advocate

Women against women

I was reading a CNN op-ed on Jill Abramson’s firing. I agreed with the basic conclusion the poster made that Abramson was fired for being a woman who got things done, was abrasive, a ball-buster, so to speak, and that if she had been a man, would probably still have her job. It is really easy to claim sexism in a situation like this. I’m guessing that the truth is a lot more complicated than that. And in reading the latest about the cause of the firing, it most likely is NOT gender related.

Listening to a discussion about the firing on NPR last week, there was mention of Abramson’s disagreement with some of the directions that other upper management wanted to take NYTimes.com.

When I heard details on some of the disputed changes, they were practices on other news sites that I despised: my respect for Abramson soared.

I don’t want to sit through a video on a newspaper’s online version. I want to skim articles, looking for key phrases and vital information, deciding on my own whether I want to read an entire article.

I do NOT want to watch a 30-second commercial before being subjected to a poorly-produced video clip comprised of a sound-bite. I refuse to be held captive so that I can watch some Barbie doll anchor give me meaningless, biased information. (Yikes, that was snarky — I despise the hiring of only attractive women for on-camera jobs — it offends me. The same standards are obviously not applied to hiring attractive men for their jobs.)

I want facts so that I can determine on my own what they mean using the critical thinking skills that I possess.

When I visit a news website, I never, ever click on the links with the little video camera icon beside them. Never.

Back to women against women.

After reading about Abramson’s firing, some of the many varied responses to the news, and considering whether she would have still had her job if she had been a man, I wondered what really happened to result in termination. Women are judged differently than men in this world.

I recall occasions when I evoked a less-than-positive response from other women. Most men have no problem dealing with me, at least outside of my own family and the religious community.

Maybe it is because I sort of speak their language (not fluent, though) and respect their rituals: I enter a room, make eye contact and extend my hand in the male ritual of the handshake. I will offer a real handshake, not one of those limp things that I get even from some men these days. The handshake is designed to test the strength of men. It is observed every day, at least in America.

I don’t mind. I am a visitor to the male-dominated world of business, education, and bureaucracy. All women are. Our presence is fairly recent, really. Most young women don’t realize this.

100 years ago women were fairly excluded from any kind of meaningful contribution to the “real” world outside the home. Yes, there were some women who attended college, made contributions to science, medicine, education, politics, religion, literature and business. But they were anomalies. They were treated badly. They were not taken seriously, usually, during their time. We learn about them now because, in college, diversity is a required component in college courses.

I have realized something: women are harder on women than men, even. And I have some ideas about why this is the case.

I recall one situation about 13 years ago. It was the annual Christmas party hosted by my husband’s employer. I was a stay-at-home mom of many young children at the time.

One of the wives, a successful working woman in her own right (she is a brilliant woman), kept her back turned to me the entire time. She would not make eye contact, would not speak to me, and physically kept her back turned to me the entire night (it was a sit-down dinner in a room that did not allow much movement).

I recently experienced the same treatment from someone from the other end of the spectrum, an ultra-conservative who kept her back to me in a meeting a couple of weeks ago. Her body language was obvious.

I offend women regularly because I refuse to adhere to any particular standard of womanhood. I am in school, kicked my husband out of the house and refuse to reconcile, left my church, and am very honest about what I think of many biblical teachings.

I refuse, however, to pick up the banner of liberalism (because it feels too much like religious dogma to me). I refuse to return to the world of conservatism (because conservatives are completely out of touch on the real issues concerning Americans). I address issues individually and am all over the map when it comes to political opinion and beliefs.

I think I just piss people off because I say what I mean. People that know me know that I might be clueless on occasion and say something that I maybe should have left unsaid, but I am rarely mean. What is offensive to most people is that I will speak up when my bullshit alarm goes off.

For example, when someone is stating that arranged marriages must be good because the divorce rates in such marriages are low I will challenge that statement.

Arranged marriages take away a woman’s right to self-determination. That is NEVER good. Consider cultures where arranged marriages are practiced: Hindu cultures where women are treated like property and widows are discarded when their husbands die, or girl infants are killed because they don’t have boy parts; Muslim cultures where women are treated like property, are often held captive in their own homes, and prohibited an education equal to males; Christian cultures where strict adherence to certain practices silence women’s voices or they are rejected and shunned.

Arranged marriages rarely result in divorce because in such cultures women do not have the right to divorce their husbands. They are slaves. How in the world could this ever be good?

Women who have strong opinions and determined belief systems are criticized harshly by other women — I was emphatic in my disagreement with the issue of arranged marriage. Apparently, I can be quite offensive because of my strong opinions. I even think my re-examination of core beliefs is offensive to women. Why is this? Why must women be one thing? Why must we choose a camp and plant a flag?

A woman in business is labeled a ball-buster if she is a good manager: objective, definitive and determined. She is ineffective or a wimp if she tries to be feminine in the same job.

Then I think about how the Republican and Democratic parties treat women: the Democrats don’t think two women can run for president and vice president because it will alienate men. Huh? Republican women who are moderate, believe in a woman’s right to choose, and the validity of social programs just won’t get anywhere. Shame on both parties. We want to blame most of this on men, and we can certainly find reason to do so, but I think women are just as responsible for the challenges women face in this world.

When will women stop being so hard on other women? Probably never. In writing this post, I realize that I am very hard on other women myself. This is a dilemma for which I have no answers.

Then again, maybe this isn’t a gender issue at all. Maybe it is all about the human need for conformity. Hmmm . . .

Standing up for yourself: An Example

I cannot agree with Shakespeare that we should kill all the lawyers.  We can all learn a lot from lawyers.

Where I grew up (Miami) people didn’t hesitate to state their cases and call another person on his or her bullshit.  Well, not everyone.  It takes a certain amount, sometimes a lot, of strength to stand up to someone who won’t let you get a word in edgewise, is a manipulator, and is used to getting his way.  My family has always been one to deal with “stuff” head on.  That is how I was raised.  We didn’t sweep stuff under the rug, pretend like it didn’t happen, or just put a smile on it.   But not many up here in Connecticut, where I have lived for almost 14 years, deal head on with conflict.

I have lived in many different places around the country, and even a time in Italy as a child.  I learned that people behave differently in different regions, that there are a variety of behavioral standards, habits, and rules dealing with conflict.

I grew up in Miami schools where it was not uncommon to have racial conflict or bullying (60s and 70s).  I personally experienced both at the same time and had to stand up for myself.  I learned a valuable lesson and became a much stronger person because of it (and got sent to the principal’s office for fighting back — well, worth it).

Up here in Connecticut it is very quiet and peaceful.  People don’t make waves.  You don’t hear people going at it with one another.  As a matter of fact, it is considered rude to complain about a product or service.  I have witnessed this.  A woman, obviously not from “here”, had a problem with an employee at a store who was not only goofing off, but was rude to her.  It was interesting to watch the crowd dynamic.  This woman did not elicit one ounce of sympathy from the crowd.  She was actually getting frowns and snickers because she was complaining about something in front of other people, and wasn’t shy about it.  She was not behaving according to Connecticut norms and was being judged.

Now, from where I stand, she had every right to complain if this person really did treat her the way she claimed.  I could tell by her accent, though, that she was not from Connecticut.  She was from New York where it is not uncommon to have verbal confrontations of this sort, at least in the big cities.  It is how things are worked out.  Just not in Connecticut.

I have made it a habit of praising extraordinary behavior when I see it in retail situations, often calling on a manager to explain how a person went out of his or her way to do something that was beneficial to me and how much I appreciated that effort.  Only two times in the entire 14 years of Connecticut residency, well, make that three times (but two of those times it was about the same person), have I complained about a service.  One time I was verbally assaulted by an employee for stating that I would like some help when the employees were standing around talking (when they should have been doing their jobs — this was before I knew that you just don’t complain about service in Connecticut), and the other two times concerned my mail delivery.  So when I complain, someone has done something outrageously unacceptable, in my opinion.  And when it involves the US Postal Service, an institution that used to maintain a professional standard that was extraordinary, it is very serious (USPS service standards have fallen so low that they are now the joke of the nation — so very sad).

So, that very long introduction brings me to this  point:  sometimes it is necessary to confront another person, or a representative in an organization, about something that is unacceptable.  I took the time this morning to help my 20-year-old son confront an employer over the phone who never paid him for 50 hours of work.  That was so very unacceptable; I am sure no one would argue with me.  The problem is that my son is not very confident yet (that confidence comes with experience and maturity), the other party is a salesman type, a manipulator who is used to getting his way —  and he wouldn’t let my son speak.  I had my son put this man on speaker phone and started to get his spiel.  I just interrupted him (because I knew he had already given my son this speech about how he could get the blah, blah, blah by Monday, blah, blah, blah).  I spoke loudly and clearly, not allowing him to interrupt me and told him he needed to have a check for $500 to my son by Friday next week.  He tried to threaten us, instilling fear — yep, manipulator — but it didn’t work.  I said check, full payment, thank you very much.  All done.

If you stand up and be counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down.  But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again.  A man flattened by conformity stays down for good. – Thomas J. Watson

I then took the time to explain to my son about different types of people, and how it was very important to learn to identify them so you could adjust your own behavior.  While it might have seemed really rude to interrupt this person, he wanted to control the conversation so that he could emotionally prevail over the young man and his mother.  Did I mention that my first job was working for a lawyer?  Oh, I am so very thankful for that job experience.  Did I mention that my last job was working for the acting general counsel of a savings and loan institution in Austin, Texas, another lawyer, before I quit to raise my family?  Again, so thankful for that job experience.  You learn by watching lawyers that you can’t bullshit a bullshitter, as they say.  I cannot agree with Shakespeare that we should kill all the lawyers.  We can all learn a lot from lawyers.

I explained to my son that this guy is a salesman type who will say anything to get his way.  They have a variety of ploys that they use, but rarely is honesty a part of their plan (though salting their narrative with truths is common).  You just have to ignore what they say, make your statement, and say goodbye.  By having that conversation on speaker phone, I am now a witness to him admitting to the conditions of the original work agreement, the failure of this man to keep up his end of the bargain, and his attempt to make new promises that we all knew weren’t going to happen.  Push through, say your piece, and end the conversation.  Oh, and create a paper trail or involve a witness in the situation in case you need to take someone to small claims court or hire an attorney.  A paper trail is best, but this is a start.  We have the first two checks he wrote to my son establishing employment, and now have witnesses to the agreement.  See, working for lawyers really is useful.  Stop cursing the lawyers, people!

Get up, stand up,
Stand up for your rights.
Get up, stand up,
Don’t give up the fight.
– Bob Marley

I told my son that he gets angry a lot at me because I see through his excuses and call him on it, but in real life this means that I can stand up for myself when necessary (boy have I had to do that a lot the last few years).  I try to be polite but I will call it as I see it because that is how I was raised.  Although it is always best to try to respect the customs of a region’s people, sometimes you must be true to yourself even if it isn’t popular or common practice.  That is how entrenched practices are challenged and changed, by the way.

People handle conflict in different regions differently.  Living in a nation of diverse races, cultures and religions we should all know this.  Respecting the practices of others doesn’t mean you stop standing up for yourself when it is absolutely necessary.  $500 is a lot of money, and this guy had no business not paying my son for the work my son did for him.  I hope we don’t need to go to small claims court, but if we do we will.  That is the next lesson in life:  Follow through.

Life is full of learning opportunities, and adult children still benefit from allowing their parents to come alongside them at times.  I have learned to stand up for myself — and am still learning — and feel that it is a privilege to try to teach my children to stand up for themselves as well (and that the reason people hire lawyers is that it is okay to have someone help you stand up for yourself when necessary).