Monday, April 27, 2009

Discovered: Penelope Trunk

Sometimes it feels like all I do is read blogs, write posts, click on Twitter links, write Twitter updates, and add all the interesting stuff I find to Google reader. I've become so immersed in Web 2.0 that it's become my Life 2.0.

Anyway. One internet phenomenon that I've come across through all this webernetting is Penelope Trunk and her blog Brazen Careerist. It's extremely possible you have, too, because she says she has 30,000 subscribers. I've become increasingly fascinated by her for a number of reasons:

1) She likes young people. She has a company that helps employers find new hires, and she talks up Gen Y all the time. This is a refreshing change from the stuff I'm used to reading, written by certain baby boomers with large salaries, about how my generation is lazy, whiny, self-entitled, and spoiled.

2) She takes the theory that writing about your personal life online is unprofessional, steps on it with a stiletto, and grinds it into the ground. I have long complained that this theory is outdated. Older people should accept that people from my generation are going to mix our personal and professional lives online, and embrace its potential instead of freaking out about it and firing/not hiring us. 

One of the reasons that Trunk's blog is so popular is because it dispenses good career advice. The other reason is she backs up her arguments with juicy references to her personal life. Go to the "About this blog" section and you'll be greeted with links to the posts where she describes the breakdown of her marriage and the start of her dating life. She recently wrote about screaming at a date for refusing to perform a certain sex act.

These details make people keep reading her blog, and by extension make them more likely to remember and use her recruiting company, and by extension help, not hinder, her professional success. Whatever you think of the process, the outcome delivers.

1) I'm having an absolutely wonderful time trying to figure out what I think about her particular brand of feminism. I've never actually seen her write the F-word, and it's likely she wouldn't use it to describe herself. She's what my profs and classmates in my undergraduate women's studies classes would have eye-rollingly described as a post-feminist, and what she describes as being realistic. 

For example, she recommends that women educate themselves about methods for looking younger, because, as she writes: "Aging is not equal in the workplace. Women are penalized much more heavily than men." She counsels women not to take sexual harassment cases to court because they'll become pariahs and be blacklisted in their industry, and writes: "Each time in my career that I have ignored sexual harassment aimed at me, I have moved up the corporate ladder. "

This is normally where I would hurl curses at my computer, close the window, and never read the blog again. But her take on these issues is a lot more nuanced than the end result of her advice (get a facelift and ignore your boss's butt squeeze) would suggest.

Trunk didn't just "ignore" her boss's sexual harassment. She cagily went to management, told them about the situation, and asked to be transferred to a department she preferred to work in but had no openings. In her view, it would have been crazy to take the harassment to court and potentially harm her career when instead she could use it as an ace in the hole to get a better job.

She's also written awesome posts about sexism at the G-20 summit and the myth that every moment you spend with your children should be a bundle of precious joy and only a terrible parent would occasionally find it boring and unfulfilling.

I'm suspicious of anyone who describes themselves as a political/philosophical "realist." It generally seems like a moral cop-out to do whatever is in your own interests instead of trying to work for change. "We'll never achieve nuclear disarmament/end patriarchy/end our dependency on fossil fuels, so we might as well make sure we can outnuke our neighbours/get a boob job/control resources in oil-rich countries by military occupation," the line of reasoning goes.

And while I clearly call BS on that line of reasoning, that doesn't mean I think everyone should go out and martyr themselves for various causes, either. I think what Trunk did in the sexual harassment scenario was smart. If every women who experienced sexual harassment took their case to court, would the practice end? Maybe. Is it practical for every woman to do this, and should we fault them if they don't? No.

So in conclusion, this woman is fascinating. Read her blog. Not that she needs any promotion from me.


Andrew said...

After a solid 2 hours of reading this blog i feel more alienated then ever from the very concept of careerism and wish to impregnate my girlfriend so that i might sooner take on my true role of house-husband.

Claire said...

Haha... uh... sorry?
See what I mean about it being weirdly fascinating, though?

Andrew said...

it is strangely fascinating. i feel like I'm reading Mussolini's diary.