Why I Demand A Woman Cave

The idea of a Man Cave is problematic. But all that goes away if we can also create Woman Caves (or something more clever-sounding).

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The library from Beauty and the Beast…aka, my dream Woman Cave.

I assumed everyone already understood why “Man Caves” are lame and sexist. But it turns out I’m wrong.

I just discovered a Pinterest board (created by Pinterest themselves) called Man Cave Essentials. Here’s the description: “Every man needs a place to unwind and hang out with friends. From chilled pint glasses to fancy remote controls, we’ve got all the tricks to help customize your own man cave.”

I get it, Pinterest. You’re trying to prove that there’s a space for men on your site, which I agree with and which we can talk about later. But I want a board called “Woman Cave” (or, you know, something more clever-sounding).

Why the Man Cave is sexist
Here’s the big reason that the Man Cave is problematic, from Unapologetically Female:

“The concept of a man cave in a home is a sexist concept in itself…its perceived necessity derives from the traditional notion that the home (and all the work within it) is entirely the woman’s domain.”

Agreed. But then someone commented on that post and said this:

“I think women are missing the point that in most relationships the woman takes over and delegates design and decoration choices for the entire house. Supposed Frat-boy items and decorations end up in storage while frilly girly crap fills their former spaces. Also, given the choice a woman would be satisfied with 19 inch Tube TV.”

First of all, heck no I would not be satisfied with some crappy TV. I want to watch my Scandal in high def, son. Or whatever. Pixels? Look, I may not know that much about TV specs, but that doesn’t mean I’d be happy with an old TV. It just means I would need to do research before I buy my next one.

But I actually agree with you, Anonymous commenter, that sometimes women take over the decoration of their house and choose a bunch of “frilly, girly crap” their partner doesn’t like. I personally admit that our home has a few things that are too girly for Joe (my wrought iron phase was very real and it was very intense, let’s leave it at that). But we try. In my opinion, if you don’t feel like your home is yours, that’s a problem. That being said, it’s both people’s responsibility to make sure a place feels right for them as a couple, so if you’re leaving all the decoration work to your partner, it’s not their fault when their style works its way in.

Saying a man needs his own space because the rest of the house “belongs to the woman” is horrible. You mean I get stuck with boring practical things like curtains and silverware, and Joe gets a giant TV and a keg? I don’t thinks so. As you already know, I refuse to let the practical decision be my desire while the fun things are his.

Women need to recharge, too.
If one person has their own space but the other doesn’t, that’s bad for both people. It means she has to share everything, without a space to call her own. And despite conventional wisdom, women need to be alone and recharge, too. Sure, lots of us work through our problems by talking to other people and that can make us seem more needy. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve quiet time. Even Shosh needs quiet time. And a woman who never has any time or space to recharge is not a fun woman to be around—trust me, I’ve been that woman. Wide-eyed and on edge, oh yes. I’m a ball of gas at that point. But having a space for retreat could be a great way to feel refreshed and come back ready to be a better, more supportive partner.

So what’s the solution?
Let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with a man wanting his own personal space. I just ask for equal opportunity alone time. I need to unwind, too. I have friends, too. That’s why I demand a Man Cave and Woman Cave.

In case you’re still confused and can’t imagine what a woman’s solitary space might look like (“Isn’t that called a kitchen? Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.”) (Ugh), here is what I’d put in my Woman Cave:

1. Wall-to-wall books, Beauty and the Beast style.

2. A giant TV, with surround sound please and thank you. I want to hear Betty Draper sigh from every corner of the room.

3. Soundproof wall panels, so I can listen to whatever song I want on full blast—including the times I listen to one song on repeat all day. It happens.

4. One of those window nooks like all the imaginary princesses have for reading and drinking tea and looking longingly out the window when it rains.

5. Since I don’t care about sports, I’ll have shrines to the things I do root for: a framed jersey for Team Meryl, a video loop of Jennifer Lawrence meeting Jack Nicholson, and a pennant that just says, “Christina Yang.

6. A whiskey bar. As Ron Swanson says, “Clear alcohols are for rich women on diets” and he is not wrong and I am not on a diet. Speaking of which:

7. Cheese. Lots of cheese. Just…constantly there is cheese somehow.

The downside to a Woman Cave
The problem with my demand for equal alone space is obvious: who has the money for two extra rooms in their home? Not many. Not me, currently. So what do you do if you don’t have two extra rooms? Do you give up? (“NO!!!” yells the enraged mob I’ve assembled in the town square) Do you use only one extra room as a place you could take turns in? (“MAYBE!!” yells the mob.) If you have no extra rooms, do you just—gasp!—both try and be aware of the other when you decorate your co-spaces? (“THAT SOUNDS REASONABLE ALTHOUGH NOT NEARLY AS FUN AS THE TWO ROOM CONCEPT!”)

Okay but now I’m seriously asking. What can you do? How can you make sure you both have your little spaces? What kinds of spaces do you have already? Or, ladies, if you have a Woman Cave (real or imaginary), what’s in it? Oh no, I just realized how dirty the phrase “Woman Cave” is. Ugh, it’s a stupid phrase anyway. Anyone have a better suggestion? Lady Space? Woman Domain?

Christmas Movies and The Bechdel Test

At some point this year, I learned about The Bechdel Test. And now that I know about it, Christmas is ruined. Well, the movies anyway.

The Bechdel Test gauges gender bias in movies. For a movie to pass the test, it must meet three simple requirements:

  1. The movie must have at least two female characters in it
  2. These women have to talk to each other
  3. The conversation has to be about something besides a man

It’s a laughable list, which makes it all the more sad when you realize how many movies—including current movies—fail the test. As my friend Emily said, “The point is that the female characters are not decoration, are not foils or objects. They have agency, autonomy, and lives that clearly exist independently from the male characters on screen.”

So with this in test mind, I’ve started watching my annual Christmas movies, and I’ve been amazed at how many movies don’t make the cut. From the classics to films from this century, almost every Christmas film either fails the test or barely skates by.

Christmas movies that fail the Bechdel Test

1. It’s a Wonderful Life

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Unsurprising for how old this movie is, and the fact that the entire movie revolves around one man. But considering how many women are in this film, it’s a little silly that none of them speak to each other. Mary, George’s mom, that blonde hussy, George’s daughters…none of them. And Mary becoming a librarian spinster? I mean REALLY.

2. A Christmas Story

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Unless you count the mom and teacher cackling “You’ll shoot your eye out!” while dressed as a witch and jester. Which I don’t.

3. Elf

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While this movie is amazing, as far as this test goes, it’s a miserable failure. Along with Love Actually, it’s the newest film on either list, at (prepare yourself) 2003 (I warned you). Until the mom starts singing with Zooey Deschanel at the end of the movie, no two women even look at each other, let alone have a conversation.

4. Love Actually

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Granted, it’s theoretically hard to have two women talk to each other when the movie is about heterosexual love, so I ALMOST give this one a pass. But then you remember all the conversations that men have with each other in this movie–Billy Mack’s radio interview, Mr. Bean creating so much more than a bag, Billy Bob as President Clintbush—and it’s a lot less okay that no women speak to one another.

5. A Charlie Brown Christmas

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Lucy passes out roles for the play, and the girls respond to their roles. But these are not conversations, they are interactions at best.

6. Any version of A Christmas Carol, including A Muppet Christmas Carol

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I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the Muppets, and this movie is my absolute favorite Christmas movie, possibly my favorite movie of all time. But the only conversation between two women in Muppet Christmas Carol is between Miss Piggy and her daughters, Belinda and Betina. They discuss when Tiny Tim and their father (Kermit) is coming home. It pains me to put this movie in a disparaging list of any kind, but I can’t in good conscience say that it passes the test. I would blame Dickens, but this is a movie with two Marleys. They could have made it work.

7. Home Alone

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The only conversation between two women happens when Catherine O’Hara tries to get back home. These conversations revolve around her son, a male character.

8. The Santa Clause

Tim Allen and Paige Tamada in The Santa Clause.

The first one is a flop (Bechdel Test-wise, of course). The second and third installments might do better, but I really don’t feel like watching them to find out. Anyone want to enlighten me on those?

9. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

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I assume Mrs. Donner and Clarice have lots of conversations during their hunt for Rudolph. Sadly, we don’t get to hear any of them.

10. Frosty The Snowman

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Poor Karen. No other girls to talk to, and her only friend is murdered in front of her eyes by a magician. Seriously, this movie has bigger issues than the Bechdel Test.

11. White Christmas

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There are three brief conversations between women in this film:
1. A conversation between the sisters about the men, which evolves into calling Rosemary Clooney a mother hen who worries too much.
2. Mary Wickes tells the women that the hotel won’t need them to perform.
3. Judy tells Rosemary Clooney that she should eat something before bed, a trick to get her to see Bing Crosby in the kitchen.
It’s a debatable one, but I just couldn’t count any of these three as a real conversation between two women about non-men. Also, Bing Crosby mentions dragging the women off the train by their hair. It has nothing to do with the Test, but it doesn’t help their case.

Christmas movies that pass the Bechdel Test

1. Little Women

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This movie is the only one on this list that really, truly passes the Bechdel Test (the rest are at D-levels), and some may argue it’s not even a Christmas film. Marmee essentially summarizes the entire point of the test: “Do you feel your value lies in being merely decorative, I fear that some day you might find yourself believing it’s all that you really are. Time erodes all such beauty. But what it cannot diminish is the wonderful workings of your mind. Your humor, your kindness, and your moral courage. These are the things I cherish so in you.”

2. Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas:

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This Muppet movie does make the cut: Ma Otter has a couple conversations with other female Muppets.

3. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

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This one passes the test thanks to the one conversation between two women: the mother and daughter have a conversation about how the extra house guests are ruining the daughter’s life. Although this conversation mentions four different men, so, you can decide if it should pass.

4. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (with Jim Carrey)

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This one is also debatable, and I’d love to hear you weigh in. Now, the cartoon Grinch isn’t on either list–since there is one tiny exchange in the entire movie, I’m leaving it neutral (although I guess technically it fails according to the Test). But the feature film has a few added female characters and more opportunity for conversation. There is one brief exchange between Martha May and Molly Shannon about their Christmas lights. Is it enough to count? That’s for you to decide.

5. Miracle on 34th Street (both versions)

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Another near fail for both versions. The mother and daughter speak almost exclusively about Santa Claus. And the lawyers, the judge, and the businesspeople (beside the mom) are all men. There are a lot of conversations between men. But in both movies, the mom and daughter do speak about faith, a concept arguably bigger than Santa as a man. What do you think? Does talking about believing in Santa count?

So What?

For those keeping score at home, that’s 11 fails and 5 passes, with only one strong pass, Little Women. Maybe unsurprisingly, Little Women is also the only film in either list with a female as the main character (except for Love Actually, which has no main character). Something to ponder.

And so what? Are Christmas movies really ruined? Does it mean we can’t watch the movies that don’t pass? Absolutely not. You can take away Muppet Christmas Carol when you pry it from my cold, dead hands. And even then, I would really prefer to be buried with it. But what the Bechdel Test means to me is awareness. Awareness of how women are viewed in a given movie, and the roles they’re allowed to play. Who is giving them a voice, and what does that voice sound like? How much worth is being placed on women and the things they have to say? And what can we do to make sure every movie, not just the Christmas ones, passes that simple test from here on? That’s what this test is all about, Charlie Brown.

For those  interested in further discussions about gender inequality in film, check out this infographic or this article by Geena Davis.

Wedding Drama: Location, Location, Location

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We’re barely into planning our wedding, and already Joe and I have come upon our first bout with wedding drama. I say first, because I have ears and eyes and am a living human being and so I understand that wedding planning comes rife with drama. And lo and behold, here is some of it:

No one will be able to come to this wedding.

Sure, we haven’t even set a date or found a venue or sent out invitations, but we’re fairly convinced that no one will show up. Joe and I will plan for a big amazing wedding and everyone will decline the invite, or they’ll show up and hate us for making them do it and everything will be terrible and let’selopeohmygodIcan’tbreathe.

So, yeah. Drama. Mostly exaggerated drama, but drama nonetheless.

The reason for the worry is this: we live in San Francisco, but nearly everyone we know lives in the Midwest, where we grew up and lived until we moved to California two years ago for work and adventure. So a San Francisco wedding is essentially a destination wedding for our family and friends, and spending hundreds of dollars for a weekend trip is not easy. Besides the cost, many of our friends have small children. And the ones with a little more money and time to spare? They already spend all that money and time on flights for their friends’ weddings (Hi, my name is Emily, nice to meet you) and our wedding may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

So the million-dollar question has been: do we have the wedding in San Francisco? Or do we have it in Chicago? Or to put the question another way: do we make this wedding easier on us, or on everyone else?

A wedding in Chicago means our family and friends can drive from their homes in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan without taking a day off work. They can bring their kids or leave them with a babysitter. Those who can’t afford a pricey plane ticket can still come. We’d see more family, more friends, and we could have a This Is Your Life wedding surrounded by nearly everyone who’d ever mattered to us in our lives.

A wedding in San Francisco means control over our wedding decisions. It means a beautiful setting. It means more predictable weather. It means sane planning with vendors we can meet in person. It means no extra flights to Chicago to plan the wedding. It means a more manageable guest list, but that guest list will likely have some very notable people missing from it.

The reason this issue is causing us drama is because Joe and I are both people-pleasers. Our living nightmare is finding out that someone is disappointed or upset with us. It’s the reason I don’t play sports, and the reason he overanalyzes every party he hosts. We always want everyone to be pleased with us. But at what point do we stop trying to please everyone and do what feels right for us?

While working through our options, we dug deeper into our desire to have the wedding in San Francisco, and here’s what we realized: besides the beautiful setting and easier planning, San Francisco is our home. It’s our life, and we want to share it with the people we care about.

We want to give people a reason to come out here and find out what California is really like (hint: the whole state is not a sunny beach filled with celebrities like I used to think), and to experience what our lives are really like. We want to show them why we’re happy, and what that means for us. We want them to smell the eucalyptus trees in Golden Gate park, and see how the Golden Gate bridge looks while you’re crossing it. We want to show them how hilly it can be (and let them notice how it’s actually not that hilly sometimes). We want them to experience a sing-along at the Castro theater and the candied bacon at Mission Beach Café. We want them to commiserate with us when we talk about driving down 101 and marvel at how easy it is to get to Napa. We want to give them tours of the amazing companies that have embraced us. If it takes a village to raise a child, we want to show that village that their hard work has paid off, and to thank them for bringing us to this point in our lives. We want the people who mean the most to us to be able to picture our lives when they think of us, and know they leave us in good hands.

So we made a decision: we’re getting married in San Francisco. We hope our village can join us, but for the ones who can’t? We’ll find a way to visit them and celebrate another time. We owe them at least as much.

What Guys Need To Understand About Street Harassers

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From the Stop Telling Women To Smile project by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

My fiancé and I were in a cab on the way home from the bar, in the right lane of a one-way street. Our cab was stopped in traffic, and we were going nowhere.

To our right was a group of women waiting to cross the street, dressed up for a night out.

A black SUV pulled up to our left, and a man with a big beard leaned out the back window to catcall the women, sandwiching our cab between him and them.

Joe, who enjoys friendly mocking drunk idiots, decided to take the opportunity. “Are you talking to me?” he said to the bearded man. I tried to shrink in my seat.

Not understanding the joke, the man said to Joe, “I was talking to those attractive women.” (Insert a million eye rolls here.) Determined to get the man to notice the joke, Joe said, “You don’t think we’re attractive?”

I adjusted the collar of my coat around my jawline and looked away. Joe didn’t know. He hadn’t dealt with these guys his whole life. I would have told him not to bother, but now it was too late—now he’d brought me into this man’s life.

The man turned his attention from the women and peered into our cab. “You’re fine; I don’t go for men.” He looked at me (I assume, although I was trying my hardest to become invisible and therefore wasn’t looking at him). “Maybe her. Is that your wife or girlfriend?” He didn’t give Joe a chance to answer before he said, “She may be too old.”

Joe laughed and repeated what the bearded man said, as though maybe there was a sound barrier that had kept me from hearing it. This man, who is leaning out of his car window to harass women on the street, has now been invited to harass me. Did I ask for his opinion? No. I don’t want to know, nor do I care, if this asshole thinks I’m attractive or “too old” (which, for the record, I’m 28 so let’s just straighten that one out right there. And even if I was older—screw you, dude.)

Our cab driver rolled down his window and said something to the man in Arabic. The man in the SUV said something back in Arabic, and his car drove away.

Our cab began moving again, and the cab driver explained to us that he had basically said “shame on you” to the bearded man. The driver told us that the man was growing his beard to try and look like a good guy, but then acting shamefully. I can’t speak to that culture, to the symbolism of beards in that culture and what does and does not produce shame and to whom. But that is how the story ended and I think it’s worth noting, not because speaking Arabic made the bearded man any more of a threat, but because my cab driver stood up for me and for those women and Joe didn’t.

Although he did take the harasser’s attention away from those other women, Joe ended up accidentally diverting it to me. I was mad at him after this happened. Boiling mad. When you ask a street harasser if he thinks your fiancé is attractive, I imagine we got off easy with “she may be too old.” No body parts mentioned. No sexual acts described. What would Joe have done then?

But after thinking about it from his perspective, I’ve stopped being mad. As a man, Joe sometimes experiences the world very differently than me. So rather than expecting him to magically know what it’s like to grow up as a woman, I’m cutting him some slack and trying to help him understand my point of view, so he can be better armed for next time.

If the bearded man had seemed threatening to him, I feel confident that Joe wouldn’t have said anything to him. But they were on equal footing for height, weight, and the fact that he was also in the back of a car. But for me? A stranger in a dark SUV who is bigger than me and calling out desperately to women he doesn’t know? That person is threatening to me. Joe hadn’t thought about that, because he’s never had to. It’s not second nature to Joe to ignore a street harasser simply for the fact that you don’t know what they’re capable of, but it’s second nature to me.

I haven’t known Joe his whole life, but I imagine he’s been taught a few ways to protect himself as a guy: fight back. Use humor. Walk away instead of letting yourself get angry. Tell an adult.

I have been taught different ways to protect myself: walk home with a friend. Keep your eyes on your drink. Keep your keys between your fingers in case they attack you. Buy mace in case they attack you. Don’t let them follow you home. Don’t get too drunk. Don’t wear a ponytail because they can grab it and pull you into an alley. Don’t stay out too late. Wear clothes that cover yourself (but not too much, prude.) Here is another article about a girl who was attacked. Here is how likely it is that you’ll be raped. Here is a list of things you can say to someone to stop them from raping you. Here is your rape whistle.

When these are the lessons people teach you, you learn very quickly that when someone calls out to you on the street, you don’t call back. I wish I had never been taught to protect myself because we had already taught everyone not to harass and attack people. But that’s not how the world is.

By himself, Joe has never had to worry about the strangers he chooses to interact with. But when I’m around, he does. I’m not saying he has to protect me in a superhero-movie-poster way. But he needs to consider both of us before he talks to aggressive strangers, and he needs to understand what “aggressive” means to me.

Since Joe’s experience with street harassers is so much different from mine, I needed a way to help him walk in my shoes. How do you explain exactly why a street harasser makes you feel unsafe, when technically they haven’t touched you and are “complimenting” you (not Joe’s words, just a general excuse harassers use)? Finally, I ended up with this:

Someone who you don’t know, who is stronger than you and who might have a gun, calls out to you in public to say they’d like to have sex with you. Do you feel safe?

Joe would never call out to a girl on the street, or even consider it. But his experiences haven’t taught him how to react to street harassers in the way that my experiences have. I’m so used to trying to ignore and avoid harassers, I don’t give it a second thought. Joe doesn’t give a second thought to the harassers in the first place. Hopefully now he does.

If you’d like to help stop street harassment, check out Hollaback! They aren’t paying me to say that, I just think it’s awesome.

On Feminism And Proposals

So now that you have the nitty-gritty of how the proposal went down (short version: I asked, he said yes), I wrote a little something for RoleReboot about the fact that lots of people have been calling me a badass lately. Click the image below to read more!

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How To Propose To Your Boyfriend

A few weeks ago, in his favorite place in the world, I proposed to my boyfriend and he said yes.

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For a long time, I wanted to be the one who was proposed to. The proposee. I wanted to have that big, surprise romantic moment and the butterflies in the stomach. Have I been taken in by the media? Absolutely. But I still wanted it. The way I see it, the proposal might be the last time you get those romantic butterflies. Sure, once you’re married there can be a million other great romantic moments. But there are no more nervous will-they-won’t-they moments after the proposal, and I didn’t want to lose my last one.

But with all my waiting for that moment, I started to feel like I had lost control of my life. I’m a planner, and if there was a wedding in my future, it was hard for me to plan the other big events I wanted: buying a house, flying to Europe, bringing my sister’s family out to visit us. I hated feeling like there was this giant life-changing event in my future, and I had no control over when it would happen. It’s my life! I should get a say in how it goes!

Then one day it hit me: I could still have a romantic moment. I could have the butterflies, it’s just that I’d be the one to put them there.

So in the middle of October, we flew from San Francisco to Joe’s home state of Michigan to experience fall (something we don’t really get in SF) and to see Joe’s family and friends. Our first full day there, we went to Franklin Cider Mill to eat fresh, warm cider donuts, drink cider, and feed the ducks while sitting next to a brook. This is where I asked him to be my husband.

I told a lot of people about my plan. Mostly because I was excited and because it seemed like too big of a deal to keep it a secret, but also because I didn’t want to spend my first few days of engagement calling everyone to explain myself. And trust me, it takes a lot of explanations. Not because it’s an intricate plan, but because people have questions. So if you are thinking of proposing to your boyfriend, here are a few questions I can pretty much guarantee you will field beforehand.

1. Have you guys talked about marriage?

I still haven’t figured out why people ask me this one, but they do without fail. My guess is that the subcontext is, “If you’d talked about wanting to be married, shouldn’t he have proposed by now? Maybe he hasn’t asked because he doesn’t know you want to.” Or maybe it’s, “If you’re being forced to ask, it must be because he doesn’t want to be married—maybe you should talk about it.” Or maybe there’s a much more innocent reason everyone asks me this question…I just haven’t figured out what it is.

Yes, of course we’ve talked about marriage—we’ve been dating for four and a half years. Our conversations changed from “if” to “when” a long time ago. In fact, we had a multi-day discussion about the merits of adopting this year, so yes, we have also discussed marriage.

2. Did you get a ring?

I did get a ring. I wanted the proposal to feel official, not like a suggestion. I wanted there to be a big moment of reveal. Some people laughed when I said I got a ring, I assume because they could only picture a women’s engagement ring. But I got him a simple, silver men’s ring.

Fun fact: there is no such thing as a “men’s engagement ring,” at least not on the internet. Only men’s wedding rings. (2015 edit! This is no longer true! Check out Buzzfeed’s “21 Badass Engagement Rings for Men” for starters. And a quick Google search for “mangagement ring” actually turns up some interesting things. I find this extremely awesome.) That’s okay, I’m pretty sure they look exactly the same. So I found a jewelry maker that I love, Turtle Love Co., and a ring I liked. I didn’t know his ring size, and Google is no help on figuring this one out. For one thing, I only found ideas for finding women’s ring sizes (“Ask her friends—maybe she’s already told them.” I can see it now: “Hey, Johnny, what’s Joe’s ring size?”). I emailed Turtle Love and asked about ring sizes. Since Joe is a light sleeper (no sneaking strings around his finger while he sleeps) and he doesn’t wear other rings for comparison, I was at a loss. Turtle Love answered my question right away, saying to choose a ring that could be resized, and try ordering a ring in an average size, which for men is size 9 or 10. Joe is a big enough guy, so I opted for a 10, figuring it would be better to be too big than too small.

I decided to make wearing the ring optional. I wasn’t giving him a choice in being proposed to, but I wanted him to have the choice to wear the ring throughout the engagement. The wedding ring is another story, but the engagement ring is really more about the symbol of my commitment and my seriousness in the proposal. Turns out, Joe loves the ring and the symbolism of wearing it, and as soon as it comes back from being resized, he plans to wear it.

I also got a special ring box, which I found on Etsy by searching for ring boxes with added words like “rustic” and “wood”. If you try to wade through all the ring boxes, you will find a lot of kitch and frills, as well as a lot of boxes that I would have loved for myself but which were just too girly for Joe. But the rustic and wooden boxes showed me lots of great unisex styles.

3. Did you get down on one knee?

No, I stayed sitting. For some reason, getting down on one knee felt wrong. I’m not sure if it’s the role reversal that I’m not comfortable with, or the fact that getting on one knee feels a little too close to begging for my comfort, but I knew I didn’t want to do it. Besides, the place we were sitting was rocky and next to a brook, and I’m clumsy. You can imagine that outcome.

I think people get so caught up in the way a proposal and wedding are “supposed” to go that they forget almost all of it is optional. You don’t have to get down on one knee in order for the proposal to be official. Technically, you don’t even need a proposal at all.

4. What if he proposes before you do?

I decided in January to propose in October. That left a long time for Joe to make a move, and in that time I got this question from people a lot. At first I was glad I was giving him so much time, and my answer to this question was “Then great! And if he doesn’t? Screw it, I’m proposing to him.” Once it got closer to my October deadline and I got more and more excited about what I was going to do, my answer changed to, “I hope he doesn’t, I have a whole thing planned!”

5. What if he proposes at the same time?

As the day got closer, people stopped asking if Joe would propose before me, and considered that he might propose at the same time. Especially once I described the romantic setting where it would take place.

I have to be honest with you: I wouldn’t have minded if he’d proposed, too. Sure, I was proud of my feminist choice to propose. But if he proposed, too, there’d be no question that I’m strong-arming him into something he’s not ready for. I imagined the scenarios where Joe would propose at the same time: that he’d propose and my response would be to pull out my own ring, or vice versa.

It didn’t happen that way. But after some happy tears and a pretty serious public make-out session, Joe did tell me that he had been looking at rings and thinking about what he would say when he proposed, so I still got to hear that speech. When I tell people this, I can see the relief on their faces. It gives a little of the traditional proposal back, and it ensures them that I haven’t forced Joe into something.

I’m not upset that this comforts people, because it comforts me, too. Stepping outside something that is so gendered is hard, and it’s scary. And having this safe place to lurk back to feels comforting. Analyze that how you will, but I’ve decided to be okay with it.

6. Do/Did you have a speech all planned out?

 Yep. And you don’t get to hear it. I told lots of people about the proposal (and now I’ve laid it all out here), but the little things I said? Well, some things get to stay private between Joe and me.

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For more info and ideas about women proposing to men, I highly recommend A Practical Wedding. Start with this one, and go forth!

How Creative People Become Internet Trolls

This week a friend sent me this amazing collection of photos by Queenie Liao, placing her baby in a series of imaginative scenes like this one:

Photo by Queenie Liao, via www.boredpanda.org

Photo by Queenie Liao, via http://www.boredpanda.org

While I scrolled through the photos, each more creative, colorful, and delightful than the next, I was surprised to realize how quickly my thoughts turned vitriolic:

“Aren’t you supposed to nap when the baby naps?”

“How many of these were ruined with the baby waking up?”

“Well I’m glad you have all kinds of free time and colorful cloth but some of us have jobs.”

“If I had a professional camera I could do that, too. Except I don’t have a baby but…you know. I could use a teddy bear or a sleeping cat.”

These thoughts are rude and assuming. The strangest thing is, as I was thinking all these things, the photos were making me chuckle. I was smiling at the sheer brilliance of it, but inwardly thinking, “How dare you be so creative? How dare you do something I technically could have done?”

Therein lies the problem. I’m not bothered by someone’s success when they do something that I know I can’t or don’t want to do (like climb Mount Everest, paint the Mona Lisa, what have you). But when it’s something I technically could have done—I technically could have thought of that cool idea, I technically could have put those sheets in that position—I get jealous.  And that jealousy spits out of me, lashing at the creative person who has done nothing wrong.

Maybe this sounds crazy or maybe you can relate, but when I get that jealous feeling, suddenly I feel like this person has done the last creative thing and has left nothing for me. There is no space for this person’s awesome creative idea and MY future awesome creative ideas. They hogged it all and now I am left with nothing. It’s not a rational thought, of course. But my irrational jealous brain is terrified that I’ll never do something as cool as what I’m looking at right then. This is why I lash out: if I can take down this person’s creativity, if I can make it seem less great, maybe there is still space for me and my own work.

I imagine some parents looking at these photos feel less worried about their own creativity than their own abilities as parents (my sister recently shared an article about this exact thing, so I will defer to that). As for me, I’m sticking with the creative jealousy track in this post.

If I know internet commenters (and I think I’ve watched enough YouTube videos to say that I do), I was pretty confident that I’d see more than a few trolling comments to Queenie’s photos. I hoped I was wrong and everyone would say only nice things…but I was right. In fact the very first comment is, “mom obviously had nothing else to do LOL” (Don’t you just love passive-aggressive LOLs?) followed by a number of people saying the baby looks dead. Which…what? Have you ever seen a sleeping human being before?

Thankfully, most of the comments about these photos are positive and encouraging. And that is what Queenie deserves. But for perhaps the first time, I think I understand the trolls. I know why they said those things.

I should only be thinking how amazing these photos are and how great they will be to look back on when the baby is older. But instead I can’t help but think, “Well well, Ms. Moneybags. Looks like someone must have stayed up pretty late to make sure these photos looked perfect.” Not only is it mean-spirited, even if it’s in my own head, but it doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t make me more creative. And it also doesn’t give my own creativity any credit, because it’s totally fear-based. Other people can be creative and I can still make something awesome. There is room enough for all of us on this big creative earth.

Victory Over Self-Doubt (And Homecoming Opponents)

I often miss opportunities for one simple reason: I’m convinced someone else would do a better job.

For our high school Homecoming senior year, there was a t-shirt design contest. Inspiration hit me, and I drew something I really liked. Before I describe it, I’ll have to provide a little explanation: Our school was called York High School, so our mascot was the Duke. Get it? York Dukes? Duke of York? I never realized it was that weird until I graduated and got looks of disbelief. It’s true; our rich, white, suburban school’s mascot was an embodiment of the bourgeoisie: a man with a mustache, monocle, and top hat. He was the Planters peanut, if the Planters peanut had wished to become a real live boy.

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I never thought the Duke was a strange mascot, but I still mocked him simply because when you’re that age, everything having to do with high school is worth mocking. “God, our mascot is so dumb. Ugh, our parking lot is the worst. What are these? Brick walls? Pssh, lame.”

Except during Homecoming. During Homecoming, the Duke is a revered gentleman who demands respect—nay, fear. Our battle cry became “Fear The Monocle.” And we meant it.

That year, our football team played the Trojans for Homecoming. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha….condoms. That was basically our retort against our opponent and our reasoning for why we’d destroy them. Because, you know. Condoms.

But when they announced a t-shirt design contest, I had a bolt-of-lighting inspiration moment. I drew the Duke (awesome mustache blowing in the wind) riding a Trojan horse to victory. In place of his usual top hat, I drew a football helmet. Then I added the top hat anyway, sexily perched atop the helmet.

I’m going to be honest with you: Michelangelo’s David would bow to this sketch, it was just that good. But my confidence level was low—again, for no other reason but that it was high school, and that’s just the way it was. So I drew this thing, this masterful thing, having no idea that it may or may not have been the next Mona Lisa (it was, trust me), and assuming that someone else had drawn something better.

As a teen, I never felt I was the best at anything, and had proof to back it up: other people got 1st place at the art fair, got better grades on the test, got the starring role in the school play. I was runner up. B+. Townsperson #2.

Now as an adult, I look back at this time in my life and say, “I liked drawing, I got good grades, and I had a blast acting in my spare time. And I was good at all of it! Why didn’t I just let myself enjoy these things?” But in high school, you are acutely aware of the people who are better than you. Maybe because adults tell you so often exactly who is better. They give out trophies and announce top grades. It’s all meant to encourage everyone, I suppose, to reach for the trophies and the top grades. But for me, it was just a way to say, “Here’s another thing you’re not the best at, Emily. Maybe try rugby.”

So my Duke picture stayed in a folder, never submitted. There are a lot of great artists at our school, I thought. I’ve met them. And they’ve already created something better. By the time I submit mine, the school will have framed something else and sent it to the Louvre.

When they revealed the winning picture, my jaw fell to the floor. That won? That?! They had chosen some art student’s half-hearted doodle (I know it was half-hearted because I was in an art class with the winner and I knew what he was capable of), which didn’t even look like anything, let alone a Duke riding a Trojan horse to victory.  I wondered if anyone had submitted a drawing besides this one. And if those other drawings had been rejected, I wondered what they had looked like. Dancing condoms? Likely.

I have other examples from this time in my life when I chose to go for it, when I didn’t let my doubt get in the way of my accomplishments. When I said, “What’s the worst that could happen?” and then I did something amazing. But I still look back on this one time when I assumed I didn’t deserve praise (or certainly that someone else deserved it more) and I wish I could go back and reassure myself. I wish I could be my own cheerleader.

I never showed the picture to anyone. I know this because anyone with a soul would have encouraged me to submit it, and this story would have a different ending. Instead, that picture is lost forever. I think I actually threw it away.

So be your own cheerleader. Put yourself out there. When you hear your doubtful brain saying you aren’t good enough, tell your brain to suck it, and do it anyway. You never know—you might be a lot better than you think you are.

When you’re halfway to an interview and start thinking, “This is silly, I’ll just go home.” Tell your brain to shush. When you’re waiting to audition and look at everyone you think will get the gig instead, tell your brain to zzzzip it. When you’re thinking about buying blue eye shadow just to try it even though every magazine tells you that you’d look better in peach, tell your brain to hush it.

Tell yourself you can do it, and then freaking do it. Don’t wait for someone else to do it better. Do it your way, and kill it.

When Being Practical Goes Wrong

Joe and I have never owned a car together. We’re used to urban living and have existed off of Zipcar, rental cars, and borrowing cars from friends and family. But we’re finally starting to think about buying a car. So we sat down and discussed what kind of car we want:

  1. Not too expensive
  2. Great gas mileage
  3. Small enough to maneuver a city
  4. Big enough to fit a few friends

For simplicity’s sake, let’s refer to this car as a Honda Civic.

It’s not set in stone, but this is probably the kind of car we’ll buy one day.

Eventually (because Joe and I are both planners), we started talking about our second car down the line, and what it meant for the Civic. Joe wondered out loud if the Civic could become MY car, so that he could get his Dream Car: a vintage Volkswagen Beatle.

Joe’s dream car (well, one of them anyway)

He said this made sense because, let’s face it, my dream car would probably be a Civic anyway. Wait, what? That can’t be right. I ran down my list of what I would want in a Dream Car:

  1. Not too expensive
  2. Great gas mileage
  3. Small enough to maneuver a city
  4. Big enough to fit a few friends

This made me feel bristly, but he seemed to be right. I guess a Civic is my Dream Car. But why did this feel like I was getting such a bad deal?

Then it hit me. WAIT A MINUTE. The reason I’m bristling is because Joe’s Dream Car is not practical at all (Airbags? What are those?) while I still couldn’t let go of thinking of my Dream Car as something that was more functional than fun. So I took practicality out the equation and suddenly my Dream Car list looked more like this:

  1. Expensive as hell
  2. Two door
  3. Convertible
  4. Ability to talk? Negotiable.

Now I wasn’t looking at a Civic at all. I was looking at a Ferrari. Or possibly the Batmobile.

This isn’t quite it, either. But it’s a hell of a lot closer than the Civic.

I often get so lost in what’s practical that I forget to just let myself dream. Sometimes these two things get muddled, and I convince myself that the practical solution is what I really want. I miss the chance to jump into the more creative, risky, and romantic choices. And if I don’t stop this madness, I imagine myself kissing Joe goodbye as he drives off in his vintage car to go have an adventure while I stay home, convinced that what I really want is to spend the day dusting (*shudder*).

For me, remembering to dream starts with keeping the dream and the practical separated so I don’t blur the line between the things I really want (pizza, sleeping in, dance parties) and the things that get me there (pizza stones, blackout curtains, stereo). It also means being more clear with Joe when I want to buy or do something because it is practical, not because it’s what I “want.”

This same concept happened with cooking. Joe thought I cooked every day because I liked it. The truth is, I was cooking every day because it was practical: someone had to do it and he didn’t seem to be (This is also because I plan things out much further in advance, which was keeping Joe from having a chance to plan anything). When I told him, “You know, I don’t actually LIKE cooking every day,” it was news to him. Now he takes charge of meals all the time, and often checks in to make sure I’m comfortable with my share of cooking. And for my part, I’m trying to be more vocal about the things I want or need instead of waiting until I’m already frustrated: “I’ll plan meals for Monday and Thursday, and you can take the rest of the week.” or “I feel like I’ve planned a lot of meals lately, can you take charge of the next few days?” or “I don’t know what to do with this leftover chicken, can you help me think of some ideas?” It’s nice having a partner who can take over the practical stuff for me, because it opens up time to do more things I actually want to do.

I had never mentioned to Joe that the Civic is my practical choice and not my Dream Car, so how should he have known? All I’d ever mentioned were the practical aspects of car buying. If my partner is going to help me toward the things I want, I have to make sure he knows what those things are. Hopefully separating what I want practically from what I want idealistically will help us push each other to do something wild once in a while. Like drive the Batmobile (but maybe just the once).

My Battle With Impostor Syndrome

(EDIT: I can’t figure out a better way to show this, so just FYI, this is the post that was featured on Freshly Pressed!)

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Dear Younger Emily,

It’s very possible that you’ve always struggled with Impostor Syndrome. According to the Ada Initiative, “Impostor Syndrome is the (incorrect) feeling that you’re a fraud, that you’re not skilled enough for your role, and that you will be found out and exposed as an impostor eventually.”

You are always bewildered when you get a good part in a play, and nearly every occupation you dream for yourself is eventually disregarded because you can’t imagine yourself being successful at it.

But it’s not until you are laid off twice in your twenties that Impostor Syndrome rears its ugly head.

Apparently many (if not most—dare I say almost all?) women struggle with Impostor Syndrome. Maybe for a man, being laid off twice would just be fodder for their determination to make it big. After all, Einstein got Fs in school, right? But for you, being laid off will become your greatest reason to doubt yourself.

Your first layoff will come in early 2009, when there are so many advertising layoffs, the big advertising rumor blog will create a separate Twitter account just to announce them all.

No one will hire you full-time for a while after that. Because no one hires anyone for a while after that. The world is waiting for the storm to pass. When a new agency hires you, you swallow your pride, let your Impostor Syndrome take the reins and decide it’s the best you can do. You accept the pay cut and the boring client.

Your second layoff will come after this new agency loses the boring client (along with its 800 million dollars). Yes, there are 100 people let go from the agency that day. But it will still sting, because they let you go and they don’t let other people go. And there had to be a reason, you decide. It must be because you’re not good enough, and they finally figured it out.

After the second layoff, a friend tells you that the agency is hiring again. You don’t even ask to be taken back because you’ve decided to move to San Francisco. But your friend says they asked for you already anyway. The agency refused to hire anyone back because they wanted fresh blood. You are only 26.

That very night when you get home, you’ll get this email from a Creative Director in San Francisco:

“I’m honestly looking for much stronger executions for someone who’s been in the business for a few years like yourself…My recommendation is to pair up with a strong AD [Art Director] on the side, and do a few really solid spec campaigns before you venture to the west coast.”

It’s not really the Creative Director’s fault. Maybe he’s never had Impostor Syndrome, so he thinks his strong opinions are helpful. But you will look around at your packed boxes and cry. Loudly. You will question nearly every decision you have ever made. You will still tell yourself that the two layoffs are not your fault, but it won’t do any good. You will question whether you will ever get a job again, and you will question whether you really deserve one anyway.

And then in less than a year, you’ll find yourself in San Francisco, doing a different kind of writing (one you like much better) at The Best Place To Work. Literally. It wins awards.

So maybe you aren’t really a fraud after all. Maybe there really is talent there, despite what that one guy said.

You will still struggle with your Impostor Syndrome in San Francisco. Chicago is a great city, but Chicago also made it fairly clear it didn’t want you there. Your success in San Francisco feels undeserved. It feels lucky. It feels like you’ve tricked people into thinking you could do the work, and one day they’ll figure out that you shouldn’t be there, just like the Advertising agencies figured out that you shouldn’t be there. But so far, San Francisco has wrapped you in its arms and quietly shushed you until those worries have quieted to a purr.

Still, every time you don’t get a lot of work done, every day you feel distracted, every time someone comes up with an idea that you hadn’t thought of, you feel like a fraud, one step closer to being found out.

But despite the negative voices, your twenties are full of accomplishments–great stuff that takes work. You land a kickass advertising job right out of undergrad when most people have to go to grad school. You turn an internship into a full-time job when HR says they aren’t hiring. You make things that people love. You write your little writer butt off.

Sure, there is luck involved. You get that first kickass advertising job after you pull the right name from a hat. But you create the life you live. You still move to San Francisco, despite the soul-crushing email. And a lot of people since then will be very happy with the work you do for them. So, while it takes you a long time to learn to just say “thank you” and accept the praise that other people give, you will do it. It will feel uncomfortable to smile and nod instead of shaking your head and protesting that you really didn’t do that much. But you will do it, because you realize it’s important to stick up for the things you do accomplish. It’s you who waded through all the negativity to a place that makes you happy. And the guy who wrote that email is stuck hocking other people’s lame products for a living.