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The other F word

Posted in Life & Love, and Women's issues

Image from story bistro.com
Image from story bistro.com

In the pantheon of awful bosses one is likely to experience over the course of nearly 30 years of employment, the top honours, in my case, belong to two women. The first one was a mustachioed German lady whose zest for life and love for humanity never registered above 0. The other was a frosty blonde American prone to despondency and generally lacking in the support department. The German happened to me in my late 20s, so I grinned and bore it until I got out. The second was only a few years ago and, by that point, I had learnt to use my big mouth and, mostly respectfully, I struck back. She was the one who ended up leaving. In both cases, I am quite certain, I used the “bitch” label with not an ounce of restraint.

My favorite boss was also a woman, someone with a big personality who never stinted on her support and always believed in me even when I had my own doubts. Somewhere in the middle, there was a coterie of men, more or less liked, more or less respected. From some I learnt, from others I learnt what not to do and, up and down the corporate world, I witnessed women being held back, downright mistreated but also fostered and treated as equal.

Through it all, I tried to do right by my feminist principles of gender equality. I never had a preference as to working with one gender or the other (or anything in between), just a generic allergy to assholes. Which brings me to two seemingly unrelated stories that dominated the American media last week.

At the risk of being highly unpopular, I was ticked off by the media uproar at the sudden firing of Jill Abramson from her editor position at the New York Times.
The only doubt we shouldn’t have on the matter is that it was handled poorly and with very little dignity for an editor who, and I speak as a long time New York Times reader, was a wonderful journalist and steered the paper through some great stories during her brief 2 year tenure (although I still have a gripe as to how the Times handled the Edward Snowden story).
Her appointment represented a beacon of hope for all women in a still male dominated industry but the gender card was too quickly drawn upon the leaking of the news of her firing. Rumours about pay inequality, discordance in the newsroom, poor leadership all built up to one conclusion: Ms. Abramson was the victim of double standards. She was labelled “pushy” when a man was “just doing his job”. All this uproar within hours of the announcement, and from people with no direct knowledge of what really happened, who didn’t hesitate in making Ms. Abramson the sacrificial lamb of gender inequality.

Jill Abramson - image NYT Magazine
Jill Abramson – image NYT Magazine

What if, instead, she was just a lousy boss? What if Arthur Sulzberger Jr. just didn’t like her much, irrespective of her gender? What if he realized he had made a mistake and it should have been Dean Baquet from the start to hold the job, instead of flanking her, leading to discontent? As majority owner of a privately held newspaper, it’s his prerogative to get rid of management he doesn’t get along with. He certainly could have done it with more style and equanimity, or just made better choices to begin with, but to jump to the conclusions that most please us, as women, feels wrong to me.

It’s not that I am not aware of how much there is still to be accomplished to reach gender (and race) equality, and I am not immune to the symbology of women in unprecedented positions of power (Hillary Clinton’s possible Presidential nomination comes to mind) but I think sometimes we get so caught up in the game that fairness and balance get lost in the wake.

In fact, I am so aware of how much there is still to do that I was also ticked off by actress Shailene Woodley’s comments that she is not a feminist “because I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance”.

Shailene Woodley
Shailene Woodley

This idiotic statement proves two things:

  • if you are 22, you should not opine out loud, and certainly not on the record, on matters you absolutely know nothing about. In her defense, most 22 year olds are not asked to comment publicly on anything so they don’t have to make a public display of the fact they don’t know their ass from their elbow.
  • But, more worrisome, this statement is proof that, between 1990 and the noughts, feminism has managed to become a dirty label some young women feel the need to distance themselves from.

So, for our younger sisters out there, let’s clear up the matter.
You can be a feminist and wear a bra, shave your legs and keep on loving men with all your might, all the while making sure you are treated equally, recompensed equally and afforded the same opportunities. All of you who grew up thinking you could become whatever you wanted to be have the F word to thank for, and all those women who walked in harder shoes than yours.

But, as Marcel Proust reminds us: “We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.”

 

Getting off my soapbox now.

 

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18 Comments

  1. silvia
    silvia

    Hyde Park corner is waiting for us my love, but I’m afraid you have to climb on the soapbox because of language skills. As I’m willing to play my part, I’ll be happy to help you out in building topics.
    The media feed their system with little immaterial creatures opinions. So what?
    The best matching I can find for the F word is that it also stands for freedom

    May 27, 2014
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    • I will climb on the soapbox. You will hold the banner.

      May 27, 2014
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  2. Terrific post! Don’t know about the NYT editor but the actress rattled my cage too so Hear hear to your summing up of the situation – from one old enough to have fought the battle, been a boss and who still loves men

    May 27, 2014
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  3. Great post! I was going to say what Charliebritten wrote, in Britland to be ticked off is to be told off….I use the phrase Hacked Off…which also has a rather more emphatic feel to it!
    It’s such a joy, as a declared feminist for 45+ years, to come across young women who DO grasp what Feminism is about….it’s anti-Patriarchy, not anti-men, and men can be as constrained by the unwritten ‘rules’ of Patriarchy as women are. x

    May 27, 2014
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    • Hacked off…I like. Will have to become part of my vocabulary. It’s been so nice to hear from all these women who fought the battles – for a time, I didn’t forget, but I did put out of my mind what it was all for.

      May 27, 2014
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  4. Seems like the battle is never over – and the irony is that young women like Shailene (who?) don’t seem to realise how much they owe to the feminists who blazed the trail.

    May 27, 2014
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    • History repeats itself, or so they say. Their time to fight will come sooner than later, once they realize all the restrictions being put in place while they are not looking.

      May 27, 2014
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  5. Agree with all of that, Campari, but I was confused at first by your use of the expression ‘ticked off’. In our part of the world, it means to reprimand. Ho-hum.

    May 26, 2014
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    • Interesting. I have been “swimming” between British, American and South African English for years but I had no idea! Now I know how to use “ticked off” in your part of the world. American English: Annoyed.

      May 26, 2014
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  6. You can climb on yr soapbox anytime you like, so far as I’m concerned. A very good article on a vexed topic – depressing that it’s still necessary, afer all the feminist action in the 70’s. But, ever onwards, ever upward.

    May 26, 2014
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  7. Totally agree! The media jumps to “gender inequality” way too quickly when they should be getting the facts which would also prevent feminist from getting the bad rep. It is hard for me to contemplate judging someone on the race, gender or anything else for that matter! People need to be measured by their character and work ethic. Great post.

    May 26, 2014
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    • I think that, as time goes by, younger people are more aligned to your thinking: I see how my stepchildren never judged based on color or gender or faith. Racism will never be eradicated but one can only hope each generation will fare a little better than the one before.

      May 26, 2014
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  8. Great post, totally agree, and I’m at 25 year old feminist, which proves not all of us think like Shailene (who?). Love your blogging.

    May 26, 2014
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    • You go girl! I know there is a lot of out there to pick up the baton and continue the good work. Actually, you will be better than we were.

      May 26, 2014
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      • alan
        alan

        wowwow

        May 31, 2014
        |Reply
      • alan
        alan

        Qow…pretty deep

        June 1, 2014
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