Temenos Journal II

October 14, 2016

Why Trump’s accusers didn’t come forward sooner

Filed under: Feminism,Politics,Spiritual Activism — by Genie Webster @ 3:35 pm
Tags: , , ,

I’m an average middle-aged woman… average looks, average build, above-average intelligence, talent, and competence. I don’t know what the national average is for women who have been degraded and inappropriately toyed with in the workplace, but I can speak from my own experience. It’s happened to me at least three times that I can clearly remember.

Yes, I’ve been fired from a job I loved because I spoke out about inappropriate behavior towards me by the president of a company for which I worked. What he did would not be considered harassment and it was not illegal, but it made me uncomfortable. It made me not want to be in a room alone with him. In retrospect, I regret explaining to my immediate supervisor why I stopped having one-on-one meetings with the boss. The company offered me two months salary when they let me go, but only if I would sign an agreement not to say anything negative about the company. Of course I signed the agreement. I was losing my job and I needed the money.

That’s why we don’t speak up. We know that if it’s our word against his, we will never win. Men in power know that working women can’t usually afford to lose their jobs, so we rarely speak up. We just shake our heads and walk away disgusted, while we look for another job or a way to get out of the situation. Not everyone has the luxury of just walking away from a paycheck.

I’m proud of Trump’s victims coming forward. I understand why they waited. There is strength in numbers. Women’s stories are being validated and perhaps our collective self esteem will be healed from talking about what we’ve had to endure.

Donald Trump, your attitude towards women and the way you’ve treated them is not okay. You are a lousy role model for our sons and brothers. Instead of taking responsibility for your actions and apologizing, you accuse your victims of lying. Just  sit down and shut the fuck up. Or change.

 

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July 30, 2011

Confessions of a Recovering Angry Feminist

RosieRiveterYes, I admit I am a recovering angry feminist.

I still abhor the patriarchal values that perpetuate a fear-based society, where money buys power and bullies rule.

I still get livid when a woman or child is abused — physically, mentally, or spiritually.

But I have changed my thinking in one major way…

During the 70s and 80s I worked very hard to prove that I could make it in a man’s world. I worked my way up in a nontraditional job in a piping construction firm — from clerical worker to project manager — and learned to wear a hard hat and read a blueprint.

Then I went into my own business. First I went into publishing, which evolved into graphics and printing. I negotiated contracts, raised working capital, and had power lunches with bankers, lawyers, and CEOs. I became a successful, prominent business woman who was often profiled in the press as a role model and a leader.

A big part of my mission was to help pave the way for other aspiring business women. I was a charter member and active leader in the local Women Business Owners Association and I organized a roundtable discussion group of successful business women. We learned how to network and make things happen alongside the good ol’  boys of the Cleveland business community.

We were the women who learned to compete and win in the male-dominated competitive and greed-driven business world. We (or most of us) had become part of the system. Right around the time that George Bush Sr. dropped the first bomb on Iraq… I realized that I no longer wanted to be part of that system. I felt something like ashamed.

That moment of epiphany was the beginning of the decision to leave the business world and become the artist and writer that I was born to be. I did not like what I would have had to become in order to go to the next level of success in business. I did not like playing by the rules that were invented by men in suits. I announced my decision to my friends in my business women’s roundtable and I had their full support.

As I began the process of easing out of business, I gained a new appreciation for what men have been accomplishing for so many centuries. As I slowed down, the numbness caused by the continual onslaught of adrenalin began to subside, and I started to realize how bone-weary I was. I ached from head to toe. My brain was worn out.

I remember thinking, “Men can have this. Running a business is for the birds.” I reflected on all the giant things that men have accomplished… building the railroads, building the bridges, inventing commerce, etc. This is way too much work and you really do need broader shoulders than I have or want.

I just wanted out of the game. It did not feel like defeat, it felt like liberation.

I am still a feminist. That is, I will always work for equal rights for women and girls. Thankfully, there’s not nearly as much work to do now as there was when I was starting out in business. But I am no longer an angry feminist.

I feel compassion for men, not anger. My mission has changed from “making it in a man’s world” to “changing the way we look at the world.” I have many male friends who share the same vision. Men are not our enemy. They are our brothers. The enemy is the patriarchal system, created before our grandparents’ time. The enemy is corporate greed, that holds so many of our men (and women) hostage.

We allow ourselves to look the other way and become numb so that we can provide a certain expected lifestyle for our families. Well, that’s a short-sighted sell-out because we lose our integrity in the process. We lose our health, our peace of mind, our self-respect, and ultimately our souls.

We need to participate more as conscious citizens who can think for ourselves and make up our own minds, instead of coasting along like passive consumers, most of whom are also self-medicating themselves just to be able to withstand the insanity.

As citizens, we need to stay vigilant to keep informed about what the prevailing game is, and to know the rules. If we don’t like the game, we don’t have to play. We can help invent a new game where the object is not necessarily to win — the object is to keep the game going. We need to revisit the rules every so often, so that we can change the rules when they no longer serve our highest collective good.

Yes, the angry feminist has mellowed. Now I am a spiritual activist. I don’t think we can change the world… but I think we can change our hearts. And so my work is to reach peoples’ hearts through my music and my writing and my art. Yes, I believe we can change the world by changing our hearts, one heart at a time. This is about as feminist and feminine as you can get, I think.

 

Related: On the Strategy of the Dolphin

Related: On Spiritual Activism

July 25, 2011

A David & Goliath Tale – No. 1

I’m not afraid to take on the big cats.

The first time I took an unpopular stand against a daunting authority figure was when I was 19 or 20… working for a company called Tube Craft in Cleveland, Ohio.

I was quiet and focused on the job then, just like I am now. I started out as a “shipping clerk.” I learned quickly and soon got promoted to something like a production expeditor (? I don’t remember…). I do remember that the guy who worked side by side with me and who trained me was a tall blonde young man around my age. He was a nice guy, happily married, and we became pals and sometimes went out to lunch together.

The company was expanding and soon there was another guy around our age… a dark-haired shorter Italian guy. This time I was the one who trained him and we all did the same kind of work and became pals and often went out to lunch together.

One day, the tall blonde guy was complaining that he had to ask for a raise. “My wife and I have a baby on the way. We can’t make it on $XX per week.”

I think he was making about 30-40% more than I was.

Now I had been a feminist since the 6th grade when I challenged the recess monitor, Mr. Lehman: “How come the boys get the good kickball field and the girls get the junky one?” It just so happened that when I got home from work that day, the headline in the Plain Dealer said something like “GE (or some other huge corporation) must pay ($ some huge amount) in back wages to female employees in class action pay discrimination lawsuit.” It was a huge victory for feminists who were working to achieve equal pay for equal work at the time.

The next morning, little soft-spoken Genie went in to see the immediate supervisor, Frank Petrovich. I showed him the headlines and asked him “Did you know that it’s illegal not to pay women the same wages for equal work?” Frank was a really nice guy and a great boss. He said, “I was wondering when you would bring that up. I’m sorry but I can’t do anything about it. You’re going to have to take it up with Mr. Wiley (the president of the company).”

Bruce Wiley was ancient, but authoritative and an intimidating figure. Everyone was afraid to talk to Mr. Wiley and I was no exception. Although he did have a soft spot for young girls like me. So when I asked to see him, I was given an appointment.

I brought the Plain Dealer headlines with me. He was friendly and all smiley with his pale complexion and fine white hair and he invited me to have a seat. I sat across from him at his huge shiny desk and I put the newspaper headlines down in front of him. He adjusted his wire-rimmed specs and took a look and his pale face turned a bright shade of pink and his smiley-smiley face went dark.

I bravely asked him, “Mr. Wiley, are you aware that it is illegal to pay women less than men when they are doing the same work?”

He was angry that I would even ask such a question. “Young lady,” (I’ll never forget his words) “In this company we compare the women with the women and the men with the men.”

“I know you do, Mr. Wiley. But now that’s against the law.”

Mr. Wiley was really angry now. “What makes you think you’re worth more than Viola May, or Betty Sadowski?!! I don’t care what the law is! We compare the women with the women and the men with the men here.”

Then I did something that amazes me now. I mustered up all my courage and I said, “With all due respect, Mr. Wiley, this practice is illegal, and I am going to take steps to protect my rights by the law.” (My heart was pounding!)

Mr. Wiley never spoke to me again and I became a pariah in that company. The guys wouldn’t eat lunch with me anymore. The women would avert their eyes. And I was just a sweet young girl!

I think I took a day off to go downtown to fill out a report at the Ohio EEOC. Long story short… I won the case. And Mr. Wiley’s Tube Craft had to pay me all the back pay which was the difference between the guys’ wages and mine. I think that was the first time I took on Goliath and won.

But it wasn’t the last time…

June 18, 2011

On Speaking Truth to Power

anitahillquote

I was spellbound by the Anita Hill hearings regarding the Clarence Thomas nomination to the Supreme Court. I watched it every minute that I could be in front of the TV. To me, it was a bizarre drama that was being played out live in front of the entire nation (this was before “reality TV”). I knew this was was an important moment in our society.

I admit that I became fascinated with the cartoon-like drama being enacted by members of the senatorial committee, and the whole event had a big impact on me.

The senators were being confronted with having to deal with a woman who was not going to back down from her assertion of the truth. It was as if they had never confronted a situation quite like this before. And Anita came across with such dignity, intelligence, and grace… that the contrast caused the senators to come across as cartoon-ish caricatures of themselves.

Only Joe Biden stood out as human and real, from my perspective. If only he had been a stronger, more powerful influence in those days…

Orrin Hatch came across as sinister and adversarial, and Arlen Specter could have been cast as the evil Sheriff of Nottingham–he had that creepy vibe (at least on camera).

I remember thinking to myself, “These are our nation’s leaders??” What a bunch of pompous clowns. I couldn’t believe there was so much drama and posturing. I wondered why they just didn’t put on their white wigs and robes and admit that they were just going through the motions to make it appear as if they were giving Anita Hill a fair hearing. The decision had already been made by the powers-that-be to discredit her.

Anita Hill came across as real. She remained consistent and solid and her testimony rang true. I believed her then and I still do.

I remember when Anita Hill appeared at a big fundraising event in Cleveland in 1992. She appeared on the bill with Gloria Steinem and Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop chain. My then teen-aged daughter Melody and I went downtown to the Cleveland Music Hall to hear these prominent women speak.

They were all inspiring. But Anita Hill’s message was the most specific: “Speak out about your truth.” She said things would never change if we allow the truth to be swept under the carpet. “Speak out,” she kept saying. “You may pay a price, but the price is worth it.”

It was an important affirmation for me, as I was beginning a big transition in my life (although I did not know it at the time). I think Anita’s influence may have had an impact on my daughter, too, who courageously continues to speak out about the truth.

I was so impressed by Anita Hill that I bought a bumper sticker for my car, “I believe you Anita.” I didn’t know how else I could support her other than by sharing some of the heat.

Six years after the hearings, my hero wrote a book, Speaking Truth to Power. The book is about her experience before, during, and after the hearings. It goes a long way in helping the public get to know Anita Hill, and to better understand her motives in standing up for the truth, despite the punishment she had to endure for bucking the white male system (at the time).

She came forward with information that she, as a citizen, felt was vital in assessing Clarence Thomas’s character. If only Clarence Thomas had come forward with (something like): “I understand how my actions may have been construed as offensive or disrespectful. I will make amends for those past actions and I will be more conscious of being more respectful moving forward.” But, of course, he denied any responsibility at all. Even worse yet — Clarence Thomas, along with the senatorial committee — tried to get him off the hook by bullying the witness and trying to discredit her character.

Many of us can identify with Anita Hill. Our confrontations with denial systems may be on a much smaller scale, but the courage required to stand your ground despite punishment and attempts to discredit you is just as real. It astounds me to see the lengths to which some people will go to defend their version of reality, and how threatened they feel when challenged.

I am grateful to Anita Hill for telling her story, and for inspiring others to have the courage to stand up for their own truth.

I caught Anita on “Bookwatch” on C-Span when the book Speaking Truth to Power
came out in 1997. The interviewer asked her if she could ever forgive Clarence Thomas. She paused thoughtfully, then answered, “I’m not necessarily looking for an apology, but I would like some sort of acknowledgement that he understands what he did to my life by calling me a liar in front of the entire nation.”

I believe you, Anita.