The Life of “Julia” as a Future Standard for Women

Originally published by Ms. Magazine on January 20, 2013. By Rachel Grate.

Picture 1 With Obama’s second inauguration approaching, it’s time to hold him to his campaign promises–especially those he made to women. There’s been a lot of discussion about Obama winning reelection because of women; now we need to start discussing specific actions Obama can take to create the future he imagined.

The Obama campaign began focusing on women long before politicians started making inappropriate remarks about rape, bringing women’s rights to the forefront. Last May, the Obama campaign introduced us to an avid supporter of the president named “Julia.” Julia is a fictitious young white, middle-class woman featured on the website Obama launched called “The Life of Julia.

Now that Obama is starting his second term, I thought it was worth spending a little more time with Julia to check in and see if she still has such an optimistic viewpoint. After all, now that we’re certain for awhile that politicians won’t be moving us back to the 1950s, it’s time to hold Obama to his campaign slogan promise to move us “forward.”

Unfortunately, as a 19-year-old female college student trying to launch my career, I’m not convinced that Julia’s idyllic life will be quite so easily achieved by myself or my peers.

At age 18, Julia receives a Pell Grant for college, as well as an American Opportunity Tax Credit for up to $10,000 over four years. However, the average cost of a four-year university went up 15 percent between 2008 and 2010, with public universities in states such as Georgia, Arizona and California suffered increases of 40 percent and more. These fee increases, fueled by state budget cuts for higher education, have put an added stress on families like mine, a stress that a tax credit does little to alleviate and even Pell Grants can’t cover.

julia-hpI attend Scripps College, a California private school, on a half-tuition merit scholarship.  I’m one of the lucky ones who’s able to afford the education I’m receiving, and so is Julia. At age 25, Julia is well on her way to paying off her college loans, since Obama capped income-based federal student loan payments and kept interest rates low. Julia “makes her payments on time every month,” which she is able to do after starting her career as a web designer at age 23.

I hope to be so fortunate when I begin my career, for many college grads aren’t so lucky.Fifty-three percent of recent college grads are jobless or underemployed, making regular loan payments much more difficult than they are for Julia.

Even if one manages to enter the career of her choice, circumstances remain challenging for women. Among recent college graduates, full-time working women earn an average of 82 percent of what their male peers earn, according to a study released in October by the American Association of University Women. This remains true even after the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that Obama signed at the beginning of his first term. It is crucial that Obama continues to support thePaycheck Fairness Act as well, which was voted down unanimously by Republicans in Senate in June.

By age 27, Julia has been working for four years as a web designer, and “her health insurance is required to cover birth control and preventive care, letting Julia focus on her work rather than worry about her health.” Four years later, Julie “decides” to have a child–and this word underlines that it’s a woman’s decision when or if to have a child. The word also reflects the empowered women Obama supports, as when he thanked his wife Michelle in his acceptance speech as “the woman who agreed to marry me” (an interesting contrast to Mitt Romney’s reference to his wife as “the best choice I’ve ever made” in his concession speech).

During Julia’s pregnancy, she is portrayed with her hand resting slyly on top of her stomach so as not to reveal any ring. While I respect Julia’s privacy, the real world is not as accepting of such ambiguity. Just this year, the private high school my boyfriend attended allegedly fired a teacher for getting pregnant without being married. The lawsuit is underway, but a tarnished reputation is hard to clean and a hostile employer is hard to return to.

So, while visiting with Julia has calmed my fears of a future reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale, I’m still afraid. I fear for entering the job market not only as a recent graduate during an economic downturn, but also as a woman. I fear for those women less lucky than white, middle class Julia and me, who can’t easily pay off their student loans or rely on their parents’ health insurance.

I’m afraid, but I’m also proud. Julia’s experience may be a privileged one, but it is also hopeful. Julia has been criticized as pandering to women, but Julia isn’t just one in a binder full of women. Julia stands for a set of promises Obama has made about the future, and it’s up to us to stand with Julia to make sure women and men of all races, classes and sexualities can get there together.

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Sometimes Life Works Out!… It Just Takes a Little Work First

Originally published on May 16, 2012 on Beyond the Elms: Scripps College Career Planning & Resources Blog. 

So, I have some good news and some bad news. I’ve always preferred to get bad news out of the way first (that way you have something to look forward too!), so here goes: I didn’t get an on campus position I applied for to do next year.

But, before I let myself throw a pity-party; I can’t exactly complain about the reason: I’ve been asked to be a Writing Mentor for a new experimental writing program for a semester next year. I’ll still be receiving the Peer Tutor training, but Professor Simshaw wanted to give as many Scrippsies as possible the chance to get involved in the Writing Center. Part of that process unfortunately includes not giving me two jobs with it.

See, aren’t you glad we’ve gotten the not-so-bad news out of the way? And if you thought the Writing Mentor position was the good news, just wait to hear my next item of information:

I got a summer internship!

I will officially be working as the PR/Marketing & Communications Intern for Miss Representation in San Francisco. I’ll be writing for their blog, helping with press releases, forming press relationships, forming a virtual book of press mentions, and more. It’s a great opportunity for me to explore a different application of my English major skills (other than journalism), and it fits in perfectly with my interests in Gender & Women’s Studies! In fact, I’ll actually be receiving credit in the GWS department for the internship.

But wait, the good news isn’t over: If you’ve read my previous posts, you may remember my dilemma deciding whether to choose a summer internship or a family vacation to Greece in August. Well, now I don’t have to choose! Conveniently, my boss will be leaving on maternity leave at the beginning of August, so my work there will be completed in time for a little well-deserved relaxation.

So now you’ve heard the good and the bad… now it’s time for the uncertain. I’m still waiting to hear back from another on-campus position that I applied for.

So far, my work has led to things working out quite well in my job search, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that that trend will continue. I guess the best part of this entire process has been reaffirming that no matter how futile your work can seem, it does matter. My internship may be unpaid, but my work will still pay off for years to come!

Keep Calm and Watch Sherlock

Originally published on May 1, 2012 on Beyond the Elms: Scripps College Career Planning & Resources Blog. 

I never have a good feeling about a week when my planner’s lines are too thick to squeeze in all my obligations, even when I use 0.5 mm lead in my mechanical pencil instead of 0.7.

This week was one of those weeks. Actually, now that I mention it, last week was one of those weeks. And I’m pretty darn certain that every week until blissful summer arrives is going to be one of those weeks.

While professors are demanding essays now, suggesting you think about your next essay due in a week, oh yeah, and don’t forget to start studying for the final – it can be hard on your nerves. My time management wasn’t helped by the fact that my friend introduced me to Sherlock just as my extra time was dissipating.

I found the motivation within me to postpone Sherlock until my commitments have been met, but it seems like every time I turn around a new commitment sneaks up behind me.

“Boo!” the commitment cackles. “I know you were planning on spending Friday afternoon with your boyfriend, but come in for a job interview instead!”

And, as my nerves knot up just a little bit tighter, I smile and reply, “Sure!”

Why? Because I genuinely want to be doing all that I’m doing. I’m not in a class I don’t like, and I want every job I’m applying for. But my refusal to say no to opportunities can sometimes lead to my planner getting so jumbled up that I can’t keep up with them all.

Case in point: I am in the middle of a six-day period in which I have three job interviews. Wednesday morning, I have a phone interview for a summer internship. (I’d hoped I would have summer plans nailed down by now!) Last Friday, I interviewed for a tutoring job on campus for next school year. And this Thursday, I’m interviewing for another on-campus position.

Even at this moment my nerves are screaming at me to spend more time preparing for my interviews instead of writing this. “You’ve never had a phone interview before!” they’re warning me. “You won’t have any visuals to distract from the number of times you say ‘uh’ in a sentence!”

But, because my nerves have screamed some variation of this at me before every job interview I’ve ever had, I know I’ll be okay. And I know that sometimes all my nerves need is a little distraction.

So, mimicking the professional and collected tone I’ll use on the phone tomorrow, I confidently reply to my nerves, “Keep calm and watch a Sherlock.”

And that is exactly what I plan to do.

Student Employee Appreciation Week

Originally published on April 10, 2012 on Beyond the Elms: Scripps College Career Planning & Resources Blog. 

In honor of Student Employee Appreciation week at Scripps, I’m going to take a moment to reflect on the work I’ve done as a student over the past year. Neither of my jobs are the traditional type found on campus. I don’t have set hours; I work on my own time. It follows that I’m not paid hourly, I’m paid by article, or simply paid in the gratification of getting published and hoping my words will reach someone else. I’m making a mark on campus, even if my work doesn’t always make a significant mark in my bank account.

This past year I’ve worked as a Staff Writer for The Student Life newspaper, mainly for Life & Style but I’ve also been working for Special Features this semester. As is implied by the name of the paper, my bosses are my peers: my editor is also my partner on Scripps A-Team.

I’ve had previous experience working on publications, in situations with real bosses, in similar peer-led newspapers, and in taking the role of leadership myself. Yet my experience at The Student Life has been community based in an authentic way, with no advisor looming over our shoulder. Late nights (the few I’ve gone to as a writer) are filled with jokes and innuendo and snacks, with a break to watch the Wednesday night Pomona snack A Capella concert.

At The Student Life, no one puts on airs of superiority. My opinion is valued and my suggestions are listened to. I have learned to express myself better, not just in my writing, but also with my coworkers. I’ve learned that even by bosses are still my co-workers, because we are all working towards the same goal. I’ve become more confident and this confidence has already helped me in interviews for jobs for next summer and next year.

Blogging for CP&R has also improved my self-motivation. As a volunteer position with little interaction with my superiors, my writing is something that I make myself do each week. And, excepting one particularly essay-filled week, I’ve succeeded.

I’m not a traditional Student Employee, but I still appreciate the opportunities I’ve had through my work here on campus, and I can’t wait to see what opportunities next year brings!

Appreciating Women’s Colleges (Women’s History Month)

Originally published on April 2, 2012 on Beyond the Elms: Scripps College Career Planning & Resources Blog. 

March has come to an end, and before it is a distant memory I want to acknowledge Women’s History Month. Personally, seeing as women have existed all of history, I don’t know why we aren’t a more significant part of history all the other eleven months as well, but that’s a rant for a different blog.

At the beginning of March, I happened upon an article entitled “Women’s History Month: The Power of All-Girls Schools” by Tereza Nemessanyi on the Huffington Post. In addition to simply reminding me I go to an all-girls school (it can be surprisingly easy to forget with guys in the classes and once you get used to Diva Cups being sold at the Motley), it reminded me of many of the reasons I chose Scripps. And, on a related note, it reminded me of many of the reasons why employers would be lucky to hire any Scripps graduate.

The article lists influential women who went to women’s schools (high school or college) such as Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Meryl Streep, Martha Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, Julia Child, and Lady Gaga.

If that list alone isn’t enough to feel some female pride, read the article. Take a deep breath and appreciate the unique skills that Scripps instills in its students, skills that these strong women have used to their advantage, skills that we will be able to use to ours for the rest of our careers – skills that are applicable whether we’re the next Secretary of State or the next pop star sensation.

Just another reason I’m glad I chose Scripps. I think this one might even rank above the fresh baked cookies.

Playing in the Sandbox

Originally Published on March 27, 2012 on Beyond the Elms: Scripps College Career Planning & Resources Blog.

Recently, my high school celebrated its annual Writer’s Week, and I was more than a little jealous I couldn’t be there. As an aspiring writer, I savor the opportunities I had to engage in conversations with inspirations such as Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas and novelist Gail Tsukiyama. And except for one strange experience with an author who buried her cat beneath her study so that its bones would be under her while she was writing, each writer I’ve met has reaffirmed my passion for writing.

Fortunately, Scripps is far from lacking in opportunities to explore my passions, and this week was no exception. Earlier this month, three Scripps alumnae (Fantasy author Melanie Rawn ’75, Web Content writer Julia Cook ’05 and Children’s Book author Stacia Deutsch ’91) volunteered their time to speak to eager Scrippsies about their careers in writing.

Like every other time I’d met with an author, I left inspired, but this experience did what none before had: It reaffirmed not just my passion, but also my conviction that I could achieve my dreams. Beyond practical advice for navigating the publishing world and finding an agent, the writers also encouraged us to never limit ourselves. Rawn encouraged us to be like children in a sandbox, building up castles and gleefully ravaging them until we learn what types of shovels we need to create a world that works best for us.

These writers all used a variety of metaphorical shovels to reach their current state. Their degrees (English, yes, but also History and Religious Studies) and previous jobs helped them to build a satisfying writing career from them. Melanie Rawn, for example, used her historical expertise as a foundation to create intricate, believable alternative worlds. Each of those women had sat in my place between seven and thirty-seven years ago, and if they could achieve their dreams, my own certainly couldn’t be out of reach.

Furthermore, each writer wrote in drastically different forms. While Melanie Rawn wrote fantasy, Julia Cook wrote for the web. Stacia Deutsch had ghost written Nancy Drew and transformed movie scripts like The Black Night into novels, and even wrote the Simon & Schuster young adult romance novel below, part of the collection that had been my guilty pleasure throughout middle school.

With so many available avenues to explore writing, I left confident that I would find at least one that would lead me to my personalized version of success.

Admittedly, as Melanie Rawn reminded us, “there is no type of writing that is easy.” Luckily for me, there’s also no type of writing that’s off limits, and there’s no type of writing that I’m not willing to try.

Besides, I’m willing to work hard so that when I’m done playing in my sandbox, my sand castle will be the best in town.

Expert for a Day

Originally published on March 9, 2012 on Beyond the Elms: Scripps College Career Planning & Resources Blog. 

At college, every day we’re pushed to look towards the future. To consider what classes we have to take for our major. To apply for an internship that will push us to the next step in our career. Even something as simple as eating dinner has to be planned in advance here, with friends to be texted, a cafeteria to be chosen, and limited hours to do it all in.

At times, the future can be overwhelming, so this weekend was a welcome chance to spend some time thinking about the past. It’s hard to believe that more than a year has already passed since I flew down and saw Scripps for the first time during the JES (James E. Scripps) Scholars Weekend.

Just one short year ago, I was mostly silent on the bus ride from the airport to campus; too shy to try to forge connections with people I wasn’t sure if I’d ever see again. Today, I talked more than anyone else in my group of scholars, hailing from places as varied as Austin, Texas and Baltimore, Maryland.

This year I was the one answering questions, not asking them. I reassured scholars that, yes, there are guys on campus; I astounded them by commenting that actually, this sixty degree weather is pretty cold for us; I entertained them by pointing out the cupcake stores and the best boutiques on the drive through the village.

Last year, I was in their shoes, stressing about my interview with the professor who would become my adviser and, this semester, my Core teacher. Now, I find it strange that the constantly smiling Scripps professors ever intimidated me. Last year, when the admissions workers asked my major, I spurted out a top ten possibilities list. This year, when the prospies quizzed me, I calmly responded, “English dual major with Gender & Women’s Studies.”

Admittedly, I still had no answer when one girl from Chicago asked me what my concentration is, but I’m only a freshman. I’ll wait for another year or so to fly by before worrying about the answer to that question. In the meantime, I’ve learned that when stressing about the future, sometimes the best thing to do is to think about the past, because that, at least, is something we’re all experts in.