Saturday, January 19, 2008

Indentured Servitude, 2008

Hillary probably has no idea what it means to have guys really beat up on you. And I don’t mean husbands beating wives or boyfriends strong arming girls they date. I mean grown up men (often white, and sometimes waspy) trying to dragoon (I love this word) or coerce a woman into doing what they want her to do. If the issue is personal the conversation usually revolves around doing ‘what is best’ for everyone, and if it involves business then the conversation revolves around doing ‘what is best’ for the company. It has to include ‘what is best’ because, even though they can never find even simple items and they won’t ask for directions, they always think they know what is best for everyone concerned. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

And don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are men, but they still think they have all the answers. Again, if the issue is personal then the concerns while misplaced my be endearing – for a while. But if the dragooning (it’s such a colorful word), is in business then the men often treat their target as an indentured servant. For the record, an indentured servant is someone who labors for someone else by contract for a specific period of time. The problem came when the servant would somehow become indebted to their employer, (employers were expert at finding ways to do this) and then the employer would forgive the debt in exchange for an extension to the period of their indenture -- which sometimes went on forever.

My friend, let’s call her Wanda, who, after her husband died, found a way to continue to his creative endeavors. She worked relentlessly over the years, and not only found success but excelled – to the surprise and without much help from his publisher. Let me digress for a moment to mention that, while her husband was alive, the publisher was fabulous and when he died they really came through with support. But as is often the case, their attitude toward Wanda evolved into, “look what we did for you, now you owe us and we know what’s best for you – so sign on the dotted line and we don’t really need to pay attention to anything you may want or need or what is right and fair. You just keep working for us and if you’re a good girl, we will continue to take care of you.” But Wanda just wasn’t happy to settle for that. And in fact , since her contract ends in early 2008, she refused to sign this piece of paper which pretty much made her an indentured servant.

“Well, young lady” they said (I wasn’t there for the conversation and Wanda, in her outrage, doesn’t talk about it) but I figure it went on something like this, “You should be grateful for all we’ve done and you must sign a contract that keeps you in line”. Wanda has had inquiries from other publishing syndicates and was looking forward to the end of her contract so she could look for a publisher who would actually appreciate her talent and promote it. But as soon as she indicated she was going elsewhere they threatened to sue. So before they had a chance to sue her, she sued them. Now we’re talking David and Goliath as well as indentured servitude. And, it will probably go on without resolution. Although you can be sure that, having never been sued by an artist, they are sitting up there in their corporate clouds thinking, “who the heck does she think she is – that pip squeak of a girl” Oh my.

When are we going to get to the point where “the business boys” stop thinking they know what’s best for all the women in their lives. When will there be an end to business misogyny, and that is exactly what it is. Some men just don’t like women. They think it’s alright to marry them, but they are not crazy (this again is a kindness), about having them in the workplace. I should qualify all of this by saying that there are guys who are good colleagues who don’t feel this way, but when they think they own you it’s very different. It’s like when I had my last corporate job. The COO was a pal. We had great fun at work and even socialized after hours. But when I resigned because the company was sold, I went to talk to him about my severance (I had a “letter” rather than a contract stating how I would be compensated if the company were sold) he tried to tell me that I misread the intentions of the letter. That there would be no compensation. Needless to say, I found out the male senior staff were going to get their money but, as was implied but not actually said, I was supposed to be grateful that I had been employed at all. Clearly, this is a bit different than being an indentured servant because they didn’t want me anymore, but the attitudes about what they ‘owed’ me were not dissimilar.

And so it goes. To some degree women who stay at home cooking, cleaning, caring for kids, are indentured by a marriage contract (unless they get divorced). But let's not go there-- it's for another blob. What's funny is that when I talk to people about the campaigns, surprisingly, it's women who say they don't like Hillary. They might think she would hold her own as a President, but they don't like her. (This hurts her feelings). But men, don't feel the same way. I think it's because she is never the indentured servant. There is no way anyone owns her. When she had the moment of tearing up (she did not cry), women became more sympathetic about her plight and even made it a point to vote for her, they liked her more, but do we have to cry to be real people. All I know is that we have to stop allowing ourselves to play out these silly roles and just insist men be respectful of our talents and expertise -- no matter how it manifests itself. We're just sayin....Iris


Anonymous said...

So there is life after death.

I saw that this blob was pulled.

Now it's resurrected.


I know all about Indentured Servitude. In 1979 at the Billings Gazette, after I was told my services were no longer needed, I was offered my job back two weeks later. One of the other staff photogs quit. But there was a hitch. The editor said to me that I had to promise that I would not look for another job for a year.

I looked right at him and said "I thought the practice of Indentured Servants was illegal in this country."

I did not take the offer to return to this employer.

W the wise

Anonymous said...

To some degree women who stay at home cooking, cleaning, caring for kids, are indentured by a marriage would you know

Iris&David said...

Some of us stayed at home cooking and cleaning and caring fro our children for years--and we had jobs out of the home as well. I never felt like an indentured servant because I loved what I did and it was my choice. But there are a whole lotta women who don't have any choices in their lives and regardless of where they are or what they do they are truly indentured.
And W, you did the right thing.