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Commentary: "Sweetie Smile:" Pop culture gets it right

Jessica Martin
courtesy photo
Jessica Martin

“I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman I know tie herself into knots so that people will like us.”

While I didn’t write these profound words, like many of us I felt like America Ferrera’s character in “Barbie” ripped those words out of my heart and spoke them into the universe as I watched the movie with my daughters and husband at home.

I have often found myself working in news, mostly with men, several that I still consider great friends and one coworker I even married. However, even my husband, who is sensitive to the struggles of those around us, has told me that until seeing first-hand my experience working in the same place as him, he didn’t truly understand how different it is as a woman who is a professional in news, in higher education, and even just in life. From having to fight for respect from some male students and coworkers, especially in sports, to feeling as though I needed to hide the fact that I was pumping to breastfeed my babies.

I wanted a career growing up, no family, just a career and I ended up in daily news and LOVED it. My career-centered focus ended or at least had to be reset when while working in a newsroom I found out I was pregnant with my son and we would be on our own.

My husband and I now have four children ranging from 1 to 16 years old because I quickly fell in love with having children and being a mom, BUT I have always worked, it is still a huge part of who I am. Although it is a struggle to balance anything as a woman as many of us know. Comedian Michelle Wolf recently said in a standup routine that we should “stop saying that we can have it all. And that we act like ALL is good. … Even if we do want it all, we have all put up too many obstacles to make it happen.”

To have it all … I believe we have to allow ourselves and others to be human at work and to be ourselves in our professional life. We cannot leave everything at the door, and even though I am naturally a very private person, we are allowed to have hard times and hard days even at work. I remember having to go on camera on live news right after drying tears, touching up my broadcast makeup, and clearing my throat to smile big for the camera. I think we as women, especially working mothers, are doing this in our daily life and it is just plain hard and sometimes our smiles slip and the tears fall in front of a supervisor at work, god forbid maybe even a male, gasp. Well guess what, we will all live through it, if we can have compassion for our fellow humans.

And sometimes we may have to discuss our children and their needs at work. In Barbie, as America continues her monologue, she says “You are supposed to love being a mother, but don’t talk about your kids too much.” I felt that when I worked in news and taught it.

Michelle continued her stand up and said that after childbirth, society says “We are going to need you to get that car accident of a body back to work as soon as possible because this is America and we don’t think you need time off.” My oldest child had colic and as a single mother I had to work on deadline each morning in daily news after sleeping maybe 45 minutes at a time through the night. After making a few minor mistakes (think copy editing issues) I was called into the conference room by a supervisor and told that I needed to figure something out because I was making too many mistakes. I proceeded to break down into tears for the first time in my professional career in front of a supervisor because I was trying and I had to finish my maternity leave unpaid and then return. I didn’t feel like I was allowed to be human and needed support in that moment.

While I do believe we have to do our best to support ourselves through our hard times and largely in our private life, I still would like to give myself and every other woman out there a pass to be human at work because struggles don’t always show up in private. Everyone will live through it and everyone can benefit from learning how to be more compassionate, myself included.

As an ending, there are many things that are said to women when they show their humanness at work or in life, so I will choose what Michelle ended her stand up while using my best sarcastic tone — don’t forget “sweetie … smile!”

Jessica M. Martin is the marketing specialist at the Keokuk Community School District in Keokuk, Iowa.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or its license holder, Western Illinois University.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.