The following letter (my emphases) appeared under the title, Apologies, Fear and Silence, NY Times 11-15-17

To the Editor:
Re “Being a Female Comic in Louis C. K.’s World,”
by Laurie Kilmartin (Sunday Review, Nov. 12):

The news of Louis C. K.’s sexual misconduct has shaken my confidence in humankind in a particular way that will take time to process. I was among his longtime fans who enjoyed even his most controversial material, because he so brilliantly cultivated a persona that encouraged us to trust that behind the jokes was a man of true compassion. His message seemed to be, “I have sexually inappropriate thoughts, but I deeply respect women and am one of the good guys.”

Ms. Kilmartin states: “It has made me examine my own life, 30 years of swimming under, over and around sharks. What could I have accomplished if I’d been able to put that energy elsewhere?”

This magnificent question haunts those who have been subject to sexual misconduct. Often, we suffer silently for years. Imagine the benefits to our society when women are free of the self-doubt and shame that accompany sexual abuse, when we can leave the confines of our inner turmoil and bring productive energy to the world.

DEBBY BIERSCHWALE, NARBERTH, PA.
The writer is a clinical psychologist.

 

*   *   *

Department Of My Me Too

This magnificent question, indeed. I was floored by that simple phrase.

Remember that wise and compassionate letter from the male engineering student (which I wrote about in my 11/3 post ),  who wrote about his realization that the playing field for his female peers in STEM is far from equal, and because of sexism and societal expectations, women  have so much more to deal with than just the study and work itself?

I doubt that most men, even The Good Guys ® with their best intentions (e.g. that wonderful engineering student), can truly understand the ramifications of what the afore-quoted psychologist calls This magnificent question.  Hell, for that matter, nor can most women. Even women who do not have the horrific experiences of severe harassment and/or abuse have devoted and wasted so much time in just taking the extra steps we must take – steps so common we taken them for granted – in navigating both the personal and professional worlds, which continue to operate under the shadow of patriarchal and hierarchical expectations.

From issues seemingly mundane (advisors to the female senatorial candidate reminding her to smile so she won’t seem threatening but not smile too much or she won’t be taken seriously) to acute (the astronomer attending a Big Ideas in Dwarf Planet Research conference which ends at night must consider where she will park her car in the conference site lot  to give herself the safest, most well-lit route route…and she will remind herself to check the back seat before she gets in)…

Scratch that first adjective; none of it is mundane. All of it is acute, in that it is critical to understanding the time-sucking, energy-draining b.s. that women in all fields, from the sciences to the arts to the Walmart cashiers, must deal with.

And the answers to the magnificent question are almost unimaginable – so much so that I’d like, truly and sincerely, to ask and challenge my male allies (and I think most men are, or want to be, allies to women).  Menfolk, try to picture what your life would have been like, or how it might change right now, if you had to waste. The. Equivalent. Amount. Of. Time. And. Energy. And Resources.  that women have had to…

Let me put it this way, by adapting the letter writer’s phrasing:

Examine your own life, and think if you had spent 30 or however many years of swimming under, over and around sharks. What might you not have accomplished if you’d had to divert your energy thusly? Imagine the loss to our society if men had to enter the confines of such inner turmoil and divert their productive energy…

*   *   *

 

As reference/promised/threatened in last week’s post, moiself is going to share a workplace Me Too   [1]  story. Clarification: there will be “a” story as opposed to “my” story – the latter implying that I’ve only one such story.

In a just world, even one story of sexual harassment and discrimination would be too much.  But then, welcome to this planet.

 

 

angryplanet

 

 

 

I am not going to share the story about working for a media hardware/proprietary software company in the mid-1980’s – I’ll call it Radiorama. Nope, this is not the story about when Radiorama’s president/co-founder – I’ll call him “Seamus”  [2] – had to explain to his confused and angry female Service Department Installers why, when it came time to choose a new Service Department Manager, he promoted a man who was somewhat experienced enough to do the job, even though there were at least three to four highly qualified women in the department with more experience and installations under their respective lady belts.

His justification?  Radiorama’s Service department had an approximate 2/1 female to male employee ratio. It would be better for Radiorama’s clients, Seamus declared, to know that even if they mostly have to deal with women during installations of the company’s product and after-installation service, not to worry – there’s a man in charge.

 

 

siriusly

 

 

 

Nor will I share another story about the same company (story #2 cast light upon the first story), wherein a group of newby Service Department Installers were discussing the predominance of men in Radiorama’s upper echelons, as well as the almost total lack of any employees who were not of European-American background.  “Tom” was one of the newbys, and he also happened to be the gay lover of “Rock,” Radiorama’s  co-founder and vice president. Tom shared some pillow talk he’d had with Rock: Rock had told Tom that, on more than one occasion, Seamus had declared, sans irony,  [3]  that he (Seamus) “…hated blacks, detested fags, and only tolerated women.”

 

 

 

 

supervisor

 

 

 

Nor will I share the story from my stint working at The Hungry Bear Restaurant, one of the many food venues at an amusement park which goes by the tagline, The  Crappiest Happiest Place on Earth ®.  Not gonna write about the scenario, which unfolded over several days, wherein I witnessed a Foods Supervisor repeatedly badger one of my Very Attractive Blonde Co-Workers. ®   [4]   Foods Supe reduced VABCW to tears, and also made not-so-veiled threats about VABCW’s  employment status, when VABCW politely but firmly and repeatedly turned down his offers to promote her from THBR  [5]  to waiting tables at the park’s exclusive, members-only lounge, Club 33.  At Club 33, Foods Supe told VABCW,  she would be able to dress “more attractively” (read: provocatively) and interact with the club’s “wealthy, influential, male clientele.”

 

 

 

rat

What I really need here is an image of a slimy, horny Mickey Mouse – I swear, that’s what that Supervisor looked like – but the park’s legal staff tend to be sensitive about their mascot, so this will have to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story I’m going to tell took place some 30 years ago, when I worked in the Publications Department for a professional membership society (think something along the lines of, The California Trial Lawyers Society). The Society published several different periodicals, including monthly newsletters for each of the Society’s regional chapters, and a quarterly glossy magazine whose circulation included all individual Society members (plus member corporations and other related/interested companies).

The Publishing Department consisted of six employees: The self-described  [6]  Gang of Four shared a large, open cubicle-type office, and did the actual work of putting out the newsletters and magazines. The Gang of Four were the Editor, the Assistant Editor, the Art Director, and the Classified Advertising Editor  – aka moiself. The remaining two employees were the Director of Publishing (DOP) and his secretary.

The DOP’s secretary was a bubbly, childfree-yet-maternal woman of whom I was quite fond, despite what seemed to be her taking on a personal calling to get me to wear makeup. [7]  That quest gave her something to do other than cover for her boss when some Society higher-up was looking for him (the DOP would disappear for hours at a time, on an almost daily basis, which was fine with the us in the Gang of Four).   [8]

The DOP was a tall, oily-man, who sported what we’d now call a porno moustache (do not do an internet images search for that term – trust me).  [9] The DOP had always given me the creeps when he was around, which fortunately wasn’t often. His private office was a hallway and a half away from our group office… for the life of me, I can’t remember what he actually did as department director, save for approving certain articles and banner advertising, and having his name listed first on the magazine’s masthead.

One afternoon, a couple of weeks before the magazine’s upcoming issue deadline, the art director and the other two editors went down to the Society’s basement to discuss a magazine shipping detail with the mailroom manager. I was alone in our office, seated at my desk, typing up copy for one of the regional newsletter’s classified ads section. Believe it or not, I was engrossed in my work.  How engaging can a classified ad be, you ask? It was a particular ad’s particular phrasing which both fascinated and annoyed me. How was I going to make sense of what the ad buyer had written (and paid for)?  I remember thinking, Was there no essay portion of his professional exam? How did this guy get any kind of certification,with such evidently poor written communication skills? Nevertheless, he’d purchased ad space and I had to make sense of it…

The DOP entered the office. He circumnavigated the room and took up a position standing directly behind me. I was vaguely aware of his presence; he was just…standing there, behind me.  Why hadn’t he said anything? I kept working, and soon felt the touch of his massive, hairy-knuckled hand on my right shoulder.

I ignored his (creepy/totally inappropriate and unwanted) touch and kept typing away. He removed his hand, then placed it again on my shoulder.  I twitched my shoulder, as if trying to dislodge a pesky mosquito; he removed his hand. A second or three later, he placed both of his hands on my shoulders (still, all that time, saying nothing). I ripped the copy I was working on from the typewriter, pushed my chair back from my desk (almost running over his toes), stood up and marched fifteen feet away, to the Editor‘s desk.  I dropped the ad copy on her desk, turned on my heel, flashed (what I would now call) a WTF !?!?! glower at the DOP….

At that very moment the Editor, Assistant Editor and Art Director returned to our office, chattering away re some inane (in their opinion) complaint the mail dude had about the size of the upcoming issue. The DOP said something to the Editor about confirming our department’s late afternoon meeting the next day, then beat a hasty retreat to his own office, having never said a single word to me.

The next afternoon, ten or so minutes into the afore-mentioned meeting, in the midst of discussing an in-house photo shoot idea the art director had proposed, the DOP announced he’d decided that the magazine’s masthead would no longer include the name of the Classified Advertising Editor.

 

 

REALLY

 

 

 

 

The Gang of Four were all caught off guard by the seeming non sequitur-ness of the DOP’s announcement (which reminded me of when members of Congress try to sneak abortion restrictions language into a bill on kumquat subsidies or whatever).

The thoughts racing through my mind needed attention – I was trying not to go into rage hyperventilation mode, and so after beginning to protest, I quickly shut up  [10] and let my colleagues provide the opposition: 

What could be the reason for removing the C.A. editor’s name, which had always been listed on the magazine? Classified ads  were a major source of revenue for the magazine (and the only source for the monthly bulletins), and thus the editor of such was an important cog in the department’s wheel…and it hardly qualified as a cost cutting measure to remove two lines of print….

The other editors and art director argued my case in vain. I can’t remember exactly how the DOP justified his decision – he said some horseshit about streamlining, and that as  Director of Publishing, it was his decision that the magazine should go for a “mean and lean” look, and that was that.  He deftly changed the subject by criticizing the Editor’s choice of a lead-off article, which effectively diverted everyone else’s attention.

Streamlining; mean and lean, my ass. I was being punished. I couldn’t prove it, I never told the other editors what had happened, but I knew what was going on. Disappearing my credit was the only way the DOP could think of that wouldn’t draw too much attention (my work and attendance record was impeccable; he couldn’t fire or demote me). That masthead credit was the most prestigious – and practically only – evidence I could use for future, hard copy references, as the other publications I worked on listed only single editor attribution.

*   *   *

I haven’t told this story to many people. I remember telling it, years ago, in a mixed-gender group of acquaintances, when the subject of workplace harassment came up.  One of the guys in the group asked me what I’d been wearing, and what I looked like, on the day of the the incident.

 

 

LADY

Seriously, y’all wondering what was SHE wearing?

 

 

 

 

What was moiself wearing?  FFS, what was he wearing? A neon sign on his necktie which flashed LECHEROUS BULLYING PATRONIZING WANKHEAD would’ve been helpful.

Back then, I excused the naiveté of the schlub who asked that question by thinking that he, too, was yet another victim of times – after all, it was over 30 years ago. And yet, from what I’ve been reading, little has changed. Women still feel compelled to do what I’m about to do: describe what I was wearing at the time of the incident. Most likely, it was what I wore at least twice a week at that time: my “uniform,” so to speak, of  either gray slacks or Levi’s jeans and a high neck, long-sleeved Cub Scout shirt I’d found at a thrift shop (the C.A. editor position didn’t pay well; I had zero contact with the public, so I got away with very casual attire).   [11]  As for what I “looked like,” well, I was a women in my early 20s. I was 30+ years younger than I am now but I still looked like…like a 30 years younger version of moiself . I was no sea donkey, nor was I an alluring starlet either (and, much to the consternation of the DOP’s secretary, I was, of course, not wearing any makeup).

And of course to the nth, it didn’t/shouldn’t have mattered, then or now, what I was wearing, or how comely or homely my boss found my features. Whether I looked like a budget-conscious thrift shop fashion reject, or a vamping, slut-walking siren, or anything in between – that had nothing to do with it.

 

 

amen]

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Things Have To Change

 

This subject; the fact that it is still an issue:

 

 

sotiredpng

 

 

 

Me, too.

 

 

*   *   *

May you never be a shark someone else has to swim with;
May you get mean and lean with anyone who would streamline you out of credit;
May you find a way to use slang like sea donkey in everyday conversation;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] Me Too, also referred to as #MeToo (except by me, who doesn’t do Twitter and loathes the whole “hast tag” devolution of the pound symbol as a social media theme signifier), is being used by people as a way to share their own experiences with sexual assault or sexual harassment, in part to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

[2] Which will alert readers that subsequent names which are first introduced in quotation marks are pseudonyms – dang, y’all catch on quickly!

[3] Seamus considered Rock to be one of his “best friends.” Rock did not hide the fact that he was gay.   Seamus had worked with Rock for years, including starting Radiorama; thus, in Seamus’s convoluted “logic,” since he (Seamus) he liked and respected Rock and also detested “fags,” this meant that Rock couldn’t possibly, really, be gay.

[4] Most of whom were, like moiself, between the ages of 18 – early twenties, working to earn money for college.

[5] which was, in essence, one of the park’s fast food venues, although They called it a restaurant.

[6] If the self-describing it was moiself.

[7] I sent her over the moon the day I let her do me up with her eye shadow and mascara: “Oh, look how it makes your big beautiful brown eyes JUST POP!” she exclaimed. I swear she wanted to adopt me on the spot.

[8] A couple of years after I left the Society I was visiting the woman who’d been The Editor while I was there, and she filled me in on the Society  gossip. The Society’s management finally wised up to the DOP’s absences, and fired his truant ass.

[9] Well, it was the 1980s…but on him it looked extra creepy.

[10] Those who know me are thinking, whaddya mean, she shut up?

[11] Oh, I loved that shirt. It went with everything (or nothing, depending on your POV.)