In 2009, and for several years after, I spent a lot of time talking about clergy sexual abuse. These were not social science conversations. This was personal.
Family and friends gave me the enormous gift of listening supportively to my tale of abuse and manipulation – starting at age 19 – by the 67-year-old man who was my childhood minister. Finally being able to speak my story out loud was a critical step in healing from the intense physical and emotional pain these events had caused. I had been silent about this for so long.
When the #MeToo Movement took off this fall, I felt at first that I had already had my “me too moment.” In the phraseology of Time Magazine, I had already been a “silence breaker.”
But this is a critical time in our country’s history, and I’ve decided I want to weigh in again now.
I’ve used this blog to reflect on three areas that are important to me: poverty and homelessness; nonprofit leadership; and gender issues. #MeToo ties to all three:
Poverty and Homelessness:
Long before I was able to acknowledge to myself that what happened in my youth was sexual abuse – back when I had a totally different and completely wrong-headed internal narrative of these events in my own life – I was simultaneously focused on the abuse of other women. That’s because histories of abuse – physical, emotional, and sexual – are such a common factor in the lives of homeless and very low-income women.
It’s good now to hear from famous women, rich women, powerful women. Their stories remind us that harassment, assault, and abuse – like the rain – fall on rich and poor, black and white. They remind us that even in a life of privilege, the impact can be devastating.
But in the human services sector, one quickly learns that the impact of harassment, abuse, and assault is greatest on those without power, money, and white privilege. It’s important to keep this knowledge front and center. And it’s essential for organizations focused on poverty and homelessness to place a high priority on providing services aimed at addressing and healing abuse.
Sometimes, it feels like nonprofits are a “woman’s world.” But that’s all about presence.
When it comes to power, men still dominate. Although the latest GuideStar report shows gains in the proportion of nonprofit CEOs who are female, the figures are still depressingly low in large organizations.
Churches, synagogues, and mosques are nonprofits too. In this part of the sector, male domination in leadership frequently extends to the unilateral exclusion of women from the clergy.
Real change in the sexual abuse of power by men will not arrive until women share equally in the power to lead our most important institutions. There’s been a lot of emphasis on politics, business, and the media – but nonprofits are important institutions too.
In her book Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family, Anne-Marie Slaughter proposes that we approach caregiving like athletes approach interval training. She wants us to accept the importance of taking intervals when we step back from – or out of – the work world. Although Slaughter focuses on care for children or elderly parents, it’s essential to accept that it’s also sometimes necessary to spend time caring for ourselves.
The #MeToo Movement has highlighted how much lasting damage has been done to women. This damage can manifest itself in physical and emotional illness, and recovery can take time – especially when the impact of abuse or assault has festered for years.
It needs to be okay for women to step back from the work world for long enough to address and heal from this damage. It also should be okay to return.
I took a long interval away from the work world to attend to my own healing. I was fortunate to be part of a two-income household, to have insurance that covered a wonderful therapist, and to have phenomenal support from a loving husband. But money and marriage shouldn’t be prerequisites to taking time for healing.
As our society comes to grips with how much damage has been done by sexual predation, it’s time to accept that we all benefit when we support the wounded among us as they heal.
I just received an email from someone who is on vacation. Or, perhaps I should say – from someone who is theoretically on vacation.
That reminded me of a passage from Jessica Bennett’s The Feminist Fight Club – An Office Survival Manual (For A Sexist Workplace). This funny and feisty book has much to recommend it. But one small section, entitled “Cell-Free Zone,” made a particular impression on me because it provided such a great example of setting clear boundaries:
Consultant Joan Garry has written an insightful article aimed at helping nonprofit executive directors to take control of their time. She addresses after-hours emailing, but stops short of the clean boundary set by Rhimes.
Garry notes that “late night emails drive staff members crazy.” Indeed. But interestingly, her solution to this problem focuses on when emails are sent, rather than when they are written. She advises saving drafts of after-hours messages to send the next day, or employing an email-scheduling software for that purpose.
In fact, as a Harvard Business Review article Garry references makes clear, there is plentiful evidence that being on duty 24/7 isn’t good for any of us – leaders and staff alike. To enhance creativity and productivity in our professional lives, we need real downtime. To nourish our personal lives, we need to be able to give our families and friends our undivided attention.
I believe that it’s important for leaders to set clear boundaries for themselves, and to refrain from after-hours work – including emails – except in truly urgent or exceptional circumstances. We can use some of Garry’s excellent suggestions to help us limit how often such circumstances occur!
And when we take vacations, let’s take real vacations.
On vacation, it’s typical for our minds still to be whirring with the minutiae of our professional lives for the first day or two. That’s why three-day weekends and quick breaks – while lovely in their way – aren’t enough for true mental rejuvenation: we’ve only just started to unwind when it’s time to return to work. And on a longer vacation, if we read email or otherwise “check in with the office,” we’re cheating ourselves of the real boost that a substantial vacation can bring.
So when it comes to avoiding email on vacations, I suggest remembering the burning-building rule: if the building burns down, they will definitely call you.
I loved Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. So I’ve been thinking about it again in light of a book I just finished, Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges, by Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy.
If you’re not one of the 39 million people who’ve viewed Cuddy’s viral TED talk, you might not know that she became famous for her research on “power posing.” Although some aspects of this research haven’t held up to replication, both her work and other studies have presented convincing evidence that adopting powerful postures (open and expansive) instead of powerless postures (constricted and clenched) causes people to feel more powerful. In other words, body language doesn’t just affect the way others perceive us – it also affects the way we feel about ourselves.
Cuddy’s book expands on this theme and explores an array of social psychology research on the body-mind effect. Her aim is to help us reach a state of presence – in which we believe and trust in ourselves and our own stories.
Reading Presence made me think about how very physical the metaphors in Sheryl Sandberg’s book are – starting with her title phrase, lean in. What does “lean in” really mean, anyway? Sandberg doesn’t define the phrase, but she uses it this way:
In addition to the external barriers erected by society, women are hindered by barriers that exist within ourselves. We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.
Consider all the physical phrases: Lean in. Raise your hand. Don’t pull back. And then, there’s Sandberg’s other signature admonishment: sit at the table! – which she came to after observing women squandering the opportunity to physically place themselves at the center of power by sequestering themselves on the side of the room.
So what can we learn from Amy Cuddy to make it easier to lean into our lives? First, lean in doesn’t mean to scrunch in. Cuddy is best known for poses like “the Wonder Woman” that can be done briefly in privacy before, not during, a challenging event. But even when we are in the middle of a presentation or other challenge, we can keep our bodies as open and expansive as possible. Second, whether we rouse ourselves to “sit at the table,” or are forced by circumstances to take the last seat available at the back of the room, it helps to understand that how we fill our seats affects how we feel in them.
The nonprofit sector – where women generally don’t have a numbers problem, but sometimes still have a power problem – is ripe for the wisdom of Cuddy and Sandberg. How many times have you attended a nonprofit meeting or event where there were significantly more chairs than attendees – and yet, those present were clustered not in proximity to the speaker or facilitator, but in other parts of the room? It’s time to consider the effects of our bodies on our minds – and then sit at the table, fill the front row, and speak up, with confidence.