The Miranda Priestly Dilemma

Confession: I am a huge, huge Meryl Streep fan. Okay, it’s not much of a confession, since everyone loves her. Although, I will admit that despite Meryl’s long career in film (yes, we’re on a first-name basis), what won me over was seeing her in The Devil Wears Prada. Meryl plays the feared and powerful fashion magazine editor/ice-queen Miranda Preistly. In the film, she is at the top of the couture food chain, along with her ability to shake the fashion world with a purse of her lips.

miranda

But I digress, since we’re not here to review Meryl’s glorious career—a worthwhile activity for another day. What got me thinking about The Devil Wears Prada, and specifically what I call the Miranda Priestly Dilemma, was the Pew study released this week on “breadwinner moms.” We now see a historical high in percentage of households (40%) with mothers as the primary or sole source of income. However, the study indicates that three-quarters of adults believe women who work make it harder for families to raise children. Plus, half of adults also think working women strain their marriages.

These beliefs, at best, hearken back to more traditional views on women’s roles. At worst, they perpetuate a sexism still visible in gendered income disparities within the workplace. Hence, the Miranda Priestly Dilemma. Although successful in her career, the fictional Miranda Priestly has multiple divorces behind her and spends little time at home. The implication from our pop culture is that a successful career woman must not only sacrifice her family life but must also have the shrewish personality of a harpy.

So is it too much to want it all? I remember reading a New York Times article about a medical student trying to simultaneously navigate school and pregnancy. The story particularly resonated with me, maybe because I’m currently wading in my own medical school applications, but mainly because it brings up an important question: what happens when a woman’s career timeline clashes with her biological timeline?

The optimal time for a woman to start a family is in her twenties to early thirties, but this is also the optimal timeframe to jumpstart a career. Whether it be more daycare options in the office or paid maternity leaves, it seems that the workplace needs to adjust to the long-emerging working mother. Although women may (biologically) have more to balance than men, it hardly makes work and family mutually exclusive. The increase in women as the primary breadwinners signifies an increasing prominence of women in the workplace.

And traditional views will just have to catch up to already present realities.

-Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

“Celebrating” World Hunger Day

“There are starving children in Africa.”

That was the phrase I’d hear as a child if I didn’t want to finish a meal. The lesson I suppose being to be grateful for what you’ve got. It speaks to a deeper truth, though. While our personal food wastage, the level of which can sometimes be staggering, is a symptom of the problem, the root cause is an inequality of global food supply. Studies by the World Bank have shown there is enough food being produced worldwide to support a global population, and even create up to a 50% surplus if you look at the total yields before food storage issues and crop spoilage. Why then do one in eight people on this planet live their lives malnourished?

On May 28th we celebrated World Hunger Day. Celebrated? Poor word choice. Acknowledged? Highlighted? Called attention to the inequality of global food supply and raised awareness of the ongoing issue of global hunger? Better.

malnutrition

So what to do about this inequality? In the United States, less than one percent of the foreign aid budget is spent on improving nutrition. The irony there, though, is that the most value for our dollar could be garnered by spending it on just that. Annually, 2.5 million children are dying worldwide due to inadequate nutrition. That’s fully one third of all preventable childhood deaths. And that number just speaks to mortality, not to those children whose growth is retarded or who suffer lifelong damage due to malnutrition. This is where aid should be going. Preventing those losses would lead to stronger, healthier workforces as those children mature, and would increase the benefits of aid given at different levels.

In America, programs designed to improve child nutrition have seen significant success over the last 50 years. These programs, largely introduced through school meals, have traditionally focused more on under­-nourishment. Now there’s a shift to combating mal-nourishment. It’s an important distinction and a different gradient on the scale of poor nutrition. The difference between not having enough to eat, and not eating well. Quantity must definitely be addressed, especially in developing nations where famines can still wreak havoc, but quality must follow soon after, or better yet be tied in.

We have a duty here to combat global malnutrition, but the fight doesn’t begin outside of our borders. It’s merely a continuation.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

An Era of Lazy Activism?

Graduation season is upon us! It’s a bittersweet time of year, one filled with goodbyes, excitement, and FedEx boxes. It’s a time to celebrate academic accomplishments, and, accordingly, the ritualistic spectacle of a graduation ceremony is unparalleled.

This year, my own graduation took place a few days following the disastrous Oklahoma tornado, and as we prepared to walk in our cap and gowns, the tragedy was undoubtedly present in all our thoughts. Many of my classmates expressed sympathy and support on social media for the tragedy and its victims – generally accepted as genuine sentiments. But some reactions included an insinuation that the time taken to make a status or tweet would have been better spent donating money or being otherwise proactive in helping.

I couldn’t help but think they had a point. There seems to be no practical reason to write an essay-length status expressing condolences or to post photos of the damage. These often come across as cases of overboard sentimentality, devoid of purpose. To me, it was particularly salient amidst the pomp and circumstance of graduation. I often wondered why we insist on wearing odd-looking caps for the sake of tradition. And why wear black robes in the Baltimore summer? Trust me, those things do not breathe. How much sweating can one graduating class do before we can forgo symbolism? Have we lost our sense of functionality to display?

A similar issue broke out surrounding the recent Prop 8/DOMA Supreme Court hearings, during which a tide of red equal signs appeared on Facebook. It’s easy to mock these gestures as the worst of lazy internet activism (Surely the Supreme Court is counting the number of equal signs on Facebook before making their decision!). But these pictures were not for the sake of persuading the Court or even to incite any specific action. Instead, they were a show of support and a sign of solidarity to those who would be most affected by the Court’s decision.

Massive Tornado Causes Large Swath Of Destruction In Suburban Moore, Oklahoma

Likewise, it may be true that sharing a touching photo of Oklahoma rescue efforts does nothing to contribute to its aid; there are plenty of ways to help directly. But at the same time, let’s not be so quick to scoff at these gestures. Just as the uniformity of our graduation robes (read: heat conductors) signifies our camaraderie as a class and university, people can appreciate emotional support and well-wishes. And it seems to be human nature to try to offer some solace in the face of tragedy, even if it is through a Facebook status or through posted pictures. Action is certainly not to be undervalued, especially if we could all be Carrie Underwood. But one does not have to take away from the other. Practicality is not everything. And expressions, words, symbols of unity are certainly not nothing.

 

-Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

Takeaways from the Live Below the Line Challenge

It’s a funny thing, taking part in a challenge like Live Below the Line. My sister Jeca, who took part as well, wondered at the beginning about whose awareness we were raising. She pointed out that the people taking part would all be people who were already aware. And in many cases, had also experienced some sort of deprivation. For her, whilst traveling in Kenya and Tanzania, for my girlfriend Steph, as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Gambia for two years, and for me during various points of my travels through India. She didn’t mean it in a negative way, more in a “How do we really get the point across?” kinda way.

And in answer to that, all I can say is that it was eye-opening for me. I vacillated throughout the week on the difficulty of the challenge and the perspective I was supposed to be gaining. Certain days the difficulty wasn’t in the amount of food, or even the quality of what we were consuming. It was just the longing for supplemental things. A piece of fruit. A salad. Some juice. Heck, maybe even candy when we went to the cinema. Other days though there was a noticeable adverse reaction. Trying to maintain our normal lifestyle, like on Wednesday being on my feet for five hours at work, cycling around town, swimming at the gym, hot yoga in the evening… On that day I, and Steph, both felt the effects.

I read about other participants in the Challenge and there were a lot of similar comments. People crashing early in the evenings and going to bed, reducing or eliminating their workout routines, generally slowing down through the week.

And therein was the biggest take-away for me. Surviving on $1.50 a day, if you adapt your lifestyle to suit, is do-able. Perhaps not easy, but do-able. However, maintaining a normal active lifestyle is increasingly difficult. And for those who actually reside below the extreme poverty line, there’s no choice in the matter. For those at that level, there isn’t the option to take it easy one day. To reduce the routine. Because the routine is survival, and the attempt to maintain even their small amount of income.

So in the end, I did gain a little more awareness. And the hope is that those we talked to, and those who followed Jeca, Steph, and I as we took on the Challenge, will have lived vicariously through us. Maybe it will have given them pause for a moment, to think about the issue, and who knows? Maybe next year a few of them will take up the Challenge.

We’re not looking to change the world today. Just trying to make certain we’re on the right path.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Living Below the Line: Challenge Accepted

Editor’s note: David recently participated in the Live Below the Line Challenge. Read on about his week below (and be grateful keeping your pantry unblocked).

Day 0

“This one’s 86 cents.”

“This one’s 88, but it’s slightly bigger.”

“Done.”

This is how Steph and I made our way around Winco today. In the bulk section, there’s “Bet I can get closer to exactly a pound without weighing it,” and “You’re on,” and debating the merits of bananas over other fruit, and whether a loaf of bread was a good idea.

Then we went home and tried to eat all the perishables in the fridge. How are we going to survive a week without salads and fruits? Or granola and yogurt? Tortillas or even bacon? Funny the things we think of as “essentials.” Well not this week. Essentials are rice and lentils and oatmeal. Salad’s gonna be a hard one though. There might be some foraging happening later this week…

David's Grocery List

Day 1

Ran into this dilemma today, not unanticipated, but still tough: I work in a café. Steph and I had already discussed whether or not I could partake in the free meals we’re offered at work. We decided no. But then all day I was surrounded by food, and especially this gorgeous coffee cake sitting on the counter in front of me all shift. I resisted. But… I must confess, what I couldn’t resist was the coffee. I mean, I’m a barista. How could I pull espresso shots all day and not partake? I don’t have that kind of will power. Plus I’m a blogger. And if you’ve never seen me writing whilst not hopped up on caffeine, it’s not a pretty picture.

So coffee, or the lack thereof, is no longer a part of the challenge.

Day 2

“Don’t rinse that!” I called hurriedly to Steph as she started to wash a pot used for pasta sauce. She had the same thought at the same moment, and so we poured beans into the pot to cook them for tomorrow. Can’t waste anything! Even leftover tomato paste. Maybe I’m getting overly concerned about still having food to eat on Friday. It’s hard enough being a grazer, as we both are, and coming home only to see the blocked door to the pantry. No admittance. Not for the rest of this week. Drink some more water. It’ll fill you up.

It might not be helping that we’re keeping our usual routine going. Which meant ultimate Frisbee yesterday evening, and an hour long swim this afternoon, and probably hot yoga tomorrow. I might waste away to nothing…

It’s only Day 2. Get over it David. You’ll be fine.

Day 3

Steph went foraging today. Dandelions and other greens, and they definitely made a nice addition to a baked potato for lunch and pasta for dinner. Oh, and eggs and toast for breakfast. I had forgotten we had eggs we could use. Was a welcome discovery. Not enough though. We went to hot yoga tonight, after swimming for thirty minutes at the gym, and almost the moment I got in that heated room I felt lightheaded. It cleared up after a bit, but talking to Steph afterwards, apparently both of us had been seeing spots and feeling dizzy at the beginning of class.

So we spent the drive home discussing food. Saturday is going to be an epic day. I think breakfast and brunch are both happening, and we’ll go from there.

Day 4

“Lead us not into temptation…” I broke under the strain. I was feeling right next door to rubbish mid-morning at work, and the realization hit me that it was probably because half a bowl of oatmeal was just not gonna do the trick. So I caved. Accepted a free breakfast burrito. I’m not sure what penance I can do to make amends, but I’ll have to figure something out. Although it was “free,” so there’s maybe some wiggle room for me…

It’s funny the impact that a lack of certain things can have on you. Calorically we could probably be ok, and maybe if there were no other options it would suffice. But there are other options! Glorious options! My kingdom for a giant bowl of fruit. Or gummi bears. Either way.

Day 5

I was better today. Maybe the guilt/calories of the breakfast burrito yesterday served to carry me over the finish line. Oatmeal, again, to start the day, a baked potato, and beans and rice to round out the day. And an egg or two. Steph has impressed me a few times this week by creating meals that almost let me forget we’re eating the same thing day after day. A necessary trick during a week like this.

Day 6

We celebrated today. The end of the Challenge. Blew twice last week’s budget… on a single meal. Breakfast of Eggs Benedict and a Belgian Waffle. That was perhaps the most eye-opening moment of the week, as I handed my card over to pay for it. The realization that we had eaten for five days (barring a slight blip on my part) on a budget of $15. And here we were paying the equivalent of ten days’ budget.

But that’s the West for you. Disposable income gives us a taste for luxury. Live without it for a time and you gain a sense of perspective.

Further reflections to follow. But right now dinner is calling. Not sure yet exactly what it’s gonna be, but I know it won’t contain rice, lentils, or black beans. Beyond that…

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

A Way Out for Global Poverty?

Remember the Live Below the Line challenge from a few weeks ago? Survive on $1.50 a day and all that? Well, I still haven’t done it. I’ve been traveling this past week, so my challenge week is going to start on Monday. Will keep you posted.

But… that’s not what I wanted to write about. Rather, the reason I mention it is that if the World Bank has their way, the Live Below the Line challenge will be a thing of the past come the year 2030. Not because people will no longer care about raising awareness of the plight of the world’s poor, but because the president of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, announced last week the goal of raising every global citizen to a living standard above the extreme poverty threshold.

It’s certainly a noble goal, raising the standard of living of the poorest. But a critic could complain that the bar is being set quite low. Those of you who tried the Live Below the Line challenge will know that those living only slightly above the line are still in dire straits. But if the World Bank is going to set a bar, well, low bars are better than no bars.

But then, even with the standard set where it is, is it even possible? Sure, you can say it’s a modest target, a somewhat arbitrarily assigned number that is magically the tipping point between extreme poverty and the less extreme version. But regardless of the target, there are still 1.2 billion people globally living below it, or about 20% of the human population. The good news however is that in 1990 the percentage was closer to 40. Twenty years to half it. Another 17 to eliminate?

It’s possible. Difficult, but possible. China alone accounted for half of the above decrease in extreme poverty rates. Some hundreds of millions of people climbing out of extreme poverty over the last twenty years. And if they can lead such a quick turnaround, why not other countries? Although we might want to hesitate a moment before holding China up as a shining example, and be aware that a large portion of this shift is due to radical urbanization, which brings its own problems, however, there are signs and trends that suggest the goal of the World Bank is attainable.

Poverty

And what then? And perhaps more importantly, why? Why should this be our concern, when there are enough local problems to deal with already? Well to answer that question, you can be as altruistic or selfish as you like. Leveling the playing field, and giving everyone equal opportunities are certainly noble goals, but we’re also all increasingly interconnected. Whether we want to be or not. Let’s not forget the global economic crisis of yesterday and today. But, conversely, this interconnectedness also means that a rise in the fortunes of people in developing areas leads to increases in trade potential and product demand, and so opens up new markets to other countries. Investing in eliminating global poverty results in an investment in eliminating local poverty as jobs are created and opportunities arise.

There has always been the disparity between the “have’s” and “have-not’s” lingering over us. But maybe if we can reach a point where it becomes the “have’s” and the “have-slightly-less’s,” maybe then we’ll finally find ourselves on the right track.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Housing Aid the Latest Victim of the Sequester?

It sounds good, sure. Cut spending and there’s no need to increase taxes. Do you want to be taxed more? I don’t want to be taxed more. Simple solution. Everyone’s happy.

Only trouble is the implication that there’s enough frivolous spending in government that cuts won’t be missed. And don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of frivolous spending in government. Or perhaps we should say “not well-apportioned” spending instead. Have to tread carefully these days. However, the numbers don’t match. Trimming excess fat from a stuffed budget is one thing, cutting away vast swathes of it is something else entirely.

And so government assistance and research programs and educational institutions are all under threat. Line ‘em up and knock ‘em down. And so one more victim of the dreaded sequester is housing assistance for low-income Americans. And by “one more victim,” I mean thousands more. In Fort Worth alone 99 families due to receive vouchers found them suddenly rescinded in response to sequester cuts. Play that out across the country and the numbers are telling.

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan Unveils House Republicans' FY2014 Budget Resolution

To make it worse, the spending cuts not only affect any future assistance that could be provided, but they impact people relying on the assistance now. In a struggle to cope with budget cuts, cities and states are canceling promised vouchers and not renewing others—leaving families and individuals who were on the cusp of finding their feet, instead back out on the street.

The catch though is the inevitable short-sightedness of it. Instant gratification as the deficit buoys slightly? Yes please! But at what future cost when the long-term effects of losing various programs manifests? Can we even anticipate the consequences?

As a modern, “enlightened” society, we can’t let all these people fall through the cracks. I stress can’t because it frustrates me personally to think that that could happen. But from an objective viewpoint, I could say the same thing. The United States can’t let these people fall through the cracks. Not without suffering the consequences of a class increasingly isolated and ignored by the powers that be and the trauma of an ever-increasing disparity of wealth. Nevertheless, that is precisely what we are doing. But at some point something has to be done. We’re all in this together. Right? Maybe? Please say yes.

Something does have to be done. And when that crux moment arrives, will we not think that we would have been better off giving them the initial assistance they needed to make it on their own? Rather than attempting to pick up the pieces? The pieces that we ourselves are so casually letting fall right now.

-David

 

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Vive le Mariage Gay?

We knew the French were a nation of liberal bourgeoisie bon-vivants, but now this?

I jest. But in case you missed it, last week France became the 9th European country, and 14th globally, to legalize gay marriage.

Now, I’m not here to argue the relative merits of the pro- and anti- sides in the debate. Or even discuss the debate. This isn’t a blog about that. Pick your favorite liberal or conservative blog and troll the comments for some great one-sided views on the issue. But then that can’t be helped. It’s a divisive topic at best, and daily protests during the week leading up to the vote in France attest to that. I only lead off with it because the story got me thinking tangentially. Thinking about paradigm shifts and changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, and above all, our perceptions and how we view the world.

mariage gai

Attitudes do change. Issues that at one time were stigmatized, or even taboo, eventually are allowed into the light of day, and, through greater exposure, then pass through the stages of tolerance, understanding, and acceptance. It’s a trend that repeats itself at various times and in various places. The Civil Rights and Women’s Suffrage Movements here in the United States are two examples, and are examples that have been repeated, or indeed were preceded, in various regions all over the world. It’s not so very long ago those movements happened and yet, those of us born into a world shaped by them can hardly imagine the previous status quo. We’re even shocked when we hear of other countries that haven’t reached that point, that practice racial segregation or don’t allow women to vote.

Perception has changed so much on these issues for us that, while undercurrents of non-tolerance may run here and there, the prevailing sentiment is one of acceptance. But all it takes is a little time. Change the f-stop on the lens, lengthen the exposure. It’ll all turn out alright.
And so acceptance is gained. And yet we can’t seem to parlay that shift in how we view one social issue to a shift that encompasses all social issues.

I was cycling through town a couple days ago, and as I slowed approaching a stop sign a homeless man called out to me. I was focused though. In a hurry to get somewhere and didn’t want the awkwardness of a forced conversation. I had my headphones in as well, so I used them as an excuse to ignore him. But he called out again, and again, and the third time, when I looked up he smiled and said “Nice bike.” He didn’t want anything, only to share a moment. I was the one who had imprinted certain pre-conceived notions and experiences onto the situation.

And I thought to myself, What happened to your own tolerance? Sure you get burned once in a while when you put yourself out there, as not everyone lives up to the ideals we may have as human beings, but you can’t take that scar and apply it across an entire social strata. I’m still working on it. It’s a sometimes difficult lesson. Awakening and tolerance and knowing that everybody deep down struggles with the same issues.

Everyone’s different, yet everyone’s the same.

Thoughts on a napkin, or better yet, in the comments thread of this post.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

The Pope (and the Haters)

No matter what you do, someone is going to lead you: your boss, your president, your Pope. It’s going to happen.

After it happens—after people cast votes, watch the news, update statuses, and upload videos—a storm rages.

People talk. “No, _______ doesn’t belong in this position. He doesn’t have X or Y, and that’s what we really need right now. He’s promoting an anti-Z agenda. He’s going to be a terrible leader for a thieving country/organization/church.” You fill in the blanks.

In the process of making our voices heard, we miss the point. Angry comments between friends or online usernames won’t change who got elected. It’s only talk.

In the heat of argument, we forget that these leaders arrived in their positions for a reason. Sure, there have been some bad apples in our stumbling trail of human history. Some did have fame, power, and money-sucking at the core of their agendas. But something in these people holds true. Something in them believes that they were meant to change people for the better—and parts of us, however small, want to believe in them and be changed. Right?

When people like Pope Francis get elected, the backlash is predictable. Online arguments ensue and people criticize one another, but it leads to nothing but more online arguments and personal criticisms. In the heat of our anger we’ve forgotten that the Pope (or any leader) has the power to sway a large population of people to make the world better.

We need those leaders—because it would be impossible for us to all come together on our own and choose helping over arguing. We need that unified message. We need that reminder that everyone holds dignity and worth. Because even if we don’t agree with the leader, we agree in overarching principles: love, respect, compassion, charity.

Free speech and democracy are some of the greatest gifts. But we need to use them productively—in a way that serves those without voices or votes. It needs to happen.

-Amanda

 

Amanda Suazo, editor, joined BSB in 2010 as the writing guru for the organization’s website, official documents, and documentary before focusing a bit on philanthropy. Now a graduate of Gonzaga University, she is currently an MBA student and freelance writer. Between Zumba classes and downing espresso, you might catch her attempting to be a vegetarian. Find her on Twitter.