A weekly digest of varied conversational musings on day-to-day life, society & whatever the world throws our way.

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Published Work

A Woman’s Work is Never Done

I’ve just finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. While it is an inspiring read — she is a woman of many accomplishments and who seems genuinely interested in improving the lot of the professional woman — I couldn’t help but think as well that as women, our work is never really done.

Each day, we have to maneuver through a tricky dance and at times, for me anyway, it feels as though the ‘to do list,’ or the boxes that need to be ticked off, are never-ending. On the one hand, we’re expected to fulfill the destinies won for us — and desired — by women of previous generations. The suffragettes and second wave feminists fought hard and endured extreme prejudice to ensure that women would have a place at the table, the executive table in particular. On the other hand, some of us want to ‘lean back’ from our careers and ‘lean in’ to family — but we worry that if we do, we’ll be called traitors to the cause.

Today’s woman has to be strong and smart, ready and alert at all times because, in many circumstances, her work needs to be as good, if not better than her male counterparts in order to receive the same recognition — or to justify that recognition. And, as in Condoleezza Rice’s words on the jacket of Sandberg’s book say, while we have to “[manage and overcome] the challenges that arise on the ‘jungle gym’ of career advancement,” there is also an expectation that we act as wonder women of sorts: simultaneously hot-shot career women in power suits and “Sex and the City” heels; yummy mummies; nice and amiable, but not too nice, of course; ladies in the street but freaks in the bed. Oh, and we also need to “lean in,” tap into our greatness, and be the leaders we need to be at work and in life. And, I should add, find a good partner in the home who will share domestic duties 50/50 and support our career aspirations. I don’t know about you, but it can all feel heavy and makes me go slightly out of breathe.

Don’t get me wrong, the hard work is worth it and our loads are lighter because we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. And if we carry on the work for parity and equality, it will be even easier for the generations to come.

The reality is that our lot is different — our lives come with specific ‘accoutrements,’ if you will, whether we like it or not. We’re the Ginger Rogers to the Fred Astaires, doing everything the male counterpart is doing, but our dance is complicated and weighed down as we sashay, somewhat burdened, in our metaphorical high heels.

Read it on Huffington Post.

“Scandal”: Talking and Not Talking About Race on TV

I’ve noticed a few discernible differences in season two of Shonda Rhimes’ television show Scandal. For those who have not been watching the drama,Scandal features, as its main protagonist, a woman named Olivia Pope who works as a ‘fixer’ in Washington, D.C. When the big names are in trouble (be they elected officials or CEOs of companies) they run to Olivia to sort out their problems and to handle the media and publicity machine. In addition to being a ‘fixer’, Olivia is also involved in a sordid romantic relationship with the president of the United States, who she helped — through fairly nefarious means — to win the presidential election.

While the wheeling and dealing and fast-talking and fast-walking that are the staples of the show are fascinating in and of themselves, what’s most striking about the show is how race is simultaneously discussed and not discussed at all.

Olivia Pope — based on a real life figure, Judy Smith, a former press aide in the George Bush administration — has managed to reach, interact with, and influence individuals at the highest echelons of power. She manages to do this not only as a woman, and sartorially elegant in designer wear, but also as a person of colour. To be a woman of colour and to have achieved the success necessary to play with and push the big wigs, she must be good — extremely, terrifically exceptional, that is. While season one made no direct mentions of Olivia’s race (although it should be said, given the visual medium that is television, her race is obvious for all to see), season two has dipped its toes in the bucket of American colour politics on a few occasions.

In “Happy Birthday, Mister President” a flashback episode, we witness the complexities of being ‘the other woman’, particularly complex when Olivia Pope, ‘the other woman’, or mistress, is black and her partner in matrimonial crime is the Republican president of the United States, Fitzgerald Grant, who happens to be white. Olivia, in a fit of frustration with their act of creeping around, declares to Fitz that she’s “feeling a little Sally Hemmings-Thomas Jefferson” about their situation. It’s a seemingly one-off line, but there is so much richness, history, and truth behind her comments. As the mistress — even one who is described as the love of Fitz’s life — she cannot occupy the main stage of her lover’s life. Her name will never be found indelibly etched beside his in the history books when the president’s life is accounted for — his wife will hold that spot.

Unlike Sally, Olivia is not legislatively or socially enslaved — she lives in a different historical context. But, while she may have significant economic and political power, at the end of the day she’s not so different from Sally. She’s just one in a long series of black women in the tangled history of the United States, involved with a white man who holds most of the power and who can never really be hers.

The fact that Fitz is a white Republican makes the Olivia-Fitz relationship especially captivating and serves as a ripe foundation from which to build storylines for the show. Fitz, in the aftermath of surviving an assassination attempt, seems to ‘see the light’ and feels invincible and declares that he wants to divorce his (white) pregnant wife, in order to pursue his relationship with Olivia. In response, his chief of staff, Cyrus Beene, states, “‘Liv is a lovely, smart woman… but she’s not exactly a hue that most of your Republican constituents would be happy about.” Hmmm. Le plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

The latest episode, “Top of the Hour,” deals deftly with the topic of race without so much as a word. It touches on the judgements and assumptions many of us make about who we see as naturally filling powerful roles. Olivia comes to the rescue of a female CEO, arriving at this woman’s home with a few members of her entourage: Abby (a pretty redhead) and Harrison (the black male lawyer in Olivia’s company). The CEO has never heard of or seen Olivia Pope before. She immediately walks up to Abby and says, “You must be Olivia Pope.” Before she can shake Abby’s hand, however, the real Olivia interjects, shakes her hand and says, “I’m Olivia Pope,” while Abby and Harrison give each other knowing looks in the background.

No one dwells on the moment, because it’s time to get to the work at hand. But it is truly priceless.

Read it on Huffington Post.

Hoping for a New Era for the Catholic Church

While the Twitterverse seems to be awash in jokes regarding Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation — with a new hashtag #popejoke being retweeted and the newest phrase “ex-Benedict anyone?” steadily making its rounds on social media — the surprise resignation of the 85-year-old pontiff is actually a very serious matter because it could usher in some significant changes for the Catholic Church. By stepping down from the papacy, a candidate from Latin America, Asia or Africa could be elected as pope. The familiar (read: European) face of the papacy may one day become all but a distant memory.

Although there are several would-be candidates from North America and Europe (including Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet), there are also potential candidates from Africa, such as Peter Turkson of Ghana, and, given that Latin America represents 42 percent of the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, there also seems to be a significant contingent of Latin Americans who could represent the Church.

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Read it on Huffington Post Canada.

Black History Is Everyone’s History

Black History Month is not just for black people. In an ideal world, there would be no need for a dedicated month to mark black history — and the significant contributions that blacks have made around the world — because it would be on par and as well-known as History, i.e. the mainstream history that many of us learned in high school. I don’t know how history was taught when you were in school, but in my school our teachers skipped over the chapter (yes, only a single chapter) on blacks in Canada and North America more generally.

Sure, I understand that there’s much to cram into school curricula, but when we skip over or elide significant aspects of our country’s past, we demonstrate what -or who – is important or unimportant in our society. These omissions — which affect, of course, not only blacks, but also Asians, native peoples, and various other ethnic groups (women too lest we forget) — skew our view of the world and lead to erroneous assumptions. If a child, or an adult for that matter, only learns about the contributions of those of European descent, it’s unlikely that they will consider that people of other races or ethnicities also played a significant role in building our country. How can you be expected to know and understand the full spectrum of history if you’ve never been given non-traditional examples? To put it another way, if you never saw the colour blue in your lifetime would you know that it even existed?

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Read it on Huffington Post Canada.