Let me be frank; I’m no feminist. I think of myself as an egalitarian. Within that definition I consider myself thoughtful, fair and a person with a great deal of integrity. Living in a small community helps to keep me honest because if you screw up people will catch wind of it and call you out to explain the lapse in character. Because I believe in being a good person I am allowed to live in this wonderful small town with folk who actually believe in personal and social responsibility. I know It sounds a little idealistic. The truth is there are those who do not share these ethics but I don’t have to associate myself with them.
So back on topic. The place I run into problems most is in the realm of the business world. Most of my career has been as a chef in that capacity I have been in charge of things and have had to be in direct control of suppliers and other external professions such as accountants and lawyers that help the whole thing run. When it was within my scope I was able to handpick the people who I chose to supply services; without question I would choose the business that operated in the most principled way. That is what my integrity demands. Choosing to work with such people also meant I knew what to expect as I was dealing with honest people, I would be treated fairly without having to second guess every transaction and there could be leniency on either side of the table because we were on the same team. Ethnicity, gender and appearance were never part of the equation because of their irrelevance to the task at hand. All I wanted was honesty, transparency and fair dealings so that both parties walked away as satisfied as possible. That is what I ask of any person in my life.
You are probably wondering how all this relates. Here it is. I had dealings with a publisher yesterday. This is a person who was important to me only in that I wanted an article put in his community leaflet. The association was that we both live in the same town and have met socially on many occasions. He has in fact been to my home. I gave him the same open-minded greeting I give any new-comer who purports to want to be an active, interested member of the community. Honestly it wasn’t very long before I thought the guy was a hopeless shmoozer and at best an opportunist. At worst I suspected that he was a subconscious misogynist. However I gave him the chance to prove me wrong on both counts. For months we encountered each other at music gigs and other town events. I even agreed to help him (at his request) fix the lay-out of his paper. Something I will point out he knows nothing about aesthetically or technically. I however have published similar things in the old days before computer programs made it possible for us all to become our own publishers. Not to mention I wield the power of InDesign and have the latest version of this useful publishing tool…which is expensive…so you know I use it often. This leads to the first insult. A week after having dismissed all my hard-earned knowledge (that I shared for half my usual rate) he, figuratively speaking, pats me on the head and tells me how quaint it was of me to try to figure out how to help and then has the gall to try to tell me that I don’t really know what I’m doing. This man is below the age of 40; he’s not some old man relic of the past. As I stood there in the street listening with my mouth gaping all that I could think was “Are you F-ing kidding me right now?”
Did I lash out? No. I calmly told him that I was in fact very good at what I do and if he couldn’t see it that was not my problem. He reacted with the same condescending shmaltz. I walked away. Forgiving is an important thing in a small town. Forgetting…not so much.
Insult number two came with the same utter thoughtless disregard. Having been told by him that I would not only get an article for a community project I was spear-heading but he wanted me to write an ongoing series. You can imagine I was excited and shared this with others in the project. Only to be told a week later that he wasn’t sure my project had enough validity to merit an article but he would move forward with it anyway. This is by the way two weeks after the initial date for the interview which I let slide because again the important thing for me was getting the word out.
And so comes insult number three. We did the interview, he sent me the proof, I approved it and the next day he sends me an email saying that they wouldn’t be printing the article after all. Now that in and of itself would not be a problem. There is limited space in any publication and last minute changes get made. No biggie. But he had to step over that line of thoughtful speaking yet again and imply that the reason it wasn’t being published was somehow my fault. Basically he called my integrity into question which as stated earlier means your bread and butter in a tight community. Now if that had been the only affront I would have distanced myself from him and simply let him fade out of my radar but seeing as he was a repeat offender I felt obligated to set him straight. I sent him a quick note that clearly told him who I am and what I thought of him. It was not kindly put but the time for playing nice was long over. The final thing he said was that I shouldn’t take it so personally; that he felt questioning my virtue before even checking sources was perfectly reasonable and that he was totally justified in saying that pulling the article and subsequent updates was my fault because…oh I don’t know…some vague sense that I wasn’t on the up and up. So a person calls into question my competence, legitimacy and integrity but I shouldn’t take that personally. The Dalai Lama might take that personally.
Telling you that I’m not a feminist is supposed to set the stage for my conclusions about people like this so bear with me. I know of his dealing with men in the community. The guys he works with seem to be respected and given due consideration. I do not say that I think he may be a subconscious misogynist because of prejudice; I really genuinely think this based on his own actions.
Now the problem in general is that women are still regularly dismissed in the business world because of an attitude of male superiority. I originally noticed this sort of ubiquitous subconscious attitude in relation to racial profiling and subjugation in the States. Being from a country that has very little race related bigotry I noticed that some very intelligent people who I called my friends would use words and actions that would be completely unacceptable where I come from. They really couldn’t understand why I was offended when they used the “N” word or crossed the street because there was a black man walking toward them. I in fact left the US in large part because of such hurtful behaviors. I equate my experience with the man in this story with similar thinking. He really is unaware that he is a very subtle discriminator. Although for all I know he could be intolerant to my weight or the fact that I have tattoos and piercings. Regardless he is one of the many men and women who will dismiss another without any foundation. Even after being told their error they will stubbornly cling to a belief set that causes unnecessary discomfort. In today’s world people want to believe that this sort of intolerant behavior is an out-dated paradigm and that makes the whole thing worse. It makes us doubt what we are experiencing and it makes people who have antipathetic habits think that they are innocent of such things simply because they live in a modern world.
My saving grace is that I truly believe in my own worth. I know what I am and am not capable of achieving. A quality that I appreciate in myself is the ability to keep my mind open for growth. If you really think I’m wrong I will make you prove your point. If you do I will gladly concede. That is what sets me free and I wish the same sense of value for everyone. In the end I’m sure my temper will subside but he unfortunately will continue to be an small-minded jackass. I really hope that he and all the others like him will one day wake-up, but til that happens I will continue to stand up for myself and others. There are laws that exist to keep such prejudicial behavior in check in the business world however when those laws fail to achieve zero tolerance it is our obligation to express how unacceptable sexism, racism or any of those types of isms are in our society. We are never less simply for being female or black or because we have unique physical attributes or because we listen to country music. When social norms fail to create a truly level playing field it must become a personal mission to make sure the balance is restored.
UPDATE 2/17/2012: Today I received an apology from the publisher mentioned in this story. It definitely fell short of making everything OK but at least I’m getting my article. Here’s to sticking up for ourselves. Cheers.