Author Archives: katepedrotty

One of these things is just like the other

Over the past 24 hours, we in Louisiana (and – oh goody! – the rest of the world, because internet) have been treated to both the proposal of a sophomoric “joke amendment” legislating weight and age limits for strippers and a massive smackdown of the Senate’s equal pay bill by a House labor committee comprised of 14 men and one woman. Specifically, 10 committee members voted to reject a bill (Senate Bill 254) that would have required private businesses to pay the same wages to men and women who perform the same work.

havard.jpgI’ve read lots of Facebook posts and tweets today referencing the terrible irony and/or weird coincidence of these two legislative “events” happening in such close proximity to one another. Meanwhile, amendment author Rep. Kenny Havard, R- Jackson, has staked out a privileged position of regret without apology over his “joke,” and opponents of Senate Bill 254 are congratulating themselves on saving private businesses in the state from “frivolous” lawsuits demanding pay equality.

But there’s nothing weird or ironic going on here – just a very common, very old, very tiresome story – something so well baked into the fabric of our culture that it often escapes notice:

“Asked whether he was sympathetic to other legislators who said his joke was indicative of a boy’s club culture that sidelines women, Havard said, ‘I haven’t observed that.’”

Where “women’s issues” are concerned, the old boy’s club is too often just what we saw this week: a comedy club. If something’s not treated as an outright joke, like the amendment, it’s maybe just “frivolous,” like the notion that we might want to close the nation’s highest gender pay gap and stop being at the bottom of everything. Sideline, sideshow – whatever diminishing vocabulary you use, the connecting narrative thread is that issues and legislation that are perceived to primarily affect women, or the concerns that women might raise about legislation that affects everyone, are deemed less important and less worthy of careful study and serious debate (unless it’s about what women do with their own bodies, of course – then it’s very serious).

Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, pushed back against the circus atmosphere today – uncharacteristically gently, thinks Melinda Deslatte – describing the amendment debacle as “a teaching moment for all of us.” What all our elected officials could learn about, apparently, is “appreciating the important work that we do first of all, and always taking it seriously.”


Rep. Julie Stokes (R-Kenner)

That’s a great idea, really. But I suspect that part of what made Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, storm up to that microphone on the House floor yesterday is the kind of disgust and frustration that boils over particularly hotly when you know that you’ve done all the “serious” stuff – maybe you’ve taken the serious classes, read the serious books, had the serious conversations with the serious people, worn the serious clothes (that’s a must), and gotten the serious job to do the serious work – and it doesn’t matter. This infuriating situation isn’t unique to sexism, of course – it’s a general dilemma that arises whenever individual initiative runs up against usually arbitrary but stubbornly tenacious power structures protecting one privilege or another.

In this case, it’s the privilege to publicly snicker at objectifying innuendos one day and abdicate the responsibility of ensuring economic justice and dignity for Louisiana women the next.

I certainly hope that all of our elected officials learn something from this “teaching moment” and approach their jobs with renewed seriousness and renewed respect for all their constituents, especially given the gravity of the issues we all face. Because Louisiana will continue to provide the material that makes it the punchline to so many jokes if we don’t call out the worst parts of our collective personality (it seems @stephgracenola agrees!) and pledge to do better.


Maintaining the social status quo

You know that thing that everyone knows you’re not supposed to do when you read stuff on the internet? I did it recently. First, I read a short but really thought-provoking article from The Atlantic‘s CityLab online mag that a grad school friend shared on her Facebook page. But I didn’t stop there…I read the comments.

As it turns out, that was a useful exercise – I’ll get to that in a minute.

social-innovation-2000x1342The article, “How ‘Maintainers,’ Not ‘Innovators,’ Make the World Turn,” alerted me to the fact that a group of historians, social scientists, artists, activists, and engineers assembled for a conference in early April at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey to start a critical conversation about our sometimes blind celebration of “innovation” and “innovators,” especially as drivers of economic and technological change. Think Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and buzzwords like “disruption” and “visionary.” The novelty created by innovation is intoxicating and seductive, full of the promise that we have the power to constantly refashion the world to more easily and efficiently deliver whatever it is we’re searching for in that moment: wealth, health, happiness. And the heroes of this story are often larger than life – the independent, “self-made” men and women who bring about change through the force of their own brilliance and personality, without assistance and often to the amazement of naysayers and critics.

There are lots of ways to interrogate the dominant innovation narrative, but one of the most important is by exposing how this story excludes and obscures the lives and work of people that the conference organizers call “the maintainers:” those whose labor sustains our society but is so often “unnamed, unseen, and underpaid.” As Lee Vinsel, assistant professor of science and technology at the Stevens Institute, puts it, “In a culture where we forget about things like crumbling infrastructure* and wage inequality, those narratives about technological change can be really dangerous.”

Read the rest of this entry

Friday Spotlight: The Roots of Music

roots_kids._romain_beaxisA bit of a departure for today’s spotlight…

“We were thinking about a lot of stuff with rebuilding, and getting our lives back together – getting the lights back on, getting the economy back up. But we didn’t think about our children, we didn’t think about what the children need to get back to their normal life.” ~ Derrick Tabb, Roots of Music founder

As a North Louisianan, I realize that I’m probably a bit late to the party (as usual – see “Shreveport Mardi Gras”), but it was only a few months ago that I first got to experience a tiny slice of the amazing work that The Roots of Music organization has been doing  in New Orleans since 2007. I heard a small Roots of Music ensemble perform at the state capitol prior to the inauguration of Governor John Bel Edwards and was excited to learn about how the group uses music education to connect, mentor, and empower middle school age youth from low-income households all across New Orleans. Derrick Tabb, New Orleans native and snare drummer for the Rebirth Brass Band, co-founded Roots of Music along with Allison Reinhardt to fill the void created when many schools discontinued marching band programs after Hurricane Katrina, especially at the middle school level. Read the rest of this entry

Friday Spotlight: People Acting for Change and Equality (PACE)


I’m a proud 2016 New Leaders Council Louisiana fellow and was thrilled when we kicked off our 2016 Institute in my hometown, Shreveport. One of our special guests during the weekend was former Shreveport mayor (and current State Representative for District 4) Cedric B. Glover, and in his remarks to our cohort he highlighted his December 2009 executive order protecting LGBT city employees from employment discrimination as a point of personal and professional pride – a bright spot for concrete progressive action in a very conservative corner of the state. Four years later, in 2013, the Shreveport City Council adopted the Shreveport Fairness Ordinance prohibiting discrimination against all LGBT city residents in employment, housing, and public facilities, making Shreveport only the second city in Louisiana to legislate specific protections for LGBT citizens.

These tangible policies are impressive and important. But the story of progress toward LGBT rights in Shreveport isn’t really about executive orders and city council ordinances. It’s about effective organizing and people power – specifically, the work of People Acting for Change and Equality, or PACE.  Read the rest of this entry

On Protest

At the end of Thanksgiving break during my senior year of college, I found myself in the company of seven or eight other eager young citizens in a traditionally elegant private school in Metairie. When we weren’t taking turns being called before a panel of intimidating interviewers in a dimly lit, stifling library, we – the Louisiana state finalists for a prestigious national scholarship – sized each other up via awkward, falsely self-deprecating small talk.

wto-02Large parts of that stressful day are now a blur, but one memory has always stuck with me. There was a television in our waiting area tuned to a national cable network, and the regularly scheduled programming was interrupted several times with updates on the chaotic protests that accompanied the November 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle. As images of the angry, chanting crowds filled the screen, one of my fellow scholarship hopefuls exclaimed, “This is just so horrible, for this to be happening in our country. It’s so un-American!”  Read the rest of this entry

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