Finding yourself

Frankly, right now, I’m having the time of my life

To hear Joy read this post in English, subscribe to the GlobalRencai podcast on iTunes, or hear or download the MP3 here.

Bonjour mes jolies laides!

You all have been much in my heart as I’ve been rushing to finish writing my book for you. I’m thrilled to report that – it’s done. Thanks for all the加油s! I’m now working on the Chinese version with my darling translator Jianbo Wang. We’re having such fun working through the delicious intricacies of the Chinese and English languages. The book will be available in all geographies in Chinese and English in 2012. Below is an excerpt from the book.

These photos show Linyan and me (we don’t work ALL the time!), and my family. From all of us to all of you and to your families, warmest wishes and big hugs for the new year!

Joy

For that half-a-person feeling so common among Chinese women, we can blame a society that demeans and trivializes every aspect of a single woman’s life. Like this:

Are you single? You’re too picky. You’re self-centered, immature, lonely, desperate and miserable. You may have a fancy job, but your fancy job won’t love you back. Are you having sex? Slut! Not having sex? Drying up! Are you devoted to your career? Just compensating for not being married. Are you happy? You just think you are. Without a husband you could never know true happiness. You will die alone.

It doesn’t matter if your life is filled with great accomplishment as well as friendships and passion. Society wants to define you by whom you belong to. If you do achieve, you will be targeted. Don’t take it personally.

“Was it all really worth it?”

Barbara Walters is a trailblazer, one of the world’s first serious female TV journalists. In 1976, she became the first TV journalist, man or woman, to command a million-dollar salary. She has interviewed Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, Russian presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, and every American president since Richard Nixon.

In 2004, she was interviewed about her four-decade career by another icon of TV journalism, Ted Koppel. After reviewing her accomplishments, he introduced the question he cared about most:

“Imagine,” he said, “someone is softly humming in the background, ‘Is that all there is?’ Was it worth it?”

She quickly responded. “Oh yes. I never thought I’d have this kind of a life.”

He reminded her that she’d been married twice and divorced twice. “Was it the job?” he asked. “If it had not been for the job, would you still be married to one of those two men?”

She replied she wasn’t sure. But she had her daughter, and “she is absolutely wonderful.”

Wrong answer. He tried again. “Do you ever sometimes lie in bed at night and say, ‘You know, maybe if I’d given up the job and focused on the family, that would have been – that would have been worth it’?”

No, she didn’t.

Ted Koppel is a skillful and persistent interviewer. But he could not get Barbara Walters to tearfully concede that she should have devoted herself to a husband instead of chasing down interviews with the world’s most powerful leaders.

It’s inconceivable that a reporter would badger a major male figure with: “Was it all really worth it? Wouldn’t you have been better off just being somebody’s husband?”

I came across this interview while researching this book. Reading it, I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. For much of my adult life, I was single and also deflecting the same kinds of questions from reporters. I thought it was just me. If I’d known I was in such illustrious company as Barbara Walters, perhaps I’d have had the nerve to do battle.

Married or divorced? Your accomplishments still don’t matter

If you think that getting safely married will suddenly make you official and let you into the club of legitimate achievers, then unfortunately, ladies, I have bad news. Public scrutiny will turn to whether you’re giving enough care to your man.

Another Barbara, Senator Barbara Mikulski from my small home state of Maryland, was first elected to the United States Senate in 1987, the year I graduated from high school. She’s now the longest-serving female in that august body, commonly known as “the most exclusive men’s club in the world.” Here’s what she says: “If you’re a woman running for office and you’re married, they’ll say you’re not taking care of your man. If you’re divorced, they’ll say you couldn’t keep your man. If you’re single, they’ll say you never could get a man in the first place.”

If only I could hit the REWIND button on my life…

The marriage pressure on single women is relentless, and not just from the media and not just from our mothers. Anytime I was at a dinner party, conversation turned to what others assumed was the major topic of my life. It didn’t matter how much I achieved or what else I was doing. Eventually, it all down came to: “You’re attractive, how does a woman manage to get to your age without being married? What happened?”

All I did, all those times, was to look down at my feet and apologize that no, I didn’t know why I wasn’t married yet. So obedient!

Now I wish I could hit the REWIND button on my life, march back into all those media interviews and all those dinner parties, and, when asked “Why aren’t you married yet,” look them in the eye, smile, and say “Because, frankly, right now, I’m having the time of my life.”

Our society has taken a set of relationships which should be treasured – marriages – and turned them into the only relationships which matter at all to a woman’s life. As a result, married women are considered normal and single women, abnormal. This attitude demeans and trivializes the lives of all women.

Headhunting gave me the skills to choose among men

Whether or when a woman marries is a choice that should be hers alone. Why should society care so much anyway? Marriage as an institution should be strong enough to withstand any woman’s decision to delay marriage without everyone else seeing it as a threat.

Men are taught to choose. Women are taught to be chosen. Being a professional headhunter gave me the step-by-step knowledge I needed to choose among men. But it was because I’d first built my own life that I had the confidence to choose.

Love is profound. Marriage is not. Anyone can get married at any time. Marriage is just another human relationship that one can enter or exit at will. We all need security. But the only security that’s lasting is the security you find within yourself. Autonomy is the basis for intimacy. Don’t wait to find someone. You are someone.


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Comments welcome, in Chinese, on the Chinese version of this post, here.
To hear Joy read this post in English, subscribe to the GlobalRencai podcast on iTunes, or hear or download the MP3 here.