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Father Doesn’t Know Best: Kavanaugh and Women’s Unshared Traumas

[NB: Check the byline. / ~Rayne]

This weekend brought back some ugly memories, one of which involved my father. We’ve never had a close relationship; it was rocky at times. But in 1991 one phone conversation particularly damaged my meager relations with him.

I can’t even remember why we had been talking on the phone — did he call me? Did I call him? The context’s utterly irrelevant now after all this time. But we butted heads about the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.

Dad’s not political though he’s always been conservative. He’s a professional in a STEM field, raised Catholic, and a post-WWII veteran. Sadly, Dad’s racist in spite of being brown himself. This may come from having been raised where he was in the majority and not a minority. He wasn’t overtly racist as his closest friend in college was African. He’s not been overtly sexist. In my teens he argued with a small town school board so I could take wood shop. They didn’t let girls take that course in the early 1970s. Nor was I punished for bringing home Cs in typing though they were the lowest grades I’d ever had. He knew I’d need nominal keyboard skills as I was pursuing a STEM education in college.

But in all that I had known about my father by the time I was 30 years old, I’d made a miscalculation.

In that conversation we’d drifted into current affairs and the Senate’s hearing. I told him I was very upset. I’d hoped Clarence Thomas wouldn’t be confirmed. He wasn’t Supreme Court material based on his background and Hill’s testimony put Thomas’ character into question.

My father said he didn’t know why Anita Hill waited so long to say anything to anybody. Why hadn’t she spoken out at the time Thomas was harassing her? He suggested Hill was acting in bad faith.

I couldn’t say anything. Words wouldn’t come. It was as if I was talking to a stranger. To whom would a black woman go to complain about her boss’s sexual harassment? Especially if her boss was the chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission? Who would take a young black woman’s word over that of a black man, let alone a man in charge of the EEOC? Why would a young black woman subject herself to more harassment by Senate Judiciary Committee and the public if not to protect the Supreme Court from an unworthy nominee?

At some point my understanding of the world forked sharply away from my father’s. It’s not as if he didn’t know women faced gross inequality. The fact he had to fight for my shop class was a concrete example. He’d heard plenty of stories about gender bias, sexual harassment and assault from my mother who worked in health care. Did he think that every girl or woman had some man who could make it better by going to bat for her? That some man would have resolved the harassment Hill faced in the work place had she simply come and asked them for help?

I didn’t know if he was naive. I didn’t know if this was a manifestation of his nebulous racism at some level. I didn’t know if it was misogyny I’d not detected in my father’s makeup to that point.

It took me a long time to get over this. I don’t know yet if I am over it because I struggled with the phrasing of that last sentence. I felt betrayed, as if he’d never seen the world as it was, nor had he seen me. I felt I’d betrayed myself for not seeing him more clearly.

It was some time before I realized he was as sexist as he was racist. Not overtly, and in spite of having two daughters in non-traditional STEM education paths — but his sexism was there and I’d internalized it.

It took me a while longer to realize I’d buried an episode which should have created a more realistic perception of my father.

~|~|~

When I was a pre-teen a group of boys harassed me. There was bodily contact, sexualized language, grabbing at clothing during class. The male teacher ejected me from class. He told my parents I was “precocious” which made no sense to me since I was a year younger and much smaller than the rest of my class, and I alone had been targeted. My father negotiated with the teacher and principal to let me to take this class independently — as if I was the one at fault and not the boys who’d harassed me. I was the one in the wrong because I was a girl. My father accepted this as fact. He didn’t demand the teacher do a better job of supervising his classroom.

I would bet good money that if asked now, none of the boys would remember harassing me. They might not even remember I was a former classmate. The situation mattered little to them, not changing their world one iota.

I never spoke with my father again about any problems I had with boys and men. I was on my own with the boys who shoved me around and pawed at me throughout high school or stole my drafting and engineering equipment. I was on my own when I got my first job in manufacturing as a co-op student, dealing with cat calls and sexual taunts and threats of violence. On my own when I didn’t get a raise when my boss said “his boys” in the department needed the raise that year.

Over the last couple of decades I’ve talked with many other girls and women about harassment. It’s nearly universal that women face it and sometimes with violence. Let me emphasize this: there are many, MANY women who were harassed, abused, assaulted in school and beyond who never reported it. They may never even have spoken about their experiences. But the system disempowers and marginalizes us; it maintains the status quo and actively resists change. It questions our ability to speak for ourselves. It places the value of a man’s career and lifestyle above any woman’s. Women’s empowerment and the ability to effect positive change has been close at times but we are still celebrating so many firsts. We haven’t yet a first woman president, or a first half of the Supreme Court or Congress, leaving us without adequate representation to protect our rights and interests though we are half this nation and give birth to the rest.

~|~|~

The revelation of Christine Blasey Ford’s name and the release of her letter to Senator Feinstein triggered memories. The harassment and abuse by teen boys, the Thomas confirmation hearings, that 1991 conversation with my father bubbled back up. Many women likewise revisited their own experiences. I’ve read their tweets consoling each other across Twitter. We and our traumas are finally seen and heard by each other in great numbers, but not by our government.

Like my father, this government assumes it’s her fault, not his. This government will go after Ford for speaking her truth. Its proxies villified her, some for not coming forward sooner though it wasn’t prepared and willing to help her back then. The system itself harasses women.

It wasn’t my fault I was harassed and abused. It wasn’t Anita Hill’s fault she was harassed, either, nor was it our fault we didn’t come forward. We couldn’t. It wasn’t Ford’s fault she was a 15-year-old abused by older teen boys at a time when such attacks were normalized in pop culture as humor. She couldn’t come forward then, either.

But now we and our many sisters can come forward together and say we believe Ford. We can say that what happened to her mattered then. It matters now because girls and women have a right to personal autonomy and self-determination. We can say that one man with a history of harassment seated for life on the highest court is more than enough, and that an admitted abuser has no right to appoint another man with a questionable history to the bench.

We can say it’s enough that Brett Kavanaugh has not been forthcoming about his shady finances even when asked to reply in writing. It’s beyond enough that he’s been a party to hiding a majority of his work. We can say we have heard enough of his prevarications before the Senate Judiciary Committee this month and in 2006.

We come forward now and say this is enough: Kavanaugh is not Supreme Court material and should withdraw his nomination. He should not be confirmed by the Senate.

At the very least Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote should be delayed. We should hear Ford’s testimony and Kavanaugh’s rebuttal, and as Marcy suggests, a witness to the assault on Ford.

~|~|~

Call your senator and ask for a delay on Kavanaugh’s confirmation; it would be better if Kavanaugh withdrew if we can’t hear from Ford, Kavanaugh and witnesses. Your calls are working at shifting GOP senators’ opinions.

Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121

Future Forecast: Ignoring Half the Picture Yields Surprisingly Poor Results

[adapted: Magic 8-Ball by Andres Rueda via Flickr]

[Adapted: Magic 8-Ball by Andres Rueda via Flickr]

It’s that time of year when we not only take a look backward, but a look forward to the future. Unfortunately in doing so, we rely heavily on so-called experts, whose vision suffers from two fundamental limitations:

  • They’re overwhelmingly male; their viewpoints are published more frequently than those of women;
  • They depend frequently on male-dominated science and technology in constructing their forecasts, rather than looking at shifts in human conditions.

Once a upon a time in my career, I rubbed shoulders with futurists, both in corporate visioning and in business intelligence. They made a few eye-opening predictions that I pooh-poohed at the time. In 1999 one futurist told me that fuel cell technology wouldn’t be commercialized for more than 10 or 15 years. Another report circa 2000 predicted the U.S. would become a rogue nation because of its hegemonic power.

I laughed off both of those forecasts at the time. You’ll note, however, none of our government’s unilaterally killing drones use fuel cells as power sources.

In spite of the occasional spot-on prediction, many of the forecasts I’ve read or seen made as part of scenario planning have not come to pass. They remain years and decades away if they haven’t already become impossible or irrelevant. Why are future outcomes so notoriously nebulous?

During the dozen-plus years since I first worked with futurists and participated in scenario planning sessions, I’ve wised up and learned a few things, key to understanding the lameness of most futurists’ forecasts.

1) It’s really difficult for most organizations to see outside their own self-constructed silos built on the expertise of their products and services. They hire and promote subject-matter experts and look to them for forecasts. Because of internal feedback loops, organizations become blind to barriers so that their members really can’t see with specificity beyond 2-5 years. Asking folks in formal organizations to make forecasts about their own work, even with well-trained facilitators, is extremely difficult. Barriers within their own organizations may be invisible to them as well, ex. internal politics, or other activities deliberately hidden from view.

2) Organizations are often blind to their own social capital. If members within groups are uniformly unchallenged by barriers within and without their business lives, they may not see bumps in the road that thwart everybody else outside their group.

3) Outsiders who speculate on future activities of organizations while relying on publicly available information from within these groups may suffer from the same siloed and blinkered vision.

4) Predictions tend to follow the quantifiable, where the money as well as expectation exist—in science and technology. Unfortunately, scientists are loathe to make guarantees; they give percentages and odds, but not absolute assurances. Forecasts are only as good as the current understanding of science and technology, within some margin of error. Futurists often round up, encouraging excessive optimism.

These factors may explain why futurists’ predictions may ignore realities that grip nearly half of the humans on earth, while rendering so many of their forecasts inert.

Even factoring in the biases that shape forecasts, the future imagined can be far too tidy, . The gritty truths of the human condition and all its volatility are too neatly removed, parceled off outside the field of speculation. Read more