Tag Archives: gender

Whispers to Shouts

The New York times recently published an article on 42 men in prominent positions accused of sexual misconduct that have been fired or resigned since Harvey Weinstein was fired in early October, and it made my jaw drop. But not as much as my original shock, when friends began posting their “Me Too” stories on social media.

For years, women have used whisper networks “back-channel” ways to protect themselves and others from predatory men in positions of authority. We know that these claims usually end up hurting the victim as much (or more, sadly) than the perpetrator. I grew up at the time when Anita Hill was being grilled for her experiences during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. I realized then that we speak up at our own peril. And since we know about certain men, but we want to protect other women, we develop ways to try to report informally to one another, without calling too much attention to our own experiences.

Time Cover Silence Breakers.JPG

When many brave women came forward and found the courage to speak publicly about the harassment and degradation they have faced in work settings, a tide was set loose that has been building. Our president’s brash and openly defiant position as “Harasser in Chief” has been shocking to some of us, but in light of all the abuses so many have experienced, it is high time our whispers turned to shouts. 

Time magazine’s cover for December 18, 2017 chose “Person of the Year” to be the Silence Breakers, women who had come forward to talk about their experiences of harassment in the workplace. I applaud them for acknowledging the courage it takes to come forward especially in light of the power dynamics that are so tipped against women in nearly every domain: politics, business, economics, academia, etc.

My own story is one of a rare few, with only subtle forms of harassment, what I would call “everyday sexism” of the workplace. I have been fortunate in that way, and I realize that in conversations about the Anita Hill situation while I was in high school, my parents reinforced the idea that I should never tolerate that kind of behavior. At a different place in my career, and in a culture that still devalues and objectifies women, I can see how so many women would not feel empowered to fight back.

When it is your boss or a person in a position of authority, can you really afford to risk your livelihood to complain? Isn’t it easier just to go along and get along? 

Perhaps, and I would never judge a woman who is subjected to this behavior for not coming forward. Many women have regrets that they did not say something sooner, that maybe they could have prevented other women from going through the same pain.

As a manager, I recently completed a set of online training modules addressing harassment and policies at our company. I am sure it is no coincidence that the daily news stories reveal a much deeper and wider scope of the problem. The training was surprisingly good, and emphasized not only the policy portion for HR, but also the importance of building an inclusive culture where this behavior cannot thrive.

Rosie We Can Do It

Fortunately I work at a company where we have policies that allow for good-faith reporting of problems, and ones that do not retaliate against employees who make complaints. That’s not to say it does not happen. I am sure it does. I view my role as helping to support a culture where disrespectful behavior is not the norm. I have had to stand up occasionally against sexism, especially on behalf of my team, which historically was made up of mostly women in front line positions and men in leadership.

Often I am the only woman in a group of 4-6, because I am in a lot of meetings with leadership, and the medical device field is overwhelming male. We work with cardiologists and electro-physiologists, a group that is probably 80% men. I make sure my female employees understand that under no circumstances are they expected to tolerate inappropriate behavior from any employee or customer/physician with whom they interact.

A few years ago, a female colleague in Mexico sheepishly told my boss at the time that she preferred not to visit a certain clinical research site. Apparently the physician had become interested in her, and was texting her inappropriate things, trying to get her to “go out” with him. She was exasperated and explained: he doesn’t even care that I’m married and wouldn’t be interested! Nope. He does not care. It is about power. That is the point.

 

Fortunately my boss at the time and my current boss (I was not yet the manager) told her: you never have to tolerate that behavior. Always be sure if you do visit the site, you do not go alone. Also, if you want us to find someone else to deal with that individual, you never have to go back there. We will never place you in a situation where you do not feel safe or respected, no matter how “important” the customer. I was grateful this was their advice, and now that I am the operational leader for my team, I continue to help my team to understand they will have my support if they ever encounter this behavior.

Particularly as Latinas, we work in settings where machismo is still very much alive. I shall write about that in a future post. The point I hope to make here is that it is ALL of our responsibility to make sure this culture is not tolerated in our workplaces. 

Men, women and leaders especially need to take steps to make sure that we allow people to speak their truth, and that we hear people out. If there are complaints, we need to work with HR to make sure these are investigated without retaliation. We need to confront the perpetrators and explain what behavior will not be tolerated. Further follow up needs to happen when more serious behaviors are brought to light. Culture change does not happen overnight. But the message is LOUD and CLEAR: we will not tolerate this behavior and we will join together to ask you to STOP! 

 

 

 

 

 

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On grief and elections

It has now been a year since that strange and surreal day, the confirmation of my suspicions that we are deeply divided people in this nation. In the weeks leading up to the election, I began to volunteer for my candidate, Hillary Clinton, hoping she would make history and become the first woman President of the United States. After nearly 100 years with the right to vote, women were poised to break that final glass ceiling in the political realm.

 

But as I got out door-knocking and visiting with people who had been identified as “registered Democrats” or “leaning Democrats” I was surprised to find that the support was lukewarm at best. Almost all of the women I spoke with were enthusiastic and exciting to vote for Hillary. But many of the men who would talk with me were not happy about their choices. One man, returning from home after work, perhaps, saw me leave some literature near the door after I had door-knocked and nobody was home asked me angrily: “What are you doing at my house?”  When I explained to him that I was door-knocking to ask people to get out to vote, he told me he had already voted.

In Minnesota we have early absentee voting, which allows you to vote by mail prior to the election day. It makes things much more convenient, especially for working people who find it harder to visit the polls on a work day. So he probably had already voted. I am fairly certain his aggressive tone indicated that he had not voted for my candidate.

It was a shock for many people, including the news media who seemed fairly amazed and shocked that the Republican candidate with no experience actually pulled it off, a victory with no political experience. But for me, that week before the election, I had been growing increasingly alarmed with the response I was getting from registered or leaning Democrats in St. Paul. Granted, I had not taken the “temperature” on the Republican side, but I had thought Republicans would be as appalled and angry with the sexist and racist remarks that they might defect, or at the very least, vote Independent.

So my reaction on election night was not one of shock, but actually one of grief. I felt deep grief for the direction of our country, for the state of consciousness that had brought us to this outcome. But oddly, I got very curious instead of getting angry. Don’t get me wrong. The anger was there, of course. It was just that I really wanted to understand how we got here, how we had all missed it. I ordered JD Vance’ Hillbilly Elegy and I started talking with a few people with whom I disagreed about the political situation.

I began to realize that my echo chambers were not the same as “their” echo chambers. We had been inhabiting different worlds all along. But as my conversations deepened, I kept realizing that our values were not all that different.

There is so much more I will write about on this topic, but for today, I will need to prepare for meetings with my team during this work trip. Suffice it to say that I am still grieving one year later, for the loss of civility that our country has suffered. I grieve for those who do not have agency and who’s lives are deeply affected by policies that will continue to push them into poverty and struggle. I grieve for the families of Latinos living in this country, including native born citizens and immigrants, documented and undocumented. I grieve for the ideal of America, which has been tarnished worldwide, and damaged by someone who is thoughtless with his words, and callous in his feelings.

Grief takes time and distance to process. And it is hard work, but it is necessary. We must allow ourselves the time and space for this, or we cannot get back to the hard work of repairing the rifts of this country, and the world. We are all connected to each other as people by a power greater than ourselves. Call it god, nature, or chi, it will always call us back. That is the faith I have, that we can somehow return. In this “death” of the ideal I thought we embodied as a country, I have a deep belief that we can be re-born into something greater. 

 

Being mexi minnesotana

The time draws near for that infamous anniversary, when we realized that all the pundits and many of the news networks were wrong, and that a seemingly impossible result could in fact happen. I remember being worried, very worried last year at this time, and checking the Five Thirty Eight blog rather obsessively. I remember wondering, as I door-knocked neighborhoods in St. Paul to remind voters to get out to the polls on election day, whether we were in for a long and troubled time.

vote

It seemed impossible to me that someone with no political experience, not even minor political office could end up running the country’s executive office. But my conversations with people, even lifelong democrats on my likely voter list, was not convincing me that Hillary could win. I had done some sporadic volunteering on her campaign during the summer and fall before the election, and I was not getting the kind of reception I had received in other campaigns. I was worried about all the millennials that told me they were not sure they would vote, that they thought Bernie Sanders had been dealt a raw deal by the Democrats.

Surely they did not believe that staying home and allowing the Republican nominee to win was preferable to having a seasoned and competent leader in the role? It baffled me, how little the sexism and racism that fell from The Donald’s mouth could be ignored. But I was also bothered by Hillary’s characterization of Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” Clearly not all of the people who were voting “against” her were sexist, racist bigots. It was not until after the election, when I read JD Vance’ book Hillbilly Elegy, when I began to understand what the Democrats (my own party) had missed.

There is a lot of pain in “middle America” and in vast swaths of our country. The recession and financial crisis of 2008-2009, precipitated by years of financial deregulation, dramatic breakdowns of corporate governance and excessive borrowing by households and Wall Street had devastating impacts on people and families. But even before that, several decades of decline in union membership and power, decreases in real wages for working families, and other changes in the stability and security of families has led to anxiety and apprehension about the future.

rural

While I was shocked on election night and the next day, I was also somewhat prepared for what might happen. The result felt particularly bitter to me because I am half Mexican. Trump kicked his campaign off by insulting Mexicans. I will not spend time repeating his words, which were clearly spoken to incite people and their emotions. What I do want to contribute is a perspective that is somewhat unique in that I was born here in this country, to a Mexican father and a mother from Minnesota. I grew up in southern Wisconsin, after my parents moved us when I was two years old from small town in northern Wisconsin that had an active KKK chapter.

My parents needed to find a place where they felt safe, and fortunately my Dad was able to find a job teaching bilingual students in a small town that had a number of migrant workers. I was fortunate to grow up in a small town where we were safe. Though my Dad and various members of my family endured some episodes of racism, as a respected teacher and upstanding member of the community, he demonstrated strength and courage to me. My Mom was a pillar of the community as well. While my sister and I were young, she stayed home with us, and she was a “mother” to our whole neighborhood in a way. Many of the children had both parents working outside the home, out of necessity. Mom sat out on the back porch to watch us play, and by extension she watched over the whole neighborhood.

Many families today do not have the stability and connection that we enjoyed while growing up. While my family had to make certain sacrifices to raise us with only one income, I was never hungry and I never went without basic necessities. My parents were kind to one another. Even though they argued sometimes, as normal adults do, in the course of their relationship, we did not witness violence in our family. I grew up feeling like I was meant to be here, that I had an important place in this world, whether or not I fit into various social groups or cliques at school. My parents instilled in me a sense of belonging.

There were a number of Mexican families in our school district, as well as Puerto Rican families and others who worked on local farms and in local factories. I never felt quite like one of “them” nor did I feel like one of the white kids, exactly. Since my skin color can be described as more like my Swedish grandmother than my Mexican Indian grandfather, to my chagrin, I am paler than I want to be. In those days, and even today, it means that I often “pass” as white. Usually, until people learn my last name, they have no particular suspicion that I am Mexicana. I have no accent, having been born here and learned English as my first language, though Spanish without accent as a close second language when I was young.

multicultural

This gives me a strange amount of privilege because, while I cannot claim to speak up for Mexicans, being a daughter of one means it is a part of my identity. But I am white, so when people talk about identifying as a “person of color” I feel somewhat like a fraud in that regard. Granted, I am who I am, and being multicultural is a source of pride rather than shame. In that vein, when I considered what to do as a result of the 2016 election, I realized I needed to reach deeply inward, and then begin to write and share my experiences. I feel an obligation to speak, to write, to use my voice to help others enter into important conversations about class, culture and race. Those of us with privilege must deeply support those who do not have their share of these same freedoms that allow me to do this.

I have deep empathy for those who cannot use their voice, for those who must live in the “shadows” of this great country. Some, through no fault of their own, were born here but are undocumented. Many came from other countries to build better lives for their families and to have hope for future generations to be educated and free to choose their paths and their identities. This is the great hope of what America means, in my view.

Granted, if I were a white person in rural America, facing joblessness, a broken family, a hopeless situation about the future, I would have a different perspective. Those brown people that do not speak my language are starting to move into “my” town in greater numbers! They don’t even speak English, for god’s sake! I can see how threatening this might seem, especially when the future is uncertain for everyone, and we are given messages of “fear” all around us in our media. I have deep empathy for this fear, for this state of feeling not valued.

Every human being on this planet is worthy of love and forgiveness. I believe this deep in my bones. In fact every living being belongs here. Being “mexi minnesotana” is an evolution for me. Understanding myself, my true identity and fully claiming ownership of that has not always been easy. It can sometimes be exhausting, in fact. I am a minority within a minority. But now, even more than ever, we need voices to come forward in our community that could not be heard before. We need to establish Tribes based on commonly held values rather than just ethnicity or gender, or even political affiliation.

So this brings me to the original reason I started this blog. I often write about my personal journey to health and wellness, though I originally intended to focus on politics and privilege. But a focus on wellness is one I believe everyone needs, to focus on their own wellness and wholeness, before serving others (or simultaneously if possible). This helps us gather strength for the long road ahead, for the “battles” we have to fight but also the conversations that will help knit back together the fractured communities in which many of us live. We must do this, the world depends on us to speak our truths, to be our authentic selves. It is vulnerable and sometimes scary, and it is what is demanded of these times.

I thank you for reading, and appreciate all of the wonderful bloggers out there who I read more and more. You are moving the world and human consciousness in a brave new way. Thanks for allowing me to be part of this conversation.

 

 

I want the boy toy!

I am always pissed off when I go to McDonald’s and get a happy meal. (For the record, I do this probably 2-3 times a year, when I get one of those cravings for their fries, and I figure a kid-sized dose will not harm me much.) They ask if I want a “girl toy” or a “boy toy.” So I have taken to saying into the drive through lane “I want a boy toy” in a very ironic voice. Usually people don’t get the joke… But it always annoys me. I never wanted the fairy tale princess! I want the damn transformer!! Seriously, I can’t believe they still “gender” the toys!

transformer.jpg

Halloween season always reminds me how incredibly annoying it is that costumes marketed to girls still title heavily toward princesses and “cutesy” things. Meanwhile boys costumes get all the cool weaponry and usually involve super-heroes or characters that out saving the world. When I heard Christopher Bell’s Ted Talk: bring on the female superheroes a year ago it had a big impact on me. Toward the end (the last 3 minutes) his story still brings tears to my eyes. Well worth the watch if you are concerned about the impact of media on our gender constructions in this society.

The disparity in the types of toys that are marketed to boys versus girls starts a long process of determining the types of activities which are expected and encouraged. Companies such as the Walt Disney company, which has made a tremendous amount of money since 1937 selling princess “gear” to girls. Princess Leia does not fit with the public pedagogy of the other princess stories, so there are zero pieces of merchandise with Princess Leia. I am curious about Rey, who is undoubtedly an up-and-coming woman superhero. Will she be more available as this Target display suggests?

Rey at Target display

While there are female characters in movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, still the merchandise available is for the male superheroes, not the female ones like Gamora. What message does this send to girls? And what message does it send to boys? When t-shirts that show a scene from the movie that were originally featuring Leia against the Dark Lord are replaced with an image of Luke, we have to wonder: why is she always erased?

In the board rooms and the places where decisions are being made, women are still very much in the minority. When I am in meetings with other leadership at my company, typically the ratio is 5 or 6 to 1, or sometimes if we are lucky, it is 4 to 1. The pipeline for STEM careers, especially in science and engineering are not as large as for men (I am sure to write more about this in the future). But in leadership, it is even harder to scale those steep walls. When the brave and courageous images we receive and consume in our media-oriented society are all men, I believe this hurts women and girls. We do not have as many role models of ass-kicking, confident, and steady leadership to help us conceptualize our own possibilities as leaders. 

I was really excited to go to the Wonder Woman movie this year, and for the most part I was not disappointed. While a number of feminist critiques have been lodged against the movie, I still think the fact that it was made and wildly popular underscores our need for more female images of strength and power. I know for sure that is a “product” I will buy. And I believe if we transcend the “princess” images and open up more possibilities for girls and women, they will begin to claim their corresponding roles in leading in this world. We cannot afford to leave behind half of the wisdom of this world by suggesting they are any less capable than men. The challenges and problems of this planet depend on valuing and fully utilizing all of the talent we can muster.