All day long, my phone tells me about the latest sexual-harassment allegations. Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Roy Moore. The #metoo and #believeher campaigns. And the brave, difficult news investigations being published under tremendous pressure.
It feels like a tipping point. At least I hope it is.
The well-meaning, earnest, thoughtful men in our lives ask us: “Has that happened to you?”
Here’s what I say: #allofus #everysingleone.
‘You look like a dominatrix’
In my 20s, my boss’-boss’-boss’ boss called me to his sprawling office, where, with his shiny shoes on the desk, said, “Your column needs a new photo.”
I said I didn’t understand, that people had said this picture was perfect. I didn’t know what he wanted.
He said, “For God’s sake, woman. You look like a dominatrix. All the men are talking about it.”
A whoosh filled my ears, and I tried not to show how mortified I felt. I left and asked the photo editor to please help me get a new photo, but didn’t say why. I did have to explain the new photo to my mother, who’d loved the original so much she’d asked for a copy. Then I had to explain what a dominatrix was.
Republic Media President and Publisher Mi-Ai Parrish speaks with Dustin Gardiner about Rep. Don Shooter…
It wasn’t the first nor nearly the most inappropriate thing that has been said in my long journalism career, but it’s come to mind with Arizona Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s accusations against Rep. Don Shooter.
The similar thing Don Shooter said
Because years after that boss said my professional high-collared, long-sleeved, black dress and Asian-American face made him think “sex object,” Don Shooter said something strikingly reminiscent to me.
An attorney and I were meeting with then-Sen. Shooter at his office in the Arizona Senate about proposed legislation that would impact local newspapers. I was there to tell him — the chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee — that the bill would cut private-sector jobs, increase the size and cost of government and be harmful to government transparency. I explained that I understood he might be under pressure from leadership, but asked that he use his own best judgment in his vote.
It was March 2016, and I was the president and publisher of the state’s largest media company. It was our first meeting. Shooter shared that he was an independent thinker, who kept his own counsel, made his own choices and had done everything on his “bucket list.”
And then he said this: “Well, except that one thing.”
What, I asked, what on your bucket list didn’t you do, Senator?
“Those Asian twins in Mexico.”
A colleague apologized. I said it was OK.
This time, all these years later, I didn’t get the whoosh in my ears or feel mortification for anyone other than the male colleague sitting next to me.
As we left soon after, my attorney friend paused and said, “I’m so sorry. I can’t believe he said that. I’m so embarrassed.”
He meant it. And so did I when I said that it was OK, that I wasn’t surprised, that he shouldn’t be embarrassed, and that he didn’t have to apologize.
Because after so many years, I was used to it. It was just another remark in a long, long list of offensive, obnoxious, ignorant, destructive things said to me and others by people with some power or sway.
But the truth of the matter is this: It wasn’t OK. And it wasn’t OK for me to be OK with it. For me to put up with it. To laugh it off, to excuse it, to use it as a cocktail-party tale.
It wasn’t OK for me. And it isn’t OK for my amazing nieces, for my brave colleagues, for the women coming up behind me.
Why it really wasn’t OK
I say every day that it’s important to make a difference. That I care to make the world around me just a little bit better.
That I want it better for Kristin, for April, for Mari, for Lauren, and Delaney and Maddie.
For decades, I let stuff like this fly. Not all of it. But loads and loads of nonsense.
It isn’t OK. And I’m angry.
There were reasons, to be sure, that I didn’t speak up. There have always been consequences, reasons we smiled and moved on, didn’t write about it, didn’t complain about it, didn’t file suit about it.
Of course I wanted to be helpful, but I worried that I could harm people as well.
Would it be harder for our newsroom to do its work? Would there be repercussions for allies or friends? Why does this have to be my problem?
These things are all true. But change takes courage. And courage is contagious. Without the brave women who spoke up to dogged journalists in the national harassment investigations, you wouldn’t know any of this.
Being the first-woman-this or the first-woman-that won’t have meant squat if I stay silent.
We have reached a tipping point
I ask myself what can I possibly change? Maybe it helps to change toxic cultures when we say “no more.” Maybe it empowers more people to run for public office. Maybe it causes more kind and thoughtful men to listen, to act, to step up.
To those men, if what is going on infuriates you, be a better friend, ally and mentor. We must fix this together.
Because this is everywhere. Every single day.
If a state senator feels comfortable enough to say to an Asian woman publisher in front of her attorney that his bucket list includes Asian twins, what does he say to the other women in his life?
I’ve tried to help the women around me. But it hasn’t changed things.
So I’m saying this: Enough.
Arizona Sen. Don Shooter made a demeaning, sexual and racial comment to me in his office, in front of my attorney.
That’s not right. And that’s the truth.
I hope it’s a tipping point. It feels like one.
Update: Don Shooter was expelled on Feb. 1, 2018, for “dishonorable” behavior — the first time the Arizona House of Representatives had expelled a member in 70 years.
Mi-Ai Parrish was the first minority and second woman to serve as president and publisher of USA TODAY Arizona, azcentral and The Arizona Republic. She is the Sue Clark-Johnson Professor in Media Innovation and Leadership at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The chair she holds is named for the Republic’s first woman publisher. She’s also the CEO and President of MAP Strategies Group, a change engineering firm that helps industries in disruption navigate positive transformation.