On January 9th I received an automated email blast from Sally Kohn. Ms. Kohn claims to be “one of the leading progressive voices in America today.” She is currently a CNN political commentator and columnist, who worked previously as a contributor for Fox News. Her blast urged me, “Don’t forget you can be one of the cool kids and pre-order your advance copy of my book, The Opposite of Hate.” She also requested I subscribe to her podcast and “be sure to leave a review to counter the trolls who’ve been trying to flood the comments.”
In her blast, Sally also reported what she thought was the most important moment of the Golden Globes that nobody was talking about — when Alexander Skarsgård accepted his award for Big Little Lies and referred to his women co-stars as “girls.”
I sent the following response to Ms. Kohn on January 9th:
Dear Ms. Kohn,
I work around women in many industries. It’s common for WOMEN to refer to other women as GIRLS. It’s not misogyny. My wife and I walk into a business — restaurant or retail — and the female clerk says, “How are you guys?” She’s not a guy! If you want to spend your time working to change this, wish you the best — BUT do not CLAIM men are misogynistic on this. It comes from women. Clean up your own ranks rather than pick on men unfairly.
Surprisingly, she responded. That was cool:
thanks for your email.
just wondering if you actually read the full essay i wrote?
would help guide me in my response to your feedback
I had read her full essay so I responded:
Good morning Ms. Kohn,
Appreciate hearing from you. I’ve followed you for years. I read your article on ShondaLand before responding. You wrote, “It is because we — all of us, and thus our society as a whole — think less of women that we both perpetuate and tolerate patterns of violence and intimidation.”
I certainly do not agree. Maybe I grew up differently. I was an athlete. On the court, if a person could play, we care little about race or gender. I was talented. We would frequently play 4-on-4. I would pick three women players and we would trounce the challenging four-player male teams. We loved this! I carry their laughter and joy deep in my heart. I adored my female athletes and this transferred to other areas of my life. It was never a question whether I think less of women — I always considered myself inferior and worshipped women on the pedestal they deserve.
I spent a career in the trenches as a union employee advocate. My first major grievance represented a dozen women who were struggling with a new female manager. They had earned a prestigious agency Bureau of the Year award the previous year. Unfortunately, their beloved and trusted male manager departed. The agency as a whole certainly didn’t think less of these women. The departing manager didn’t. I was aware of some men (and women) who did though. I battled these demeaning, abusive and bullying managers over the years. Tough battles!
In her introductory meeting with the team, the new female manager repeatedly referred to the ladies as “girls.” This offended them so deeply we were never able to repair the breach. I came from an academic environment and we had been “educated” about this demeaning label. I was now working in government and behavior was clearly old school. The worst offenders in the agency were women. They commonly referred to their subordinate women as “girls.” They referred to each other as “girl.” As an athlete, I played with many Black men. They commonly called each other “N****”, as you know. I didn’t. This would have been inappropriate. Thus, if a woman calls another woman, “girl,” who am I to “mansplain”?
Most staff considered “girl” to be a term of affectionate. It was confusing for me. The new manager’s use appeared condescending to the ladies. Tone, body language, context … there are many components to speech. The use of “girl” by one woman wasn’t interpreted the same as it might be when another woman used the label. In one situation, it was loving; in another, clearly it was inappropriate.
I had worked with the woman prior to her reassignment and respected her. I felt she had the ability to learn and adapt, so I tried many mediation strategies with her and the team. The staff’s opinion had hardened and the new manager simply couldn’t warm up to her subordinates. Fear and distrust were too strong now. Ultimately, we won in arbitration. The agency finally transferred the embattled manager, appointed a new woman, and the team once again flourished. The second manager respected women in general — and these women in particular. They respected her in return.
You added, “Time isn’t just up on men who harass and assault women, time is also up for other men to stand by and pretend that the solution to injustice is in women’s hands alone.”
Your statement above was BOLDED in the article. It slapped me right in the face. Yes, I STOOD UP for these COURAGEOUS and BOLD women. They had earned my respect; they had earned the respect of our agency. I first stood up for a young 15-year-old “girl” while teaching Special Ed students in a public school. I was called to a meeting and asked to bring one of my male students. There were three male administrators in the room when I arrived. My other student, Jane Doe, was huddled in a corner sobbing deeply. The optics were terrifying. Three BIG, BAD intimidating men against this tiny, young female. I listened. They didn’t call her a girl. No! They repeatedly referred to her as a “ho.” They witnessed her holding hands with the “young man” (as they called him) at lunch. The young man was troubled; this is why he was one of my students. She was troubled. I’m sure they intented well — but their strategy was disgusting! SHAME the young woman! “Boys will be boys” about the male!
I filed a grievance and a month later the school district fired me. I tried to fight my dismissal but NOBODY was interested in listening to me. I was labelled a trouble maker and the powers that be wanted me out. I know the feeling of not being believed.
The next time I witnessed inappropriate behavior in the workplace, I signed up to fight officially — for my women coworkers. NOBODY fought for me. I spend my career on defense. NOBODY talks about the men (and women) who have battled FOR women; NOBODY talks about the horror we face. Standing up for women cost me promotions and eventually my job. It cost our family over $500,000 in salary and retirement benefits.
You write. You have the luxury to express opinion — but I see no blood on your hands. When you point your finger to SHAME men in the world for not standing up, you thrust a dagger directly through my heart!
I did not simply TAKE A KNEE … I put my life into this fight. I put my career on the line for women — we WON every fight — except the fight to save my job. You think it’s hard on a woman. It is. How hard do you think it is on men who ORGANIZE and DEFEND women. We become the TIP of the SPEAR. Now you shame me, shame us?
Search the media … there are now dozens, maybe hundreds, of #MeToo stories. Show me JUST ONE that talks about the punishment, retaliation and career destruction to those who stand up and fight to change and end this. We are the pioneers. In the drug war, law enforcement easily gives up an arrest on an individual user if he rats out a dealer higher up the chain. They prefer the Big Fish. Management does the same in labor relations. Better to get the organizer and quiet an entire group using fear rather than pick on a single women or man. NOBODY talks about this. Pick off the leaders — who then fights? NOBODY wants to fill the shoes. NOBODY protects the fighters.
So, to you, I return the admonishment. #TimesUP on a society that cannot SEE those of us who have been waging the Good Fight all these years. Women have made tremendous gains in the workplace and American society. Although they have far to go, they made advances TEAMING UP with honorable men and women. Please do not forget us!!!
Thank you. Much love and aloha. Here’s my #MeToo story:
I didn’t hear back from Ms. Kohn and sent another message on January 11th:
Hello Ms. Kohn,
Wondered if you had any comments or thoughts?
No response. Ms. Kohn doesn’t give a shit about men or our work to help abused women. She only wants to sell her book! I unsubscribed from her list.