Pay It Forward – #JPKBday Style

Another birthday has come and gone. And I have to say – it was a great one!

Yes, I had a cold all weekend.  Yes, the weather took a turn for the worse.  And yes, I spent most of the time in my house and in and around the campus.  Most people might not call this the most exciting day – but I loved every second of it.  After a whirlwind of traveling to professional conferences and presentations, this weekend at home was perfect (not to mention, good for my cold!).

But what made this birthday even more special were the many moments of kindness shown to me during a 24 hour time period. Oftentimes we take for granted the quick “HBD!” posts on Facebook, or the quick “Hope you had a great b-day!” texts from friends. If you find yourself doing this – stop.  In our fast-paced world, remember that someone took a moment, thought of you, and cared enough to reach out and show that they care.  Maybe they sent you a quick video, or left you a voice mail singing “Happy Birthday”, or better yet – sent you a link to a Weird Al Yankovic version of the song (you know who you are).  Still others took additional time to send you photos of fun times you had together, a personal message, an e-card, or posted a superhero graphic representation of how amazing they think you are.  Still others found personal and meaningful quotes to share with you about something that reminded them of you.  In our social media world – these are the cards, these are the phone calls, and these are the personal ways that others reach out and connect with you.

As I read through the kindness I received yesterday, in addition to my “thank you” posts and “likes”, I decided to pay it forward in a different way.  I counted the number of “Happy Birthday!” posts, tweets, phone calls, songs, videos, links, and verbal greetings I received, and donated $1.00 for each one of them to The Representation Project, and organization that “uses film and media content to expose injustices created by gender stereotypes and to shift people’s consciousness toward change”.  And yes – repeats counted individually! 🙂

To me, this blends my passion for gender equity with the action of paying things forward. This also translates your kindness into the best gift I could receive – that of making a difference in the lives of women and girls worldwide. So thank you to everyone for your kindness, and know that every one of you helped to make not only my day, but hopefully the coming days for women and girls, something amazing and special, too.

With gratitude,

Dr. JPK

Advertisements

Sex and the Citi

Last week, Debrahlee Lorenzana, a banking manager, was fired from her job at Citibank allegedly because she was too attractive.  Citibank was upset because they felt that Ms. Lorenzana was “distracting” in her wardrobe choices.  Ms. Lorenzana stated that bosses told her “as a result of the shape of her figure, certain clothes were purportedly ‘too distracting’ for her male colleagues and supervisors to bear.”  They further contend that the male staff were not able to “concentrate” or “work effectively” because of her outfits.  As a result – she was told because she was tall and had a curvaceous figure that “she should not wear classic high-heeled business shoes, as this purportedly drew attention to her body in a manner that was upsetting to her easily distracted male managers.”  The managers also gave her a list of things not to wear, including pencil skirts, turtlenecks, and fitted suits while at work.

Initially, I was outraged when I read this story.  A fellow Twitter colleague alerted me to the story and I have to admit, my first reaction was, “You’ve got to be f%*#ing kidding me!”  But then, as often happens, after I cooled off I started to reflect a bit.  It was at this point I became concerned.   “Wait a minute,” I thought, “we have a dress code in my work environment – one that I put in place when I started here.  Am I being discriminatory by imposing a dress code, or is the dress code an attempt to establish an appropriate work environment?  Maybe that’s what these managers were doing?  Perhaps I should test this myself?”

So I did.  My plan – copy as many outfits as I could from photographs of Ms. Lorenzana, wear the planned wardrobe for a week, and then through various avenues determine if people were negatively impacted by my wardrobe choices.  As I planned out my wardrobe, I began to wonder how those at work would react to my new mode of dress. Would I be “too distracting”?  Would others be unable to control their reactions to my new style?  Granted, I realize Ms. Lorenzana bears considerable resemblance to Angelina Jolie and Eva Longoria Parker – a resemblance that I do not share.  I also realize she is 6 years younger than me.  However, if according to Citibank the true problem was her choice of apparel, then my age or difference in appearance to Ms. Lorenzana shouldn’t matter.  For their story to hold water, my clothing choices alone should cause such a significant problem at my place of business that the productivity and effectiveness of the department should be hindered.

I started by going shopping in my closet.  To my surprise, I had many of the same pieces in my own wardrobe.  I had black pants, a black pencil skirt, a suit jacket in pinstripe, a French blue button down shirt, white jacket, lightweight sweater sets, and many other items.  I also had high heeled black pumps, tan pumps and black peep-toe pumps.  I had similar jewelry, too.  I copied Ms. Lorenzana’s outfits in as much detail as possible so as to do the experiment justice.

On Monday, I went to work as I normally did, except for wearing a Ms. Lorenzana look-a-like outfit.  Aside from a few comments from colleagues such as, “You look nice today,” ”What, was it laundry day so you had to dress up?” and “Do you have a meeting with the Chancellor?”, work progressed normally.  Throughout the week, I continued my experiment and kept to my regular schedule (or as regular as any schedule is in student affairs).  I attended and led committee and staff meetings.  I held conferences with students, staff and colleagues.  I spoke to over 400 students and parents at one of our summer orientation programs.  I staffed a table during the orientation department fair.  I talked with parents, students, faculty, staff and community members.  I did everything I was supposed to do in my role at the office.

Each day, I found ways to gauge my effectiveness and the productivity of others in my workplace – either through reflection, journaling, direct conversations and/or observations.  I asked staff how their days were going, if they had been getting things done, if there were any unwarranted or unwanted distractions keeping them from doing their jobs.  I compared my “done” list from this past week to the list from the week before.  I counted the number of phone calls I returned, the number of meetings I attended and the number of emails I generated and the number to which I responded.

And I have to say – something strange occurred.

Unlike what Citibank purported would happen, people continued to be productive.  I got my work done, as did the rest of the team.  Students were served, families were helped, presentations went off without a hitch, and the university did not come to a screeching halt.

I was confused.  If a major corporation like Citibank could be wrong about this, what else could they be wrong about?  If the clothes weren’t causing a drop in productivity, or distracting others in their ability to be productive, then what was the issue?  I concluded the clothes themselves were not the problem.  In fact, the clothes Ms. Lorenzana wore at her place of work were very similar to the clothes we see worn in our various fields of works, on news anchors and morning talk show hosts, or in movies about business environments (for example, see Sandra Bullock’s wardrobe in “The Proposal”).  The clothes were certainly less ‘distracting’ than those found in the fashion magazines or in catalog pictures advertising same.

Now – let’s assume that Ms. Lorenzana’s claims are true – that she did her job, did it well, but that because of how she looked and dressed, she was given a stricter dress code than other employees.  Let’s then assume that Ms. Lorenzana asserted her rights and continued to wear appropriate clothing in compliance with Citibank’s dress code, but because she didn’t follow these ‘extra rules’, she was fired.  Should this be the case (and all facts and evidence in this situation do seem to support Ms. Lorenzana), then her managers did nothing more than discriminate against her and fire her for her appearance.  End of discussion.

This type of behavior on the part of the Citibank managers only perpetuates a stereotype that men are “helpless to control themselves” around a woman they find to be attractive, and it attempts to absolve these same men from any type of responsibility for their own attitudes and behaviors.  This is ridiculous – and blames a woman for the reactions of a man, as if she could somehow control the responses of someone other than herself.

Regardless of the motive, and all other things being equal, Ms. Lorenzana certainly has something to say.  And she should do it in front of a judge, with her lawyer, and with a judgment demand that will help Citibank understand that subjectively stereotypical decisions based purely on resentment, sexism and insecurity will always end badly – and expensively.

Thanks for your shining example of idiocy, Citibank. Trust me, we will all learn from you.

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: