What’s on Your List?
Last month I was on a jobsite, talking to a guy about the sad fact that most TV shows and movies had stopped production because of the pandemic. We reminisced about some of the big movies that were released last year, and then he said it. “I was so disappointed in the last Star Wars movie.” Ugh.
If you’ve been in this space for more than 13 seconds, you know that I loved that movie. So, I knew I was being masochistic, but I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “Why didn’t you like it?” I should have spared myself the agony.
He proceeded to tell me that he resented the fact that “they threw in some people just for diversity’s sake,” and that the main character, Rey, was “just too….well, she should’ve been more like Natalie Portman when she was in the Star Wars movies. Pretty, not trying to act like a guy.” He went on to say it should have been more like the movies from the 70s and 80s. Give me bonus points – I didn’t punch him, and I gave him a polite smile. If you know me, you would have recognized the smile as the kind I give Kentucky fans when I’m thinking of running them over while they’re walking in front of my car.
Here’s the really sad fact about this conversation: I had heard the same opinion from two other guys. One was someone I knew, and one was a movie critic.
Can we discuss the absurdity of complaining about diversity when the original movies that were supposedly the ideal specimens for these guys were peopled heavily with, well…not people. Giant hairy Wookies, cute cuddly Ewoks, not to mention entire bars full of things I can’t even name. Admiral Ackbar had flippers and whiskers, for heaven’s sake. But throw in a few people of color and whoa! We’ve just gone crazy and gotten unrealistic.
Criticism of Rey stems from the fact that she battles her inner demons and saves the world like the man typically does in most movies. I don’t mean just Star Wars movies. I mean all movies. Even though Princess Leia had power in the original movies, she had a pure moral center, and her brother got all of the angsty hero screen time. She was a good girl and she wore a dress.
The truly revealing aspect of the criticism I heard was that the three guys who made the negative statements all had similar characteristics. All three are mid to late 30s, white, and of middle class backgrounds. I believe these similarities explain a lot about their viewpoints.
Most people equate safety and security with how conditions were when they were young. People routinely believe that the world is a scarier place now than “before,” but the truth is that it’s scary now because they’re now old enough to be aware of all of the dangers in the world. And they’re now in charge of at least part of how safe the world is – their families, their belongings, whatever. Most people subconsciously see change as unstable. Ironically, the only thing that is constant in the world is change, so people fix a certain point in time as their benchmark and see everything from that point forward as different and possibly dangerous or unstable. Star Wars of their youth reflected how the world was at the time.
Add to this perspective the fact that men, particularly men who have grown up white in the United States, have had the benefit of knowing that their wants, needs, and cultural accoutrements constitute the mainstream. They see the concerns and interests of women as secondary. As a boss of mine once said, “Can you imagine if women were in charge? All the newspapers would print would be stories about dresses and babies.” We all know that cultural characteristics of minorities in this country also are treated as ethnic items with narrow audiences. As such, Bob from Columbus would see a shiny red Corvette as something that everyone should want, but he would view a tricked out El Dorado with rims and ground effects lighting as something tacky that “those people” would have to cruise around the projects.
So the guys with the Star Wars criticism were viewing the elements of the movie as not just change in Star Wars land, but changes in their own world. And those changes might be scary. What if the interests and needs of men, mainly white men, were no longer considered above everyone else? What might happen to the world???
I say this in a rather harsh manner, but I actually have a lot of friends and loved ones who are men, including a lot of white men. (If we’re talking about my family, really really white men. Almost translucent). They are good people and not necessarily racist or sexist or horrible trash. At least not knowingly. I think this worry about change reflects the same worry most people have when faced with a different world than the one where they were comfortable, where they knew their place. These guys just happen to be sitting in the catbird seat, and they see it slipping away.
I am sympathetic to the guys who don’t realize that their preference for “the right way” is actually just a preference for comfort and control. We all want that, right? On the other hand, I started thinking about what the world would be like if the preferences of men did not dictate the ways of society, and the world could be like it is when I’m comfortable and happy. WAIT A MINUTE – THIS COULD BE GOOD. There are some things that I just get completely sick of that are the province of men, and some that are mostly popular because of white men. Could we get rid of them if we all get equality? Okay, not get rid of them, but push them into the region of small cultural niches where many of my likes currently reside? The thought was delightful. I started a list.
I had a lot of fun making my list, and I’ll share it with you. Keep in mind – this is MY list. Don’t contact me and tell me that you actually like #6, and you’re a woman. Or don’t call to tell me that men of color like most of the things on the list. This is my fantasy list in my fantasy world where Manolo Blahniks get more attention than golf clubs. In my world, there would be less fascination with marching around the world killing other people and more interest in dance-offs. You might envision a world in which there weren’t “restaurants” with burgers made of fillers on every block and instead people could get arroz con pollo on every street corner. You might wish that movies weren’t made where obnoxious, out of shape guys get the gorgeous girls and instead the curvy girl with blue-black skin and Bantu knots has her choice of all the hot guys. I suggest you make your own list. Mine made me really happy.
So I’ll share it with you. Here are all of the things I would strike down to niche status just because I don’t like them, and I get sick of them dominating our world. That’s how society should be, right? Whoever is in charge gets all the marbles? Add whatever you like.
- War movies
- Khakis with pleats
- The air guitar skills of anyone over the age of 16
- Polo shirts
- Mullets (No, they’re not gone. I worked with a guy sporting a 1985 classic last week).
- Books about Civil War battles (and Civil war weapons and that weird ironclad Civil War submarine)
- Golf pants
- Four wheelers
- Speed boats
- The Three Stooges
- The University of Kentucky
- Excessive lawn maintenance
- White socks with dark sandals
- Homebuilders who wear khaki Bermuda shorts and never get dirty and just talk on their cell phones all day and knock off early (okay, very specific, but like locusts)
- Grilling out as an art form (It’s a flame and some meat. You’re not a genius).
- Preaching about vehicle maintenance
(Note: This list was made in fun. If you think I hate men or I’m anti-white men, you don’t know me, and you didn’t get it. I’m running for President in 2024 on a platform of increased funding for good quality riding boots and an emphasis on floral education).
love it! this was so “on point”! coming from minority background, i have seen “white men” being very confused when…
He sounds like he’s on the right track – we trust you to keep him there!
My son told me he likes Rey because “she reminds me of you, mom!”, so there is hope for the…
Well done! So snappy and upbeat. I’m proud to know a few awesome geotechs in the video!
Love it! I’m hearing lots of great feedback!
We Need a Little Happy
Oh. My. Heavens. Is the world trying to put us in a bad mood? Have you had a few dark weeks lately? Apparently the coronavirus is going to kill us all, and even if it doesn’t the news media is going to scare us into canceling all events and not leaving our homes for weeks. (As tempting as that seems…) And the elections are just a bit much. Every time you turn on the news or click on a story, people are yelling. They’re yelling at each other, they’re yelling at crowds, they’re yelling at us. Could someone please tell the candidates that every event is not a pep rally? Seriously – I will vote for the first person who simply speaks in his/her inside voice for two straight days.
(Update: This post was written and scheduled before the public health crisis grew to its current proportions. The mandates to stay home are warranted, and no parade or basketball tournament is worth losing the life of someone you love).
So, as you’re sitting on that tiny plane next to a coughing man who’s wearing a Straight Outta Wuhan T-shirt and the inflight video is a replay of the Democratic debates, I thought perhaps we all could use some happiness. I promise not to yell.
In the geo-related business, we all have an everyday awareness of geologic time. Geologic time is that great ruler by which we express how insignificant many things are. If geologic time were a day, people would have existed only in the last second – you’ve heard this sort of analogy, right? We talk to clients about the fact that this “new” sinkhole has been developing for millions of years. We tell our kids things like, “You think I’m old? Let me go out to my truck and get you some samples of Devonian shale. Now that’s old!” We are nerds, and it puts things into perspective when we think about how long the materials we’re exploring have been around.
I would like to use a similar relationship to tell you all why we should be celebrating today. Bear with me.
People(ish) appeared on this planet about 5 million years ago, give or take a few million years. Homo sapiens evolved over 50,000 years ago. According to the most recent calculations of people who do that sort of thing, our current population is approximately 7% of all the people who have ever lived. So about 94 billion people lived before us. If 51% of those people were women, that means almost 48 billion women came before us. Using some completely sketchy and non-anthropological assumptions, we’re going to estimate that at least 90% of those women lived in a patriarchal society, because women are smaller than men and brute force ruled the day. So 43.2 billion women lived before us in male-dominated environments. I think you would be safe to say that of the 3.8 billion women living on Earth today, at least 30% of them still live in completely oppressive conditions. So in summary, (which is likely several decimal places off), the women in today’s progressive cultures represent only about 6% of all the women who have ever lived.
We spend a lot of time talking about the problems that still face us in our male-dominated workplaces, but, seriously – 6%!!! Of all of the women who have ever lived, 94% of them had it a LOT worse than we do. They couldn’t own property. They couldn’t vote. They could be raped or beaten, and it didn’t have legal consequences. If they were raped before they got married, their futures were ruined through no fault of their own. They were traded for power and disregarded. They had no legal worth.
But we do!!! We can vote. We have jobs that we want. We can own our own houses. If we are attacked or even sexually harassed, we are able to press charges and seek damages and justice. We can decide not to have children and we won’t be at risk for being tossed out into the streets as worthless. We can have credit cards and stock portfolios and bank accounts, and no man has to oversee all of this.
Can we take a minute to celebrate this? Yes, things might be much better in the future, but they were much much worse for a good portion of a past that is much longer than our short memories. And WE get to be here for it. Our grandmothers couldn’t open their own credit cards, but we’re allowed to charge enough shoes to max out our credit limits. And we don’t have to have anyone else around to monitor our spending habits. Our great grandmothers could lose their houses if their husbands died, but we can live out our days lounging on our fabulous wrought iron furniture in our fabulous parterre gardens next to our fabulous country houses bought from our earnings from our fabulous jobs.
We need some happiness right now, so I want to initiate a little campaign to honor what we have. I am proposing that we all do the following (choose all that apply):
1- Charge something (because you can). It doesn’t have to be from the spring line of Manolo Blahnik, although we’ll all bow down to you if it is. You can buy $3 lip balm to give to your preteen daughter. Or you can buy a copy of Garden and Gun magazine to enjoy with your morning coffee.
2- Sit for 10 minutes and study the platforms of the presidential candidates, because you get to VOTE! You may end up doing a write-in for Sarah Jessica Parker so that we get Universal Footwear, but you can still honor the fact that you get to be part of the process.
3- Take a photo of part of your house or apartment or condo to commemorate the fact that it is legal for you to rent or own property.
4- Take a photo of your office or save a business card to memorialize the fact that you were able to have the job you wanted. You might hate your current boss, and there’s a possibility that you’re going to poison all of your co-workers during the next lunch-and-learn, but there’s no law that says a woman can’t be a insert your job here. There’s also no law that says that you can’t leave this job and get another one. In fact, you can change your profession completely if you want.
For each of these items, I want you to do them in honor of a female ancestor or ancestors who didn’t have these rights. We all have these ancestors. My great-grandmother Evelyn, my great-grandmother Margaret, my great-aunt Freda…the list goes on. I have it better than all of them, and I don’t appreciate it enough.
A moment of silence and a smile will be enough to commemorate these moments. If you’re into social media, put up a post with #notonestepback*. (Feel free to tag me on Instagram – @peggyhagertyduffy. You can also tag me or Helen on Facebook). That’s the order Joseph Stalin gave his troops in 1942 when the Russians were being invaded by German soldiers. We need to hold the same hard line. Now is the time to be happy about what we have, because there are plenty of dark forces trying to bring the world down. We’re stronger than that. We’re going to honor what it took to get here, and we’re not going back.
*Note – For you diehard history people, use of this slogan does not mean we’re going to execute retreating troops. No one will be shot. We just liked the decisive spirit of the order.
Part II – Us
Previously we addressed the unsuitable behavior of some men in the workplace, and we offered guidelines for those men who were either sincerely or disingenuously unable to tell the difference between appropriate and inappropriate actions. The other variable in the equation that adds up to a happy workplace is our behavior. Yes, us, the women who are the subjects of this stramash. We may be the victims, but that does not mean we don’t have certain responsibilities in moving toward a solution to the problem.
Wait, what? Somehow the wrong attitudes and actions of other people create responsibilities for us? But we didn’t do anything. Why should we have to work to take care of a problem caused by someone else?
We have a responsibility here because this isn’t Candyland. This is real life, and we live in a world that has been evolving for about 4.54 billion years, give or take 10 to 50 million years. Every ice age, every extinction, every social change, every shift in hemlines has been a product of interdependent factors in a complex environment. You can sit on your princess throne and say that men should just change and life should just be fair. Good luck with that.
For our part, it will only help our cause if we are proactive and do everything in our power to stop the bad guys and enlighten the good guys. Sure, you could just sit around and be mad, waiting for social change to sweep across professional society like a special effect in a science fiction movie. Your desired results will take much, much longer that way, and you will be disconnected from the end result. Instead, we can all take some basic steps to help create an environment that is fair and beneficial to all of us.
1. Repeat after me, “Not all men are bad.” (Okay, you get a pass on this if some guy just broke up with you on a Post-It and you’re out drinking with your girlfriends). It’s funny, because even most guys I know will say, “Men are pigs.” The implication is that men are led around by their baser instincts and, therefore, will always be low quality humans who make bad decisions. But that’s just not true. Even from a statistical standpoint, it is highly unlikely that 49% of 7 billion people would ALL have sub-par character. And assuming that all men are bad is a negative attitude that will ill prepare you for helping your co-workers and bosses and clients evolve into more enlightened colleagues. Saying that all men are bad is a defeatist attitude that will not move us forward even an inch (or a centimeter for our Canadian and European readers).
2. We have to be aware of our own behavior and how it affects the perception of the men around us. I will admit that I sometimes have difficulties with this. I am a toucher – if you’ve met me, I’ve probably hugged you. I routinely grasp the nearest person’s arm to make a point, and I’ll squeeze a colleague around the shoulders to offer congratulations. I have learned that this sometimes generates confusion with my male colleagues. Yes, I’m proud of you for getting that journal article published, but no, I don’t intend to sleep with you as an attaboy. Unfortunately, many men will admit that they are less than adept at reading subtle signs and differentiating between behavior types in various situations. Simply put, some guys think you must want to sleep with them because you squeezed their arms. They are not pigs, they’re just…clueless. It has taken me awhile, but I have learned that I need to be more restrained in many situations to avoid confusion. It doesn’t mean I have to be cold and unfriendly, I just have to pay more attention to men’s reactions and err on the safe side until I feel like I know someone well. This doesn’t mean I’m being unduly burdened, it just means I’m being a responsible adult.
It goes without saying that flirting on the job will broadcast the idea that you might be receptive to inappropriate actions. Certainly, no means no. But you can avoid the pothole more easily if you don’t steer the car in that direction.
3. We have to speak up every time. Sometimes we endure an ugly situation and we emerge unscathed. The temptation is to let well enough alone and move on. Say your boss got physical with you, you gave him what-for, and now he’s acting respectful and giving you a wide berth. You consider just chalking it up to a bad memory and never speaking of it again. But what about the next woman? Maybe she’s not as brave as you are. Maybe she has four kids at home and she’s petrified she’ll lose her job. So the boss just moves on to harassing her. When she finally gets up the nerve to blow the whistle, the supporting evidence you have that would have helped her establish a pattern of behavior isn’t there. Management doubts her claim, because they usually do at first, and when you finally come forward, HR says, “If this really happened, why didn’t you complain?” When you say that the issue was solved, people inevitably look at the other woman and say, “Why didn’t you just do what she did?” Everyone becomes distracted from the fact that what the guy has been doing is WRONG. We need to address bad behavior every time.
It should be noted that at some point in time your justifiable whistle blowing most likely will result in an accusation that you’re just a whiner. You’re too sensitive. You caused the problem. Or, my favorite, you’re just hard to work with. Almost every woman in our field over the age of 30 has been told this at some point because she made public some guy’s bad behavior. I wish I could say don’t worry about it, it won’t happen. But it will, so you have to tell yourself in advance that you’re doing the right thing, and you’re a delightful person. No one can make you feel bad about yourself if you don’t let them.
4. We must always use our power for good. On the opposite side of justifiable whistle blowing is using sexual harassment as a tool to get back at a man with whom you have a personal dispute. Just like sexual harassment, false accusations are wrong. Ruining a man’s reputation because you don’t like him is wrong. Claiming sexual wrongdoing when a workplace romance goes horribly awry is wrong.
I once worked with a woman who actively pursued one of the engineers with the company, even seducing him at his desk after hours. When the short-lived affair went south, she got angry with the engineer and went to the boss to say that she was offended that Playboy magazines were kept in the men’s restroom by this engineer. She felt sexually harassed by this. Obviously, her campaign was personal, and I didn’t back her up when the boss asked me if I also felt compromised. She was furious with me, but I told her that her claim would make it difficult the next time a real problem happened.
This list is not comprehensive, because the best defense is a great offense. But probably our biggest responsibility in our very complicated campaign to rid the workplace of sexual inequalities is our need to support our sisters. This does not mean you have to agree with every opinion of every woman you know, and we don’t all have to be friends. But when another woman needs support, whether it be help reporting a problem or a sympathetic ear to try to figure out how to deal with a difficult boss, you owe it to YOURSELF to give her whatever she needs. The military doesn’t teach the infantry to stick together just to promote good social skills. Don’t ever leave anyone behind and you won’t get left behind.