Angels and Devils and Brock Turner

I applaud the decision by voters in California to recall the judge who infamously gave a young man named Brock Turner a ridiculously short sentence for rape.

Late one evening in 2015, tourists in Stanford, California came across a young white man molesting a woman who lay unconscious on a sidewalk. They rushed to stop him, then held him till the police arrived. The next spring, a jury found Brock Turner, a freshman swimmer at Stanford University, guilty of three felony counts: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person, and penetration of an unconscious person. 

His sentence? Despite calls from the prosecutor for a strong one, in June of 2016, Judge Aaron Persky sentenced him to only six months in prison for this violent crime. When he was released in August of 2016, he had spent less than 3 months in jail.

“I think you have to take the whole picture in terms of what impact imprisonment has on a specific individual’s life. And the impact statements that have been—or the, really, character letters that have been submitted, do show a huge collateral consequence for Mr. Turner based on the conviction,” the judge is reported to have said at the sentencing hearing.

Had the woman he raped not suffered a huge “collateral consequence?”  

“An outrage!” many media outlets proclaimed. People marched and carried signs. The internet and 24 hour news channels were filled with calls for change. Was this the case that would finally get people to approach sexual assault as a crime? After all, this young man raped a woman who was lying unconscious on the sidewalk. 

But wait—another young, white, privileged sex offender had been released just a month before Turner’s sentencing, also after doing very little prison time. On August 28, 2015, Owen Labrie, a high school senior, was convicted of sexually assaulting a female classmate about a year before, at St. Paul’s Prep School in New Hampshire, an elite, church-affiliated school. He had been on trial for felony rape, which could have carried up to 20 years in prison, but the jury acquitted Labrie of that, instead assigning the lesser charge. The victim wasn’t identified by name in official documents because she was only 15 years old at the time of the sexual assault.

Labrie and his buddies, upperclassmen at the school, had been playing a game of conquest, competing to see how many freshman and sophomore girls they could deflower. He had convinced this girl that he really cared about her and so managed to earn a notch for his belt. 

Before sentencing, Labrie’s mother, Denise Holland, submitted a letter to the judge asking for probation only, for her son. She wrote that Labrie had become despondent and suicidal as “so many years of dedication and hard work dissolved before him.” The judge ssentenced him to only six months in prison. When he was released in May of 2016, like Turner, Labrie had served only about half of that. 

For speaking out, the young girl was harassed on social media for years, called all sorts of terrible slurs. And for this he served only a couple of months in prison. 

That judge is still at the bench. He has not been recalled.

It is hard to believe, reading about these cases, that so much attention was placed on how a long sentence would damage these young men’s futures. The judges were completely drawn into imagining how these “otherwise promising” young men would suffer. Yet it was Turner who branded himself as a criminal, when he chose to take advantage of an unconscious woman. And LaBrie had turned his back on his own future when he chose to act the sexual predator.  

There is something about a young, well-to-do white man that seems to beg that the courts consider his “promise.” But what sort of promise do these men hold, anyway? As far as I can tell, it is the promise of future sexual assaults on other unsuspecting young women. It is certainly not a promise for a future career as a scientist, college professor or priest. 

At least, in these two cases, the men were found guilty of something. They will have to register as convicted sexual offenders for the rest of their lives. (One of them has reopened his case to try to get that requirement lifted.) The presence of a corroborating witness in one case and the age of the victim in the other demanded that something be done. Still, a few months in jail for possibly ruining the lives of these young women?

And although the perpetrators were arrested and found guilty, the pathetically weak sentencing is only half of the insult to these women. After stepping forward and filing charges, the women were tried by the jury of public opinion, and found by many of them to be almost as guilty as their rapists.The internet is full of vile comments about them, which anyone can find as a matter of record. No wonder so many women don’t get up the courage to speak up until many years have passed and they are perhaps in a more powerful position, or until they find strength in numbers.

Recently, women of the Air Force Academy have come forward to report that not only were several women raped by their colleagues over the past several years, but also that senior officials did little or nothing to punish the men. The women, meanwhile have been subjected to terrible hazing and mistreatment, in punishment for speaking up, ratting on their peers. Several female Air Force cadets resigned, rather than be subjected to the daily abuse. The perpetrators have gone on to graduate.

a more personal perspective

In my 30 or so years working in the corporate world, I was always thankful that I had escaped any sexual harassment in the workplace. I faced gender bias on getting a job or getting promotions, but I was never actually assaulted at work. I felt terrible for the women who suffered at the hands of powerful men, emboldened by their positions to take advantage of the women. But that does not mean I escaped the curse. As the Twitter hashtag #me too revealed, if you ask any woman, chances are she will tell you a story of how she or a relative or friend was sexually harassed or assaulted. My escape from sexual assault is only compared to many others that were worse. 

In my sophomore year of high school, a fellow student began to follow me around school and asked me out repeatedly. I politely declined and asked him to quit following me. Instead, he followed me everywhere. He lived on another bus route, but he began taking my school bus in the afternoon and often walked behind me the three blocks from the bus stop to my home, then stood outside calling my name. 

Junior year, senior year. Some evenings he would call me on the phone every 15 minutes, all evening long. My parents reported the situation to the police over and over again. They also spoke to the boy’s parents, who apologized and placed a lock on their home phone. But the boy kept following me and calling.  It was horrible, unnerving to see that guy everywhere I went. 

When I left for college 200 miles away, he transferred his interest to my younger sister, sitting outside the house in our rhododendron bushes and calling her name. One night she awoke to a man in her room, his hand over her mouth, telling her to be quiet. Our 80 pound yellow mutt, Charlie, had heard a strange noise, though, and came barking into the room. The intruder jumped out the window onto the porch roof and was gone. The police never figured out who it was. We were pretty sure we knew. 

“Well, lucky you have a good dog,” the police said. “And the main thing is, no one was hurt.”    And lucky he didn’t have a gun, like the young men in the most recent school shootings, whose justification for the shootings was that some girl had rejected their amorous advance.

Six or seven years after the man and the dog incident, it was the start of the fall semester of another of my sister’s sophomore year at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. A stiflingly hot, August day, she had spent many hours moving into a house she planned to share with three friends near the campus. That evening a thunderstorm was approaching, and at dusk her roommates all went out to watch the thunder and lightening move in across the corn fields. My sister, though, sweating profusely after a day of lugging around boxes, begged off the adventure. She put in another hour or so of unpacking, then lay down in the near 100 degree heat in her second story bedroom to rest. She fell asleep lying on top of her sheets, wearing only her underwear. 

She awoke some time later to a hand across her face and a man on top of her.  He had probably broken into what looked to him like an empty house, to rob stereos and anything else that looked interesting. Once in the house, he decided she looked like a nice plum to pick. He managed to pull off her underwear and was close to penetration when she fought him off. 

And then he pulled out a gun. “Stop fighting or I’ll shoot,” he ordered, aiming the gun at her head. 

When she continued to struggle, he pulled the trigger.

She cringed. 

The gun misfired. 

She took advantage of the attacker’s surprise to run screaming into another room, and he climbed back out the window he’d gotten in through.

It would be hours till her roommates got home. The phone was not installed yet, and no curtains had even been hung. Sure that the intruder would return to retrieve his pillowcases full of loot, which were lying in the hallway where he had abandoned them, my sister sat alone for hours in the dark at the kitchen table holding a butcher knife, not collapsing into tears until her friends returned home. 

When the police finally arrived, they determined that nothing had actually been stolen, so they were not really interested in pursuing the incident. They made a few half-hearted efforts to find her attacker, but gave up after a few weeks, so there was no arrest, no trial. “You shouldn’t have had the window open,” they said. They told her, “at least he didn’t actually rape you,” and she was lucky the gun misfired. 

We called her Wonder Woman and gave her silly Wonder Woman gifts, trying to emphasize how great it was that she stood up to the man; that she’d fought him off. The truth, of course, is that she’d have died on the spot if that gun hadn’t misfired. Her attacker was holding it inches from her head. The episode still haunts her; her  counselor tells her she suffers from PTSD. 

follow up

My sisters and I never saw our attackers put on trial. We spoke up. We tried to get justice.  Police, family and friends all knew that sexual assault had happened, but no one was punished. I am excited at the new energy in the feminist sphere. #metoo and #timesup are both powerful movements.  I am excited that the ERA – the equal rights for women – constitutional ammendment is getting closer to passage. But I fear that few, if any of the many sexual harassers outed in 2017 and 2018 will ever be brought to a criminal trial, much less found guilty, and even less likely punished with jail terms. I know deep inside, that nothing will change significantly until the penal system acknowledges the fundamental unacceptableness of gender violence.

Both my sisters are still haunted by their experience of waking up with a strange man on top of them. The Air Force cadets and women of our armed services who have been assaulted and then tormented for speaking up, have seen their entire life changed. The victims of Turner and Labrie likely still relive their experiences, as well. As will the actresses and production assistants assaulted  by Weinstein, Lauer and Rose. The lives of these women will never be the same; their peaceful, happy futures were stolen by powerful men, fellow cadets, Turner and Labrie, and unknown men who crept in windows in the middle of the night. 

The U. S. in the last three years has seen an explosion of complaints about sexual misconduct. Millions of women and men wrote and spoke and posted about Bill Cosby and Hollywood moguls and high level politicians harassing and even assaulting women and girls. But after a period of time for the outrage to die down, how much will change? Despite more than a dozen accusers, Bill Cosby’s first trial ended in a mistrial. There is some hope though, from the fact the second trial ended in a guilty verdict. 

But will Donald Trump or Charlie Rose or Matt Lauer—and on and on—ever face legal repercussions for their alleged misconduct? Or will powerful men continue to take advantage of attractive young women, and escape, even if found out, with little more than a slap on the wrist as punishment? Only days days after Matt Lauer was fired, I already heard a news commentator wondering aloud about how the accused men could be helped to salvage their careers. The speaker—on a radio news program—seemed full of sympathy at how an otherwise “brilliant career” was now damaged. Bah! What about the women who gave up on their careers because of the harassment and general hostility they faced in the workplace? Women who decided it wasn’t worth it, and went back to their hometown.

After all the revelations about these famous men, I am heartened by the voters’ message about Turner. Now, we should turn to the Labrie case, and keep up pressure for meaningful trials and sentencing for the famous entertainment industries harassers. 

It is clear from the Turner and Labrie cases that accusations are one thing; appropriate punishment is something else. Somehow when it comes to the trial, there always seem to be people who convince themselves that the women are probably exaggerating. Or that they likely had consensual sex then changed their mind and decided to take some man for all the money she could get. Or who just don’t want to damage some “promising” man’s career for something that they consider “no harm done.”

What we see is that whenever the public is drawn into a highly publicized sexual assault case, there is some outrage for a while, but there is no institutional change. The Hollywood led outrage is stronger than most I’ve seen, but will it change anything? Most of the perpetrators may be seen as successful men who just made some minor error in judgement.  Turner and Labrie have gone on with their lives. The high profile sexual assaulters will likely talk their way out of prison terms. I hope a few cadets will lose their commissions. But their victims and the many other victims, like my sisters, likely wake up in the middle of the night from time to time, shaking and trembling with dread.

*

“I believe that you are not the angel as portrayed by your counsel and the letters of support submitted on your behalf,” the Judge told Owen Labrie at his sentencing. “But neither are you the devil as portrayed by the prosecution.”

Was Labrie a devil? An angel?  I say, it’s not a relevant question. Neither he nor Brock Turner was either mythical creature. Devils and angels are religious/imaginary terminology, and do not belong in a judicial proceeding.  But speaking of angels and such, why are churches all over our country not speaking up? The tendency to believe the man, even against multiple accusations, or to minimize the trauma to the woman, is part of a general attitude—like “separate but equal.” No real harm done…

To my mind, if they are not part of the solution—whether they are churches or corporate CEO’s or judges—they are part of the problem. #times up on sexual assault.

So let us conclude with, it is #timetodotime. Women will never achieve social and workplace equality if men can assault with impunity. A slap on the wrist is not enough. Let’s make sure these men are convicted and actually sent to prison for their misdeeds. This means it can’t be just women who are outraged. Upstanding men, too, must speak up. And together we must demand trials and suitable sentencing. 

#Timetodotime

In my 30 or so years working in the corporate world, I was always thankful that I had escaped any sexual harassment in the workplace. Many times I faced gender bias on getting a job or getting promotions, but I was never actually assaulted at work. I felt terrible for the women who suffered at the hands of powerful men, emboldened by their positions to take advantage of the women. But that does not mean I escaped the curse. As the Twitter hashtag #me too revealed, if you ask any woman, chances are she will tell you a story of how she or a relative or friend was sexually harassed or assaulted.
In my sophomore year of high school, a fellow student began to follow me around school and asked me out repeatedly. I politely declined and asked him to quit following me. Instead, he followed me everywhere. He lived on another bus route, but he began taking my school bus in the afternoon and often walked behind me the three blocks from the bus stop to my home, then stood outside calling my name.
Junior year, senior year… Some evenings he would call me on the phone every 15 minutes, all evening long. My parents reported the situation to the police over and over again. They also spoke to the boy’s parents, who apologized and placed a lock on their home phone. But the boy kept following me and calling. It was horrible, unnerving to see that guy everywhere I went.
When I left for college 200 miles away, he transferred his interest to my younger sister, sitting outside the house in our rhododendron bushes and calling her name. One night she awoke to a man in her room, his hand over her mouth, telling her to be quiet. Our 80 pound yellow mutt, Charlie, had heard a strange noise, though, and came barking into the room. The intruder jumped out the window onto the porch roof and was gone. The police never figured out who it was. We were pretty sure we knew.
“Well, lucky you have a good dog,” the police said. “And the main thing is, no one was hurt.”
Six or seven years later, it was the start of the fall semester of another sister’s sophomore year at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. A stiflingly hot, August day, she had spent many hours moving into a house she planned to share with three friends near the campus. That evening a thunderstorm was approaching, and at dusk her roommates all went out to watch the thunder and lightening move in across the corn fields. My sister, though, sweating profusely after a day of lugging around boxes, begged off the adventure. She put in another hour or so of unpacking, then lay down in the near 100 degree heat in her second story bedroom to rest. She fell asleep lying on top of her sheets, wearing only her underwear.
She awoke some time later to a hand across her face and a man on top of her. He had probably broken into what looked to him like an empty house, to rob stereos and anything else that looked interesting. Once in the house, he decided she looked like a nice plum to pick. He managed to pull off her underwear and was close to penetration when she fought him off.
And then he pulled out a gun. “Stop fighting or I’ll shoot,” he ordered, aiming the gun at her head.
When she continued to struggle, he pulled the trigger.
She cringed.
The gun misfired.
She took advantage of the attacker’s surprise to run screaming into another room, and he climbed back out the window he’d gotten in through.
It would be hours till her roommates got home. The phone was not installed yet, and no curtains had even been hung. Sure that the intruder would return to retrieve his pillowcases full of loot, which were lying in the hallway where he had abandoned them, my sister sat alone for hours in the dark at the kitchen table holding a butcher knife, not collapsing into tears until her friends returned home.
When the police finally arrived, they determined that nothing had actually been stolen, so they were not really interested in pursuing the incident. They made a few half-hearted efforts to find her attacker, but gave up after a few weeks, so there was no arrest, no trial. “You shouldn’t have had the window open,” they said. They told her, basically, that there was no harm done, “at least he didn’t actually rape you,” and she was lucky the gun misfired.
We called her Wonder Woman and gave her silly Wonder Woman gifts, trying to emphasize how great it was that she stood up to the man; that she’d fought him off. The truth, of course, is that she’d have died on the spot if that gun hadn’t misfired. Her attacker was holding it inches from her head. The episode still haunts her; her counselor tells her she suffers from PTSD.
My sisters and I never saw our attackers put on trial. We spoke up. We tried to get justice. Police, family and friends all knew that sexual assault had happened, but no one was punished. I am excited at the new energy in the feminist sphere. #metoo and #timesup are both powerful movements. But I fear that few, if any of the many sexual harassers outed in 2017 will ever be brought to a criminal trial, much less found guilty, and even less likely punished with jail terms. Yet I know deep inside, that nothing will change significantly until the perpetrators of gender harassment are punished through the penal system.

Turner and Labrie

Consider two famous recent cases, where two perpetrators of sexual assault who were actually arrested and found guilty in a trial, got little in the way of punishment.
Late one evening in 2015, tourists in Stanford, California came across a young white man molesting a woman who lay unconscious on a sidewalk. They rushed to stop him, then held him till the police arrived. The next spring, a jury found Brock Turner—described in newspaper accounts as a freshman swimmer at Stanford University—guilty of three felony counts: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person, and penetration of an unconscious person.
His sentence? Despite calls from the prosecutor for a strong one, in June of 2016, Judge Aaron Persky sentenced him to only six months in prison for this violent crime. When he was released in August of 2016, he had spent less than 3 months in jail.
“I think you have to take the whole picture in terms of what impact imprisonment has on a specific individual’s life. And the impact statements that have been—or the, really, character letters that have been submitted, do show a huge collateral consequence for Mr. Turner based on the conviction,” the judge is reported to have said at the sentencing hearing.
Had the woman he raped not suffered a huge “collateral consequence?”
“An outrage!” many media outlets proclaimed. People marched and carried signs. The internet and 24 hour news channels were filled with calls for change. Was this the case that would finally get people to approach sexual assault as a crime? After all, this young man raped a woman who was lying unconscious on the sidewalk.
But wait—another young, white, privileged sex offender had been released just a month before Turner’s sentencing, also after doing very little prison time. On August 28, 2015, Owen Labrie, a high school senior, was convicted of sexually assaulting a female classmate about a year before, at St. Paul’s Prep School in New Hampshire, an elite, church-affiliated school. He had been on trial for felony rape, which could have carried up to 20 years in prison, but the jury acquitted Labrie of that, instead assigning the lesser charge. The victim wasn’t identified by name in official documents because she was only 15 years old at the time of the sexual assault.
Labrie and his buddies, upperclassmen at the school, had been playing a game of conquest, competing to see how many freshman and sophomore girls they could deflower. He had convinced this girl that he really cared about her and so managed to earn a notch for his belt.
Before sentencing, Labrie’s mother, Denise Holland, submitted a letter to the judge asking for probation only, for her son. She wrote that Labrie had become despondent and suicidal as “so many years of dedication and hard work dissolved before him.” The judge seemed sympathetic to the mother’s pleas but said he couldn’t ignore what Labrie had done to the young girl. And then he sentenced him to only six months in prison. When he was released in May of 2016, like Turner, Labrie had served only about half of that.
For speaking out, the young girl was harassed on social media for years, called all sorts of terrible slurs. And for this he served only a couple of months in prison.

It is hard to believe, reading about these cases, that so much attention was placed on how a long sentence would damage these young men’s futures. The judges were completely drawn into imagining how these “otherwise promising” young men would suffer. Yet it was Turner who branded himself as a criminal, when he chose to take advantage of an unconscious woman. And LaBrie had turned his back on his own future when he chose to act the sexual predator.
There is something about a young, well-to-do white man that seems to beg that the courts consider his “promise.” But what sort of promise do these men hold, anyway? As far as I can tell, it is the promise of future sexual assaults on other unsuspecting young women. It is certainly not a promise for a future career as a scientist, college professor or priest.
At least, in these two cases, the men were found guilty of something. They will have to register as convicted sexual offenders for the rest of their lives. (One of them has reopened his case to try to get that requirement lifted.) The presence of a corroborating witness in one case and the age of the victim in the other demanded that something be done. Still, a few months in jail for possibly ruining the lives of these young women?
And although the perpetrators were arrested and found guilty, the pathetically weak sentencing is only half of the insult to these women. After stepping forward and filing charges, the women were tried by the jury of public opinion, and found by many of them to be almost as guilty as their rapists.The internet is full of vile comments about them, which anyone can find as a matter of record. No wonder so many women don’t get up the courage to speak up until many years have passed and they are perhaps in a more powerful position, or until they find strength in numbers.
Recently, women of the Air Force Academy have come forward to report that not only were several women raped by their colleagues over the past several years, but also that senior officials did little or nothing to punish the men. The women, meanwhile have been subjected to terrible hazing and mistreatment, in punishment for speaking up, ratting on their peers. Several female Air Force cadets resigned, rather than be subjected to the daily abuse. The perpetrators have gone on to graduate.

Aftermath
Both my sisters are still haunted by their experience of waking up with a strange man on top of them. The Air Force cadets and women of our armed services who have been assaulted and then tormented for speaking up, have seen their entire life changed. The victims of Turner and Labrie likely still relive their experiences, as well. Their lives will never be the same; their peaceful, happy futures were stolen by fellow cadets, Turner and Labrie, and unknown men who crept in windows in the middle of the night.

Punishment?
The U. S. in 2016 and 2017 has seen an explosion of complaints about sexual misconduct. Millions of women and men wrote and spoke and posted about Bill Cosby and Hollywood moguls and high level politicians harassing and even assaulting women and girls. But after a period of time for the outrage to die down, how much will change? Despite more than a dozen accusers, Bill Cosby’s trial ended in a mistrial.
Will Donald Trump or Charlie Rose or Matt Lauer—and on and on—ever face legal repercussions for their alleged misconduct? Or will powerful men continue to take advantage of attractive young women, and escape, even if found out, with little more than a slap on the wrist as punishment? Only days days after Matt Lauer was fired, I already heard a news commentator wondering aloud about how the accused men could be helped to salvage their careers. The speaker—on a radio news program—seemed full of sympathy at how an otherwise “brilliant career” was now damaged. Bah! What about the women who gave up on their careers because of the harassment and general hostility they faced in the workplace? Women who decided it wasn’t worth it, and went back to their hometown.
After all the revelations about these famous men, Labrie and Turner’s names have been almost forgotten. They are a stark reminder, though, that accusations are one thing. Appropriate punishment is something else. Somehow when it comes to the trial, there always seem to be people who convince themselves that the women are probably exaggerating. Or that they likely had consensual sex then changed their mind and decided to take some man for all the money she could get. Or who just don’t want to damage some “promising” man’s career for something that they consider “no harm done.”
What we see is that whenever the public is drawn into a highly publicized sexual assault case, there is some outrage for a while, but there is no institutional change. The Hollywood led outrage is stronger than most I’ve seen, but will it change anything? The perpetrators are seen as tragic aberrations of otherwise fine, upstanding young men who would never do something like this. Or successful men who just made some minor error in judgement. Turner and Labrie have gone on with their lives. The high profile sexual assaulters will likely talk their way out of prison terms. I hope a few cadets will lose their commissions. But their victims and the many other victims, like my sisters, likely wake up in the middle of the night from time to time, shaking and trembling with dread.
*
“I believe that you are not the angel as portrayed by your counsel and the letters of support submitted on your behalf,” the Judge told Owen Labrie at his sentencing. “But neither are you the devil as portrayed by the prosecution.”
Was Labrie a devil? An angel?
I say, it’s not a relevant question. Neither he nor Brock Turner was either mythical creature. Devils and angels are religious/imaginary terminology, and do not belong in a judicial proceeding.
But speaking of angels and such, why are churches all over our country not speaking up? The tendency to believe the man, even against multiple accusations, or to minimize the trauma to the woman, is part of a general attitude—like “separate but equal.” No real harm done…

To my mind, if they are not part of the solution—whether they are churches or corporate CEO’s or judges—they are part of the problem. #times up on sexual assault.
And #timetodotime. Women will never achieve social and workplace equality if men can assault with impunity. Let’s make sure these men are convicted and actually sent to prison for their misdeeds. This means it can’t be just women who are outraged. Upstanding men, too, must speak up. And together we must demand trials and suitable sentencing.

Niagara Falls

The glaciers are melting! In great, huge sheets, huge chunks fall from the enormous northern icecaps and crash into the sea. No, I am not describing the Arctic in 2018. This is about 12,000 years ago, the end of the last, great Ice Age, and the mountains of snow and ice are receding northward through the mountain valleys they had carved many years before, when they were in the ascent.

And why am I telling you about Niagara Falls?  Keep reading. It has something to do with the #metoo movement.  Pretend I’m Rachel Maddow with an offbeat story that suddenly makes sense.

As the glaciers melt, torrents pouring from their southernmost boundaries gradually collect into huge pools that become the Great Lakes. And on the eastern edge of these lakes, huge torrents rush along what will become the Niagara River. Rushing, churning, the frigid waters pour over the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, a cliff of hard rock, at what is now Lewiston, New York, about seven miles east of the current Niagara Falls.
Almost immediately the water of the newly-formed falls begins to cut into the cliff over which it pours. But below the flowing water is sedimentary rock, made of layers of harder and softer substances, a little like layers of a cake, with frosting or jelly a different consistency than the cake layers it separates. The highest underground layer of rock, the layer at the top of the cliff and directly under the flowing water, is made of a type of stone called Lockport dolomite – a very hard, erosion-resistant material. The underlying layers of rock (those that support the dolomite), however, are mostly soft. Gradually, the rushing water from the river above the falls pushes its way down through cracks in the dolomite layer and into the layers of softer rock below.
Moving water is an insistent knife. It pushes at and carves through the softer stone until the pressure of the water pushes one section, then another of the soft under-layers out from the face of the cliff and into the falling water. When these soft layers are sheared off by the water pouring over the escarpment, the support for the top layer of harder dolomite is gone. With nothing left underneath to hold up the top edge of the cliff, crash! the dolomite layer collapses under its own weight and falls to the base of the cliff at the bottom of the falls, where the cascading water pounds down on the rubble, wearing it slowly away. Thousands of years pass. This seeping, pushing, and crashing repeats and repeats, and little by little the soft under-layers of the cliff continue to shear away behind the falls. The dolomite at the brink of the falls continues to collapse as its support is removed, and the falls move slowly upstream.  Today, 12,000 years later, the escarpment that we saw Marilyn Monroe and Joseph Cotton looked out over, in the movie Niagara, has moved more than seven miles upstream from its original location, and in the process it carved out the Niagara Gorge – a seven-mile canyon.Horseshoe-Falls-49345
The Falls continue to move slowly upstream today.  But the process is mostly invisible. Years and years go by, with no visible change, until suddenly, the erosion of the under layer reaches a point where it can no longer support the top layer, and a huge chunk of rock collapses. This is why visitors to the Falls now see a huge pile of rubble at its base. That is how the many caves that modern tourists visit were created. Seven miles in 12,000 years… The erosion in the  lower, softer stone layers has been slow but steady. But up top, what is visible to the eye, happens in sudden bursts. One day, the Niagara Falls tumble over the cliff at a certain point, and the next moment several feet of the top stone layer suddenly crack off and crash to the foot of the cliff.

application to today
Human history is like the Niagara river. Changes happen invisibly, little by little, until suddenly, in what seems like overnight, their effects can be seen. It’s a little like watching your children grow. I remember when my second child was born. My older daughter was almost five, and when she came to visit us at the hospital, I was startled at how large her hand was. Up to this point, I had thought she was so little, my baby. But after a couple of days of getting used to my new 6 ½ pound second child, Charlotte looked almost all grown up.
That’s what it feels like when I think of the evolution in our national and international political systems, religious/spiritual institutions, social mores, etc. If I try to line up today with fifty years ago, when I was a young college girl, I am surprised beyond belief. At what point did all the all male business and professional schools become coed? And in my personal life, at what point did my daughter go from toddler to small child? From adolescent to adult?

This is what we are seeing today with the #metoo movement. Women have been pushing on the boundaries for years now. Civil rights legislation got us in the door and into well paying factory jobs and white collar management ranks. But persistent harassment from male peers has sent many women running for the nearest exit. Maybe now, something will happen that is positive. Maybe now the rocks will crack, tumble and sheer off.  Let us hope so. Let us all be that insistent, shearing knife. Let us all demand, No more. Let us help our most needy women peers get the satisfaction they need in order to continue working. And let us work tirelessly to bring punishment to their tormentors.

We may see a female president yet.

 

September 11, 2001

 

One beautiful September morning, as I was driving to work, crossing the Hudson River on the Tappanzee Bridge, I caught sight of the Twin Towers off to the south, shining in the sunlight. I should be down there at that seminar, I thought to myself.
In August, I had signed up for a breakfast seminar scheduled for this morning in New York City, touted as, “How to Manage your Investment Portfolio: an Update for Busy Community Bankers.” Among my many responsibilities as chief financial officer at Provident Bank, one was to manage the bank’s investments. This seminar sounded like a perfect review. I called and reserved a spot and taped the postcard invitation onto the side of my computer screen as a reminder: 8 AM, September 11, 2001, World Trade Center, Windows on the World, the restaurant on the top floor of one of the towers.
Three weeks went by, and my workload piled up. One of my best people quit for another job that did not require so much overtime. The HR department was slow to find a replacement, and I was working till 8 or 9 o’clock most evenings. The date for the seminar approached. I would have to get up by 5 AM to catch a train into the city for a breakfast meeting. Then I’d have to come back to my office and catch up on mounds of work. The seminar looked less and less appealing. I called to cancel, tossing the invitation into my wastebasket.
As I drove into work that day, I thought sorry I’m missing it, but I just can’t be two places at the same time. A few minutes later, crowded into the break room with a crowd of staff and coworkers, I stood in front of a TV, watching the towers collapse. About sixty of us huddled around the white Formica tables and turquoise plastic chairs, in a room that generally held about a dozen people. Many of us knew people who worked in those buildings. Marissa, my accounting clerk, ran from the room crying, “My sister!”
Suddenly panicked, I rushed to my desk and called my daughters, worried until I could hear their voices. Loretta was safe. She worked evenings, and was still in bed in her apartment in Queens. “Huh? What are you talking about?” She flipped on her TV.
A tide of co-workers ran to their desks, the same thoughts in their minds. The circuits jammed; I didn’t get through to my older daughter, who lived and worked in Manhattan, for nearly an hour. Many of us didn’t reach loved ones till much later in the day. All day long, we’d wander in and out of that break room, watching the endless loop of planes crashing into the second tower and each tower, in turn, pancaking into rubble.
When I returned home across the bridge that evening, a pillar of smoke rose from the south. Over the next few weeks, I mourned with all Americans the senseless tragedies of that day.
But as time has passed, and as I’ve tried to comprehend what had happened that sunny morning, I keep remembering the TV news clips that showed Afghan people, many of them women, whooping with a high decibel trill and dancing in the streets with glee. They had almost gotten me, I kept thinking. What had I ever done to them? What had any of the people in those buildings done to them? Aside from the violence of the terrorists that day, though, I kept thinking about what life was like for those women of the Middle East.
Afghan cities had been almost as modern as Istanbul only a few decades before. Afghan women had gone to school and become doctors and teachers and accountants. Before the revolution in Iran and the decades of civil war in Afghanistan, many women in those countries had even stopped wearing the traditional headscarf. Now they were shrouded from head to toe in black shapeless robes. Swept up in a tide of Islamic fundamentalist reform, they were forbidden to leave their homes without a brother or husband to look after them. They were not allowed to work, even if widowed. They could be stoned to death for even the suspicion of adultery or anything that would “dishonor” the men of their family. And as wars have raged through Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, as well as Africa, women have continued to bear the brunt of the suffering, often kidnapped and raped with impunity by Taliban and ISIS extremists.
How did their society devolve so precipitously? Why did it devolve in this way? It seemed they had chosen to make women the scapegoats for all the problems the people of their society faced. As the months have gone by, the question in my mind has changed to, is it happening here? TV and newspaper pundits debate how best to protect our U. S. cities from further terrorism; I ponder how we might protect U. S. women from fundamentalist slavery.
Women in the West have come a long way since the Civil Rights Legislation of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Could we lose the rights we’ve gained over the past fifty years? And might fundamentalist religion be behind the loss? Might it already be behind some of our problems?
Although women today make up 46.3% of the U. S. labor force, and 50.6% of management, professional and related occupations, we make up only 15.4% of Fortune 500 corporate officers. And we make up only 6.7% of the top earners at those companies. For many years we’ve made up a large percentage of the recipients of MBA and LLD degrees. It’s been over fifty years since the enactment of equal employment legislation. Still, women hold only about 14.8% of Fortune 500 company board seats, and often it is one lonely woman working with eight or ten men, where she is pressured to fit in, unable to truly express herself. Of the companies that make up the top 1,000 U. S. companies, only 22 have a female CEO.
Even more distressing, however, is the rise of violence toward women. Rape is epidemic. Yet our society elected an admitted sexual molester. Achievements in women’s civil rights, such as the right to control when or if to become pregnant, are threatened. Insurance policies cover Viagra—an unimportant extra, but many do not cover women’s birth control—often a necessity. The right-leaning Supreme Court–many of its members influenced by conservative religious beliefs–is poised to reverse Roe v. Wade.
There are many lessons to be learned from the violence and suffering on and after September 11, 2001. Of course a primary lesson is an awareness of the need to protect ourselves from violent terrorists.  I have learned how fragile women’s rights are. With knowledge comes power. Studying history can help us make better choices, hopefully to protect the rights women have gained in the past century and to further women’s road to equality.

 

Women in Tech, and Other Fables

For years we’ve heard talk about the need for more women in the STEM fields. Are women suitable to work in the tech fields, and so on. The babble I’ve heard so far skips over the fact that there are still not a representative number of women in the top ranks of any company in any sector. Tech is just a little bit worse.

Despite women making up 50% or more of MBAs and CPAs over the past forty or more years, women make up a pitiful percentage – less than 10% – of CEOs, CFOs and board members of large American Corporations. The man who wrote the much-discussed memo at Google raised issues which he believed made women unsuitable for positions of consequence in tech companies. But he could just as easily be writing about women anywhere in senior management. The fact is, that men control the C-suite and the boardroom, and they invent all sorts of reasons for why women can’t hack it.

The problem is that men in power assign importance to peripheral, non-critical skills and attitudes. For example. Suppose all the men at the upper echelons at a big company smoked a pipe. Because none of the women at the middle management level smoke a pipe at this company, they are not considered for the most senior positions. The fact that this particular group of men all smoke a pipe has nothing to do with whether they are good, bad, or indifferent managers. This is a peripheral, non-critical characteristic, that should have nothing to do with promotability.  The reasons most men raise for women’s unsuitability for the C-suite and the boardroom make just about as much sense as pipe smoking.

Early in my career, I was facing terrible resistance at my particular company to my participation as a professional in corporate finance.  A woman in HR advised me that if I would go out drinking with some of the men after work I might be able to move up. I was the single mother of two daughters and could not do that. And anyway, what did drinking Bass Ale (the drink of choice that year) with some men from the office have to do with my financial, analytical skills? A non-critical fable.

Here’s a real story. When I was in third or fourth grade, the neighborhood bully, Harry Chrysler, beat up my little brother. Johnny was in kindergarten or first grade, and came home with a bloody arm that had been scraped across the pavement when Harry beat him up. I told my brother to follow me, marched across the street and attacked Harry like a windmill, unaware that I was the shrimp in my class and he was at least a foot taller than me. I lit into him with all my might, at some point ending up sitting on him, pounding on his back and shoulders with my shoe until he would tell my brother he was sorry. He finally did, and ran home crying when I let him up. My brother became a successful doctor, and I rose to chief financial officer of a good-sized bank. My willingness or non willingness to go out drinking with the boys had nothing to do with anything.

I may not have gone about things in quite the same way as a man. I don’t know. We accept all sorts of different management styles from men. But I do know that I knew what I was doing and the departments I was responsible for over the years of my working career did well. I am now the only woman on the board of directors of a community bank, and I believe I make a contribution to its governance. I not only know banking inside out, I believe I am also a lamp post, shining a light on a path junior women at the bank may follow.

Men who complain about women in management in their field are likely men who saw a woman get promoted over them. I don’t know the particular circumstances faced by the author of the piece being discussed, but I can reflect on how some lacksidaisical men I worked with complained when I got promoted over them.  I can remember when a boss who liked my work and was trying to promote me asked me to “just don’t wear pink” to an important meeting. I can remember when a CEO I reported to snapped at me, “You’re not their mother,” when I told him we needed to add staff because the department was working too many long hours.

Gender bias is real. And women who want to go into tech or finance or whatever deserve to compete in a level playing field.

 

 

The Lost Commandments

BREAKING NEWS – BREAKING NEWS

A spokesperson has confirmed that archeologists have discovered a fragment of writings that are almost certainly an early version of the Ten Commandments, long considered the cornerstone of the Abrahamic religious tradition’s emphasis on justice and fairness.  The scriptures, like the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, were discovered hidden in a large sealed jar which had been buried just outside a site on the Sinai Peninsula. The site was being excavated as part of a new phase of  an Israeli settlement expansion.

It has long been known that the earliest segments of the Old Testament were handed down through oral tradition for hundreds of years before being committed to writing.  There are several stories in Genesis that are presented twice, in two very different ways. For example, when Yahweh created humans, in one case Genesis states “male and female he created them.” Shortly after those verses, another version of the creation of humans states that God created Adam, and when Adam got lonely, God took a rib from Adam’s side and from it created a woman to keep Adam company.  The number of animals included on Noah’s ark also differed between two tellings. In one, pairs of every kind of animal were taken on board; in another, only seven pairs of animals.  It is believed that these and other contradictory tellings are the result of the inclusion of different oral traditions at the time the Hebrews were committing their history to writing.

And now archeologists confirm that a competing version of the ten commandments has recently been found. (please read all the way to the end)

This is (in abridged form) the text of Exodus 20, verses 1-17

“I am the Lord your God, You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 12 “Honor your father and your mother,13 “You shall not murder.14 “You shall not commit adultery.15 “You shall not steal.16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

The Baltimore Chatechism, the foundation of every Catholic school child’s education, reads as follows:

  1. I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt not have strange gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  3. Remember thou keep holy the Lords Day.
  4. Honor thy father and thy mother.
  5. Thou shall not kill.
  6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  7. Thou shalt not steal.
  8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors wife.
  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors goods.

THE NEW DISCOVERY

And this, in abridged form, is the text of the ten commands of the Lord according to the newly discovered scrolls.

  1. I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, nor shall you misuse My name
  2. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
  3. Honor your father and your mother.
  4. Men, look after your wife and children, and treat them with kindness, for they are dear to the Lord.
  5. You shall not murder.
  6. You shall not rape, nor shall you take advantage of young children in a sexual manner.
  7. You shall not commit adultery, nor shall you fantasize about or stalk a woman who is not interested in you.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. For even the coveting is anathema to the Lord your God.

*****

When I was a child, I had always noticed that the last two Catholic commandments were kind of repetitive.  And I wondered why adultery and coveting your neighbor’s wife were listed separately, as well.  But I am amazed and fortified to learn of these two lost commandments.

Said Karl Druski, the German leading the recovery effort, “In the oral tradition, counting the number of items or mandates in a story was an oft-used way to make sure you didn’t leave anything out in the retelling.  Once it had been settled that there were ten commands, it was important to repeat ten. What likely happened is someone realized he had noted only eight, couldn’t come up with the missing two, so made up the two lame ones at the end.  And for some reason, this is the version that survived to become part of the Hebrew Bible.

Sirena Glaston, a British researcher and paleoanthropologist disagrees with the opinion of Professor Druski.  “It is clear to me that whoever dropped these two commands was a man who did not want his sexual conduct controlled in this way.  Commandments 4 and 6, in particular, both tell men that they must treat women and children with respect, and they may not beat or abuse their wife and children in any way, but must take responsibility for their care. One segment, badly damaged by rodent activity, appears to tell men not to grab women’s pussies, but because two male anthropologists on the team disputed that interpretation, it was dropped from the official transcript.”  Archeologists and religious historians who agree with Professor Glaston hypothesize that to come up with ten commandments after dropping the two that men might find inconvenient, the author broke up the first and last commands, which were quite long, anyway, into two separate ones.

It will be some time before the religious historical community will be able to come to agreement on the veracity of this finding. But its existence will likely make a great impact on moral teaching around the globe.

*****

The newly discovered commandments:

Men, look after your wife and children, and treat them with kindness, for they are dear to the Lord.

You shall not rape, nor shall you take advantage of young children in a sexual manner.

 

author’s note:  If only this were true.  These commandments are needed, but sadly missing.

 

#Why I March

When the women’s march on Washington was first announced, I was skeptical.  What was the point?  Why march around on a cold January day?  Yes, many women I know, myself included, thought Trump was despicable, but what could we change by marching around?

I am so glad I gave it a chance.

What I discovered is that participating with women (and many men) of all walks of life was an invigorating experience in and of itself. It had seemed that everywhere I turned for the past few years, everyone seemed to be saying that feminism wasn’t necessary anymore, that women had already shattered the glass ceiling, what was my problem? Why couldn’t I see that? I felt like I must be missing something. But as I listened and I looked around at my fellow marchers on Saturday, I didn’t feel so alone anymore.

Becoming part of a community

I liken joining the march to the experience I had when I got to know the mental illness advocacy community.

When my brother Paul, who suffered from severe, persistent, and treatment-resistant schizophrenia was released from the state hospital in the 1990’s, he was obviously still terribly ill.  I thought the hospital administrators had made a mistake.  I thought that they hadn’t realized he was unlike the vast majority of people they were releasing from mental hospitals, people who had apparently recovered with the help of modern medications. My brother was hardly helped at all by the modern psychotropic drugs. He was totally confused and unable to care for himself. I thought, and members of my family thought, that if we could just explain how ill he was, someone would help us get him into a supervised living facility with doctors and nurses to help him. The next fifteen years were a struggle, until it ended in Paul’s early death at age 48.

After I wrote a book about my family’s experience of trying to get him better care, I came in contact with hundreds of other people who were fighting the same battle.  It wasn’t until then that I realized that I wasn’t alone. Paul was not an unusual case. He was one of the 4% of our US population who suffer from a debilitating serious mental illness -10 million people – most of whom are getting totally inadequate care. Our health care system has abandoned the most seriously ill – too difficult, too expensive – in effect saying let them die, it’s not our problem. I became an advocate for change to the system and hope I played a small part in pressuring congress, and leading to legislation that was passed in December of last year.

So why do I tell this story?

Because we women, and the men, women and children who will lose their health care when the ACA is repealed, as well as the LGBT community, and the people who have been fighting for sensible environmental laws and urban planning in anticipation of the impact of global climate change — each of us needs to know we are not alone. We can become part of a humanist coalition to demand change. We can run for office and support others with like minds to run for office.

My issues

To make an impact, each of us has to focus on one or two issues that are most important to us. And each of us needs to take tangible action to improve our world.

Discrimination against women in the workplace is my most pressing issue. It is often much more subtle these days, compared to the Mad Men days, and women have moved up to earning almost 80% of what men make. But I say, “80% is not enough!”

It’s not enough for companies to hire a woman in a managerial position – if her supervisor and peers then hobble her, making it difficult for her to be successful. We deserve fair and equal treatment. I will do my best to hold up a mirror to men’s prejudices, letting men know what they are doing and how it impacts their female coworkers.

It’s not enough to “allow” a woman in the room for a strategic meeting – if you then ignore her observations and suggestions, and/or give credit for the idea to a man at the table who happens to repeat her remarks ten minutes later. We must call men on it. And hope that they will eventually get the cotton out of their ears and hear us.

Connected to my first issue is violence against women.  It’s not enough to encourage your daughters to attend a prestigious university – if the university’s policies turn a blind eye to campus rape and repeated sexual assault wherever she goes on campus. How can she become a self-assured and confident woman in the workplace and government if she is afraid of being assaulted? To end this violence, we must teach young men that his is not OK, support women who file charges of sexual assault, pay attention to their suffering, and pressure judges to give meaningful sentences to men found guilty.

And also connected with this issue is access to affordable birth control.  If a woman cannot control pregnancy, it is very hard for her to play a meaningful role in the workplace and political sphere. Discrimination against women is glaringly obvious in the first days of the Trump administration, as Republicans and Trump eliminate the requirement to charge the same thing for both male and female insurance policies and to cover birth control. Also, the gag rule against mentioning abortion as an option to an unwanted pregnancy was reinstated on domestic and international aid. This will unfairly hobble women at home and around the world as they attempt to responsibly plan their families.

I am heartened by gathering with so many women, heartened to know I am not alone.  My concerns are real.  And these will be issues I will work on in coming months.