26 August 2004

I spoke to the ombudsperson this afternoon. She was very nice, and dually shocked by my situation. She's going to speak with him and get back to me. Good. Hopefully he'll realize that what he's doing isn't allowed and he'll apologize next week and either allow everyone to go or cancel the trip that weekend.

Maybe he even has some legitimate excuse for offering a guys-only retreat and didn't realize how offensive it would be to the women in the class. Maybe. Part of me thinks he's as old school as they come and will hate having women forced down his throat, infringing on his chance to relive his days in vietnam with a bunch of 20-something guys in the woods.

I'm glad that there is someone to speak on my behalf so I don't have to engage in a conflict with him. Well, part of me is glad. Part of me really (and I mean really) wants him to know that I'm the one that has a problem with his sexist attitude, that I'm the one that is forcing him to take women on his weekend retreat, that I won't tolerate any sexist treatment in the lab, that I have precious little respect for him at this point, and that I'm not scared of him. He would try to blackball me into quitting the class. He's already let us know that he has no tolerance for quitters and I wouldn't give him the pleasure. It would be this great battle of wills. Sometimes I love being inflammatory. Part of me even hopes he'll challenge the ombudsman so I can testify against him and have him fired. Yes, I'm feeling more than a little vindictive.

And one thing is for sure: I've already cleared my schedule for the 17-19th of September. I'll have nothing to do that weekend except attend a "guys-only" weekend retreat.

Introduction to wood contsruction was my first class of the semester. 9:05 this morning in Riley Robb. The professor is a white-haired man, solidly built. He mentions serving in vietnam within the first 15 minutes. He's been teaching the class for over 20 years, since it was a class called construction for agriculture and kids built chicken coops and sheep feeders for their final projects.

We go through the syllabus for most of the period. I'm only half listening because on the board, at the very right hand side, he's written something about two optional adirondack weekend retreats for the class. Let me reproduce as closely as possible what he had on the board:

"Adirondack Weekends:

Guys - leave September 17th about 5:00pm return Sunday
All - September 24th - 26th

One day to work and one day to play: Canoe, Kayak, Hike, etc."

While he's explaining the layout of the course I'm thinking about the "Guys" written on the board. I can't even fathom that he would actually be offering a guys-only weekend retreat. It just can't be, there must be some reasonable explanation.

At the end of class he mentions the weekend retreats. He says he has a cabin in the Adirondacks and that he'd like to get together as many people as can make it for the retreats. Part work: maybe framing a house or doing some repair work, part play and enjoying the fall colors. "The first weekend for guys, cause there's another group of guys up there. Next weekend for everyone, and my wife'll be coming and cooking so that'll be a good one."

I can't beleive what I'm hearing. This professor is actually offering a guys-only weekend retreat to a co-ed class. Could anything be more blatently illegal?? I want to raise my hand, "Ahem, guys only?!" But I don't. I don't know why. Usually I'm not shy about things like that, but I know it's not a good idea in my state: heart racing and pomegranite in my throat I'm so angry. I'm not feeling very rational and whatever excuse of an answer he could come up with I wouldn't deal with well, and I don't want to get off on a bad foot with this man because I really want to take this class.

I walk out of class and this guy Cooper introduces himself to me. He's the first to hear my rant. I don't think I left such a good first impression. Then Dana, a Natural Resources collegue hears it next. Now you. I'm not going to stop until this issue is satisfactorly resolved. Maybe a walk down to the Ombudspersons office would do me good. I mean, THIS IS SERIOUS!

This is so serious I can't believe I'm actually having to deal with it. Right now I'm reading "We'll Call You If We Need You: Experiences of Women Working Construction" by Susan Eisenberg. Great book, but she's writing about women coming up against sexism in trade union jobs in the 1970's and early 1980's. It seems passe to be fervent about a cause like this now because we're past it, right?

I'm off to lunch (pity my lunch date!) I'm sure I'll be writing more about this later.

08 August 2004

The business world has never been so exciting to me. A few days ago I read an article in the New York Times about a lawsuit accusing Halliburton of accounting fraud. Usually this kind of headline is the last thing to pique my interest. This time, however, I read the story even before checking the cartoons page. I was pleased that my new knowledge of accounting gave me insight into how the fraud occured.

The other day at the language lab I was telling Jason how jealous I was that he and his classmates were coming out of the summer with the beginnings of a new language. He wisely said, "Well, your learning a new language too, the language of accounting." Sure, I thought at the time, some language! But now that I've gotten the hang of it I really do feel like it is a new language for me. I even dreamed in accounting. It's not a language I'd want to conduct the rest of my life in, but it's good for translation.

One of the feature stories in my accounting book was about a man named Ted Castle, who started a specialty bakery foods company in Vermont. He discovered that manufacturing-line workers were not so motivated. In order to resolve this problem he gave employees equity in the company and revealed the financial statements to them. He posted financial results of each days work and trained workers to understand the statements. Once workers saw the financial results of their decisions they began to think more like owners. Profits have grown by 600% in the last three years.

What really excites me about this is the way Castle chose to empower his workers. The increase in profit is a great little bonus. And there are so many of these fun little games you can play with economics and accounting.

My question is: If the goal of proprietorships and corporations is to maximize profits, what do non-profits attempt to maximize? Equity? Stability? Growth?

I'm growing more and more excited about starting my own little non-profit. Accounting is one more tool in this woman's tool box for doing just that.

03 August 2004

I'm adding Mark's Blog, Peruvian Nights and Jamaican Days to my blogroll. Mark is the first random friend and colleague from years past to have stumbled upon my blog. How wonderful!

02 August 2004

Mongolia has always been a place of intense fascination for me.

On Thursday I saw the film The Story of the Weeping Camel at Fall Creek Cinema. Part documentary, part re-enactment, the movie shows the life of a nomadic family of herders living in the gobi desert. When a mother camel rejects her colt a musician is summoned from the nearest village, a two day ride by camel. The musician plays an instrument, likened to a fiddle, for the camel and a woman sings. This ritual causes the camels eyes to tear and to finally accept her colt.

Despite the foreign location and culture, certain elements of the rural, herding lifestyle felt very close to home. The film spans a period of several weeks during the spring when goats and camels are giving birth. Lambing and calving season for ranching families in North Dakota is similar in many respects. Baby calves are brought into the home when they are sick or the weather turns bad, bum lambs are given bottles, nightly vigils are held by various family members to keep watch over the heifers (first time mother cows.) Lives are spent predominately outside, in extreme temperatures no less. Close families, with mutliple generations live on the same farm, if not in the same house. Rural people come together for religous community gatherings. (In the Catholic church I grew up in one of the prayer requests in the summer was always for rain and good crops with the congregation responding, "For this we pray to the Lord.")

The parallels I drew between my experiences and the life of the Mongolian family is the way it goes with so many narratives: we learn about something wildly different and then find how similar it is to our own story or to stories we're familiar with. Maybe the similarities we find between narratives are (or should be) just the jumping off point. We find a common experience from which we can work at understanding that which is truly foreign. (I have more thoughts on narratives and their function, but that is a blog for another day.)

The dialogue in the film was simple, at least in the translated subtitles. For long stretches there were no words at all, only the movements of life in the gobi desert. I also appreciated that no background music was added, which made the music played in the ritual at the end of the film that much more striking. Throughout the whole film the wind can be heard, either howling fainlty as background noise or taking center stage in a sandstorm. Wind is a crucial element in any story about the desert and I liked how the directors portrayed it (dealt with it?) in this case.

The movie had almost a home video feel, or at least the feel of amateur filmaking. At first I found myself being frustrated with the "low" quality, but when I thought about it I realized that a more stylized, hollywood feel would have been too intrusive for the subject matter, and probally not as truthful.

Besides me there was only one couple in the theater. I chatted with them for a while and learned that the man is a professor in the computer science department and works closely with the two computer science professors that I babysit for. Not at all surprising to stumble upon a connection so quickly in Ithaca, yet still a delight that never grows old.

I left the theater with a desire stronger than ever to travel there. Hillary Clinton talks about her brief visit to the capital Ulaanbaatar in her memoir. She describes the people as being warm and friendly, despite rampant poverty. Mac and I are starting the application process for the peace corps, and looking at leaving sometime next fall if everything works out. While you don't get to exactly pick your location, Mongolia has never felt closer. The one little twist is that couples who do the peace corps together must be legally married before leaving on their assignment. With our current plans, that gives us a year . . . Again, a blog for another day.