16 May 2014

When The Boss Turns Out To Be Bossy

Let me say at the outset that I am not a fan of the "ban bossy" movement. I think it's a gimmick, and while it does open up some discussion as to how we use our vocabulary in gender-biased ways, it stigmatizes a useful word for which, sometimes, there is no adequate substitute. Now, I'm afraid to say it, even though I wish I could without being instantly judged.


Much has been made of the recent dismissal of Jill Abramson from the helm of the New York Times. According to reasonably credible reports, she was dismissed for her brusque, abrasive manner (what might have been called, until recently, bossiness). Some people have said that she may also have upset some higher-ups by complaining about her compensation, but I don't have the facts on that, so I'm going to focus here on the bossy thing.

I've followed the story fairly closely, because I am interested, as you know, in issues related to women in the workplace. I find it fascinating and more than a little disturbing that the executive editor of a huge, big-city newspaper would be dismissed for brusqueness. In my mind, the cartoonish stereotype of a newspaper editor sits hunched over at a desk, behind a towering pile of paper, with a stinky cigar and a permanent sneer. A nasty, abrasive, brusque attitude is essential equipment for the job.

If you're a man.

Because, let's face it, a man who is brusque in the workplace is perceived as talented, ambitious, confident, and competent. Abrasiveness adds to the image: he doesn't have time for nonsense. He's not here to be your friend or mentor. Things need to get done. He doesn't suffer fools gladly. When you are working for him, you'd better do a good job, or heads will roll. I can't tell you how many nasty, brusque men I have worked for. Everyone knew they were nasty and brusque, and if you were new and your coworkers liked you, they might warn you before you headed off to his office: He's really mean. Don't take it personally. He's like that to everyone. Come back after he yells at you and we'll get a cup of coffee so you can have a moment to de-stress.

A man who is kind, gentle, and nurturing might find a path to success in the office, but he doesn't inspire the kind of awe and trembling fear that his meaner colleagues use to get the job done - fast and efficiently.

A female boss, however, is expected to be different. She is supposed to be a role model to other women, to take them under her wing and be a mentor to them, or at least a good example of what's possible for them someday. She is kind and understanding. She's an expert on work-life balance. (When did you ever hear a man described as having really perfected his work-life balance?) She had to claw her way to the top, but she's expected to drop a rope ladder for those below her, so they can get there more easily than she did.

If she's not like that, gentle, accommodating, and helpful in every way, we have a full vocabulary to describe her that we would not use to describe our male bosses. She's a bitch. She's an emasculating maneater. She hates men. She thinks women should undergo the same hazing that she underwent. She's not interested in helping anyone but herself. She's - yes - bossy.

The problem is that you often need to be bossy - abrasive, brusque, intimidating, decisive - in order to succeed in a fast-paced workplace like a newsroom. But if you're a woman, you're not allowed to be that way. Being bossy is such a negative trait in women that a huge social media movement has sought to ban the use of the word itself. Call a woman anything but bossy! Call her a leader! Call her creative and inspiring! Call her gentle and nurturing, demanding and authoritative, but don't ever, ever call her bossy.

And if she turns out to be bossy, you need to let her go. Because we can't have that. The mean executive editor with the cigar and the snarl is by definition a man, because women can't snarl. Or be mean. It just doesn't fit into our paradigm.

I think it's time for the paradigm to change. We can't equip women for leadership, and expect them to achieve the same things men achieve, if we frown on them when they behave in exactly the same way their male colleagues behave. It would be nice if everyone could be sweet and nurturing all the time, but we all know that's not how the world works. If a job requires brusqueness or a bit of unpleasantness from time to time, we have to allow people to be that way, without regard to their gender. Let's let the boss be bossy. The world will be a fairer place if we do.

13 May 2014

Still Life With Pressure Cooker

My husband got me a pressure cooker for Mother's Day. It's a big fancy Cuisinart electric contraption, and it had apparently been in the back of his car for weeks, hidden under a pile of clothes, waiting for Sunday.

When Sunday rolled around, my son wrapped the pressure cooker in some Christmas wrapping paper he had found in the basement - red, with snowmen and a script "Let It Snow" legend - and they all presented it to me with their homemade cards and breakfast in bed on a tray.

I was thrilled. I had wanted a pressure cooker for a long time. I'd been enchanted by the stories of stews made in minutes, and I'd dreamed of pressure-canning tomatoes and other vegetables. To use the pressure cooker, you fill it with food, and then you lock the lid, and the machine heats up. Pressure builds along with the heat inside the pot, dramatically reducing the time needed to cook the food.

A pressure cooker is sort of the opposite of a slow-cooker. With the slow-cooker, you plan ahead, assemble the meal in the morning, and then go do something else all day. With the pressure cooker, you do something else all day, panic at the last minute, and then throw something together that cooks in nine minutes. You heard me. Nine.

For my first pressure-cooker meal, I made some pork chops, and I thought I'd share the recipe with you. My husband liked them so much that he thinks I should rename the blog "Still Life With Pressure Cooker." I'm thinking the blog will stay the same, but the cooking equipment will change according to my mood. What do you think? Are you a slow cooker or a pressure cooker?

Here's my pressure cooker. I've put a purchasing link on the sidebar in case you want to buy one.

Still Life Pork Chops in the Pressure Cooker (serves 4)

4 thick pork chops, bone in
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups onions, sliced thinly
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 large pears, sliced thinly
salt and pepper to taste

Salt and pepper the pork chops and brown them, about three minutes per side, in the olive oil. Remove them to a platter. Without cleaning the pan, add the butter and heat it; sauté the onions, garlic, and thyme in the butter until the onions are transparent. Add the vinegar to the mix and simmer a few minutes, until the liquid is slightly reduced.

Put the onion mixture into the pressure cooker, and then add the wine and the broth. Add the pork chops on top of the onions. Layer the pears on top of the pork chops. Cook at high pressure (according to your manufacturer's directions) for about 9 minutes.

Serve with hot steamed rice and a salad.

06 May 2014

Just A Quick Thought

All of you out there changing diapers, folding strollers, signing report cards, cheering at soccer games: a day will come when that child you taught to read - maybe even struggled to teach to read, as I did - will recommend books to you. And you will read them and be moved not only by the quality of her choices, but by the wisdom and inevitability of the cycles of life. You will think it ironic that you have suddenly become the student, but then you will pause and realize that you always were.

I've added a link to my Goodreads account on the right sidebar. Feel free to send me a friend request on Goodreads so that you can see my reviews (most of which are very brief) and keep up with what I've been reading lately. As always, I appreciate your purchasing your reading material (and other needs) through the links I put here on the blog. I get a small referral fee when you do, and that helps me buy food and yarn and books and other necessary stuff.

02 May 2014

Sexual Assault: Can We Call It What It Is?

Yesterday, the federal Department of Education released a list of 55 colleges and universities that it is investigating in connection with their handling of sexual assault complaints. The government is to determine whether the handling (or, actually, the nonhandling) of the allegations violates Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibits discrimination based on gender in institutions of higher education.

My alma mater is on the list, which neither surprises me nor particularly upsets me.

What upsets me is, as I have said before, the way our society views crimes against women. They are different from "real crimes," and lesser, somehow. For example, domestic violence is not the same thing as violence, apparently. Attack a man on the street, and you're charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault, or something else quite serious. Attack a woman in her home and it's a "domestic incident." Among her remedies: she can get a restraining order - basically a piece of paper entitling her to complain if you come near her again.

And so it is with rape. Forcing someone to have sex without her consent is - should be - a very grave crime. It's a physical assault that is also humiliating, because it robs her of her physical integrity. And it puts her at high risk for all kinds of serious health consequences. It's the kind of thing that should be treated seriously, the way other attacks are: investigated by the police, resulting in an arrest and a public trial in a state-run criminal court.

But that's not what generally happens, at least not in the context of our institutions of higher education. Here's how it works. The woman knows exactly who her attacker is. If she is brave enough to do anything - if the humiliation of reporting the crime is not too much for her to bear - she seeks medical help, usually at the campus health center. The campus police - not the regular city police - are called. The matter is handled internally by a university standards board or by a dean. The attacker, even if found to have committed the crime as accused - is often allowed to remain on campus, maybe with some sort of academic or social sanctions. When I was a student, I knew a lot of women who were assaulted. I did not know a single man who was criminally prosecuted for rape by the state.

In the wake of the Department of Education's issuance of its list, a lot of people are upset, as if the way these things are handled is some kind of huge surprise to them. They are, like Captain Renault in Casablanca, shocked and appalled. Reform! they cry. Investigate! Prosecute!

But it's not that simple. Underneath all of this is a societal construct that violence and domestic violence are not the same thing. Rape and date rape and campus sexual assault are distinct crimes. In the case of campus sexual assault (a nice euphemism, no?), a boys-will-be-boys attitude prevails. "This guy is a promising athlete or student! Why should we ruin his life over a youthful indiscretion?" Leniency and secrecy must prevail so that he can grow up, become a CEO, live a prosperous life. The women he leaves in his wake are just collateral damage. They're something that got in his way.

When I was an undergraduate, at a traditionally men's college that had recently gone coed, I often heard something that I hear now in the context of "military sexual assault" (which, by the way, is also a nice euphemism for a horrible crime): if women weren't present, they wouldn't be attacked in such large numbers. The problem is the women; they're a distraction.

Well, I'm sorry if we're a distraction, but we're half of the world. When you get out of the military, when you graduate with your Ivy League degree, we will still be here. We will be in the board rooms, the graduate classrooms, and at the dinner tables. We are your mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, bosses, employees, and coworkers. We are people too. And we are not going anywhere.

Equality! they cry. But there won't be any equality until we reach a stage where we treat violence against a woman the same way we treat violence against any human being. Let's call a crime a crime, without resorting to diminutive euphemisms. When we do, we will finally be on the road to justice.

01 May 2014

Nourish: Ten Tips For The New Cook

[BlogHer's theme for May is "Nourish." With farmers' markets opening all over the United States and wedding season kicking off, I don't think this theme could be any more timely.]

I have a Facebook friend - a young woman, a graduate student - who is getting married this summer. She's bright and funny and very excited about the new house she and her fiancé have bought. She can't wait for her wedding day and her new life. There's just one problem: she's worried that she can't cook. She's really worried about it.

She wants to learn to be a good cook, so that when she's married, she'll be able to make delicious, healthy meals for her family and guests. But she's frustrated that it's not coming naturally to her.

I have a little unsolicited advice.

First, very, very few skills worth mastering come naturally. They almost always take instruction, practice, mistakes, screw-ups, tears, and hard work. You wouldn't expect yourself to be able to sit down at the piano for the first time ever and play a beautiful Chopin étude, would you? Pick up a pair of knitting needles that you've never touched before and, in a few hours, make a gorgeous Icelandic sweater? Of course not. So why would you expect yourself to be able to produce a gourmet meal for two on your first attempt?

Cooking is like anything else. You need practice, trial and error, and maybe someone to help you when you are starting out. Take a deep breath and follow some of these humble suggestions.

Assorted fruit pies

1. Make what you like to eat. Make a list of your favorite meals. Are you a fish lover? Does your spouse love hamburgers? Vegetarian? Gluten-free? Chocolate? Cooking is more fun when you are making something that will be eaten with enthusiasm.

2. Start with a recipe. That's right. Don't try to wing it, at least not at first. Invest in a good, comprehensive cookbook (I love my copy of The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook), and flag the recipes you'd like to try. Start a Pinterest board and pin recipes. When someone makes a meal you enjoy, ask for the recipe so you can try it yourself.

3. Invest in the tools you'll use over and over. My family loves rice, so I invested in a great rice cooker. We always have perfect rice, and I never need to worry about it once I turn the cooker on. Of course, my favorite kitchen accessory is my Crock-Pot, an essential tool for anyone who works outside the home. (But a sturdy Dutch oven on the stovetop works just as well if you're around to supervise it!)

My KitchenAid mixer lives on my counter.

4. Educate yourself ahead of time. Read the recipe and make sure you understand all the terms in it. If you don't know how to do one of the specified steps, look it up. Find an online tutorial. One of my daughters is an ace egg poacher; she perfected her skills by watching a You Tube video.

5. Shop locally and seasonally. Plan your meals according to what's in season. Try the strawberry shortcakes in early summer, not the dead of winter. Try to buy the ingredients as close to preparation time as you can.

Seasonal: Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.

6. Give yourself time, and focus on the task. Don't try to multitask at first. Follow the instructions carefully, and pay attention to what you're doing. Measure carefully. Don't walk away and leave something on the stovetop. Save the movie-watching for later.

7. Never make a dish for company that you haven't already made for yourself. And loved.

8. Take pictures and take notes. Always follow a recipe with a pencil in your hand, and mark up your cookbook liberally. Note the date on which you made the dish, any substitutions or problems, who enjoyed it in particular, where you got the ingredients. If it comes out great, photograph it.

9. Keep a binder. I have a plain old binder in my kitchen that's full of recipes printed from the internet, clipped from magazines, or taken off the backs of packages. They're arranged by type: desserts, meats, pasta, appetizers. I can find the chocolate-chip cookie recipe from the back of the chip bag in no time, even if there's no package handy.

10. Have fun. Set the table nicely and be artistic with garnishes. Open a bottle of wine or a festive flavored seltzer. Enjoy the company, whether it's just the two of you or the whole neighborhood. Cooking is fun when you enjoy yourself!