Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: My First Boss

Thank you, Anita Hill

I’m reposting this in honor of women who stand up to power today,
and in light of news about the Harvey Weinstein case.
 

In October 1991 I listened to your courageous testimony about Clarence Thomas. Your words took me back to my first boss. It was 1960. I’d just graduated from high school and was now a clerk in a bankruptcy court. We called the boss ‘Judge,’ though he was actually a referee in bankruptcy. He’d held this governmental appointment for years. He was about 60 years old; I was 16.

By 1991 I’d told only my husband the truth about my first boss. From the beginning, the Judge was on a mission to take me down a notch or two by way of sexual innuendo and outright inappropriate behavior toward me. He knew I was under-age, that my father was an ordained minister, and that I was a Christian. He said he was a Christian, too, and reminded me from time to time of his church membership.

I didn’t know what hit me. I got through three summers plus one full year, thanks to the friendship of other women working in the office, and the kindness of a few male attorneys who knew the Judge and witnessed some of his behavior toward me.

Back then the term ‘sexual harassment’ hadn’t been invented, or connected to Abuse of Power as an issue in the workplace. In addition, my childhood home where I still lived didn’t offer a safe place to talk about anything related to sex.

Flash forward to October 1991, and your testimony before the Senate Committee. I owe you a huge debt of gratitude for at least two things.

  • First, your personal account was the first I’d ever heard from a professional woman talking about repeated sexual innuendo and inappropriate behavior in the work place.
  • Second, your courage gave me courage to begin talking about this without fear or shame.

I’m sad this happened to you. I’m sad things happened to me. I’m sad things like this still happen every day to others.

Am I angry? Yes, I am. Angry that even in today’s reports from powerful women about powerful men, we’re still using the language of “if this is true.” Which conveniently overlooks the power imbalance that was in place when the alleged behavior happened. To say nothing of optics and the appearance of evil that seems now to be embraced, not avoided. Embraced, and laughed at in a zillion cartoonish ways.

We are not the world’s latest sleazy entertainment opportunity. We are women with every right to stand up and tell the truth about what happened and didn’t happen to us. And why it must stop now if we’re ever to be Great. Not again, but for the first time ever.

May God grant us serenity to accept what we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Thank you for showing me how this is done. Not just then, but throughout your professional career.

Respectfully,
Elouise Renich Fraser

For a 2016 PBS News Hour video discussion between Gwen Ifill and Anita Hill, click here. It’s outstanding.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 November 2017, reposted 25 February 2020
Photo found at gq.com

Thank you, Anita Hill

In October 1991 I listened to your courageous testimony about Clarence Thomas. Your words took me back to my first boss. It was 1960. I’d just graduated from high school and was now a clerk in a bankruptcy court. We called the boss ‘Judge,’ though he was actually a referee in bankruptcy. He’d held this governmental appointment for years. He was about 60 years old; I was 16.

By 1991 I’d told only my husband the truth about my first boss. From the beginning, the Judge was on a mission to take me down a notch or two by way of sexual innuendo and outright inappropriate behavior toward me. He knew I was under-age, that my father was an ordained minister, and that I was a Christian. He said he was a Christian, too, and reminded me from time to time of his church membership.

I didn’t know what hit me. I got through three summers plus one full year, thanks to the friendship of other women working in the office, and the kindness of a few male attorneys who knew the Judge and witnessed some of his behavior toward me.

Back then the term ‘sexual harassment’ hadn’t been invented, or connected to Abuse of Power as an issue in the workplace. In addition, my childhood home where I still lived didn’t offer a safe place to talk about anything related to sex.

Flash forward to October 1991, and your testimony before the Senate Committee. I owe you a huge debt of gratitude for at least two things.

  • First, your personal account was the first I’d ever heard from a professional woman talking about repeated sexual innuendo and inappropriate behavior in the work place.
  • Second, your courage gave me courage to begin talking about this without fear or shame.

I’m sad this happened to you. I’m sad things happened to me. I’m sad things like this still happen every day to others.

Am I angry? Yes, I am. Angry that even in today’s reports from powerful women about powerful men, we’re still using the language of “if this is true.” Which conveniently overlooks the power imbalance that was in place when the alleged behavior happened. To say nothing of optics and the appearance of evil that seems now to be embraced, not avoided. Embraced, and laughed at in a zillion cartoonish ways.

We are not the world’s latest sleazy entertainment opportunity. We are women with every right to stand up and tell the truth about what happened and didn’t happen to us. And why it must stop now if we’re ever to be Great. Not again, but for the first time ever.

May God grant us serenity to accept what we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Thank you for showing me how this is done. Not just then, but throughout your professional career.

Respectfully,
Elouise Renich Fraser

For a 2016 PBS News Hour video discussion between Gwen Ifill and Anita Hill, click here. It’s outstanding.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 November 2017
Photo found at gq.com

The Dean and I | My Best Boss

DSCN2126

Langdell Hall, Harvard Law School

What was it about this man who made such a deep impression on me? I tried making some lists. I didn’t throw them away, but I wasn’t happy with them. They’re too cerebral. So I’m going with my gut on this one.

Here’s what I would say to Mr. Griswold today. Granted, I’ve had decades to think about it. Yet only now, after writing about the Dean and I, have I begun to appreciate our relationship.

#1. You were my best Boss ever.
Of all the bosses I’ve had, you were the best. I never told you about my first Boss, and you never asked. I’ll just say that your ways of being Boss were very different. The rest of my talking points highlight several ways you stand out as the best.

#2. You didn’t have issues with women.
I never cringed or felt pressured to humor you by demeaning myself or laughing at other people.  You were more than a decent man. You were a decent human being, part of the human race. Not a superior being who needed to put other people down to feel powerful. There were no bad jokes about women, or other unwanted behavior. Do you know how rare this is? I do.

#3.  You demanded a lot from me, yet you didn’t sweat my mistakes.
I didn’t feel shamed or laughed at. Nor did I fear for my job. You knew more than how to run the Harvard Law School; you knew how to run the office! You were a practical, experienced realist who wasn’t afraid to make your own mistakes and learn from them. Given my up and down history with male bosses, this impresses me.

#4. You combined personal humility with fierce professional resolve.
You didn’t take personal credit for the good, and you didn’t back off from making difficult decisions. That’s because it was never all about you. It was about where we were going and how we would get there together. In the office, not just in the law school. You were uneasy with the limelight; I liked that. It let me know that’s OK in a leader.

#5. Did you know you were my mentor?
You were. I didn’t think about you that way, but I believe it’s true. You didn’t tell me how to run an office. You showed me how you did it. You took things as they came, with calm thoughtfulness. This sometimes went against the atmosphere in the office or in the law school. I’d like to think I learned a little about that from you.

#6. Best of all, you wrote me that letter!
You didn’t just say kind words in front of other people, or sign a greeting card. And you didn’t dictate the letter to a secretary who typed it up for you to sign. You took time to hand-write it. Just for me. Not for my file or for a future employer. Just for me! No letter I’ve ever received from an employer comes close to yours.

Several times during my professional life I needed that letter. Not to show others, but to remind myself of what you saw in me. Even though I didn’t always pull it out to read, I think it was there in my subconscious, not just in my treasure box. A good antidote to other letters I received uninvited and threw away.

Right now I’m remembering you at your stand-up desk every evening, making sure you’ve written all those personal thank-letters to donors, or added your signature and a little note on other letters. The personal touch. That’s what it was all about. Relationships of mutual trust and appreciation. Kind words, always truthful. Thank you for inviting me to be part of your life. You were a blessing I never expected.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 April 2015

The Dean and I | Part 5

Oasis_in_Libya, Wikimedia.org

Oasis in Libya

I can’t believe how much I’m enjoying this series! I thought it would be over and done with by now. But my mind keeps remembering things I want to tell you about.

Working for Mr. Griswold was an incredibly positive experience during the early years of our marriage. For me, it was a milestone.

I wasn’t yet 25 years old. In some ways, my experience with Mr. Griswold is similar to my experience with Mrs. Hanks, my piano teacher from age 9 through 16. Both knew and accepted me just as I was, yet didn’t leave me there.

As for Mr. Griswold, here’s a man I can trust! That’s so big I could just stop right here and cry my eyes out. They’re already tearing up.

It isn’t about his age or how he looks, or even who he is and what he does. It’s that he’s the exact opposite of my First Boss. I’ve gone from the worst boss I ever had to the best boss I ever had! What are the chances of that happening?

Back then I didn’t know he was my best boss ever. But now, decades later, looking back at the mostly male bosses I’ve worked for and with, Mr. Griswold stands at the top of the list.

Mr. Griswold helped me become the person I am. He wasn’t the only boss who did that. Still, when it comes to integrity, excellence, humanity and trustworthiness, he was the Best.

I didn’t know back then that I’d end up becoming an educator—a professor, and then a dean. I would have laughed in your face if you’d suggested this possibility. Crazy! Yet I clearly absorbed something that carried over a bit from those years of working in Mr. Griswold’s office.

Being on his team wasn’t always easy. The workload was constant. I didn’t sit around twiddling my thumbs, wondering what I might do next.

At the same time, I never felt I was doing it all by myself, without adequate support, or without genuine affirmation from Mr. Griswold. He and my coworkers knew what I was doing and the value of my work. Just as I knew what they were doing and the value of their work.

This was a huge gift. It grew me up as an employee. It’s the point at which I came of age. An adult. Responsible and mature, even though I didn’t always feel I was.

This job also gave me a point of reference. I didn’t read about this in a book. I experienced it for myself! It wasn’t just pie in the sky by and by. It was evidence that a workplace could be life-giving instead of death-dealing.

I’m not saying it was heaven every day. It wasn’t. Sometimes we were stressed out by unexpected circumstances or by unexpected personality issues. Yet I never felt a co-worker was after me, or anything less than happy to have me on the team.

The last point I want to comment on is this. I wasn’t simply a new employee; I was a new wife. Just married! And also, by the way, in a brand new to me location, culture, city, academic community, church, you name it. It was NEW. Heavenly and hellish. Both at the same time.

I’ll say more about early marriage in later posts. Right now I just want to say this: Working in the dean’s office of the Harvard Law School was like finding an unexpected oasis in the middle of a sometimes vast and lonely desert.

When I arrived at work in the morning, coworkers knew my name, what I did, and how to interact with me. It didn’t happen overnight; but it happened quickly.

I needed that oasis. That safe place ‘where everybody knows my name.’ Cheers!

To be continued. . . .

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 April 2015
Photo from Wikimedia.org

My First Boss | Part 2 of 2

There’s more than meets the eye in my new work setting.  Though I’m a newcomer, the Boss already has a Miss Renich game he’s determined to play.  I’m an unwilling target and participant.

What’s the name of his game?
Any of the following will do: Read the rest of this entry »

My First Boss | Part 1 of 2

It’s late May 1960.  I’m 16 years old and about to meet the 3rd most formative man in my early life.  My father is #1.   The Shopkeeper is #2.  This man will become #3.

I’ve just graduated from high school and am looking for a job. Read the rest of this entry »

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