#NotMeToo

January 4th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 30 comments

“Boss, I can’t wash dishes,” Bob said.

My husband and I, along with our three children under the age of three and a half, three congregants from the synagogue my husband and I served, and my husband’s employee, Bob, (who always addressed my husband as “boss”)  were setting up the watch schedule for our sailing trip from Marina del Rey, California to Waikiki, Hawaii. Each person was being assigned to four-hour shifts for keeping watch and steering, along with a basic chore rotation.

But Bob occupied a unique role. The requirements of our Shabbat observance meant that the Jews on board could not steer or adjust sails from sunset Friday night until the stars came out on Saturday night. This left Bob in full charge of the boat for 25 hours each week. For this reason, he was not on watch on Friday or Sunday, but other than the weekends, we had assigned him as part of the regular task rotation that included galley clean up.

“What do you mean, you can’t wash dishes?” my husband asked. Bob had an incredible work ethic and we had never known him to shy away from any job.

“When you wash dishes, Boss, you’re taking a turn helping out. When I wash dishes, I’m a dishwasher.” 

Bob grew up in intense poverty in Missouri and his formal education stopped early on. From a young age, he scrambled to put food on the table and a roof over his head. By the time we met him, Bob was one of the most competent people we knew. He could do all types of sophisticated trade and crafts work including carpentry, plumbing, engineering, and electrical installation. In his past, however, he had probably done his share of washing dishes for a pittance. The assignment to wash dishes carried an emotional message for him that it didn’t hold for any other crew member.

At the age of 82, singer Johnny Mathis recently told an interviewer, “At school, I can’t recall a single incident of racism.” Really? By my calculations, he must have been in school in the 1940s and 1950s. Yet he remembers no racism. How could this be?

Earlier in the interview, while speaking of a physical injury he sustained as a young boy, Mr. Mathis mentions that he tends not to recall the bad things that happened to him. Could it be that he was surrounded by mountains of racism but suppressed those memories?

I doubt it. Rather, I think that growing up in a loving and supportive home environment and attending schools that were basically fair-minded and benign, he didn’t assume racism when a disagreement arose or he received a poor grade. Even the occasional racist slur didn’t impress upon his soul.

I felt the same way with the recent #metoo crusade. I went to a coed, religious school for elementary and high school, attended a state system college, worked for a short while in the corporate world and have had decades of normal life interactions with thousands of men. Yet, my hashtag would be #notmetoo. I never felt that my teachers’ academic expectations differed for the boys and girls in my classroom, never felt intimidated by an employer or disrespected by male professionals.

Does this mean that no construction worker ever made a comment when I walked by or no man ever made me feel uncomfortable? If forced to search for examples of that, I can find them. But living in a basically fair-minded and benign society, I tend to blame ‘poor behavior’ rather than sexism and the occasional wolf whistle was forgotten seconds later.

We filter everything that happens to us through our highly personal emotions and psychology. We also tend to see exactly what our antennae seek, just as when we are introduced to a medical term or a new vocabulary word, we suddenly run across it in all sorts of venues. Once we are sensitized, the smallest contact stings us.

Is there such a thing as egregious, not-open-to-any-other-interpretation sexism and racism? Certainly. But a society that looks to interpret normal interactions and any level of boorishness as proof of overt, crushing discrimination and harassment will find it where it doesn’t exist.  Those finding it will be angry, bitter and unhappy.

Of course we left Bob off the dish washing rotation. He was doing so much else and we so strongly valued our relationship that we were happy to cater to his request. Yet, he knew and we knew that washing dishes on our Hawaii voyage wasn’t innately a demeaning activity. Only past experience and emotional baggage made it seem so.

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30 comments

Norman Bailey says:

Bravo, Susan. I grew up in south Chicago and Evanston, Illinois; went to grammar school, junior high school and high school with all kinds of kids and all kinds of teachers and I don’t remember a single instance of racist or anti-semitic speech or action. And I don’t think I am suppressing anything. Best regards and a very wonderful 2018 to you and yours, Norman Bailey

Susan Lapin says:

And a wonderful year to you too, Norman.

Paulette Mullen says:

I grew up in the 1960’s, and we had a boy in our class from kindergarten through senior high. David was half white, half black in an all white school. His mother was unmarried. Yet he was never looked at as half black, he just had an afro. No one looked down on him because his mom was unmarried (and I never heard any ANY parent talk about David’s mom either). It never even crossed our minds. He ended up becoming our senior class president. Racism never entered the equation. No one looked at him as anything other than David. So, like you Norman, I don’t think I was suppressed or oppressed.

Pam says:

Thank you for this post. I have found the #metoo movement very frustrating. I feel it unfairly paints all men with the same brush, and takes away from women who have truly experienced pervasive harrasment and sexual assault. The victim culture is so ingrained these days.

Susan Lapin says:

Exactly, Pam. Hysteria tends to suppress truth.

Susan Rueger says:

Wow! This article should be required reading for the “me too” crowd!

Susan Lapin says:

I actually have seen women one might expect to be part of the “me too crowd” write urging nuance and warning about gross over-generalizations.

Sonia Nelson says:

Hi, Susan!
As usual, everything you wrote makes sense.
It’s such a shame to see grown adults twist everything, and throw in lies- as if there isn’t anything wrong with it. (I am referring to the women on the View.)
Anyway, your muse was right on target for these times.

Fondly,
Sonia

Susan Lapin says:

Thank you, Sonia. I don’t watch the view and even if I had TV I don’t think I would. My blood pressure would be in an unhealthy state.

Shaun says:

Thank you for that very well put musing Susan. A great quick read with lots of truth. I actually WAS sexually harassed as a teenager in almost every job I had. At an ice cream parlor, a pharmacy store, a pizza restaurant and then on my first job out of college at a rental car agency. I like so many others never said anything. I was afraid, didn’t think I would be believed and also grew up thinking men were in charge. My father was very commanding/controlling in our household and my mother let him be so. There was no abuse of any sort to any of my siblings or my mother but I grew up “fearing” men and carried that into my adult life. I sought out counseling and worked through my experiences (I was never raped or hurt) and moved on very quickly. I didn’t let those men define who I was or what I would grow to be in my life. I am a college educated wife and mother of 3 adult sons whom my husband and I have taught to respect and revere women. I never even gave it a thought to join the #metoo movement. Thank you for your insight as always!

Susan Lapin says:

Shaun, if we knew how to package the resilience, wisdom and self-respect you showed by getting the help you needed to move forward and then doing so and leading a healthy life, many people would be much happier.

Arthur Conrad says:

It is a shame that some do not recognize the difference between something said or done in a mean spirited way as opposed to carelessness or foolishness.

Susan Lapin says:

Arthur, haven’t we all made that mistake at one time or another in some part of our life? I worry that the #MeToo movement is encouraging doing that in just about all our relationships, business and personal.

Roxanne says:

Respectfully, there is a balance, and my concern in reading your viewpoint through your perception and mindset is that it invalidates those who have gone through horrific sexual abuse on the workplace, etc. Just one example I will share from my own circle of friends is that her boss put a date rape drug in her drink. She was in her 20s and “woke up” in her workplace to discover him raping her. She could not do a thing about it because of the drug he placed in her drink. Clearly this is an issue because there wouldn’t have been such a huge response from so many women. #Notmetoo invalidates these victims and comes across as self righteous from those who have not experienced this. Regarding the issue of racism, the bible even addressed that and how God looks at that. My father, Native American, experienced racism in his younger years. Present day history, Standing Rock, for example, revealed that racism is still an issue. Racism was an issue with the Jewish Holocaust. If survivors of the Holocaust would have said #metoo, regarding racism, and those who experienced very little of racism said #notmetoo, regarding the Holocaust, what would that have solved. Acknowledging and validating injustices bring healing and can bring about change. I don’t see where God whitewashed injustices. Somehow, there is a balance, but – my own personal opinion – #notmetoo comes across callous, invalidates, and is not showing compassion and love to those who have experienced this. Is this Christianity?

Susan Lapin says:

Roxanne, I appreciate your perspective, but my title was chosen partially because I think the #MeToo movement is minimizing the horrible types of stories you relate. When someone who had a date rape drug put in her drink is equated online with someone whose co-worker complimented her haircut as if those are equivalent examples, I think that is callous and invalidating. As a different example, what started as a movement to include children with disabilities in the classroom, morphed in some areas to having violent children unable to be expelled from the classroom. That doesn’t help anyone. Our society has the habit of expanding things to the point of absurdity. I never claimed there is no such thing as sexual assault, harassment, racism or anti-Semitism. I do think that with all of those things when you make the terms undefined or broad enough to include anything and everything, you lose the ability to counter them as they need to be countered. I’m glad you shared your concerns and I hope this answer lets you see where I’m coming from.

Ian says:

Dear Susan,
I too share Roxanne’s concerns that “#NotMeToo” belittles or minimizes the real suffering of some sexually harassed women. (And the suffering and pain is not merely that which comes when a date-rape drug is used.).

I cannot disagree with you, when you essentially state that you have lived a charmed life that has been thus far free of racism, and of sexual harassment. Recently you mentioned your proficiency at statistics. Let’s say a woman has never had breast cancer, should she stop doing the checks for breast cancer? I would argue no, she should still act with prudence and caution, because statistically if she lives long enough she like -all women- will eventually get breast cancer. Unfortunately in the world in which we live, 1 in 3 women between the ages of 18 and 34 who are in the workforce are sexually harassed. So I could argue that had you continued in the corporate world, eventually you too would have been sexually harassed.

You also said “that living in a basically fair-minded and benign society, I tend to blame ‘poor behavior’ rather than sexism…”. I am happy that you find this society fair minded and benign. Again I will not argue against your personal experience. However let us consider the experience of Michelle Obama, who graduated with honors from Princeton and then went to Harvard Law. Dare I say, that academically she is as accomplished as you? Nevertheless in this society -that you imply is fair minded and benign- Michelle Obama has been described as a “Ape in high heels”. In effect, there are some in this society that do not even consider her to be human.

Johnny Mathis it seems, has lived a life as charmed as yours, and did not experience any racism. Yes, the orchestras that played behind him were integrated. However that happened because people such as Frank Sinatra worked tirelessly to reduce the racism in the music industry. See for example. Johnny Mathis is an amazing talent, but he not experiencing racism is very much a case of him reaping where he did not sow.

Sometimes we all reap where we do not sow, and can wander through this world like Pollyanna. But under those circumstances we should remember to express gratitude. As Daniel said, “To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for You have given me wisdom and power” (Daniel 2:23).

Susan Lapin says:

Ian, please note that Johnny Mathis said that in school he didn’t experience racism – I’m sure he did at other times as have I had experiences that would classify as anti-Semitism or misogyny. You are right that the comments about Mrs. Obama were awful. There have also been awful things said about Laura Bush and Melania Trump. In a nation of millions there are going to be those who say terrible things. (Or the liberal who said he or she hoped Clarence Thomas would have a heart attack? I don’t have time to look up who that was.) Yes, the ape comment adds racism to the mix. But you can focus on a few people who speak like that or the fact that President Obama was elected and many, many more people admired Mrs. Obama. The point I didn’t make is that when the first thing that comes to mind is racism, sexism, anti-Semitism etc., so that you accuse everybody of those things, the egregious and real ugly things are treated less seriously. You end up smearing good people and looking at everybody as if they are terrible when most people are not. That’s an awful way to look at the world.
Of course we should all have gratitude for those who came before us and paved the way for a better world. I absolutely agree with you on that.

Ian says:

Dear Susan,
During the first term of my undergrad engineering, I attended a chemistry lab where basically there were no professors present. We had an introduction to the purpose to the lab, and were provided with the instructions that we had to follow to do the analysis. There was a girl in the class who was fairly smart, because like me she had won a bursary and all the academic stars had met at a reception before the school year started. At that time I found out she was Italian and Catholic, but to look at her she was just a regular white girl with regular looks. (They say if you don’t look once, you are not a man, but if you look twice you are not a gentleman. So I feel compelled to say she was a regular girl, but she had a well rounded derriere. Perhaps this is what precipitated the incident I will now describe.). On the first day of the lab, a chorus of men started to sing non-stop, “Barbara gang bang over the hill, Barbara gang bang oh it is such a thrill…” Barbara –names have been changed to protect the innocent- went red but said nothing. And it just went on and on and on with many other verses for more than an hour.

I mentioned she was Italian and Catholic to underline that she was from a strict home and school, and to emphasize that she was dressed demurely, and did not in any way encourage or deserve this treatment. I believe that this is closer to the reality of women in school and in the work force. As I said before, you have lived a rather charmed life if you have not encountered this type of behavior.
In the Ethics of our Fathers, the sages say, “be’makom she-ein anashim hishtadel liheyot ish—in a place where there are no men try to be a man,”. On that day, I was not a man, because I did not come to Barbara’s defense. However throughout my professional career I have tried to make amends by hiring women as interns or employees who were qualified when I could, and treating them with appropriate respect. And years later, I still get emails from former interns telling me how grateful they were for the training they got, and the professionalism with which I treated them. Why, do I still get emails expressing appreciation? Because unfortunately a woman being treated with respect in the workforce is the exception rather than the norm. I understand perfectly the #me-too movement and I sympathize with it.
To your point that this society is fair-minded and benign, you say that while calling Michelle Obama an “ape in heels” is regrettable, in a society of millions it is not unexpected that there could be a few who say terrible things. I do not believe there are only a few bad apples, rather I would suggest that upwards of 30% of the population have less than charitable views of blacks, Jews, and other minorities. In 1964 Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney were murdered while working to register African Americans to vote in Mississippi.
After investigation and arrests (of members of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and some local police officers), there was a trial presided over by Judge William Harold Cox. He issued three to ten year sentences for the convictions of first- and second-degree murder. Cox said of his sentences, “They killed one nigger, one Jew, and a white man. I gave them all what I thought they deserved.” Goodman and Schwerner were actually both Jewish. Perhaps the sentences would have been even more lenient had it been for killing one nigger and two Jews. The point is that the judge went on to enjoy a successful career on the bench. If he had been alone in his views, he would have been shunned.
There may be some frivolous charges by hypersensitive women, but I have seen enough to believe that the #me-too movement has merit. Likewise I have seen enough to know and believe that we are not living in a fair-minded and benign society. One swallow does not make a summer, therefore we cannot assume that the election of Barrack Obama as President means that racism no longer exists in America.

Susan Lapin says:

Wow, there’s a lot to respond to. Your story of “Barbara” is awful and the Mississippi murders and acquittal were certainly reprehensible. But, do you know how long ago 1964 was? And your college days, I’m guessing, were quite a while ago as well. If we can’t recognize that things have changed we can’t deal with current reality.
As for your last sentence, “…therefore we cannot assume that the election of Barrack Obama as President means that racism no longer exists in America,” you know as well as I do that I did not say that. So, it is a meaningless statement as a rebuttal to what I wrote.
As for your personal shame for not standing up for “Barbara” and it leading you to behave in a better way, I think that you represent many people who have changed – exactly my point that judging everyone on the worst of examples and assuming that the world never changes is a poor way to live. Good for you.

Frank Dodd says:

“… a society that looks to interpret normal interactions and any level of boorishness as proof of overt, crushing discrimination and harassment will find it where it doesn’t exist.”
You hit the proverbial nail on the head. This also applies the latest round of sexual harassment accusations. I wonder how many men are being accused of harassment who thought the they were just following the leads of another but instead misinterpreted the whole situation. So sad.

Susan Lapin says:

Frank, among the men who were fired recently on these charges were many whose names I didn’t know in the entertainment industry. But I did see that the accusation against one of them was that he traveled with a female fan who had only one purpose for being on the trip. That isn’t my morality, but there was no inference that she wasn’t there by her own open and free choice. I don’t see how you can have the TV shows and movies and indoctrination we do and then condemn men for taking something freely offered on the basis that years later she’ll realize how she was duped by society into thinking immorality was o.k.

Leslie says:

I was one of the women encouraging people to apply some nuance to all the charges. I found myself attacked as being naive and too ‘white bread’. I was told that it was obvious I had always stayed home safe and sound and had no imagination. All sorts of mean things were said and some were quite threatening.

I found myself finally telling a bare story line of why I encouraged women to be a bit more discerning about the differences between rape and stupid remarks etc. 40 years ago I was a sexual captive in a situation I call “my Elizabeth Smart episode”. Some friends helped get me free. My mom was worried about any publicity if I reported it, so I didn’t.

A couple years ago I tracked the man down… yes, he had been to prison and was on a predator watch list. But he had moved from abusing me, a young adult, to children. I have to pay for that everyday now that children suffered because I placated my mother rather than report to the police.

But there IS a difference and nuance between that and a wolf whistle, being told you look pretty by someone you aren’t attracted to, etc. I wish a sense of balance would reassert itself in the females I know

Susan Lapin says:

What a sad story, Leslie. You are certainly in a unique position to speak up.

William Brower says:

Miss Susan,
Again you have written valid editorial, beautifully phrased and worded.
I am dismayed at the lack of qualification in the accusations being flung far and wide.
Rape, attempted rape, and sexual assault are criminal matters and should be punished as such. That the victims did not come forward at the time allowed a criminal escape retribution. Be the reason as it may, the fear of the lose of employment, shame in the eyes of family, friends or co-workers, fear of exposure to the public at large, by waiting years or decades the victim has reduced her credibility substancilly,
Inappropriate touching, groping, sexual innuendo and exposing oneself to women (or possibly men in the case of a female boss) that make the workplace untenable, are the symptoms of a person who has not been taught to respect others. Such a person should be strongly censured and removed from any position where he has power over anyone, at least until he has been rehabilitated. As with unruly children, it does no good to wait to lower the boom at some future undetermined date.
Then there are the actions that make one uncomfortable, but do not really involve physical contact or direct sexual aggressiveness. The numerous requests for a date. The telling of a jokes that belittles or is offensive to another because of the sexual or racial content, and once it is brought to the abusers attention that it is offensive, the activity continues. That guy is just a jerk.
Are these the same? No, and they should be handled in a way appropriate to their seriousness.
Lumping all of these together is like using addiction for everything from heroin to sugar and chocolate. It lessens the impact.
All of these instances show a basic disrespect for others. This is a fault of upbringing. It is rampant today where children are disrespectful to parents, teachers leaders and law enforcement.
There is a time and place to ignore a problem and get on with life.
There is a time to bring down fire and brimstone on the offender.
it is better to bring action sooner and not later if you are not going to ignore it.

Rambling on-
BILL Brower
Should I be offended that Bob refused to wash dishes, Being a semi-pro dishwasher myself? No, I guess I will let it pass this time. LOL Smooth seas and following winds.

Susan Lapin says:

I very much like your formulation, Bill:
There is a time and place to ignore a problem and get on with life.
There is a time to bring down fire and brimstone on the offender.
it is better to bring action sooner and not later if you are not going to ignore it.

If someone holds a gun to your head and does not go all the way and pull the trigger you may very well experience the same level of trauma as if you had been killed. The fact that small infractions are being lumped in with more obvious assaults in my opinion is right and just. Because, for the person experiencing it the so called mere indiscretion can be just as traumatic and damaging as a full on assault. At the same time I am very glad that you did not experience anything horrific of this nature. Very glad indeed.

Susan Lapin says:

I’m guessing that this hit home for you, Mary. I don’t think a justice system can work on the basis of what the alleged victim feels. Holding a gun to someone’s head should be a crime if it isn’t. But if a person getting traumatized is the basis of punishment, then every single word uttered or action can be considered trauma and assault. I knew someone who had a bad work experience (not harassment, just a boss they REALLY didn’t get along with). That boss always used a certain phrase and this person would cringe when they heard anyone use the phrase. That doesn’t mean that it is fair to consider words like, “What’s on today’s agenda,” as assault because his reaction was one another person might have to a slap on the face.

Dennis says:

Quoting Bob: “When you wash dishes, Boss, you’re taking a turn helping out. When I wash dishes, I’m a dishwasher.”
While your sensitivity to Bob is admirable, I would hope that with it came some aid in helping him grow in an area of obvious need. Regardless of a wounding menial task in Bob’s past, he should have a goal of being freed from his bondage of that past. Since he was among those that could be trusted it would have been a great time to get closer to such a goal. Bob is not a dishwasher anymore unless he believes that is all he is in his own eyes. He is certainly not in the eyes of those that love and appreciate him.

Susan Lapin says:

I think Bob not only knew how much we appreciated him but how much we respected him. He truly is one of the most capable people we have ever met. We always said that if the world collapsed, we would want him at our side.

Dennis Fite says:

I am not questioning in any way your appreciation of Bob. I simply believe that you and Rabbi Lapin could help him move beyond the bondage that keeps him from humbly doing the tasks that everyone was required to do. If I am reading the situation correctly Bob feels that he becomes a dishwasher simply by washing dishes because that was what he once was. He is one no longer even when he does the task. I am a Lead Pastor with many volunteers and staff members but I still clean the toilets if needed. I don’t thing that makes me become the janitor. I realize that it may sound like I am majoring on a very minor point in your excellent article. I just want to see Bob made free from what I consider to be a type of bondage from which only he can free himself through God’s grace.

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