Something’s gotta give

Corner House, Singapore

We live in a materialistic world that measures people in terms of power and money. Just as much as I want to believe that success cannot be measured in terms of power and money, I also want to believe that it is not nature but nurture that makes the women behave the way they behave and the men act the way they act. Even if nature plays a part, education at home and in school play a significant role in how a person conducts himself or herself.

I feel that women play an important role in bringing up a child since traditionally, it has been the women who stay home and take care of the domestic front but the men of the house must be supportive of the way the women are bringing up the children. If the adults of the house behave badly, the child would not have a  good role model to emulate. Apparently , according to scientific researchers, a mother’s genetics matter while the father’s makes no difference. click The xx chromosomes transmit intelligence genes. If the cognitive functions are primarily determined by the xx chromosomes, does that mean that if women who are mothers have it in them that women must be given due respect and equal treatment, they will inculcate the right mindset in their  male children? However it will be a tall order if the man of the house has been brought up in a traditional home where sons are given preferential treatments and women are expected to obey and serve as it happens in some cultures around  the world.

I am presently reading Kim Jiyoung Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo translated by Jamie Chang. Though the character is fictional ,Kim Jiyoung is a symbolic figure in Korea, the story mirrors the social culture and gender inequality in the society where the characters live .

I find that working women have to be calculating and shrewd in order to stay in control and be on par with or get ahead of their male peers in the same industry. Apart from focusing on their own interest, women must train themselves to be  resilient, street smart and calculating in order to take care of her family and herself. In the present world, many women work so that they can be autonomous and financially independent but they find that they face challenges such as gender bias at work and difficulties in balancing their work life with their home and personal life. The question is can we women really have it all. But in reality can anybody have it all?

Opening  Belle is written by Maureen Sherry, a former Wall Street insider who tells us a story about women working in finance. After twelve years on Wall Street, Maureen Sherry quitted her managing director position at an investment bank and studied MFA at Columbia University.She writes mysteries for middle school audiences. Opening Belle is her first novel.

In Opening Belle, Isabelle McElroy, aged thirty- seven,  has a top paying job as a managing director Feagin Dixon, a firm on Wall Street in the midst of a financial boom. She is married to a handsome husband who stays at home to look after three adorable children in their apartment at Upper West Side.  She finds herself losing respect for her husband who seems to breeze through life with yoga classes and in search of six-pack abdominals. Enters Henry her ex-fiancé whom she never quite got over, tempting her with  a glimpse  of how their life together could have been and he happened to be the second in command of her largest client. When the subprime mortgages she has stocked in investor’s portfolio starts to tank, she begins to see that the finance world does not make any sense. While she takes a good look at greed and the money she has made, her pragmatic self compels her to endure rampant sexism and disregard lewdness that exist at the male- dominated firm. As she comes to realize that the glass ceiling is quite impossible to break, she decides to start her own firm with the hope to achieve an optimal work-life balance by determining her own work environment and culture.

In the story, the women at  Feagin Dixon  formed the Glass Ceiling Club to tackle issues on pervasive sexism and gender inequality at their firm and Belle was invited to join them. It is sad when the club that she had been practically begged to join deserted her due to her unsuccessful performance at the lunch where a dozen senior women of the firm had been summoned to meet the big boss, B. Gruss to address the women’s concern about glass ceiling. She was the only GCC member who was invited to lunch.  The story has been written in the protagonist’s voice.

‘“ I requested that the most senior women of the firm be gathered so we can talk about issues of concern to women,” he says. “I see some memos running around here that I don’t like and I thought a good place to start would be by discussing the glass ceiling.” I blush and then hate that I’m blushing.

“ However,” he continues,” since you’re all sitting here, it’s obvious there is no glass ceiling at Feagin or you’d all be taking steno downstairs.” He guffaws at his own humor and I scan the room thinking someone here must be too young to even know what steno is, but no, I at almost thirty-seven am close to the youngest.  “ So let me now throw the podium your way and let anyone discuss anything she’d like.”

          An uncomfortable pause follows, which he uses to pick up his cigar and inhale the contents deeply. His fingers roll it around with absentminded affection while we wait.

         “ I’d like to say,” pipes up the woman from corporate communications, “ that Feagin has been such a wonderful experience for me and I’d like to tell other women how great it is here.”

         I take a hard look at this woman, whose job includes spinning everything and who doesn’t work for a profit center of the bank. Her sprawling Upper East Side apartment is dependent on smooth relations everywhere and she will be of no help to me today and I start to wonder if she’s been invited here for that very reason.

      “ And the meritocracy here, “ boasts a British banker.  “ I’d have never gotten this far had I stayed at my other bank.”

        I can’t believe this . I’ve dropped into the bleachers of a pep rally.’

 So Belle decided to speak up and when she tried to explain why it’s so difficult to attract female college recruits, she found herself all alone as none of these senior women supported her.

She told Gruss that many women trainees “ don’t  even make it through the two years. They feel abused here. They don’t see any women on the executive board so they don’t see much future here for themselves.” 

       ‘“Nonsense.” Gruss looks up from the cigar. With that single dismissive word he gets up and uses a phone on the sideboard to connect with someone presumably more interesting than us.’

When Belle tried to elaborate, Gruss shot her down and guffawed,

“ Let the quitters go home”

When  Kathryn, another senior woman suggested that they should only entertain clients in ways suitable to a professional business and Belle proposed that reimbursing expense accounts for entertaining at strip clubs ought not to be  allowed, Gruss dismissed and retorted that ‘ if women are that sensitive, they’ll never cut it in the business and don’t belong here.” 

Gruss left the room without touching his lunch as he concluded that he had not heard anything that sounded remotely like a moral or ethical issue and he told the senior women that they had to get along with the male partner sitting next to them and be the most productive they could be.

My male partners and I do not share the same dynamics, I am not certain if it is because they are simply more result oriented and thus they do what it takes to get things going and pay less attention to the nitty gritty of the process while I care much about maintaining a certain decorum and dislike it when certain aspects of running the business are compromised. I remember decades ago, one senior lawyer uttered, “ Female lawyers are only good for  crying in court.” That is so wholly untrue.

Restaurant Story, London

Opening Belle written by Maureen Sherry  click is set around 2007 and it gives an acute insight of  the corporate jungle on Wall Street and  how someone who earns a million dollars navigates her work life and home life. Can you have it all? The answer is  something’s gotta give or perhaps more appropriately something has got to trade.

I read the novel in 2016 and I understand that Reese Witherspoon’s production company has optioned the book and is developing the film adaptation for Opening Belle.

The name Belle reminds me of the spirited headstrong village girl, a fictitious  character in the Walt Disney animated feature film  Beauty and the Beast. Could it be the reason that the author has named the character Belle? 

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