Sunday, April 15, 2007

"Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History"

This quote by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich came to mind while I was writing my post about The Girl in the Cafe.

In it, I mentioned my admiration for strong women who stand by their views even when they are met with opposition. The topic made me think of times when I have faced hostility as an outspoken woman.

Likely, there are countless women who could be places in the "less well behaved woman" category. I wanted to touch on my experiences as one.

I have stood up and been smacked down for a range of issues. On at least two occasions, my job was threatened because I questioned and challenged.

To others, some issues I've made a fuss about seemed inconsequential. Like when I spoke out against a "new revised business casual dress code" that still required women employees to wear pantyhose.

I thought I was fighting for women and our right to choose the undergarments we would or wouldn't wear. Ironically, many of the people who were most offended by my stance were other women.

The CFO laughed with me when I asked him if I could expense pantyhose but the CEO didn't think it was a humorous question. When I was told I needed to, "Either shut up and comply with the dress code or leave." I decided to do both. I would comply until I was able to leave. But I was hurt that they were willing to disregard all of the good work I'd been doing because of this disagreement. (pantyhose photo credit)

One of the times I was most perplexed about facing hostility was when I was trying to get dental care for a child who is deaf. (toothbrushing photo credit)

This beautiful young boy (not pictured) had a radiant smile but he also had obvious, serious dental issues including a large hole in one of his permanent front teeth.

For three months, I had looked past it thinking it was someone else's responsibility and hoping they would take care of it. When I finally asked him about his tooth and he told me that it hurt but his family had "no money," I started calling it to people's attention.

When I asked the social worker about it, she told me the child came from a "very eccentric" family. I'm all for eccentric and if they couldn't pay for it they couldn't pay but I wasn't comfortable ignoring his pain anymore.

I found information about free dental care for kids and offered it to the social worker, trying to follow the appropriate chain of command. She suggested I give the information to the school nurse. I did.

Around the same time, I was working with a child who has Autism.

Because of his family's transportation issues, he regularly missed hours of school. People at the school often complained but when I asked if there was anything we could do to help, on multiple occasions I was told no. I even asked if I could transport the child but was again told no.

A situation was approaching where the child was going to miss an entire week of school because his father was going to be out of town and no one else was willing or able to bring him to school. I found information about a public transportation service that could have picked him up at his front door and delivered him to the door of the school for the cost of regular train ride.

I provided the information about public transportation for people with disabilities to the parent of a child. He was excited about the possibilities and thankful for my help.

For these things, I felt proud. I thought I was really making a difference. For these things, I was called into an office and reprimanded. When I stood up for myself, I was asked to resign.

I refused knowing they had no grounds to fire me and that my leaving would be hard on the kids I was helping. I was dismayed and perplexed. Thinking I should have been thanked rather than berated for my efforts.

I was allowed to stay but had to deal with tension for the rest of the school year. For some reason, the child with Autism was turned down for transportation but the child who is deaf did get his tooth fixed and showed it to me proudly.

I had been told that my greatest strength was my greatest weakness. I had been told that I cared too much for the kids. If that's the case, I'll wear that badge with pride.

1 comment:

mcewen said...

I share your sentiments.
Best wishes [and lovely photograph]