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.

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!

LinkedIn (Or, Feeling Like my Mom on Facebook)

First published on February 8, 2012 on Beyond the Elms: Scripps College Career Planning & Resources Blog.

In terms of social networks, I’ve never wandered beyond Facebook. Tumblr seems like a time trap, and I’d rather leave Tweeting for the birds. But it wasn’t until registering for LinkedIn that I doubted my ability to understand them.

I got confused on the second step of registration. Is my home zip code school, or my hometown? And step five completely threw me off: What’s my industry?

I scrolled through the options, and what kept running through my head was… I’m supposed to pick one of these? The last choice, writing and editing, seemed most accurate, but not particularly official. Newspapers was an option, I’ve worked at several, but magazine journalism or online blogs are more my style. Does that make me in Online Media? But oh, I love Libraries, and I haven’t ruled out Marketing… and what exactly does Media Production entail?

It was time to call in the expert.

“Mom?” I said as our Skype call connected. “Remember that time when I taught you what tagging was for on Facebook? It’s time for you to return the favor.”

For the next hour my mom patiently taught me all the tips and tricks of the website. No, you don’t have any friends on LinkedIn– you have connections.  No, the art camp you worked at three years ago isn’t relevant. No, the picture of you in your bikini at the beach isn’t appropriate for your profile. (Okay, that one I figured out on my own.)

Despite the frustration of learning the LinkedIn interface, I came away with not just a better understanding of the website, but also a better understanding of how to market myself. I selected my most important achievements, linked to the articles I’ve written that demonstrate my versatility, and came away satisfied. Satisfied with my profile, and satisfied with all that I’ve achieved so far in my career – things I hadn’t even thought to be proud of until I laid them out for the world to see.

In that spirit, I entered my e-mail into LinkedIn’s search engine to see if there was anyone I wanted to invite to join my network. And then I somehow selected the setting that invited every contact in my address book. Which includes everyone I had ever emailed. My high school gym teacher, a realtor I’d interviewed last summer for an article on the role of Internet in real estate, even the Scripps alum who interviewed me for my Scripps application.

I guess I’m not an expert quite yet. I’ll have to take it one step at a time. And my next step will be searching through the help section to learn how to rescind an invitation.

P.S. Thank you, Mom, for being my first friend – er, “connection” – on LinkedIn.

“Oh, you’re an English major?”

First published January 24, 2012 on Beyond the Elms, the Scripps College Career Planning & Resources Blog. 

There are two common responses when I say I’m an English major: “Do you want to be a teacher?” or “Ah, so you want to work at Starbucks.”

While I can respond definitively that no, I don’t want to work as a professional barista forever, teaching is a less black and white career choice for me. I’d love to teach, but I feel like I’ll need quite a few more years learning before I can take on that responsibility.

To that, there’s only one response: “So, what do you want to do?”

I’ve never understood why “What don’t I want to do?” isn’t an acceptable answer.

I want to be a writer. That much is clear. In terms of my day job, I’ve considered journalism, publishing, editing, really anything that will allow me to get my opinions out there in the medium I love – the written word.

A little less than a year ago, I was deciding between starting my new life at Scripps or at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. One of the (many) reasons I ultimately chose Scripps is that the field of journalism is changing rapidly. With new technology constantly shaking up the industries I’m interested in, how could I possibly be certain a position I want would still exist by the time I graduate?

For the most part, I’ve accepted that I can’t be sure about my future until the future of the fields I’m looking at starts to settle down a bit. And then I stumble across an article like “Not All College Majors are Created Equal” from the Washington Post. (An article that, by the way, I read after Facebook informed me a friend had read– further testimony to the adjustments newspapers are making to stay relevant.)

“I have this game I play when I meet college students,” columnist Michelle Singletary declares. Her game is, based on a student’s major, guessing if they will get a job upon graduating. “An English major with no internships or any plan of what she might do with the major to earn a living? No job.”

I would like to point out that any major “with no internships or any plan” will likely fail to get a job, but the fact remains that English majors are most doubted. And such public declarations of doubt, especially when made by someone working in a field I’m considering, don’t do much for my confidence in my dreams. Or, should I say, my confidence that I should give myself time to choose my dreams.

Nonetheless, for now I’m sticking to the appetizers in the metaphorical meal of my career. I did an internship at my local newspaper last summer; maybe a publishing house will be next. This way, when it comes time to order my main course, I’ll know what’s on the menu, and I’ll be ready to feast.