Don’t Raise Your Hand, Part 2

Some recent interactions at work have inspired me to the list of “don’ts” as a woman dealing with in a male-dominated office. (See here for the original list.)

Don’t provide food. I have been in a series of training classes that wrapped up this week. I am the only woman taking the class, with a group of six to eight men. I have been trying to integrate a little better with the men, since they’re a close-knit group. I have to work with them once in a while.

I thought about buying doughnuts for the last class, as a way to celebrate getting through it, and to ingratiate myself a bit with the guys.

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I actually stood in line at this fancy doughnut shop to get a $25 box of doughnuts. And then I thought, “What am I doing? Why am I spending my own money to kiss up to these guys? If the situation were reversed, would it occur to them – ever – to buy anything out of their own pockets?” Of course not, sister. So I went to the meeting empty-handed. All the men did too. Of course they did. We finished the training and said goodbye.

Speak up when you’re not spoken to. A male project manager I work as part of a larger group ignores me. A few times a week he drops by our desks to shoot the breeze with the men and absolutely never includes me in the conversation.

One day I posed a question to a male coworker (we’ll call him Tim) who responded that he didn’t know the answer. Tim then asked me what the project manager had to say about it. “Nothing,” I replied. “He doesn’t talk to me. He literally never acknowledges my presence.”

Tim had a strange look on his face that said, “this bitch be crazy.”  So I thought I’d do a little test. I told Tim: “Don’t say anything, but the next time the project manager comes over, you watch what happens.”

Sure enough, the PM came by later that day, gabbed for a while with Tim and another guy about a project that I am involved with, never once turning toward me or including me in the conversation.

Wow,” Tim said when the project manager left.

Yep,” I said, “people think women make this stuff up.”

I wondered – just wondered as I said this – if it would get back to the project manager. Of course. A couple of days later, the project manager came by my desk and asked how I’m doing, what’s going on, blah blah. Not talking about work, mind you, just talking to show the other guys that he does talk to me.

Of course the PM reverted to ignoring me after that most of the time. Occasionally, he realizes he’s ignoring me and he makes a show of including me. One time when he came over to talk to Tim and the others, I looked up and listened in. He apologized for not coming closer to me, saying it was too far to walk. I sit right next to Tim. I just gave him a look – hey hang yourself with your own rope, dude.

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Now, this is a shitty passive-aggressive way to deal with the problem of being ignored. Going all Glenn Close from “Fatal Attraction” isn’t the answer. The second I realized this was happening, I should have told the project manager, “Please include me in conversations about this project, as I am on the team too.” And if he “forgets,” I should remind him, this time in writing: “Hey, I asked you to include me, but you didn’t just now. Why not?” If it happens again, escalate to his manager.

 

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Fight Back with Feedback

Do you ever see bad behavior, but you don’t call it out, for whatever reason? Maybe you’re scared. Maybe you don’t want to rock the boat. Maybe you don’t want to get involved. Maybe you’re not sure of what you’re really seeing.

There are a million reasons not to do something, but only one reason where you must act: when it’s the RIGHT thing to do.

Such a predicament happened during a business meeting this week, where some men displayed some very bad behavior against women. So I spoke up. Maybe something will change. Maybe not (these guys didn’t seem like the types given to introspection). But if something does change, it will be because of the way the feedback was received:

  • Done at the moment, not later
  • Based in fact, not opinions or emotions
  • Based on content, not people or personalities
  • Constructive to give people something to act on
  • Band together if you can\
  • Follow up

By “at the moment” and  “based in fact” I mean, sticking to feedback about things that were observed. For example, four men had loud side conversations while a junior woman was presenting at the meeting. It was hard to hear the presenter. The presenter glared at them a few times but they kept going. Finally, I spoke up and asked them to stop. Those are facts that cannot be argued with.

I offered some constructive feedback: the moderator should organize the meeting to provide ample time for presenters. Each presenter should agree to stick to the allotted time. The moderator should intervene if side conversations become noisome.

“Based on content” basically means, no personal attacks. For example, this one guy who presented was giving as “evidence” all these personal anecdotes that were self-serving and not useful. Basically, dude was a serious Baby Boomer blowhard. But that’s not constructive, is it? Better to say: “Your anecdotes help illustrate the issues, but do you have data to back them up? I need data to make decisions, so please provide it next time.”

Finally, banding together helps women navigate these issues. If one woman raises a complaint, it’s easy for the men to dismiss her as “crazy” – an all-purpose epithet for any woman who dares to speak up. But if several women come forward, all agreeing to be constructive, fact-based and focused on content, not personalities, we can get somewhere.

In this case, I had a couple of “off the record” discussions after the meeting with other participants. We agreed on the facts. Then we provided our feedback. We agreed that we will follow up in two weeks to see if our comments were addressed.

Sewing More for Mom

Last Mother’s Day, I presented to my mom a homemade gift certificate for her to choose any garment she wanted, and I’d make it for her, to measure. She was excited about getting a button-up top that fit her better.

When it came to taking measurements, however, she demurred. Instead, she tried on a RTW top she likes and explained to me what she liked and didn’t. She likes this top’s flared 3/4 sleeves and fit in the bust, but she doesn’t like the fit at the bicep, waist or hips, and she doesn’t like such a big collar, as she doesn’t like to wear anything close to her neck.

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Mom’s top idea, front view
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Back view

This top is exactly the kind of RTW mess that so many women my mom’s age put up with. It fits well enough – that is, she can get it on her body – but the fit is pretty poor overall. I told her I really needed body measurements to do this right. She put me off for months.

Finally, when I saw her a few weeks ago, she agreed to be measured, but she warned me not to be “shocked” at the numbers. My mother has always had a very negative body image, which she passed on to me from my earliest days. It haunts me still. We look a lot alike and I inherited her rather small bust and big hips and thighs. As a child, I marveled at her lumpy thighs and vowed never to have thighs like that. Guess what? Mine look exactly the same today.

We can’t do anything about the thighs, but we can do something about a shirt! Her measurements revealed that her shape has changed from a pear to a rectangle, with only two of inches difference between bust, waist and hips. I went on the lookout for a collarless button-up top with no bust darts and a swingy shape at the hem that would give her the curvy look she remembers. We settled on this design from Lekala:

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Lekala 4683

I went with Lekala because their patterns are made to the measurements you provide. I hope this works!

I think the front darts (or whatever this giant feature is called) will work as long as I can get the points to line up with her bust. The center-back seam will be good for shaping, as she’s a bit stooped. The notched neckline will be perfect for showing off a statement necklace. I will even out the hem and will add a flare to the sleeves after the elbow.

She also expressed interest in wearing some color for spring, so I bought some very pretty and high-quality cotton lawn in a rosy color. I hope she likes it!

Happy St. Distaff Day!

OK, there’s no “Saint Distaff.” Although, any woman who had to wield a distaff when spinning wool or flax is a saint in my book.

Rather, “St. Distaff Day” is Ye Ole Catholic Church’s way of saying: “Get back to work!”

Back in the day, Christmas partying lasted until the Feast of the Epiphany (it still does in some Christian cultures). You know, the old Twelve Days of Christmas” racket.

The day after the Epiphany, the fun was over. Women picked up their distaffs again and resumed their lives of ceaseless toil. Men resumed their ceaseless pastime of tormenting women, which on St. Distaff Day included stealing the spun wool and flax and setting it on fire.

There’s even a snatch of doggerel to mark the merry moment:

“Give St. Distaff all the right;

Then bid Christmas sport good night,

And next morrow everyone

To his own vocation.”

I am on a business trip, so no textile work for me!

Making a Buck from International Day of the Girl Child

October 11 is “International Day of the Girl Child,” a day the United Nations designated to to celebrate girls and to raise awareness about their challenges and triumphs. Since most cultures on earth greatly favor male children, and since girls have to persevere despite inadequate health care, education, discrimination and violence, it seems like a worthy “day” to me.

It also sounds like a great day for a male-dominated business to make a buck, don’t you think?

Steam, the PC game platform that’s overwhelmingly male and that hosts plenty of antagonism against women, offered a big sale today on “female protagonist” video games. “Ooh,” I thought, “let’s check that out!”

On sale were seven games. Seven. Out of the tens of thousands of games available through Steam, these alone were notable for their female protagonists. And I already had played four of them – all first-person adventure types of games where the protagonist is a young woman. Here are some quick reviews:

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Screenshot of a “Gone Home” poster
  • Gone Home – A college student returns home to find an empty house and no sign of her parents and sister. Players explore and follow clues to figure out what happened. The story unfolds slowly and builds to a climax, sort of like a novel in video game form. The game includes some lesbian themes. This game is a bit basic, but I liked the story.
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Screenshot from “What Remains of Edith Finch”
  • What Remains of Edith Finch – A young woman returns to her ancestral home to investigate a so-called curse on her family. She steps into the shoes of various relatives – from infants to old men – to learn about how the curse affected them. This is a gorgeously made game – full of laughs and tragedy in equal measure, with a good surprise at the end and some deep ideas about the unbreakable bonds of family ties.
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Screenshot from “Life Is Strange”
  • Life Is Strange – A high school student navigates the intersection of school, friends and the supernatural in this game, which unfolds somewhat in a “choose your adventure” style. Players decide how good or bad they want to be, interacting with many complex characters. Actions have consequences. This game includes disturbing episodes of violence against women. It also makes many strong points about the nature of lifelong friendships. I enjoyed playing it, although it was difficult to take at times.
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Screenshot from “Tacoma”
  • Tacoma – In this game, from the makers of “Gone Home,” the female protagonist investigates a mystery on a space station. It’s gorgeously and inventively made, including good, diverse characters (race, sexuality, body type, ability) and some good female roles. This game also includes some lesbian themes and unfolds much the way “Gone Home” did, but with more wit, inventive gameplay and  imaginative detail.

Who made these games? Only Fullbright (the makers of “Gone Home” and “Tacoma”) has women in leadership positions (the privately held company’s leaders are half women, half men).

The developers of “Edith Finch” were all men at the company Giant Sparrow. A female-led company, Annapurna Pictures, published it. Annapurna is better known as a film production company, whose president, Megan Ellison, has been nominated for Academy Awards for producing “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Her,” and “American Hustle.”

“Life Is Strange” also was developed all by men (Dontnod Entertainment) and published by SquareEnix (all men, yet again, but you knew that already). The developers say that other publishers pushed them to make games with male protagonists and that they weren’t trying to “make a statement” by using a female lead. Having played the game, I can tell you they needed to make the protagonist female, because otherwise the whole violence-against-women theme would not pan out. So, yeah, no statement to be made here.

When I play a first-person game, I play as “me.” With most video games, “male” is the default. Why? Because men don’t think it’s important to have a female character, and because they’re afraid that men will be turned off by anything with  whiff of “girly.” They’re trying to sell to men, so the characters are men. If women want to play, that’s fine, but it’s playing in a man’s shoes. Aren’t most animated things like this? Why are all the Minions “male”? Why is there only one female Smurf and one female cartoon M&M? And why does the one female character have to be sexy?

Some games let you choose an avatar for your character, and I choose a female character then. So do a lot of men, only when the avatars can be sexed up in ridiculous costumes. If they play games were they spend a lot of time looking at their avatar’s backside, they’d rather see a woman’s backside in a thong. This is not progress.

If you want to explore games with female characters and feminist themes, I highly recommend the “Nancy Drew” series from HER Interactive. HER is largely run by women.

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Nancy Drew game cover art

Nancy’s a feminist icon, to be sure, and she’s fearless and capable in the games, too. The games have a kids’ mode and an adult mode. They’re popular among parents because there’s no sex or bad language, and the violence is pretty benign compared to most games (Nancy gets trapped someplace and has to escape, or has to flee some threat). The games usually have equal numbers of male and female characters of various ages, races and body types, and a recent game had a lesbian character. I also like the games because they display remarkable affinity for rational thought. Nancy’s often called to help solve mysteries where someone attributes a problem to the supernatural – you know – a ghost is haunting a house or whatever. Nancy is clear that she doesn’t fall for ghosts and other woo-woo but rather sticks to the facts until she uncovers that – just as in real life – people use others’ superstitions or religious beliefs to cover their own misdeeds. The games are great stories to bash magical thinking.

It’s interesting to note that even when there are female protagonists, they are thin and young. Would the entire gaming world explode if a game featured an overweight 48-year-old protagonist?

Thoughts on PatternReview Weekend

I have satisfied another resolution I made at the new year – to attend a sewing retreat. I went to PatternReview Weekend in early June in Stratford Ontario, Canada. I am glad I went, because I wanted to meet in person many people I’ve known only through their comments and sewing projects on PatternReview. But, the whole event was not really my cup of tea, so I don’t think I will attend again.

My favorite hands-on moment was getting to know some fellow sewists. Gillian from Crafting a Rainbow gave us advice on how to take better pictures. Here’s me and my photo friend, Debbie, trying out some techniques.

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Selfie practice with Debbie

I also really enjoyed a tour of the Stratford Festival Theater’s costume shop. We were allowed to only look at most costumes, but at the end of the tour we could try a few on.

We marveled at how well-made the costumes were for durability, and how many fancy trims and techniques were used. I really would have loved a tour of the sewing workroom, but that wasn’t on the tour. Boo.

The rest of the event was OK. There were a couple of demonstrations, but it was hard to see well. I am more a hands-on learning type. Also, I am not a very sociable person, and since it was my first time at this event, I didn’t know anyone there. About half of the 80-odd attendees had been before – some multiple times. As is inevitable with all-female events (one man attended) cliques formed and first-timers ended up together, trying to make connections.

Everyone was very friendly and welcoming. Some organizers of the event were “ambassadors” who did a great job of seeking out newcomers and chatting them up. All the same, it was a bit exhausting to have to introduce myself over and over, and to try to make connections with people. This isn’t a complaint – I am just better in a small group than in a large group.

One of the highlights of the event is a pattern swap. Attendees brought in patterns they didn’t want anymore, and all the donated patterns, books and magazines were piled onto tables. Then there was a rush at the swap table to take away whatever you wanted. I donated five patterns to the swap – a suit pattern that was part of a lot I got from eBay, a free dress pattern from a magazine, a dress pattern I bought in the wrong size by mistake, a jacket pattern I knew I’d never sew, and a home dec pattern for a project that a friend asked for, then cancelled.

I decided I’d rather eat lunch than peruse the swap table at first. I am not much of a “stash” person. Most of the time, I buy the patterns and fabrics I want for specific projects. I seldom buy on spec or just because something’s on sale. I realize I am VERY spoiled in this regard – I can shop at the Garment District in New York anytime I want, there are Joann’s nearby for basics and cheap patterns (sometimes at little at 99 cents apiece) and a very good fabric store in Connecticut if I don’t want to go into NYC. Speaking with sewists from rural places, who have to shop online, and from Canada, where patterns seldom go on sale, I appreciate how fortunate I am. Still, I didn’t want to take things just for the sake of taking them.

I visited the table later on and took five patterns – a vintage skirt, a Style Arc top (been meaning to try Style Arc), a couple of dresses that seem suitable for me and a coordinates set of officewear. In my  goodie bag was a voucher for a skirt pattern from Deer & Doe and the Vogue “5 Easy Pieces” pattern – a great haul, all in all.

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The goodie bag also had coupons for discounts on fabric and patterns, gadgets such as measuring devices and snips, decorative pins, info about area attractions and other fun stuff.

There were two contests with prizes – making a camp shirt and making sleepwear. I made a camp shirt for the contest and wore it all day Friday, since I thought it could be judged anytime. It turned out the shirts and sleepwear were judged in the evening only. I had changed out of the shirt for dinner since it was pretty sweaty and rumpled from being worn all day in a stuffy church basement. The contest judging took a long time and I found myself getting pretty antsy to get out of there.

Saturday was a shopping extravaganza. We piled onto school buses and toured three sites – Len’s Mill (a warehouse-like place for fabric, yarn, housewares, crafting supplies and what have you), downtown Hamilton, ON, which has several great fabric stores along a cute commercial street, and Ann’s Fabrics in Hamilton, which sells mostly knits and activewear fabrics.

The only thing I really needed was lining fabric – I really like to stash that so that I don’t have to think about it. I scored 12 yards of nice 54-inch Bemberg in four colors at a shop in Hamilton, European Textiles.

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Bemberg – wide and great price

Otherwise, I was shopping for fall and winter. Yeah, summer just started, but my summer sewing plans are spoken for by now.

At Len’s Mill I found this cute cotton Canada-themed flannel, which would make good PJ bottoms for my husband (he’d requested some earlier this year). I also bought some nice quilting cotton with a Liberty feel for a top to go with new pants I just made  (I am thinking about a wearable muslin of the very popular Butterick 5526). Finally, I got 3  yards of a wine-colored suedecloth in anticipation of a work blazer for fall, possibly from Vogue 1418. It was lightweight and odd, so I may regret it. Or it may be fabulous.

Len’s also had some interesting buttons – I bought a giant one for who knows what (a bag? a poncho?) and two cards of red and black handpainted wooden buttons for a thrifted leather jacket I’ve been thinking of upcycling.

At Ann’s I found some heavy knit with a border stripe that would make a cute long-sleeved T-shirt, maybe without the overlay from McCall’s 7247.

My favorite place was Marina’s Fabrics in Hamilton, because it reminds me of the small family-run places I know in New York, complete with a jumble of unusual fabrics,  negotiable prices, and a talkative but grumpy immigrant lady behind the cutting counter.

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Hamilton, ON garment district

It’s where I found two interesting pieces: a light wool loose houndstooth suiting in white and wine that would make a wonderful summer shift dress (probably Deer & Doe’s Arum dress – and would coordinate with the suedecloth too if I have fabric left over for a bolero or such) and a border print in a knit of some kind – probably poly/acrylic – in black, gray and cobalt blue that would be perfect for a high-waisted pencil skirt from Simplicity 8058.

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My fabric and button haul

I had budgeted to spend $200 on fabric and other sewing materials, and I managed to do it – 16.5 yards in all, plus two books and assorted other items. Looking at my take, minus the Bemberg, I wonder what kind of fabric magpie I am. None of this makes sense with anything else. That’s the problem with stash shopping – the thrill of the hunt doesn’t mix well with a coordinated plan.

I started on the prewashing chore when I got home and then I got to work, making the PJ shorts for my husband.

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PJs from McCall’s 3019 (out of print)

I wanted badly to sew something, after just talking about sewing for two days! That’s the main problem with PR Weekend for me. I prefer a hands-on event much more than an event where you mostly shop, eat and drink, and socialize. Still, I am glad I went. If it’s nearby again (next year it’s in Portland, OR) and if there’s some hands-on activity, I might go.

Ever Wonder What Those Models on Sewing Pattern Envelopes Are Saying to One Another?

Picture this: a Kwik Sew sewing pattern envelope from the 1970s. View D is a white woman with a brunette bob, wearing a flesh-colored bra and a long green slip. View C, a white woman with a blond bob, is also wearing a bra and slip, but this slip has a slit in it. View A is a white woman in a short, lace-trimmed slip, arms crossed over her bare chest.

Miss View C says to Miss View A: “Come on, Blair! Do you want to pledge Chi Omega or not?”

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So that’s what the models on sewing pattern envelopes are saying to one another! Passing along weed and birth control. Expressing their sexuality. Tormenting their siblings. Plotting against enemies. Expressing feminist positions instead of vapid fashion statements.

It’s all in the book “Pattern Behavior: The Seamy Side of Fashion” by Natalie Kossar.

Kossar started this book as a Tumblr a few years ago. I looked forward to new ones coming out every few days. Kossar has compiled many of the best into this book.

Kossar and sewing did not get along. As a child, she’d been bored many times at the fabric store, as her mother pored over pattern catalogs, and she could never get the hang of sewing. “Girls who liked sewing were weak and boring. And I refused to be one of them,” Kossar writes.

She saw sewing patterns in a different light when her mother asked her to find a vintage pattern online. A simple Google search bombarded her with thousands of pattern envelope images, including many that expressed outdated ideas about gender, race and class. She started thinking of putting these models into a new conversation. “The juxtaposition of the vintage images with modern dialogue generated a strong message of social growth and change,” Kossar writes.

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“Average” takes on a new meaning.

If you like what you see and want more, please leave a comment below to enter a giveaway to win a free book! From all the comments received by 8 p.m. US Eastern Time on Tuesday, May 1, I will randomly draw one winner for the prize.