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July 2017 - President's Message
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President's Message - JULY

Stacy Horth-Neubert
WLALA President 2016-2017

 SOMETIMES OUTRAGE IS RIGHT WHERE YOU BELONG

 

When I was in high school, I took a sociology class with one of the most popular (male) teachers at my excellent public high school.  One study unit that year was dedicated to the proper roles of men and women, at home and in the workplace.  Even though this was the late 1980s, not the late 1950s, you would not have been able to tell from the content of the lessons.  I remember a particular worksheet we had to fill out, circling whether the listed household task would be better done by the man or the woman of the house, or both.  Since I was being raised by a single mother, in my house, all tasks were done by her, me and my little brother.  When I circled "both" on all but one chore on the list (I think I chose "woman" for the chore of sewing on a button, because my brother didn't know how to sew yet), I literally got called to task by the teacher to defend my choices to the whole class.  After hearing from me, the teacher explained that my answers were anomalous because of my "unusual" personal household situation -- being raised by a single mother. 

This was messed up on so many levels.  But, I credit that class being one step on my path to feminism.  Nonetheless, it was not an experience I would ever wish on anyone. 

That is why my blood boiled when I read the story of an elementary school girl whose homework assignment was to fill in the adverbs in a story about the awful day the child narrator's mother returned to work after giving birth to her second child.[1]  Dad had to make lunch and it was terrible.  The morning was rushed and tense.  The narrator was so sad.  But, the day ended a bit better when the narrator learned that her mom's job was only part time, so mom was home when the girl got home from school.  Yes, really.  And this assignment was given in 2017.  In Queens, New York.

I am not the only working mother who was outraged by this story of an assignment that had the purpose and effect teaching both girls and boys that a woman's proper place is at home, not the workplace.  But, is a good reminder that sometimes, sometimes OUTRAGE, is Right Where You Belong.

Of course, outrage can be destructive.  But at its best, outrage can free us from the constraints of politeness, and can motivate us to speak uncomfortable truths, to demand righteous change, to tear down barriers, and to stand in the way of injustice.  That is the kind of outrage I would like us all to embrace.

But in the current era, outrage at sexism can be hard to muster.  Not because we don't find sexism outrageous, but because sexism can be difficult to spot.  It's not usually as blatant as a homework assignment from Queens.  It's more often subtle. 

It's a work evaluation that says "Sue's work is great, but she's just not aggressive enough to move to upper management."  (Or, "Sue's work is great, but she's just too aggressive to move to upper management.")

It's your colleague taking credit for your idea.  Again.

It's a well-meaning boss who decides not to ask Jane to go on that career-defining business trip because he doesn't want to pressure her to say "yes" while she has a baby at home.

It's not being asked to join your male colleagues when they go out to lunch.

It's always being the one who orders lunch for the team.

It's being interrupted in meetings … over and over and over again.

It's a promotion model built on an "ideal" candidate who is "aggressive," "tough," "hard-working," etc.

It's the "nice guy misogynists":  men in traditional marriages, who "might even believe that women have superior strengths in certain areas like moral reasoning, which makes them better equipped to raise children – and perhaps less equipped to succeed in business [, and who] [i]n all likelihood, …are unaware of how their conscious and unconscious beliefs hurt their female colleagues."[2]

None of these daily moments of micro-sexism is outrageous alone.  But, it is just one small step from these incidents to having the most powerful senator in the U.S. chide a female senator:  "She was warned.  She was given an explanation.  Nevertheless, she persisted.” 

Outrageous.  Outrageous enough to motivate. 

But there is so much outrageous sexism coming out of Washington D.C., since last year, that many of us are now getting weary, and losing our motivation.  Writer, Irin Carmen says: 

… Thursday morning, I blinked awake to the blue light of my iPhone, saw the president of the United States tweeting (again) disgusting things (again) about a woman who criticized him (again), and I felt … absolutely nothing.[3]

She goes on to note that "Offensiveness only matters if serious repercussions follow," and that just hasn't been happening to the folks in power who have been so brazenly sexist lately.

It is my great hope that we can hold on to our sense of outrage.  Because, the "persistent attacks on women affirm what feminists have been saying all along: that sexism is still pervasive at all levels of American society."[4]  We need to take advantage of this moment in time, when sexism is once again becoming easier to spot, and harder to deny.  The silver lining of this dark cloud is an opportunity for our outrage to push us to make change.

Because in 2017, OUTRAGE is Right Where You Belong.



[1]       Caroline Bologna, Working Mom Makes Awesome Edits to Daughter's Sexist Homework, Huffington Post, June 5, 2017.

[2]       Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In 153 (2013).

[3]       Irin Carmen, Outrage at sexist remarks used to be my job. With Trump, it isn’t enough., Washington Post, June 30, 2017, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/06/30/outrage-at-sexist-remarks-used-to-be-my-job-with-trump-its-nowhere-near-enough/?utm_term=.b067f2137c5c.

[4]       Alyssa Rosenberg, Why I’m grateful every time President Trump insults a woman, Washington Post, June 29, 2017, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2017/06/29/why-im-grateful-every-time-president-trump-insults-a-woman/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.c4d7173b3b3d.

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