As a consequence of my work, I drive interstate a great deal and pass the time studying the changing vista in as much detail as possible –– planted pastures, farm houses and historic barns, quaint hamlets, and grass airstrips watched over by crop dusters bedraggled from decades of service, all embraced within the gentle and glorious arms of the ancient Appalachians. The soundtrack playing on my car stereo is classical, rock, Jazz, Blues and Hip Hop balanced out with balladeers and crooners from Adele to Dylan to Amália to Mina to Aznavour.
I am a visually influenced person, and I absorb my journeys as though they are personal memory murals, the colors, sights, sounds and smells fueling my energy as I go. I often feel foolish for not taking advantage of the many photographic and video technologies I travel with, but I prefer the immediacy of the landscape unfettered by a camera between it and me. Besides, I derive a strange pleasure from watching a particular photo composition pass by, until the last hint of each memoryscape fades out of sight in my rearview mirror. Then it is on to the next vista, which will also pass in due time, replaced by yet another.
While some form of online life is an essential communication tool for every writer in this day and age, my response to being peppered by a string of never-ending selfiephotovideos on social media platforms is to retreat into the pleasure of direct sensory contact with life, preferring to see something as it actually is in a split second, gone almost as it occurs, and to allow the impression it has made on me to linger like the taste of wine on my tongue, or a lightly scented cream on my skin before the last trace of it sinks deep into my cells.
I am like this with people too. I need to sit face-to-face, eye-to-eye, shoulder-to-shoulder, voice-to-voice, expression-to-expression, my quirks, habits and gesticulations bumping up against those of another human being. I have a need to see, to hear, to smell. I have a need to personally encounter.
So it was with the intent of laying eyes on Meg Tufano, with whom I have been communicating online for almost three years, that I arrived in Oak Ridge late on a Wednesday afternoon, heading due West, the sun so low on the horizon and blinding that I could barely see. I could not have known that winding through rush hour traffic in Knoxville, struggling against the white glare of the sun, would mark the beginning of a weeks-long dialogue with Meg about the importance of seeing things clearly in order to know oneself.
Ah...but that is what journeys are for. We may know where we are going, but the person we are when we set out is often not the person we have become when we finally reach our destination.
~ Giselle Minoli
GISELLE MINOLI, an early riser, works on a essay she is writing about women’s private and professional roles.
s more and more women move to the front lines of politics (Hillary Clinton, Wendy Davis, Claire McCaskill), higher education (Gwendolyn Boyd, Janet Napolitano, Drew Gilpin-Faust) and big business (Melissa Mayer, Gini Rometty, Mary Barra)––roles not suited to the shy, sweet or subdued––there are more and more public musings about whether or not women are naturally endowed with whatever qualities it takes to run countries, universities and business empires alongside men.
The knee-jerk explanation for the continued paucity of women at the top has always been that the demands of marriage and children conflict with the demands of positions of power, that children need full-time mothering and that women can’t have it all, and must, therefore, choose between a meaningful métier or a meaningful marriage. Many people believe that women settle for family life over a professional life because their biology predisposes a better match with breadbaking than with breadwinning.
This gender-driven contretemps seems to have served to put a definitive end to any discussion about whether this belief is in fact biologically, physiologically, psychologically or evolutionarily true, or if it is merely the result of accepted social habits beaten into the culture over a (very) long period of time.
If women were naturally predisposed to stay home, then most women would stay home, but we know that most do not. If it were not natural for women to be suited to the Boardroom, the Governor’s Mansion or the Ivory Tower, then they would arrive at those hallowed halls with fear and suspicion, but we know that women routinely take on high-level roles without much fanfare at all. Unfortunately, despite their proven abilities, less than four percent of CEOs are women.
PULL QUOTES (GRAPHIC):
2002 = 1.5% of the top 2000 companies were women.
2011 = 3.6% of the top 500 companies were women.
By necessity we are confronting all sorts of entrenched beliefs about gender roles. One of the more deeply held prejudices is that pro football is a sport best played by heterosexual men. Michael Sam was the first football player to publicly announce that he is gay, which let loose a flurry of media discussion. When Sam was picked by the St. Louis Rams in the 2014 NFL draft and the emotional kiss and embrace between him and his male partner were caught on camera and publicized everywhere, the flood tide of emotional public response seemed to all but drown out the fact that he was pick #249 out of a possible 256. It almost looked like no team wanted Sam to play football for them, and it was anyone’s guess whether that was because he was openly gay, or perhaps just not that talented.
Another deeply held belief is that gay, lesbian and transgendered men and women represent fringe or unnatural behavior, even though such behavior is regularly observed in the animal kingdom. The transgender artist couple, Rhys Ernst and Zackary Drucker, whose photographic series “Relationship” is currently on view at the 2014 Whitney Biennial, already live outside the realm of what many consider a traditional relationship.
Are people who live on the outside looking in––those who do not do what is culturally expected of them, or what is widely considered to be culturally acceptable––more free to take creative and professional risks because they have already become used to “not belonging?” In order to achieve creative expression with a partner, is it better to be part of the fringe, so to speak?
INSERT WHITNEY BIENNIAL CLIP:
The reality is that men and women––people––are far more complicated than we seem to want to acknowledge. This complexity might be the most simple reason not to assume that all women are more naturally disposed to choose marriage and children as the focus of their lives, and why it is not appropriate to assume that a woman’s aspiration to a seat in the boardroom does not mean she is in any way anti-romance, anti-marriage, anti-children or anti-family.
Although a successful creative team, whether of the entertainment, artistic, or business variety, is not a simple affair, I would wager that mutual respect is de rigeur between creative partners, such as, for instance, film director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer, or film producer brothers Harvey and Bob Weinstein, co-Directors (also brothers) Joel and Ethan Cohen, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, conductor Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, choreographer Pina Bausch and her Tanztheatre Wuppertal, and Steve Jobs and his Apple.
Therefore, I have always wondered why there are so few innovative and successful creative partnerships between romantically involved couples, of any gender pairing, considering that such relationships (the good ones) are already mutually respectful. I can think of only a few rare collaborations such as those between Bill and Melinda Gates and their non-profit Foundation, the artist Christo and his (now deceased) wife Jeanne-Claude, the film director Baz Lurhmann and his wife and production designer Catherine Martin, the architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, and the designers Charles and Ray Eames.
The rarity of such couples makes me wonder if it is de facto easier for two people who are not involved in an emotional relationship to do business together, to create together, to be productive. Do most men, in order to fulfill themselves, need careers that are ‘separate’ from their relationships with their partners? Do women also need creative, intellectual and professional careers that are ‘separate’ from their roles as wives, mothers, love interests? Is it possible to find completion in a relationship with one’s mate, but is it a matter of mere luck to be a member of one of those couples over whom the gods have chosen to sprinkle fairy dust mixed with the promise of intellectual, creative, emotional, spiritual––and erotic––fulfillment?
Starting in the early 60s, women who wanted to break free from their apron strings aspired to be part of the workforce, but it was a man’s drawstring, with its promise of a decent salary, that they then had to learn to loosen. Yet, inspite of the boldness with which women have learned to ask for equal pay for equal work, if a professional woman has children she still draws down only 72.5% of what a professional man with children earns.
My personal suspicion has always been that the reason there are so few female Senators and Governors and Congresswomen, so few female college and university presidents, so few women in the boardroom, is that our beliefs about women’s contributions to public life is reflective of our ideas about their roles in their families, where they are ever the supporting players, never the leading ladies.
Our culture tends to value a person based on their earning power and, therefore, at the family level, the breadwinner is perceived to be more important than the bread-baker. This provides the perfect go-to reason a wife is expected to follow a man wherever his career may lead him. And this expectation––that her primary purpose is to champion and cheerlead other people’s efforts (including those of her children)––accompanies her into the workplace, where it can be difficult to shed.
(GRAPHIC):2010 = 46.7% of full-time work force are women; but, when including part-time work, workers in the U.S. represent 58.6 percent of the women over 16.