Category Archives: Paula Persists

A Brown Eyed Girl

I work for a company that frequently hosts speakers as part of their Diversity and Inclusion program.  Last week  Jane Elliott spoke to many of us about racial discrimination and implicit bias.  This elderly, white-haired, acerbic, sassy, white woman held us rapt for two hours.

Jane Elliott’s 15 minutes of fame arose from an experiment she concocted and carried out in response to the shooting of Martin Luther King Jr; an experiment designed to shine a spotlight on the ugliness of discrimination.  Little did she know at the time how controversial her experiment would become, and how it would change her life.

This experiment also impacted my life. I have vivid memories of the day in 6th grade when the entire school was told that brown-eyed kids were trouble-makers and were less intelligent than the blue-eyed kids. Brown-eyed kids would sit in the back of the classroom, eat last for lunch, sit in a designated area of the cafeteria, not be able to use the playground equipment outside,  and so on.

I was traumatized.  I was an extroverted kid who loved school, and wanted to be part of everything. I didn’t understand, and went through the day alternating between indignation and tears.  To this day, I remember the one blue-eyed friend who invited me to still sit with her at lunch–because the new rules were stupid; but I also remember the blue-eyed ‘friends’ who quickly bought into the concept of their own superiority, and gleefully taunted this brown-eyed girl.

There are many examples and videos of this experiment, including on the  Oprah show in 1992.  It is chilling to see how quickly the designated superior group started asserting their privilege–calling the ‘others’ names, and finding examples in benign behavior to justify the inferiority of the other group.  Sadly, we absorb these messages about our superiority or inferiority just as quickly.  The third-graders that were  dubbed as superior (if only for the day) in Jane’s original experiment, did markedly better in their school work than they had done just the previous day.  Conversely, kids dubbed as inferior did worse.  The power of expectations cannot be overstated.

Was the experiment cruel?  As a brown-eyed girl, I feel qualified to say that Yes it was.  Although, it was no more cruel than the taunting I experienced earlier that same year, when exercising my brand-new ‘right’ as a girl to wear pants in school.  Discrimination, in doses large or small, educational or otherwise, is cruel.

Was it effective?  The experiment quickly became controversial and triggered many uncomfortable discussions of race and discrimination.  It  definitely gave my white, middle-class classmates and I a small taste of what it is like to be discriminated against, based on a physical characteristic over which we have no control.

In Jane’s original experiment, she put a collar on the ‘inferior’ kids so they could easily be identified.  At the end of the day, after a discussion about the real purpose of the experiment, and the nature of discrimination;  the kids were eager to remove their collars.  They ripped them off, they stomped on them, they hated those dang collars – those symbols of their repression.   If only it were so easy in real life.

 

 

When Bullies are in charge

I was once called a bully at work. A sensitive co-worker did  not like the angle of my head while I typed on the computer.  She thought my posture was overly haughty — which is pretty funny, given that the angle of my head while typing is determined by the location of the sweet spot in my trifocals, versus any desire to intimidate.    In this case it was a  a misunderstanding that could be readily sorted out.  Of course, not all bullying charges are that benign.

I am currently reading “Fire and Fury” about the D’s administration, which supports the growing mountain evidence that an uninformed, self-aggrandizing bully is in charge. If the book is to be believed, the level of dysfunction is even greater than it appears.  The  2016 election gave The D the ultimate bully pulpit.

By now, The D has turned on the courts, the press and the justice department.  He believes anything he says is true, simply because he is the one saying it.  Victims or media outlets that publish or speak the truth are labeled ‘fake news’ or simply called liars.  How can we reason with those who distrust science and knowledge, and are motivated only by power lust and greed? How can we seek justice from those who simply do not care about the welfare of others?

A bully lacks empathy for others.  At its extreme are monsters such as Dr Larry Nassar, the physician who molested young gymnasts for decades, under the guise of medical treatment, without consequence before the sheer volume of accusations could no longer be ignored.  (The victim count is currently 263).  Many others in authority were complicit in covering up his crimes.  Much suffering and tragedy could have been averted if the first girls to speak up had been believed.  Instead their truth was ignored and their misery was compounded by being called liars and being forced to choose between continued abuse or giving up their gymnastics aspirations.  These girls trusted the adults in their lives, and the adults sold them to the devil himself.

Leadership qualities can be used for good or for evil:  Hitler was a charismatic and effective leader, and a despicable person without regard for human life.  Many otherwise normal people were charmed by his message and persona and chose to ignore or minimize his dark side and rabid anti-Semitism.  Similarly, many Americans and Republicans, caught up in The D’s vortex, have chosen to disregard The D’s ‘dark side’, racism, and incompetence.

Due to a variety of bizarre circumstances, The D finds himself in a leadership role that (I think we can all agree) is well above his capabilities. The horrors of this administration mount daily.

Larry Nassar abused small girls for decades before the truth prevailed and he was held accountable for his actions; but not before leaving a legacy of suffering.   How much longer before the truth that is under our noses about The D is believed and he is held accountable?

It is something to ponder.  Perhaps I should also ponder getting a new pair of glasses, lest I offend someone as I type this post.

 

Mulling Priorities

My job is all about helping teams be successful, which  In the ‘lingo’ of agile software development, includes “Managing your WIP” (Work in process); to ensure that teams and individuals identify and focus on the most important work that is needed right now.

Most of us have been overwhelmed at some point in our lives, and have had to make some deliberate choices about what is important NOW, and what to let go.  I recall busily mopping the kitchen floor one summer day, when my then 10-year-old son came inside and asked me to play catch.  I paused:  I looked at the floor, I looked at my son.  I dropped the mop and grabbed my mitt.  My floor stayed grimy, and that was OK.

For the past three years I have coordinated a walk to raise funds in the fight against eating disorders.  It was and is an important and personal cause, and it has been an amazing journey. I have met wonderful,  committed individuals who continue to serve as personal inspirations.  Oh, and we also raised a lot of money.  Now–it is time to start organizing the 2018 walk.  Yet, I pause. 

2018 also brings an election – an election that provides a critical opportunity to stem the tide of division and hate that has dominated the national political scene.   Nowhere is this more important than in my own backyard, where the Koch Brothers have taken well-funded aim at Senator Tammy Baldwin.

When I started the eating disorder walk, three years ago, I had zero advocacy experience.  And, aside from ranting, blogging and donating, I do not have any political experience.  Yet, I will learn;  because…. it is the most important thing, right now. 

 

 

As the ‘D’ Turns – Fire and Fury Episode

You just can’t make this stuff up.   The various factions under the Republican umbrella appear to be splintering before our eyes.

I am currently reading Hillary’s “What Happened” — a measured and intelligent read.  I am confident that “Fire and Fury – Inside the Trump White House” will have a much higher entertainment value; I just downloaded it and appreciate that The D himself brought the existence of this book to my attention by his angry rebuttals.

 

Prequel to #MeToo

The following is my book review (on Goodreads) of Gretchen Carlson’s book:  Be Fierce:  Stop harrassment and take your power back.  I recommend it.

This book found me at the exact moment when I needed it. I had just left a job due to egregious gender discrimination, the Harvey Weinstien scandal was in the future, and the #MeToo movement had not yet exploded. Be Fierce helped validate my own experiences, and my reaction to them; experiences that reflected a culture of hostility to women in that particular workplace.

While not a victim of sexual harrassment at work, I identified with the experience of being shamed and bullied based on non-conformance to misogynistic gender-based behavior norms. I particularly identified with the following excerpt relating to how women are subject to tone policing:

“Ah yes, ‘Tone”. I’ve heard this most of my life, as women do. We twist ourselves into pretzels to appear both warm and friendly and tough and competitive, and it can be a strain. How many of us have had the experience of ‘forgetting’ to smile because we’re concentrating on doing our work, only to be called an ‘ice queen’.”

Ms. Carlson provides a compelling case that social media provides a bully pulpit for those who viciously degrade women. Women are routinely shamed, called vulgar names and threatened with violence if they dare to voice an opinion, share photos, or simply try to co-exist in the cyber community. Cyberbullying is a serious issue that silences many girls and women who learn quickly that cyberspace is not safe for them.

Ms. Carlson addresses many myths, including the oldest ploy in the book: Victim blaming: “We must reject the myth that women encourage harassment through their dress and demeanor, and place the focus on those doing the harassing.”

Women are doubly victimized, when they experience retaliation for reporting harassing behavior. This book includes many heart-breaking stories of brave women whose careers were destroyed when they spoke up about their sexual harassment. These stories are particularly of interest now that the dam of denial has been cracked; At long last, some women are being heard and believed, and some of the harassers are finally being held accountable. It is a start.

I recommend this book – particularly to anyone who believes that the current #MeToo movement overstates the problem. If you know someone who believes that harassment is not common; suggest that they talk to their mother, their wife, their daughters, their sisters about their experiences. And then listen to what they have to say. We all need to listen, to believe, and to change.

Christmas Reflections

It is the day after our Christmas celebration and my heart is full.  We were blessed with a house full of family, food and laughter.  Children careened around the house–hyped up with sugar, a slew of new toys, and the raucous joy of playing with cousins; while their parents caught up (more quietly) with their own cousins and extended family. The final count was 18 souls, including both my brothers (a surprisingly rare event) and our still hardy and sharp-as-a-tack father.  

Now it is the ‘day after’.  The grand-girls (and parents)  loaded up their SUV with a fresh and generous batch of new toys for the trip north.  Grandpa Dan and I have slowly restored our home to it’s pre-granddaughter and pre-party state;  more tidy, but infinitely more empty.   We smile as we uncover a random doll shoe or forgotten action figure.

I will hold this day in my heart for the year to come.  It has been hard to fully embrace joy in 2017;  a year in which Americans began reaping the toxic fruits of greed and division, sown from the bitter seeds of the 2016 election.  I am cautiously optimistic that 2018 will see a correction in our political landscape; and can stem of the tide of fear, hate and division.

Today, we bask in the glow of family togetherness.  Those memories will serve as a reminder of what is at stake, and will fuel us for the days to come.

 

 

 

 

 

Giving Thanks

The majority of my posts over the past 12 months have reflected outrage and dismay. But, not today. Today I reflect on the many blessings of our life and optimism for the future.

I am very thankful to have Dan in my life. He is always in my corner, and has become my rock through a lot of ‘thick and thin’.  We are both grateful for our log home in the woods–we enjoy entertaining and  sharing our home through AirBnB – a new endeavor for us this past year.

Family is a constant source of blessings and joy – I am thankful to be able to  regularly connect with my kids, their spouses / significant others, and (of course!) those  delightful twin grand-girls.  There is  nothing in the world more cheering than experiencing the twin’s enthusiasm and charm first-hand.   My 90 year old dad is doing fantastic – with good mental and physical health.  We hope to have many more years with dad.  (I also have to give a quick shout-out to our mutt, Cleo, who makes sure I take a walk at least once a day.)

After my recent job change, I have re-discovered the pleasure of being fully engaged and appreciated on the job; with a great boss and co-workers.  The days fly.

I am grateful for the heightened awareness and involvement of the majority of Americans, including myself, over the last year. We have seen what happens with an overly complacent majority.  I am optimistic that we will see a corrective backlash in 2018–which will only happen if we remain aware and engaged.  

Finally,  I am grateful for my health and for my tennis buddies.  I hope to be on the court–smacking balls and talking smack for many years to come.

 

#metoo

I was 13. My freshmen science teacher touched me under the guise of ‘tickling’ when we were alone in the classroom.  I didn’t have words for it. I felt weird and bad and ashamed.  This is the first time I’ve told anyone.  It still makes me feel weird.

I haven’t thought of this for years…. but now, the dam of silence is breaking.  This damn dam has protected men who harass and abuse others with impunity for far too long. Like the glass ceiling, there are new cracks, but it is far from shattered.

Our culture has enabled powerful and important men to sexually harass and victimize others without reproach or consequences.  For decades, the women that spoke out were marginalized, ignored, mocked, and retaliated against.  Many women made the difficult choice to suffer in silence, rather than run the very real risk of public humiliation, character assassination and/or career suicide by speaking out.  

Even if she is believed, women victims are/were often blamed: She was too friendly, she wasn’t friendly enough, she was a slut, she was a bitch, she was in the wrong place, she wore the wrong clothes, etc.  In the 9th grade, I didn’t even know that telling someone was an option.

In contrast, entitled perpetrators  often receive no more than a sly wink or a slap on the wrist with comments along the lines of “boys will be boys” or “she was asking for it”; or “it was just locker room talk’. The more famous or rich the pervy perp, the more likely they will avoid consequences for their actions.  As #45 (not MY president) famously stated “When you’re famous, you can do anything”.

But lately, there seems to be a slight shift in the narrative, which I have dubbed the Harvey Weinstein Effect.  (I’m not entirely sure if that should be ‘affect’ or ‘effect’ – there are a couple people on the planet that know the difference – but I am not one of them).  The ultimate fall of Harvey Weinstein has let lose a floodgate of pent up accusations from women who have been empowered and emboldened that they may (now) be taken seriously.

Now that the dam has sprung a leak, the accusations are rushing out — reflecting a tsunami of suffering that has been pent up over the years.  Victims who were previously silenced by the near-certainty of harsh backlash, are now more likely to speak their truth.

It is a start.

Regulation and Rights

The Las Vegas shooting is at the top of tragic news this week, which effectively distracted us from the D’s continued systemic dismantling of reproductive and other human rights.  This week saw directives and legislation further restricting abortion, birth control and LGBT protections.

Is my uterus really more dangerous than an AK-47? The GOP continues to regulate and control our collective uteri with righteous and religious fervor, while staunchly defending the right for any and all Americans to amass semi-automatic weaponry; weaponry designed for purpose of killing.  What about our right to feel safe while going to a movie, going to a concert or going to school?

Posts on Social Media suggest we should store guns in our vaginas; at which time they would immediately be subject to strict regulation.  (There’s nothing the GOP hates more than an unregulated, rebel pussy.) The GOP seem to believe that while anyone and everyone is responsible enough to own an AK-47; women are not responsible enough to manage our own reproductive organs (or to bare our arms in congress–but I digress).

Other social media posts suggest that prospective gun-owners should go through the same hoops that a young woman is required to endure when seeking an abortion.  If someone is truly ‘pro-life’ it seems that they would be a staunch advocate for restrictions on owning a semi-automatic weapon whose sole purpose is to kill.

One doesn’t have to search far to find the hypocrisy of lawmakers that deny reproductive freedoms to others, while quietly paying for  birth control and/or abortions to cover their own indiscretions.  Just this week, a staunch opponent of reproductive rights, Tim Murphy, was found to have encouraged his mistress to get an abortion.  See more at: Murphy Story

Joan Chittesh, author and Catholic nun summed up the hypocrisy well:

“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

This weekend, Dan and I saw The Battle of the Sexes movie–a dramatization of the real-life tennis match between self-proclaimed male chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs and tennis / feminist phemon, Billy Jean King.  The match took place in 1972, and it served as a reminder that not so long ago it was acceptable to publicly describe women as weak and inferior, and to mock female athletes.   I remember that match, and I remember that time.

We owe a debt to Billie Jean, and others that  braved public ridicule and worse to speak up against the the blatant misogeny of the day.  While strides have been made since that time, we are currently experiencing a rolling back of hard-fought progress for women and other oppressed groups.  How will we respond?

I  hope and pray for the day that my own grand-daughters will look back at this time and be shocked by the culture of hate and divisiveness — a culture that (hopefully) contrasts with their future reality.  I hope they will be proud of how we, their parents and grandparents, responded to the current crisis of human rights.  After all, our generation of voters made this mess–we need to do our best to clean it up.

Fight or Flight

2017 has delivered a series of unexpected blows against women in general and against my own expectations to be treated with equality and respect in the workplace.

The first blow may have been the harshest.  The election of Donald Trump scalded my soul and my sensibilities. The grief over not electing our first female POTUS was overshadowed by horror over who was elected—an odious man who campaigned on a platform of fear, hate and division.  His election has served to embolden not only the neo-Nazis and white supremacists, but others with sexist or racist views, that may have been previously ‘under wraps’.

The second blow was more personal.  I had been successfully performing a new leadership role at work for several months.  The division underwent a reorg in spring, and the hiring director chose to give the  position (a promotion) to a young man with much less experience or qualifications.  I was shocked—as were many others, including the young man who ‘won’ the position.

After some soul-searching, I filed a grievance with HR, which eventually resulted in management retracting the offer to the young man (who did not have the minimum years of experience), and offering the position to me.  My new boss was the director who had made the decision to offer the job to someone else, and she was clearly embarrassed by the whole situation.

The third blow was my new boss’s choice to make my work life a living hell.  I was subjected to an unrelenting stream of criticism for things like making ‘too much’ eye contact in a meeting and responding to emails too quickly.  This took its toll on my physical and emotional health.

Prior to the reorg–I loved the job.  I loved the people.  But, the hostility was too much, I had to leave. This week, I started a different job at another company.

So… what is the universe trying to tell me?  Fight or flight?  Should I take flight and get out of the rat-race and retire?  (If so, the universe needs to dump a load of cash on me-quick!).  Or is it time to fight by ‘leaning in’ and speaking out against unfair practices in the workplace—particularly in regards to women.

I’ll be trying to come up with a catchy slogan like Women’s Careers Matter”, while I wait for the truckload of retirement cash to appear on my front lawn.