Memo To Hillary Clinton: What Not To Do Tuesday Night

I read a wonderful book on habits recently by one of my favorite self help authors, Gretchen Rubin.  Better Than Before is a book that offers insights to making better choices and developing better habits that help us maximize our lives.  It has me thinking a bit in the opposite direction, though, about things not to do, or, what for a lack of a better term, I’m calling “unhabits.”  One of my favorites is not to speak negatively about anything. I think that it serves no purpose and is a downer. For example, I recently met a woman who is already upset because winter will come.  She said, “I hate winter and now it is fall which means that winter will be next.” Hmmm, unless she relocates quickly, seems to me that she’s doomed. I mean, you can’t stop the winter, so try not to be so negative, OK?  It is too depressing.  I’ve also been thinking a lot about the debate coming up on Tuesday night and about how good a debater Hillary Clinton has been most of her life.  A story in today’s NY Times sums up Hillary’s history of outstanding debating.  I’m sure she is in overdrive right now prepping.  If I were advising her, I’d give her one big piece of advice, a “not-to-do” or an unhabit, if you will.  Here it is:  Don’t play the gender card–even a little.  Because in 2008 it really backfired.  Even though, my analysis of her debates reveals that she won them.  All of them.  She was more knowledgeable about issues, and quicker on her feet.

Presidential debates are important.  There was a time when presidential debates, lasted a few days in the news cycle, however the Internet has made debate performances live on in the collective minds and hearts of voters long after the initial airing.  

Even in the days of a short press cycle and limited video replay, some of the best debate performances in history have shaped presidential politics: the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960; the first Kerry-Bush debate in 2004, where John Kerry went from being way down in the polls to a few points ahead;  the Clinton town-hall debate in 1992, where Bill Clinton connected with voters and the patrician George H.W. Bush checked his watch;  the vice presidential debate of 1988 when Bentsen obliterated Dan Quayle with is “I knew Jack Kennedy, and you’re no Jack Kennedy” zinger, and the 1996 presidential debate where Al Gore bested Jack Kemp with his undeniable wonkiness, to name just a few.

With the first Democratic primary debate next Tuesday, from Las Vegas, there is much speculation on how Hillary Clinton will make the seemingly never-ending email story recede and her vision for America clear. How will she hold on to and expand her lead, showcase her strengths and counter the populist outsider, Bernie Sanders? Her strong performance at more than twenty Democratic presidential debates in 2008 offers a clue, but one thing she must not do is discuss her gender.  Once again she will be the only woman on the debate stage, and whether  or not there is a sense that her male opponents are attacking her, she needs to stay away from calling attention to her pioneering status as the first viable, non-symbolic front running woman candidate for president of the United States.

Hillary Clinton performed well in the debates in 2008 and she rarely stumbled. In her debate in Philadelphia, however, the sense that her male opponents were “piling on” made Republicans accuse her of playing the gender card, something that women candidates simply cannot do successfully.  Afterwards, during a speech at Wellesley, she noted that  “this all-women’s college prepared me to compete in the all-boys’ club of presidential politics” further underscoring her trailblazing status, prompting opponents to complain that she was “using” her gender.  Later she clarified that “I don’t think they’re picking on me because a woman, I think they are picking on me because I’m winning.”

Shirley Chisholm walked away from her 1972 bid for the presidency predicting that we would have a black president before we have a woman president because “people are more sexist than racist.”

My co-authors, Ted Sheckels, Diana Carlin and I observed that women running for office are wise to show restraint when describing their history-making bid because gender rhetoric does not play as well.  Obama’s much lauded speech in March, 2008 at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia is widely seen as an important, even groundbreaking speech in American history because it confronted the country’s racial divide.  A speech on gender divide would not receive the same positive attention, perhaps because a women’s gendered struggle resonates with only a part of their audience.  The second wave feminism no longer has the same appeal it did.  So women candidates have to find a way to talk about gender issues to women beyond a certain age while acting fully empowered and talking about what they will do as president to women of a younger age.  To address two different audiences of women, while also addressing men, requires rhetorical restraint and finesse


We Can Make America Great Again by Insisting on Substantive, Dignified Rhetoric

The Reagan Library, the scene of tonight’s Republican debate, is one of my favorite Spring Break memories.  A few years back I had the supreme pleasure of traveling to picturesque Simi Valley, California to the Reagan Library archives to conduct research on Corazon Aquino.  My hope is that the majesty of the place with elevate the rhetoric, but if press leading up to the debate tonight is any indication, we are sadly in an age of uncivil discourse.

Now I’ll play the role of consultant for Carly Fiorina’s campaign:


Republican candidate Carly Fiorini

Because of the paucity of women at the presidential level of politics, the commentators on cable TV are already warning of the “unique nature” of having one woman among the sea of men tonight.  Male candidates are routinely advised not to attack women candidates, lest they appear bullying.  Admittedly, politics is a tough sport.  But Donald Trump, who admits he does not prepare for debates or any other public forum not only ignores that advice,  has dragged the sport to the lowest, ugliest level with his brutish observations of women. “Look at that face!  Would anybody vote for that?” he asked of his rival, Republican candidate   aclkCarly Fiorina. If I were Fiorina I would ask him for a public apology and ask him why he would put her down for her appearance in public so that he has to justify his comments on national television.  If she does that, it seems to me that the only next step for Donald Trump would be to drop out of the race and acknowledge that instead of discussing Ms. Fiorina’s appearance he should  apologize to her and the country for bringing the attention of national politics to such low, undignified and childish depths.  I’m sure that struggling families or students who can’t afford to go to college, or people who can’t afford health care don’t care about the appearance of any of our candidates.  I know I don’t.

Ms. Fiorina: call him on it.  Make him apologize nationally.  Urge him to drop out so that the election could proceed with the same sweeping beauty and beautiful grand dreams that are evoked by the setting of the breathtaking Reagan Library.  Then take that ballcap that has the slogan “Make America Great Again” Ms. Fiorina, and put it on your head.  By elevating the rhetoric of the election and calling for Mr. Trump to drop out, you will have done, just that.


The Apple Watch? The Fitness Assistant of My Shark Tank-Type Dreams? I’m Out

Imagine my surprise and delight after complimenting a tech colleague on her Apple Watch when she offered me a chance to try one!  I was very excited about it, especially since I used to imagine how all my weight and fitness goals could be met if I had a bracelet that would beep when I ate my allotted calories for the day and burned them off through exercise (and this was five years ago–before the Fitbit–darn it!).  I heard that *the reason* to love the Apple Watch was for its fitness components,  so for the past month I’ve been wearing the Apple Watch off and on and, so far, I don’t find it to be everything I had hoped:

Here’s why:

Since you have to have the I phone with you to keep your Apple Watch working, it is just. another. thing. to. charge.  I like efficiency!

It would not BE inefficient IF the watch lived up to my expectations.  So far it just makes me look a little show-offy. (that’s an official term) Talk to the watch, people.

My iphone app “Moves” counts my steps and MyFItnessPal helps me with calorie intake.  They are fine and handy.

Even though Apple products are known for their gorgeous designs, to me, the Apple watch  is NOT stylish (at least it isn’t *my* style).  The band is big, plastic, bright white and makes my wrist sweat.  And even though I tried to glam it up with some bracelets (see photo), I think it is kind of big and bulky and not that fashion-forward.

So, I’m going to use it through the fall semester, get a bit more training on the fitness apps it has and see if I change my mind.

My daughter, a devout runner, likes hers for the running and other fitness tracking, so I think there is a good support base for this, I’m just not in it since I don’t need the sleekness of it for my fitness calculations.  I can put my phone in my pocket or even my purse and it counts my steps.  But I’m going to let her show me a few of her Apple Watch favorite features to see if I will write a new blog in a few months saying that I can’t live without this watch.

If it would  beep when I’m done with my calorie intake (and save me from myself)……it would have my attention. Although I bet there will be an app for that for my iphone, and some studies are showing that people are eating to their quantification (not good).img_4367Now my  Mac Book Pro 13″ laptop with retinol display you could not prey from my cold dead hands…..but that’s a blog for another day.


Look and Be Good

This recent NY Times article that describes how young women in New York are dressing for themselves, and not the male gaze, was of interest to me and drew considerable backlash from readers who wrote that just because a woman dresses femininely does not mean 1) she is not a feminist and 2) that she is inviting the male gaze.  Right.  We knew that, didn’t we? And the irrepressible Jennifer Weiner wrote about the pressure to look good in an article that underscores what many women feel is a cultural imperative to keep up appearances.  

A couple of weeks ago, a recent honors college alumna, who has started her career in New York City, wrote to ask for dress for success tips because, as as she wrote in her email, “You always look ready for the day.” That made me smile.  Her inquiry also made me reflect on the many confusing messages that women, particularly our young women just starting out in the world, receive regarding looking good.  These messages range from presenting themselves in hyper-sexualized ways (the Kardashian effect) to paying no regard whatsoever to how they look, lest they seem “frivolous” or actually covering up (wearing winter clothes in summer – see the first article).  

How about some middle ground — looking appropriate and comfortable all while staying within the dress code of wherever you are and within your own personal style comfort zone?  There is nothing vain about wanting to look your absolute best. Wash your face, style your hair off your face, and find a look that makes you feel comfortable and the way you want to look. Most of us want to dress professionally and maybe a tad stylishly, too without spending all day and night on it.  Over the years, as I taught introduction to communication, I tried to impart to my students that a neat and clean look and the tendency to dress up a bit will almost always serve them well.  But John Molloy’s 1980s “Dress for Success” advice is quite a bit dated now.  The padded shoulders and men-style suit dressing are not required for women in the workplace anymore.  So here’s my advice for young women joining the workforce and thinking about their look:

1.  Wear clothes that you like and feel comfortable wearing that are within any kind of company dress code

2. Avoid anything sexy

3.  Almost anything can be made work appropriate if you add a jacket so buy at least three well-fitted all season jackets to start:  black, beige or grey and a bright color (maybe red or whatever looks good on you).  Since I work for Penn State, am a proud Penn Stater and I love blue, I have a few great navy jackets and I wear them a lot!

4. Solid color dresses/skirts/pants are great  Simple recipe:

     —(A simple dress, with a simple jacket plus a scarf and voila — you look darn good!)

5.  Black pants are a must 

6. Have one full skirted (or pant — whichever you prefer) suit in navy or black that looks good on you

— buy a couple of solid color modestly cut “shells” to go underneath — white and beige will go far

7. Scarves   –they are inexpensive and add a lot to your outfits –  buy them in every color/print/style

8.  Buy a nice trench coat


9. Too-thin knit wear (unless it is a blouse under a jacket)

10. Short skirts (save them for the tennis court) or a night out

11. Open toe shoes — peep toe is OK but sandals just don’t look professional in the office, especially when you are just starting out, no flip flops and keep the heel height of shoes under 3″.

12.  Looking sexy — cover up — I know!  I’m going to say it again!

13. Hair in your eyes

14. Too much make up, especially as you get older — less is more!  Lipstick and mascara are probably enough for work

And none of this “dress for success” matters if you don’t know your job well or you are unprepared.  So study, be sharp, get as many credentials as you can (research shows women need more than men just to break even) and be prepared and do the absolute best job you can for your organization.  Knowing you did your best is the greatest reward and will always make you “look good” to the person who matters the most:  yourself.


What’s Next? Nothing Like A New Year To Start Thinkin’ About Tomorrow!

We have received a number of beautiful “year in review” letters in holiday cards this year (you know who you are) and I always tell myself when I read these that I’m going to write one and put it in cards next year but I never do! I enjoy reading these letters so much that I thought I’d write a year-end post holiday card “year in review” blog.  Here it is:

It has been a year full of many great moments and at the top of the list is our son Ian’s graduation from Oberlin College with high honors in history.  Emily, Geoff, and I and Ian’s cherished grandparents–90 year old Manny and his faithful and loving wife of 50 plus years Annette–all made the trip to Oberlin, Ohio to experience the joy of all of his hard work and determination.  It was truly a moment.  Ian bravely accepted a teaching position at an inner-city school in Detroit and is discerning the priesthood, graduate school and what path he will take.

Emily Ann continues to thrive at Penn State.  She is perfectly suited to her communications major and she has blossomed as a Lion Scout, tour guide, Lion Lines representative and Kappa-Delta Associate VP.  Her exuberance is infectious.  She leaps out of bed in the morning to run her 4 miles every day and always has a smile on her face. One of the many benefits of being in State College is that she is here!  We see her more often that we would have if we were still in the Lehigh Valley, and that has made her transition (or should I say our transition of her in college) easier and certainly more enjoyable.  We often meet for Sunday brunch at the Nittany Lion Inn and sometimes she makes the big four mile trip home to sleep in her own bed on the weekends.

Thanks to my good friend and yogi Lisa Hogan, I took up yoga and a more dedicated exercise routine this year.  It took a hard fall down steps and a bout of Lyme disease for me to realize that taking better care of myself through exercise is a smart move.  Now I’m more active and feel 100% better.  Having a big birthday this year also motivated me to move it.  My wonderful sisters Teri and Julie helped me celebrate with a wonderful lunch at–my favorite–you guessed it–The Nittany Lion Inn!

I traveled a lot this year — several trips around the US and India, Ireland, and Canada.  They were incredible experiences and I took away some important lessons from them.  I’ll remember always the heat, the busy streets with rickshaws, the exotic and delicious food in India!  Can’t forget the friendly people, the many pubs (everything seems to spill into a pub) and Book of Kels in Ireland and our family time (which included two trips to hospitals because of my fall–not fun at all) at Niagara Falls.   Geoff and I also had a blast discovering the strip district in Pittsburgh and enjoyed the ethnic foods there.  What a great place to go if you are hungry!

We continue to meet great people every day in State College.  I LOVE entertaining and we hosted several dinners and parties.  That’s the most fun for me!  I love cooking and having people over.  I’ve enjoyed reaching out into the community by lectoring at the Catholic services at Pasquerilla Spiritual Center and planning to start a women’s clothing resource at the Women’s Resource Center.  And I’m really proud of my work at the Schreyer Honors College. Meeting the Schreyers and seeing (and living on a daily basis) their commitment to Penn State has been an honor. At a public meeting I heard the words “If Nikki had only done one of these things, her work here would be considered a great success, but she accomplished both.”  Seasoned administrators have told me that my approach — a full assessment of programming–my work ethic and collaborative nature are administrative assets.  It feels good to bring together a group of people and to achieve a goal.  I can identify strengths that are serving Penn State and that feels fantastic.  Penn State has done so much for me and I want to continue to serve Penn State at my highest and best level. The beauty is that this is such a comprehensive university, it is easy to find increasing ways to be challenged, grow and serve.  I put a high premium on loving my work, and I’ve always been able to do that at Penn State.  What a blessing this has been, due in part to a wonderful mentor years ago who encouraged me to stay with Penn State.  It will be TWENTY years in June!  What a great ride!

My trim, fit and ever younger looking husband Geoff of 27 years (where did they go) has lovingly supported me and always says: “what do you want to do?” when I come up with my next. big. plan.  I can always count on him for outstanding coffee, always being here, and usually coming around to my way of seeing things.

Speaking of passion and loving, my long time dream of publishing a children’s book became a reality!  We are getting very good buzz and response from Madam President:  Five Women Who Paved the Way and I could have never done it without Jane Ramsey, a gifted illustrator and friend, Schreyer Scholar Abby Kennedy and Penny Eifrig, our publisher who believed in the project.    Here’s a link to the book!!   We have lots of talks and signings lined up and more to come!

SO what’s next?  I’ve got lots of “to-dos” on my personal and professional list!

Oh, and I’m keeping those twenty plus pounds OFF that I lost almost four years ago, I’m learning French, and I’m plotting my summer travel plans!!  Life is beautiful, I’m so grateful for mine and to have you in it.  Thanks for reading!

Happy, Healthy New Year, everyone!  Here  comes 2015!  Wow!imgres


Chop Some Broccoli, Have A Revelation

Loss. Love. Beginnings. Daring. Living. It has been a wonderful year of growth for the Gutgold family! It was hard to just pick up and leave what we had in the Lehigh Valley; wonderful neighbors, family and good friends, work I loved (never did call it work), a volunteer community we enjoyed and a church where our children received their sacraments. (It took a whole year to make the move to this house and technically we still own some houses there — but probably not for long). Our son Ian is off in another state beginning his career, and we are so proud of him, though we miss him. And, lucky (at least for us) Emily is right here in State College, a sophomore at dear old State. But it won’t be long before she sets off for her own life. The way it should be.

Recently I fell down steps and got Lyme disease, but I’m fine!  I’m almost 100% back to putting weight on my right foot and I am on an antibiotic for the Lyme.  I think falling down the steps was a blessing because it made me look at the black and blue mark on my hip, which made me realize it was more of a tick bite than a black and blue mark.  The 103.4 fever clued me in, too.  After I started to heal, my good friend and fabulous yogi Lisa Hogan introduced me to yoga and though I’m definitely in the VERY beginner stage (I’m not that flexible), I am learning to breathe, relax and enjoy and respect that my body needs a rest sometimes.  That was an awesome lesson!  Thanks falling down the steps!

Over the past four months Geoff and I have settled into our cozy and comfortable new home in State College and as anyone who has ever moved knows: it is not nothing (pardon my grammar).

There was the searching for a new home (they sell fast here), the packing (dread), the moving, the losing,
(I still don’t know where my winter boots are and Emily keeps asking about her treasured copy of the third Harry Potter book in her collection–we will find it, Em) and the unpacking. There are still six very large boxes that are unopened in the garage.  Funny what you can live without.

But this morning, as I chopped the broccoli in anticipation of dinner guests (I love to entertain and we’ve made wonderful friends here already), I could sense my mom in the air. (She’s been deceased since 1993, and did not see the last three of the homes we’ve lived in). I never sensed her in our house in Fogelsville, but I often felt her spirit in the large kitchen in the house where we mostly raised our kids in New Tripoli. She would love that house, and the property, where sunflowers grow very large.

The sense of her presence instantly made this house a home. Maybe we should play a little Joni Mitchell tonight? Something’s lost and something’s gained, from living every day.


The silverware holders from Mom. We are using them tonight!

Life is a miracle. I’m so grateful to be here.  I’m grateful to everyone in my life and even to those darn steps that I tumbled down.  Namaste.


Reading of the Crimes Against Women and Girls in India Made it That More Shocking

I recently returned from a week in Delhi, India as part of a tremendous five week academic travel experience with Schreyer Scholars.  It has been an incredible experience.  I was drawn to India for a number of reasons, including my research on gender.

One of its most celebrated structures, the Taj Mahal,  was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the remains of his cherished wife.  It took more than 20 years to build and is one of the most outstanding examples architecture, which combined Indian, Persian and Islamic influences. It remains one of the world’s most celebrated structures and a stunning symbol of India’s rich history.

Female gods are also a big part of Indian culture.

But, open any newspaper in Delhi,  or the New York Times, and the crimes against girls and women are hard to comprehend.  For weeks I had been forcing myself to read about the monstrosities and on my first morning there, I opened the Delhi Times and read about the rape of a seven year old girl as she walked home from a market.  Somehow reading it while in the country made it more real, and even more horrific, if that’s possible.  Indeed, we were warned not to leave the International Guest House without male accompaniment, and indeed the gated entrance and the personnel have repeatedly warned me to stay inside and wait for a male to come to pick us up to take us less than a mile to the Shim Ram College of Commerce for daily events.   By the end of the week, I just wanted to walk somewhere — alone!


While in India we visited the Centre for Social Research photo[6]where we learned about the grassroots programs to prevent violence against women.  The director explained that education and intervention are the key.  One of the ways women are marginalized is through staring.  Some men harass women by straight staring at them.   The clothing of Indian women range from saris to jeans and long sleeve cotton tops, even in the blaring heat that was all around us.  When the director of the Centre for Social Research spoke about the number of women in politics in India, it didn’t sound much different from what we have in the US, where, like India we are trying to reach a critical mass.  Though in India, there is a movement to have at least 33% women in government, we have no formalized movement in the US. There are 20% women in the US Senate, which is not a critical mass, but more  than the 11% of women in government in India.    The same gender hassles:  appearance over performance and the accusation of women being too emotional to lead–still haunt women in politics both in India and the US.

Will the increase of women in government in India find more forceful demand for the end of crimes against girls and women?   Who knows and only time will tell.


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