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December 7, 2011 / Anna Louie Sussman

Yoga to the People. No, seriously.

Lenny Williams, founder of Mandala House

You may have heard about Yoga to the People, a donation-based yoga studio in the East Village that’s now the defendant in a lawsuit filed by Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga (TM). A yoga-based lawsuit could and one day may be the subject of its very own blog post, but for now I mention it merely to highlight its polar opposite: seriously bringing yoga to the people. Not just broke students who can’t afford the very high prices of yoga classes in New York, but people who’ve never heard of yoga. People like former child combatants in Uganda, and women who have survived sexual violence during conflict.

The person bringing the yoga is Lenny Williams, the founder of Mandala House, who I profiled last week for Women in the World. An excerpt follows, and the full profile can be read here.

Williams had practiced yoga regularly since her mid-twenties and trained in 2003 at OM yoga studio in downtown Manhattan. While she enjoyed taking classes, she knew she wanted to work with people who wouldn’t normally find themselves in a yoga studio. To work more effectively with these populations, she began training in trauma-sensitive yoga. During a training with trauma pioneers David Emerson and Bessel van der Kolk, she realized that much of what she was learning – that yoga can help heal – she knew through her own experience.

“I didn’t even know that I was using yoga and these techniques to heal and self-regulate, but I was,” she said, “so I intuitively knew there was this toolkit. I just hadn’t formalized it.”

She tried reaching out to organizations working with incarcerated youth, and to local rape crisis centers, but got little traction. Friends who worked at the United Nations and with international relief agencies encouraged her to look abroad. Just a month after she secured fiscal sponsorship through the women’s rights organization MADRE, she got the green light from the St. Monica’s Girls School in Gulu. From her conversations with the headmistress, CNN Hero Sister Rosemary, she gathered that the staff was enthusiastic about the yoga training. Only upon her arrival did it become clear that no one had any idea what yoga was.

“I wish I had a picture of my face at that moment,” she said. “They thought it was going to be badminton or something — some sort of sports activity.”

Full story here.

December 6, 2011 / Anna Louie Sussman

Jon Corzine: How can you steal when you look like Santa?

There’s a man in the news with twinkly eyes, rimless spectacles, and a lush white beard. But instead of bearing gifts, he’s ignoring warnings about European debt risk and gambling with what is thought to be $1.2 billion of missing customer money in his former role as CEO of the now-bankrupt firm MF Global. In the headline of a story I did for class last month, I likened Mr. Corzine to the fabled Emperor who believes he’s wearing fine robes when in fact he is nude. I was delighted to see that Financial Times’ writer John Gapper chose the same analogy and ran with it, in this brilliant piece. Meanwhile, here’s my stab at it.

“That Robe Looks Fabulous on You, Emperor.” Why did no one raise any alarms on Corzine’s big European bets?

NEW YORK CITY — Now that its bankruptcy papers have been filed, observers of the collapsed brokerage firm-turned-investment bank MF Global are asking: why did no one see this coming?

The signs were there. Since former Goldman Sachs executive Jon Corzine took over the firm in April 2010, it scaled up its proprietary trading business until it was leveraged nearly 40 to one as recently as June of this year. By comparison, Lehman Brothers was leveraged at 35 to one at the time of its collapse.

Over 10% of its assets were long-term peripheral European government bonds, most of which were due to mature towards the end of 2012. As the Eurozone crisis intensified in recent weeks, investor lack of confidence caused capital to flee, resulting in downgrades from ratings agencies Moody’s and Fitch’s.

But asking whether that strategy could have succeeded in a different investment climate, or what was driving Corzine to take on so much risk, misses the point, said Joseph A. Cotterill, who has been covering MF Global for the Financial Times’ Alphaville blog.

“For me, the real question isn’t so much about why MF Global turned into a massive proprietary trading outfit, it’s why no one stopped them — auditors, ratings agencies, and so on,” he said.

There is no one answer, and observers have pointed to several factors that could have made it difficult to put the brakes on Mr. Corzine’s ambitious strategy: his Goldman Sachs “halo,” the politician connections he brought from his career as a New Jersey senator and governor, and internal structure and personnel problems at MF Global.

Francine McKenna, who blogs about the “Big Four” auditing agencies at re: the Auditors and is a regular contributor to American Banker and Forbes, believes the auditing agencies failed to honestly evaluate MF Global’s long-term prospects.

“Their job is to go in, look at the internal and external figures, and decide ‘What is the likelihood that this company is going to survive the next 12 months?,’” she said. A company with MF Global’s risk levels should have been marked with a “qualified concern” rating as far back as last December.

“Given their losses over the last three years, there was a reasonable expectation that one of the auditors should have said, ‘I think we need to raise our hand and say this firm is in potential danger of not being here 12 months from now,’” she said.

Over the past two years, Fitch and Moody’s credit ratings reports have consistently reflected a “negative outlook” on MF Global. But continued confidence from Standard and Poor’s, an agency to which Mr. Corzine has close ties through former Goldman colleagues, delayed the inevitable crash, according to Ms. McKenna. Standard and Poor’s rated the company “stable” in December 2010.  A “qualified concern” rating, on the other hand, would have called the company’s credit lines and debt liens into question, since those covenants require a clean opinion to hold.

“The auditors don’t want to be the ones to light the match, because changing their opinion has automatic consequences,” she said. “All the things you’re dealing with now would have happened then.”

In an article for American Banker, Ms. McKenna noted that many of Mr. Corzine’s inner circle of advisors were men he had known for years, and as such were unlikely to provide a lucid, outsider’s perspective. For example, MF Global’s Chief Financial Officer, Henri Steenkamp, came from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which audited Goldman Sachs for the many years he was there.

Yesterday, the firm filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy, news followed by reports of hundreds of millions of dollars gone missing.  This prompts another important question, said Ms. McKenna.

“How do you make sure that anyone’s looking out for the shareholders?”



November 25, 2011 / Anna Louie Sussman

Sexual harassment exists.

  1. Recently, author Katie Roiphe wrote in the Sunday New York Times, “After all these years, we are again debating the definition of unwanted sexual advances and parsing the question of whether a dirty joke in the office is a crime.”
  2. It is strange that she does not remember this lady, Anita Hill. Do you remember her, and all the gross stuff that she testified about under oath that her boss, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, told her? My mom told me that when I was watching it at the tender age of 9 or so, I ran out of the room and locked myself in the bathroom because I was upset by the bestiality mentions. I dream of a world in which the United States can boast a full bench of Supreme Court justices who do not scare small children.
  3. Sexual harassment has a legal definition. It is made of words. Words, as she notes, can be “slippery.” But the law is less slippery, and these cases have been adjudicated many times over. Here is the legal definition:  “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment.” It is from the website of Equal Rights Advocates.
  4. It’s hard to tell if something is “unwelcome,” or if it is “severe,” or even if it’s “sexual,” sometimes, right? In Herman Cain’s case, some of his actions were described by Politico as “physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable and that they regarded as improper in a professional relationship.”

  5. This prompted New York magazine to speculate: “Jazz Hands?….or boob-grabbing hands?”
  6. By the severity definition, even if it occurs once, it can count as “sexual harassment” if, for example, it is severe or violent, as in the case of rape. In this case, which was eventually dismissed, Jamie Leigh Jones, a contractor for Kellogg, Brown and Root testifies in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee about her rape by colleagues while working in Iraq and her subsequent treatment by her employer. 
  7. Jamie Leigh Jones Testifies Before House Judiciary Committee
  8. Here’s one of many parts of Anita Hill’s testimony. I picked one at random so hopefully I did not hit upon the bestiality clip by chance. That would be awkward. 

  9. Anita Hill’s Testimony Part 24 – Clarence Thomas 2nd Hearing Part 33 (1991)
  10. But I digress. I would like to demonstrate that sexual harassment exists, and it has quantifiable effects. Off to the statistics we go! [NB: Huge thank you to Tanya at the National Women’s Law Center, for her help in researching this.] Let’s start with recent statistics, courtesy of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. From 1997-2001, the number of complaints it received hovered in the mid-high 15,000s. In 2010, that number was 11,717. The percentage of cases filed by men has crept from 13.7% to 16.4%. Here’s a full chart with all the data, including how the cases were resolved:

  11. What does that mean for companies, businesses, harassment victims? Here is some more interesting data, from a fact sheet by the Feminist Majority Foundation (emphases mine).

    Sexual harassment psychologically hurts the women involved and the work atmosphere. According to the National Council for Research on Women, women are 9 times more likely than men to quit their jobs, 5 times more likely to transfer, and 3 times more likely to lose jobs because of harassment (The Webb Report, June 1994). There may be serious economic consequences as a result of sexual harassment. A woman’s job status may be jeopardized and and she may lose wages if she is fired or takes extended leave to avoid the harasser.
  12. Okay, so, women are far more likely than men to quit their jobs, transfer or lose a job because of harassment. And women are still 84% of the victims. What does this mean? It means that this is not inconsequential for all of the other factors that relate to female poverty: more time spent out of work, more time spent looking for a job, the unease of having to explain what happened in your last job, the decreased likelihood of promotion to higher-paying positions, etc. It also costs employers a bunch of money. From the ERA site:

    “The costs are borne not only by the victims of harassment; they create financial havoc for employers as well. Sexual harassment costs a typical Fortune 500 company $6.7 million per year in absenteeism, low productivity and employee turnover. That does not include additional costs for litigation expenses, executive time and tarnished public image should a case wind up in court.”

    The federal government loses cash over this too. Taxpayer cash. Our cash.

    Sexual harassment cost
    the federal government $327 million from 1992-1994:

    o   Job turnover — $24.7 million

    o   Sick leave — $14.9 million

    o   Individual productivity —
    $93.7 million

    o   Workgroup productivity —
    $193.8 million

    o   Total — $327.1 million

    Full report here:

    There are other sucky things that happen because of sexual harassment, such as:

    “A Cleveland State Law Review Article entitled “The Present State of Sexual Harassment Law: Perpetuating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Sexually Harassed Women” reported that 90% to 95% of sexually harassed women suffer from some debilitating stress reaction, including anxiety, depression, headaches, sleep disorders, weight loss or gain, nausea, lowered self-esteem and sexual dysfunction. They experience job-related costs as well: from job loss, decreased morale, decreased job satisfaction to irreparable damage to interpersonal relationships at work.”

    If you need money to survive (most of us do) and you need to work to make money (most of us do), then sexual harassment will be a significant impediment to staying alive. And what about sexual harassment that starts before one gets to work? What if you’re a student? Imagine if female students were 9 times more likely than male students to quit school, 5 times more likely to transfer schools, and 3 times more likely to get kicked out of school because of harassment? Luckily, they’re not, but the statistics are still chilling. A new report out this month by the American Association of University Women documents this phenomenon, which affects 56% of girls and 40% of boys.

  13. One more time, all together now: 56% of girls in the survey of nearly 2,000 students reported harassment. Is it just me or is that, oh, 56% too many? That’s more than half of the girls in the survey. And only 12% of those girls told someone in authority about their experience. Consider Amanda Marcotte’s response: 

    “In the real world, one cannot simply separate an occasional comment from its context, particularly with adolescents. Being called “so hot” by your actual boyfriend is not harassment. Being called “so hot” or a “whore” in the context of pervasive harassment can often be traumatizing. Leora Tanenbaum’s book Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation is useful for understanding how serious this problem is.”

    And now consider what the costs of childhood sexual trauma are, according to a 17,000-person study conducted by Kaiser Permanente. Findings: 

    1. There’s a direct link between childhood trauma and adult onset of chronic disease, such as diabetes, heart disease, emphysema, and some types of cancer.

    2. If a person experienced one type of trauma, there was a 90-plus percent chance that there would be more. In other words, trauma such as child sex abuse rarely occurs alone – substance abuse, mental illness or one of the other traumas also exists.

    3. Only 30 percent of people in the study had zero ACEs.

    4. Here’s the final stunner – the 17,000 people who participated in the study were 75 percent white, middle to upper-middle class, 76 percent had attended or graduated from college, and, since they were members of Kaiser through their employers, they had jobs and great health care. See the article below for a fuller explication:

  14. And this video for how exactly childhood trauma can cause long-term adverse health effects:
  15. Meanwhile, we know how to stop it. Here’s a video of how to avoid sexually harassing. (Note: if it’s being narrated by furry animals in robot voices, it’s likely a joke.)
  16. The bigger takeaway, though, comes from Lori Adelman at Feministing:

    “The only thing that this op-ed elucidates for me is that Katie Roiphe doesn’t care about women’s feelings of workplace safety and comfort as much as she does her own reputation for going against the grain.

    Her central question: “In our effort to create a wholly unhostile work environment, have we simply created an environment that is hostile in a different way?” implies that the real “victims” of sexual harassment charges are the people who are inconvenienced or annoyed by what she considers excessive political correctness in relation to sexual harassment claims. But this concern reflects an unhinged viewpoint of reality, one that doesn’t take into account real women’s real experiences in the workplace.

    Rather than aspiring to a “drab, cautious, civilized, quiet, comfortable workplace” I think many women would settle for one that is safe and fair.”

    Fatima Goss Graves, Vice President of education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center, thinks that companies do recognize this. 

    “Having sexual harassment in the workplace isn’t good for employers,” she told me. “The question is whether they know how to handle it properly.”

    Unfortunately, as this Businessweek article points out, companies are increasingly employing mandatory arbitration clauses to keep workplace disputes like harassment cases from going to court.


  17. You may recall another recent case or two or three in which the victims settled instead of going to court. It is not clear why this was done – whether the settlements were mandatory or that was simply the way they were resolved – but it is troubling that without a legal record of the incidents, we are left to wonder…jazz hands?…or boob-grabbing hands?

November 22, 2011 / Anna Louie Sussman

Sexual harassment exists. Really.

I used Storify to create this little bloggy, video-y mashup on sexual harassment and attempts to quantify its existence.

[Click here to go to the Storify]

It’s a mix of reportage, links to reports, videos, stats, etc — a good primer on sexual harassment, if you’re looking for one.

November 15, 2011 / Anna Louie Sussman

Getting Women Back to Work

The recession has hit women and men differently, but globally, the consensus is there. Economies will grow if women work. Or as the World Bank puts it, investing in women is “smart economics.” In this piece for Women in the World Foundation, I profiled three innovative non-profits getting women back in jobs across the United States. One trains women to work in construction; another focuses on microfinance, and a third helps women launch and grow small businesses.

When the recession hit in December 2007, men took the first hit: jobs in construction, real estate and finance, where men are overrepresented, vanished from the labor market. But the so-called “man-cession” has given way to yet another neologism: “the he-covery.”  In fact, over the last two years, women’s unemployment has risen while men re-enter the work force. As stimulus money dries up and states and municipalities struggle to balance their budgets, public sector jobs (of which women have already lost 72.3% in the last two years) will face further cuts.

These figures reflect a changing economy, in which certain sectors where women are overrepresented, like administrative and secretarial work, are in decline. Others in which they are underrepresented, like the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, are projected to grow.  Construction and extraction jobs are expected to grow at a rate of 1.2% through 2018, but women only make up 2.6% of the industry’s employed.

Read the rest of the story, “Bucking the Trend: Getting women back to work in the face of the ‘woman-cession,'” here.

November 15, 2011 / Anna Louie Sussman

Another easy-to-grasp equation, via Eve Ensler: No women, no future, duh.

When I was in high school, my godmother took me to see the Vagina Monologues, written and performed by Eve Ensler. I loved it. So much that I tried to work for Eve Ensler, and was given a job in the gift shop instead, which I worked at the weekends until I got vagina fatigue (they pipe the show into the gift shop and there’s only so much repetition of the word “vagina” I could stand.)

Ensler, whose V-Day organization has raised millions of dollars to fight violence against women around the world, has a bit of rape fatigue these days. She expounds on her rape fatigue this week in the Huffington Post.

I am over rape.

I am over rape culture, rape mentality, rape pages on Facebook.

I am over the thousands of people who signed those pages with their real names without shame.

I am over people demanding their right to rape pages, and calling it freedom of speech or justifying it as a joke.

I am over people not understanding that rape is not a joke and I am over being told I don’t have a sense of humor, and women don’t have a sense of humor, when most women I know (and I know a lot) are really fucking funny. We just don’t think that uninvited penises up our anus, or our vagina is a laugh riot.

I was feeling the same way back in May of this year when, between the two NYPD rape cases, the DSK allegations, and the reports of mass rape in Libya, seemed to invite an official recognition of May as Rape Month.

It’s November now, and I’m with Eve. I’m over rape.