Saturday, January 31, 2009

Why Being A Cosmo Reader Is Good For Society

Is it such a bad thing to be a Cosmo Girl? Should I be embarrassed to celebrate my 45th birthday this week and “fan” Cosmopolitan on Facebook? Ever since I was in college, going to the beach or the pool always meant a Cosmo magazine in my bag.

If you threw up in first grade, you could still be “the kid who threw up” in college, so I’ve been thinking about my image with every word I type.

I’m not into the fashion and beauty products. You don’t need to tell me that color-coding your files will not get you a raise in the workplace. That’s not why I read Cosmo. The tag is “Fun Fearless Female”. Usually one of the headlines catches my eye and more often than not it contains the word “sex”. We all have the same questions and concerns about this subject but very rarely trust a friend to discuss them.

When I worked for the Chancellor of New York University, I stumbled upon the section of the library for PhD students studying Human Sexuality. I read every book on the shelves. Perhaps I would have earned a graduate degree if I had abandoned the school of public administration for this concentration. I couldn’t believe people were earning doctorates in the subject.

A few years later, when my husband, then boyfriend, was in graduate school, Dr. Ruth came to speak at the University of Maryland. He managed to get me a ticket. I remember being so glad that all the students were respectable and earnest with their questions.

So yes, I’m a Cosmo Girl, except now I’m probably a Cosmo Woman. I can’t help but notice how the magazine is geared to young readers. All the uncertainty of dating and relationships makes me glad to be older. However, I still get the same sense of satisfaction that someone is answering women’s questions about the subject and suggesting ways for improvement. There’s nothing wrong with mixing it up and experimenting. Self-improvement should always include everything that you do.

Often I think I should be more respectable. Since I care about my personal brand, should I have admitted my secret magazine reading? Worst yet, should I be writing this explanation?

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wholesome sex between consenting adults. It’s a natural part of life.

I’ve always believed that as a society we are completely contorted about sex. Sexual abuse and sex crimes statistics are always sickening. 1 out of every 6 women in the United States have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. At least 20% of runaway teen girls were sexually abused. I think we have made progress in taking abuse seriously and prosecuting it as a crime, but its implications are still far reaching, especially concerning depression and substance abuse.

Although I want to have that perfect image, I’d never do it by hiding who I am. What’s attractive about Cosmo goes beyond any of my personal preferences. Those pages allow women to be women and discover what that entails. The articles provide a benchmark for a healthy way of approaching this part of life and send a message that women shouldn’t accept anything less. The more we as a society make strides to be open about sex, the more we will feel comfortable condemning the mangled, disgusting incidences of its abuse.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Living With the Political Enemy

One day my friend asked me how I could be married to my husband. After ten years in a support group for our children, we have shared many intimate details of our daily lives. Her unease didn’t stem from abuse or any other serious concern, but rather the fact that my husband and I belong to different political parties.

Since no one had ever blatantly asked me this question, my answer wasn’t very savvy. I stumbled through an explanation on how we had never had a disagreement about money and went to church together each Sunday. Many facets of our marriage were far more important than his voting habits. I chalked this whole episode up to living in the Washington, DC area where I once “interviewed” to live in a group house and didn’t make it because of my political party.

When my husband and I met at Gettysburg College we were both politically active. He volunteered. I protested. Many people still don’t believe we wound up marrying each other. We agree on the outcome desired for most issues but not on the systems for solving these challenges. Our training and philosophies don’t match, but our hearts do.

When I first started dating my husband, a friend from high school insisted that I break up with him. We would always get together for presidential debates and scream at the television. A presidential policy decision had directly ruined her senior year in high school. How could I sleep with the enemy? After meeting him for the first time she called to tell me that she was sorry. He was a kind, nice person, not some faceless opponent to despise, and she approved.

Back during the election, my alma mater distributed a news story about two friends and roommates. As president of the College Republicans, one organized an appearance by Cindy McCain while the other, who is president of the College Democrats, arranged a visit by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. The fact that they lived together and held such strong, opposing views was news worthy. Although hopeful, this is a sad commentary. The friendship was so unusual that it drew media attention.

Last year my husband completed a one-year work detail at the White House. Our family took full advantage of the Easter Egg Roll, Staff Holiday Tour, Marine One Landings, and Oval Office Self-Guided Tours. Even though all of the friends we invited to join us for these events had opposing political views, they appreciated that the Office of the President was not the same thing as the actual President in office. The fanfare of the White House continues no matter who lives there. Our democracy depends on this respect.

President Obama brings an unprecedented level of involvement from many people new to activism and politics. The President's support is strong and emotional though not complete. Anxiety is running high about the deepening worldwide financial crisis. In order to get through this terrible era, we are going to need to treat each other as friends. We’re going to need to work together beyond our differences.

It can be done. These times really don’t give us a choice.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Finding Courage In Our Modern World

Lately I’ve been feeling like a fraud. In an attempt to keep things in a positive light, I often write or take public opinions that gloss over bad behavior or actions by others. Sometimes I do this because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or because it will make me look just as bad but most of the time I think I don’t have the courage.

It’s easier to stand by and do nothing. Back in a college sociology class, we discussed how a woman was killed while screaming for help. Although many people heard her, she died on the street. No one took action to help her. In this day and age, hopefully someone would at least call the police on their cell phone.

We can now text message or call the authorities and comfortably take action without having to actually involve ourselves. It’s somebody else’s job, right? I’ll just call and let them handle it instead of saying something to the troublemaker or coming to the rescue. Perhaps this is the answer for a society that will stand by and let awful things happen without helping. As humans, this may be all we are capable of doing – a text message.

Often when something bad is happening we shy away. We don’t want to put ourselves out there. Why should we take on the conflict ourselves? If we speak up, we might not be liked. We could be hurt, killed, or embarrassed.

What if you are the only person around when a conflict arises and the police won’t get there in time? What happens if you can’t hide behind your happy keyboard or convenient cell phone?

In cub scouts, I need to speak to my second grader about courage. The discussion is a requirement for him to become a Wolf. They also teach “moral courage” at his school. The teachers playact situations to demonstrate that students should do the right thing even when no one else is.

What forms should courage take? Is a text message enough? What actions should we take to help someone? How should we act on the truth?

My son will to great lengths to defend the people he cares about. As a protective mother, I’ll talk about having courage and making safe choices.

A friend from college always says that he’s afraid he will act in a crisis and lay his life down for others. This has always shocked me because I’ve always been afraid that I wouldn’t.

Each of us may think we know how far we will go to help someone or right a situation, but who knows what will occur under pressure. We have our own personal amount of courage for each situation and sometimes we need to find it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Kicking In The New Year To Become Your Opposite

The kickboxing instructor looked at me with distain. “You do yoga and running, but nothing aggressive?”

Even though I just met her, I had to prove myself. This is me. I ride a motorcycle, hike, camp, and take the hard knocks in life standing up. Had I really never done anything “aggressive”? That couldn’t be true. I stood there thinking and remembered judo in college. Yes, I had officially done something aggressive! I quickly explained that the girls refused to be my partner because they were afraid of me. I had to throw the guys and that was easier because the bigger they are the easier it is to get under their center of gravity and the harder they fall. Whew, passed the first test.

Why did it matter to me?

I didn’t know her and hadn’t even signed up yet. Obviously she’s the type of person I admire. Although small, she was straightforward and filled with a recognizable strength. Even more so, when I set my sights on something, I hate when someone thinks I can’t do it.

A long time ago, I took a simple personality quiz. The whole premise was that we all have characteristic traits from four areas. One is our strongest and one is our weakest with the other two in between. People spend their time trying to determine their personality, but that’s not what’s important. You need to concentrate on the person you are not. If by the end of your life you do not become your opposite, you will be unfulfilled.

My whole life I’ve been an overweight slug and I have the thighs to prove it. As I was turning 40, I decided to change. Other women told me that I shouldn’t bother to lose the weight, but I lost 50 pounds. For nine years I’ve practiced yoga, and I found the Thrive Yoga studio to help me reach a more advanced level. Two years ago, I started running on New Year’s Day and I’ve never missed going out a few times a week.

Fellow blogger, Amy Kimes, posted a link to her friend’s website about creating a personal vision board. With limited time, I answered the questions and created a personal vision statement which included kickboxing.

Throughout my life, I’ve ignored my physical well-being. In order to be complete, I need to be more adventurous. My instructor turned out to be a national champion in kickboxing. She trains, completes, and teaches in a few martial arts. I gave her hope that she could still have children in her 30’s and she inspired me to be totally fit.

Think about the person you want to be. Create a vision about where you would like to volunteer, what you dream of doing, what you would like to accomplish in work, and where you want to take your vacation.

Spend some time thinking about everything you don’t like to do. All those activities and situations you would never be caught dead trying. When you hear yourself saying “That’s not me”, take some time to determine why. Decide whether there are any barriers that might be stopping you from doing something fun, different, and challenging.

Most importantly, take it one year at a time -- starting this year.