It’s true that I was raised differently from most people. My mother died when I was seven so I do not know or appreciate her influence on what and who I am. My father was in his late fifties when I was born, and he knew he could not protect me from the world. Papa didn’t finish grade school and didn’t have a career or even constant employment; he was a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. That did not stop him from being well-read and knowledgeable about life and people. He raised us in the country, where he could hunt and we could grow food and raise animals to eat. In other words, we were monetarily poor but rich in strength and honor for life and living.
Maybe because I was his only child, Papa did not buy into the societal myth that females were somehow “lesser beings.” He knew and would recite from memory “The Female of the Species” by Rudyard Kipling. To support my inherent abilities, Papa never did things for me. Instead, he made sure I became strong and independent by telling me, “You are a smart girl, you can figure it out.” He gave me three rules for living that have given me the courage to stand up for truth and work for justice:
(1) Never be financially dependent upon anyone.
(2) Never believe I couldn’t do something because I was a woman.
(3) Question authority.
Given my background I am dismayed, albeit not disappointed, by the movements that encourage sharing and fundraising for women subjected to illegal behaviors. My dismay comes from society’s denial: Starting with Hollywood, which has always had the “casting couch” stigma. I don’t know any industry, career or job where someone isn’t facing sexual harassment or some kind of inappropriate behavior—including dismissive conduct or belittling treatment. In any setting, unwanted touching is a misdemeanor—a crime. Using workplace power to force sexual favors is also against the law.
On the other hand, I met potential partners and my husband in the workplace. In other words, sexual appreciation, attraction and flirtation are not always bad. When the differences between the sexes, races, religions and other human preferences are handled with honor and humor, good things can happen. I am dismayed that the current pendulum paints all males with the same brush. I know many men who have stood solidly against unfair treatment of people. I also know individuals of all sexes, races and religions who learn from their mistakes when someone takes offense from their words or actions. I have certainly been accused of and have tried to change my unsuitable behavior. Perhaps the pendulum swing will end up distinguishing among and between illegal and abhorrent behavior, inappropriate actions and appreciation of human differences.
I don’t know a successful female who hasn’t risked contempt or been ridiculed for saying “no”—sometimes forcefully and with expletives—to unwanted advances, inappropriate and illegal behavior. Unfortunately, what is even more pervasive for women and others who are considered “lesser” beings, are the innuendos that undermine authority and credibility. I am a female lawyer in a technical industry with a male majority. Most technicians, mechanics, engineers, pilots, managers and executives in aviation are men. Earlier in my career, my input was often dismissed or belittled. It was only after I obtained knowledge and thereby power that I gained the fortitude to be forceful and demand attention. While I am in a position of influence that cannot be removed by inappropriate or illegal sexual harassment, I still witness and am subjected to unsuitable behavior—it is just a lot easier to stop or simply ignore.
The ability to control human behavior, judgment and morality with hashtag movements, laws and lawsuits is limited. We must provide all people with the tools to obtain and believe in their own power; we cannot depend upon others to stop illegal or inappropriate behavior. If there is someone out there who has been treated as “less than” and wishes to enhance his or her knowledge and power, I am here to help. c
Sarah MacLeod is the managing member of the law firm of Obadal, Filler, MacLeod & Klein plc, and a founder and executive director of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association. She has advocated for individuals and companies on international aviation safety law, policy and compliance issues for 30 years.