“You look at everything all over the world today and how women are dressing and what they are asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble.”
Unbelievable. Without examining the facts, without analyzing the situations, Donna Karan, a well-known fashion designer and self-proclaimed feminist, gave this careless and callous response to the sexual harassment claims made recently against Harvey Weinstein. Days later, she sought public forgiveness claiming fatigue and distraction prompted her answer. Really? Years of knowing Weinstein and she had no idea? Decades of harassment reported and she didn’t know? I wonder….
A dam broke after The New York Times and New Yorker magazine recently published articles detailing Weinstein’s acts of harassment. An era of narcissistic, abusive and generally improper behavior that once lived comfortably under the carpet found itself unceremoniously exposed. Women of all ages began telling their stories of Weinstein’s lechery: he groped, he pushed, he used his position to compel performance. Fortunately, some got away relatively unscathed, having rebuffed his advances without great impact. Others were not so lucky, instead finding themselves negatively marked, either personally or professionally, no matter what they chose to do.
Why was this allowed? To the obvious question one provides the unfortunate answer: POWER. Harvey Weinstein used his power to compel performance, to compel silence, to get what he wanted. In truth, his monstrous actions are not unique to Hollywood. Harassment in the workplace, although globally condoned, is still not uncommon. Stories leak out of all sectors that confirm this fact.
When I worked as an ER technician in the early 1990’s, I recall being verbally undressed by two male EMTs on one nondescript day. My blond hair apparently led them to conclude I could not think for myself. Having been taught early and often by my parents how to think, and to know when my personal boundaries had been crossed, I did not hesitate with my response. It began something like this: “You really didn’t think this through, did you? Because this is about to go badly for you.” Neither challenged me again. But, neither held my professional fate in his hands.
Years later, I learned what it meant to have someone act simply to display his power. As a young attorney, I worked for a partner who wanted what he wanted when he wanted it. After calling his attention to an issue that required his intervention, he quickly dismissed me. Incredibly, he then followed me back to my office to berate me because I “rolled my eyes at him.” Fact is, I probably did roll my eyes. He was ignoring an important issue and I couldn’t understand why. But I didn’t respond well to his attack. Or, perhaps I did. Without getting out of my chair, I let him know exactly how I felt. If memory serves, I began by saying, “Are you kidding?” Well, it ended poorly for me. He apparently spent the next two years poisoning my future at that firm. To date, he’s been sued twice for harassment. No law firm saw fit to fire him.
Harassment should not be tolerated anywhere. Unfortunately, this thought is not universally held. Weinstein’s egregious behavior serves as a reminder that harassment thrives in arenas where people believe that power gives them the right to act heinously. Time and again we’ve learned that the harasser’s power dissolves every time harassment is exposed. Why don’t people speak up more often? Because the risks sometimes eclipse the benefits. And when your are risking your livelihood, some simply choose to remain silent.
I understand this risk/benefit analysis. Faced with someone who held power over me, I did not stay quiet. And I was penalized as a result. I found my way around him, but not without some war wounds. To those who are afraid to speak out, I understand your predicament. But remaining quiet simply empowers the harasser. I implore you to find someone you trust and tell them what is happening. Document what that person has done and when. You can protect yourself and erode his power.
Just speak up.
“Let’s get the elephant out of the room; I will not recommend you for partner.”
This was the very first thing he said to me during my end-of-year evaluation.
At that point, I’d been with the law firm for six years, and practicing a total of nine years. I was hired to work on his team, so it would follow that he would be the person with the most knowledge of my capabilities. Honestly, having worked on many high-value medical malpractice cases without much oversight, and working on cases for another high-profile client that I, again, managed by myself, I thought I had worked my way up to a level that warranted consideration for partner. Surprise was my first response, followed quickly by anger.
During my time working for him, I’ve made some mistakes. Although I strive to do things correctly, that has not always happened. When I’ve made a mistake, my goal has always been to correct that mistake, and attempt to fix whatever problems it created. Unilaterally, he responded to these mistakes with anger. But, he would never address these issues in person. Interestingly, he felt the need to do this via telephone. He would leave the office (my office was right next to his) and call me from his cell phone to admonish me. Never in person. Never when I could look him in the eye, admit my mistake and ask for guidance. He didn’t want to help me learn from the mistake, nor did he want to re-educate me. Instead, he wanted to make me the enemy; lash out without having to address my reaction in person.
Because he conducted my end-of-year evaluation via telephone, I again found myself without the means to see him face-to-face. Despite my surprise and anger, I knew I had to challenge his assessment. I needed to know what I hadn’t done that prompted him to start the evaluation with that stellar "elephant in the room" comment. Curiously, when I asked why he would not recommend me, he fumbled for an answer. Forty minutes into the conversation, he provided one example of a situation that he thought I did not handle well. He promised to contact me after the review and provide me with more examples. That subsequent conversation never took place.
Thankfully, another partner was on the call. For the remainder of my review, that other partner discussed my strengths, asked for my input, told me what he thought of my work, and made recommendations for how I should continue in the firm. In effect the other partner spent the remainder of my review trying to fix the damage inflicted by him.
I made partner that year. You can be sure I was surprised. But, I had made many connections with many other partners during my tenure, and when my review went so poorly, I reached out to all of them to discuss my future. Thankfully, they had a different opinion of me, and their collective opinion eclipsed his opinion.
Did this happen because I am a woman? Did this happen because he really thought I did not possess the necessary skills and experience to take the next step? I don’t have that answer. He is entitled to his opinion. But, it is interesting to note that no one else agreed with him.
What is the take away? Never give up.
Never ever give up.
You are leaving the nest. I am so happy, and incredibly proud.
I know you are ready. Although you may say you are scared, your demeanor says otherwise. Excitement fills your eyes when you describe your next adventure. And as you speak, your wings become visible. Have you seen them? They are beautiful. Much like opals when in light, they shimmer with hues of blue and pink.
When we met, you were deciding…deciding your future. Brave and strong, no one would question your ability to survive. But survival has never been your goal. Success is your goal. How to get there remained a mystery.
When you struggled, I pushed you a bit. Forgive me for that. As your friend, my job description included (and continues to include) giving you a shoulder to lean on, an ear to bend, and an assist to the next level. Pushing you was my assist. And it didn’t take much. Somewhere deep within, you knew what you wanted. You’ve always known. But you needed to find the right puzzle pieces that fit your life. When you found those pieces, everything changed.
You are smart, practical and capable. Letting go of the doubt and accepting your strengths inevitably brought you here, to this place, to the edge. From here, you will soar.
Wistfully and joyfully I say goodbye. I will miss you. But it is your time to fly.
Keep in touch.
Sound moves through space at a rate of 1125 feet per second. City blocks that run east-west measure approximately 200 feet. Positioned on Broadway and Vesey, my paramedic partner and I stood one city block away from the northeast corner of the World Trade Center complex. Knowing these facts, there is no disputing that we heard Tower Two fall before we saw the tower collapse. It was loud, like a freight train moving at top speed next to my head. In moments, a cloud of debris engulfed us: a squall made of asbestos, paper, and other particulated materials. We could barely see one another. After a low-key exchange with my partner (“Get in the f*ing truck!” “Do you want me to back you up?” “No. Get in the f*ing truck!!”), we fled north, desperately hoping to get out of the literal zone of danger. I am not sure that any other ambulance parked closer to the Trade Center made it out.
The next hour is a blur. We kept running and moving. Communication was almost impossible. When the Towers collapsed, they took with them pivotal cell and radio equipment. We could not communicate with the balance of the EMTs and paramedics who had been sent into Manhattan by our hospital. So we drove around and gathered the troops manually. Skittish as cats, no one remained in one place in lower Manhattan very long. Gas pipes were leaking. The Towers burned. Ash swirled in the air and on the streets. It was ghastly.
At one point, I looked back over my shoulder and saw a man sitting on a bench with a briefcase open on his lap. Not stopping to really process that visual, I turned and towards him with the intent of quietly encouraging him to leave. “What the hell are you doing?” came flying out of my mouth. And then I realized he was a statute: bronze, life-sized and positioned on a bench on the southern edge of City Hall’s grounds. Shaking my head, I turned and ran towards the truck. We were moving again.
Sixteen years ago, terrorists came to this country with goal of killing Americans and damaging our country. We rose to the challenge then. We must continue to rise to the challenge. Fighting for our freedom is necessary. In that fight, it is our job to be vigilant, cautious, and optimistic.
He swam the width of the pool today without my help. It’s not a small pool. I pretend that I do not hover, but I do. When he reached ¾ of the way and he looked tired, I dove in. I am not the strongest swimmer, but knew I could reach him in three strokes. And yet in two, I knew if I wanted him to be independent, I had to keep my hands off of him. So I did.
I swam up behind him and I let him do it himself. When he grabbed the wall, he didn’t think too much of his accomplishment. Just kinda shrugged when I said, “Great job!” He may not have understood the magnitude of what he did, but I did. And I was a proud Mommy in that moment. Then, the “gremlins” showed up.
Every parent of school-age children has told me that the time flies when their children start school. Changes occur like rapid fire, so you need to take the time to enjoy the moments when they present themselves. With kindergarten on the horizon, I know we have now entered this new phase. Honestly, I am so happy to see him grow. At the same time, I am heartbroken. The more he grows, the less he needs me. I am completely aware that this represents the cycle of life. Nonetheless, my “gremlins,” those little thoughts that plant seeds of fear, jealousy, doubt and selfishness, constantly nibble at my resolve, causing me to question his future. Or, to be brutally honest, how he won’t need me as he grows…
Selfishly, there are moments when I don’t want him to grow up. When he asks me to snuggle with him before he goes to bed; when he climbs up onto my lap for a moment because he wants to be held; when he automatically puts his hand out for me to hold when we walk to school: all of these moments will pass at some point, and this makes me sad. [Can you see the selfish gremlin dancing?] Coaxing myself away from these thoughts takes effort, but is ultimately necessary. If I waste the time mourning what has not yet happened, then I will miss the “now.” And when I remind myself of this fact, the gremlins fade into the background.
We’ve all heard the saying that “history repeats itself.” This is true. I will struggle as he grows because, selfishly, I love who he is now and I love that he needs me. These feelings will return many times as he grows. Time and again, I will have to push back those gremlins so I can focus on who he is becoming, so I continue to love how he is growing and changing. Just this morning, he read flawlessly the list of 12 site words he was tasked with learning this summer. Tomorrow, he will be driving the car.
What I experience in between is up to me.
Catastrophic meltdown. That is what occurred this morning at 4:30 a.m. For some reason, the boy woke up. It hasn’t happened in months. And the truth is, any attempt to reason with a 5-year-old at 4:30 a.m. is futile, especially when the issue has to do with a toy. Raphael’s mask – the smallest part on the smallest toy – fell off in the bed. It is a tiny, red circle about ½ the size of a penny. When I got up to investigate, I found all of the stuffed animals and pillows on the floor, sheets askew on the bed. He was crying, and kept telling me over and over, “It is lost forever!”
I pulled the sheets back, moved all the books that live under the pillow (anyone else have the library in the bed at night? Apparently, he will learn to read through osmosis...), and ran my hands over the fitted sheet. Because the sheets are covered in red emergency vehicles, there was little to no chance that I would find the mask in my delirious state. So, I made the parent promise: “I can’t find it now, but I will look for it in the morning.” I had no idea if I would find it, but I knew that bed was the only answer for everyone in that moment. Through the sobs, I put the pillows and stuffed animals back on the bed, moved the remaining Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the top bunk for safe keeping, turned out the light and crawled in to bed next to him. Thirty minutes later, he followed me into my bed. That, of course, was the end of sleep for me.
I got up before 7:00 a.m. to make breakfast and lunch. After getting lunches prepared, I resumed the hunt. Miraculously, I found the lil’ bugger in the bed. He smiled from ear to ear when I handed it to him. And then I gave him the bad news: no more "Turtle Dudes" in the bed at night. With the mask safely positioned back on Raphael’s face, the kid took that news in stride.
Will he remember that I did this? Probably not. But I will. Little things with great love. That is what we do for our children. That is what we do for those who we love.
God help me if he loses that mask again.
I have a 5-year-old boy. He is built like a Tonka truck. Add to this that he is incredibly active, and he eats, which translates into a tall, solid kid who can knock me flat if he gets me off balance. Thankfully, he is a gentle giant. He never means to hurt anyone unless they push him too far. But that is a conversation for another day.
While on the subway the other morning, my son told me he wanted a seat. Because we were traveling during rush hour, few seats remained. Having taken the local, the train makes seven stops before reaching our destination. As will happen, people get on and get off. At one point, a seat opened up right next to where we stood. Although my son wanted to take it, I reminded him of the message I’ve repeated since he could understand me: “Ladies first.” I then told him that the seat should go to the young girl standing with her father at the pole in the center of the subway car. We offered; she sat. Instead of hearing a “thank you,” her father then said, “Confusing. We teach gender equality. And ladies first. An interesting line.”
In a word, I was flummoxed. Never before had I experienced this response. I’ve always operated with the mantra that men should practice courtesy, perhaps because my father did. He held doors open routinely, and would give up a seat to a woman in a heartbeat. But, his actions did not seek to unravel gender equality. Rather, he performed these acts simply out of courtesy. Interestingly, he was the only person who supported my mother’s decision to return to law school in the late 1970’s after having three children, a decision I would say was a supreme act of gender equality when it was not commonly practiced. My husband acts in a similarly courteous way. Together, we have tried to impart this level of courtesy to our son.
After processing what this man said, my brain raced to answer the unposed question: was I upending gender equality by teaching my son courtesy? It took just a moment for me to decide that these issues actually do not collide. Gender equality seeks a platform where everyone is given an equal chance, no matter their sex. Of course, I agree with this concept. Success is based upon personal performance; the chance to try must be given to everyone. Our son is learning about equality (what a 5-year-old understands to be “fairness,”) and he is learning to be respectful and courteous. As he gets older, I expect he will automatically give up his seat to anyone who needs it, such as elderly person, a person with a disability, a pregnant woman, or just to woman who simply wants it.
After turning to the father and looking more than slightly perplexed, I said, “Yes, it is an interesting line. And perhaps confusing. But he is generally bigger and stronger than most. And I am trying to teach him courtesy.”
We might see them again on the subway. And if we do, my son will again offer his seat.
Who invented the mammogram machine? Was it a man? Although I have not researched this information, I will bet that a man constructed that awful machine. For those who have not yet had the pleasure, individually, your breasts get squished between a metal plate and a piece of hard plastic. By pressing out the breasts, the radiologists are hoping to see all of the tissue in a flat plane, making it arguably easier to identify any abnormalities. Comfort is not the operative word here.
I had my annual mammogram 2 weeks ago, and I got called back in…again. Last year, on my birthday, I received the delightful news that there was something questionable on my mammogram, a finding that prompted the need for additional imaging. Results of those additional images prompted my physician to order a bilateral breast MRI. So, after having my breasts squished twice within a 2 week period, I had to lay face down on a cold, metal plate for 30 minutes, keeping my body perfectly still while this remarkably LOUD machine took more pictures of my breasts. DE-light-ful. Thankfully, my breast surgeon concluded that I simply needed to be kept on a short leash. I went back in January for another mammogram, which did not raise alarms. Dr. breast surgeon told me to resume my annual spring mammogram. Queue the audible “phew.”
As I retrieved the voicemail left by the imaging center last week seeking to schedule follow-up imaging, January’s good news transformed into a cloud, floating away into the abyss of my stress. Since that point, I’ve been pushing my fear into the background, trying not to overthink the outcomes. But I am nervous as hell, and hypersensitive. Do I feel burning? Is my right breast swollen? Will they find something that must be biopsied? Do I have cancer?
I know I am not alone in my psychological madness. I am trying to remain calm, not to worry. Although I don’t have any statistics, I’d bet my last dollar that many women have felt as I feel now. And this helps a bit. So will the bottle of wine that I plan to pick up on my way home.
I was an impressionable seven-year-old when Lynda Carter brought Wonder Woman to life. Clad in my bullet-repelling wrist bands and boomerang-esque headpiece made from my mom’s heavy duty aluminum foil, I would sit on the piano bench in the living room flying my invisible plane to destinations unknown. String from the junk drawer served as my golden lasso, and the footstool became every ne’er-do-well known to mankind. At the end of each story, I’d put the criminals away using every superpower I possessed, with my secret identity remaining (remarkably) intact.
Making a landmark return to the big screen this weekend, Gal Gadot beautifully breathed life into this icon we know as Wonder Woman. Curious but true, never before has a female superhero headlined a movie. Early indications suggest that the movie has been well-received by the public. For some, including me, this is not a surprise.
Growing up in a household with a strong, educated woman at the helm, I have always gravitated towards smart women leaders. In a vacuum, these women understand every circumstance, can rise to rise to any challenge, acknowledge the difficulties in life and are able to find a solution despite any undercurrent of fear. Wonder Woman encompasses all of these traits and more, making her the ultimate role model. But, we do not live in a vacuum.
It is easy to get lost in the magic of Hollywood. Bad people are easily identified and brought to justice; love interests arise in uncomplicated situations and without baggage; friendships are constructed with impenetrable armor. Truth is, life is messy, complicated and challenging. Few things go according to plan. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as a 40-something is that you cannot control anyone but yourself. And many times I don’t act like Wonder Woman: I am selfish, cranky and introverted. I am imperfect. In a word, I am human.
Because we are human, we are subject to emotion; we are swayed by circumstances; we operate in the gray. Holding the moral compass gets heavy, and lonely. Thinking that our faults are perpetually exposed, we gravitate towards those who are less-flawed, those who make the decisions look easy, those like Wonder Woman. But, Wonder Woman didn’t do what you did today. She didn’t fix the issue with the client; fix lunch; put on the bandaid; tell the bedtime story; fix dinner; pay the bills; talk to the in-laws; talk to the family; talk to your spouse; make a friend laugh. But you did.
You are Wonder Woman.
And your secret is safe with me.
Stress became the focus of a conversation I had with very good friend last week. Responsibilities at work are impacting her ability to sleep. She hadn’t slept much the night before. By the way, she lost her husband to cancer and has a five-year-old son. So, her job is important for many obvious reasons. She asked me what I do to manage my stress. Having never described to anyone else what I routinely do to manage my stress, I fumbled the answer a bit. But, eventually, I came up with the following list:
Pretty obvious suggestions, right? I completely agree. But I assure you, they work.
For the record, I am not always successful at managing my stress. A good glass of red wine is my back up plan, although this practice frowned upon by some. But it is my #8 on occasion.