17 August 2019

Truth to Power

I went out in a blaze of glory yesterday at work.

I took full advantage of an opportunity to speak truth to power—in front of a few witnesses, no less!—and it was AMAZING.

The whole story is kind of long having told it both in person and over text a few times now, it's one of those things whose full impact is really only felt if you know the players and can imagine the scene. But the upshot is that in front of a number of witnesses who hold positions of power in the organization where I work, I told an über-privileged man—my boss's boss, the president's right-hand man—in no uncertain terms that he's accountable for his action or lack thereof and that it's not OK to blame me for his mistakes.

I call men out at work all the time. During that awkward time when the organizer of a meeting asks for someone to volunteer to take notes, and everyone in the room is looking around NOT wanting to do it, and I know the person in charge is going to ask me or another one of the women present (if there are other women present), I will often say, "Don't choose me or any of the other women. It's someone else's turn." When inevitably a man restates something that I or one of my other female colleagues has just said, I have no trouble pointing that out, either, and giving credit where credit is due. And I could go on and on; it's life in the patriarchy.

But this time felt special. Witnesses! Location, right outside the president's office! I was dramatically descending a spiral staircase! There was no lag between his misplaced blame and my retort! I had just the right amount of steely anger!

This guy had it coming. When he first started, he forgot my name and the names of other of my female colleagues but never failed to remember the name of a man. Despite being the boss of my division, he never quite understands what our work is and minimizes what we do at every turn. It's not OK.

It's so good to be at a point in my life and career where I have the confidence, knowledge, and privilege to call out people in positions of power without fearing the repercussions. Well, sometimes I fear the repercussions, but I'm willing to take the risk. Either way, I recognize that this is a privilege, and thus take the responsibility that much more seriously. I view this as one of my most important jobs as a manager, not only to push back myself in those situations, especially on people who are higher up in the organizational structure, but also to set the tone that it's OK for anyone who reports to me to push back in those kinds situations, too—that I will have their back.

I dated someone for a long time who was deeply threatened by feminism, who felt attacked my my anger with the system and was unable to see the difference between the individual and the system of oppression. He tried. But it was super frustrating and ultimately, although indirectly, one of the things that drove us apart. As far-right rallies happen today in downtown Portland, I think about the exhaustion I experienced having those ultimately safe, civil conversations about feminism with him, and I think about how I am able to do what I did at work without fear, and how what I really NEED to think about more is how to up my game.

Because the patriarchy isn't going to smash itself, especially in today's climate. None of those systems of oppression will go down without a fight.


mc said...

I swear I wrote a comment, but my stupid phone apparently didn't post it. In any case: I am totally thrilled to see you blogging again. My kiddo is the same age as yours; back in the olden days, I was married and parenting and juggling all the things. All these years later, I am divorced; my ex-husband dropped dead of an undiagnosed heart condition 2.5 years ago; and my partner of nearly 5 years abruptly ended our relationship a few months ago. It is a lot. And also... I'm at this point in my career when I feel like I can say what needs to be said and people will listen. All of which is to say: Right on, sister. Glad you're back.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that. It's so hard and so important. And, I've missed your writing. :) I was a lurker back when you wrote before but I read everything for years and years and I'm thrilled you're back.


Elizabeth said...

I'm so glad you're back! I hope you keep writing.

Anne said...

I am so, so glad to see you are back. I always kept you in my feed, and when a new post came up, I was so thrilled to see it and see your update. I hope you keep writing, and keep sharing. And I wanted to comment specifically on this post. Being a manager who is willing step up and speak truth to power means so, so much to those of us who do not have that strength or standing (yet). I have known many strong women in my life who have done just that for me and for others who did not have a voice or seat at the table. So thank you, on behalf of those of us who don't have that standing, that voice, that power. Looking forward to more posts from you...