Atheist Scruples: you’re a VP and are getting interviewed

August 5, 2014

You are the busy vice-president of a large corporation. A student asks to interview you for a class assignment. Do you make time?

Of course I will. I’m going to pretend this is a female student who’s asking how to be a woman and successful in a business.

I have no fucking idea.

I can Google “how many women are vice presidents?” but that just gets me American government hits, specifically the history of Geraldine Ferraro:

Ferraro, the first woman and the first Italian-American to run on a major party national ticket, was Walter Mondale’s vice presidential running mate in 1984 on the Democratic Party ticket.

She earned a reputation for speaking her mind on the issues of the day, sometimes generating controversy for her outspoken opinions.

The 1984 presidential campaign against popular incumbent President Ronald Reagan showed that Ferraro could be comfortable in the men’s world of national politics — at the time there were few women in Congress.

Thanks, Google. Interesting, but not what I was wanting. I’ll rephrase the question. “How many women are vice presidents of companies?”

I find an article at the National Bureau of Economic Research – all American, and looks to be a decade out of date:

In 1980, the Fortune 100 featured no women executives, while in 2001, 11 percent were women.

Not that out of date after all. Since 2009, not much in the way of improvement:

although women make up over half of America’s labor force, as of 2009, only 12 Fortune 500 companies and 25 Fortune 1000 companies have women CEOs or presidents.

Dismal, frankly.

There’s a 2011 Financial Post article listing the top 100 powerful Canadian women, though, and I’ve likely heard of none of them. Oh wait; Margaret Atwood is on the list as a “revered author” so that’s one. We read A Handmaid’s Tale for our banned book club. Not an executive, though. The list has more than just business people on it.

Do women get a short shrift in business because of the baby-making business many women are also into and the time required to devote to upbringing? Do we have different aspirations for what it means to be successful in a workplace? Are we reluctant to take the risks men might take to get ahead in their places of business? Is it a glass ceiling situation?

Last week, Forbes posted an article supporting the need for women to have mentors. In a lot of cases men are the only ones they can really turn to for good advice on how to get ahead.

The thing that I like most about this group of men (and a handful more, some who did not want to be mentioned) is that when we speak, they don’t sit there and tell me how wonderful I am. They give credit where credit is due, but more importantly, they challenge me, they make me want to be better. They give me constructive criticism, push me to think outside the box, and share their insights. In sum, these men offer me more than I could ever get from a single mentor.

Okay, so that’d be something to tell the student at least. Network the shit out of your workplace and find the people who you can trust to be honest with you and who genuinely want to help you get ahead. The ones that will encourage you forward, not discourage you into wanting to quit. (Or harass the life out of you — that’s a post all on its own, I’m sure.)

Confessional: I’d never make it as a boss or manager. My go-to tends to be cruel criticism and disgust. I’m thinking back to attempts to train helpers for my job and having totally the wrong approach for helping them get the point of the work, which was to do it quickly, efficiently, and with few errors. But, I’ve since learned that efficiency to the level I possess (a little braggy, sorry) is not something teachable. You either have it, or you don’t. A lot of people don’t and I find it a super huge headache when it comes to getting a job done well to deal with these people who don’t approach the work with the same ambition and drive that I do. It’s painful and aggravating to watch people do it in a way that’s not MY WAY. I almost want to pull the carts away and do them “properly”. (I’m aware this is a problem.)

My job is one in a field dominated by women, predominantly. Libraries are mostly women. A few guys work there as librarians or pages but it might be 3% of the total number of people employed in the system. If that. But we have a male Director for our library. His second in command is a woman, though.

I wouldn’t want her job. Calling myself a minion is pretty much the truth. I don’t want to be the one in charge. I don’t want the stress. The money isn’t worth it. I’d rather be happy and go home feeling relaxed than be stuck in meetings and conferences and have to hear about how people aren’t getting along, or force people to give up on work habits 20 years in the making. I don’t want the hassle.

I guess that’s be the next thing to tell the student. You have to be a special kind of person to want that kind of work. Be willing to be ruthless if that’s what it takes to get to the goal, whatever that goal might be. Nice gets you only so far. You’re not there to be liked. You’re there to revolutionize the place and make it more successful and productive.

That’s my thoughts on it, anyway.

I didn’t like this question.

So I read Deborah Feldman’s book “UNorthodox”

February 22, 2012

It was released by Simon and Schuster recently and was a pretty quick but interesting read. Feldman grew up in Brooklyn as part of the Williamsburg Hasidic community and has written a memoir based on that life and the steps she ultimately took within her life to surpass those mentally crippling limitations.

It was eye-opening in terms of me learning more about that stricter version of Judaism. I hadn’t known women were expected to shave all their hair off after marriage and wear wigs or some other head covering. There’s a point in the book where it’s discovered that natural hair wigs purchased for these Satmar women were made of hair that Hindus had shaved off themselves as part of their own worshiping ceremonies and the Rabbi demands all the wigs be burned. God truly forbid they wear hair that belonged to those who worship false idols. But God also forbid they be allowed to keep and style their own hair – it might give the men Ideas. It seems the men have enough Ideas as it is.

Men and women being kept separate in temple is something I might have known about before but the purity laws that keep the temple and thus men “safe” from menstruating women seem outright laughable, even though it’s clear they take that shit seriously. Feldman describes the ritual of self-testing for bleeding and rules about bringing one’s underwear to the Rabbi if one’s not sure the stains are blood. Once married to the man chosen by one’s parents, there are even more rituals and rules to abide by – special purification baths to take and men not allowed to touch anything a bleeding woman has touched. As an outsider looking in, it all sounds so damned ludicrous. What she describes about her sexual anxiety on top of all that wound up being the most fascinating part of the book, I have to admit. I thought I had hang-ups…

She didn’t come out of the experience a complete atheist but she grew to understand why her mother felt compelled to leave that world (she was gay) and her life-long secret love of secular books eventually helped her realize she wanted a better education for herself and her son than they’d otherwise get. Her relationship with her husband was also poor (not just because of the bedroom problems) and it seems like it was a fairly easy decision for both of them to divorce.

I’m not much for reading memoirs. The brain can be a terrible place to store memories. The bulk of them wind up flawed and changed by memories of experiences that occur later, either our own, or those we hear of from other people. No matter how “true” a story might feel to the writer, it’s up to the reader to take it with a grain of salt. (One “reader” goes a step further; RS has a whole blog dedicated to exposing Feldman as a fraud, and provides different background to some of the stories she shares in her book.)

In terms of the book itself, I’ve read a lot of books and this one feels green. Amateurish, I mean. 25 she might be, but a lot of writers got a start younger than that and their first books are a lot more polished. It might be on account of the style she chose to write it, mind you. It’s a present-tense first person kind of thing so that while she’s describing events that might have occurred when she was nine, it’s written like she is that age, writing pages in a juvenile diary. I agree with the opinion of The Forward blogger, Debra Nussbaum Cohen, too:

Whatever the truth, something about Feldman still seems very young, though she is now 25 and the mother of a nearly 6-year-old son. In photos in the Post, posing in a sequined, sleeveless mini-dress, and in pictures on the ABC News website, where she sits on a park bench, wearing high heels, tight jeans and holding a cigarette in her hand, she looks like nothing so much as a young girl posing the way she thinks grownups are supposed to.

She reminds me of 13-year-old girls I see at some bat mitzvahs, teetering around on stiletto heels and wearing minis so short they can’t safely sit down.

I’m trying to think back to what I was like when I was 25. I think I was probably something of a poser, too, without enough life experience to see what parts of my behaviour merely reflected those around me and what came directly from myself. I think that’s a struggle everyone goes through at some point, even if they don’t realize it.

Now living on the Upper East Side with her son, she said there is nothing she misses about life in the Satmar community. “Everything I miss I can have,” she said. “If I want cholent, I make cholent. I have it all now. I am just exhilarated by it. There is not even within me even one shred of regret.”

If she feels like she has to prove something, I hope she realizes she only has to prove it to herself. It does take some daring to write about yourself, I’ll admit. I’m not that bold. Then again, a lot of what I’ve done is boring and quite forgettable. Truthfully, I don’t think I could remember enough childhood events to fill a chapter, let alone nine of them. UNremarkable. That’d be the title of mine…

Banned Book Club – A Handmaid’s Tale

May 20, 2011

We met last night to discuss this book by Margaret Atwood. Whole plot is here for those who’d like it.

A half-assed summary from me: the story is told from the perspective of Offred, a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead (formerly Massachusetts/USA). Like others of her caste, she’s owned by a wealthy man whose older wife can’t have kids anymore (if she ever could). Fertility rates in Caucasians had plummeted some years earlier (due to environmental issues among other things) and it became “necessary” to round up women of child-bearing age and, if they could, force them to produce children for the right (read: rich “pious” government) couples in need of offspring.

Through the telling of her story, we learn about how Offred lost her husband and first child when the round-up happened, that her mother rebelled against the new system and paid dearly for it, and that a woman she admired as a rebel didn’t remain rebellious for long – at least, not in a “free” way like Offred assumed would happen. We also learn that there’s an underground group that’s trying to free handmaids from this sexual slavery.

We hit on a lot of different topics as presented in the book. We discussed the power structure in place in Gilead that keeps women oppressed and argued about how the situation tied Offred to her Commander and his Wife and the dynamics such an arrangement would make them to deal with. Offred doesn’t have much in the way of choice in what she’d be doing at the house (she’s there to be slept with) but the Commander uses his position to give her a little sense of the freedoms she once had but now lacks. In this dystopia, women are banned from reading and writing but the Commander secretly invites her to play scrabble and read magazines. We didn’t really discuss why he’d feel compelled to offer those little banned luxuries to her. I wonder if it’s because his Wife, Serena Joy, never would have kowtowed to those particular whims, even if she did actually love the man in some way. She was too hooked into her role in this society, and more concerned about getting Offred pregnant – if not by her own husband then by someone else. She was willing to put up with having a handmaid in the house if it meant she’d have a child to raise at the end of it. One of the guys suggested that the book is less about the strict, totalitarian ideologies and loss of rights (of everyone, not just these handmaids) but about adultery. Much of the book focuses on Offred and the Wife and their weird relationship, plus her changing relationship with the Commander as she’s allowed more freedoms. Her manner of dealing with him becomes less stilted and perfunctory as she gets to know who he is and what he likes, and this makes everything even more awkward when they’re in bed with the Wife.

We talked about Atwood’s use of language in the book and decisions she made in her character development. One complaint had to do with prolonged flashbacks to Offred’s earlier life and love but since it winds up that the whole of the story is a flashback anyway, a reconstruction of events as Offred remembered them (however badly) during the recording of these memories onto cassettes (we learn at the end), we’re stuck with a narration focused on precisely how this woman deals with the past, what she dreamed and hoped for, and what grim realities she faced instead. That was a long sentence. Sorry. Point being, like or hate, Atwood put all that in for a reason. It helps to build Offred’s character if we know what she dwells on, even to the point of annoyance from a reader’s perspective.

Talk turned to France and the burqa ban for a bit, which is where the night ended. Some thought it was a terrific “it’s about time” kind of thing and others argued about choice and things. Is it about the religion or power (utilizing religion and fear of god) or what?

All the women in the book are forced to dress a certain way depending on their station. Wives get blue dresses, I think, the Econowives of the poor/middle class men have to wear stripes, the maids (Marthas) dress in another colour and the handmaids are very visible in the world in their long red dresses with white veils that work something blinders so they can only look at what’s in front of them.

There’s a scene in the book where Japanese tourists are wandering around taking pictures of the women. One of the tourists is a woman dressed “western” with a knee length skirt or something and Offred marvels at the look of it – mostly because she’s surprised at how appalled she is to see someone’s legs. It seems indecent, and yet not very long before that, she herself would have been dressing the same way. Normal is what you get used to, after all. It’s a state of mind and it doesn’t take long to create a new sense of normalcy when everyone’s forced to change their lifestyle to fit new laws (i.e. smoking bans in public places, mandatory seat belts).

We talked about the end of the book, too, since it turns out that Offred managed to record her experience for posterity and people later found the tapes and transcribed them. Some of what got discussed about the end scenes centered around how we view history and what our choices are in terms of how we can interpret it. We’re really bound by the eyes and mind and viewpoints of the historians, all of which will be coming to the history with their own biases and ideologies. Are they able to set any of that aside and be completely objective? They’re limited by the lack of objectivity in the original pieces, too. Offred saw the world a certain way and readily admits in the book that her memory is fallible, prone to re-imagining conversations since it’s impossible to recall word-for-word details months or years later. Same goes for events she describes. Her historians have to trust her to some degree, but they note that she changed some names to protect herself so who knows if they really guessed right when trying to set her story at a particular place in the world? Maybe she wasn’t even Offred but picked that name herself as additional cover. I can’t recall if that occurred to the historians. I think they all assumed she’d been owned by a guy named Frederick and spent all their time trying to uncover which one fit the tale as she told it.

Well anyway, I quite liked the book. It was thought-provoking and intelligent and mildly troubling, especially since Atwood picked bits of actual history to add into this thing, not just early Puritan history but issues that were relevant and timely when she was writing it. It’s good fiction, but it’s also good social commentary for that reason.

“Does God hate women?” If he was created by misogynist men, sure

April 27, 2011

Quoting a Washington Post reporter by the name of Sally Quinn:

why, I asked myself, if women were so smart and capable and in so many cases, smarter and more capable than men, were they being discriminated against? It made absolutely zero sense to me. Of course there were women trailblazers– the first woman this, the first woman that. And yet, women who were too capable or powerful were often labeled lesbians by their male counterparts. Or ridiculed, or condescended to. I remember once, when I was covering a party in Washington, and Gloria Steinem (another Smithie, as was Betty Friedan) was approached by Congressman Brownie Reid. “I think it’s so great for you girls to have something to do before you get married,” said Reid to the astonished feminist leader.

Then I began to learn about religion.

She lists several examples of women getting the short shrift — I’m going to interrupt my own train of thought here to note the word shrift, as I suddenly wondered what the hell that meant and if I was using it correctly:

The verb form, shrive, is also now an almost forgotten antique. A shrift is a penance (a prescribed penalty) imposed by a priest in a confession in order to provide absolution, often when the confessor was near to death. In the 17th century, criminals were sent to the scaffold immediately after sentencing and only had time for a ‘short shrift’ before being hanged.

And we can thank Shakespeare for making the phrase colloquial. Thanks, Shakespeare. Anyway, yes, women have less say and less importance overall, even if they want to tout the implied worth of Mary or Ruth or whatever other women actually have a given name in the bible. The facts remain, there is clear evidence across religions of women being perceived as second class, or lower.

It’s nothing I’ve ever watched for but we can see this misogyny in advertising, too. I’m still plowing through Can’t Buy My Love by Jean Kilbourne and it continues to be fascinating. Ads have portrayed women in so many derogatory and demeaning ways. She mentions instances of women with their mouths covered or sewn up (pg 139) and language that encourages body parts to do all the communicating rather than the voice. “Score high on non-verbal skills,” touts one for T.J. MAXX. Another for some Italian fashion company reads (pg 140) “This woman is silent. This coat talks.” She also provides photos of ads for Newport cigarettes that show women in compromising and embarrassing positions, displaying them as not just daffy but completely stupid and incompetent and only good for laughing at (pgs 196-7). She also notes that when rebellion is encouraged, it only goes as far as black nail polish (p. 153). The same goes for attitude, only desirable if being a bad ass results in showing that ass off in some way. (pg 152). Actual evidence of skill or ambition or brains isn’t really important. Shoes and accessories are.

Back to Quinn,

Recently Jimmy Carter spoke on the subject at a religious conference. “The discrimination against women on a global basis,” he said,” is very often attributable to the declaration by religious leaders in Christianity, Islam and other religions, that women are inferior in the eyes of God.”

This may not seem an earth-shaking comment but it was courageous of Carter to speak out against this practice, particularly since he came from a Baptist tradition where women were not even allowed to be ministers. He is also, in this statement, calling on those of faith to question his God’s attitude toward one half of the earth’s population.

God’s “attitude” isn’t the problem, it’s how men have manipulated scripture and doctrine to promote men and degrade women and are still getting encouragement (or at least tacit approval) to do so. It’s the willingness of both men and women to hold steadfast to archaic family structures and thought patterns because if they were good enough for bible days they still must be valid now. New interpretations of the bible, adding more genderized language into it… that’s not fixing the problem, that’s just muddying the water. All the bad advice about how to treat one’s slaves and one’s women can still be found in there if you know where to look. It’s mentioned in that piece that Jesus encouraged his followers to elevate the status of women but clearly there were limits to what believers were willing to do for the man, as evidenced by every book later credited to Paul and company. Belief in the resurrection, darn tootin’. Belief in women’s lib? Inconceivable!

With thousands of years of discrimination behind us and so much still existing, and with 95 percent of the world’s population adhering to some faith or other, how could those beliefs not be held accountable. And for those who believe in an all loving God, a God who loves men and women equally, how could one not ask the question: Why would He (She?) allow this to exist unless he hated women?

Because men created god in their own image. But, attitudes need adjusting across the board; this is not just the fault of men. We’re still living in a culture that can marginalize and trivialize women without much protest to the contrary from any gender. Every time women might try to protest their treatment, how are they treated? Men are allowed to be angry and assertive and will still be respected, but women often wind up being thought of as hysterical bitches no one needs to take seriously. Until that bizarre double standard is set aside, we’re not going to get very far.

Forgery and the bible

April 18, 2011

I skimmed through to the end of Forged: writing in the name of God – why the Bible’s authors are not who we think they are by Bart D. Ehrman this weekend. Not being a biblical scholar, some of what he touched on went over my head. I haven’t got a solid grasp on a lot of what makes up all the books of the bible, either, but Ehrman goes through several assumed to be by Paul and explains why it’s likely that half of them were authored by others who forged his “signature” but ignored his writing style completely.

He talks about other books and gospels that existed in the past (some we still have today) and they were discovered to be forgeries, too.

He goes into some reasons why early Christians would have gone the forgery route, the popular being to lend credence to an idea by claiming someone “famous” thought that way. He uses the example that Paul’s early writing seems to suggest he truly believed the world was ending in his lifetime, that single people should stay single and focus on spreading the good word before Christ takes them. A hundred or years later letters by “Paul” are calling on church leaders to marry and this and that. According to Ehrman, during Paul’s time, there was no church structure with bishops and priests and things so those letters have to be forgeries.

Other series of stories were written about Paul as a character, like works of fiction would be now. The ones involving a woman name Thecla were especially problematic and therefore completely fascinating to me. I hadn’t heard of her before.

In Acts of Paul, he’s preaching abstinence, and here’s this woman who’s supposed to marry some rich dude, overhears Paul’s teachings, and abandons her betrothed. She’s supposed to punished for that but God miraculously saves her life a few times. In one version of the story, she baptizes herself into the new religion by hopping into a vat filled with “man-eating seals” and with Paul’s blessing, takes up the duty of ministering to others. (Pg 82)

Ehrman notes that the writings of Tertullian, a well-known theologian from around 200 CE, denounce these stories as fabrications and that the author of them was caught and dealt with. This pronouncement helped that misogynist make his case that women should never be church leaders. So there was a time when some early church leaders were willing to try equality.

It wasn’t just an early church habit. Forgeries and false books have popped up a lot over the years. One he mentions is about Christ’s “lost years” spent with Buddhists. A book called The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ was published in 1894 in France by a Russian who claimed he’d been in Tibet and wanted to share their stories of Issa, who he claimed was Jesus. Although the book wound up being quite popular, there was a lot of suspicion that the stories were made up and it was easy enough to prove it. Letters were written to the monastery the Russian claimed to have stayed at while his leg was broken and a scholar went all the way to Tibet a year later to talk to the lama directly.

All in all, it’s a pretty interesting book that examines how early Christians got manipulated by those they had faith in and how these writings warped ideologies and helped build Christianity as practiced today.

Pole dancing for Jesus just seems seedy

March 23, 2011

Back in 2007, mojoey was “What the hell”ing over an article he’d found about Christian women at a spa who’d started a pole dancing exercise group and today I come across another such story.

“God gives us these bodies, and they are supposed to be our temples and we are supposed to take care of them,” instructor Crystal Dean told ABC affiliate KTRK-TV. “And that’s what we are doing.”

For one Sunday each month, Dean teaches free classes to Christian women who bring in their church programs.

There is biblical approval of mixing religion with song and dance, namely, Psalm 149:3: “Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre.”

The assumption being, sexy in the bedroom with a pole will stop husbands from becoming adulterers and thus sinning out of the bedroom. Or as Ms. Tweed states, it “actually brings a husband and wife together as Christians to deepen the marriage bond” so go ahead and install one, presumably.

Dean and her students say the class is indeed just another opportunity to worship God and practice their faith. The students dance to contemporary Christian music.

One local pastor is less than convinced by their arguments, however. Rev. Ron Krueger is quoted in the article as he tries to play the “it’s demeaning to women” card which just makes me laugh, considering how many bible verses there must be about women needing to be subservient to men and should shut up when a man speaks and yadda yadda.

Contrary to my post title, I’m in the “they can if they want to” category. If the marriage is worth improving and this looks like a way to spice it up, crazy go nuts with it. Anyone who wants to try this to spice up a love life should take the opportunity. They’re not wrong about the fitness aspects of it. I’ve seen pole dancing done and I was really impressed. Sure, there are other ways to get fit but they want to show off their newly fit bodies during a private bedroom activity designed for an audience of one and the pastor is not the one being invited. What two people choose to do in their bedroom is up to them. Personal opinions to the contrary should stay out of it.

It’s drafty in here (a celebrity’s double life)

March 21, 2011

I have a habit of dropping ideas into my draft folder and then forgetting to come back to them. There’s a dozen or so sitting in there I decided I’m due for a round of spring cleaning.

This link from last October winds up being somewhat topical after this weekend’s gender identity conference. about Kelly McGillis finally marrying her same-sex partner and why she waited nearly 30 years to admit in public that she was gay.

Their affair had long been the source of fevered rumour, with reports that the couple — who met when Kelly was still married to her second husband, millionaire Fred Tillman — were often to be seen walking hand-in-hand around the quiet town of Collingswood, where the actress has lived for the past two years.

Now, with extraordinary courage, the ­publicity-shy star has admitted she hid her sexuality after becoming convinced she was being ‘punished by God’ for being gay.

It led, she says, to her falling into two ­disastrous marriages, and numbing the guilt over her secret life with years of alcoholism and drug-taking.

So why has she finally chosen to own up to her relationship with Miss Leis, which for so long she insisted on shrouding in mystery?

‘I drank a lot. I couldn’t eat. I twitched incessantly and I had nightmares. Because I was so afraid to go to sleep at night, I would drink’

The answer, say those who know her, is that Miss McGillis, who also starred in ­Hollywood hits such as Witness and The Accused, has finally come to terms with a harrowing rape ordeal that she believed was her penitence for her sexuality.

Isn’t that terrible? She was with a woman lover in 1982 when two guys broke into the apartment, then insulted, assaulted, and finally raped the couple.

It wasn’t an easy job ignoring the woman she loved so that nobody would suspect she loved one.

According to friends of the couple, it has long been a volatile affair, with the lovers splitting up several times during the almost ten years they have been together.

The relationship also came under strain, sources close to them in the U.S. say, because of the actress’s refusal to acknowledge publicly Miss Leis as her partner. ‘My kids have always been very understanding,’ Miss McGillis said this week. ‘But it was their friends, and their friends’ parents, that weren’t very accepting. My kids suffered a great deal because I was with Mell, and that bothered me a lot, and so I chose never to talk about it’.

Others might speculate that her reticence was also, in part, down to the fear that it could affect her chances of resurrecting her once-stellar career.

She counsels at a women’s prison now, talking with those in for drug and alcohol reasons. Her rapist is also in prison somewhere; a cold case detective tracked him down due to a second attack he perpetrated more than a decade ago. He’s currently serving a 50 year sentence.

Is it any different for gays and lesbians wanting roles in movies and television now? Does it make it easier when people like Ellen DeGeneres and Neil Patrick Harris openly admit their sexual preferences, or are there still a lot of stars who want to keep their sexuality off camera?

I’m also curious if McGillis hung onto any of the religious stuff that led her to think she was being punished with gayness. It sounds like she’s gotten over the sense that she’s somehow a disappointment in God’s eyes, but does she still believe in one, or has she left that behind now?


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