What Lies Behind “Metoo”

The #metoo posts — and the lamentable expansiveness of sexual harrassment — brought me back to a gratitude loop I’ve been playing in my head over the past few months. This one features the women in my life who have made professional spaces better for me.

Forever ingrained in my head, when I think of the professional woman I want to be, is my mama, with her snazzy, shoulder-padded suits and work pumps. She worked her way up from secretary to department head. She also taught me the importance of code-shifting. While my siblings and I chuckled and asked, “Why she change her voice when the boss call?” she was teaching us how to navigate the primarily white professional world (and eventually, we became skilled too).

In college, I majored in English because it’s what I was good at, though I had no idea what I wanted to “do” in the real world. Then I took one class taught by Kate Adams, Loyola University English professor. Then another and another. I think I took just about every class she taught. First, because she’s the most engaging professor I’ve ever had, and also because she nurtured my talent, relayed the wonder of the written word, and taught practical skills, such as copyediting.

Fresh out of college, I worked at a Louisiana book publishing company, where I had also interned. The editor-in-chief, Nina Kooij, gave me more training and insight during my internship and three years there than most young copy editors receive these days. She taught me the beauty of a light edit, the fundamentals of editing, and the workings of the author-editor relationship. Stephanie Williams, a publicist and my only African American co-worker, took me under her wing as I began to build a professional persona. She shared ideas of personal worth and trusting oneself, and her appreciation of books and music and art.

Stephanie helped me prep for my interview at LSU Press, where, once I was on the job, Lee Sioles baby-stepped me into the world of academic publishing. She extended the knowledge I gained from Nina and taught me how to kill authors with kindness in query letters. Lee set up weekly Chicago Manual of Style chats for the Manuscript Editing department, so the young editors of the group could have a better understanding of the guide and talk about what we were learning. Alisa Plant, an acquisitions editor at the Press, graced me with more nuggets of being a professional woman — primarily through watching her be the absolute smartest and most accessible academic I have ever known and discussing ideas with me as if I was too.

Of course, all of this molding of a professional woman informed my standards and confidence as, well, an individual. There are so many other women who worked in these spaces and others, who helped shape my ideas about life and where I fit in the world, who taught me how to take up space.

As pervasive as sexual harassment is, I just wanted to say, “We know people” haha. It’s good we have each other’s backs.

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