Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Cowgirl Way

Late afternoon update: Please do read today's Starr Ann below, but I just wanted to alert my sister Tina Fey lovers (well, not lovers lovers, but you know, those of us who love her) to the following article posted today on Dorothy Surrenders. Ms. Snarker is suitably hyperbolic and I could not have gushed more loquaciously my own self. Please go wallow in the Tina-ness if you so desire.
P.S. I'll be out of the office for the rest of the day. Oh, yes.


While we cleaned up the horses last night, our conversation somehow got to that lawsuit where Anucha Browne Sanders won $11.6 million from Madison Square Gardens in a sexual harrassment case against Isiah Thomas.

Jodie wanted to know if either Starr Ann or I ever ran into anything like that. We said yeah, and told her about the trainer on the racetrack who got it into his head that I should find him irrestible, no matter how clear I made it to him that he wasn't.

"So how did you handle that?"

Starr Ann said, "The cowgirl way. We cornered the gentleman one dark morning just outside the men's washrooms and made implications about the future viability of his personal plumbing." Starr Ann moved around to Oatmeal's other side. "He never said one word to Margo after that. Stopped staring at her, too."

We could tell Jodie approved. She said cases like this recent one always bother her, even though they do provide a degree reparation. Jodie doesn't feel comfortable with what she calls the institutionalization of sexual harrassment, because it demonstrates no shift in the power structure. Basically, a man uses his position of power to impose himself on a woman and that woman has to appeal to other men to resolve it for her, or not. It all depends on the way that particular male run system decides to deal with her.

Sounded like Jodie had some experience in the matter, and it turns out she did.
When Jodie was in college, her department hired a new professor. He was real cocky and hit the place running. He talked everybody up, cultivated whomever he decided needed cultivating and generally made his high ambitions known.

Jodie was just a few credit hours away from becoming a grad student and was taking one of his courses. About halfway through, he asked her to stay after class. In a very flattering way, he offered to take her on as his graduate assistant, even before she actually finished her first degree. It meant extra money, and lots of valuable experience, and just a big leg up on her career.

This professor worked things so he and Jodie were together quite a bit. And she could tell he really enjoyed it when somebody made a snide remark about that.

Long story short, she was taking her final undergrad course as a one-on-one with him, to expedite her degree. He came into the office he'd given her and started in on one of his stories about cave rescue. He loved to boast about his caving exploits. Anyway, this story was very different from the others in that it featured a highly detailed description of a sexual act concerning men, something she could have gone her whole life without knowing and didn't even want to repeat to Starr Ann and me.

Jodie walked out of the office and down to the women's restroom to think. Her options were limited. She could go to the chairman of the department, with whom she got along quite well. But then she'd have to repeat all those sick details. And she'd have to repeat them many times before the whole thing was finished. In the end, the professor would probably end up reprimanded at most, but knowing him, he'd swagger around and play up his new bad boy status.

She decided to cowgirl the situation.

First thing she did was remove her things from the office he'd given her. Next, she marched directly to the most sought-after advisor in the department, the biggest grant-getter, and declared her desire to become his graduate assistant. Neither of them mentioned the other professor in that conversation. That relationship lasts to this day and has been highly professional. He's apparently a very honorable person.

After that, she quit working on the one-on-one course. Then when he gave her an Incomplete grade at the end of the semester, she called his house. His wife answered and was awfully nice. When he came to the phone, Jodie told him he accidentally gave her an I instead of her A. The way she said it, he didn't even skip a beat. He said he'd fix the mistake. By that time he was pretty worried about what she'd do next, because the fact that she'd dropped him without one word and gone to work for the other professor already had rumors flying over what he could have done.

Anyway, this didn't end being short like I said, but the bottom line was that Jodie leveraged every bit of personal power she had to put this guy in a very uncomfortable position in the department. And he was looking for tenure. He ended up, she swears, taking a job at another university two years later. She likes to feel she was instrumental in that move and that he will never impose himself like that on another woman. Who knows about that last part.

Starr Ann thought about it all for a few minutes and said something we never thought we'd hear from her lips. She actually said, "We're never going to get out of Iraq, anyway, no matter who gets elected. Maybe four years with a woman in such a symbolically powerful spot as the White House, even Hillary, would help shift things a bit."

All I can say is Hillary should be encouraged by the possibility of Starr Ann's support. Because a vote from Starr Ann is more like many votes from Starr Ann. She might not have a trackable identity, but after the 2000 election, she's registered to vote, under one id or another, in lots of precincts near us. Don't even ask me how she did it.