Monthly Archives: April 2008

A Story of Injustice (Mostly) And Justice (A Little)

I’m sure many women readily relate to Rebecca Solnit’s story of the haughty man talking down to the woman in my last post. A later paragraph in her article reminded me of a difficult time in my life about ten years ago.

Solnit wrote:

Most of my life, I would have doubted myself and backed down. Having public standing as a writer of history has helped me stand my ground, but few women get that boost, and billions of women are out there on this 6-billion-person planet being told that they are not reliable witnesses to their own lives, that the truth is not their property, now or ever.

Now I do not want to give the impression that I am a man-hating anger-filled woman (okay, some anger, but you’ll see why). I have a beautiful husband, I have male friends who are generous and good people. Certain men make me crazy but I don’t hate the male species. There have been periods in my life when I had more male friends than female.

That said, Solnit’s quote, above, reminded me of a time when I was told that I was not a reliable witness to my own life, and yes, that truth, as she so aptly put it, was not my property. One man in particular, and several others, wielded power over me and did their best to keep my story from being told, and later, from being believed.

For eight years, I worked as an analyst in a scientific field. I was adept at my job and, in fact, in a government agency overloaded with retirement-age men, was quicker to learn the latest computer-aided analysis methods. In truth, I was way better at the job than most of the men. (Plus, with my obsessive personality, I could analyze data to death). But they had seniority and I was merely a female contractor (the first woman to work there as an analyst and the only one at the time).

Toward the end of the eight years, one of my colleagues left to pursue a better-paying job. I approached the Chief of the operation about moving into the position that was opening, as it paid higher. Now the Chief, a relic well into his seventies, a veritable computer illiterate who, frankly, did not have the ability to assess the quality and nature of my work, said no. Simply said no. Without discussion. I couldn’t believe it. After eight years, he planned to bring in someone new (a male, no doubt) and train him to do the job for which I was already more than skilled. He not only said no but then—like the true alpha he was—he turned away from me. Not just no, but no you are not even worthy to be standing in my office asking me this question. So I went away, but then I screwed up my courage (it took a lot of um, twisting) and went back to ask him to reconsider, at least to give me an explanation. In his military man eyes, this was insubordination—who the hell was I to ask him for an explanation?—and certainly a shock after all those years of mousy obedience.

To make a long, long story short, the man proceeded to: First, decide to fire me for having the audacity to ask—not once, but twice—to move into a higher position and second, during a long drawn-out legal process, to lie about the work I did (laughable, since he didn’t understand it in the first place). One of his male colleagues, who had worked for him for many years, astounded me by lying or pretending not to remember details, like whether or not I had ever (yes ever in eight years) worked on a particular type of important project, which of course, I had worked on, many, many times and he darn well knew it. It was unbelievable (yes, I was naive). When I went to the Chief’s supervisor to discuss the situation, he attempted to perform certain acts with me (ahem). Does this sound like a very bad movie? It does to me, and it’s my life!

Thankfully, there were some honest men, mostly younger, who were willing to tell the truth and the truth did, in the end, prevail, but only after much tribulation.

Several years before, when I had pointed out to the contract supervisor that I should not be paid less than the men, since my work was similar, though more complex, he responded, “Just be glad you have a job.” As a single mom, I swallowed my anger at the injustice. But one injustice piled upon another was finally too much and I did what I thought was right—I stood up for myself.

This is hard to write about. I don’t even talk about it. It was a tough, tough period in my life. For one, I was taught to be a submissive female by a domineering father who, perhaps not coincidentally, is very similar in personality to the Chief. I also have a naturally quiet disposition. I am not a trouble maker. I decided to do what I thought was right, to stand up for myself and for hypothetical future female-analysts, even though it was extraordinarily difficult. I suppose I also thought it would set a positive example for my daughter, who was eleven at the time:  Look, Mom will not let herself be treated unfairly.

Was it worth it? No, not for me—although it may still be too soon to tell if there was some aspect of that hell that resulted in a smidgen of benefit. The harassment I was subjected to, losing a job I was good at, losing friends, losing the respect of people who did not know my side of the story, losing job references after eight years of devoted work, the incredible strain of legal proceedings, being called a liar (oh, and they tried to hang an affair with a married man on me)—does this sound like a positive event in my life? People who stand up to injustice often pay a huge price and whatever they may get in return is seldom worth it, in my assessment. Let’s just say I did not become a millionaire, but I did, according to one therapist, exhibit symptoms of PTSD, including horrific nightmares that lasted for years. And I think my daughter didn’t need this particular example to respect me—though I tried to behave as I always had, how could the stress not have affected her?

A couple of female analysts were hired after I left. In fact, I imagine the agency was ordered to hire a woman or two and to treat them well; if it were up to my old boss, he would’ve never hired another woman, I am certain of that (he didn’t hire me in the first place, I was inherited from another arm of the agency). So for the new analysts, it was worth it. Ironically, they don’t know me—I doubt they even know they have me to thank for anything. But whether they know it or not, they are standing on my well worn shoulders.

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And:  GRRRR:

McCain opposes equal pay bill in Senate

Republican Sen. John McCain, campaigning through poverty-stricken cities and towns, said Wednesday he opposes a Senate bill that seeks equal pay for women because it would lead to more lawsuits.

Senate Republicans killed the bill Wednesday night on a 56-42 vote that denied the measure the 60 votes needed to advance it to full debate and a vote. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had delayed the vote to give McCain’s Democratic rivals, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, time to return to Washington to support the measure, which would make it easier for women to sue their employers for pay discrimination.

McCain skipped the vote to campaign in New Orleans.

“I am all in favor of pay equity for women, but this kind of legislation, as is typical of what’s being proposed by my friends on the other side of the aisle, opens us up to lawsuits for all kinds of problems,” the expected GOP presidential nominee told reporters. “This is government playing a much, much greater role in the business of a private enterprise system.”

The bill sought to counteract a Supreme Court decision limiting how long workers can wait before suing for pay discrimination.

It is named for Lilly Ledbetter, a supervisor at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s plant in Gadsden, Ala., who sued for pay discrimination just before retiring after a 19-year career there. By the time she retired, Ledbetter made $6,500 less than the lowest-paid male supervisor and claimed earlier decisions by supervisors kept her from making more.

The Supreme Court voted 5-4 last year to throw out her complaint, saying she had waited too long to sue.

A clueless white male bravely standing up against the possibility of increased lawsuits “in a private enterprise system.” You go, John! You know what’s important, man. (Hey, if you’re so against lawsuits and so in favor of equal pay, why don’t you promote enhancing the capacity of the EEOC to do its job?)

I can attest that the time limit is unfair. If you are not lucky enough to quickly find a good lawyer willing to take your case on a contingency basis, the time limit may pass before you can file your lawsuit. While I doubt the value of my own actions, because of the high personal cost, at least I was able to pursue justice, whereas most women in similar situations are denied even the prospect of justice. Of course, Mr. McCain, if the EEOC were properly funded and staffed, it wouldn’t be necessary for all these women to find their own lawyers and sue.

The rest of the news article is here.

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Let Me Tell You, Since Obviously You Are Too Female To Understand

I have to share this with y’all (okay. . . all three of y’all who read this blog). Found at Dark Orpheus. It’s long; bear with me, it’s worth it.

Men who explain things
Every woman knows what it’s like to be patronized by a guy who won’t let facts get in the way.
By Rebecca Solnit

April 13, 2008

I still don’t know why Sallie and I bothered to go to that party in the forest slope above Aspen. The people were all older than us and dull in a distinguished way, old enough that we, at 40-ish, passed as the occasion’s young ladies. The house in Colorado was great — if you like Ralph Lauren-style chalets: a rugged luxury cabin at 9,000 feet, complete with elk antlers, lots of kilims, and a wood-burning stove. We were preparing to leave when our host said, “No, stay a little longer so I can talk to you.” He was an imposing man who’d made a lot of money in advertising or something like that.

He kept us waiting while the other guests drifted out into the summer night, and then sat us down at his grainy wood table and said to me, “So? I hear you’ve written a couple of books.”

I replied, “Several, actually.”

He said, in the way you encourage your friend’s 7-year-old to describe flute practice, “And what are they about?”

They were actually about quite a few different things, the six or seven out by then, but I began to speak only of the most recent on that summer day in 2003, my book on Eadweard Muybridge, the annihilation of time and space and the industrialization of everyday life.

He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?”

So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingenue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I’d somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book — with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.

Here, let me just say that my life is well-sprinkled with lovely men, including a long succession of editors who have, since I was young, listened and encouraged and published me; with my infinitely generous younger brother; with splendid male friends. Still, there are these other men too.

So, Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, “That’s her book.” Or tried to interrupt him anyway.

But he just continued on his way. She had to say, “That’s her book” three or four times before he finally took it in. And then, as if in a 19th century novel, he went ashen. That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn’t read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless — for a moment, before he began holding forth again. Being women, we were politely out of earshot before we started laughing.

I like incidents of that sort, when forces that are usually so sneaky and hard to point out slither out of the grass and are as obvious as, say, an anaconda that’s eaten a cow, or an elephant turd on the carpet.

The whole piece, from the L.A. Times, can be accessed here.

Rebecca Solnit is the author of many books including A Field Guide to Getting Lost, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West and Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities.”

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I have something to say about this, in particular a later paragraph in the article, but I shall save that for another day in the interest of not over-taxing my dear patient friends.

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Our Walk In The Park

Took Isabel to the park today.  Spring makes us both happy.

We saw a tree with flowers on it and a couple of odd birds. I have no clue what either species is! (If Kirsten stumbles by, maybe she can identify the birds.)


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It’s Earth Day And I’m Tired Of

people sending me e-mails with an article by a supposedly reputable scientist saying that global warming simply isn’t happening, or if it is, it’s not being caused by us and therefore, we should carry on with business as usual. It would be nice if global warming were simply a controversial theory. Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely. I wonder who employs these scientists? Oil and gas companies? Conservative think tanks? There is a huge consensus of climate scientists on the reality of human-induced global warming and we need to take it very seriously.

The writers of these e-mails think it’s cute to use the term “inconvenient truth,” as in it’s an inconvenient truth that global warming isn’t real. Ha ha. We won’t be laughing in a few years if we don’t start doing something concrete about the damage we’re causing. In whose interest is it to dally about while the situation gets worse and worse? Big business, I suppose, but in the long run, it hurts everybody.

Talk of the Nation’s program today was about climate change. One disturbing fact is that the American Southwest may be in for a permanent drought. (Umm—hello, Las Vegas—this is a wake-up call.)

NPR and National Geographic have been publishing a program on climate change for the past year. See here for excellent coverage.

And I think anyone who’s going to bandy about “inconvenient truth” ought to at least see the movie. The evidence is overwhelming. Last summer, we heard a talk by a government scientist; he said that the facts in Al Gore’s movie are not exaggerated. He agreed with it, saying the science was solid. And no, this guy was not, judging by some of his other comments, a liberal. He was a climate scientist, period.

Okay, and while I’m on the topic, another e-mail I recently received that annoyed the heck out of me started out something like this: Isn’t it about time we inconvenienced (that word again!) a few caribou and started drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? Excuse me?! Inconvenience a few caribou?! How about inconveniencing a few humans? How about if we started to change our gas-guzzling ways? How about if we took seriously the fact that we desperately need alternative forms of energy? How about not severely damaging a beautiful wild refuge because we are too lazy or greedy (or what?) to change our ways?

Sheesh. End of whine.  Here’s the ANWR.  Imagine:  oil rigs.

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At The Age Of Thirty-Nine

Last week was the 40th anniversary of MLK Jr’s assassination.  Until I heard it on the radio,  I hadn’t realized he was thirty-nine years old when he was killed.  I think of his presence, his power, his is-ness—he was thirty-four years old when he gave the I Have a Dream speech during the 1963 March on Washington. Thirty-four!

It seems some people have a lot to accomplish in their time on this earth and they accomplish a lot young perhaps because they’re not going to be here long. They’re going to do what they’re going to do and get it done early because otherwise it won’t get done at all.  I’m not saying this is conscious, but it happens.

I’m reading Flannery O’Connor’s letters, and she is another such young-achiever. It seems she knew she was a writer from the beginning and never wavered. In 1946, at the age of twenty-one, she was accepted into the Iowa Writers Workshop and never looked back, continuously writing short stories and two novels until her death in 1964, at the age of thirty-nine.

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Beauty Queen

I know, I’m such a weirdo, posting over and over about the Tibet situation, including gruesome photos, and then it’s all about my dog. Such is life, eh?

Took these today. I love the accidental artsiness of the second (and the sexy ear flop over the eye—she looks très mysterious). Isabel is six months old. Ain’t she perty? 

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Words I Won’t Give Up (Plus, Falafel & Doubloon)

Liberal. For a while there I went along and identified myself as Progressive. Some say the L word as if they’re talking about the most evil, most corrupted beings on earth. The RNM has been effective. Yeah, I believe everyone should have access to decent health care (meaning, yes, free, or very affordable) and I don’t believe in war to solve our problems and I think people and their needs (yes, even gay people and poor people and other unpopulars) should come before big business. I also believe we should be responsible stewards of the environment. Go ahead, stamp me with the L.

Religion/Christianity. I know it’s common these days to insist I’m not religious, I’m spiritual. Religion is now equated with rigid belief systems, with Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson. And with anti-science, anti-evolution backward-headedness. But I’ve been hanging on to this word. Religion is important to my life; it includes church-going, singing hymns, praying, reading religious books, writing religious gobbledygook. Loving Christ. So no, the fundamentalists cannot have the R word. And they can’t have the C word, either. Christ doesn’t belong to anybody.

Feminism. (The Other F Word.) Okay this one, I admit has been slandered so effectively that I wouldn’t label myself a feminist in most company. But hey, what’s it mean? “The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men. ” Pretty ridiculous, eh? Could destroy the country.

On the smearing of feminism:

One of the most outrageous but effective conservative efforts in the last few decades has been the transformation of “feminism” into a dirty word. What began as the label for those who proudly worked on the frontlines to ensure equal rights for women has now been twisted to serve as a code word for alleged emasculating abortionists who can be blamed for everything from excessive litigation to the gay rights movement to the moral decadence of pop culture.

No one has been more influential in this sleight of hand than the conservative movement’s godmother, Phyllis Schlafly, the Trent Lott of gender equality.

For many Americans, the name “Phyllis Schlafly” conjures up images of her circa 1972 – when she was a Donna Reed doppelganger leading a 10-year battle against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). More than thirty years later, you might think this mother of six and leader of the so-called “pro-family movement” would have long since retired to the kitchen where – she claimed – all women belong.

Alas, she has failed to take her own advice. At 80 years old, she’s still waging the war against equal rights that she began in the 1960s, with the gusto of an overzealous preteen. Her weekly newsletter, The Phyllis Schlafly Report (now in its 38th year) lets her fulminate on everything from gay marriage to feminism in academia. She weighed in on the controversy surrounding Harvard University President Larry Summers’ recent remarks about the place of women in science, saying: “The outburst by feminist professors simply confirms the stereotype … that they are too emotional to handle intellectual or scientific debate.” Her newsletter can be read in 100 newspapers around the country and is accompanied by her radio commentaries, heard daily on 460 stations and on the Internet. Instead of leading the tranquil life of a grandma, darning sweaters and cleaning the oven and taking a few moments out of her day to dash off a bit of punditry, she’s still as hot as any of the fiery young pundits the right has, and she too is working the college circuit. In fact, it seems that Schlafly debates on campuses more frequently than any other conservative.

And a couple of genius quotes from the woman herself:

“The atomic bomb is a marvelous gift that was given to our country by a wise God.” Mother Jones, (no longer available online)

“Many years ago Christian pioneers had to fight savage Indians. Today missionaries of these former cultures are being sent via the public schools to heathenize our children.” (Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum)

The above from.

And here‘s an exposé  of the ubiquitous, the evil, Liberal Media.

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My spellchecker didn’t like Falwell—thought it should be Falafel. It didn’t like Dobson, either—wanted it to be Doubloon. Jerry Falafel and James Doubloon, yahoo! (It thought Schlafly should be Scholarly—ha!)

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