Maiming Myself

I intentionally maimed myself last week. At least, that’s what you’d think based on my decision to cut my hair short and go gray.

Yes, my hair is short. Yes, it’s getting gray. No makeup either! So sorry that an aging woman has invaded your view in her natural state.

Some feedback on my new look and my snarky internal monologue in response:

Them: “What did you do that for?” Me: “Just to mess with you.”

Them: “I didn’t recognize you.” Me: “I am an international woman of mystery.”

Them: “You look older.” Me: “This is what 50 looks like.”

Them: “You look younger.” Me: “Stop lying.”

Them: “You look like a totally different person.” Me: “Still just me. Sorry to disappoint.”

Them: “You’re so brave.” Me: “This is some serious Joan of Arc action up in here.”

Joan of Arc – historic patron saint of short-haired women who take no crap from anyone.

Them: “You’ll need a strong lip now.” Me: “Is GET LOST enough lip for ya?”

Them: “It’s…. cute…” Me: “You’re… full… of… it…”

Them: “Wow.” Me: “Yup.”

Them: “It’s good you have something on your forehead.” Me: “I’m glad I covered up enough of my head for you.”

Them: “It’s a mature look.” Me: “It’s Judi Dench drag.”

Judi Dench, today’s saint of short-haired women who don’t give a care.

Them: “You have the bone structure for it.” Me: “Yes. I have bones in my face.”

Them: “Are you going to keep this or let it grow?” Me: “I think I’ll go shorter next time.”

Them: “You are just as pretty.” Me: “Just wait until I get my skull tattoos.”

Them: “Are you all right?” Me: “Short haircuts aren’t just for cancer survivors and brain tumor sufferers anymore!”

Them: “You’ll have to get trims more often now.” Me: “YAY!”

Them: “You’re like a pixie now.” Me (clapping my hands): “I DO believe in fairies!”

Fairy, pixie – tomato, to-mah-to.

Them: “Men hate short hair on women.” Me: “My dream of repelling men finally comes to fruition!”

I suppose I could unpack all this, but really I can sum up my decision in two words – and you can quote me on this – “Screw it.”

Many people, in the United States anyway, have come to believe that women and men are equals. Most people would deny they are sexist. Women are no longer widely scoffed at for wearing pants, or playing sports, or having “manly” jobs, or many other things once viewed solely in the domain of men.

But get a short haircut? The sexism flag flies free!

To be fair, many people said they liked it. So that’s nice. But here’s the thing – I don’t care if you like it or not. I didn’t get this haircut for you. I got it for me.

From the moment females are born, they are conditioned to believe that their looks are the most important thing – more important than intelligence, character, personality, drive, empathy – anything. Pretty is paramount. Don’t believe me? Watch how people behave around little girls – always commenting on their hair, bodies, dresses, grace – anything that can be seen and judged will be seen and judged. People will try to “fix” what they think is lacking. And that “fixing” never goes away. Ever. The beauty and fashion industries churn it up nonstop.

An interesting thing happens after 40, though. The conversation subtly starts to shift from “looking your best” to “not looking old.” Because old is the worst. Old is unforgivable. Old is a reminder of death. Look old? Jump into your coffin, already. I’ll see you there!

Taking a Break, Then Taking Action

I took a break from all social media in June. I was so heartsick over everything – pervasive racism and discrimination, police brutality, the continuing death toll from Covid-19, the never-ending catastrophe of the Trump administration. It was too much to take. How could I spend my time sewing, gardening, and otherwise enjoying my life in the face of so much, pain, suffering and death?

I used the time instead to attend some rallies, read and attend lectures and talks about the issues, reckon with my own experiences with racism – times I have both done and said things I should not have, and have been silent when others did – reach out to friends and neighbors who are hurting, and planning sustainable actions for the future.

If you’re interested in these issues, here are a few steps you might want to take along with me.

  1. State clearly and often that Black Lives Matter. Don’t give me that “all lives matter” nonsense. If you don’t understand what Black Lives Matter means, guess what? It’s easy to learn. Start here.
  2. Call out people on their racism. I am tired of just ignoring crap I hear from other white people – those microaggressions, those little snide comments and “I’m not prejudiced, but…” statements. Guess what? You are prejudiced. And I am not taking it anymore.
  3. Learn about the long, long history of racism. As a starting point, I especially recommend “The 1619 Project” by The New York Times Sunday Magazine, as a primer to the history of slavery and how racism has poisoned all aspects of American life.
  4. Learn about conscious bias. All people have biases – it’s part of being human. But unconscious bias is what happens when we make snap judgments about people based on preconceived notions or prejudices. Unconscious bias is the quiet, nasty sibling of outright loudmouth bigotry. It affects how people judge one another based on their race, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, nationality, religion or other factor. A useful tool is to “press the pause button” when I feel unconscious bias creeping in. Think – am I feeling this way because the other person is X and I am Y? Recognizing bias is the first key to stamping it out.
  5. Open your wallet. Instead of spending money to enjoy my white privileged life, I have been spending money to help others. There are many worthy causes. Here are a few national organizations I have supported – some longtime supporter, some new supporter: The NAACP, The Southern Poverty Law Center, The United Negro College Fund and The Black Women’s Health Imperative. Even better, support your local organizations. We love LEAP – a local educational program.
  6. Talk about it. Many white people – myself included – feel that they can’t talk about racism. They may think – “I don’t know what to say.” Or “If I say something it may come out wrong.” Or some other excuse. I encourage you to reckon with what the real reason is. For me, it was shame. I am ashamed that I have failed to see and fight racism in my daily life. I am ashamed of things I did in the past that seemed OK but now I know were not. Whatever your reason is, lean into it. Talk to your friends and family. Get them to understand your point of view, and get them to understand why it’s not OK to ignore it, or to say “it’s not my business” or whatever sorry excuses they may have. You are not going to get it right every time, but if you learn you will put yourself on the path to righteousness.
  7. Normalize Blackness in your life. This was a suggestion from a coworker who gave a presentation with others about racism in everyday life. By this, she meant that white people tend to view Black people as “others” – outside of their normal lives and experiences. Most white people, for example, will accept a Black person as an entertainer, or an athlete, or a servant in some way, as long as it’s on their terms and doesn’t make them uncomfortable. “Twelve Years a Slave” was a devastatingly powerful Best Picture Oscar winner movie few white people have seen. Too heavy for you? “Black-ish” is an award-winning sitcom about a wealthy black family that tackles racism head-on. about Do you read books? Shop at stores? Eat at restaurants? Are they all “white”? Seek out other perspectives of others.
  8. If they don’t get it, boycott. I have not been a strong advocate of sending a message through my wallet. Companies that do outrageous things – such as Hobby Lobby’s refusal to cover birth control for its employees – don’t get my business. But I have been less interested in policing the “rightness” of other things I consume. Now I realize that it’s not enough to plead ignorance or to claim I don’t notice, or not to care when, for example, a clothing designer never features a nonwhite model, or an older model, or a model who’s larger than a size 00. I need to pay more attention to what I buy and the message that sends. So, unless things change (and if they don’t after all the consciousness-raising that’s been going on, I am speechless) I won’t buy from businesses who fail to listen up. For me, that means some European sewing magazines and pattern companies are now on the “do not buy” list, along with companies that have a history of discrimination or pay lip service to racism in our society.

What are you going to do?

Persist! Persist! Persist! Persist!

I’ve finished my quilt. It’s a hot mess, just like the women’s movement I’m honoring – in a good way.

Persist Quilt

The quilt is made of four modules, each using only fabrics, threads, batting and other materials I had in my stash. Many letters were scraped together from scraps of projects as far back as 20 years ago. I chose colors for each that were opposites on the color wheel, both to symbolize conflict and to make the letters stand out more against the background. The pattern is “The Proverbial Quilt” by Denyse Schmidt.

The textiles are mostly quilting cottons, but there are scraps of ultrasuede, silk, linen, African wax print, brocade, batiks, denim, shirting and upholstery fabrics in there too. Each quilt contains some fabrics that have metallic accents, and each has a bit of an overall rainbow-gradient fabric to tie them together. I 100% used stash fabric, batting and thread – truly a sustainable project.  This meant that I had to compromise a bit on some fabrics and colors. Compromise is meaningful – some fabrics a teenage girl would like, some fabrics my grandmother would like, and all kinds in between. Kind of like the women’s movement. We don’t have to love every piece of it; we just need to love the overall message and the energy that sustains it.

I call the pink and green one “Preppy Is Forever,” because this color combo was big during the preppy fashion fad in high school. It’s for a friend who’s a bit preppy.

It was a little challenging to make this one because I didn’t have a lot of pink or bright green/lime fabrics in my stash. I resorted to some charm squares leftover from a quilt I made my nephew 14 years ago.Preppy Persist

You can see the echo quilting pretty well on this one  – I stitched in the ditch along the letters in lime green thread and then echoed those stitches out 1 cm to the end of the quilt.

I call the orange and blue one “Sunrise to Sunset.” It’s for a friend who’s had a lot of physical, emotional, financial and relationship challenges in her life – she works every day against some major obstacles to keep going.

Persist Sunrise to Sunset

The orange, gold and lilac African Dutch wax fabric in here is leftover from a quilt I made for her 20 years ago. She lost it in a fire at her house last year. I am happy I still had a bit to use again. I was short on orange fabrics so I had to use a bit of coral. And I didn’t have enough to do the binding all in one fabric, so it’s pieced.

The purple and gold one is the prettiest, I think. 

Family Persistence

It’s titled “Family Endures” because most of the fabric came from family sewing projects over the years – scraps from niece’s and nephew’s quilts and Halloween costumes, a vest I made my mother, a craft project for a great-aunt, a quilt I made a cousin for her wedding, a Hanukkah table runner I made for my in-laws, linen pants  made for myself, our Christmas tree skirt, fabric from kitchen curtains and placemats I made when I first was married. It’s a gift for my sister.

The final one, titled “Blow Through Stoplights” was for me:

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The color scheme matches my sewing room and I had planned to hang it on the wall above the shelf where I keep my threads, manuals, buttons and whatnot.

But then a friend called me and she was really down. So I decided to give it to her instead. I’ll miss it, but I can always make another for myself. I still have scraps to spare, but not as many!

 

Persisting with a Quilt

My “Persist” quilt gas been on Hiatus while I sewed coronavirus masks. I have made 92 – mostly for nurse friends to take to work at a hospital and a nursing home. I also made many for friends and relatives, and donated a dozen to our neighborhood food pantry for whomever needs them. A sampling of those that I remembered to photograph before they went out the door:

I have a little elastic left that I will save for now, in case more masks are needed.

On to the quilt! The first of four rows is done:

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Here’s a close-up of how each letter is made, using the “R” as an example:

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The “R” in “The Proverbial Quilt” by Denyse Schmidt

I made cardboard templates of the letters and marked the positive and negative spaces (R for positive and G for negative, since my first row used red and green fabrics).

I got a but fussy with the cutting – with only six letters, and one word repeated four times, every piece needs to count, and I strive to find harmony in the chaos of colors, shades and prints. Or so I tell myself. I am working only with stash fabrics, so the look is not ideal, even if it is sustainable. I wish I had a solid orange, for example, but I don’t, so I’ve made do.

I cut the fabrics then lay them out to assess the look. Here’s the R with a mock-up of fabrics:

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Template with mock-up of fabrics

I am using mostly quilting cottons, plus a few other bits and bobs – the orange-and-blue line fabrics include some African Dutch wax with a metallic element, some plaid shirting and some denim leftover from the jeans I made last fall. Other parts of the quilt have bits of linen, silk, upholstery fabrics and ultrasuede.

To assemble each letter, sew the pieces in order; 1 to 2, then 2 to 3 and so on.

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Quilt letter assembly

The pieces include several bias-cut bits, so it’s s challenge not to stretch them while sewing and pressing.

Here are the modules ready for final assembly. I found that I needed to add 1/2 inch more seam allowance to long pieces that run the length of the letters, such as the left piece of the R, to get them to fit. Then I trim any excess.

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Occasionally the pieces need a bit of trimming too, such as the R crosspiece above. I am not the world’s most accurate quilter. Who cares? The little goofs add interest to the design in this case, which is intentionally a bit freeform in its vibe.

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PER-chance is this working out?

Here are the first three letters in the orange and blue colorway. The E is quite large and I don’t love it. The quilt includes two designs for vowels so that you can mix and match a bit, but I using just one here. I think I may trim down the E’s a bit – I will leave them as-is for now.

Quilting for Healing and Power

I haven’t made a quilt in years – about 15 years to be exact – when I made a baby quilt for my newborn niece. I had moved on long ago to home dec and then to apparel sewing, but every so often I would look through my quilting cotton stash and grow wistful at its possibilities.

That feeling grew stronger last week when I sewed up some stash to make masks for nurse friends of mine. I felt the pull to quilt again – partly to commemorate these homebody Covid-19 days, and partly to keep my hands busy, and partly because I had something to say in the fabric and colors and lines.

I heard about a Quilt-a-Long of this pattern by Denyse Schmidt, a quilt designer who lives nearby. I had bought this pattern years ago during a studio open house. While I loved it, the color choices and bias-cut edges daunted me. I thought, however, that with help I could do it.

quilt

The quilt includes an alphabet of block letters done in a slightly rustic style. The letters are cleverly constructed to nest together with design options for the positive and negative space. And while some letters are quite complex, each piece is numbered so that it’s easy to sew them together, step by step.

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Letter T is an easy one

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The D is pretty complex – pieces D2, D5 and D6 are the negative space

So I had my pattern. But what to say? I thought of one friend who had started me on quilting more than 20 years ago but cannot sew any longer because of illness. I thought of another friend who I’d made a quilt for back when I had been a raw beginner – she lost that quilt and her other possessions in a fire last year. I had sewn pussyhats for them to wear to the 2016 Women’s March. I wanted to make them something else. Finally, I thought of my sister, who I also made a hat for and have marched with a few times.

So I hit on this idea:

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My quilt message and color scheme

The entire quote is “Nevertheless, she persisted.” The vile Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell uttered this sentence while moving to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren during a debate on the Senate floor. It became an instant rallying cry for women everywhere who are told to stay silent, be obedient, and defer to the patriarchy. (For the whole story see this excellent Washington Post article.)

The whole phrase would be a lot to quilt – the thing would be over 10 feet long – but the simple verb says it all anyway.

I designed this as four quilts that can be tied together to form the whole or used individually as wall hangings or other decoration. Each word uses lettering in one color and negative space in the color wheel’s opposite side to symbolize struggle and opposition. I don’t know yet if the background will be black or white – it’s more graphic in black, but I don’t think I have enough fabric in stash and I am using all stash materials to be sustainable. I’ll decide that later. In any event, the binding will be in the opposite color of the background.

I had plenty of fabric to choose from, for most colors:

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Stash – stash – stash – stash

I needed four fabrics for each of the eight colors. I didn’t have much orange or pink, but I have enough to go on with some creative use of “near enough” colors.

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Selected fabrics

The long piece at the bottom has elements of all the colors in it, so I will use it in all the letters as a way to tie them together.

The fabrics are mostly quilting cottons, some with metallic designs, but I am using some scraps of apparel fabrics too.

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The reds include silk and ultrasuede from jackets I’ve made, as well as red and gold cotton leftover from a Christmas project and some upholstery fabric in a dragonfly motif. The greens include some Irish linen scraps.

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I am using coral to fudge the oranges a bit. I also have some African Dutch wax with lilac and gold motifs. The blues include seersucker leftover from a bathrobe project from 20 years ago and velvet leftover from my husband’s smoking jacket.

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Yellows include some gold linen from a pair of pants, batik sunflowers from a quilt I made for my cousin’s wedding, and sunflowers from a vest I made my mother years ago. The purples include more leftover Christmas fabric and some brocade from a Halloween costume for my niece.

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Because I am using green opposite of red, I needed a grassy yellow-green to go opposite the pink. Some of this fabric is leftover from a quilt I made my nephew. The pinks include a red seersucker that reads pink.

In truth, the quilt is going to be kind of ugly – I mean, this is a metric fuckton of colors, textures and styles for one quilt. But that’s also the beauty of it. My friends, sister and I are all different people, after all, united in some things but with plenty of individuality.

Books I Liked in 2019

Tied up with grad school and work obligations, I had to be choosy about what I read in 2019. As in past years, I made it a point to read more female authors’ work. Here are some recommendations:

Science Fiction/Fantasy

I started the year re-reading “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle. Over Christmas, I saw the movie directed by Ava DuVernay, and it was … not how I remembered one of my favorite books of childhood. So I hit up the library and re-read the story. It’s still a fabulous story with a message that really resonates with me today much as it did when I was a child.

That put me on a science-fiction/fantasy kick, so next I re-read Ursula Le Guin’s masterpiece “The Left Hand of Darkness.” (Again, with the library.) The book is famous for exploring gender issues in science fiction. It’s strange and beautiful and I highly recommend it.

Then I re-read “Dune” by Frank Herbert – one of the most popular books of my youth. This book did not age well. While the planet and culture Herbert created are fascinating and inventive, the characters and story arcs seem pretty dated and even offensive today.

I continued to plow through the library’s science fiction/fantasy section with “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman – a deliciously funny and scary send-up of the way religion warps societies.

At this point, I gave up on my library visits  and sought out some new sci-fi books. I bought “The Power,” an award-winning book by Naomi Alderman, about a new deadly power that evolves in women, changing tipping the battle of the sexes to women. I highly recommend it, too.

I highly anticipated Margaret Atwood’s sequel to the Handmaid’s Tale, “The Testaments.” The original book changed my life in high school, and I re-read it recently in light of the never-ending shitshow that is the Trump administration. Sadly, the Booker Prize-winning “The Testaments” disappointed me. While some might find the story satisfying, I think it missed something deep and true about human nature and the American psyche, unlike the original, which cuts very close to home.

Nonfiction

I had read a lot of sci-fi at this point, so it was time to get real. What better way than with a book about people who live in a slum in Mumbai, India? “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is a prize-winning nonfiction book by the journalist Katherine Boo. I was drawn to this book because I noticed these slums in Mumbai, right alongside the glittering modern airport.

airport slum

I was both fascinated and horrified – I took myself on quite a guilt trip but also came to understand more about Indian culture and ways of life. The book is dark and devastating and also funny and sweet in places.

For nonfiction, I also read “Feminism is for Everybody” by bell hooks, the pen name of the feminist professor and activist Gloria Jean Watkins. The book is an approachable primer on what feminism is – and isn’t. I love hook’s simple language explaining how feminism is an antidote to the patriarchy’s institutionalized sexism. I also like how she challenges white cis bourgeois women (such as myself) to basically get our heads out of our asses.

More Fiction

I started but could not finish “The Tale of Genji,” an ancient Japanese work – a kind of proto-novel – written by a woman, Murasaki Shikibu, in the 11th century. The book follows Genji, a beautiful and charismatic young prince, through his loves and losses, victories and sorrows. The book starts with young Genji, dishing with his friends one rainy night, about the “ideal woman.” I read this in English translation, which included copious notes to help the reader understand the intricacies of 11th-century Japanese life.

I tried to read this after I saw a beautiful exhibit inspired by the book at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I stood a long time looking at this screen, depicting Genji in exile.

Genji in Exile screen

I was fascinated because not only was the text ancient, but a woman wrote it! Sadly, for me the book was hard to get through and follow. There’s a lot of what we modern people would consider misogyny, rape and child abuse. But I imagine it’s a realistic picture of what was going on in Japan at the time.

I was interested in reading something new after that. Unfortunately, “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” by Ottessa Moshfegh was not what I was looking for. This novel tells the story of a beautiful privileged young woman who basically sleeps and shirks her life for a year, with no consequences. She emerges from her year richer and happier and more beautiful… blah blah. Awful.

My final recommendation – saving the best for last – is “The Overstory” by Richard Powers, the 2019 winner of The Pulitzer Prize. I loved this so much I bought copies for many friends and relatives. It was so beautiful and unexpected and thought-provoking. Please check it out.

One Art Form Inspires Another

I was delighted when visiting the Cheekwood Estate in suburban Nashville, Tennessee to find a small exhibit by local fashion students. The museum tasked the students, who are in the class of 2021 at the O’More School of Design at Belmont University, with creating a garment inspired by a work of art in the collection.

Take a look:

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Dress and collage by Amy May, fashion student at Belmont University

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“Windy Day at the Sea” by Martha Walter

While this design is a bit on the nose, I love it all the same. Whenever I see those late 19th -century and early 20th-century paintings of women in flowing summer gowns at the seaside, like in this painting by Martha Walter, I can’t help but imagine the dresses as giant sails, blowing the women to freedom, away from what I imagine were pretty confining lives.

A close-up shows how the artist, Amy May, underlined the gauzy bodice with fabric in an antique map motif, like a secret underneath the proper summer white.

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This coat, by Justice Yberra, was inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s drawing “Banana Flower.”

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Dress and collage by Justice Ybarra

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“Banana Flower” by Georgia O’Keeffe

I liked how the artist included her muslin and pattern in the display, so you could see how she crafted the coat’s pleats to mimic the flower’s organic form.

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Design by Justice Ybarra

This showstopper was by Samantha Edington:

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Dress and collage by Samantha Edington

The collage includes imagery from the 1920s and metallic elements, reflected in the organza the artist chose. It creates such a mood!. You can see how the heavy gathers in the skirt were inspired by “The Feathered Hat,” by M. Jean McLane.

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“The Feathered Hat” by M. Jean McLane

I have sought out a few exhibits like this lately. I love the places where art and fashion intersect. I’d love to be more creative with my makes. As I gain confidence, I hope I can create a work of art worth wearing, someday!

Don’t Raise Your Hand, Part 2

Some recent interactions at work have inspired me to the list of “don’ts” as a woman dealing with in a male-dominated office. (See here for the original list.)

Don’t provide food. I have been in a series of training classes that wrapped up this week. I am the only woman taking the class, with a group of six to eight men. I have been trying to integrate a little better with the men, since they’re a close-knit group. I have to work with them once in a while.

I thought about buying doughnuts for the last class, as a way to celebrate getting through it, and to ingratiate myself a bit with the guys.

donuts

I actually stood in line at this fancy doughnut shop to get a $25 box of doughnuts. And then I thought, “What am I doing? Why am I spending my own money to kiss up to these guys? If the situation were reversed, would it occur to them – ever – to buy anything out of their own pockets?” Of course not, sister. So I went to the meeting empty-handed. All the men did too. Of course they did. We finished the training and said goodbye.

Speak up when you’re not spoken to. A male project manager I work as part of a larger group ignores me. A few times a week he drops by our desks to shoot the breeze with the men and absolutely never includes me in the conversation.

One day I posed a question to a male coworker (we’ll call him Tim) who responded that he didn’t know the answer. Tim then asked me what the project manager had to say about it. “Nothing,” I replied. “He doesn’t talk to me. He literally never acknowledges my presence.”

Tim had a strange look on his face that said, “this bitch be crazy.”  So I thought I’d do a little test. I told Tim: “Don’t say anything, but the next time the project manager comes over, you watch what happens.”

Sure enough, the PM came by later that day, gabbed for a while with Tim and another guy about a project that I am involved with, never once turning toward me or including me in the conversation.

Wow,” Tim said when the project manager left.

Yep,” I said, “people think women make this stuff up.”

I wondered – just wondered as I said this – if it would get back to the project manager. Of course. A couple of days later, the project manager came by my desk and asked how I’m doing, what’s going on, blah blah. Not talking about work, mind you, just talking to show the other guys that he does talk to me.

Of course the PM reverted to ignoring me after that most of the time. Occasionally, he realizes he’s ignoring me and he makes a show of including me. One time when he came over to talk to Tim and the others, I looked up and listened in. He apologized for not coming closer to me, saying it was too far to walk. I sit right next to Tim. I just gave him a look – hey hang yourself with your own rope, dude.

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Now, this is a shitty passive-aggressive way to deal with the problem of being ignored. Going all Glenn Close from “Fatal Attraction” isn’t the answer. The second I realized this was happening, I should have told the project manager, “Please include me in conversations about this project, as I am on the team too.” And if he “forgets,” I should remind him, this time in writing: “Hey, I asked you to include me, but you didn’t just now. Why not?” If it happens again, escalate to his manager.

 

Fight Back with Feedback

Do you ever see bad behavior, but you don’t call it out, for whatever reason? Maybe you’re scared. Maybe you don’t want to rock the boat. Maybe you don’t want to get involved. Maybe you’re not sure of what you’re really seeing.

There are a million reasons not to do something, but only one reason where you must act: when it’s the RIGHT thing to do.

Such a predicament happened during a business meeting this week, where some men displayed some very bad behavior against women. So I spoke up. Maybe something will change. Maybe not (these guys didn’t seem like the types given to introspection). But if something does change, it will be because of the way the feedback was received:

  • Done at the moment, not later
  • Based in fact, not opinions or emotions
  • Based on content, not people or personalities
  • Constructive to give people something to act on
  • Band together if you can\
  • Follow up

By “at the moment” and  “based in fact” I mean, sticking to feedback about things that were observed. For example, four men had loud side conversations while a junior woman was presenting at the meeting. It was hard to hear the presenter. The presenter glared at them a few times but they kept going. Finally, I spoke up and asked them to stop. Those are facts that cannot be argued with.

I offered some constructive feedback: the moderator should organize the meeting to provide ample time for presenters. Each presenter should agree to stick to the allotted time. The moderator should intervene if side conversations become noisome.

“Based on content” basically means, no personal attacks. For example, this one guy who presented was giving as “evidence” all these personal anecdotes that were self-serving and not useful. Basically, dude was a serious Baby Boomer blowhard. But that’s not constructive, is it? Better to say: “Your anecdotes help illustrate the issues, but do you have data to back them up? I need data to make decisions, so please provide it next time.”

Finally, banding together helps women navigate these issues. If one woman raises a complaint, it’s easy for the men to dismiss her as “crazy” – an all-purpose epithet for any woman who dares to speak up. But if several women come forward, all agreeing to be constructive, fact-based and focused on content, not personalities, we can get somewhere.

In this case, I had a couple of “off the record” discussions after the meeting with other participants. We agreed on the facts. Then we provided our feedback. We agreed that we will follow up in two weeks to see if our comments were addressed.

Happy St. Distaff Day!

OK, there’s no “Saint Distaff.” Although, any woman who had to wield a distaff when spinning wool or flax is a saint in my book.

Rather, “St. Distaff Day” is Ye Ole Catholic Church’s way of saying: “Get back to work!”

Back in the day, Christmas partying lasted until the Feast of the Epiphany (it still does in some Christian cultures). You know, the old Twelve Days of Christmas” racket.

The day after the Epiphany, the fun was over. Women picked up their distaffs again and resumed their lives of ceaseless toil. Men resumed their ceaseless pastime of tormenting women, which on St. Distaff Day included stealing the spun wool and flax and setting it on fire.

There’s even a snatch of doggerel to mark the merry moment:

“Give St. Distaff all the right;

Then bid Christmas sport good night,

And next morrow everyone

To his own vocation.”

I am on a business trip, so no textile work for me!