I stared at the ceiling the entire night after reading “Who Is the Bad Art Friend?” ― an article published last month in the The New York Times Magazine about a writer who pilfered and fictionalized her colleague’s kidney donation. As I was contemplating my worst friend in bad art, or as it is my fault, my poor. Thought leader Refer a friend
In the morning, before coffee, I went searching for the email exchange to the male colleague who included some ideas I’d shared with him in his book, without attribution. My attempts to confront him were almost as surprising as my discovery of his ideas in the book.
My 2014 leadership blog was up and I also had a small Twitter audience. My career was changing from that of a therapist to one as an executive and consultant in organizational management. I was developing some ideas ― known in my field as thought leadership ― Around the use of leadership principles within intimate relationships.
These skills were used in my personal relationships with great success and with other couples who came to me when I moved careers. After gathering my ideas, I was able to create a model of four parts and then wrote a book proposal after a male friend found me through Twitter.
The man was a New York City-based sex therapist. He had just made his own proposal to an important publisher. I was tagged by him in one of his posts. I asked him to visit my blog and then share it with me. His style was very appealing to me. We met for lunch.
It’s Over Le Pain Quotidien After quiche, I explained to him about my views on leadership in intimate relationships. His eyes were widening. He was encouraged by my enthusiasm and I led him through my 4-point model. He made me feel “onto something,” and hopeful about getting my book published. I was told by him about his efforts to help long-term partners stay sexually healthy. The two of us parted ways.
I gave up trying to sell the book. I found it to be a tremendous amount of work and little in return. I was told by editors I needed a larger following, but I didn’t want to take the time and energy away from my consulting work to build one.
However, it was a few more years before I got a letter personalized from my colleague informing me that he wanted to order, review and pre-order his book. Three emails into that exchange, after I’d congratulated him, he came back with the line: I am especially interested to know if you enjoy the chapter…on leadership and power.
What? He hadn’t mentioned anything about themes of leadership and power in his work in our lunch. The chapter had some interesting ideas, and my exact words were used. He cited principles from other thinkers in his book, which he acknowledged. Since I was unpublished, perhaps he felt he didn’t need to. I felt sucker-punched.
In my consulting, I witness how men take credit for women’s ideas all the time. I’ve been on the receiving end of women’s rants about how frustrating it is to have an idea rebuffed only to later show up in a presentation by the same man who rebuffed it.
A complaint does not always bring about more power and visibility. It is the other way around: The woman is called a whiner. To prevent this phenomenon, otherwise known as “bropriating,” the women on President Barack Obama’s staff came up with a method called amplificationIn which women’s ideas are repeated by female colleagues in order to decrease their chance of being stolen. But what happens when you don’t have a group of women around to amplify you?
My consulting focus is on helping individuals recognize their professional authority and take it forward. Women tend to be more conscientious leaders than men, and they are less likely to accept the responsibility that comes with their position. Many are afraid of seeming egocentric or hurting a colleague’s feelings, even when delivering critical feedback is an essential part of their job. It is not difficult for me to communicate tough messages in my job. So I was shocked ― no, horrified ―Reread my comments about how sweet and kind I was to myself when dealing with my bropriator.
He was a great book. It is a wonderful way to bring together psychology, mindfulness and connection, and it’s not preachy.Then I continued: Yes, as per an email exchange I have previously, I appreciated the thoughtful leadership references and the use [my term which I am not including here as it would require a whole extra explanation] I wondered if you had been using that term before we talked, and I secretly hoped that I had some influence there ― though of course, if I had, it also would have been nice to be acknowledged for it.
I ended as if practicing the “sandwich technique,” sliding a harsh comment in between two positives: You have contributed a wonderful piece to the field of sexual intimacy literature. I am sure the book will do everything that you wanted it to.
If it were a sandwich it would be pure baloney.
His ego was protected! Fawning! The fawning! WhyIs that you? Was I scared, like women I’d counseled, of being branded a whiner? The possibility of creating conflict. I knew I didn’t want to get into litigation; I didn’t have the time or resources for that. Because I’m working for myself, and my reputation is mine, it’s important that I don’t burn bridges. My stomach turned sour when he let me off with so much exaggerated benefit.
As I looked back on it, I felt I’d let down the women I’d worked with who suffered the same slights.
The colleague said he didn’t remember the idea from our Quotidien lunch those years before, but instead thought he came up with it on his own. I provided a link from a previous post to him. He offered to credit me in the paperback version, then claimed the publisher wouldn’t let him, so he made other hollow offers for collaboration that were only ever meant to mollify, not materialize.
One of the driving factors in my obsequiousness is that I believed him. I’d just seen a pre-Me Too episode of the show “Louie” depicting a somewhat fictionalized, yearslong feud between comedians Louis C.K. Marc Maron and Louis C.K. He had stolen a joke. C.K. defended himself, pointing out that there is so much data coming at us from all angles, we’re bound to think we invented some of it. That’s pretty undeniable.
The deeper reason that I believed in him was because of my belief that I was an outsider. My thoughts did not need to be fought over, because they didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to have the power to truly take them to market anyway, so they might as well have been donated.
I’ve grown and learned and trust that if this happened today I’d make my point and hold a bold mirror up to his motives. But reading about other women’s stories of appropriation in the TimesArticle, I observed women in conflict about wanting credit and owning their stories.
Retrospectively, it seems that my colleague was aware of what he was doing and stole openly, in full knowledge there would not be any consequences.
Good news: I was able to write even though it hurt. Two years later, I unexpectedly wrote a memoir about my time in an Ashram during my 20s. However, even though creative lemonade has been made, I felt compelled not to forget that story, idea, joke and joke stealing might never cease but this power dynamic where men steal while women keep their mouths shut should.
I invite the men reading this to be more aware, to reflect on their tone and motives when responding to women’s contributions, and to make a conscious effort to champion ― not steal ― women’s thoughts. But to focus too much energy on controlling men’s behavior is a path of endless frustration.
As women, when we can’t amplify each other’s ideas in person, we need to do so in spirit, and find creative ways to stop putting aside our hard-earned work to placate others. It is important to encourage each other and share our stories and ideas. They are important.