Saturday, March 21, 2009

A response to a response...

Elisa Doucette at Ophelia’s Web posted a response to an article that appeared on Brazen Careerist. Here is the response I wrote to her post:

I, too, read the original post but chose not to comment there. My first thought on reading it was that another guy with man-boobs and a flabby gut wants US to look pretty for him. And I didn’t want to say that, since of course I have no idea what the author looks like – perhaps he is a ripped hunk! But…somehow I doubt it.

Your remarks, however, take the topic somewhere more interesting. The bottom line, of course, is that appearance does mean something, and expectations are often generated by appearance, whether we like it or not or think it is fair or not. My personal experiences have shown me this and I have altered my appearance because of it.

I have naturally blonde curly hair, big boobs, and am a software engineer who works in large office settings dealing with a multitude of people. I am generally a happy person and I tend to smile a lot. I also have a strong, decisive personality and don’t suffer fools gladly. I have no hesitation in speaking up, speaking out, and taking charge. If I am in a group that is trying to accomplish something and there is not already an obvious leader in place, I automatically take over and lead the group.

When I first started in my profession I wore skirt suits for a professional appearance, yes, but chose soft feminine suits, blouses, and accessories in my favorite pinks, mauves, blues, etc. And I had quite a problem with people. When I first met someone they seemed to like me and like working with me, but that would quickly change. Suddenly there would be discord and they would be unhappy with me, and there would be tension, stress, and so forth. My technical expertise was never in question (this wasn’t a “dumb blonde” issue), so it took several years for me to figure out why the change of attitude – it was because my appearance did not match my personality.

I believe that, in my case, our culture had set up a basic expectation that a smiling perky blonde dressed in soft feminine colors and clothing is someone who would be always pleasant and obliging and amiable and who would defer to whatever the other person wanted. Based on my appearance they were expecting this type of girl. When my strong personality made itself known they would be thrown for a loop, as the saying goes. Like petting a cute little kitten only to find out that it was really a tiger that just ate your arm.

So I changed my appearance. I bought suits in grey and camel and navy instead of pink and cream and mint green. Still skirt suits, yes, but more tailored in appearance and color. I bought silk tees and shells instead of blouses with ruffles and bows. And I kicked my makeup up a notch. Yes, I always wear a full face of makeup – I love being a woman - but a bright coral lipstick has a lot more punch than a pale pink lipstick.

I generally buy my clothes during one or two shopping trips, once in the spring and once in the fall, so I was able to make this change very quickly during my fall shopping trip that year. I immediately noticed an improvement in my dealings with people, and when meeting and working with someone new the relationship stayed on an even keel – no sudden changes because I no longer clashed with their perceived expectations of me.

So now I project an image more in keeping with my personality. I always feel very feminine but now I feel even more powerful. And frankly, I don’t care if someone with whom I am doing business thinks I am feminine or not. I don’t care if they think I am nurturing or not. I do care if they think I can do my job or not.

As for my personal life, I found that when I dressed “stronger”, I attracted men with stronger personalities. No more tiptoeing around some man trying not to crush his poor little ego, no more trying to hang back so he could maybe, hopefully, please show some assertiveness for once. I am happy to say that my husband has as strong a personality as I do and loves me for it. He is happy to have someone that HE doesn’t have to tiptoe around. We sometimes bump heads figuring out who is going to take charge in a particular situation but have so far resolved it without blood shed.

So, no, I don’t think a skirt is a sign of weakness, providing it is the right skirt for the job.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Nine days

Well, it has been nine days since I was laid off. What have I done in those nine days?

I updated my resume. I started hitting the jobs sites most popular for technical jobs and submitting my resume to these sites. I have applied for nineteen jobs that I found on these sites. And I have applied for unemployment, which is a first for me.

I have already received a call for a job that is seven states away from where I am now. It probably won’t work out, but it makes me face a question that I have been avoiding – will I relocate for another job? A
posting on Anita Bruzzese’s site was very timely for me, and I posted a comment there, which she was kind enough to answer. Basically I said, I am the sole support of my family, so…

I suppose I will. My technical skills fulfill a rather specific need so I will probably have to go where the need is. Assuming someone somewhere needs my particular skills at this particular time.

But I don’t want to.

For the past ten months I have been living in another state, in a city that is 300 miles away from home. It’s a nice little town, with one mall and one movie theatre, with the next closest ones about three hours away. But since being told THE NEWS I have been feeling absurdly optimistic about going home. Where there are three malls and four theatres within a twenty minute drive of my house. And (probably) no jobs.

But little bubbles of happiness keep working their way through my brain anyway. Some part of me keeps thinking that, once I’m home, everything will be all right. Of course, the practical part of me has to chime in and remind the optimistic part of me that going home doesn’t mean I’m going to find a job there. And the fearful part of me, the part that keeps my stomach churning and the good ol’ acid indigestion going, doesn’t care either way; it just wants security. “Too bad, that doesn’t exist right now,” I tell my stomach, “get over it.”

So for now I have declared a moratorium on the job search to prepare for going home next week. Lionheart with stay here and handle the big move, in about two weeks, of everything back to our home. Which my daughter Bar (and her husband and their new baby – my first grandchild, which, since I am going to be Nana, I have been calling nana-baby. Sorry, I digress.) is renting from us. While we’re here. Living in another state. Which we won’t be, soon. Unless I get a job somewhere else, in the next three days.

I don’t want them to move from the house; after all, presumably at some point in time I will get another job and it probably won’t be within driving distance of home. So my daughter and I have discussed it and come up with a sort of way to divide the house into our own living areas. Although neither one of us had the courage to discuss the kitchen. It’s hard to divide one kitchen between two women. But I’m sure we’ll work something out. Eventually.

Until it’s time for us to move again. But I’m not going to think about that. I’m just going to enjoy the thought of going home again. And holding nana-baby. We’ll see what the next nine days bring.

What experiences have you had with relocating for a job? Did you actually own a home when you had to face this question? Was it hard for you to "leave home"?

Monday, March 2, 2009

My cat is my role model

“The smallest feline is a masterpiece.” Leonardo da Vinci

I am a cat person. Don’t get me wrong; for pure unconditional love, the kind that has saved my sanity in the past, you can’t do better than a dog. They are ready to come at every call and lick your face or play fetch or just curl up on your feet and keep them warm. Dogs are great.

But they are also obsequious.

And sometimes I just find that annoying. They seem to have no self-respect.

Cats, on the other hand, are the epitome of self-respect. Self-respect is defined as “having the proper esteem or regard for the dignity of one’s character”. I think it should also say, “See CAT.”

Cats have such a bone-deep conviction of their worth that they have no trouble whatsoever maintaining eye contact with you. See, with dogs, eye contact has to do with dominance. If one dog wants to challenge another, he looks him in the eye. If the other dog breaks the gaze and drops his head, he loses. If he maintains eye contact a fight will usually ensue to determine which is more dominant. Dogs repeat this behaviour with humans (who are also pack animals). Either you are dominant over your dog, or he is dominant over you. Think I am kidding? Look your dog in the eye for any length of time and see what happens.

Cats don’t do that. They will look you in the eye for as long as they like. They could not care less if you keep looking back at them, or if you look away, or if you look back and forth. They don’t lose anything by looking away first; that’s usually just their way of saying you simply are too boring at that moment to hold their attention. I have a private theory that people who hate cats have low self-esteem and can’t tolerate this dismissal by (what seems to be) an obviously superior being.

With all that being said, in some ways my cats act like dogs.

They actually come when I call them. They learn their names because I use their names. I have a relationship with them. If the only time you see your cat is during the ten seconds a day it takes to dump food into his bowl, you’re not going to establish a relationship. When they come to me they know they are going to get loved and petted on until they stretch and purr, it feels so good. In my house, hands are for loving and toys are for playing. So I never flip a cat over on its back and roughly scrub my hand over its belly until its nature gets the better of it and it tries to disembowel my arm with its hind claws while holding on to my hand with its front claws and teeth. You know exactly the action I’m talking about. The one that people do, then take their cats to the vet and have them declawed because they scratch. Of course they scratch! That’s what they’re designed to do in that situation! If you do that action with a toy instead of with your hand, both you and the cat can enjoy the play and the cat can keep his toes.

So my Sassy Kitty serves as a prime example of a well-adjusted, self-respecting personality. She can show her affection without compromising herself. She can play with a shoelace dragged across the floor with the total abandon of a kitten. She has no problem standing up to the Cute Puppy that joined our lives a year ago when he misbehaves. And it boggles my mind that a creature one twentieth the size of an adult human can sit on the floor and gaze fearlessly into that human’s eyes.

So let me love, play, assert myself, and stand up to the giants in my life with all the self-respect and aplomb of my cat.

Aplomb – defined as “imperturbable self-possession, poise, or assurance”. It should also say “See CAT”.

What unusual role models do you have in your life?