In honor of Mom – by Melanie Nathan, October 09, 2017. (20 Tishrei 5778)
The last time I wrote about my late mom, Professor Carmen Nathan was 5 years ago. On this night of her Yartzheit,* as I memorialize her extraordinary life again, two of my Facebook posts meet eye to eye:
Mom was ahead of her time, a renowned legal academic and women’s rights advocate, in a repressed Calvinistic Apartheid South Africa, where male chauvinism ruled for decades longer than in America. Her favorite call out to women was “stop being a wet lappie”…(“wet rag” – meaning limp and weak). South Africans may have a deeper understanding of that terminology. Followed with “STOP allowing yourself to be a doormat” … mom was trying to implore upon women – back in the 70’s and 80’s to “woman up” and to find their power. That was her outspoken and brazen way. She would call women out on their responsibility to stand up to all that seemed so unjust – and there was a lot to stand up to in those days.
While mom was doing that, I was enduring the start of my career as a young 20 some year old lawyer and as – dare I say – a “victim” of sexual harassment. Some 30 years later, yes three decades – I have never spoken out against THAT partner in THAT Edenvale law firm, who shattered my dreams and my ideology. Instead I slinked into a corner in abysmal fear and guilt – wondering about the part I had played to “attract” him in that way.
Notwithstanding my clarity that I was a lesbian- and only attracted to women, I wondered what I had done to entitle him to want me! It must have been my fault. I had no power. I never ever spoke of it! Mom fought for women like me and I still cowered in shame and guilt. For decades!
I fought him off, then blocked it all out, left the firm and never told anyone – to this day I have not uttered his name. It was not good for my career – nor my expected trajectory – I seemed like the powerless flake.
My next forced flutter at remembering was thanks to Anita Hill and the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. By this time I had immigrated to the United States of America. I remember being so angry at those who suggested Ms. Hill was lying because she had not said anything sooner about Clarence Thomas and how he sexually harassed her. I remember wondering what I would have done had my perpetrator been nominated a Supreme Court Justice – would I have come forward with my story? I fully understood why she had hidden for so long.
In colleague arguments I would try to assert through my own understanding that it was perfectly normal that Ms. Hill had not told anyone sooner, nor reported him, and that such was not an indication that she was lying. If anything her silence should serve as a confirmation of the truth. I understood her feelings. The power was in the hands of her perpetrator: It was her career on the hook and his male power helming public respect. I remembered that deep seated guilt and wondered if in some way she too felt responsible for his desire, the latter justified because of us, – women.
As the decades moved ahead, I came to realize that I was nothing more than one of Mom’s “wet lappies ” a “doormat!” My fear rendered me weak. My fear gave him and ALL of them the power.
The Harvey Weinstein story this week has hit me hard. I think of my daughters and their aspirations and their extraordinary talents.
I feel I really need to step up – at this milestone decade which I have now attained and speak out – that NO PRICK IS WORTH THE JOB and NO JOB WORTH THE PRICK! I am doing this for me and more especially for my daughters: My oldest a 20 year old at NYU Film School and my youngest 12 at middle school. I want them to know that they can rely 100% on their intelligence and talents. That if anyone thinks they owe them anything at all in furtherance of their careers other than being the best they can be at their job, then and at any cost, they must walk away – no prick is worth the job and no job is worth the prick!
Since my experience I never worked again for “the man!” I have always worked for myself. I never trusted an employment scenario again. Indeed that may have impacted my career trajectory negatively – I don’t know. Maybe this speaks of trauma- which never fully leaves one psyche. For me that does not matter now – what matters is that my message is clear – “NO PRICK IS WORTH THE JOB and NO JOB IS WORTH THE PRICK.”
And my greater message is – imagine if all women took a pact NOW to tell- to tell – to tell – no matter the stakes – whether believed or not believed – whether losing the job or not losing the job. Imagine the power if we ALL told, unashamedly, at that right time- not decades later. I honestly believe we would assume our power, assume our talent, assume control and that the end result would be that men would have no power in repeating a behavior that purports to lean on a power that they do not really have!
So on this my Mom’s Yartzheit, in her honor and in beloved memory, I convey her message and assert – you were ahead of your time mom and I am ready to give your words to my daughters – the grand daughters you never met: Women must stop being “wet lappies” and “doormats.” It is up to us to assert our talents through our “NO” and to claim our power in unison, simply by always telling. Please take the pact to TELL at whatever cost: Because we refuse to be wet lappies and doormats and NO PRICK IS WORTH THE JOB AND NO JOB IS WORTH THE PRICK!
With that said a huge big thanks to all who have come out in the FOX expose, Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein exposures – thanks for your courage and your example. Thank you to Gloria Allred for your leadership.
By Melanie Nathan
Me and my kids- Community Grand Marshall San Francisco Pride 2014.:
More about MOM, Carmen Nathan: HERE
* Yahrzeit. The anniversary of a death is called a yahrzeit by Jewish people. It’s observed each year by Jews on the Hebrew date of death by reciting kaddish at synagogue and by lighting a memorial candle/lamp at home in memory of a loved one.