What Do You Do?

My wonderfully woke husband recently posted this picture on his Facebook page, along with the explanation quoted below it.

Jackson Katz

Men ask why women are so pissed off, even guys with wives and daughters. Jackson Katz, a prominent social researcher, illustrates why. He’s done it with hundreds of audiences:

“I draw a line down the middle of a chalkboard, sketching a male symbol on one side and a female symbol on the other.

“Then I ask just the men: What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? At first there is a kind of awkward silence as the men try to figure out if they’ve been asked a trick question. The silence gives way to a smattering of nervous laughter. Occasionally, a young a guy will raise his hand and say, ‘I stay out of prison.’ This is typically followed by another moment of laughter, before someone finally raises his hand and soberly states, ‘Nothing. I don’t think about it.’

“Then I ask the women the same question. What steps do you take on a daily basis to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? Women throughout the audience immediately start raising their hands. As the men sit in stunned silence, the women recount safety precautions they take as part of their daily routine.”

Yup. I do the vast majority of these things. It’s second nature to me. I don’t even think about it. It’s what I have to do, as a woman, to walk safely through this world.

It never occurred to me that men don’t think about these things. It never really entered my mind how off balance this world is. It makes me kind of sick to my stomach in retrospect.

And then I remembered a couple of incidents that make a lot more sense to me now.

Once I was on a first date with a really nice guy and he was doing his best to impress me. We were having fun in downtown Jacksonville, and to get from one place to another, we decided to take a shortcut through an alley. (It was really more of a pedestrian walkway, paved with cobblestones and very well lit, but deserted.) I’d been through it a thousand times. But this time when we were halfway through, a scary guy entered from the other end. I stopped dead and started backing up. My date kept going and engaged the guy in conversation. He was begging for money. I think my date was trying to show me he was a compassionate person, and so he gave the guy some money, but by then I had backed out of the alley entirely. He came and apologized to me. He said he hadn’t even thought of the fact that the situation was unsafe, and he shouldn’t have put me in it. Yup. He never had to think of things like that when he was on his own.

Another time, I was riding bikes with my boyfriend through our small town, and we decided to go into the local convenience store, as we had many times before. But this time I could hear drunken shouting inside. Again, I stopped dead. I said, “Uh… not a good idea. Not safe.” But my boyfriend was thirsty, so he went anyway. I rode off and went home, where I have an arsenal of strategically placed innocent-looking items that I can use as weapons if need be. A much safer place to be than in the presence of an outraged drunken stranger. When my boyfriend got back he asked me why I had left without him. I said I wasn’t safe. He was truly baffled.

I would love to have the luxury of being baffled. Unfortunately, I’m too busy trying not to be in harm’s way. That’s the way it is. If more men saw that, it would make life easier for us women. I’m not expecting to be taken care of. In fact, I don’t want to be treated like a hothouse flower. But if I do ask you for help, or if I signal that you’re putting me in a situation, then please, take it seriously. That’s really the least you can do while I’m doing everything else on the list above, don’t you think?

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Human Resources

I am unbelievably, incredibly, outrageously gullible. Even though it does not serve me well, I tend to think the best of people and of organizations until I’m proven wrong. And I’m proven wrong with distressing frequency. You’d think I’d learn, but this lesson gets thrown in my path over and over again, and all I seem to do is trip over it and fall flat on my fool face.

Case in point: It has finally dawned on me that there’s a reason that Personnel departments have changed their names to Human Resources. These departments are not there for the benefit of the person, the employee. They never have been. Their sole purpose is to protect their organizations from litigation. And if they have to throw you under the bus to do so, they will, without hesitation. I have the tire tracks on my back to prove it.

We humans are their resource. Resources, by definition, are there to be used up and exploited to benefit an organization. I now place HR staff on the same shelf with used car salesmen, politicians, and lawyers. A necessary evil, perhaps, but better to avoid them whenever possible.

If you are being sexually harassed, abused, or otherwise threatened at work, you won’t get satisfaction from HR. You’re much better off approaching your union, if you have one, or unionizing if you don’t.

There’s a reason Corporate America is trying to demonize unions. It’s the only power most of us have left in the working world. And even their powers are limited.

The working world is like the wild wild west, and the bad guys have taken over the town. If you’re ever in doubt who wears the black hats, try dealing with your company’s HR department. Then pay your union dues and hole up in the school house with the rest of us who are under siege, pardner.

Union-yes

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I Sure Could Use a Nisse

My mother was first generation American. Her parents came from Denmark. So as I grew up, she would sometimes tell me Danish folklore, especially around Christmas. I was particularly fascinated with stories of the nisse.

The nisse was an elf-like creature who lived on your farm, usually in the barn or the attic, and if you treated him well, he would protect your family. If you didn’t, he could be a bit of a troublemaker.

He was usually described as a short little man, half the height of the average man at most, and he had grey hair and a bright red, pointy cap. He could disappear at will and had incredible strength. These tales probably sprang from ancient stories of house gods or ancestor worship. Regardless, the nisse was definitely someone you wanted on your side.

I think it would really be comforting to know you have someone whose sole purpose in life is to have your back. It would be great to feel constantly protected. I would love to know that there would always, always be someone to respond when I called for help.

It sure would be nice to feel ever-confident of my own security. I’ve never really had that. I’d be willing to build a barn if that’s what it takes…

Nisse.jpg

When the Punishment for a Good Deed is a Lifetime of Regrets

Everyone probably has a story about trying to help someone and instead unintentionally making things worse. This is one of those stories. But if you’ve been reading my blog, you probably know I don’t ever go half way. I strongly suspect I may have ruined someone’s life, and the worst part about it is that I’ll never know for sure. I’ll always have to live with that.

In college I had a friend whom I will call S. She was a sweet girl. Kind to everyone. Gentle. A talented artist. She was one of those people who kind of seems like they may have grown up in a secret garden, surrounded by butterflies. She even had the faraway look. She was oblivious to the world’s ills. She had no concept of self-protection, and didn’t have a skeptical bone in her body. I honestly don’t know how she had made it through 19 years of her life without something terrible happening to her, but apparently that was the case. If I believed in angels I’d swear that one had to have been watching over her. We spent a lot of time together in school. We were even roommates for a while, and took a two week trip to Spain together. Lovely girl.

After graduation, we kept in touch for a time, but life has a way of pulling people in different directions, and that was the case with us. A couple years passed with no contact, and then I got a phone call. Probably the strangest call I’ve ever received in my life. It was S, but it wasn’t the S that I knew. This was…how do I explain it? This was S on laughing gas. This was S in the Emerald City, complete with ruby slippers. She was so euphoric I considered recommending hospitalization. It was just…weird. Don’t get me wrong. Happiness is a good thing. But this wasn’t that. It was more like head trauma happy. She said she was in town and she had to, absolutely had to see me. I have to admit I was curious, so I told her to come on over.

When S showed up, I was horrified. She was skinny, had dark circles under her eyes and looked kind of feverish. And ecstatic. I was thinking drugs, but didn’t see any tracks on her arms. Of course, that’s not the only way to take drugs. Then she told me about Lifespring. This was an organization I’d never heard of, but she said it had changed her life. She had come to convince me to join. Fortunately I’m not a joiner. (My mother couldn’t even get me into the Girl Scouts. After one torturous school year in the Brownies, I put my foot down.) She told me that Lifespring conducted seminars that changed your life in some way that she just couldn’t articulate. Yes, of course they cost money. She had spent every penny she had on them, but she wasn’t worried. She knew she’d be taken care of. In fact this was the first time she’d been outside of the company of a fellow Lifespringer in, oh, months. She had convinced several of her family members to join as well, and this is a family with money. She was so happy she barely felt the need for sleep, which was good, because they were always there, and rarely gave her time for it. But that was okay, ‘cause she was happy. Happy, happy, happy. So happy. She told me that she had given my name and address to the organization.

As you can imagine, I was floating in a veritable sea of red flags at this point. After she left, I went straight to the library. (This was before internet.) I started researching Lifespring, but wasn’t finding much, other than that some considered it a cult, and that a few people had left Lifespring and then committed suicide. I also discovered an organization called the Cult Awareness Network, and they had a great reputation back then*. I called them, and they sent me a packet about an inch thick, full of documents about Lifespring. The more I read, the more horrified I became. This cult uses all the standard tactics such as sleep deprivation, influence and persuasion and mind control methods to suck you in and then bleed you dry financially. Their main method of recruitment was to have members approach family and friends, or, barring that, befriending strangers under false pretenses and slowly introducing them to the concept. And she had given these people my address! Rest assured I was highly suspicious of new “friends” for about a year after that.

I like to think of myself as a loyal friend. And I hope that if I were in a cult, someone on the outside would care enough about me to intervene if possible. I brooded about this for about a week. If this were someone with a modicum of self-protection or was capable of even a soupçon of critical thinking, I might have let it go. Let her live her own life, make her own mistakes. But this was S. Her secret garden surely didn’t prepare her for Lifespring. So what to do? I couldn’t call her mother. Her mother was in Lifespring, too. So I decided to send the inch thick packet of information to her father, along with a note explaining that S had joined this organization. I would just let him take it from there.

So far, so good, right? And maybe it was a happy ending. It could have been. I hope so. But here’s the twist. I was not exactly a woman of the world back then, either. So it didn’t really consider the ramifications of what I did. You see, her father is Pakistani. So there are several possible ends to this story aside from the happy and loving one I hope for:

  • He disowned her, cut her off financially, and she’s out there somewhere, probably still in a cult (although Lifespring, apparently, no longer exists).
  • He dragged her back home and
    • Married her off against her will. (She had said he was pressuring her, but she was resisting.)
    • Locked her away somewhere.
    • Worst case scenario, killed her off for shaming the family and depleting their fortune.

The reason I tend to think the results were negative are not because I’m Islamophobic. Quite the contrary. It’s just that S seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. She has not contacted anyone we knew since her calls to me, attempting to get me to join Lifespring, petered out about a month after our last visit. She hasn’t given a current address to our Alumni office. I never heard back from her father, either. And she has a relatively rare name. I have Googled and Facebooked her about every six months for as long as there has been Google and Facebook. Nothing. Not a trace.

S, if you’re out there, I hope you’re genuinely happy. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll probably never know for sure. But hey, I did the “right” thing. Right? Didn’t I?

*Please note that the Cult Awareness Network is not the organization it once was. In 1996 it had been bombarded by so many bogus lawsuits by the Scientologists that it had to close its doors and the Scientologists bought out its name so that they could spread disinformation about their own cult. Any “help” that this once reputable organization will give you now will surely be warped, twisted, and biased to their way of thinking, so I’d avoid them entirely, but if you do feel the need to contact them, approach with caution.