Saturday, February 12, 2011
When one works in a factory, one becomes accustomed to people outside the environment thinking that factory workers are a sub-human, intellectually deficient species.
When I became the first female Manufacturing Supervisor in the Mead Corporation, I had numerous requests for interviews. People would invariably seem surprised that I did the job well. At that time I told my family that I felt like Dr. Samuel Johnson's famous quote:
"Sir, a woman preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs: it is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all."
Yes, I think they were surprised because I COULD do it well! After a year of exceeding all my accountabilities, I was scheduled for a three-day training session in Cincinnati for Mead supervisors. Two supervisors from eight Mead facilities were chosen to attend. There were two recent college graduates who were also there for training, one of whom was a female; the two of them had spent a week at the Cincinnati plant prior to the training session. With their addition our class totaled twenty and I was thrilled to have another female there and I felt a degree of pride because I believed that my success was instrumental in the Company obviously deciding to provide manufacturing opportunities for other females.
On the first day of training we were instructed to give a five-minute extemporaneous speech telling something unusual about ourselves and our classmates were to comment and quiz us. The first person to speak told about his hunting expertise and the other men in the class joined in with many questions and comments. I asked about what kind of animals he hunted and if he used them for food.
The young woman trainee was the fourth to speak and she told about her trip to the Soviet Union. I immediately felt sorry for her because she sounded like a sixth grader telling what she'd done on her summer vacation. When she completed her story, not one of the men offered a comment or question. I wanted her to be successful and I had a number of questions and comments jotted down. I began by asking, "Were you able to visit The Hermitage while you were there?" She answered, "How would you know about The Hermitage?" I was stunned and did not answer; the class instructor quickly interjected and asked, "Why would you ask that?" and the woman actually responded, "I just can't believe a factory worker would know about The Hermitage." I stood up and said, "You must not realize that you are speaking to a member of the higher intelligentsia!" I continued, "I also know the Prado, the Louvre, the Uffizi and the Tate!" I sat down, trembling, greatly angered and offended.
By then I am certain that she realized that she had not only offended me but also everyone else in the room, including the instructor. She sat down and as every other class member spoke, she did not speak, but I asked numerous questions and gave comments, trying to compose myself before it was my turn to speak, as I was to be next to the last one to speak. When I rose to speak I told about MENSA.
The instructor gave us a break after that opening exercise and the woman trainee tried to apologize to me and I said, "Don't ever speak to me again, you elitist snob!"
I am ashamed--now--that I allowed the next two days to be a living Hell for her. I "allowed" it because I could have interceded and ameliorated the situation, but I did not, and frankly, I was deriving a great deal of pleasure seeing her discomfort. In all of the group exercises, it was obvious that the instructor made sure that she and I were not in any of the same teams, but the guys in whatever group she was in, made sure that she was treated as a pariah. My fellow supervisor from my plant was in several of the groups with her and always reported back to me the humiliation she endured. The men there might not have liked me if I had been the only woman there, but I was one of THEM!
My fellow supervisor said that the guys had a bet that she would sleep with one of them on the second night to be able to curry favor! I never found out if that were true, but I do know that on the course evaluations submitted, several of my fellow classmates posted unfavorable comments about her. She was gone from the company by the end of the month.