On catcalls and compliments

I’ve been reading a lot of posts on the #YesAllWomen campaign, and this one really struck me, because it’s closest to my experience. Many men do not see the misogyny of others, because the men who perpetrate this misogyny are often very careful to not act on it in front of other men. So I’ll just say – before discounting the experiences of women, take a moment to consider this article.

Then, take a moment just to ask yourself – have I ever said or done something to a woman that I considered a compliment, to which she reacted with anger or annoyance? I think this little thing is the most pervasive form of sexism I see; the “drunk man at the party” in Hess’s article is all too familiar to me (is there any party that doesn’t have one of those?). Consider also the catcall. I get it, sometimes, though more often in my old neighborhood in VA, in which I had to jog on sidewalks running alongside very busy streets. I’ve had men justify it as, “It’s a compliment! You should be happy to get a catcall! It means you’re attractive and sexy!”

Um… no thanks.

When you catcall, you’re not complimenting me. You’re appreciating a body in your line of sight that happens to fit your model of “sexy” or “attractive.” You’re appreciating an object, and I’m not an object. You don’t know me. Tell you what, you can catcall me. IF you catcall every single other person out for a jog on the sidewalk, too. If you’re just trying to give a compliment and make people happy and “help” them feel sexy, then there are others who need it more than I do.

Though I’m pretty sure they’ll give you the same withering stare (or middle finger) that I do. I am more than my body. When you catcall me, I assume that you find me sexy. And perhaps are thinking of having sex. And that makes me sick. Keep your thoughts and whistles to yourself. It’s a much greater compliment to know that you think of me than more than a body.



If you are a white, Christian, middle-class man, you have privilege. It’s not your fault (most likely, unless you are actively perpetuating discrimination. But most likely, you are not.). We live in a society that affords certain privileges to White, Christian, cisgender, middle-class men that others do not get. Each one of those adjectives affords its own privilege; for example, I am a white, Christian, lesbian, middle-class woman. I am 60% privileged. Yes, I know I’m being simplistic for the purposes of illustration. There are many other categories that afford privilege in certain circumstances, geographies and demographics, and some may argue that occasionally, being a minority in one or more of these categories is a bonus. But in general, in America today, these – White, Christian, cisgendered, middle-class, male – are the ones that afford the most privilege. You are hired more often, promoted more often, less likely to be arrested and convicted, more likely to go to (and graduate from) college, etc. etc. Again: it’s not your fault. You didn’t ask to be prioritized, entitled. Your privilege is 100% sheer dumb luck. It is luck to be born a White, male, attractive, middle-class, Christian in the developed world. And those lucky factors allow you easier access to things like jobs. Yes, you can change your religion. Yes, your social standing and class may fluctuate during your lifetime. But the fact remains that some people start out lucky and some don’t, and that doesn’t make you Better Than another. It just makes you lucky.

I didn’t ask for it, either, but I benefit from it, and I know it.

I can recognize when I’m being given the benefit of the doubt because I look safe. Just today, I went into a store to make a large purchase. I brought only my credit card, slipped into my back pocket, because we have to go through metal detectors in my building and it’s annoying to stand and wait while my purse is scanned. So when the cashier asked to see my ID, I had to smile sheepishly and admit that I didn’t have it on me. She smiled and rang me up anyway. I know that that has pretty much everything to do with the fact that I don’t “look” like someone who would make a purchase on a stolen credit card. I am young, white, female, attractive enough, and professionally dressed. I am under no illusions that a Black male wearing a hoodie would get the same benefit of the doubt.

It’s hard to combat privilege. Privileged people LIKE being privileged. I take comfort in knowing that I could make my purchase even without ID. It’s hard to convince people that they should care that they are sometimes afforded benefits that people who inhabit other categories are not. Societies – including, especially, America – are built on the notion of the Haves and Have Nots. If everyone is treated equally, then we will not be special. We will not be Better Than. Yet we need those privileged folk in order to make the system fairer for all. For example, the Abolitionist movement benefitted greatly from the assistance of anti-slavery white people. A class of people in a status of disadvantage will progress closer and faster to equality with the assistance of the advantaged class. People with privilege need to help because it’s the right thing to do, and because – and this is key – they are NOT Better Than; they were just lucky to be born with better circumstances.

Okay. So privilege isn’t your fault, and it’s not mine. But that doesn’t absolve us of all responsibility. I know that the world is a better place when a diversity of voices is given equal room at the table. It’s my job (literally) to demonstrate that inclusion is the tool to making everyone better.

#YesAllWomen was a good start in helping ensure that the voices of women are heard. You may not believe that women are silenced more often than men, but they are. #YesAllWhiteWomen is also a good start, in that it recognizes that women of color are still disadvantaged compared to White women. You could just as equally create #YesAllStraightWomen or #YesAllPrettyWomen or #YesAllThinWomen or #YesAllChristianWomen or #YesAllMarriedWomen or #YesAllWorkingWomen (I could go on. You get the point.). Sometimes recognizing that these hierarchies of privilege exist is mind-opening, and it’s the first step to addressing microinequities when you see them. Address the fact that yes, there is a problem. Yes, we treat people differently based on these categories. Society does it. I do it. You do it. So how do we stop it from happening?

First, we have to help people accept, perhaps reluctantly, that riding on their own privilege through life isn’t the best way to go. Which is hard, because privilege can be a pretty sweet ride, and who wants to give that up? Reframe: it’s not about giving up the privileges you already enjoy. You can’t really do that, unless you choose to, say switch to a non-traditional religion. It’s about ensuring others get the same privileges you do. Don’t you want to know that you got the job because you were the best candidate and not because you’re White (or, in some careers, Asian)? Inviting and allowing others the same privileges you’re afforded does not diminish you, but rather raises you both up.

We can also help people see that passively allowing discrimination based on ANY category isn’t okay, because it silences voices that are worth listening to if we want to create a society that has a rich tapestry of opinions, beliefs, and thoughts. Some might argue that our country was founded on discrimination (Native Americans, anyone?) while other argue that it was founded on freedom (Puritans, natch). Regardless, we live in a melting pot of constantly shifting demographics, and privilege may soon be in flux, too. That’s not meant to sound like a threat, just a wake-up call: you and I are in positions of privilege now. We might not always be. Cultivate empathy and responsibility now, and it may be shown to you in return.

I want to say something other than “be on the right side of history.” “Love your neighbors as yourself.” “A rising tide lifts all boats.” “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” If that’s not the society you’re looking for, then maybe you shouldn’t be living in the Melting Pot.

This is all well and good, you might now say. I recognize that I have privilege. I want to ensure that others are treated equally. What can I do, today, to help make this happen in my own, small part of the world? Well, this, to start. And stay tuned for more.

Because Misogyny

I’m still wrapping myself around a response to #YesAllWomen. In the meantime, this.

As It Ought to Be

YesAllWomen Feminism

Because Misogyny

Kirsten Clodfelter

Because misogyny: Elliot Rodger.

Because misogyny: Every man who Elliot Rodger calls to mind. Every man who has let the whistled catcall of hot momma morph in his mouth to stuck-up bitch when that tried-and-true method of objectifying a complete stranger fails to get him laid. Every man who has complained of being friend-zoned as if the act of being decent –  as if the act of simply treating a woman like a human being – is all it might take.

Because misogyny: Equality as radical. Empowerment as weapon. Feminist as feminazi. At some point, doesn’t a lifetime of incidents of domestic violence, of rape, of murder, of torture, of withholding count as its own Holocaust? The terror George W. was hunting to finally justify that war?

Because misogyny: Filmmakers Woody Allen and Roman Polanski are lionized as their own…

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Anytown America – It’s time to Stand Up For Workplace Equality

Just the next state over from me… basic discrimination is happening.

Out & Equal Workplace Advocates

Editor’s Note: Saginaw, Michigan could represent any American town in one of the 29 states where it’s still legal to fire someone just because they’re LGBT. Saginaw Councilwoman Annie Boensch introduced an ordinance that would protect LGBT employees locally. Boensch’s ordinance sparked opposition and heated debate. It didn’t pass. Yet Boensch still has hope. She explains why.

By Annie Boensch

Saginaw, Michigan is a welcoming place. Our citizens are kind and friendly people. We have a vibrant and active lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community here. One need not look hard to find examples of their contributions to the betterment of our city.

Yet, state and federal law has failed to keep up with people’s evolving attitudes on LGBT equality. Michigan has a Civil Rights Act, but it doesn’t include LGBT people. That’s why Michigan is one of the 29 states were you can legally be fired just for…

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Duck Dynasty all over again?

This one’s hard for me. On one hand, once again the viewers have spoken, and a TV show has been cancelled because of the personal sayings and doings (off-set) of the hosts. (Also, please note that I finally figured out how to embed links. So accomplished I am.). It’s so very Duck Dynasty all over again.

I do not like the Behham brothers’ beliefs. I do not agree with their political views, their religious views, and probably many more of their personal opinions. I would even go so far as to say they disgust me and I’m a bit scared of their homophobia.

However, I’m not sure what any of those things have to do with flipping real estate.

HGTV is a fairly liberal network, and has certainly had hosts in the past who protested for gay rights, whose opinions I wholeheartedly agree with. They have also been featured specifically for their inclusion of LGBT individuals in “ordinary” shows. But this still feels to me like two guys getting fired for their personal political and religious beliefs that have no bearing on their ability to renovate and flip homes.

I guess I’m grateful that the public has spoken, and the Benham brothers have to deal with the consequences of low ratings… assuming that is what the outcome would be if HGTV let it “get that far.”

What do you think? Have the people spoken, or is this a form of discrimination?

One last thought. The brothers say their “faith” cost them the show. That bothers me. It wasn’t faith. It was the outward expression of a misguided Christianity that caused them to lose the show. Saying it was faith is deliberately self-righteous.

Sterling and separation

The Sterling case brings up two other questions: One, are public figures less entitled to privacy? And two, is separation between church and state really possible?

I know you’re thinking – huh? How does that second question at all relate to this case? As I mentioned yesterday, a primary issue to address in the Sterling case is the fact that the audio clip saw the light of day. It was a private recording between two people, and it DOES sounds like she was baiting him into making the comments he did. I don’t really blame her; he’s scum. But can and should that audio clip be used to not only fire Sterling, but ban him from the NBA? This makes me think of Mozilla all over again.

Fundamentally, it also comes back to this question: Can we all, truly, keep our personal opinions on religion/politics/race/gender/sexual orientation/LIFE at home when we go to work? Can we every REALLY separate church and state in our practice, when they are so entwined in our hearts?

I want to believe that we can, to the extent that I believe it is possible to treat all humans respectfully in the workplace, even if you don’t agree with their looks or their lifestyle. I’ve even seen it happen. I have a coworker who is a Jehovah’s Witness. I’m gay, and I know that his religious beliefs mean that he doesn’t condone my marriage. Yet he has always been incredibly kind and friendly to me, asks about my wife, and goes out of his way to include me in activities and make me feel welcome. Sure, some cynics might say he’s just waiting for a time to proselytize. But I believe instead that he’s acting in the workplace in a way that shows respect and equity to his coworkers, even if he may act differently at home. He is proof to me that it is possible to keep one’s personal beliefs separate from the way they behave (and yes, I’m focusing on the word “behave” intentionally) in the workplace. And if this is possible, then isn’t it only fair to give Donald Sterling the same consideration – at least in this particular situation?

“I’m not a racist,” I just hate Black people

Please note that the title of this post is deliberately inflammatory. For the quote, of course, I’m referring to Donald Sterling’s “I’m not a racist” comment to Anderson Cooper while trying to justify his comments on an audio clip in which he is, well, racist. I think it’s fairly clear from the clip, the follow up clip, and all of Sterling’s misguided interviews that he is not only racist but also homophobic and misogynistic. The real problem we’re dealing with, then, is two-fold: One, that Sterling doesn’t believe he is a racist. And two, this audio clip saw the light of day. We’ll deal with problem one today.

1.  a person who believes that a particular race is superior to another.
2. having or showing the belief that a particular race is superior to another
That’s it. That’s the definition, folks. As Gene Demby notes on the NPR Blog for CodeSwitch (http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2014/05/12/311917179/donald-sterling-says-he-isnt-a-racist-is-anyone), “When we talk about racism, we’re talking about stuff like microaggressions, which can be motivated by abhorrent views and might be of relatively little significance.”
Believing you are superior to people in other races makes you a racist. Engaging in microaggressions against a person or people of a particular race (telling a woman not to post pictures of herself with Black people) makes you a racist. But Sterling, according to ESPN’s Peter Keating, has gone beyond even those, including having been sued for housing discrimination against Latinos and Blacks when he was a property owner. In short, yes, he is a racist. So why does saying that feel so incendiary?
Being labeled a racist is a stigma, evoking images of hooded men in white gathering in darkness around a flaming cross (though apparently Sterling has no qualms about telling Anderson Cooper that Cooper is “more of a racist” than he is). The legacy of racism in America does go back to the “plantation mentality” that Sterling pretends not to understand. (Okay, really, you have to watch this clip: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/13/anderson-cooper-donald-sterling-interview-reaction_n_5315117.html). Sterling knows being a racist is bad for his image. That’s the only reason I can think of for why he’s deluding himself – or trying to delude us – that he is not a racist. He is so wrapped in a world of his own privilege that his self-righteousness and entitlement is clouding his ability to see nuance. And, you know, logic.

“Yes, and…”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the “confidence issue,” by which I mean the belief that one thing that holds women back is a persistent lack of self-confidence. I hope it’s obvious that when I say “women” I do not mean all women, and am simply using the generalization as a word-saver, but in case it’s not obvious, now it should be. I like the idea of assertiveness training for women because I believe it’s a proactive step women can take to improve their own position and career path. A few things, however, have gotten me thinking.

One – I’ve had improv comedy appear in my life three times in the past two weeks, and that’s rare for me. I think it’s a sign. First, we went to a show; then, at our all-office meeting, our new improv troupe trained by Second City (“a company that uses improv to build communication skills in corporate employees”) performed. Third, an article in Real Simple suggested using improv to combat social anxiety. In any case, the point is that I have been consistently reminded this week about the improv principle of “yes, and” instead of “no.”

Two – focusing on women only attacks half the problem. It leaves out men, who also deserve career planning and advice and who can directly contribute to the equalization of the sexes in board rooms (not least because they make up the majority of those who hire).

Three – the article I referenced in the last post notes that maybe men should act more like women, because research has shown that women are more efficient and successful people managers, and are rated highly on a lot of retention-factor items such as inclusiveness, respect, and collaboration.

To points two and three I say “yes, and.”

Maybe what we need is assertiveness and courage training for all employees. Collaboration and trust-building training for all employees. Men and women working together to build a better workplace for all. I recognize that this is idealistic. But any solution that focuses on only half of the population is only going to be half a solution. To training for women, we need to say “yes, and.”

The blame game

It’s time we stop playing the blame game.

In an article for the Atlantic, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman reflect on recent studies that have shown that the greatest difference between male and female leadership comes down to a confidence gap. I’ve spoken about this before. Call it what you will, something inspires men to apply for more jobs, ask for more promotions and negotiate for higher salaries at a greater rate than women.

Elizabeth Plank of PolicyMic argues that this article just places more blame on the woman – she’s not confident enough, and that self-esteem is her fault: “Although it’s true that some women suffer from more self-defeating thoughts and lower self-esteem, gender inequality can’t be reduced to mental health issues. Women’s lack of opportunities in the workplace are due to much deeper issues, and it’s time we admit that. Instead of telling women to change their personalities, maybe it’s time we take a look at the entire system,” she says. “Kay and Shipman ultimately imply that the key to gender equality is women’s self-confidence, putting the burden on women to personally fix an institutional problem. The authors allocate a small paragraph to children and the lack of flexibility in the workplace when in fact that’s what drives most of the wage gap. Trying to solve gender inequality in the workplace by telling women to be more confident is like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg. It may give the passengers something to do, but it definitely won’t stop the ship from sinking.”

While Plank certainly suggests some fabulous ideas – better maternity leave policies, for example – I don’t think we have to view this as an either/or proposition. I don’t think the Atlantic article denied that there are deep-rooted cultural issues that make gender equality a challenge. Yes, it would be great to eliminate institutional racism and encourage more men to “act like women” – by which she seems to mean having a realistic impression of one’s own abilities. But those are  long-term fixes for the gender imbalance in the workplace. I don’t see anything wrong with improving peoples’ self-confidence now, and I certainly don’t view it as a “mental health issue” (yes, I read that line from PolicyMic as Plank sneering that low self-esteem was something to be scorned. What tone did you read it as?).

So when I saw this piece (http://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/why-teaching-girls-brag-big-deal-n96811 – and for gosh sakes, can someone tell me how to embed links on WordPress?) on NBC News last night, I was happy. This is a quick fix, yes. This is, in comparison to Plank’s blanket fixes (“change our culture”), one simple thing we can try. I say, let’s try this for now. Teach girls to self-promote. #Banbossy. Increase confidence and self-affirmation in our girls who turn into our women – and maybe that’s HOW we start to change our culture.

Negotiating while female

“Negotiating While Female – Bright Spots Among Professional Women” is a forthcoming, co-authored (with fellow Women Employed Advocacy Council members) blog post and a productive rumination on compensation negotiation for female professionals. It will include:

Highlights on what has worked

Perspectives on women in diverse professions

Real-life examples and personal “spotlights”

Emphasis on themes for actionable success

We are seeking to interview 8-10 women who have been successful in negotiation practices and are (ideally) willing to share their position and organization publicly. We will then combine our findings into a compelling, bright spot blog that can help be the change we all hope to evoke! For more information or to be interviewed, please contact me through this blog.