Amplifying Voices – Katie Hill

One of the extremely frustrating things about being a woman in this world is how often we’re expected to apologize when we’re actually the victim. Such as what’s currently happening with California Congresswoman Katie Hill.

Here we have a woman apologizing, and resigning, when she was the victim of revenge porn. When conservatives, resentful of her win, happily jumped on using non-consensual, private pictures of her to create a scandal.

Let’s be clear. There is nothing scandalous about a naked photo of a human being. But there is absolutely something horrific about spreading and using such pictures to punish women.

The only ones who should be ashamed are the men who took, released, and shared the pictures. They’re filth and should be embarrassed by their behavior. I know they won’t be, because they’re misogynistic creeps, but they should be.

Male politicians can and will do any number of inappropriate things, especially sexually, and there is no outcry. No trouble.

However Hill is female, and young, and had an impact. So she had to be taken down.

But to give Hill credit, although she is going, she left with some beautifully scathing remarks.

I’m leaving because of a misogynistic culture that gleefully consumed my naked pictures, capitalized on my sexuality, and enabled my abusive ex to continue that abuse, this time with the entire country watching. I’m leaving, but we have men who have been credibly accused of intentional acts of sexual violence, and remain in board rooms, on the Supreme Court, in this very body, and worst of all, in the Oval Office.

Hill is bright and capable, and I know she’ll land on her feet. She’s probably going to need a lot of therapy, but she can do it.

In the meantime, we need to start acknowledging the real criminals when it comes to revenge porn – the ones who release the photos. I will never shame a woman for having a photo taken. But I will absolutely refuse to respect any man who sinks to such a level. They’re the ones who should be resigning, making embarrassed speeches, and feeling like they can’t leave their apartments. The double standard is exhausting, and it needs to end.

And to anyone who is shocked by her pictures, but not by his behavior, you need to ask yourself why. Because it’s not a pretty answer.

Sunday Reflection – Breaking the Illusion

I was scrolling on Twitter today (a bad habit, I know), and came across a few threads being written by artists. They were talking about how there tends to be this myth in art that using references (such as painting over photos, etc) is a form of “cheating”, and that “real” artists supposedly draw only from memory.

For more details on this myth, Arnie Fenner does a much better explanation of the issue and how it may have originated in his post Cheating.

These artists on Twitter were pointing out that reference use is actually really common, really helpful in creating art, and in fact, for some artists with disabilities, is a necessity.

And I suddenly felt incredibly sad. Because I remembered something.

When I was a teenager, I played around with drawing a little bit. I love all kinds of arts and crafts, and love learning to do new things. So I was practicing drawing, but doing it from reference – looking at other sketches, of flowers and plants, and trying to recreate them.

But somehow, without knowing it, I had internalized this idiotic message. I couldn’t even tell you where it came from or how I picked it up. But I completely dismissed what I did as “ok, but not real.” I didn’t keep doing it. I didn’t believe myself capable of the “real” thing, i.e. drawing from memory alone. Which I’m not, but turns out most people aren’t. It’s all an illusion.

I think what makes me sad is to realize that no matter how old I get, there’s always going to be more illusions I need to break through. More feelings of my own inadequacy that only come about because someone, somewhere, decided they needed to feel superior, and the way to do that was promote a false ideal.

Anyway, I’m going to go do some art now.

 

Amplifying Voices – Jessica Valenti: The Niceness Trap

One of the most common criticisms when women engage with politics or activism is not a critique of their message or platform, but a critique of tone or word choice. How many times have we heard things like, “I like what she’s saying, I just don’t like how she’s saying it.” How many articles have we seen debating a woman’s likeability when she enters the political sphere?

Even a 16 year old climate activist is getting hate online, because people claim she’s “too angry”. Not to mention the tone policing that happens for women of color who push back against oppression.

Which is why I love this short but sweet article by Jessica Valenti on The Niceness Trap for women. It’s taken a long time, but we’re starting to get to an era where women have more agency to push back against the constant social pressure to be nice all the time. There are so many things that are more important that niceness. Our survival, for one.

And sure, our new unwillingness to put “nice” first will be uncomfortable for a lot of people. But growth doesn’t happen without discomfort. Whether they like it or not, times are changing.

The Ethical Consideration

“Why choose to be good every day, if there is no guaranteed reward we can count on, now or in the afterlife? I argue that we choose to be good because of our bonds with other people and our innate desire to treat them with dignity. Simply put, we are not in this alone.”

– Chidi Anagonye, ‘The Good Place’ 2×12

I’ve been working on the next piece in my series regarding power differentials in the workplace. I wanted to write something more positive, more proactive, that talks about steps we can all take to fight imbalances. And yet, I keep getting stuck. It’s not that I don’t have ideas about what can be done. I probably have too many. It’s not that sometimes I think the best solution might just be dismantling the entire system, although that’s also true. 

The problem, I’m discovering, is ethics. 

Because I don’t think we can talk about disrupting systems and how to improve them without acknowledging the fact that we all have a moral choice to make.

Eleanor: “Oh, so now I’m supposed to be nice and make friends and treat her with mutual respect?”
Chidi: “Yeah!”
Eleanor: “That’s exactly what she wants me to do, Chidi, wake up!”
Chidi: “That’s what everyone wants everyone to do.”

– ‘The Good Place’ 1×3

**At this point, I should make a disclaimer that I have a tendency to use morals and ethics somewhat interchangeably. By definition, in way oversimplified terms, ethics are supposed to be more driven by an external source, and morals by an internal. I’ve found articles online where the authors argue that we shouldn’t even use either term in the workplace, because people can get stuck on the word instead of focus on the discussion.

But I think this highlights part of the issue of not discussing these ideas at work. If we’re so scared of an individual word that we have to tapdance around it, we’re not really talking about it.

Personally, my ethics and morals are so interconnected and interlinked, that for me, talking about one is talking about both. This may not be the case for everyone.

There’s also the tendency in our culture to conflate morality with religion. I’m personally agnostic, so have never had an issue with understanding morality to be a separate entity. I still believe in being a good person, regardless. But I know there are those who struggle deeply with the idea that someone would do good things or try to behave with kindness towards others without the influence of religion. 

Anyway, my point is I’m going to talk about being ethical, and moral, and I’m doing it without any religious affiliation.

End disclaimer.**

Eleanor: “All those ethics lessons paid off. Whoever said philosophy was stupid?”
Chidi: “You did, many times, as recently as this morning.”

– ‘The Good Place’ 2×11

Shortly after I became a manager, I had to attend a number of required trainings. One of these was Ethics. Although some of the trainings so far had been tedious (I’m looking at you Contracts), I was looking forward to Ethics. I was managing in an office that worked in social services, I’d witnessed many ethically gray behaviors in my previous time as an employee, and I wanted to get advice from an expert on how to approach ethical quandaries as a supervisor.

The class was a complete waste of time. It was such a basic, preliminary discussion of ethics, including the oft-overused “people are icebergs, and much is hidden” metaphor. My main thought leaving the class was that if the organization thought I needed this level of education on ethics, they should never have hired me to be a manager in the first place. 

But then it wasn’t actually about the ethics, was it? Realistically, who can cover a topic so deep and complicated in one half-day training. And like all trainings, there was no follow up, no mentoring, no debriefing. It was another check on a list, so if I ever got in trouble, the agency could dust off its hands, and shrug. “She took Ethics”, they’d say. “She knew what she did was wrong.”

I don’t think my experience was unusual. I don’t think many companies or agencies have regular talks about ethics. I don’t think most employees get any support in dealing with ethical quandaries. I definitely don’t think executives put ethics first in their decision making. I think that’s a problem.

“Ha! How do you like them ethics? I just ethics’d you in the face, Chidi!”

– Eleanor Shellstrop, ‘The Good Place’ 1×7

One of my favorite TV shows of the moment is The Good Place. For those who haven’t seen it, essentially it’s about four people navigating the afterlife. There’s many twists and turns, and I don’t want to spoil anything, but one of my reasons for loving the show so much is that there’s a lot of discussion about what it is to be a good person. There’s no religious component, no faith is determined to be right or wrong, it’s all based on individual behaviors and actions.

What is especially refreshing is seeing people talk about what it means to be good. What it means to have principles and adhere to them in the most challenging of times. What it means to sometimes compromise those principles for something bigger than yourself. And above all, how we will all fail, over and over again, and yet have the opportunity to decide to try again anyway.

And the amazing thing about seeing these discussions play out via a sitcom is that it shows how we shouldn’t be scared to talk about these things. That there’s nothing to be defensive about. That all of us are continuously learning and none of us have all the answers.

That no matter where we are, at home or at work, what we do and the choices we make have impacts.

Eleanor: “But everything I do blows up in my face…”
Michael: “…Come on, you know how this works. You fail and then you try something else. You fail again, and again, and you fail a thousand times, and you keep trying, because maybe the 1001st idea might work.”

– ‘The Good Place’ 4×2

So what do these rambling thoughts on ethics have to do with inequities of power?

I still plan to write a post about what we can do as individuals to work against inequitable systems. There’s always something we can do, however small.

But the first step is a conscious moral choice. A choice about what you believe and what you feel is worth fighting for.

Here’s the thing. I can’t determine what the right ethical choice is for you. I have beliefs. I believe that we have an ethical responsibility to stand up for the oppressed. That those of us with privilege have a moral obligation to acknowledge our advantages, and use them to lift up those who are marginalized. I believe that we should speak up even if it makes others uncomfortable. I believe that we should fight back against racist and sexist and other oppressive systems, including in our own businesses and workplaces and even families.

Yet all of us come from different backgrounds and different experiences. All of us are in different stages of our journey. In such an overwhelming and challenging world, I can’t fault someone who wants to care for themselves first. I can’t judge someone who needs to check out for a time. I can’t blame someone who has suffered from these systems from deciding they’ve had enough.

However, as a caution, just remember that if you’re thinking you don’t need to make a choice, you’ve already made one. There is no neutrality when it comes to human dignity.

But the very best part about being a human, about choosing to be a good person, to care for others, to live up to your inner code, and value doing the right thing?

It’s never too late to start.

“…But I think we have one move left: We can try.”

– Eleanor Shellstrop, ‘The Good Place’ 3×4

 

“I mean, what do you have to lose by treating people with kindness and respect?”

– Chidi Anagonye, ‘The Good Place’ 4×2

Sunday Reflection – What Makes Us Happy

There have been a lot of heavy moments recently. Well, to be honest, over the last few years. We all want to make an impact and fight for something better, and sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s still ok to play and laugh and find a way to focus on the small delights, to be in the moment.

And I think most of us know at this point that happiness isn’t a constant state or a feeling that can be forced into being, but rather occasional moments where we get to tap into something deeper and just feel…good.

So here are a few of my current small delights.

Nature

Fall is my absolute favorite time of year. There’s something about leaving the heat of summer, while still getting beautiful weather (mostly), seeing the flocks of migrating geese flying overhead, and most of all, watching the natural beauty of green fading into vibrant oranges and reds. This is the tree right outside my window, and in the shining sun, the leaves look like stained glass. Seeing this makes me happy.

A Community of Creativity

When you begin to embark on creative pursuits, you start to notice two kinds of people. Those who want to gatekeep, who think that writing or painting or dancing need to be done in a very strict and particular way to be legitimate. And then there are those who say, let’s throw these doors open, and welcome all who want to come in.

I want to be a door open kind of woman. And I like that I have friends who think the same way too. Today a friend posted the below online, and it was a reminder that I needed. Because it’s taken me time to get here, but I can call myself a writer. Because I write. It doesn’t matter if I get paid or not. It doesn’t matter how many views I get. I’m a writer.

Knowing that I can create, and that I have friends who support me unconditionally in doing so, makes me happy.

Other People’s Creativity

Confession – I’ve watched Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse three times in the last month. Partly because I’m a huge geek, and it’s a great superhero story with a great lead character, but in truth, it’s just such a beautiful movie. I just love looking at it. I love the thought that goes into each frame.

The below clip has over 9 million views on YouTube, and I’m not surprised. Each moment – Miles building himself up for the jump, the glass breaking due to his tension, and most of all, that breath-holding moment where the camera flips and you see him rise into his new life as he falls – it just blows me away.

It took hundreds of people working together to make this art. It’s amazing. And it makes me happy.

What moments make you happy? What are your small delights?

Amplifying Voices – Greta Thunberg

There is lot of complaining that happens when it comes to our world’s youth. Whether it be criticizing their use of technology, the idea that they prioritize different values than their parents, or even their eating habits, there’s always something for the older generations to pick on.

And yet, when you think of who has been in power, who has had the time and resources to act, and who has chosen not to (because it might cut into profits), the irritation seems rather misplaced.

This is not the usual generational change that we’re talking about. Today’s younger generations are inheriting a world that has the potential to literally end.

So today, in honor of the worldwide Climate Strike, I wanted to highlight Greta Thunberg for a few minutes. Because when I hear people complain about youth, I think of children like her. I think of how the current school-age generations are having to speak out against guns and climate change, because we have left them no other choice. Because their very survival depends on it.

So let’s not criticize them. Let’s help them.

Power at Work

Judge: I hope counsel does not mean to imply that this court is bigoted.

Henry Drummond: Well, your honor has the right to hope.

Judge: I have the right to do more than that.

Henry Drummond: You have the power to do more than that.

Inherit the Wind (1960)

This past week a story broke about the screenwriters for the movie Crazy Rich Asians, and its upcoming sequel. Writer Peter Chiarelli, a white man, was the first brought on to adapt the book into a screenplay. Once director Jon M. Chu was onboard, he hired Adele Lim to co-write the script.

Considering the massive success of Crazy Rich Asians, a sequel was an obvious step, as was bringing back the same two writers. 

And here is where the power dynamics come into play.

Chiarelli was reportedly offered between $800,000 to $1 million for his work. Lim received a starting offer of $110,000. 

Lim, once she found out about the discrepancy, walked from the project.

To me, the most telling part of all of this is the quote from the supposed industry insider who says the salaries were “industry-standard established ranges based on experience and that making an exception would set a troubling precedent in the business.”

Because once again, this is the perspective of many people in power, and once again, they are deliberately ignoring the reality of power differentials in the workplace.

The “industry-standard” is that white men make more. Standard is not the same as good, just, equitable, or fair. But what’s worse is the idea that raising Lim’s salary would have set a “troubling precedent”. We can all read between the lines here. It’s not a subtle code. What is so very troubling to the highest level executives in the most lucrative industries is the idea that they might have to actually pay women, people of color, and especially those who are both, what they deserve.

It’s not about talent or experience. It’s about the power.

"I know you've been here longer, but he's just such an impressive worker!"

Recently a study on gender equity in the sciences found that although women make up half of the students in the life sciences, when it comes to career advancement and influential positions, the number drops sharply. 

The findings back the view of many women in science that more must be done to address the problem of the “leaky pipeline” – where women leave the profession due to problems such as harassment and issues around promotion and pay.”

In other words, what happened to Adele Lim happens to women throughout multiple industries. And it has an impact.

I feel like this quote from Dr. Wade in the article encapsulates the issue so perfectly. As she says, “There is no point in encouraging more girls into science if the system is set up to exclude them.”

This isn’t about specific sexist or racist individuals. This is about a system. This is about all the varying departments, policies, and procedures that exist within a framework that was never designed to be truly equitable.

And there comes a point where we all have to face the fact that relying on the goodness of the people benefiting from that system will never be enough.

"I don't know what she's complaining about, he's always been so kind to me!"

There’s a very common response whenever someone comes forward on social media about experiencing harassment or discrimination at work. 

“Why don’t they just go to HR?” is repeated over and over again. It’s the workplace version of “why don’t they just go to the police?”. The suggestion that the simplest and easiest action to take when being victimized is to go to a seat of power within your organization, and place your livelihood and safety in official hands.

It’s no coincidence that the people most likely to repeat this refrain are those who benefit the most from existing power structures. They get treated well within the current system, so for them it’s a no-brainer.

But for everyone else…it’s not so simple.

"Everyone's saying that I'm the problem! I feel like I'm losing my mind!"

If you stay with the same organization long enough, chances are you will have some encounter with HR. 

A few years into my employment with my agency, I ended up testifying in a legal action on behalf of a former boss. He was suing for wrongful termination, and I was asked to come speak about my experience as his employee. I was extremely nervous, so I don’t remember a lot of details. But I do remember answering a question as to my understanding of state policy, and then looking to my left, where the head of HR was sitting. And he made a face.

It was one of those exaggerated “oh, really” kinds of faces. The kind of face you might make if someone bragged about their ability to juggle while riding a unicycle through hoops of flame. He immediately started writing something on his notepad, as if I’d just spoken some shocking revelation, rather than just saying I wasn’t familiar with a particular policy.

I was an admin employee, way below him in the chain of command. I was in a vulnerable position, but trying to speak honestly. And the most powerful person in HR made a face at my words.

But if I’d gotten harassed at work, he’d be totally safe and believe me, right?

This experience ended up being the tamest of my negative HR interactions, but it taught me very early one in my career to be very careful around those with power. And yet, I had all the protections of my privileges. I made it ten years. I know a lot of people who didn’t.

"HR is here for you! Unrelatedly, we're transferring you to Alaska."

There’s a common narrative in how hierarchies are supposed to work in business. If you have an issue with an employee, you go to your supervisor. If you have an issue with your supervisor, you go to their supervisor. And if none of that works or is possible, you go to HR.

But this narrative operates from a critical assumption. That those who are not actively harming you have your best interest at heart. That there is nothing inherently wrong with the system itself, and you just need to find the right well-meaning advocate to protect you.

It’s a faulty assumption. Systems of power and inequity are everywhere, and if you don’t have people in power explicitly working against them, then they are supporting them. 

The truth is, in our current system, HR is not there to help you. I’m sure there’s a great many really nice HR workers in the world, but the system itself is there for one thing – to protect the organization. And if that means silencing a worker making waves, that’s what’ll happen.

The same can be said for a great many managers. They didn’t get to their positions by being bold and brave. They got there by toeing the line. 

In most organizations, the majority of those at the highest levels do not have your best interest at heart. And they will not willingly disrupt their own power.

So we have to do it for them.

Sunday Reflection – Looking in the Mirror

Recently I had an epiphany about something in my personal life. It’s not something I’m ready to share, but it was a good reminder about how important it is to engage in self-reflection. I talk a lot about self-reflection in terms of leadership, and it is a vital component of any effective leader, but it’s also critical for all of us, in any dimension of our life.

We live in a very overwhelming world, and it’s often so easy to fall into the pattern of acting on impulse. And part of what can make self-reflection feel daunting is the idea that it takes a great deal of time and intention.

But the great thing about self-reflection is that it doesn’t actually take very much at all. Just a willingness to engage your own mind. A willingness to look at your own actions and behaviors, as well as the actions and behaviors of those around you. A willingness to let thoughts stream through your mind, without directing their flow.

And of course there are things that help. Solitude helps. Nature helps. Writing helps. Talking to trusted people helps. But none of these things are required. Just you, and the willingness to look in the mirror.

Amplifying Voices – Ali Thompson: How Can We Tell When a Weight Loss Study is Unreliable?

I’ve talked before about how data can be misrepresented and misused, especially when there is profit to be made. A huge example is the pharmaceutical industry, which routinely pays for biased studies to promote new drugs, but you can find this kind of faulty science in pretty much every field.

I like this quick and easy breakdown on the common flaws in studies by Ali Thompson. She is talking about weight loss studies in particular, but her questions around credibility can be applied to many different study topics.

This isn’t just about being an informed consumer. A great deal of this kind of information is used to discriminate or harass people. Before you look at someone and think you know everything you need to know about them and their health, perhaps a little critical thinking is in order. And above all – who stands to profit?

Sunday Reflection – Little Boxes

Recently, an actor promoting a TV show was asked about being in a Marvel movie, and he said he saw those films as being “for grown male nerd childs”. And when some Marvel fans got upset, he proceeded to double down and claim that is was just his “belief”.

Now, on one hand, this particular person is known for playing up the role of cynic for his career, and this is probably part of that.

On the other hand, I can’t help thinking about someone promoting the idea that it’s possible to believe that a certain kind of story or narrative is only “for” a certain group of people. Because to me that’s not really a belief.

You can believe that the stories in Marvel movies are underwritten, or juvenile, or silly. But can you really believe who an audience is?

This is something that’s a bit sensitive for me, as a woman who has long loved things that are considered to be in the male domain. And the truth is that women have always been interested in things like video games and action movies. But we were always told that it wasn’t “for” us.

I was catching up on Twitter and someone posted a fabulous story about introducing her 75 year old grandmother to playing Dungeons and Dragons. For those of you who are unfamiliar, DnD is a type of table-top role-playing game where a DM (Dungeon Master) plays the role of narrator and guides players through a collaborative make-believe scenario. It’s traditionally seen as part of the domain of the geeky and the young.

The granddaughter was marveling at how easily and quickly her traditional, non-English speaking grandmother took to role-playing, and how fully and happily she embodied her character of a forest-loving little gnome.

All of this is to say that I think anyone should be able to like anything that they want to like. That you can absolutely believe that something isn’t for you, but it’s a small-minded thing to believe that you can decipher who it is for. That you can see the inner workings of all people to know who is drawn to what.

It’s so easy to fall into stereotypes in this world, but we all should know better by now. A grandmother can like playing role-playing games, a Black woman can write comics, a gay man can direct an action movie, and a non-suffering artist can create a masterpiece.

Art is for whoever wants it. It’s not for the rest of us to decide.

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