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People Are Not Measuring Devices

I’ve been feeling rather sorry for Condoleezza Rice lately, and my sympathy has nothing to do with the fact that she will be forever associated with the George W. Bush administration.

I feel sorry for her because so many people want to turn her into a measuring device.

After her speech this past Wednesday at the Republican National Convention, the rhetoric started:

“How can the Democrats claim there is a war on women? Condoleezza Rice proves that’s just propaganda manufactured by liberals who are pandering for women’s votes.”

“Condoleezza Rice demonstrates that any woman can succeed if, instead of relying on the government, she just applies herself.”

While I take issue with those statements, I have no problem with the woman who inspired them. I admire Condoleezza Rice. She’s a smart, accomplished and successful woman. Even though I may not always agree with her politics, I do believe she is a fantastic role model for young woman across our nation.

I just don’t believe that she’s a yardstick .

The notion that all women should measure themselves against Condoleezza Rice, or any other woman, is ridiculous and damaging.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to break my innate tendency to compare myself to other women. I’ve compared my looks, my body, my talents, my personality, my lifestyle and my parenting skills to others. Instead of embracing my unique blend of strengths, weaknesses, quirks and experiences, I simply saw my flaws and failures. I don’t want that for my daughter or for any other female. And I don’t want them to judge women who don’t possess the talent, intelligence or opportunities to achieve what others may define as success.

Yet they are hearing that, because some women have reached the top, all others have to do is simply “try harder.”

That was certainly the message from those who opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

If only working hard were a guarantee of an adequate paycheck and the appropriate recognition. In reality, the workplace is a harsh and very unfair place. I’ve worked hard only to watch those who didn’t zoom right by me. I’ve seen pretty women take advantage of their assets and maneuver their way past others into better jobs and higher paychecks. And I’ve seen the “good old boy” network benefit those who already had the advantage.

While great strides have been made for women in the workplace, the dollars still tell the story.  In 2010, the U.S. Census American Factfinder indicates that 17.9% of families with children were living below the poverty level. That number jumped to 39.6 for families with a female head of household.  Despite the increase in the number of men who are taking on active parenting and caregiving roles, nothing will ever change the fact that women are the ones who get pregnant and give birth.  And now, their ability to even make decisions about that has been under fire by people such as Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, who doesn’t even understand the biology of  conception.

Condoleezza Rice has never married nor had children. I have no idea–nor is it any of my business– whether this was a conscious decision or just the result of the many choices she made throughout her life. I do know that she never had to make arrangements for child care, leave work early to pick  up her child  at school or  miss important meetings when a child was sick.

And I’ve never heard anyone claim that she was an underachiever or compare her to women who have careers and children.

But maybe that’s because some yardsticks are defective and only measure what the user wants them to show.

The Truth About Shoveling Snow…

I wrote this about a month ago for my husband’s blog…

I like to think of myself as a modern woman: a much softer and forgiving version of the radical feminists that grabbed headlines in the 1970’s. A woman who, while perfectly capable of maintaining complete independence, instead chooses to embrace the loving support of her family. A woman who kept her maiden name to demonstrate she doesn’t define herself by her relationship with her husband, or anyone else for that matter.

And then there are times that I realize I’m simply kidding myself. I’d actually be hard pressed to survive more than a week on my own.

These realizations generally come when an appliance breaks down, a particularly nasty bug crawls across the floor or a warning light comes on in my car. At these times, my first instinct is to call my husband for help. And I generally follow my instincts.

After the crisis that precipitated the distress call is addressed, my internal crisis begins and I wonder if I’m a hypocrite. This requires me to prove I am independent or at least capable of independence when required.

So, when I have the opportunity to prove that I am tough, I thoroughly embrace the challenge. That’s why I love shoveling snow.

Well, not love exactly. To be perfectly honest, I actually hate the actual act of shoveling snow. I hate the way my fingers and toes go numb after the first ten minutes of battling in the biting, wet cold. I hate the fact that by the time I’ve reached the bottom of the driveway, the rest of the driveway is covered and I have to do the whole thing over again. And most of all, I hate the plows that always manage to push snow off the street and right into my driveway, which, of course, requires more snow shoveling.

What I do love is the challenge and the accompanying sense of pride and accomplishment. Shoveling the driveway proves that I CAN take care of myself. And, in a moment of honest self examination, I even admit that I feel a bit superior to the neighbors who have given in to the lure of the gas guzzling snow blower to clean driveways that are no larger than mine. After all, who needs a snow blower when you’ve got strength and fortitude?

Last year, however, even my strength and fortitude wavered a bit. Despite my desire to prove I can conquer the driveway, the snowstorms of February 2010 almost conquered me. During those storms, my husband’s employer put him up in a hotel room in D.C to ensure he could be on the job as needed. So, while our two children and I were valiantly trying to clear the driveway of three feet of snow, he was sending me photos of what the hotel pool looked like in the snow. I think that gave me a bit of a license to complain. And complain I did.

But that doesn’t mean I’m giving up on snow shoveling. In fact, I’m actually beginning to embrace it as another form of exercise. This winter, I just wanted to ensure I was prepared for whatever Mother Nature brought. For me, that required the biggest snow shovel available.

And my husband obliged and added a shiny, gigantic snow shovel to the arsenal in the garage.

During the most recent round of bad weather, he made a point of joining me in our efforts to clear the driveway. I had grabbed the smaller shovel, but he picked up the larger shovel and handed it to me.

“That’s o.k,” I said. “This one is fine.”

“It’s fine,” he said, “but it’s not yours.” He handed me the new shovel, “This one is yours.”

My own personal snow shovel? What more could I ask for? If that’s not saying I’m a modern woman I don’t know what does.