fall accessories street style

What Are You Good At, Redux + Fall Accessories.

This morning, I want you to think of a woman you admire. What do you consider her greatest strength?

Now think of a man you admire. What do you consider his greatest strength?

I’m asking this pair of questions to explore a hypothesis that took shape late one night while re-visiting your responses to my prompt “What are you secretly good at?” I want to be careful about how I write this next observation so as not to diminish or undermine the legitimate achievements and talents shared, but I couldn’t help but note that most of us (myself included) offered up socio-emotional strengths like listening, caring for others, resolving conflicts, and gift-giving. The density of responses in this category struck me. A fleet of possible explanations skittered through my mind, the first being that the phenomenon did not surprise me because so many of the Magpies in this community have proven themselves to be unbelievably empathetic women of substance over the course of writing this blog. But it also occurred to me that the majority of our strengths fall in line with the gender norm of women as nurturers. Do we feel more comfortable tooting our own horns if those skills are traditionally associated with our gender? Are we uncomfortable with or blind to some of our more technical and professional strengths? Do we shrink ourselves (to borrow language from a recent interview with a Magpie Woman of Substance) in certain areas so as not to appear strident or unbecoming?

I asked the two questions at the outset of this post because it occurred to me that maybe it is easier to flaunt the technical/professional talents of other women instead of ourselves — and maybe it is easier to identify and applaud those types of strengths in men, full-stop. I was probably too inside my own head and my own thinking on this subject to yield a hyper-accurate result, but I drew up a list of men and women I admired and I have to say that I was surprised to find many of the same strengths appeared in both columns. For example, both my father and RBG had “civil but steely determination” and “astounding intellect” listed among their chief strengths. And I found it easy to list out the technical skills of the women on my list, though perhaps that was because I found myself principally listing female authors who I know through the gift of their artwork. (Mindy Kaling: “ebullient, multivalent creativity that mixes high and low, convention with originality, etc”.) My mom was a notable exception: “purity of heart and intention” and “willingness to give others the benefit of the doubt” were at the top of her long litany of saint-like strengths.

At any rate, I’m not sure my “test” proved or disproved anything, but it has certainly seeded interesting food for thought. For example, how often do I celebrate physical skills in my daughter? Do I do it more or less than I might with my son? More generally, how often do I take the time to let a friend know when she is good at something?

What did you think of this prompt? Any insights from this foggy chain of musings?

(And, if you are willing to share, what is something outside of the socio-emotional category that you are secretly good at?)

Post-Scripts: Fall/Winter Accessories.

We’ve covered chic handbags, footwear, and statement outerwear for fall/winter 2020, but what about the little accessories that take an outfit to the next level? Below, my favorite accessories for the season…























P.S. On the saying of wedding vows in the face of COVID-19.

P.P.S. Everyday makeup and skincare.

P.P.P.S. On the awkwardness and tenderness of being a young teen.


  1. Love this prompt Jen… really has me thinking!

    Outside of emotional/socio:

    I have incredible memory for details. I can easily remember your birthday and anniversary, your mother’s maiden name, your favorite flower. I will stow away those details with ease.

    I also have a deep passion and desire to help and provide knowledge and can write a dissertation on the minutia of things (motherhood and breastfeeding are chief passions)

    It’s satisfying to acknowledge these things as strengths!

    1. I love both of these, Brooke! Huge strengths. I bet you were a good student then — strong memorization skills especially helped in high school history!


  2. Jen,

    As always: . Loved this prompt. I thought of Dolly Parton and an old U.S. Army colonel I used to work for in Hawaii. I immediately identified both their strengths as empathy and was startled by this (probably due to my own gender bias as MK mentioned). This led me down a road of thinking about the other important men in my life–my dad, my husband–and I truly value their socio-emotional skills most. Perhaps because their technical skills effect me less? Like, I can just hire a consultant, a strength coach, a strategist, etc.? But the way they interact with me and the world is just so…kind.

    I would love to hear more of your thoughts about how you navigate gender norms as a mother to both a girl and a boy.

    P.S. I know I say this all the time, but I hope you count your extraordinary vocabulary as a skill! ‘Multivalent’, ‘ebullient’…you give Moira Rose a run for her money!

    1. So interesting, Veronica, on the traits you admire most in the men in your life. (Your observation also reminded me of something Shannon said earlier, which is that we must also account for our perspective/relationship to these people. A lot easier to recognize the socio-emotional strengths of the people closer in versus the people we only know/can guess about on TV or in writing or what have you. So obvious to me now but it’s a point worth making that I hadn’t considered before — the technical skills become a lot easier to discern when you are a few steps out, regardless of gender!)

      With regards to children and gender norms — really good line of inquiry and I feel like a lot of Magpie Moms will have great thoughts and advice on this. I am for sure a novice in my thinking but I do aim to be aware and to at least think about the ways in which what I’m picking (i.e., colors of items, toys, motifs, etc) or what I’m saying might be inflected by gender. That’s not to say I don’t love to put my daughter in bows and pink — I do, and I will. But I also have found myself very careful to encourage her to explore interests in nature, sports, STEM, etc. She loves bugs, space, and, at the moment, Spiderman. Mr. Magpie and I have always accepted (and often scaffolded) these interests without much fanfare, and without comments like “that’s for boys” or anything along those lines. This is also a really small gesture, but we have frequently purchased bigger ticket items and household items in red, ivory, green, blue — things like bikes, high chairs, scooters, etc. This wasn’t so much with the plan of passing down to her younger brother (though this has been a definite perk) but because of a loose consensus to have some things just feel un-gendered? I can’t quite put it into words but there is something emboldening about a girl on a red scooter. A lot more to think about here! I’m hoping others will chime in.

      And thank you, as always, for the terrific compliment!!! So flattered 🙂


  3. This really IS so thought-provoking. While my original response to your September post was a bit tongue-in-cheek (swimming?!), I did read through the other comments and noticed the social-emotional bent to many of the responses. It’s funny — I would say that I actually make closer note of and would be quicker to praise these “feminine” traits in MEN, actually, which plays into traditional gender norms in that it’s sometimes more notable or outlier-like when, for example, men exude warmth or have heightened caretaking abilities. When I think of my partner and the qualities I admire most in him, it’s his empathy and willingness to give people the benefit of the doubt (which came to mind after your comment about your mother!) Anyway — lots to chew on here, and I thank you for helping me to think about it on this Thursday morning 🙂

    So funny about those chain link necklaces — I was cleaning out my main jewelry box this past weekend and set aside some costumey items that I never wear, with the intention of sending them to my niece. However — I have a gold-tone chunky chain link necklace in that pile and think I should perhaps hold onto it and wear it this season!!

    Also, I’m with you on ball caps for the weekend. I usually end up in an old blue Outdoor Voices one, but would love a chicer option!


    1. Hi MK – That is such an interesting observation about being quicker to praise certain traits in certain genders. It reminds me of a conversation we had here on the blog a few years ago about what trait we find most unattractive in a member of the opposite sex. It had been borne of a dinner table conversation at home, and I had said “over-confidence” and Mr. Magpie had said “lack of confidence.” SO interesting!!

      Definitely keep that necklace!


    2. Wow, how funny about your dinner table conversation! I am fully with you on detesting overconfidence in men, esp. when it’s not warranted. Haha!


    3. MK, I find that interesting too — taking note of those socio-emotional traits in men, particularly because I grew up among strong male figures (in addition to my dad, my 3 older brothers and grandfather) and I so appreciate their sensitivity to other people’s needs. This is what attracted me to my husband too! He’s the kind of person who would run after someone who dropped a glove on the street or something. I do think that his “people skills” has contributed to his career and his leadership/management abilities, in addition to his technical skills. I remember having a lot of these discussions at work too since one of my tasks was recruiting potential scholars – it’s so much more than just technical and academic ability, but a specific set of dispositions (for working with others) required in my field.

      Oh, and I don’t think swimming was a tongue-in-cheek response at all! It’s one of mine too. It’s a life skill! I grew up surrounded by water; there was just no other choice but to learn it from a young age, and I’m so glad I feel fairly confident in the water.

    4. Thank you, Mia! It’s so true — I agree that it’s important to be confident in/around water and I don’t want to devalue that trait in myself.

      P.S. A big THANK YOU for the Olio Nuovo rec — we love olive oil around these parts and I’m eager to give it as a gift to my partner this Christmas! I appreciated reading what you had to say about it 🙂

  4. I am very physically strong. I started lifting weights with my dad in the basement 3 times a week when I was in eighth grade. Not dumbbells, bar bells. This was my parents’ plan to send me to college as they didn’t have the savings. It worked! Haha. I got a full athletic scholarship to Bucknell for basketball. To this day, my strength certainly helps me. Moving heavy objects, etc. 🙂 [And my knowledge of how to pick things up without hurting myself!] I will say, now that I have a baby, I am physically strong in new ways. My wrists and forearms are ridiculously strong from all the baby holding. 🙂

    1. YES, Joyce. My friends and I refer to this as “mom strength.” Like, how is it possible that I am 5’0 and 100 lbs and have been known to carry two children and an enormous diaper bag up sets of subway stairs by myself with a stroller over my shoulder?! I am proud of myself! #MOMSTRENGTH I swear it’s like the strength people get in those moments where they move cars and stuff like that. Haha 🙂

      But also I am sure you are actually just a very strong person. Barbells in eighth grade?! WOW.


    2. That must feel so empowering, Joyce! That kind of strength is so inspiring — and definitely functional too, as you have described.

      And my goodness Jen, that just be at least 60% of your body weight right there! WOW!

  5. These are interesting queries. I would counter by asking, “Are socioemotional strengths less important than technical strengths?” I think this is a dangerous assumption that has led to the devaluing of nurturing vocations (such as mothering) in our society and ultimately is a disservice to women. I don’t mean to sound argumentative, just I bristle at the suggestion that it’s an issue for women to tout strengths in nurturing areas.
    Also, I think it relates to a perspective issue . We know our own inner workings and emotional states much more than those of others, so it’s natural to point out these strengths in ourselves. We can only observe others (e.g., RBG and authors as you mention) and their career-work, but they are of course whole persons with an array of strengths, some of which likely fall in the socioemotional category. (You were likely able to list different qualities in your mother because you know her so intimately!)
    Anyway, I’m interested to read the reactions of others. Thanks for starting the conversation!

    1. That’s a great point, Shannon! I read the prompts a bit differently but I love that you have a different point of view – makes for great conversation. My take was that, because we ARE emphatic, nurturing, etc. society has “devalued” (for lack of a better word) our technical skills. I relate it to little girls being assigned the color pink, princess pajamas and dolls as their toys while their brother gets cool dinosaur or space pajamas and to play with bulldozer toys. Our, generalizing here, first responses were socioemotional because that’s how we were conditioned whereas if you were to ask a male the same thing, I feel that I could guarantee they wouldn’t come back with “I’m a great listener” but would instead offer “I’m an excellent negotiator. I can run a mile in 5 minutes. I’m good at fixing cars.” Again, stereotyping/generalizing here, but it get’s the point across.

    2. This is an interesting point, Shannon. It’s so important to have both sets of skills, neither better or more important than the other.

    3. This is such a great comment Shannon – I think we tend to gravitate to touting our socioemotional strengths because we see them as more important than our technical skills, in part because of gendered conditioning, but also because – at least for me – the relationships in my life are infinitely more important than my career. The skills that allow me to be a great partner, friend, and daughter seem so much more impactful.
      I’m a great public speaker, writer, and I can turn a vast data set into a story that will compel an executive to upend their marketing strategy. And that’s great because it gives me a stimulating way to spend my work days, pays the bills, allows me to live a life where I can focus my time and attention and energy on the people in my life I care about. Those relationships are where I get to shine in being a great empathetic listener, why I’m a go-to when friends need advice, or if you need a party organized I’m your girl because I love to bring people together.
      I’ve never been the type to have a dream job I had to do – not like friends who knew they would be doctors when they were 5. So maybe that’s why I feel this way, because for me the technical stuff just enables the stuff that feeds my soul.

    4. @Claire — Loved this set of musings and it reminded me also of how this conversation about whether or not we gender our strengths is going to be free-wheeling and personal because we all have such different upbringings, professional pathways, and personal relationships. Just another reminder of the non-binary nature of…nearly everything. I was struck, for example, by the way you tied this into your professional life: “I’ve never been the type to have a dream job I had to do – not like friends who knew they would be doctors when they were 5. So maybe that’s why I feel this way, because for me the technical stuff just enables the stuff that feeds my soul.” So self-aware and introspective! I loved this insight. I wonder if, say, the doctors or nurses or scientists who are reading this feel differently about this prompt for that reason.


    5. So interesting, Shannon, all of this! I appreciated your questioning of a seeming hierarchy in strengths, with stereotypically male ones being at the top and stereotypically female ones being at the bottom, and can see how my provocation might have suggested this (“c’mon, ladies, don’t you have anything else???”) My intent was to come at the gender issue from a different angle, i.e., do women feel as though they cannot or should not “shine” in certain areas? If so, can we move beyond that or at least think critically about that? But I also found your comment here reassuring in the sense that: “OK, so maybe I don’t need to go back and plumb my own experience for some more technically savvy areas of strength. Maybe this is just me, as I am.”

      Great food for thought, as always. Thanks for contributing here.


    6. You bring up a good point, Shannon, about the devaluing of nurturing as a skill and vocation — I think this is so well-illustrated in the income disparity of, for example, a school teacher with a Master’s degree and years of experience earning significantly less than an engineer fresh out of college. And it gets worse when you consider the income of child care staff and caregivers of the elderly.

      A thought-provoking post, as usual, Jen!

    7. I should clarify what I wrote about the “devaluing of nurturing as a skill and vocation” — I was referring to society/culture in general, not Jen specifically!

    8. @Mia – I got you! But thanks for your care, as always, with words. You are both tugging at a really interesting theme here that deserves more thought on my end. Thank you!

    9. So many interesting thoughts! Thank you all for sharing and engaging!

      Jen, I did not intend for my original post to be so pointed! It came from my own frustration with the societal devaluing of these traits and roles (and was not meant as a critique of your musings).

      JC and Amy, thanks for your thoughts. I totally see your points, and I’m so impressed by each of your house-flipping prowess.

      Claire, thank you for this comment; I find myself nodding in agreement. I have excellent skills in the realm of executive function, but I value them most as serving my relational roles.

      Mia, yes! My oldest daughter just started school this year (at a private, Catholic school, where salaries are very low), and the work she is doing is amazing.

      Thanks again, Jen for such a thoughtful post and community.

    10. @Shannon x 2 — No, I loved the provocation! Thank you so much for sharing it. It made me think a lot — honestly, had me flip my thinking on its head in a productive way.

      Such great conversation here, and it’s extended into multiple offshoot conversations IRL with family members!


  6. I often lean towards those more emotional traits, and I’ve assumed it’s because I work in a “helping” role. At the same time, I know my strategic and critical thinking skills are just as vital. I am often involved in crisis response in my work, and I am at my best when making decisions in those situations. It’s important to see the whole board, and not just the things that are most comfortable to share, such as empathy and compassion.

    1. Yes, agree – sometimes it takes a prompt to sit and think about the full gamut of your own strengths. I know many other women have said iterations of the same thing in the comments here, but in an ideal world, we would recognize and celebrate all kinds of talents, without any appearing more important or less important than others. So hard to get to that clarity point, though, because (as evidenced by this post and all the comments here) there are so many social inflections. Anyway, thanks for jumping in here and sharing your (laudable) talents. It sounds like you are a fantastic asset to your organization!! xx

  7. Hmm…at first read I dismissed this idea assuming it must be because most readers find your blog because they are mothers or caregivers like myself. But after sitting with it for a few minutes longer, I do think I AM able to easily point out technical/professional skills of men and even other women more than myself. So I’d like to revise my original comment: While yes, I do like to believe I am a good mother, I believe it’s impart because I have an astute attention to detail that has served me well in professional settings. I don’t often discuss that although my husband is believed to be the primary breadwinner and “own” the professional side of our partnership, it is actually me alone who has renovated four homes (building one from the ground up) and sold them for profit over the last decade. Thank you for this thought-provoking post to start the day.

    1. Amy, this is such a great comment that definitely resonated with me. The perception of my husband is very similar, but it’s me doing all of the physical work to renovate and update our home. I’ve learned how to install and mud drywall, changed out the plumbing on toilets, built furniture, hung siding, climbed on the roof for repairs, and and and, but it’s generally he who gets first credit. In his defense, he never actually takes credit – he (very proudly) informs the person that I did xyz, not him. I wish my comment on the original post was more along the lines of this “I’m really good at home renovation. If I don’t know how to do something, such as drywall, I learn and proceed to install it very well.”

    2. @JC — Love this addition (not edit!) to your previous talent. You can have multiple/many! Glad you trotted this one out here today though — drywall, plumbing, and siding?! I’m literally blinking in disbelief and wonderment. You are a badass! xx

    3. That’s incredible, JC! I act as the general contractor and have created some great working relationships with subs over the years (even though they aren’t used to dealing with a woman). People just assume it’s my husband who handles the financials and design and day-to-day stuff and that he is 100% supporting our household financially. I have done my fair share of painting and picture hanging but but to do all the work yourself, WOW! You should be very proud of that!

    4. @Amy — So interesting and I love all of this introspection. (Thank you for your vulnerability in sharing.) I don’t think you need to revise your earlier comment at all, though — you are a great mom, full-stop. But I like that you’ve added on your strength in attending to detail. And WOW to renovating and selling four homes! Get it! xx

  8. I noticed the exact same thing. I think it had to do with reinforcement- we are praised/rewarded for upholding gender norms starting from birth. Which is so disappointing! Here’s my entry to your response: I am an excellent driver and navigator/map reader.

    1. Love these hidden talents and agree with you on the praise/reward. One gray area for me as a parent that I am aware of is that I tend to notice Hill’s physical adventurousness much more than I did/do Emory’s. I can’t tell if I’m just more likely to notice it with him or that he is in fact for more ambitious in climbing, throwing, etc than my daughter. It can make me triple-think myself…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.