Management Skills

I got a call from my agent last week. Apparently, a Big Deal Movie Star is preparing to do a nightclub show and a Big Deal Casting Agency wanted me to audition as a backup singer. Woo-hoo! Alas, my fantasies of performing and becoming chummy with the Big Deal Movie Star came tumbling down as my agent told me the dates of the show’s upcoming run: smack dab in the middle of my wedding. I listened, downcast, as my agent assured me there would be other auditions.

The sting of missing my chance to audition for the Big Deal Movie Star had just started to subside when I got an email from a singer/songwriter friend. She is getting ready to do a Big Deal Gig at (you guessed it) a Big Deal Downtown Venue, and she’d asked me to sing a song or two. She was writing to tell me that the only rehearsal date that worked for everyone involved was…uh-huh. Smack dab in the middle of my wedding. I read, downcast, her assurances that there would be other opportunities for us to perform together.

Twice in one week! I felt like sulking. I felt like pouting. I felt like this:

Now, in a decidedly more rational state, I can see that both my agent and singer/songwriter friend were correct. Life is not a zero sum game. There will certainly be other fantastic career opportunities that will not require my missing out on my own wedding. I can also see, though, that my frustration and disappointment were rooted in the simple fact that women are still socialized to choose–or at least to believe we must choose–between a happy home life and a gratifying career. And while domestic bliss and professional achievement are by no means mutually exclusive, women who dare to pursue both perform balancing acts that would put most Cirque du Soleil performers to shame.

Anne Taintor is brilliant.

Consider a recent New Yorker article by Tina Fey. With her trademark intelligence and humor, Fey admits to late-night agonizing over “baby-versus-work life questions.” As she contemplates the complexities of her life as a mother with significant workplace responsibilities, Fey writes, “What is the rudest question you can ask a woman? ‘How old are you?’ ‘What do you weigh?’ ‘When you and your twin sister are alone with Mr. Hefner, do you have to pretend to be lesbians?’ No, the worst question is: “How do you juggle it all?”

This recent tweet from Amanda Hesser offers a pithy explanation as to why such a seemingly innocent question is maddening to working wives and mothers (admittedly, a redundant term). A prominent food writer (erstwhile of the New York Times), Hesser is married to Tad Friend, another prominent writer; they’re each maintaining dynamic careers while raising their young twins in Brooklyn:

"Irony" defined. (image: Anne Taintor)

With her hit television show still going strong, Tina Fey recently announced her second pregnancy. Amanda Hesser, mother of two, is on her way to publishing another cookbook. As for me, I’m happy be getting married. I’m happy to be pursuing my career. I’m especially happy to have the support of a partner who champions equality at work and at home. And I’ll be even happier when women are no longer asked to explain ourselves for aspiring to–and achieving–both domestic fulfillment and professional success.

We’ve come a short way, and don’t call me “baby.”

Something about this commercial really pisses me off:

Maybe it’s Kelly Ripa’s perky little grin that says, “Hey! Even though I clearly work out about 6 hours a day and you all know that I have a wildly successful career, I’m really happiest when I’m doing loads of laundry, baking cookies, and waiting hand and foot on my TV-watching kids!” Personally, I tend not to do my laundry in skinny jeans and platform heels, but I’m funny that way.

Maybe I’m annoyed because commercials never, ever show a man doing housework. Actually, let me make a correction: sometimes a man is shown trying to help with dishes, laundry, and/or parenting. He is almost invariably portrayed as a bumbling fool who has to be schooled by his wife or, even more emasculating, his children. (I have to believe that the portrayal of men as inept, undomesticated oafs bugs men, too. I mean, really: “Everydad” can run a hedge fund but can’t wash a dish? Please.)

Maybe the twee little theme song from “Bewitched” is what rubs me the wrong way: “Hey, remember when laundry used to suck? Well, now it’s magical!” (Cue horns!)

No, I think the part of this commercial that really chaps my ass is the tagline: “Be even more amazing!” Which is, of course, code for: a woman is only as amazing as her ability to cram as many domestic tasks as possible into any given day, while maintaining a size-4 figure, impeccable hair and makeup, and, we assume, a professional career, all of which are full-time jobs unto themselves.

WorkingGirlAs retro as Kelly Ripa’s Electrolux commercial is, the ad plays right into the feelings of frenzied inadequacy that haunt many a latter-day feminist. If being “amazing” means becoming Working Girl-meets-June Cleaver-on-methamphetamines, then I’d like to opt out, please. On days when I juggle too many professional and domestic obligations, I don’t feel “amazing.” I feel tired, cranky, and in need of a cocktail. And I don’t even have kids!JuneCleaver

Wouldn’t it be great to see a commercial that showed a father teaching the kids how to do laundry because Mommy’s had a long day? Or what about an ad featuring a family cooking dinner together, instead of a serenely benevolent housewife playing waitress for her own family? Well, don’t hold your breath, ladies.

A March, 2008 report by the Council on Contemporary Families revealed that men these days are doing, on average, just 30% of household chores. And this article at CNN.com points out that, even in homes in which the man helps with housekeeping, a great deal of “emotional labor” (remembering birthdays, making appointments, etc.) is still left solely to the woman.

So here’s a memo from me, on behalf of women everywhere, to the nice folks peddling large home appliances, dish detergents, and weight loss pills: you need to be “even more amazing.” Women are amazing enough already.

You say “diva” like it’s a bad thing!

400000000000000165660_s4“Demanding.” “Difficult.” “Emotional.” “High-strung.” “Diva.” “Beautiful, but…” And, my personal favorite, “Bitch.” The words used to describe powerful, uncompromising women often condescend and sometimes mock. If she demands excellence, if she refuses to compromise, or if she insists on calling bullshit by its name, a woman can expect a backlash. And if she happens to be beautiful, too, well, God help her.

No one knows this better than Lena Horne, whose story is compellingly told in my friend James Gavin’s book, Stormy Weather: the Life of Lena Horne. Meticulously researched and engagingly written, Stormy Weather traces the arc of Horne’s life and career against the sociopolitical backdrop of the American 20th century.

The fire-and-ice persona that Horne painstakingly and deliberately cultivated was a by-product not only of living in a brutally racist, segregated society, but of Horne’s own personal complexities; on more than one occasion, Horne was her own worst enemy. However, James Gavin neither condemns nor canonizes his subject. Rather, he masterfully and respectfully lets Lena Horne’s fascinating story, with all its trials, tribulations and triumphs, speak for itself.

We need more writers like James Gavin. He knows the music inside and out, and he has deep love and respect for the musicians. And how could anyone have anything but deep love and respect for Lena Horne’s artistry?

Check out the clip below. Horne communicates volumes with the simple arching of her eyebrows; every gesture is purposeful. Lyrics which may have sounded benign in the hands of someone less gifted take on profound meaning. The second song, “The Eagle & Me,” becomes a veritable civil rights anthem in Lena Horne’s riveting, guaranteed-to-give-you-goose-bumps interpretation. Oh, and she swings like crazy.

It’s worth noting that the word “diva” is frequently used pejoratively, but its literal meaning is “goddess.” At 93 years old, Lena Horne is, in the truest sense of the word, a diva.