Friday, May 24, 2013

The Tiny CEO (or, Athena vs. Hestia)

As a child of a single mother, the continued employment of the main breadwinner is of tantamount import. This is far too much reality for a small child, but in the age of the quickie no-fault no-contest divorce when a checked-out or dead father is the norm and the vicissitudes of the workplace affect children as much as playground gossip as it swirls in the ambient noise of a childhood. Or so it was for me. The problem was that my mother was already old, that had been raised to be a housewife, that she was raised wealthy and she was not prepared for this to happen to her. She never had the ambitious corporate spirit and she never managed to cultivate it. As a result, the most she could manage was an endless series of temp jobs, were no one be-friended her. Like the hallways of any school, no one wants to sit near the loser. For a lonely and scared woman this was torturous hell. And yet we were lucky that she got those jobs, because it was scarier when those dried up.

My mother had dreamed that she would be the wife of an aeronautical engineer, moving from place to place as airplanes needed designing and testing – perhaps even getting hired at NASA which was not unheard of - and she would be a homemaker. My mother married this man and for a short time she had this life. My mother is a Le Cordon Bleu level chef. She can cook every recipe in the The Joy of Cooking. She can invent any household item out of another household item and keeps a spotless home. Within it, she is always cheerful and jolly, filling me in on hilarious stories of her day, the antics of our cat, and the ridiculous movements of our inbred neighbors. My mother wanted more that one child and she wanted to keep the home fires burning. My mother is Hestia.

Hestia is the goddess of the hearth. She is the original domestic goddess. Hestia is in charge of the fireplace at home, she literally keeps the home fires burning for those who will return; husbands out working, soldiering and hunting; children running playing learning and growing up, Hestia stays home and chooses not leave. Within the walls of her warm home, she insists on camaraderie and patience. Once is even required to soften ones’ voice around Hestia. When we are telling children to use their inside voice, we are literally telling them to observe the rituals of Hestian hearth.

In talking about my mother I want to be clear that she is not the only woman I watched being tortured in the corporate hells. I watched - in no particular order – the exact same story played out by every woman in my sphere: my grandmother, her sister, my godmother, her sister, three of my old (normal) neighbours and two of my current ones. They were bounced from jobs for getting married and having kids and then begged for less than those jobs when the men left them flat. As a child I watched all this with large eyes and decided quickly and efficiently and without any qualms that I would not concern myself with such ludicrous nonsense as what did I *want* to be when I grew up. I would simply become whatever the world paid for, end of discussion. A woman needs to have her own money, control her own money, and have a sense of enfranchisement towards money that does not include her looks. I would be Athena.

Athena is everything a goddess should be. She is single, powerful, the favorite daughter of Zeus, the virgin goddess of the moon. The most powerful city in Greece was named after her. She is the goddess of wisdom, the chaste companion of heroes, has an owl as a pet and runs riot in the forest. She was fearsome in her power, the air crackled with electricity when she was in your presence.  She was the almighty bitch that got shit done. And this is what the corporate world asks of us women. 

Which is fine …and yet. 

It is very rare and very hard to find a happily married woman with children who also is senior management at her firm, regardless of the industry. If she is married, she has no kids; if she has a child, she is divorced. If she has both, she is a temp. Quietly and without a sound, the Hestia is being beaten out of us. There is no world that pays for it. There is no western society that values it. And there are no females who have reached the mountaintop who are telling us to carve out a space for it. Instead, they write foolish books called “Lean In” telling us how to try harder (not succeed but just try fucking harder) at a corporate world that hates us and disembowels us of what makes us women (“don’t cry at work, don’t talk about your period, don’t talk about your problems, don’t dress too sexy, don’t laugh too loud”) and leaves us for dead. And the women claiming to be modern day Hestia’s are bleached-toothed, rail-thin skeletons on cooking/shopping shows with collar bones that bounce when they talk. It’s distracting. Or Martha Stewart, an Athena in Hestia’s clothing, who has done time in prison for corporate fraud. (This is where she actually did nothing wrong, panicked and then lied about it. It’s the lying she went to prison for, not insider trading.)

If you missed it this week, Eva Longoria received a Master’s Degree in Chicano studies from the University of California, Northridge. I want to point out that she is both enormously wealthy from her previous career that valued her beauty, and also twice divorced. Eva said it herself as reported by The Times of India in August of 2008, that she was a “terrible wife”.  I want to point out that all the money, education, beauty and success does not make you a good wife, or a good Hestia, but it makes you a great Athena. Being Athena isn’t bad but I question the necessity in the face of how much it costs women to achieve at the expense of the Hestia in her soul. Do I think I can be both in my life as needed? Absolutely not. But I imagine I will design something new: The Tiny CEO. I only need to be the best for MY world, not THE world. I want the freedom to say NO to “having it all” on such a grand scale. A woman can’t be all things to all people and to try to do so exhausts her and masks her true identity. Every second you spend trying to convince the world that you can be both a dynamo in the boardroom and a vixen is the sack is one less moment you spend being authentic to yourself. I want to move away from a world that requires regular women to be goddesses, and yet honours the goddesses within. Maybe I want too much. Athena would be proud.