raise a child but can find neither the time nor the means to marry or adopt. Lemon makes you laugh, for sure. But you also would be hard pressed to name a more unhappy person on American TV.”

So let me get this straight.  This guy is comparing the real Sarah Palin to the fictional character of Liz Lemon and suggests that Tina Fey’s impersonation of Palin was due to jealously that the fictional Liz Lemon – not the real Tina Fey, who, you know, has a husband, and a daughter, and a thriving career – has about being single, childless, and struggling to succeed in show business.  Is that right?  Is that what he’s saying?  Because that’s crazy.  And now my head hurts.

Sarah Palin does add some positives to the feminist dialectic, I think.  (And I realize I might be alone here.)  She’s seemingly doing it all – she has a husband, kids, a career, was governor, and knows her way around a rifle.  Oh, and she looks damn good while doing all of it.

Now, I’m not saying I want to shoot animals or anything, but she does present a very important vision of a woman into the world – she’s a mom and she shoots things.  I like contradiction (to a point), and I like the idea that women can do whatever they want (that doesn’t break the law, of course).  So, again, while I don’t want to shoot anything, I like the image.

But the problem with Sarah Palin is not with the choices she made as a woman or with the woman she is.  The problem with her, to me, is two-fold.

First, in many ways, the problem stops and starts with her brand of politics.  She is an ultraconservative.  This brand of politics wants to further entrench traditionalism, a system that has been incredibly unfavorable to women for generations.  A woman can be a wife and a mother and be a feminist.  But what Palin seems to want to do is advocate the necessity of the traditional family – and all the traditional roles that go along with it, roles that necessarily have negative connotations for women – for all of us while allowing herself an escape from the confines of that reality.  I don’t like the hypocrisy of that.

Second, Palin embraces mediocrity.  By this, I mean, to Palin, a C average not only earns you a “Good Job!”, it’s what everyone should strive for.  Because if you’re not folksy, you’re not real.  If you’re not “average”, you’re an elitist.  If you are well read or knowledgeable of the world, you just can’t relate to average Americans.

This is what kills me about her.  Because in my brand of feminism, you can be a wife and a mother and a professional and an avid hunter and maybe even be anti-abortion.  You can be pretty and wear make-up and be a fashionista and like boys (or girls) and do all those things.  But what you simply can’t be is someone who prides herself on mediocrity.  Not only is that not a way I want to live, it’s not the way I want any woman to live, and it is surely not the way I want the future generations of girls to be brought up.  We, as women, as a collective, simply cannot tolerate the perpetuating of women dumbing themselves down just to be liked.  Sure, you can like me because I’m funny, but not because I’m dumb.

Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, maybe my biggest problem with Sarah Palin is that she’s not funny.  Or, at the very least, I don’t get her jokes.  Like AT ALL.  And let’s be honest, if you’re not funny, there’s no chance I’m going to like you.

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New York

I’m sure everyone in America has heard the new Jay-Z, Alicia Keys song about the Big Apple, but just in case:

Even with the difficulty of finding a good video or a live performance – LOVE!  Seriously, I love this song.  Okay, so I’m partial to Alicia Keys.  Sorta in love with her.  And I like Jay-Z.  But c’mon?!  This is fantastic.

Also, if you want to catch a live performance of this song, tune in at 7:30p tonight to Game 2 of the NY Yankees/Phillies series.  (Thank G-d for the rain, or I would have missed it!!)  And, with a little luck, this will give the Bronx Bombers the little something extra they need to win tonight.

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Happy Halloween

A friend sent me this yesterday.  It cracked me up.  Animals in uncommon situations make me laugh.  And animals in Halloween costumes?  Really too funny for words.  The absurdity of it.  The insanity of the owner.  The degradation of the pet.  The cuteness of it all.  Love, love, love.

Balloon Pup, Octo-pup, and the Wizard of Oz pets?  All nice efforts.  But this is my favorite shot:


I love this picture.  Is this the saddest princess you’ve ever seen, or what?!  And that hat?!  I love it.

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Steppin’ Out…

I just saw this article on CNN.com:

Mate debate: Is monogamy realistic?

By A. Pawlowski, CNN

(CNN) — If you were to judge the success rate of monogamy by the sex lives of public figures, perhaps couples should change their marriage vows to say, “Till a tempting new partner do us part.”

Talk-show host David Letterman recently joined former presidential candidate John Edwards, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer on a long list of politicians and entertainers (think Jude Law) who have admitted having sex outside their marriage or committed relationship.

But do they just illustrate the realities of modern life?

In the age of hookups, friends with benefits and online dating, and as human life expectancy grows, is it still reasonable to expect people to pair up and stay monogamous until death do them part?

“It’s realistic that some people can mate for life in the same sense that some people can play the Beethoven violin concerto or other people can ice-skate beautifully or learn a new language,” said psychiatrist Judith Eve Lipton.

Added evolutionary biologist David Barash, “It’s within the realm of human potential, but it’s not easy.”

Lipton and Barash, who have been married 32 years and are the co-authors of “Strange Bedfellows” and “The Myth of Monogamy,” said serial monogamy may be more realistic — a model in which people move from one committed long-term relationship to another and choose partners for different reasons at different stages of their life.

Possibilities in polyamory?

For some, even serial monogamy seems too restrictive.

The 1970s introduced the concept of “open marriage” in which couples stayed married but were free to date other people.

More recently, polyamory — the practice of having romantic relationships with multiple people at the same time with the full knowledge and consent of all involved — has been getting a lot of attention.

“We found the expectation that one person should be our everything seemed unrealistic given our day and age. … It’s oddly pressuring to set up that scenario,” said Mark, who lives in Springfield, Missouri, and is in a polyamorous relationship. (He asked that his last name not be used for privacy reasons.)

Mark, 42, has been married for five years. He and his wife tried different things to spice up their marriage, including swinging, or having casual sex with other people, he said. But they found the experience unfulfilling and decided what they really wanted was to be able to fall in love with others while staying together.

Mark dates another woman, and his wife, who declined to be interviewed for this article, is dating another man. The four of them frequently get together to have dinner or watch movies.

“People describe polyamory as ‘poly-agony’ because of all the work you have to do to maintain things,” Mark said. “It’s just not normal to look over and see your wife with another man. I know a lot of people would have a real problem with that. I really don’t.”

The ultimate goal is for everyone in the group to live together, Mark said.

“This isn’t about having affairs, it’s really about being able to be open and loving,” he added.

Researchers studying polyamory estimate there are more than half a million polyamorous families in the United States, according to Newsweek.

People seeking shorter, more secretive dalliances now have more opportunities than ever online. One example: The Ashley Madison Agency, a dating Web site for married men and women, which claims 4.5 million members and greets visitors with the motto, “Life is short. Have an affair.”

No wonder many people believe monogamy is completely on its way out. French author Jacques Attali in recent years wrote, “Monogamy, which is really no more than a useful social convention, will not survive. It has rarely been honored in practice; soon, it will vanish even as an ideal.”

Cultural give and take

That ideal may depend on where you live.

A journalist who traveled the world to examine how adultery is viewed by different cultures said Americans have a harsher view of infidelity than people in practically any other country.

“Americans are too surprised by infidelity when it happens. I think we go into marriage with perhaps unrealistically high expectations about human nature,” said Pamela Druckerman, author of “Lust in Translation.”

The French, in contrast, are as hopeful about staying faithful as Americans when they get married, but if one of the spouses has an affair, they are able to accept it as something that can happen over the course of a long marriage, said Druckerman, an American who lives in Paris.

When French President François Mitterrand died in 1996, for example, his longtime mistress and their daughter attended his funeral — at his widow’s invitation.

“[Americans] think if an affair happens, it’s the end of the story, the fairy tale has been completely shattered, the person isn’t the person we thought they were. The knee-jerk reaction is you have to get a divorce,” Druckerman said.

“[In France,] there’s less of a sense that the person who cheats is a terrible human being or that this is a marker of a person’s whole character.”

In Russia, Druckerman found that infidelity is considered a pleasurable vice, like smoking cigarettes. In Finland, sex in general is viewed as a very positive experience, so when a person is presented with the possibility of a sexual experience, it’s in some ways socially sanctioned to pursue it, Druckerman said.

Famous and powerful are different

Experts on relationships and human sexuality said that while we may not be wired to stay faithful to one partner for a lifetime, we can make a conscious decision to do so — a choice that still comes with powerful emotional, biological and economic benefits.

And while the sexual exploits of celebrities such as David Letterman can be shocking, it’s important to remember that powerful or famous people can have more inclination, opportunity and resources to stray.

“They are used to the adrenaline rush in terms of being out there in the limelight. … I call them adrenaline junkies,” said Terri Orbuch, a professor of sociology at Oakland University and author of the new book “5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great.”

“They need that passion and excitement in their relationships.”

That can make famous or powerful people more likely to look outside their marriage to continue the adrenaline rush, Orbuch said.

Power, wealth and fame are also well-known aphrodisiacs that attract lots of potential new sexual partners — an issue with which typical couples may not have to grapple.

Monogamy’s payoffs

Whatever the temptation, most people still prefer to be in a monogamous relationship, said Nadine Kaslow, a professor at Emory University School of Medicine who specializes in couples and families and who also is chief psychologist at Grady Health System in Atlanta, Georgia.

“People feel safer and they feel more trusting. They feel like they can depend on their partner,” Kaslow said. “I think that we can make choices in a different way than [other] mammals and think through the consequences of things.”

Those consequences can be huge, in many ways. Nature has provided powerful incentives to stay faithful that are still valid.

“There are a lot of reasons why sexual monogamy is in people’s interests,” Lipton said.

“Because whether it’s raising children or avoiding emotional chaos and drama, like what David Letterman is facing, or whether it’s building an estate and avoiding conflict about estate planning, there are lots of reasons that two people who cooperate are better off than one person alone or one person who is a cheat.”

Hmmmm… Not sure what I think about this.  On the one hand, I agree that I’m bored by people’s shock over the extracurriculars those in public life.

Folks, at the risk of being Captain Obvious, people cheat.  Every day.  Like, all the time.  Stop seeming surprised when it happens.  If nothing else, that whole brouhaha with a former president should have been our come to Jesus moment on this.  Unlike his precessessors in the White House who had the saavy – and the press corp – that allowed those private details to remain, you know, private (until the juicy tell-all books, of course… I mean, this is still America here), Good Ole Bill busted those doors wide open.

Don’t get me wrong.  Jim McGreevey FINALLY coming out of the closet?  Interesting.  Never thought it would happen.  Eliot Spitzer pouring over the Diamond-scale?  Still intriguing.  You paid WHAT?!  That hot mess that is Mark Sanford?  Reminds me that, yes, even I can be surprised by someone’s meltdown.  And the one liners!  Don’t get me started…

But otherwise, so not interesting.

Now if we take this out of the public realm and put it in our own homes, I’m not sure if my point of view changes.

I want to believe that I don’t judge people.  I know I do, but I try not to.  Cheating is one of those things where, so long as you 1) don’t make your partner out to be a fool, 2) don’t make your cohort out to be a fool, and 3) don’t drag me into it, I find it hard to care about these things. Again, I never met anyone who was perfect – not even my grandfather, who might have been the nicest person I’ve ever met – and, like I said before, people cheat.

That’s not to say that I wouldn’t be shocked – SHOCKED – if my HC stepped out on me.  But that’s got more to do with HC than with my view of my relationship or cheating generally.

I’m rambling.  Thoughts on this?

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Here’s an interesting op-ed from this weekend’s NYTimes about how we measure women’s success in the workplace.

October 24, 2009
Op-Ed Contributor

The Mismeasure of Woman


FINALLY! I hear we’re all living in a women’s world now.

For the first time, women make up half the work force. The Shriver Report, out just last week, found that mothers are the major breadwinners in 40 percent of families. We have a female speaker of the House and a female secretary of state. Thirty-two women have served as governors. Thirty-eight have served as senators. Four out of eight Ivy League presidents are women.

Great news, right? Well, not exactly. In fact, it couldn’t be more spectacularly misleading.

The truth is, women haven’t come nearly as far as we would have predicted 25 years ago. Somewhere along the line, especially in recent years, progress for women has stalled. And attitudes have taken a giant leap backward.

I never expected that we would be in this predicament. My generation of professional women took equality for granted. When I was in college in the 1980s, many of us looked derisively at the women’s liberation movement. That was something that strident, humorless, shrill women had done before us.

We were sure we were beyond it. We were post-feminists. After all, we lived equally with men. We felt that when we took our place in society, issues of gender — and race too — wouldn’t be a factor.

Back in college, my friends and I never even had a conversation about balancing work and family. We had never heard of glass ceilings. We didn’t talk about sexual harassment — that was just part of life. As a freshman, I had an interview for a magazine internship in New York City. As I sat down, making sure to demurely close up my slit-front skirt over my knees, the interviewer barked, “If you want the job, you’ll leave that open.”

We felt the same way when we went to work. After graduation, when I first joined The Wall Street Journal, I could count the number of female reporters there on one hand. The tiny ladies’ room was for guests. The paper was written by men, for men. It didn’t even cover industries that were relatively female-friendly, like publishing, advertising and retailing. When the newspaper finally did introduce coverage of those sectors a few years later, most male reporters weren’t interested. So we women stepped up.

Our corner of the newsroom was promptly dubbed the “Valley of the Dolls.” But we gained respect after one of our number won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting on the tobacco industry. Of course, when Hollywood made the movie about the investigation, her role was played by a man.

During these years, we were competing with men and we were winning. We learned to curse like truck drivers and work our sources as well as the next guy. We broke major stories. And we dressed the part, out-machoing the men with our truly tragic wardrobe choices — boxy suits with giant shoulder pads and floppy bow ties.

I was promoted to a Page One editor while I was pregnant. When my children were babies, my bosses allowed me to work mostly at home. Eventually, I became The Journal’s first female deputy managing editor. By the time I left the paper in 2005, more than a third of the paper’s editors were female. And when I moved on to create Portfolio for Condé Nast — the magazine company best known for titles like Vanity Fair, Vogue and The New Yorker — half of our top editors were female.

And yet during the last few years, I couldn’t help but notice that the situation for women as a whole wasn’t improving, and was even getting worse.

Consider the facts: When I graduated from college in 1983, women earned only 64 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

Today? Women earn just 77 cents. By other measures, women’s gains have stalled: board seats and corporate officer posts have been flat — or declined in recent years.

More proof: According to the American Bar Association, women in 2008 made up almost half of all associates, but only 18.3 percent of partners. Only 15 women run Fortune 500 companies.

I am still one of the few women to have run a major business magazine. My career was recently summed up in a New York magazine article as leggy.

And I got off easy. During the presidential primaries, while the news media was on their best behavior to avoid racial stereotypes, it was still O.K. to discuss Hillary Clinton’s “cankles.”

Even the positive numbers we’ve heard about during the recession are misleading — the ones that seem to indicate that women have suffered fewer job losses than men. The reason? Women are still concentrated in lower-paying fields, rather than the high-paying industries like finance and real estate that were hardest hit.

So why have we stalled out?

Part of the reason can be traced to the aftermath of 9/11.

Everyone’s life was reshaped by 9/11. Like many New Yorkers, I experienced that day in an intensely personal way: I was in the World Trade Center with a colleague when the first plane hit. And we were just outside the second tower, making our way through burning debris, hunks of airplane seats and far worse when the second plane came in directly over our heads.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Americans pulled together. Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, famously declared it was “the end of the age of irony.”

He was right.

And then he was wrong. Because, as so often happens in the wake of a traumatic event, the pendulum swung to the other extreme. The war in Iraq tore America apart. The Internet gave everyone a soapbox. The louder, the more offensive, the better.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that exactly at this moment, women began losing ground — and not just in measurable ways, like how many women make partner or get jobs as chief executives.

I’m referring to how we are perceived. The conversation online about women, as about so many other topics, degenerated from silly and snarky to just plain ugly — and it seeped into the mainstream.

Recently, before a TV appearance, I did an Internet search on one of the interviewers so I could learn more about her — and got a full page of results about her breasts.

This was hardly an isolated incident. Whether it’s Keith Olbermann of MSNBC calling Michelle Malkin, the conservative blogger, “a big mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick on it,” or Glenn Beck of Fox News suggesting that “ugly women” are probably “progressive as well,” women these days are portrayed as either witches or bimbos, with pretty much no alternatives in between.

I’ve been puzzled by these screeds, which are so at odds with the real achievements documented in the Shriver Report and elsewhere. And then it struck me: Part of the reason we’ve lost our way, part of the reason my generation became complacent, is that many of us have been defining progress for women too narrowly. We’ve focused primarily on numbers at the expense of attitudes.

I’ve spent my adult life in business journalism, where we calculate success using hard facts and figures. Researchers have evaluated women’s progress the same way. But in today’s noisy world, that approach isn’t enough. We’ve got to include popular perceptions in the equation as well. Progress in one area without the other is no progress at all.

This isn’t simply a woman’s issue; it affects us all. It isn’t about blaming men, or about embracing feminism, which remains a toxic term for some women. Instead, it is up to all of us to help change the conversation.

How do we get to there from here?

First, we can begin by telling girls to have confidence in themselves, to not always feel the need to be the passive “good girl.” In my time as an editor, many, many men have come through my door asking for a raise or demanding a promotion. Guess how many women have ever asked me for a promotion?

I’ll tell you. Exactly … zero.

Sure, it’s a risk to ask for a raise. But women need to take risks — and to realize that at some point they will fail. This is an incredibly hard thing to do, especially for women brought up in a culture that celebrates unrealistic perfection in every sphere, from beauty to housekeeping. The biggest professional risk I ever took was leaving a secure job at The Wall Street Journal to create a business magazine at a company known for glossy fashion titles — and that at a time when all print was struggling.

There were plenty of naysayers, and I got to see myself portrayed as both a witch and a bimbo, a twofer! But I believed in our mission.

At the end of the day, Portfolio couldn’t survive the economic collapse. Still, we had created a magazine we were proud of that provided a venue for talented writers and editors, many of them women who hadn’t had that kind of chance to shine before in the macho world of financial journalism.

Which leads me to another piece of advice — have a sense of humor. Believe me, it’s needed.

Case in point: My favorite Christmas card ever came from Martha Stewart — while she was in prison in West Virginia. It was beautiful, on heavy paper stock, and showed a gorgeous wreath. And on the inside, homey as could be, it was engraved with holiday wishes from “Martha Stewart, Alderson, West Virginia.”

One final suggestion: don’t be afraid to be a girl.

Women do have a different culture from men. And that can give us some tremendous advantages. Women are built to withstand hardship and pain. (Anyone who has given birth knows what I’m talking about.) That’s a big benefit at a time like this, with the unemployment rate at 9.8 percent and rising.

Women define success differently; for some it may be a career, for others the ability to stay home with children. They also define themselves differently. I’m in the unfortunate position of witnessing many friends and colleagues laid off over the past year. But the women are less apt to fall apart — and this goes even for the primary breadwinners — because they are less likely to define themselves by their job in the first place.

Certainly, when you look at the numbers, women have made tremendous strides over the past 25 years. But in the process, we lost sight of something important. After focusing for so long on better jobs and higher pay, maybe the best thing — the enduring thing — we can do is make sure respect is part of the equation too.

If we can change the conversation about women, the numbers will finally add up. And that’s what real progress looks like.

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ALJ, a fellow Big Firm Survivor, just sent me this post.

Quinn Emanuel Believes in ‘C.B.A.’ (Check BlackBerry Always)

Friday, October 16, 2009 5:57 PM – By Elie Mystal

Quinn logo.jpgEd. note: This post has been updated from the original version. Please see below.

The only thing worse than being tied to your BlackBerry at all hours is missing something important because you were not tied to your BlackBerry the hour you were needed.

Wait, this just in. There is something worse than missing a crucial request because you weren’t checking your BlackBerry. That would be when the partner you are working for emails all of the firm’s associates reminding them to compulsively check their BlackBerries because of your mistake.

Welcome to the world of a Quinn Emanuel associate. The associate apparently didn’t send a fax because he hadn’t been checking emails after business hours. QE partner Bill Urquhart decided to use the incident as a teaching moment for the entire firm:

From: A William Urquhart.
To: Attorneys.
Time: 9:21 a.m.
Re: CHECK YOU [sic] EMAILS OFTENNow more than ever there are many talented lawyers and law firms competing for our business. Doing really good legal work is not enough. Clients expect that and well they should given what we charge for our services You must all realize that we are in a service business. In this day and age of faxes, emails, internet, etc. clients expect you to be accessible 24\7. Of course, that is something of an exaggeration—but not much.

LESSON NUMBER ONE: You should check your emails early and often. That not only means when you are in the office, it also means after you leave the office as well. Unless you have very good reason not to (for example when you are asleep, in court or in a tunnel), you should be checking your emails every hour. One of the last things you should do before you retire for the night is to check your email. That is why we give you blackberries. I can assure you that all of our clients expect you to be checking your emails often. I am not asking you to do something we do not do ourselves. I can assure you that John Quinn, Peter Calamari, Mike Carlinsky, Faith Gay, Fred Lorig, etc. all check their emails often.

Yesterday I was working with a relatively new associate on a project which both he and I knew was a rush. It was for a relatively new client whom we were trying to impress. The associate did a nice job under pressure. Before I left the office at about 7:30 I sent an email to this associate asking him to perform a task—fax a draft letter for review and comment. I assumed the task was done. Turns out the associate left the office and did not check his emails until this morning. I assumed the task had been completed. It had not been. In this case it was no harm no foul, but I think we can all imagine scenarios when this could be a disaster.

CORRECTION: The original version of this post had a line in the blockquote that was not in the Urquhart email. (It was actually commentary on the email from a source.) That line has been removed. I apologize for posting an incorrect version of the email.

That’s harsh. But is it fair?

Biglaw associates, the next time a family member or spouse asks you why you have to check your BlackBerry all the time, even for the fleeting hours that you are not at work, feel free to send them Urquhart’s email. The next time some law student starts talking about work-life balance and you want to strangle him, send him Urquhart’s email instead.

But don’t forget that this email works to your benefit as well. The next time some happy hippie types call you overpaid and undeserving of your high salary, send them Urquhart’s email and ask them if they have any conception of what working hard even means. The next time some person claims that you have an entitlement complex, send them Urquhart’s email. And the next time you’re in Vegas, laughing at “the poors” waiting to get a seat at the five dollar blackjack table, send yourself Urquhart’s email.

Because, in a way, Bill Urquhart’s email summarizes everything you really need to know about the life of a Biglaw associate. Partners expect you to be on call. In exchange, you get paid a lot of money.

As long as you keep accepting the paycheck, the firm owns your time. All of it, whenever they want it. You made a deal. Urquhart’s just reminding you of your end of the bargain.

Now, don’t get me wrong:  I love my BlackBerry and have been known to check it in the middle of the night, especially when sleeping is beyond my grasp or when I’m obsessing about something.  But this mindset?  This ownership of employees?  I don’t miss it at all.

To be fair, the firm I worked for was pretty good about not being jerks about stuff like this.  Of course, when I was there, it was before the 2008 crash and times for pretty good.  Who knows what it’s like there now.  Still, there was always this sense that Big Brother was watching you and demanding that you do more, more, more.  Okay, maybe that’s my paranoia and Type-A-ness showing.  But it was there.  It was real.  Just ask anyone who survived firm life.

The thing that really annoys me about this email – more than the sentiment and tone of this nasty-gram – is the flagrant disregard for grammatical rule, particularly the comma.  Look, if you are a partner and want to be a dick, that’s your prerogative.  But for fuck’s sake, would it kill you to use some fucking commas and do a spell check?  Maybe it’s just me, but it’s hard for me to take someone’s bullshit complaint about something that is sheer insanity seriously when the sender can’t be bothered to review before sending.

Possible responses to this email, you ask?  I have a few suggestions:

  • I’ll check my BlackBerry at 3am when you learn to use a comma.  There’s probably a CLE course offered here on that.
  • You really should have had your secretary type this email up for you.  She actually knows how to use a comma.
  • Dear Partner, This is “relatively new associate.”  Go blow yourself.
  • I really wanted to read your email, but I have a rule about not looking at anything that has a subject line in ALL CAPS.
  • Um, is there a LESSON NUMBER TWO?
  • I thought you gave us BlackBerries so that we had something to do when you were pontificating about “The Law” and other nonsensical topics.
  • Wait a minute.  This associate was asked to do something at 7:30pm and didn’t turn it around until sometime before 9:21am the next morning?  I think we behead people for that.  Flogging, at the very least.
  • I don’t believe for one second that Peter Calamari or Faith Gay check their emails regularly, as I have sincere doubts that they are real people.
  • I can assure you that you are a dick.

Okay, sorry.  I’ll stop.  Jerks.

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