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Did they just say that? Embedded Sexism in Daily Life

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A number of weeks ago this post got me thinking about my time waiting tables throughout my high school and college career.  Yep, there were times that it sucked because of the sexual harassment some men felt was their right as a paying customer of the restaurant.  I’m delighted this particular pub owner publicly said, “enough.”  I’m also delighted his rant was shared so many times; more visibility is better when it comes to these things.

However, the post also got me thinking about the less blatant sexism that is around us and tolerated (or celebrated) every day.  It is time to shed some light there too; start another, possibly more complicated, conversation.

Exhibit One:  Last month, on the first “shorts weather” day of the spring, I was walking away from an Earth Day celebration downtown, one kiddo holding each hand.  A guy passing us in his truck slowed way down, made eye contact with me, let his eyes drop to my toes and then back up, smiled, and then picked up speed.

Exhibit Two:  A few weeks ago a talented artisan presented a program at a local civic club on the gorgeous Native American flutes he carves by hand.  He mentioned that originally they were used in courtship.  A male voice from the back yells, “hey, can you carve one for me?  I need a wife!”  Another voice responds, “How much for one that will get me a pretty wife?”  A third, “You can’t afford that!”  General laughter.

Exhibit Three:  Just days ago, sharing a picnic with a group of friends.  A couple of them started talking about teenage boys they knew and how only one had a girlfriend.  “How’d he get a girlfriend?” “Oh, you know [insert name of school] girls.”

None of these instances are earth-shattering.  None of them caused me permanent psychological damage or extended grief.  And I can hear the cry from a certain sector already saying that this is all ‘political correctness’ B.S.  However, each and every one of them points to a bigger, foundational problem in our society.  Female objectification is not just a problem of pop culture or the mass media, it is with us constantly.  I used to brush these  things off as generational…that’s the way “those” men were raised, the younger generations know better.  My experience at the picnic, for one, shows that is not true.

The beliefs underlying these situation, unconscious as some may be, have real consequences.  They affect who we hire, who we elect, how we raise our children…

I want to raise my daughter knowing to her core that she does not exist to provide an attractive resting place for the male gaze.  I want to raise my son knowing to his core that the girls and women in his life are equals and should be treated as such.  In order to do this fully, I (we, women & men) need to stop giving a pass on these seemingly small slights.  The uncomfortable silent acknowledgements across the lunch table with other women aren’t enough.

It is not about shaming, it is about educating.  It starts with individual conversations, in the moment, so that we all start to open our eyes to the effect our words have on others.  I absolutely recognize how charged this approach can seem.  We all want to be accepted, part of the ‘club’.  And when it feels systemic, we look at it as a problem too big for any one person to conquer.  A few years back I did pull a civic club President aside and suggest that, since his club included a strong contingent of women, perhaps he should not tell sexist jokes from the podium.  It was challenging for me, and I know I blushed to the tips of my ears, but I did it and he changed his behavior.  I’m disappointed with myself for not saying anything over these past weeks when the examples have been piling up.  But, there is a new chance every day.

I also recommend a wide distribution of the Women’s Media Center’s Name It Change It Media Guide for gender neutral coverage of women candidates and politicians. (really, this isn’t just for journalists, it highlights all sorts of sexist language that is used in and outside of the media).  So much of this issue is a result of pure ignorance, not malice.  But we need to shine a light on that ignorance in order to change it.  One person at a time can change the tide.

Please comment below if you have found ways to shift this ignorance to wisdom and understanding.

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2016 in feminist theory

 

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Give and Get, vital to the board promise for any theatre’s board of directors

I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about the role of a board member within a theatre company’s board of directors and how the Board Promise successfully (or not) communicates that role.  In case you couldn’t tell from the title of this post, I am a HUGE supporter of including a formal, specific dollar amount within the board promise as a “Give and Get.”

Most theatres refer to this a give or get, but I think the and is the most important part of the phrase.  It may help my budgeting and ease the cash flow to know that you, as a board member, will be writing a $3,000 check to cover your financial responsibility.  However, it is actually much more useful to the theatre in the long run to get your friends to buy tickets to the productions and become invested in our future; get your company to sponsor a show, buy a table sponsorship at an event, or feature the theatre on your intranet; get your book club, mom’s group, Rotary Club, Toastmaster’s club, or any other to host a group at a show and have a networking reception before or after.

I think the problem is clear and the solution is also a vote in favor of a formal Give and Get.  The aversion most boards and organizational leadership have to the concrete number lies in the confusion around it’s purpose.  They say the board members will be scared off.  A lot of the responsibility for this confusion lies with the staff and leadership of the organization.  We spend so much time focusing on the board’s role as fundraisers that we completely neglect their role as marketers.  (why do you think it is that so many boards have nominal marketing committees that never find their feet?  It is because we don’t teach the board to market the way we do to fundraise.)

Yes, we need the board promise to state that the financial contribution of each board member needs to be one of the top philanthropic donations for the year (I like top three).  But, we need to get better at communicating (and tracking) the work the board members can do regarding marketing.  We can’t turn people into donors without getting them invested in our work.  Whether or not a member of the board can write a large check, their main duty is to evangelize for the company.  I would rather have a member without deep pockets who spreads our mission far and wide than someone who writes a big check once a year and never tells a soul about our work.  Of course, it is nice to have well-resourced evangelists, too!

What are you doing with your board?

ADDENDUM:  Just read this great article Chicago Business (powered by Crain’s) on why executive choose to (0r not to) join a board.

 

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Adjusting your initiatives today to turn tomorrow’s marketing challenges into opportunities

Chad Bauman over at the Arts Marketing blog published this post today as part of a series to have industry leaders express their thoughts on the biggest marketing challenges coming our way in the next decade.  While I find it intellectually interesting to hear what these folks have to say (he has an impressive list set to weigh in), I believe the exercise will only be useful if we take the challenges named and examine what we are doing now to prepare for / overcome them.  I think we, as an industry, have become skilled at naming problems from the past, present, and future, real and imagined.  However, we often stop there and wallow in what we couldn’t control (sound like the newspaper and music industry??)  Let’s try to avoid that this time, shall we?

So, I’m going to start by giving my thoughts on what we can do now regarding the challenges mentioned by Thomas Cott and Rick Lester in the current blog post.  Please, add your own thoughts.  And, please, let’s stay focused on concrete actions we can take and not get back into the “no, THIS is the REAL problem” conversation.

Thomas Cott: Thomas lists a number of challenges, among them the demographic shift in our country and the growing “minority majority.”  What are we doing right now with not only our marketing but our programming to embrace this change?  Refer back to Trish Mead’s 2 AM Theatre post on diversity and think about how you are approaching this issue.  I watched Babes on Broadway last night for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed its light, frothy feel right up until the last 20 minutes when Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and the entire cast put on blackface for the minstrel number.  I was flabbergasted.  I thought, wow! I’m glad we are past the period in our history when folks thought that was OK!  Then, this morning, I thought, but what are we really doing today that is including all the voices out there in our conversation?  If they aren’t part of the conversation, you can bet they won’t be sitting in your seats.  What actions are you taking now?

Thomas also sites the change in spending habits for many Americans.  The only way we will get people to spend their hard earned dollars on our production is now and will continue to be that they see more value in the experience than they see in the money they spend.  What are you doing to demonstrate the value of your work in the lives of your patrons?  If we focus on the dollars we will lose, every time.  We must focus on what live performance provides that you can’t get anywhere else.  The visceral connection with the artists and the rest of the audience.  The emotional impact of communal experience and, yes, even ritual.  The lovely folks over at the Pew Internet and American Life Project published this report siting that people who are active on social networking sites are more likely to be out and about in their communities, too.  We are looking for more personal interaction, more real experience.  It is this experience that money does not dictate and it is this experience we need to sell.

Rick Lester: Rick highlights that we were actually once good at marketing to participatory audiences.  They may have performed chamber music in their living rooms whereas now we create music on our computers, but it is a participatory society nonetheless.  How do we harness this surge in the desire for arts participation?  (and, among those who we so bemoan didn’t have arts education in school … curiosity, if cultivated and encouraged, trumps formal training every time.)  How are you inviting your audience into the process?  Open rehearsals?  Reader’s circles for short-listed scripts for future seasons?  Classes?  Open mic nights?  Perhaps a series that brings talented amateurs in to showcase work they do that ties to your mission?  As I said before, you have to invite them into the conversation if you want them to come.

That is all I have time for right now, but I hope it gets the conversation for tactics started.  There are challenges in every era and rarely do people believe they are in a “golden age” while it is actually happening.  Let’s create our own golden age by adjusting now and prevent the need for reacting later.

 

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Board governance is not for the faint of heart

I just have to say, first of all, that I LOVE the Blue Avocado and You’ve Cott Mail emails.  They are always insightful, useful, and get my brain jumpstarted in the morning.  If you don’t already receive them, click the links and get started.

It was an article asking “Who is Responsible for the Board Doing a Good Job?” in Blue Avocado this morning that inspired this post.  I have to admit, I have been guilty of thinking, “what is this board doing, why can’t they do their job?!?”  But, I have come to agree with author Jan Masaoka that if the board isn’t working, you need look no further than the executive leadership of the company (I’m going to use “executive leadership” as my term of choice because I think it is the responsibility of all executive-level leaders to do this work, whether they bear the title of Executive Director, Artistic Director, Managing Director, or any other).  Yes, it is our fault and we can (and need to) do something about it.  If we are going to reap the benefits of the virtuous circle that strong boards and strong exective leadership creates, we have to get serious about what we are doing to make it a reality.  One executive director is quoted in the article as asking herself every day at noon, “What have I done today to strengthen the board’s ability to lead?”  This is a great place to start.

So, what can we do to help our boards lead?  Here are just a handful of ideas.  Please add your own in the comments!

  1. Make sure everyone on the board has a project.  Not everyone is cut out for the in-person asks for large checks and this isn’t the only reason you have a board. As an executive leader it is our responsibility to know what the strengths of our board members are and how those strengths would be best utilized in support of our mission.  You should know this before you bring someone on the board, but you also need to do regular check-ins to make sure that you are still on target with their interests and strengths.  I believe that someone should check in with each member of the board every six months.  Once a year by the executive staff leadership and once by the board chair.  The baseline for performing arts boards is to attend performances and bring friends, but it is our job to help them think beyond the basics.  If, after a thorough check in you still don’t know how to utilize a board member, it is time for them to roll off the board an make room for someone who can and will contribute.
  2. Give the board the tools they need.  Perhaps a board member is interested in doing person-to-person fundraising but doesn’t feel they have the skills to do it well.  Set up a Fundraising 101 session at the annual retreat (preferrably lead by a board member who is good at it, but a great development director can do it, too) so that everyone can practice and realize that each ask is the end of a careful cultivation process, not a cold request for a check.  Also, connect your board members with classes, articles and information from the Foundation Center, local nonprofit support organizations (like Georgia Center for Nonprofits), BoardSource, and, of course, Blue Avocado.  The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta works with GCN to provide classes specifically to increase nonprofit effectiveness.
  3. Create a mentor system for new board members.  When you bring in a new class of board members (you are bringing them in in groups of two or more, right??), set the newbies up with a buddy who is confident about his/her contribution to the board and can help keep them focused on productive activities.  It is so easy to get someone excited to be with you and support your mission and then have that excitement slowly peeter out through lack of focus and the pull of their daily lives.  The more motivated folks you get working to help the new members, the stronger the connection will be (and the less amount of time any one person will have to spend in the support role).
  4. Make committee meetings active.  Nothing kills the desire to participate like going to meetings and listening to the staff drone on about reports.  Each member of the committee should have something that they are working on and will need to give a short status update about at the meeting.  The committee chair should be checking in with the members between meetings to make sure they have the tools that they need and are on track to give their reports.  It doesn’t help the member feel successful to just wait until the meeting and say, “What have you been doing all this time??”  And, yes, it is the responsibility of the executive leadership to make sure the committee chairs are on track!  When was the last time you spoke to your nominating chair about their governance of the committee and any needs they might have?

It isn’t hard work to keep your board active, but it does take a committment to make it part of your daily job description.  We are in a symbiotic relationship with the board and it is our responsibility to make sure we all get fed.

 

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The fix is already here

I’ve been hearing a lot over the past few years about how the public education system in the U.S. is broken.  I completely agree.  However, I also hear a lot about how it will be SO hard to come up with a better system and will take SO much time and SO much money for research.  This is ludicrous. Decades ago, Maria Montessori did all the research and developed a simple, elegant, truly educational system for children.  All we need to do is make her system the norm rather than the exception.

I know many of you are thinking, “Montessori?  Isn’t that the school where hippies sit around watching kids do whatever they want?  That will never work.”  I actually had similar thoughts a number of years ago when I heard a friend of a friend was going to get Montessori certification (she’s a bit flighty and that fed right into my stereotypical view).  Then, I had children and, being a household with two full-time working parents, we needed help with childcare.  I started researching and visiting daycare centers and “alternative” preschools (Primrose,  Goddard, Montessori).  First, I was astonished at how disorganized and chaotic the vast majority of preschools are.  No wonder we have so many children diagnosed with ADHD when this is the environment where they first learn how to interact with the world!  Then, I walked into Noble World Montessori School.  This was a calm place of fun and learning.  Kids as young as 18 months were sitting with their rugs working with materials in a completely engaged way.  I knew we’d found the place for our children.

It was only after we enrolled Maggie and Kurt at Noble World that I began to read Maria Montessori’s books and the other literature available on the Montessori system.  If you have young children and haven’t read The Absorbent Mind, I highly recommend it!  Yes, the process is child-driven, but that doesn’t mean that the child is left hanging out in the middle of a room full of materials they know nothing about to fend for themselves.  The instructors are taught to watch the children and see how they engage and to encourage them to learn in the way they are naturally inclined.  This is so much more successful a plan than sitting them all in neat rows of desks drilling memorization for hours on end.

Now in Richmond at Central Montessori, I watch my kids, 3 and 5, grow in their intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm for learning every day.  They love figuring things out and looking for new questions they can answer, problems they can solve.  Ashby and I have discussed moving them into public school, but I fear the current system will squash the curiosity that is thriving under the Montessori method.  I am a product of the public schools and have always felt strongly if we don’t support public schools, they cannot be great.  However, when faced with the choice of supporting a theoretical good for the whole or supporting the concrete good of Montessori school for my kiddos, there is no competition.

This shouldn’t have to be a competition.  Many communities have already created charter Montessori schools within the public system, to great success.  To begin to truly educate our children to be successful human beings and, yes, linchpins, we don’t need to start from scratch.  The fix is already here, we just need to implement it.

 
 

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