Don’t Bring Me Down

I have been forced into a period of self-reflection.  I say that I’m forced because anyone who knows me knows that “reflecting” is not something that comes naturally to me.  I’m the one that talks to the computer as she types, so the thought of sitting quietly, contemplating an issue or a situation, is not my traditional approach.  In fact, if I sit alone too long without talking, I get twitchy and will invent things to discuss with myself, the wall, the computer, the cat, or whatever/whoever seems to be around.  In short – quiet isn’t my thing.

This particular period of reflection was brought on by two separate instances that occurred recently.  First – I had an experience two weeks ago in which I listened to one woman cut another woman down for something completely innocuous.  The second woman had pointed out an error in a document during a meeting I attended, and the first woman (who had made the error) – instead of welcoming the feedback, responded in a condescending , angry and cruel way.  I said something after the meeting to the woman who, shall we say, did not respond well to the feedback she was given.  After our conversation, she admitted that she didn’t handle it well, that she had felt threatened and reacted poorly, and she apologized both to me and to the recipient of her wrath.

The second instance was a post entered in on the Women in Housing website that I saw earlier this week.   A trend on #WiHsng (a Twitter hashtag which stands for Women In Housing, there’s a Twitter account you can follow, too – @WiHsng) is a project in which women in the college and university housing profession are asked to complete this phrase – “Being a Woman in Housing means…”.  We have had a variety of different statements, from “Being a Woman in Housing means never giving up.  Ever.”, to “Being a Woman in Housing means wearing all of my hats at once and looking strangely like Lady Gaga as a result.”  It’s been an interesting project, and one that we hope to continue.  However, this post in particular caught my eye:

             “Being a woman in housing means thanking a female colleague who corrected a mistake I made, instead of cutting her down because I’m mad that I’m wrong.”

This related so directly back to the situation I encountered earlier, that it caused me pause.  I started to reflect back on other experiences I had involving women attacking or passive-aggresively cutting other women down simply because of our own insecurities.  For those fledgling feminist scholars out there, you may recall that I have referred to this in the past as being a “female misogynist”.  The concept is that women feel the only way to get ahead is to put others down, oftentimes in an aggressive manner. 

I have encountered situations in the past that underscore to me this phenomenon still occurs.  To be truthful, I’ve also exhibited behaviors in my own work that were “less than” appropriate, supportive or encouraging.  When I think about these times, it all comes back to me feeling insecure about myself, my own skill set, and quite frankly, my fears about not achieving all that I desire to achieve in life and in my career. 

Sure, there are several female authors who write books about women’s success in leadership, and they discuss how women need to “act more aggressively” in the workplace.  Assertiveness is fine, but in these books, many authors proceed to give examples about how, in their own experiences, they have snapped at, cut down, undercut or in some way made another woman feel “less than” in order to get ahead in their particular field.  In these examples, you can feel the author’s sense of pride in this interaction.  Quite frankly, it makes me sick.

Well, the good news is that research shows this type of approach doesn’t work.  Yes, you may have the individual woman who “succeed” by getting a particular job, but I’m willing to bet if you have a discussion with that “succesful” woman about her quality of life, her quality of working relationships, and her own self-esteem, she won’t seem so successful.  What research shows is that when women support each other through mentoring, networking and establishing intentional connections with other women, all of the women in these communities succeed.  Pay scales increase, advancement opportunities increase, satisfaction increases, and attrition from their current positions and fields decreases.  In fact, women benefit MORE from these types of interactions than their male counterparts do.

What I’m saying is this.  Take a moment to reflect on your own past interactions with women in your profession, and fix your own behaviors.  Then work to establish your networks.  Reach out to other women and offer your assistance, guidance, support or even just a kind word.  For these things will result in everyone’s success, including your own.

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Preaching to the Choir

Well, I have officially been condemned to Hell.  Again.

I realize this may sound strange, but it isn’t the first time in my life that I’ve been condemned to Hell, and more often than not by some well-meaning people.  My own grandmother (on my father’s side – God rest her soul) condemned me to Hell for identifying as a Methodist when I was young, saying that only members of the Church of Christ would go to Heaven.  I’ve had friends kindly tell me they would pray for my soul because I was advocating things counter to their interpretation of Christian doctrine, like gay marriage, pro-choice and women’s equity & equality.  Even strangers on the street have said that if I don’t stop my “wild ways” and “drop out of this crazy college place”, I’ll go to that very hot destination part about as far south as the Christian doctrine can imagine.

However, I have now been condemned to Hell for asserting that in order to change the course of a culture and an ideal, you have to involve more than just those who agree with you in a dialogue about the issue.  Let me explain.

Yesterday I responded to a Twitter post about someone who publically stated that those who believed in Social Justice did not believe in Christ, and that in fact Christ did not represent anything having to do with social justice.  Yes, I admit, I responded rather directly to the individual, and then made a general statement about how wrong I felt it was for people to use the term social justice to discredit the very tenets and values a true philosophy of social justice upholds.  From what I had been seeing as a trend on the #socialjustice hashtag, it was as if Glenn Beck himself had decided to send out his message of social justice being the central tenet of Nazi philosophy to the world, and it made me angry.

But this wasn’t the weird part.  Recall that I’ve already said that I’ve been condemned by many people for my beliefs. What happened next was particularly novel – at least it was for me.

One of the responses to my statement was from someone who first condemned me, and then jumped subjects very quickly with me.  The user immediately asked how I felt about Iran being included on the UN Panel for Gender Equality.  It took me a while to find the group to which this user was referring, but after a bit of digging, I figured it out.  The groups official name is the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).  For those not familiar with CSW, the group is composed of 45 member nations who take part in discussions, research, policy generation and generate annual reports on the status and developments surrounding international equality and equity issues for women and girls.

This user was adamant that Iran not be involved in the CSW because they have a long-standing history of not only oppressing but abusing women.  The thought process behind this philosophy is that this group should not be taking guidance from a nation that so blatantly believes women are evil, and punishes women violently for various innocuous actions (or sometimes, for not reason whatsoever).  After reading some additional information, I responded to this user.  My statement was simple and it reflects my philosophy on social justice and culture change.  Very plainly, I stated, “I do believe that Iran should be involved, otherwise, we are simply preaching to the choir.  We cannot hold these discussions in a bubble and expect anything to change.” 

Well, that lit a fire.  I received another response from someone who cited this as a “travesty” and that because of the violence against women in Iran, this country should never be involved in talks about gender equity and equality.  Another user send a message to me that I was advocating the abuse and rape of millions of women across the world by supporting Iran’s membership.  Still another sent two tweets to several large groups:

  • #Iran doesn’t listen 2 anything else but…RT @jpkirch: @(Twitter ID withheld) Conversations about gender equity have to include even those who do not value it, or nothing will change.

and

  • Feminist says abt #Iran. RT @jpkirch: @(Twitter ID withheld) If we only preach to the choir then we never influence others to think differently. Hence the need for #Iran on the panel.

Now I would like to think that these RT’s with additional commentary were forwarded simply to advance my message of inclusion, challenge and education.  However, I’m not that naive.  This was a blatant attempt to discredit my philosophy in a very tangible, real way. 

But my philosophy remains just as ardent now as it did before my Twitter-bashing.  I firmly believe that to effect any real and lasting change, you have to involve the dissenters, those individuals who do not agree with your ideals and beliefs.  That doesn’t mean you have to adopt their beliefs, and it certainly doesn’t mean that they will directly guide processes and policies stemming from your discussions.  Rather, it is imperative to at least hear these viewpoints in order for us to (a) better craft our own philosophies, values and responses and (b) at least attempt an educational intervention.

Imagine for a moment the Civil Rights movement.  Imagine if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Medger Evers, Malcom X, and others had not taken the time to give speeches to those with whom they did not agree, or if sit-ins had not been held at all-White lunch counters in the south.  Imagine if the women from the suffrage movement – Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Howard Shaw – had simply talked amongst themselves instead of going out and actively convincing and recruiting others to join their cause.  What would have happened had these two fundamental movements only preached to their respective choirs and never challenged the hearts, heads, ideals and thoughts of those too blinded by tradition and practice to see or even acknowledge a different point of view?

I know what would happen.  The rights we enjoy today as women would not be here.  The access we have as women would not be afforded to us.  The roles that we play in society, and the influence we have as people of this nation – not just as women – would not be ours to define; rather, they would continue to be defined for us.  In short – the world would be far worse off than we are today.

So for those reasons, I say yes, we need to involve Iran in these conversations.  Women make up a large percentage of the citizens in Iran today and this additional voice on the CSW will allow these women to be heard, and for the current regime to be challenged in an open forum.  This will positively impact policies that will allow for greater equality for women in the future not only in Iran, but in all countries across our globe.  It also lifts the veil (so to speak) on issues impacting women in Iran and showcases flagrant contradictions in the policies of the country as compared to the actions of its citizenry.

To that end – I believe we all need to evaluate our own perspectives.  Challenge yourself to stop simply preaching to the choir.  Don’t just talk with people who agree with you.  Don’t isolate yourself in your own bubble.  Reach out, take the time and educate others, risk a “Twitter bashing” or two – for in the end, even if only for a second, your perspective was heard and someone, somewhere, may take a moment of pause to consider it.

For more information on women in Iran – visit these sites: