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.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

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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9 Comments

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9 responses to “A Story of Injustice (Mostly) And Justice (A Little)

  1. Pingback: A Gift, Wrapped In A Gift | De Die In Diem

  2. That story just stunned me. I am so sorry you had to go through all of that. And I can’t believe how far we STILL have to go on the equal pay issue. Unbelievable.

  3. Yeah, stunned is a good word. I needed a day to process just the fact that you had to go through that.

    FWIW, I’m incredibly proud of you for standing up for yourself. And those women who followed you would be too, if they knew the story.

  4. Wow. What a story. I find my own self shaking with some rage upon hearing it.

    It is angering – isn’t it?

    Yet it is not an unusual tale.

    I am so sorry you had to go through that. And you handled it well by even going back in there a second time and then having him fire you!

    Brava – in the end you prevailed.

    Now how did this legislation go so awry?

  5. p.s. tagged you on something!

  6. Thank you, all, for your supportive and kind comments. I have not been able to bring myself to feel proud of myself, instead I think how could I have been so naive and so unaware of the consequences? I thought because I was right it would simply be a matter of proving it. I didn’t expect lies and dishonesty. Ah well, it’s over.

    In the interest of brevity, I cut out a lot of pertinent details (for instance, a DOL audit that determined I should be paid the same as the men).
    The ONLY reason I went through with it was because I knew I was right.

    Interestingly, remembering all this brought to mind a conversation I had with a man I dated shortly after I started this job. He worked for another government agency and said emphatically that there was no such thing as sexism in the workplace. How ironic. It’s like my life just had to prove him wrong (of course, I didn’t even agree with him when he said it). Leave it to a man to know that there’s no such thing as sexism. 😉

    Fran, How did the legislation go astray? The R word. As the article said, “Senate Republicans killed the bill.”

  7. Ovidia Yu

    Dear Wyrdbyrd, I only just saw your post–it must have so been difficult to write & even more difficult to live through!
    I wish I could find something positive to say (okay here’s one: it would have been worse if the old guys were reasonable & the young ones were wearing the ball blinders…) but reading what you went through makes me wish I believed in voodoo or something & could stick pins in a little chief doll…
    Glad you spoke up in spite of the consequences.
    If you had not, you would probably have gone on taking on more work & responsibilities @ same pay & recognition. Then when you got propositioned by chief’s chief or some other guy (it would have happened sooner or later) you would either have had the life spark crushed out of you & accepted it as part of the price or not–& been fired then… with the same lies & aspersions hanging over you.
    Don’t think you were ‘naive’ though. You gave them the chance to behave as decent human beings and they failed.

    yes, saw the Rebecca Solnit piece on darkorph & loved it!!!

  8. Ovidia, you make some excellent points. As always. It’s not an angle I have really looked at this incident from: what if I hadn’t done it? Would I have criticized myself for being taken advantage of and not trying to right the wrong? Would I have stayed in the job, becoming more angry and more a victim?

    My husband and I talked about this the other night for the first time in a long time and he said, “That was such a horrific, horrific time.” It was. I am so glad it’s over. I told him I think some people are really tough and can handle that kind of thing and some people are not (like me) and it affects them for a long, long time. Maybe there should be some kind of counseling for women thinking about going down that road, telling them what is likely to happen, the worst case scenarios, the possibility that, even if they are right, they may lose. That even if they win, they may lose.

  9. Pingback: Sexism Sucks « Wyrdbyrd’s Wyrld

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