What’s Your Workplace Inequality Rant?

I’m a short lady who doesn’t necessarily look her age (from afar, at least) and while I have very healthy self-esteem and can command a room with just the power of my saucy attitude, I still deal with a whole lotta dismissive, condescending, underestimating bullcrap. Especially in the workplace. Especially from old men who call me sweetheart or honey and treat me like a precious little princess.

And we’re not talking Elena of Avalor or Merida of the Arrow in your behind if you sass her. I mean more like those people who dress toddlers up like pageant queens. Might as well just pat my head and wax my arm hair, because Momma needs to live out her beauty queen fantasies through you, my little princess.

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Pointed… at… your butt.

It’s infuriating. And even as I get older and start to look older, graying hair and wrinkly eyes and Anne Tayloresque ensembles and, you know, seniority and all, I still get treated this way because it has nothing to do with me or who I am or how I’m qualified or what my title or place in the hierarchy may be.

Little girls get lollipops, not respect.

I have no solution at present, other than possibly to borrow Merida’s bow, but I want to feel that I’m not alone so I like to put my stories out there and provide a forum for thought or discussion, much like the main character in my new book, Lay Her Ghosts to Rest, eventually does in her own workplace*.

I’ve added a discussion question on GoodReads for this purpose. What’s your workplace bullcrap behavior story and would you care to share it in my forum?

You can find it here. 

 

*Excerpt from Lay Her Ghosts to Rest

“Catori, that’s all so wonderful and truly a remarkable breakthrough but I have to tell you–this is what I’ve been waiting to tell you–that there absolutely is a better way and you’ve already found it. You’ve already implemented it. You have already made significant, compassionate, beneficial changes to this Institution and you did it just by being your own, admittedly flawed, self.”

Catori furrowed her brow. She wasn’t in the mood to celebrate whatever had made Dr. Sunkireddy so happy to see her. She wanted to wallow in the gravity of reality for a while. She wanted it to be clear in her own mind what she was saying and thinking and feeling and connect them all in a significant way.

But she didn’t want to be rude either. “How so?” she asked with little enthusiasm.

“You’ve started what could accurately be called a grassroots revolution among the employees here. They’ve been coming to me and the other counselors in droves over the past week, talking about you and the discussion groups you’ve been having in the Lounge after hours. They’re excited and relieved and hopeful and every single one of them credits you.”

“Oh.”

All the Adventures Belong to Men

I’m looking through free stock images on this helpful resource (https://unsplash.com/) for purposes that have to do with my NEW BOOK and finding that most of the women are relaxing and throwing their hair back or taking pictures on their cell phones or wearing hip, youthful clothing whereas the men are doing… like, all sorts of things:

White river rafting, mountain climbing, checking their watches, being beautiful, being old, soldering, making music, making movies, bathing in mountain streams, jogging, biking, getting some ice cream, driving old cars, jumping in puddles, playing with kids, working in an office, and exploring the abyss.

Oh and there’s another woman relaxing and throwing her hair back while wearing a hip and youthful hat and taking pictures on her cell phone.

Totally representative of real life. Totally.

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Good hair must be an amazing adventure.

Using Narrative Anachronism to Heal the Past

I’ve been wondering lately how much of an anachronism some of the events in my new book Like Two Opposite Things actually are.

The story, about a teen girl figuring out how love and sex and relationships work, takes place in the mid-90s just a few years after the Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas which, as a teen in the 90s my own self, had an profound effect on my psyche. Among other things (*cough* unapologetically sexist children’s media *cough*), it made some pretty solid implications about the value of my body and my voice in the world at large, how I could expect to be treated by men in general and those in power specifically, and what my word was worth when speaking out against mistreatment. Moreover, it made me question whether perceived mistreatment actually was mistreatment or if it was just the result of some negative or inappropriate behavior on my part or the part of the women I might try to identify with.

Hill being publicly dragged through the mud for suggesting that her boss was less than respectable towards her, in my young mind, meant that either homegirl was lying to get attention (which she was accused of) or she was telling the truth and no one was ever going to believe her.

And there’s a little of that in my book. There’s a boy who makes some unwelcome advances toward my protagonist. It’s not his first time doing so but no one believed it the first time around because the behavior was directed toward a younger girl, of color, and reported by her cousin who had a reputation for being something of a trouble-maker. But my protag–who is a white girl–makes the accusation while recruiting a respectable family to legitimize her and that’s when things start to change for the better.

But is that just wishful thinking on my part?

I hate that trope of the white man stepping in to defeat the forces of evil and save a population of people he doesn’t resemble because they can’t do it for themselves. But I do want to believe that whatever privilege I have can be used to redirect attention to anyone whose voice has been silenced, either by racism, sexism, ageism or homophobia (however naive that may be). It’s why I’m so interested in the She Should Run Incubator and the movement to get more women into politics. Because I want us all to have a voice. Because I want those of us who won’t let our voices be silenced speak for those who have no choice. I desperately want to believe that there is hope for us all!

While my novel is not a true story, I have seen accusations of sexual assault and rape go unexamined because of whatever prejudice existed about the accuser. And most of my experiences happened as a teen in the 90s, long before there was a rape culture hashtag or a public conversation to uncover the previously justified treatment of women as sex objects and pleasure bots for men.

It’s becoming clear to me that my novel is a fantasy. It’s what I wanted to be able to do for all the girls I knew who were mistreated not only by men but by the institutions that claimed to protect them. It’s a fairy tale.

It’s also a lot fluffier and sweeter than this post makes it out to be. A teen in love for the first time, trying to figure out what exactly love is and how it measures up to her expectations? Adorable. The sexual assault scene and aftermath? A nasty little reality check. But I can’t deny that the attitudes of the teens and some of the adults in my book are hardly what I experienced as reality in the 90s.

But maybe that’s why I needed to write it.

I’m telling you, this whole place could fall apart like that,” she says, snapping her fingers.

“Jeez, and it’s all my fault.”

Heather sits up straight and stares down at me. “Um, no. Not at all. That perv attacked you. How is any of this your fault?”

“Because I wasn’t… like, polite about it. I could have made the situation less like, antagonistic if I had just been more understanding and compassionate.”

“Chica, no. No, no, no. This has nothing at all to do with you not being nice about some jerk trying to touch you after you said no. You’re allowed to say no however you want, whenever you want and nothing that person does afterward is your responsibility. Not at all. Think about it for a second. Do you honestly think Todd would have acted much differently if you had been nice to him? Do you know how often I am super nice to him and he continues to be super rude and awful to me? Would it have changed anything if you did things differently?”

“I don’t know. Maybe?” I’m starting to think back to the timeline of events. What would have happened if I had just said something like I’m sorry, but I’m not interested. Or told him I understand how disappointing it is to like someone who doesn’t like you back. I imagine him laughing at me, telling me I was wrong, insisting that if I just kissed him I’d see how much I really did like him. Maybe I wouldn’t have fallen down. Maybe I wouldn’t have scraped up my hands and face, but there was no way he was just gonna say OK and let me walk away. He already proved that. Twice.

“Maybe not,” I say.

“Definitely not. Now get your butt up and let’s go have some breakfast. Or brunch, actually, because that’s about what time it is, lazy bum.”

Excerpt from Like Two Opposite Things, available for pre-order on Amazon.com

Build It Up, Tear It Down

I finally had a chance to watch a few episodes of Speechless on OnDemand and isn’t it nice how they advocate for the differently-abled while continuing to disrespect and demean women?

Because it’s perfectly ok to treat the girl you like as a prize to be won, to kiss her without permission, and to stalk her until she likes you. It’s also ok for jocks to talk about girls like interchangeable sexbots who exist solely for their pleasure. It’s ok to stare at cheerleaders’ bums because that’s the only purpose of that sport and why don’t you call yourself their manager so you can officially stare at their bums while also having nominal power over them. And let’s make sure the mother of a special needs kid is known to be a overbearing pain in the ass because it’s certainly not difficult to get accommodations from bureaucracies who hate spending money.

In conclusion: Speechless sucks. Sitcoms in general suck because they rely on the same old tired tropes and sexist stereotypes. You can’t attempt to break social ground in one underrepresented population while simultaneously denigrating another and call yourself progressive.

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In Locker Rooms and Space Ships

LET ME TELL YOU WHAT I SAW and why children’s media needs to set a better example these days than presidential candidates who go about grabbin’ people without their consent.

I have complained before about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their newest incarnation where they go to space because a black hole ate the Earth or some such and a robot with a human brain flies them around looking for space bugs and rhinos or something. That should tell you how much attention I pay to the plot of the show. I can tell you that they came back to Earth at some point and April went all nutty because of an alien crystal but that’s all I got. I’m sure there’s a forum somewhere you can refer to if you’re that interested.

I was, however, paying attention the other day when a repeat of their first day in space played on my television. THE VERY SAME television on which I watched the Presidential Debates. THE VERY SAME television on which I watched the SNL cold open where Cecily Strong, in response to Alec Baldwin’s Trump, performed the standard female physical reaction to male creepy-ickiness: the arm cross, body hug, boob-hide.

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THEN I watched the Ninja Turtles episode and saw this:

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The arm cross, body hug, boob-hide girls use instinctively when a dude is making her feel uncomfortable. Why is April uncomfortable? Because she’s shy and self-conscious about her new jumpsuit? No. Because a robot with a human brain is standing behind her? No. Because THIS happened just moments before:

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I’m sure the animators think they did a great job humanizing April by using a gesture they’ve seen girls make a million times. I’m also sure the animators were the REASON the girls made that gesture. Because they’re creeps. And ick.

So let me just spell it out to anyone who’s confused.

  1. Female bodies don’t exist to be looked at and/or sexualized
  2. When someone shrinks and hugs themselves, they are not welcoming your attention
  3. Girls watch cartoons too, goddamnit. Stop it. Stop sexualizing all the female cartoon characters. Stop making it normal to make girls uncomfortable you sick sons of bitches.

This isn’t ok. Why don’t people understand that none of this is ok?

The Kind of Fear That Follows You Home

If you are or ever have been a woman, you may know a little something about sexual harassment. You may have seen a little sexual assault. You may have experienced a little Economic, Sexual, Physical, Verbal, Emotional, or Psychological Abuse (list source). And by “may” I mean definitely and by “a little” I mean at minimum a little but more likely a lot.

Not to say that abuse is for women only but I know men who have no idea what I’m talking about. I do not know any women that ignorant of reality.

The point is that it seems having experienced these things can shrink a person. It can make their voices smaller. It can make them try to take up less physical space. It can rob them of ambition. And that’s without having tried to take a stand. A lot of times, the people who try to fight back are beaten down even harder.

I don’t speak for Leslie Jones but girl got a beatdown without even trying. And while I am thoroughly inspired by her response, I’m also scared.

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“Stop letting the ignorant people be the loud ones. … Be louder.” Leslie Jones

 

That doesn’t mean I won’t do anything. It doesn’t mean that I’ve lost my voice–obviously, because I’m here blogging about it–but when I think about the extent to which I want to get involved, a large part of what holds me back is fear. Because as much as I’d hate to lose Twitter followers or derail my efforts to be a writer or bring about some criticism, that’s not the worst that can happen. And women, far more so than men, know that to be true.

I’ve never received a death threat but I imagine it’s terrifying. For famous people, who are so often out in public, in the company of strangers, and often relying on strangers (assistants, interns, pages, production assistants) to do their jobs, the truth is that anyone could get to them if they were truly motivated.

As a paranoid person, this idea scares the hell out of me. As a fairly newish mother who still can’t bring herself to fully engage world news because it will most assuredly send me into a spiral of anxiety and depression, this idea has been firmly planted in a compartment of my brain that I don’t access unless I’m feeling extra safe. And mind you, I am not so much a public person. I have a short list of the places I go on a regular basis, I talk to very few people I don’t already know, and I always heed Sam Hanna’s advice on tradecraft.

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“What was he thinking? Leaving at the same time every day? Running the same route. Buying coffee at the same store. Every day.”

But the threat of violence from someone who vigorously disagrees with my stand against the isms of the world is REAL to me, not because I’ve experienced it personally but because I’ve seen it happen to others So Many Times.

I love what Leslie said with my whole heart. I want to be louder. I want to shout down the horrible hate-fueled trolls… but I’m scared. I’m scared for my safety, for my family, for my livelihood. Hell, I’m scared for my mental health because after a day like Leslie had, retweeting her hate messages, I would surely crawl into a hole and never come out.

And that’s why the haters win. Because the good people are too scared to expose themselves.

(That’s not so much a problem for the haters since many of them are so very good at hiding behind fake social media accounts.)

So what do we do? What do good people do to help when they’re too scared to make themselves a target? When they feel like they have too much to lose in defending themselves, never mind someone else?

Small acts and diligent effort. That’s my answer to What Can You Do To Make The World Better. I’ve never been a protester so much as an educator. I’ve never been one to yell my opinions to a group when I can have a quiet conversation with an individual. It’s not revolutionary on a large scale but it’s not nothin’ either. It allows me to contribute without risking my safety or sanity. It’s a way for good people to get involved without having to be so scared.

God bless the loudmouths who can stand in front of a crowd (literally or digitally) and call bullshit when they see it. The world needs people like that. But for those of us who can’t do the same, there’s still work to do: small acts and diligent effort to make the world a better place.