Why March?

I’m as surprised as anybody that I’ve begun marching in support of causes I care about. I have never been an activist. For years, I was quietly passionate about my politics and causes – emphasis on quietly. I spoke about them among friends, sent letters and checks, but that was it.

Signs at Women’s March – MN

My upbringing discouraged political activism.

I was 12 in 1967 when race rioting began in Detroit and Toledo, my hometown. My father was a fire chief and reported that rioters were throwing rocks and bottles at firefighters. He was angry and I was scared. Although I didn’t agree with the violence, looting and burning, the civil rights movement made me aware that blacks were often treated unfairly, which might prompt them to anger and rioting. Despite that insight, at 12 years old, I was more worried about my father’s safety than anything else.

I was 15 on May 4, 1970, when, after days of Vietnam War protests, four students were killed and nine were wounded by National Guardsmen at Kent State University several hours from my home. As a WWII veteran, my father disagreed with the war protests, and at dinner on the evening of the shootings, he denounced the campus lawlessness. My mother staunchly agreed with him. My college-age brother and younger sister didn’t comment. I was in sympathy with the protesters, but kept silent.

My primary impression of protests and marches was that they could easily turn violent—something I wanted no part of.

So why at 62, did I join 100,000 like-minded people at the Women’s March in St. Paul in January? And 10,000 people for the March for Science -MN on Earth Day?

Because I can’t bear to see 40-50 years of progress—on civil rights (race, gender, religion, and country of origin), women’s rights, and environmental protections—disappear.

This just can’t be my generation’s legacy.

I know full well that marching by itself doesn’t change anything. It’s just gesture, and that gesture has to be followed up with a sustained effort to create change. I’m prepared to do that, too.

I believe that seeing the sheer numbers of marchers puts politicians on notice—we are a force to be reckoned with, and they serve us, not the other way around.

A sea of marchers on at the Women’s March – MN on 1/21/17, including my son who was on crutches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earth Day March for Science – St. Paul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope that other people who share my views and values will be heartened and moved to take action too.

Marching makes me feel less powerless, more hopeful.

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Naming Rights

The ring I wear on my left hand honors my marriage. My maiden name—the name I’ve had all of my life—honors who I am as an individual.

J&E1985bWhen I married 30 years ago, this was an important and controversial distinction. Like many people, my parents worried that I would offend my in-laws and that our future children would encounter problems because my husband and I have two different last names.

Nonetheless, we felt strongly about this decision. He’d keep his name and I’d keep mine. For practical reasons, we didn’t choose to hyphenate. Shriner-Sakowski is just too much name!

Without meaning to, I did offend my in-laws, but they came to accept our decision. Our sons tell me that my different last name hasn’t been an issue for them. Perhaps some of their teachers or coaches assumed that my husband and I were divorced, but divorce is so commonplace that no one commented. I chose not to be offended when people called me Mrs. Sakowski. I knew who they meant and that they were trying to be polite. Often I pre-empted the discussion about names by introducing myself as “Greg’s Mom” or “Mike’s Mom.” That was all the teacher or coach wanted to know—my relationship to the kid in question. These days, I rarely have to explain the name difference.

So it came as a surprise that using a maiden name has been resurrected as an issue. Recently, a friend recounted a conversation she overheard at a coffee shop. A young couple was talking with their minister about their wedding ceremony and the minister said, “Some ultra feminists don’t even take their husband’s last names.” Huh? I can easily list half a dozen women I know who kept their maiden names. It’s not that radical.

Equally surprising was my recent experience with two different lawyers (one was settling my aunt’s estate and the other was handling my mother’s estate). Each assumed that I was Ellen Sakowski or Ellen Shriner-Sakowski. With my aunt’s lawyer, I explained several times that my real legal name is Ellen Shriner. Finally, I had to state unequivocally that I had never changed my name, and I wouldn’t be able to cash an inheritance check made out to either of those imaginary women.

But then I recalled that four young professional women I know who’ve recently married all took their husband’s names. I was surprised and remain curious. Is the gesture that was so important to me when I married irrelevant now? Does it no longer feel necessary to make that distinction? Are women’s independence and equality a given for those young women? I hope so, but I’m skeptical.

Despite my skepticism, I’m not trying to take anything away from women who choose their husband’s name. As a feminist, I believe women have the right to handle their names however they like: keeping their maiden names, using their maiden name as a middle name, or taking their husband’s name. I would never prescribe what a woman should call herself. Naming is a very personal decision.

I think of one friend who was glad to shed her father’s name when she married. They had a difficult relationship and taking her husband’s name was a way of distancing herself from her father and asserting her new grown-up identity. Changing her name was a mark of independence.

Another friend, who survived a childhood fraught with sexual abuse, invented a whole new name to mark the break from her family and her hard-won emotional health.

What really matters is whether the choice of name is based purely on personal preference rather than perceived societal expectations. As a feminist, I just hope that women today feel much more free to choose the name that pleases them than I felt 30 years ago.

A Wonderful Dilemma for a Middle School Girl

Crystel and Natty

Apple Jack Invitational. Crystel and Natty after their first cross country meet – A one mile race.

“Go, go, go, dig, dig, dig.”

I hear my voice replaying on the video and cringe. I sound like a crazy woman.

It’s just my child running a 5th grade field day race for gosh sakes. In the scheme of things it doesn’t even count. The distance is approximately 50 (or is it 100 yards?) and none of the kids are called back for jumping the gun. Still, there I am, my voice reaching a high pitch squeal.

Here she comes, my girl crossing the finish line … first.

I wipe away tears, choke back a sob.

I’m sure it’s her strong body and competitiveness and has nothing to do with my out of control fervor.

My daughter is in for some rough years unless I get banned from her sporting events. I don’t think they can do that to moms. But if they do, maybe I can wear my police reserve uniform and sneak in. And, if that doesn’t work, I’ll go as McGruff.

Not that I screeched any less at her brother when he was running. “Go, Antonio, go. Dig, dig, dig.” He’s in for the same mortification.

When another mom, texted a photo of 12-year old Crystel and her daughter, following their first cross country race as 6th graders, it hit me that Crystel’s experience in sports will be very different than mine.

This year marks the 42nd anniversary of Title IX.

10th place for Crystel and 20th place for Natty at the Apple Valley Cross Country meet

10th place for Crystel and 20th place for Natty in the 2-mile race at the Apple Valley cross country meet

In 1970 when I was 12, Title IX had not yet passed. Although I could beat my older brothers at most anything and was the only one who dived off the cliff in Spring Valley, Wisconsin into the Eau Galle Dam, I couldn’t compete in sports.

Regulations on how to implement Title IX, signed into law, June 23, 1972, did not go into effect until 1975.

This past summer, Crystel was mulling over which activities and sports she was going to become involved in during middle school. “This is what you call a dilemma, Crystel,” I told her. “You have so many options that you will have to choose.”

Three weeks into middle school, she’s done what she can to cram in her interests: piano, dance, cross country, and Kor Am Tae Kwon Do. If she could she’d figure out how to add soccer and a number of other after school activities.

When Title IX was enacted, 1 in 27 girls participated in athletics. One in three girls participates in athletics today.

In the photo, Crystel and her friend are self-assured, confident, and have just run their first one mile race. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, women who are active in sports have more self-confidence and are more outgoing than women who do not participate.

Most people think Title IX only applies to sports, but athletics is only one of ten key areas addressed by the law. Other areas include: access to higher education, career education, education for pregnant and parenting students, employment, learning environment, math and science, sexual harassment, standardized testing, and technology.

Before Title IX

• In 1972, women earned just 7% of all law degrees and 9% of all medical degrees.

• In 1970, women earned only 13.3% of doctoral degrees.

• Women weren’t awarded athletic scholarships.

After Title IX

• For the graduating class of 2013, the Department of Education estimated that women earned 61.6% of all associate’s degrees, 56.7% of all bachelor’s degrees, 59.9% of all master’s degrees, and 51.6% of all doctor’s degrees.

• Last year, 140 women graduated with a college degree at some level for every 100 men.

• By 2003, there was more than $1 million in scholarships for women at Division I schools.

1045198_1472771266320064_3137456199553566764_n1My WordSister, sister in writing, Ellen Shriner has completed a book-length memoir called BRAVADO AND A SKETCHY VISION LED ME HERE, a coming-of-age story that takes place in 1979 and 1980 during her first year of college teaching.

Her memoir portrays the challenges of women faced as they sought graduate degrees and entered the workforce.

On July 5, 2012, Ellen also wrote a blog piece about Title IX.

Thanks to Title IX, Crystel has the wonderful dilemma of choosing which sport she will compete in. Eventually when she joins the workforce, she will have more choices to her liking than women of previous generations had.

And, because of Title IX, Crystel and Antonio will have to put up with a mom that alternately shrieks and sobs at the finish line.

What’s Behind the Wage Gap Between Women and Men?

Recently, my son mentioned that he’s decided to ask for a raise. My immediate (but unspoken) reaction was caution: Don’t rock the boat. Look what a great learning opportunity you have. In this economy just be grateful to have such a good job. That mindset exemplifies a gender difference—women often are afraid to ask for a raise or insist on a promotion.

When I think about my son’s situation more objectively, I realize he’s right. For the last nine months, he has been doing a product manager’s job without the official title or the additional money a product manager would make. Higher-ups in the organization have publicly recognized his efforts, so it is a good time to ask for a raise.

I was surprised to realize how ingrained my caution is. Because I’m aware of women’s tendency to be self-effacing, I thought that mindset no longer had power over me. And yet, I can recall times that I’ve devalued my contributions. I know that women worry about being disliked if they advocate for themselves—I’ve done that, too.

Reluctance to rock the boat is one of the reasons why women’s salaries continue to lag behind men’s.

The pay gap figure that’s often used is that the median earnings of full-time female workers are 77 percent of the median earnings of full-time male workers (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Often women aren’t confident, effective negotiators. Many times women feel grateful for the job—lucky to have it at all—instead of recognizing the value we contribute. Or women want to be liked and worry that pushing for what we’re due will be seen as being aggressive. There are good reasons for women’s concerns.

A recent New York Times article describes research that validates the persistent, and often unconscious, perception that women who ask for raises and promotions are unfeminine and demanding.

Linda C. Babcock, one of the researchers the article cites, addresses the “apples to apples” argument in her book Women Don’t Ask. When comparing the salaries and negotiating experiences of single men and women who had just earned MBAs, she asked, “When you got your offer, did you attempt to negotiate?” She found that about 7 percent of women attempted to negotiate, while 57 percent of men did. Of those people who negotiated, they were able to increase their salary by over 7 percent.

There are other systemic reasons for the wage earnings gap. Here are some of the common counter arguments rationalizing it:

Women often take more time off – They are more likely to interrupt their careers when they become parents, and they are more likely to be the default caregivers for sick children and parents.

Although I couldn’t find evidence to conclusively confirm or disprove it, this assertion feels true. The trend is certainly true of the women I know. Obviously, if a woman works fewer hours and/or her family leave is unpaid, she will make less money in a year when she has heavy caretaking responsibilities (whether or not she should be responsible for more of the caretaking is a different issue).

But it doesn’t make sense for women to be penalized long-term for shouldering that responsibility. For example, 10 years’ experience should be 10 years’ experience, whether the employee is a man or a woman. If a woman works full-time for five years, then takes off for five years to be with her children, then brings her skills up to speed and returns to full-time work for an additional five years, her pay should be that of a person who has 10 years’ experience. The interruption shouldn’t have a lasting effect, but often it does.

Women often enter lower paying professions such as teaching, nursing and food preparation, and that’s why they earn less.

The low-paying profession argument deserves a closer look. Female elementary school teachers make 90.9 percent of what men make and female nurses make 85.6 percent of what their male counterparts make (Institute for Women’s Policy Research IWPR #C350a). That’s still a wage gap.

Women in high-paying industries also lag behind men. Female physicians and surgeons earn 71 percent of what males in those fields earn. Female lawyers earn 77.1 percent of what male lawyers make.

The size of the gap may vary, but the fact of a persistent wage gap is undeniable.

The gap grows during the span of a woman’s career. If a woman doesn’t make the same salary as a man at the beginning of her career, she is very likely to be playing catch-up at her next job. The lag will compound over the course of her career.

What makes pay equity even more challenging is that employees don’t know the salary range for their positions. Many employers have spoken or unspoken rules that forbid inquiring about coworkers’ salaries, so employees can’t ask without fear of retaliation. The Paycheck Fairness Act 2014 is intended to make it easier for women to know what their counterparts are being paid and give women the data as well as the legal clout to insist on equal pay. But even if salary transparency were legal, discussing income is nearly taboo in our culture.

As history and other anti-discrimination laws have taught us, changing hearts, minds and cultures is even harder than changing laws. Addressing women’s reluctance to negotiate and employers’ subtle bias against women who do seek raises and promotions are the real challenges.

On Losing My Ambition (Open Letter to 35-Year-Old Hiring Managers)

Recently I had dinner with my friend C., who mentioned that after years of freelance writing, she was interviewing to be a marketing communications manager—a position she’s eminently qualified for.

She confided that during the preliminary phone interview, the interviewer expressed concern that C. wouldn’t be satisfied with being a mid-level manager. Perhaps C. would be uncomfortable taking direction from the younger director of the organization. C. paused during this anecdote, with her eyes wide and eyebrows raised. We both burst out laughing and couldn’t stop.

“Being the director is the last thing I want! I just want to do the kind of work I’ve been doing . . . but someplace else. For me, learning the rhythms of that office will be challenging enough,” C. said and paused for a sip of white wine.

“I know! I just want to do interesting work with coworkers I like and be respected for what I know,” I said.

I’m not sure when I lost my ambition for climbing the corporate ladder, but it’s been gone for a while.

womanclimbingladderEven saying that feels odd. I have always cared about my career, and I’ve gone to some trouble to have one (got a graduate degree, made several cross-country moves in pursuit of jobs, been a working mother). But I simply no longer have a driving need to be promoted. Unlike Sheryl Sandburg, who encourages working mothers to be all they can be career-wise (see Lean In), I leaned back a long time ago.

When I was in my 20’s and early 30’s, my career was my main focus. But my priorities broadened after my sons were born. Instead of pursuing a classic corporate marketing or ad agency path, I launched my own freelance writing business. Would I have made different decisions if the workplace had been more flexible? Maybe. But having my own business worked well for me—stacked hat logo

a) It gave me the flexible hours I wanted when my sons were growing up so I could be a bigger part of their lives. They spent fewer hours in daycare. In the summer, I’d occasionally knock off early and we’d go on excursions—the beach, the zoo, or the park. When they were sick, I’d be home. I still had deadlines and needed to work late after my husband returned from his job, but it was easier to manage. Plus, I could volunteer at their school and go on their field trips.

b) With half a dozen clients, I could have the creative variety that’s often lacking for ad agency copywriters. Instead of being the head writer on the agency’s Visa team, I’d write for Land o’ Lakes, Visa, Radisson, Medtronic, Sears—whichever account was active that week.

c) As a freelance writer, I had more free time to write personal essays and memoir pieces—the kind of creative writing I’d always wanted to do.

I made choices that supported the life I wanted; my decisions did not advance a traditional career path.

Shortly after my second son was born, while I was still working full-time, I was offered the opportunity to be promoted from senior copywriter to associate creative director. It was hard to say no—at that point I still had traditional ambitions and wanted to advance. But I turned down the promotion, because between work and family, I was already at or beyond full capacity. I simply didn’t have the energy to do more and to do the job justice.

Several years ago, I chose to leave my freelance business behind (it stopped being as much fun and my sons were grown) and take a part-time job writing marketing communications for a children’s hospital. I’ve had several chances to go full-time and get back on the classic path to career advancement. Ambition flickered in my heart. I briefly heard the siren song of advancement, “You’ve got more in you–you’d be good at that job.”  But I leaned back again. New logo 2

I have other goals and responsibilities now—

a) Having the flexibility to help my siblings care for my 91-year-old mother in Ohio

b) Having fun with my husband who recently retired

c) Making time for my creative writing projects

As I told C. during dinner, “Hiring managers don’t have to be so worried about Baby Boomers. A lot of us don’t want to take over anything. Work is just one of the things we care about. We have a number of priorities.

C. and I raised a toast to that reality.