Friday, February 24, 2006

Covering

Below begins a Washington Post online review of the book, Covering, just out by Random House...

In a hospital waiting room, Kenji Yoshino brushed away the reaching, worried hand of his first boyfriend as they waited for a diagnosis that could have been serious. Ten years later, Yoshino, a Yale Law School professor and deputy dean, still winces at the memory. In his rejection of his lover's hand, Yoshino was "covering": Although he was openly gay, he refused to engage in public displays of affection that might seem to "flaunt" his homosexuality.

"Everyone covers," Yoshino asserts at the beginning of his intriguing book. "Covering," a term coined by sociologist Erving Goffman in 1963, means to play down certain characteristics in order to fit into the perceived mainstream. Yoshino provides a number of examples: Krishna Bhanji covered his Indian ethnicity when he became Ben Kingsley; Margaret Thatcher covered her femininity by hiring a coach to help lower her voice; Mary Cheney covered by deflecting the media from her same-sex partner; Issur Danielovitch Demsky covered his Jewish heritage by becoming Kirk Douglas; and even the great FDR covered his wheelchair-bound legs by moving behind a desk whenever his Cabinet entered his office.

Covering, Yoshino posits, is "the dark side of assimilation"
....continued here.

It's unfortunate but true, that if we don't fit 'the mold' we either have outward pressure or inside pressure to do so. After all of these years, I still feel some shame at being ill, at having to make excuses for not being able to do things, for needing a wheelchair at times, and so on...I could write a book.

In my twenties, one of my closest male friends throughout gradute school and I took our first jobs in a University setting. He was gay and , even though those were supposedly liberal times, for him to acknowledge his sexual orientation could have realistically jeapardized his position in the professional community. He knew it. In his case, add that pressure to a borderline manic-depressive illness, and he fell over the edge, commiting suicide. His death devastated me. Given societal support, would he still be alive today? I don't know, but I think the odds would've been better.

I met the same sorts of prejudices in my early years as a psychologist. Now, many more women get a Ph.D. in Psychology. At that time, I was the only female psychologist in the entire Hawaian chain when I worked there, one of three in the state of Rhode Island, and, in the two places I worked during my six years in Boston, I was the only female in a one psychology department of four and then in a twenty-one 'man' department at the V.A. I was hired in, I found later, for six thousand dollars less than the starting salary for a man at the same level, yet I worked hard enough and well enough my first year to earn a performance award which brought with it a hefty raise, bringing me then only up to what my peers earned. The men never knew how to deal with me. Flirt? Give me a hard time? Make me prove myself with everything I did? I never called myself a feminist, but that's been my outlook from the time I was small and had aspirations to be a doctor or a writer or a psychologist. I expected the most of myself and soon found that this scared the hell out of a lot of men.

Even though it can be a double-edged sword, one of the several changes due to early feminists is the addition of sexual harrassment laws in the workplace. I'll tell you why this stands out for me. Before this law, when I first moved to Boston, I was responsible for paying for tuition and supporting my first husband through law school. No jobs for psychologists were avaiable, so while I networked with other psychologists, went to psychology talk groups, etc in my search, I also looked for work in any other field I could find. An opening came up when a psychologist suddenly resigned from a well-known research foundation and, having met the director, I was offered the job.

One day I was working at my desk on some paperwork when he came up and looked over my shoulder. Fine. Common enough. Next he put his hand on my shoulder. Okay, still common enough. Itwas a friendly place. Then, he lowered his hand and grasped a private part of my anatomy. Had he been just a guy, I would've turned around and slapped his face. Instead, I froze. There were no laws to protect me. It was my word against his. He wasn't going to get fired. He RAN the place. In that split second before I just lifted his hand and acted as if nothing happened (never turning my back on him in my office ever again), I knew that if I made any commotion, he could fire ME. We didn't have the savings for me to search two months for work again. There were no options open to me and I knew it. He finally hired a young secretary and they carried on a blatant affair...no , she wasn't too bright, but it took the pressure off. I would've loved to have had recourse then , with no risk to my job, so I'm thankful that option is open to women now. I still feel humiliated when I think of that day.

But, most of all, let's not forget those brave women who went to jail and suffered humiliation and persecution to earn women the vote. For every woman before us, for every person of a different color, race, or sexual orientation before us, who's struggled, and even lost his/her life to make the path easier now, to make 'uncovering' easier, we owe our unending thanks.

Opinions? Stories? I'd love to hear.

4 comments:

Ellen M Johns said...

I love this blog entry of yours. So much so, that I have just re-read it.

I do have a story, but due to the "aggressive" way I dealt with the male in question and the situation, I will save it for another day!!!

I am giggling here as my ferret has just kissed my whippet. Thank God for the animals and their lack of prejudice is what I say.

Pris said...

I'll look forward to that story.

And my cat and dog do the same.:-)

J. Andrew Lockhart said...

very interesting!
have a great weekend --

Pris said...

You, too.