Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Women and Brenda Barnes

The 1960s and 70s was a time of public revolt and strong feminism. Contrast that era with January 2017 where we are seeing public revolt and strong feminism. In the last century women have demonstrated their strength on many issues and on many different occasions in a fight for equality. In the early part of the century women's’ right to vote was the headline. The 1930s, 40s and 50s gave platform to many strong women taking bold actions and demanding that their rights be not only respected but but adhered to. My purpose in this blog is to contrast two specific examples in the 21st century of how women have approached the voicing of their opinions.

Every person wants, needs and deserve to be treated with equality and dignity, and the women’s marches that were held on January 21, 2017 represented the voices of people who feel that, as a whole, they have not been treated with the equality and dignity and respect that they want, need and deserve.The following is a video clip of the women’s march in Chicago.

Women around the world joined together to show their support for a common voice demanding respect, protection and equality, among other things. They displayed their strength in number, word and emotion for this cause.

This is a worthy cause, and the rights and protection for women should be in place. The fact that these were peaceful, non-violent demonstrations is incredibly impressive, especially considering the number of people that attended and the high emotional issues that were being voiced. Among the issues being supported in the march in January 2017 is equal pay for equal work. Women are voicing their opinion for a fair and balanced workplace, and America is the home to  many women who are capable of, and who are making their competence known as CEOs and CFOs. They are working in other leadership positions in this country and around the world, and their compensation should be equal to their male counterparts.  

Having stated my congratulations for the march, it is my opinion, as this and other video clips show, that many of the speakers at the rallies were harsh, curt and in their attempt to promote women, they portrayed a negative side of women. This is simply the opinion I’ve formed as I have watched some of the posts from cities throughout the US and around the world. I viewed protesters whom were harsh and vulgar, as well as speakers who presented themselves in a more civil manner. I support the right to assemble and to voice one’s opinion, but this is not how I choose to voice my opinion. I am not a confrontational person, and even though these were peaceful marches, there was an element of confrontation to them. Besides the tough woman mantra that was often portrayed, and the plea to accept marginalized populations, they marginalized part of their own gender in this movement: Right to Life defenders were asked not to attend.

On another note, and in a different setting, I was impressed with a radio segment relating a story about the female CEO of Pepsi-cola who chose to step down from her job because she could see that she was missing out on the lives of her children.

Brenda Barnes was living what some might consider a dream life with a husband, three children and a high paying job. However, she was the one who could see that this wasn’t the dream that much of the country envisioned. She defied the cultural ideology that a woman can and should have it all. John Fiske defines why pop culture is often frowned upon, "Popular films, novels and TV narratives such as soap opera frequently dismissed by highbrow critics for three main sets of reasons: One set clusters around their conventionality, their conforming to generic patterns and their conditions of mass production..." (p. 218). Although Brenda's story is not a film, novel or television show, her career is part of what our popular culture deems as desirable. Many might frown on Brenda stepping down from her position, but While she had it all, she was missing out; missing out on the lives of those for whom she had a parental responsible, and for those who needed her in their tender years.

In “Notes on Deconstructing ‘the Popular’” Stuart Hall states that “...’transformations’ are at the heart of the study of popular culture.” Brenda gave a very essential and very human example of transforming our culture. It is the desire of many mothers to have a career while raising their children, and this very capable mother could see that having both was not fulfilling to her. She was at the height of a successful career, one that many women aspire to, and she set a precedence by leaving her paycheck for her children. Certainly, many families cannot afford to do this, and this argument does not speak to those families, nor does is necessarily speak to the families that can afford one parent to stay home. This argument is merely demonstrating the tone in Brenda’s message. She stood tall and strong for women in the workplace, and she stood tall and graceful in regaining her life as a full time mother.

An article in the New York Times demonstrates Brenda’s strength in this quote:

“Barnes always described her decision as a personal one, more for her own benefit than         for her children’s (although they quickly came to relish it). She hated judgmental debates over women’s choices about work and family.
Yet there was really a larger wisdom in what she did. In her own graceful way, she called the country’s bluff. She made clear that our society demands impossible choices from parents — and pretends otherwise” (nytimes).
I include Brenda’s story in this blog to contrast the difference in approach between the women of the marches who were trying to impress and make a statement, but who, in my opinion, came across as coarse and hard, with the gentle fortitude of Brenda Barnes. It is her strength and values that impress me over the harsh verbiage heard at some of the marches on January 21, 2017.  Brenda’s story continues in the life of her daughter, Erin:
Erin, now 28, faced her own dilemma a few years ago. She was working at an advertising agency and wanted to leave at a decent hour at the end of the workday — to help take care of her mother, who had suffered an initial stroke in 2010. It didn’t make Erin popular at work.
Eventually, she quit. She spent a year caring for her mother and is now enrolled in nursing school while working in a neonatal intensive care unit.
She finds the work more meaningful than at her old job, and the healthcare sector has also been better than most fields at creating good jobs that respect family schedules. That’s a relatively new development, the result of people in the field pushing for change, as the economist Claudia Goldin has noted.
Brenda Barnes’s life is a reminder that we need a lot more of that change (and men need to play a bigger role in it). On a more intimate level, it’s a reminder of what we are each likely to remember when we are confronted with our own mortality. It is not the work email or meeting that, in the moment, seems urgent.
As I have stated above, I believe in and support our right to assemble for causes that we believe in, and I and impressed with the success of the marches that have taken place around the world in the name of women’s rights and for marginalized populations. I agree with much of what those women were fighting for. I also believe that the way we present ourselves speaks louder than the volume of our physical voices, and I identify with the style of Brenda Barnes over many of the speakers from the marches.

In what ways have you been successful or unsuccessful in voicing your opinion?
In what ways is the general public most motivated to make changes?


  1. I want to start by saying that I respect everyones right to speak their mind and fight for what they think is right. It is my understanding that the women marches are on issues that they feel strongly about and so they wanted to voice their opinions. My question not only about the women marches but protest in general is are they that successful? It seems to me that protest are only successful in certain settings. We all remember that the Arab Spring in 2011 started from protest and the protestors eventually got what they wanted when they overthrew several governments. In my mind that was only possible because of the countries they were in were countries that could sustain such an uprising. America just does not come off as a place where protests that are trying to appeal to the large corporations or government are that successful now days. I say now days because the civil rights movement in the 1960s ended up being quite successful. In today's society I feel like President Trump does not really care that all these women marched around demanding changes. What I am getting at is what would make Trump or other cooperation leaders pay attention to the demands of the protestors in an American setting. In my personal life, when dealing with male authority figures I have found that I am more successful in getting my way when I figure out a way to make it the other person's idea. I'm just not very successful when I demand to have it my way. Maybe male egos just get in the way. That leads right into your next question and that is how to get the public motivated. In today's world people want changes but they also want something to be convenient and easy. More women probably agreed with the women marches than those who participated in them and that is the problem. The problem is how to motivate this generation to march like the marches in the 1960s.

  2. I think that there is great damage that is done when assuming that all minorities view the world through ideological pinholes. I believe the height of sexism occurs when we assume that all women must be for an idea or else they must be repressed or perhaps just not know any better. Brenda's story provides a great contrast to the dichotomous narrative provided by pop culture and the leaders of such movements (those who stand to profit financially from baiting people into taking extreme stances). It seems at times they would have me believe that a woman is either huddled in a corner, eyes blackened, barefoot in the kitchen or bra-less amazons with armpit hair died ready to go to war with that great Sauron that is man. You're either with me or against me, amiright?

    The women I have admired most in my life have been neither of those extremes. My mother, for example was a home maker. The best God damned home maker that ever existed on God's green earth. She raised 9 children on my father's seminary teacher salary (hint: it was very small). I spent most of my childhood below the technical poverty line, but we always had a clean home, clean clothes, plenty to eat and plenty to do. All of my siblings went on to lucrative careers, have gone to college. None of them got into drugs, nobody got/got someone pregnant in high school and nobody dropped out. This while living in one of the most impoverished cities in the poorest county in all of Utah. To top it off? She is highly respected in the community and has taken an active roll in making Blanding a better city for everyone.

    When a woman like Madonna (who will make more money in the coming year than I will for the remainder of my life) speaks about how she has struggled as a woman and then follows it up with a reminder to buy her next album on iTunes, it comes off as blindingly self un-aware. I understand that it feels good to have somebody famous agree with you. But I think that the ability for famous entertainers to influence the masses has degraded steadily over the years. Things like facebook and twitter have made entertainers more accessible and less influential all at the same time. That is to say, I don't think they have the ability to change someone's political position like they used to.

    Stories like Brenda's are profound to me. Here is a woman who was incredible as a CEO, she became successful on her own merit and quit while she was on top to pursue what made her happy. I would happily work for a Brenda.

    The older I get the less I feel the influence of pop culture in my decision making. Why abdicate my agency to mob rule? However, when someone I know personally and respect has an opinion or way of life that I don't agree with, I am much more likely reexamine my stance and adjust my values. I don't care what Wesley Snipes has to say about the tax code. I don't care about what Emma Watson or Madonna has to say about wage gaps. But if Jacque Moses tells me that I need to treat women with more respect, you'd better believe that things are going to change.