PBS & Justice Sotomayor Left Out a Key Factor that Young Girls Need to Understand.

Via Marylee Fairbanks
on Nov 15, 2012
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My grandmother, Clara, wanted to travel, sing on stage, and live in a big city. But, she never did.

She was 21-years-old on Black Tuesday, and she spent the early years of the Great Depression, letting go of her dreams—doing what needed to be done for her family.

She worked as a sales clerk in an elegant department store in Boston. She was as beautiful as the co-star in a movie, and good at her job. But, life was difficult for a single, young woman.

She married my grandfather at the age of 30, unheard of in the 1930s. She stayed at home and raised three children. Simple things satisfied my grandfather: talk over family dinner, freshly harvested vegetables from his garden, or refinishing an old picture frame he found in the alley. He never wandered far from home. It grounded him, but frustrated Clara.

She was practical, formidable, and sharp-tongued. She occasionally splurged on chocolates, let me rummage through her dresser for Dentine, and loved to sing. She told me stories of her Uncle Jack, a Vaudeville star, and expressed regret for never having traveled. She lashed out when she felt misunderstood.

Clara loved my pumpkin pie and taught me to make a perfect stuffed artichoke. I spent many afternoons in her kitchen taking orders on how to cook and clean. I now have her pans in my kitchen.

She came to see me sing when I was twenty.  I performed “Steps Of The Palace,” from Steven Sondheim’s musical, Into The Woods. The song conveys Cinderella’s confusion and struggle against the lure of Prince Charming.

Clara sat in the front row. She pressed her arthritic fingers hard together, in front of her heart, as if in prayer.

The show finished; she remained seated and stared up at the stage. I helped her to her feet. She held my hand in hers and hugged me. She smelled like mothballs and powder.

“Don’t get married.” She whispered. “Be a showgirl.”

Work in the theater is exhilarating. The first time I stood on a stage, a twenty-piece orchestra vibrated under my feet, and the voices of 60 performers rang throughout the hall. I cried.

The lows of a career in the theater are as extreme as the highs, but the lure of “making it” kept us looking forward.  Actors are conditioned to believe that this next show will be the one to set them on an easier path.

I was 34. I had a coffee with my friend, John Rubenstein. He is a stage actor, made famous in the lead role of Pippin. He told me that you never  “make it”; there is only the next job.

He held his hands up and laughed, “I am Pippin. I still have to audition.” He encouraged me to view each job, even each audition, as success.

I recognized an ironic pattern. Actresses display nubile qualities for the audience, often possess exceptional beauty and talent.  It is that “it” factor that keeps luring them back to their career and yet, in the end, they wake up and realize they have reached their forties, and for many, the chance to have a child has passed by.

Christianne Tisdale explores her own experience with career and motherhood in her new play “Thinking Outside My Box.” She uncovers her deep disillusion with the passage of time and laments: “I didn’t know that I came with an expiration date.”

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor made an appearance on Sesame Street last week. She told our puppet heroine, Abby Cadabby, that being a princess was not an option. Girls could train for a career, “A job you prepare for and plan on doing for a long time.”

She tells Abby that girls can be anything they dream: a teacher, lawyer, doctor or scientist. Nowhere in her list of exciting endeavors was mother. Abby decides that Justice Sotomayor’s career sounds very important so she will also be a judge. In the end, our impressionable puppet tosses her pink, polished tiara and conceals herself in a billowy, ebony robe.

Yoga teaches a concept of front body and back body.

The front body is the way we present ourselves to the world. The back body is our connection to a higher power. It is where our dharma, or highest calling, lies.

At first, I couldn’t internalize this concept. But, with practice, I understood subtle balance and strength comes through centeredness. The foundation for any action is the heart center. It helps us recognize when we are in the right place and anchors us in the present. The heart is where we reconcile our inner calling with our outward presence.

When the divine feminine is in balance it manifests nurturing, when it is out of balance—is conveys vanity

PBS and Justice Sotomayor left out a key factor that young girls need to understand. It is not one or the other. Women can have it all, just not all at once.

What good are powerful, high paying careers if there is no balance in our life?

That same distinct feeling of resonance that moved me to tears on the stage years ago, hit me again when I first heard my son’s heartbeat, and to this day when I smell his hair, rub his toes and kiss him good night.

Careers do not define who we are, and extrinsic motivation whether it is as a princess or Supreme Court judge might never fulfill us, though both of these experiences may inform who we can grow to be.

My grandmother Clara lived to be 96. She was shaped, as we all are, by historical context and social norms that left her longing for adventure and recognition. Now, we may have allowed the pendulum to swing too far to the other side.  Lets not place new constraints for our daughters that will be equal in magnitude and consequences, but opposite in direction.

The sacrifices of Clara, and women like her, give our daughters the gift of infinite choice. My Grandmother taught me the importance of family, freedom, and following my heart.

If we embrace where we are—instead of longing for what has passed or could be, we may find that we have “made it” because we understand what is right for us in this moment. And the moment, though briefer than a season, is still finite.


Ed: Kate B.

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About Marylee Fairbanks

Marylee Fairbanks is a columnist for Gaiam, elephant journal, My Life Yoga, and Bliss.com, Her essays explore Motherhood and yoga, but mainly focus on her experiences with her young son and the many ways he helps her grow. She is a registered yoga teacher and founder of Chakras Yoga and The 24 Things. She teaches Chakras Balancing workshops and yoga classes. Prior to having her son, she performed in Broadway musicals across the country. Marylee lives in Massachusetts with her husband, son, and dogs. Find her on her website and follow her on twitter.


9 Responses to “PBS & Justice Sotomayor Left Out a Key Factor that Young Girls Need to Understand.”

  1. I get tired of the either or, and the "have it all" . Each of us is different. No girl should feel she must have children, no girl should feel less because she chooses children over career. No where is it written you CAN"T have both…but too often I think we push women into this super woman complex. What PBS got right was encouraging girls not to put themselves in a box and not wait for a "prince charming" to rescue us. You start your article with a story of a woman that regretted marriage and children and yet come to the conclusion that we shouldn't give that up for a career? I think women should just be open to all possibility and not feel they have to be all things to all people either. I think PBS was trying to open up the OTHER options other than the biological urge we already feel – motherhood has always been an option, but even in this day and age the old fairy tales colour our girls ideas of the future and having a balance to that is important.

  2. marylee says:

    I think we are both saying the same thing. One of my points was that instead of cultivating an outward reward for girls we need to cultivate an inward knowing..knowing what is right for them and when. the fact is there are lots of women who chased careers only to realize too late that they cannot have children. Lots of women have children at a very young age and wish they had waited. I am not advocating either choice. What is right for me is not right for another.

  3. omjen says:

    Hello my friend. Loved your stories about your grandmother, and very much enjoyed your piece, although I do have a different view. I agree that balance in life is desirable and that women should not "forget to be mothers," if that is what they ultimately want.. But the Sesame Street clip didn't hit me the way it hit you. I didn't reach the conclusion they were suggesting that one had to make a choice between motherhood or a career, or that motherhood wasn't valuable. They were just talking about careers, which they define as: "a job you train for and do for a long time." (If only there was training to be a mother!) And I really liked the message because, while careers do not define us, they do help feed, clothe, house and educate women and their children. Encouraging girls to work hard for a goal that requires training and education so they can grow up and take care of themselves financially is a good thing–it is a nice balance to the Kardashians, our current day princesses. Encouraging this by no means discourages or maligns motherhood.

  4. omjen says:

    Plenty of women do have it all, all at once, such that it is. Attaining professional success for me has always been about taking care of my family financially. I view this as being a good mother. Neither are mutually exclusive. And I reacted so positively to the Sesame Street vignette because it is so rare to see professionally accomplished women celebrated and presented as role models for little girls. I loved what Elizabeth Warren said to a little girl in one of her crowds: "I am running for Senate, because that is what girls do." Little girls need to see all possibilities. I don't think little girls need to be taught that they can be mothers–they know that this is a viable choice.

  5. eleanor says:

    Fantastic article!
    Thank you

  6. marylee says:

    Hi Jen

    Encouraging girls to work hard for a goal or career is absolutely a good thing. but just as you said I think a career in whatever they dream is ALREADY a viable option for them. I am not having the working mother discussion here. I am saying that instead of preaching outward reward systems to our girls we should be teaching them a more important level of thinking and feeling, instilling in them a deep sense of awareness of how fleeting time is and how each season in their life will pass quickly. and that there are more important things in life than achieving goals.

  7. marylee says:

    thank you eleanor I appreciate it.

  8. carolhortonbooks says:

    I really appreciated the article. While I actually haven't watched the Sesame Street clip, I know that I have struggled with self-esteem issues quite a bit because of my decisions to not purse as high-powered a professional track as I could have because I wanted to have a family and spend a lot of quality time with my children. Personally, I felt (and still feel) that at least the social world that I've always been in celebrates work way more than family. Work (at least, professional work) has prestige, family is taken for granted or kept quiet and private. Family values are associated with conservativism, which I detest. It's not cool in left/liberal circles to celebrate motherhood too much – seems kind of suspect and retrograde. This may not be others' experience, but that's how I've perceived the cultural dynamics surrounding these issues throughout most of my adult life.

  9. marylee says:

    Thank you Carol for your thoughtful response. I relate to much of what you say here. Wouldn't it be amazing if we raised girls to not care about those outward pressures and to resonate with what works for them?