Strong and Beautiful

Every now and then, someone will tell me about some movie that they saw. They’ll say something like, “I really liked [insert character’s name here.] She was a really strong female character!” A few weeks ago, my friend and mentor, Thea, posted this article that came up on my News Feed. (Yes, I often click on the articles that come up on my News Feed.) Prior to reading it, I would have described her as a Strong Female Role Model. But now she’s got me thinking, maybe there’s more to our females than being Strong.

Step 1: Read the article.

http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2013/08/i-hate-strong-female-characters

Step 2: Contemplate.

I will first admit that I did not come to Barnard with the intention of becoming a feminist. (What? It’s true!) I came to Barnard because I wanted to a good education, a chance to be live in Manhattan, to attend an Ivy League institution. (Tangent alert: Barnard is part of the Ivy League institution that is Columbia University. Condolences to those who think differently.) But I did not start out my Barnard career embracing the idea that we’re Strong, Beautiful, Barnard women.

Let me clarify, before the dynamite of outrage and frustration explodes: I want women to be Strong. All women, in my world, should know how to fight and fight back; women should know how to use power tools and household appliances and carry their own weight, literally. (As in “literally” literally.) I want women to be Beautiful. Women—in all shapes, sizes, shades—are works of art, and the female form should be appreciated and admired (but not exploited). So yes, I want women to be Strong and Beautiful. But they should be allowed to be more.

The article points out that most leading men have an array of emotions. Take Batman: he battles, he broods, he hates, he loves, he has a duty to protect and an ever-guilty conscience. He’s Strong and Beautiful Batman, but he’s also broken, beaten, emboldened, encouraged by a supporting cast of…other men. Like Alfred, or Robin. Why can’t his lady friends be more than Strong, Beautiful romantic attachments?

Why can’t women, especially at Barnard, be more than Strong and Beautiful? Thea, the inspiration for this blog post, is indeed very Strong and very Beautiful. But she’s also a talented performer, a seasoned traveler, and a very-wise-person-from-whom-to-seek-advice. There are many men and women who are both Strong and Beautiful that are none of the above. I’d also like to think that I’m Strong and Beautiful, but more importantly, a writer, a scientist, a teacher.

So instead of fighting for a generically Strong and Beautiful woman—whose claim to fame is “ability to kick ass while wearing strapless dresses”—let us fight for women who are also Vulnerable and Insecure and Angry and Frustrated and Confused and Smart and Good at What They Do.

An argument can be made that many women already are more than Strong and Beautiful, but we need more. We especially need more role models than the ever-strong, ever-sexy females we see on television, in magazines, in movies. We should look to Strong Female Characters as role models like we should look to Brenda Song in The Social Network as a Typical Asian Woman. (Another tangent: Have you seen her character? She’s crazy. But more on lack of Asian women in the media another time.) If being a man can look like a whole array of character types, then being a woman should look like more than just a girl that’s really Beautiful and also good at Fighting, but usually gets relegated to Supporting Character in Story Titled after Male Main Character.

One of my favorite stories as a child was that of Cinderella, who is arguably not a Strong Female Character. She doesn’t walk out of her beloved childhood home into the dark unknown, just to show her stepfamily what’s what. She dissolves into tears and asks for help from some strange magical beings. She gets married, which is basically admitting defeat and succumbing to society’s role for women. She, in no version, fights in combat or distracts an evil villain with her sexy leather pants, so she may not be the Strongest role model. But Cinderella is a housekeeper, a social outcast, a mouse whisperer, a great singer, and a genuinely nice person. She has garnered international fame as a “timeless” character and she ends up with a pretty nice life. (She’s technically a monarch at the end, if you think about it. In a monarchy. Which means she technically rules. That’s pretty cool.) She’s more than a Strong Female Character, she’s more than a Beautiful face; she’s a main character. She’s a legend, for crying out loud! With that in mind, it’s time that more women, instead of becoming only Strong and Beautiful Supporting Roles, became Legendary Leading Ladies too.

A Guide for Intern Employers

I had two very different internship experiences this summer. One position was working in the public sector for a municipal government, the other was in the private sector for a very small media firm. Day One at City Hall, I was given an extensive handbook of Rules and Regs for Summer Interns. Day One at the media firm, I was greeted by one kind man who told me a little about their work philosophy and showed me to a desk, and then said come back tomorrow. I subsequently followed up with, “Well what time should I show up? And what do I do when I get here?”

Myriad positive and negative intern experiences have helped me develop my personal pithy handbook of intern do’s and don’ts (for example, asking “What’s your timeline on this?” is now second nature), but as a result of these polarizing experiences, I was compelled to come up with a similar list of handy helpfuls for my employers. The following bullets are the result of my (occasionally exaggerated for comic emphasis but otherwise sincere) brainstorm.

I present, RULES FOR HAVING INTERNS: 

– Pay us. For arguments as to why, look EVERYWHERE. Just because it is standard practice and we are used to it, does not mean it is okay to hire us without any securities, without protection from discrimination or harassment, and without a fair playing field for those who don’t have the financial support from their parents to live for free during a summer or term.

– CLUE US IN ON DAY ONE. We are wide-eyed babies. If you have a specific dress code, please tell us. If employees and interns meet to give an update on their projects every Friday morning, please tell us before Friday morning. If the office is locked until 8:30 AM on Mondays, don’t tell us to show up a 7:45 AM every day. We learn quickly, but help us avoid being the last one in on the routine.

– If you are a politician with interns, you should probably meet your own interns. I have heard that the president does the kindness of taking one photo with his interns, ’nuff said.

– If there has ever existed a permanent and paid position for a certain type of work in your organization (i.e. data entry, office management, admin assistance), interns should by no means replace that permanent and paid position. Seriously, we know it is tempting, and we are totally on board for the administrative help you need, but we are not here forever.

– Give us a schedule, give us projects, give us FEEDBACK. Nothing is more disappointing than pursuing a project in the wrong direction for two weeks before you take a glance at it.

– Again, tell us up front. If we are going to be walking between meetings, if there is a great opportunity to Q&A with the CEO/partner/fundraiser/mayor after hours, if you’re going on vacation, if all office memos should always be in Calibri, if the printer always makes that noise… we need to know.

– Trust us. We know you work too much. Let us help. Seriously, we are eager.

Installment #2, INTERNS ARE PROBABLY NOT FOR YOU, IF:

…you will not have time to train them, give them some feedback and accountability, and actually let them learn from you.

…you can not trust anyone other than a full time employee to interface at the most basic level with a partner/client/higher-up, i.e. answering phones or welcoming guests at the office.

…you put your mind to it and really can not come up with a job title for the work that an intern is doing at your firm/organization. In my grammar school we had teachers for this called “floaters.” In theory it is a noble position, experiencing a little bit of everything and making everyone’s lives easier. In practice, it usually results in interns who finish a four month commitment without a single completed project to show for it. Good examples are Software Development Intern, Legislative Drafting Intern, Copy Editing Intern, Product Management Intern, etc. “Intern” itself is not a job title.