Saturday, February 24, 2007

Coming out of the closet.... literally

There is an article in today's New York Times about the chapter of Delta Zeta sorority at DePauw University. The article details how, in an attempt to turn the negative image of the chapter around, the national sorority kicked out almost 2/3 of the members, which included every overweight girl and every minority. The representatives from national headquarters interviewed each member about her level of "commitment." The girls were encouraged to "look their best" for these interviews.

After the interviews, the national representatives chose a few of the existing girls, along with several beautiful, thin girls from the nearby Indiana U. chapter, to conduct a rush event. The rest of the girls had to stay upstairs. One of the girls, Kate Holloway, (whom the national folks seemed to ask to stay, although she withdrew on principle) decided that this was rubbish, and she wasn't going to take it. The article states:

“They had these unassuming freshman girls downstairs with these plastic women from Indiana University, and 25 of my sisters hiding upstairs,” she said. “It was so fake, so completely dehumanized. I said, ‘This calls for a little joke.’ ”

Ms. Holloway put on a wig and some John Lennon rose-colored glasses, burst through the front door during the recruitment event, and skipped around singing “Ooooh! Delta Zeta!” and other chants.

The face of one of the national representatives, she recalled, “was like I’d run over her puppy with my car.”

I love it. LOVE IT. It reminds me of a story concerning my sister, but all the parties in the DZ story are more brazen.

When my sister started college, I pushed really hard for her to rush and join a sorority. Although I had heard tons of horror stories about sororities, they didn't seem so bad at the Northeastern Ivy League school that I attended. I rushed (but didn't join one), and the girls in most of them seemed nice, I had a few friends in sororities, and these friends were nice, sensible girls. It was common knowledge that during the pledge period, pledges' GPAs usually went UP because there were so many mandated study hall hours (I realize now that the Greek system is also usually a good source of old tests and exams, which can help you study as well! I think this was less of a factor at my university than at others, since we had so many group projects and essay tests). Since my sister was going to the local commuter state school, I thought that a sorority would be good for her- it would encourage academic achievement (something she sorely needed), give her structure, and help her make nice friends.

My sister is a very pretty girl. Very pretty. Thin, beautiful, everything a sorority would want. Her high school GPA, however, left a lot to be desired. She made the minimum GPA required to rush, but most sororities screen on GPA somewhat. Their standing with the administration is based, at least in part, on the academic records of the members, so they want to bring in girls who have high GPAs in the first place. All the "popular" sororities cut her right away, which we expected.

She ended up joining the least popular sorority, the sorority with the worst reputation. By "worst reputation," I mean not that they were the superficial bitches who did coke (I actually got to the second round with this type of sorority at my school. I really liked them, but wondered what the fact that I did so well with them said about me? I dropped out of rush. I couldn't handle the label of being a member), but the unattractive, overweight, unpopular girls who had to practically beg to get girls to accept bids. My sister decided that she liked them anyway.

My sister's pledge year ended up being a turning point for her sorority. Apparently my sister wasn't the only pretty, gregarious, skinny, well-dressed girl from a good school that they accepted, and that pledge class started turning the tide for them. However, whenever one sorority starts clawing their way up the ranks, they inevitably push another one out of the way, plus images are hard to change. It is always rough going. My sister recalled stories of going through slideshows of the rushees' pictures when trying to decide who to invite back for the next round. Inevitably, someone would say, "We CANNOT let in any more fat girls! The ones we have are about to graduate!"

The sorority started doing "better"- they started winning inter-sorority contests like who had the best homecoming float, who won the "Miss Greek Week" title, etc. They were able to pair with more prestigious fraternities than before for mixers, homecoming parties, and other contests. As their status improved, the leaders also became bigger sticklers for rule obedience. My sister had been complaining about her sorority activities for a while. They sucked up so much time, they were not sympathetic to the fact that she was working, they weren't fun any more, etc. I encouraged her to stick with it, just to get alumna status at the end of it (you can go alumna after a certain amount of time, even if you haven't graduated yet). I thought then she could use their alumni networks and be involved in social activities. Who doesn't want another social outlet?

The turning point came at a rush party. In most sororities, the girls have rules about what they can and cannot wear to official functions (monthly business meetings, recruitment events, etc.) My sister and another girl made the mistake of wearing open-toed shoes, which was not allowed. The leaders insisted that my sister and this other girl hide in the closet during the rush event, because G-d forbid that rushees see their toes; it might scare them off, or they might think that the sorority wasn't sufficiently ladylike. Who wants to be part of a group that goes flashing their toe cleavage all over town? Imagine the damage to your reputation.

The other girl was in the closet crying, and my sister just told her, "We are not staying in this closet. They cannot make us stay in this closet." The other girl was freaking out, and my sister said, "Come on. We're going out." My sister knew that this was the middle of the rush party. What were they going to do? Yell "YOU GIRLS BETTER GET BACK IN THE CLOSET RIGHT NOW!" That would be a good way to convince people to join! My sister went out, mingled with the rushees like nothing was wrong, left that party, and never went back.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Final Offer

The final job offer came through this week. This makes five total. So, here's the lowdown:

  • 21 first round interviews
  • 12 flyouts
  • 5 offers

Of the 12 flyouts, he cancelled the final 2, which leaves 10. Of those 10, 1 told him that he was their first choice, but they knew that one of his other offers would win out (no contest), so they made an offer to another candidate. That leaves 9. 2 of those 9 made decided not to make any offers, one because of financial reasons, and one b/c they couldn't reach consensus. That leaves 7. Of those 7, 2 were flat out "no, we gave the offer to someone else who was in a different area."

5 out of 10 is a really great rate. Really, 5 out of 9, excluding the school that got its funding taken away. I don't think anyone else from his university has done as well. The other guy in his department who has four offers doesn't have quite as good of a spread, and he only got offers from places that hadn't seen DH. Anywhere that had to pick between him and DH at the flyout level picked DH. So there.

This 5th offer is from a department at a university that he has already gotten an offer from (another department), so it doesn't add a new geographic possibility. Good thing, too. It is getting too confusing!

Monday, February 19, 2007

A Not-As-Depressing Book on Working and Motherhood

I just finished reading a fascinating book called Kidding Ourselves by Rhona Mahony. I am surprised that I hadn't heard of this book until recently, given the relatively large number of depressing feminist tomes on working and motherhood that sit on my bookshelves. As it turns out, many of these books (which include Flux and The Price of Motherhood, to name a couple) actually cite Kidding Ourselves, which made it doubly surprising that I hadn't heard of it before, although I think I have figured out why. It is a fairly academic book that might not appeal to the masses in the way that the anecdotal Flux or the "written by Wall Street Journal Economic Reporter" Price of Motherhood might. It also deals with a topic that I don't think many women want to face- the prospect of househusbands. Mahony argues that until men do as much childwork and housework as women do (which will end up decreasing the total amount that women do), women will have a hard time getting ahead professionally. Much of her book details how women can negotiate with their husbands to have them take on more of the household tasks, not just in approach, but also how to strengthen your own position.

Unfortunately, much of the strengthening goes on long before you have children. Mahony argues that one of the best ways to improve your outcome in a negotiation is to improve your BATNA. BATNA stands for "best alternative to a negotiated agreement." How do BATNAs work? Say you want to buy a new car. You go to the dealership, and try to negotiate the price on a car. Your BATNA is what happens if you and the dealership can't agree on a price, and you end up walking away. If you don't have a car, your BATNA might be "don't take that job across town, but find a job closer to home, and I can ride the bus." That is a pretty bad BATNA. Being able to take that job across town might be worth a lot to you- more than the blue book value of the car. When you have a bad BATNA, you are more likely to do worse in a negotiation, because your reservation price (the most you are willing to pay) is going to be pretty high.

But if you can convince your parents to lend you their car for a while to get you to and from work, your BATNA then becomes "borrow Mom and Dad's car." This is a pretty good BATNA. It doesn't cost you anything. Maybe it's a 1992 Buick, and maybe they will only lend it to you for a couple of weeks, but it means that your reservation price goes down. You can still take that job across town, and you don't have to pay anything extra in the immediate future. You are willing to walk away at a lower price.

This is a really simplistic example, but you get the idea.

So women need to improve their BATNAs. Part of this BATNA is your employability, your ability to earn money. In other words, how dependent are you on your husband? More dependent = worse BATNA. Less dependent = better BATNA. Your education and qualifications largely determine your employability, your ability to earn the big bucks. Mahony isn't saying that women should leave their husbands if they don't help out, but your ability to exist on your own factors into how you and your husband approach this negotiation. She also suggests that having a better BATNA can prevent physical abuse. I am not so convinced on this point- I think it probably helps women get out faster, as I know at least one well-educated career woman who stayed in an abusive relationship for a little too long, but as for preventing it... I am not so sure. Anyway....

What earns the big bucks? In short, math and science. The more math and science that you take, the more options that are open to you. My husband and I found this out when hearing about my dad's experience getting his plumber's license at the age of 59. My dad is a smart guy (and a licensed contractor for 25 years), and has a bachelor's degree in civil engineering. He lacked confidence about his abilities to pass the test (supposedly it's hard) and get his plumber's license. He signed up for a prep class at the local community college halfway through the term. It turns out that he was outperforming the other guys in the class by leaps and bounds. Why? Because he knew geometry. He passed the test the first time. (go Dad!!!) My DH and I said that high schools should put up posters everywhere that says "If you don't take this math class, these careers will be cut off for you!" Who knew that if you didn't know geometry, you would have a hard time becoming a plumber???

So girls need to take more math and science in high school. Taking 4 years of math and at least 3 years of science in high school keeps potentially lucrative college majors open to you. This is the second part of increasing your BATNA- majoring in something that will help you get good-paying, gainful employment. Mahony is sympathetic to the liberal arts perspective (I get the feeling that this is her ideal, but she knows she lives in the real world), but one of the nicest things about this book, as compared to most of the other books on this topic that I have read, is that it is not just for upper-middle class women. This book is intended for women of all walks of life. It's not a pretty fact of life, but if you are scraping to put yourself through college, your time might be better spent majoring in economics, chemistry, or engineering, rather than something like English or philosophy. The first group of majors positions you for more lucrative employment than the second group. And more money = better BATNA.

Okay, check! I took 4 years of math in high school, 4 years of science, and majored in something eminently practical (and am pursuing a graduate degree that might be a waste of time in one sense, but will also make me more employable, at least in theory). Phew! At least that's one thing I didn't screw up.

To make that money, women also need to put themselves in positions where they keep making it, and not gear themselves for the flexible, part-time work that many women consider when picking a career (okay, I am at least a little guilty in this respect- most women I know are, even the well-educated ones).

Another part of the equation that is very, very important is picking the right person, a person who is willing to chip in and do his fair share, has a certain mindset about equality, etc. Mahony argues that women should be willing to marry down- marry men who make less, have flexible careers, men who will be in a position not to say no when you tell them that they need to do housework and help with the kids.

Here is where we part ways. I think that marrying down and having the flexible career matters less than marrying someone who is willing to help and is sympathetic to the values of equality. Mahony admits that she herself married laterally (she married a college professor), and she writes, which is a relatively flexible career, yet she has managed to work out a 50-50 agreement with her husband.

Everyone that I know who has married down has paid for it. Yeah, if your husband is in a law firm or a McKinsey consultant, he's not going to be doing the childcare, but I've seen too many guys in flexible, low-paying careers who don't pull their weight either. And then they get their egos all in a twist and pissed b/c the woman is the breadwinner. Guess what? Some of these guys are in these flexible, low-paying careers because they are lazy. A lazy guy is not going to do the work around the house no matter what. If I'm going to have to do all the housework on my own, I at least want to marry someone who brings in enough money to hire it out. I think the solution is to go for a happy medium- marry someone who is smart and ambitious but working in a maybe not-as-high-powered job as he could be (for instance, college professor instead of investment banker), but liberal-minded enough to not be squeamish about doing house and child work and nice enough to want to make his wife's life easier.

My parents are a good example of this. My mom stayed home until I was about 12. Since my dad was a licensed contractor who worked for himself starting when I was about 5, he had a relatively flexible schedule. Although I swear to you I can hardly remember my dad doing ANY housework (my mom is a perfectionist, so she just did it all), my perception is that he was quite involved with the day-to-day things that you have to do to raise kids. He insisted on helping bathe us as babies, would tell us bedtime stories, take us on outings so my mom could get a break (I remember one time, he took us fishing at a local pond, and I ended up catching a HUGE snapping turtle. Talk about freaky.), help us with science fair projects, etc. Probably my mom did do a lot more of the day-to-day nitty gritty, like making sure we ate, were dressed properly, did our hair, and did most of the laundry, but I really do remember my dad being very involved.

There is another twist to this story. My mom was agoraphobic, and didn't get treatment until I was about 12 (just before she started working part-time). This meant that my dad took care of lots of errands. He took us to school every morning (he was great, because he would drive fast and cut through parking lots on the corners, so we would get there quickly!), did a lot of the outside errands, and also he and I would go grocery shopping every Sunday morning. My mom would make the list, give us the coupons, and he and I would go. We would park our car in the middle of Kroger, split the list up, and divide and conquer. We were a very efficient team.

All of this happened, despite the fact that my mom had a pretty bad BATNA. She does have a college degree, but it was in French education, not something she really wanted to do. She was agoraphobic, and had stayed home for bunches of years. If she had asked my dad to do more (like make dinner once a week, etc.) he would have. The reasons why she didn't are mostly related to her own perfectionism (Mahony talks about this too- if you want your husbands to help you, you've got to lower your standards.).

So what did I take away from this reading? Most of all, marry a nice guy who wants to make you happy, and recognizes that this doesn't necessarily come in the form of jewelry (although I love bling, don't get me wrong), but often comes in the way of taking away the daily drudgery of dishes, cooking, and laundry.

Latest job market update

Wow. The job market has gone really well for us. I say "us" because I view my husband's success as my own success. He has four offers, one from a top 5 department, and 3 from well-respected departments in other areas of the universities. We expect another offer from a top 10 department this week.

We will be taking a tour of the top 3 schools and their respective geographic areas, two of which we both are pretty unfamiliar with. There are so many things to think about. Do we go with the swanky, old-money town? Or the ghetto-but-regentrifying town? Or the big city, with tons of people of my ethnicity and career opportunities (both academic and industry) galore? Where can we buy a house? How much house can we afford? What about schools?

In reality, the geographic concerns are relatively unimportant. All of the top 3 are located in places that I think would be acceptable. Now, if we visit a place, and I hate it, that would mean something. But right now, the most important thing is the academic environment that is most conducive to my husband's success. His advisor even took us both out to lunch, ostensibly to "strategize," but in reality, we just ended up talking about my family, his wife and kids, and all his former roommates/grade school friends who are in positions such as Chairman of the Fed, dean of the nation's best law school, top professors in similar fields, etc. He has his own opinion about where my husband would be happiest, and we take this opinion very seriously. I think he and my husband are a lot alike, so his recommendation holds weight with me.

His advisor is now on my good side, after getting off to a rocky start. The first time I met him, he insulted me. It was the summer after our first year, and my husband had rocked his exams. I mean, completely blew everyone away. His exams were at the beginning of the summer, and mine were at the end. He mentioned this to his advisor upon introducing us, and his advisor replied, "Well, there's no way she can do better than you!" He was trying to compliment my husband, but instead, insulted me. He apologized to my husband later that day, but I was the one who was insulted! Wasn't I the one who should have received the apology? Harumph.

He completely redeemed himself this summer, though, after my car broke down 90 miles from home, four days before our anniversary, when driving to my husband's university, where he was (approximately 400 miles away). I couldn't just leave the car (I did rent a car and drive back home), the repair shop had a hard time finding the part (it was a part that was still under warranty and shouldn't have broken). Our second anniversary was just days away, and it wasn't immediately clear that I would be able to make it there. We didn't really have the money for a plane ticket, and we were stressing out that we wouldn't be together on our anniversary. We weren't together on our first anniversary (he had a really important conference, I had my sister's wedding), and we were really angry that we might be apart again!!

My husband happened to have a meeting with his advisor that day, and when his advisor asked "How are you?" my husband launched into the whole story, leaving out the plane ticket money part. His response was, "That is terrible! You definitely need to be together on your anniversary! There is no excuse for that! How much is a plane ticket?" My husband replied $120, and his advisor just pulled out his wallet, and pulled out 6 $20 bills, handed them to my husband, and said, "Happy anniversary!" Since that day, his advisor is now on my good side. He is also really good to my husband, and is a terrific advisor, so that helps him too!

People keep asking me, "Where do YOU want to go?" Truthfully, if I were single, and just looking to move to a new place, I would pick the big city. Obviously. One of the strange things about marriage, though, is that my interests become almost indistinguishable from his interests. Almost. Not entirely, but if he does poorly, I end up suffering as well. We will have to move (rather than deciding to move, and moving to a similar or better university with a pay increase), he will be more unhappy and less pleasant at home, and he will have to work harder to accomplish the same amount. We will ultimately go wherever we think he will be most successful.

In the meantime, we are imagining that things like grocery stores and housing prices matter. Ooh, which place has a Wegman's? Which place has Trader Joe's? What about Whole Foods? Where do we live? How far is the commute? It's fun to pretend that these things will actually impact our decision. In reality, we feel very fortunate that we have any choice at all. It is not the normal outcome.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Go Colts!

I was delighted to watch Peyton Manning win his first Super Bowl today. I have 2-3 degrees of separation between the two of us (2 is possible, 3 is definite), not to mention the fact that we used the same cake lady for our wedding cakes, so I have been rooting for him since he was nominated for the Heisman Trophy (and lost... BOOOOO!). From all accounts, he is a decent, solid guy.

He has been ragged on a lot b/c he hasn't been able to get to the Super Bowl, but boy, did he do it this time. What a champ. And Phi Beta Kappa to boot.