In defense of the sanctimonious women's studies set || First feminist blog on the internet

Trump’s new policy about transgender service members is bullshit.

With three early-morning tweets on Wednesday, Trump has declared that thousands of troops who have chosen to risk their lives for their country, who have done what millions of Americans — including Trump himself — have never done, won’t be allowed to serve because their healthcare is too expensive. And that is an uningnorable factor — Trump has also established that a group of people can be declared a “tremendous burden” and marginalized and cast out into the cold.

This is, of course, bullshit.

Quick hit: Republicans work really, really fast to uphold LGBT discrimination

On Thursday, Democratic legislators got enough votes to nullify overt LGBT discrimination in a military spending bill. It wasn’t actually the bill in question at the time — the offending language was on the National Defense Authorization Act, passed last Wednesday, and allowed government contractors to fire and harass LGBT employees in the name of Jesus. It passed 277 to 147 then, but on Thursday, New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney introduced language into a different bill to prevent said discrimination. And it passed! To cheers! When the clock ran out, the new language passed 217-206! That’s cool, right?!

Calm down.

Disappeared children

Tomorrow is Columbus Day in the United States. Christopher Columbus was a sadistic, murderous slaver, and that’s all I have to say about him.

I’d like instead to talk about the women, the Grandmothers and Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, and the children they searched for. A military junta ran Argentina in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and, as detailed in this NYT article, disappeared, tortured, and murdered 10-30,000 people it called “terrorists,” as defined by the junta: “One becomes a terrorist not only by killing with a weapon or setting a bomb, but also by encouraging others through ideas that go against our Western and Christian civilization.” They also made a concerted effort to kidnap the children of dissidents and give them to those loyal to the junta to raise; the junta murdered their parents, sometimes keeping the mothers alive long enough only to deliver (and with my own birth experience so fresh in my mind, I am having a visceral reaction, shaking and tearing up thinking about it, about my son taken from me). About 500 children were taken.

The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo began protesting silently, wearing white headscarves and carrying photographs of their disappeared children, marching across from the presidential residence. Within a year, hundreds of women had joined the protests, garnering international attention during a time when fear of any public opposition had silenced so many. Members of the group were abducted, tortured, murdered, but the protests continued.

The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo are a group devoted to finding the lost children and reuniting them with whomever remains of their families of origin.

It’s a horrifying, depraved series of events. And as tonight shades into tomorrow, let’s not forget the children taken from their parents and brutalized in an attempt to erase their past and their identities: I am talking, of course, about the American Indian Boarding Schools deliberately run to eradicate American Indian cultures through the 1970s. Parents were required by law to “educate” their children and coerced into sending their children away, food rations and supplies withheld until parents consented. Many children were separated from their parents and cultures throughout their entire childhoods. Parents were not allowed to remove their children from the schools. Children were abused, suffered, and died. In a 1928 report, Native Nations children were found to be dying at six and a half times the rate of other children.

Taking children has long been a tactic of torture toward poor people (parents entering the poorhouse in the nineteenth century) were separated from their children), PoC, and political dissidents. And it’s a feminist issue. The NYT article talks about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but it’s also a reproductive justice and reproductive rights issue. The ability to bear and raise children in safety and peace regardless of wealth, race, and political creed is a women’s rights issue.

By the way, the US has yet to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, because this country.

How the Australian army reacts to sexual misconduct

The Australian army is currently investigating a ring of officers and NCOs accused of distributing explicit photos and videos denigrating women. Calling themselves the “Jedi Council,” the men e-mailed among themselves thousands of degrading videos and photos of sexual encounters with women, military and civilian, without their knowledge. Lieutenant General David Morrison, Chief of Army, describes the text and images as “explicit, derogatory, demeaning, and repugnant to me.” On Wednesday, Morrison spoke the media, then delivered an unblinking video address directly to the members of the Australian army.

The Invisible War

Last week I had the privilege of seeing The Invisible War (Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering). The Invisible War explores the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the U.S. military, and by using personal stories and the government’s own figures and statistics from Department of Defense reports over the years, the film paints a very gruesome picture of what is means to serve in the military if you’re a woman. It’s powerful, and appalling, and outrageous. I thought I knew what I was getting into when I went to see a documentary about rape in the military, but I was not prepared for the full story The Invisible War presents.

You’re Not Fired, But…

Recently, I have found myself in the difficult position of having two people who work for me screw things up spectacularly. Fortunately, not life or death things, but things that are significant and important. One of them is just unqualified overall for his job. The other has done excellent work for me in the past, but is preparing to leave her job in the near future and has what I think is best described as a severe case of senioritis (sloppiness due to laziness, coasting on past success, etc.). We’re now at the point where the need for training and mentoring are being surpassed by the need to explain that getting fired or demoted is a very real possibility.

My current boss has (kindly) described me as the sort of person who is wholly unafraid to ask fairly pointed (although still respectful) questions of authority figures, particularly people who outrank me*. And it is true, I am known for being fairly blunt. But I will be damned if I have figured out a good way to tell the people who work for me who are screwing up that they’ve screwed up in ways that could/are going to get them fired.**

I’m good at the warnings and the soft-pedal, “Hey, I’ve fixed it for now, but in the future…” and “I do understand how this got overlooked, but it’s one of those things that requires a close eye…” and other things that stop short of “Your conduct was unprofessional, unacceptable, and leads me to question whether or not you’ll be able to continue in this position.” Or “You have screwed up so many times and so badly that you are getting fired.”

I don’t think it’s ever easy to tell someone that they’re not doing well at their job. And there’s no great way to fire someone. You can do it without being an ass, but it requires a serious level of confrontation and can get awkward easily. Getting fired is intensely personal and intensely stressful, and knowing that you’re going to inflict that on someone can be its own challenge.

I think the difficulties inherent in that kind of interaction are exacerbated for women: the desire not to be a bitch, and the constant cultural reminders to be nice. It’s also much harder in an environment where women are such a minority of the total workforce. (The Army is roughly 15 to 20% women, and they’re not evenly distributed.) You’re already stuck in the nice/weak/tough/competent abyss, which is wretched. And that’s even before you get to the being firm/being a bitch line. There’s a significant (as in notable, not necessarily large in number) subset of men in the Army who think that women are per se unqualified to be there and any inability to handle something like this gets attributed to being a woman, not to finding it challenging to tell people they’re screw-ups.

The Army is also big on its leaders being able to get people in line and yelling/chewing people out is definitely part of the professional culture. But there’s a significant difference between that and explaining to someone what all of their professional deficits and failures are. It’s always going to be a challenge, but I wish there were a better way to mitigate “She’s being a bitch,” versus “She’s my supervisor and is telling me I screwed up.”

*It’s sort of hard to explain to someone who’s not familiar with military culture exactly how this operates, but suffice it to say that ordinarily, a very high level of deference to people who outrank you is expected.

**The military is actually a LOT better at this than most civilian employers. We have counseling forms and standard language to inform Soldiers that their conduct isn’t meeting the standard and that continued failures to meet the standard could result in their separation from the military. There’s a place for the leader to explain what they will do to address the issue and room on the counseling for follow up about how things worked out. If they’re used well, they’re actually extremely useful.

I’ve got a little list

I would hereby like to share my list of ways to completely and totally shut down what you hope will be a productive conversation with a colleague.

1. Insist that the person you’re speaking with is unqualified for their job and lacks the knowledge you bring to the discussion.

2. When the person you’re talking to tells you that they are confident in their work and their position on a particular issue, say that you didn’t mean to imply they’re stupid. Quite the opposite: they’re so smart, they must be able to share your conclusion. Say this with the most insincere smile you can muster.

3. Lecture the person you’re talking to about the need to be reasonable and logical. Emphasize your own reasonableness and ironclad logic, even when encouraging someone to change their position without any evidence to support your conclusions.

4. Maintain (to the point of absurdity) that you can be trusted. Because you’re so, so reasonable. And smart. And right.

5. Ask the other person to see things objectively. Qualify this sentence by saying “Put yourself in X’s shoes,” as though X = objectivity.

6. When informed by the other person that they’re not going to change their position without any evidence of a change in circumstance from when the facts were last reviewed, pout that they’re not trusting you. Remind them that this is unfair and you only want the best outcome. Best is naturally defined by congruence with your own goals and objectives.

7. When the other person continues to demonstrate their resistance to your argument and is clearly tired of hearing it restated with pouting, threaten to make things harder. Remind them of all the ways you can make things complicated and difficult because you’re not getting your way and a pony.

8. Resort to inappropriate uses of the term rape to complain about things that have no relation whatsoever to sexual assault.

9. Try not to pass out in a dead faint when told that rape is the wrong term to used when talking about someone who (at best) was defrauded and (at worst) committed theft. Pout when you realize you’ve been called out.

10. Have a nice day!