Grace & Grit: Q&A with Lanier Scott Isom

YouTube Preview Image

For her debut book, Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond, Birmingham writer Lanier Scott Isom tackled one of the hardest tasks known to writers – penning someone else’s memoir. If that wasn’t a daunting enough task, consider writing the memoir of a historical figure still living – Lilly Ledbetter, the fireball behind the Fair Pay Act of 2009. Ledbetter sued Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. for discrimination.

 

 

Here’s what United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said about Lilly’s case: “Lilly Ledbetter was a supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber’s plant in Gadsden, Alabama, from 1979 until her retirement in 1998. For most of those years, she worked as an area manager, a position largely occupied by men. Initially, Ledbetter’s salary was in line with the salaries of men performing substantially similar work. Over time, however, her pay slipped in comparison to the pay of male area managers with equal or less seniority. By the end of 1997, Ledbetter was the only woman working as an area manager and the pay discrepancy between Ledbetter and her 15 male counterparts was stark: Ledbetter was paid $3,727 per month; the lowest paid male area manager received $4,286 per month, the highest paid, $5,236.[4] This pay disparity led to further inequity in her “overtime pay, contributory retirement, 401(k), and social security.”

 

Join in as author Karen Spears Zacharias interviews Lanier Scott Isom, the author ofGrace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond.

 

KAREN: How did you meet Lilly Ledbetter?

 

LANIER: I first met Lilly when I wrote a magazine profile on her in 2009, soon after President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act.  The day I interviewed Jon Goldfarb, her attorney, he mentioned that a literary agent had been calling him trying to contact Lilly about her life story. I asked if they’d chosen a writer yet. He said he and Lilly had a few local writers in mind because they wanted an Alabama author to write the book. I told him before they made a final decision to throw my hat in the ring.

 

Turns out Lilly and I had a good rapport, she loved the article about her, and the next thing I knew, she asked me to write her story. Writing the memoir of an Alabama woman seeking social justice was a dream project for me to say the least.

 

 

KAREN: What did you know about Lilly Ledbetter’s story before you met her?

 

LANIER: Only that President Obama’s first piece of legislation was named after her.

 

KAREN: What did you fear most about writing her story?

 

LANIER: My greatest fear was not being able to capture Lilly’s voice. Part of the process of finding her voice included telling her story of being harassed without making Lilly sound like she was always the victim, always whining. I knew if I didn’t find Lilly’s voice the project would not succeed. It’s a scary proposition to invest years of your life in a work to have it fail. Especially, since I would be failing not only myself but also Lilly and her dream.

 

KAREN: What elements are critical for the author when writing someone else’s story in first-person?

 

LANIER: Creative nonfiction requires as Anna Quindlen says, using “the eye of a reporter and the heart of a novelist.” In other words, to weave a compelling narrative requires the journalistic skills of a reporter and the craft of a novelist.  Once you have researched, interviewed, and fact checked, you have to wear your storytelling hat. It’s time then to take the material you’ve gathered and give the story heart. But I struggled to get much emotion from Lilly. She, like many southern women, is not one to reveal her innermost thoughts very easily.  As one of the “Greatest Generation” she also isn’t one to complain; she just endures, and then, she acts. Over two years together, we spent countless hours talking, but one moment stands out in my mind: the moment when Lilly finally decided to open up and trust me, to show me a sense of vulnerability.

 

It was one winter afternoon when we’d been driving around Possum Trot, looking at her childhood home and her grandfather’s farm. We’d stopped at the small family cemetery. Standing in the cold on her grandfather’s grave, squinting her eyes as she looked across the cemetery to the bare trees scattered on the ridge, she mentioned as casually as if she were commenting on the chilly weather, “You know, Tot tried to kill my dog once, but Mama backed him down with a butcher knife.” That’s all she said. I didn’t press. After that moment in the cemetery, I knew she felt comfortable talking honestly about the harsh challenges she endured throughout most of her life. That’s how we worked from then on. She gave me a glimpse, a tiny glimmer, the actual facts of the matter as we continued our conversations over days and weeks and months. I then dug deep within myself to express her feeling about these experiences.

 

KAREN: You have done an overwhelming amount of research. What surprises did you come across in your research?

 

LANIER: How many legal documents a lawsuit generates. By the time Lilly went to court, the number of documents generated stacked as high as a three story building.

 

KAREN: Was it hard for you to imagine the dismissive ways in which Lily was treated by Goodyear given that you are much younger and have grown up in a generation where women CEOs are commonplace?

 

LANIER: I have to say I’ve experienced and seen enough discrimination myself not to be the least bit surprised by how Lilly was treated, so I wasn’t shocked by the fact the harassment existed. What was shocking and almost unbelievable was the extent of the harassment Lilly endured, how long she endured it, and the fact the sexism was so deeply entrenched in the work culture during the two decades she worked at Goodyear. I also have to say that women CEOs aren’t commonplace enough. Huge gains have been made for women, but we can’t take the rights we’ve won for granted, and more work has to be done. Specifically, in reference to Lilly’s story, the passage of the Fair Pay Act

 

KAREN: What do you admire most about Lily?

 

LANIER: Her determination and unwavering belief in standing up for what is right.

 

KAREN: What stories did she tell you that ended up on the cutting room floor that you wish were in the book?

 

LANIER: I wish I could have included more about her relationship with her children and grandchildren. Those stories show a more well-rounded version of her life experiences.

 

KAREN: Southern women in particular seem to possess a certain mule-headedness. Why do you think that is?

 

LANIER: Because they’ve had to live with southern men. Dealing with the heat and humidity? No, really, because after the Civil War they had no choice but to rebuild a defeated household and that tenaciousness has filtered down through the generations.

 

KAREN: There are those who thought Lily should just forget about the injustices done to her. Do you have a message for those people?

 

LANIER: Most people do walk away from the injustices they experience, but I do not believe anyone ever forgets. You do have to choose your battles, and I understand why people look the other way when an injustice occurs because they need their paycheck to pay the mortgage and buy groceries. It wasn’t within Lilly’s constitution to live the rest of her life and go to her grave knowing she was mistreated. The message I have for these people is that what happened to Lilly is illegal.

 

KAREN: What are you working on next?

 

LANIER: I am seeking a publisher for a young adult novel I’ve written about a high school track star and her Sandusky-like coach. I am also working on a novel about a Southern socialite and a book about a mother/daughter relationship and the impact the mother’s alternative lifestyle has on the daughter.

 

About Karen Spears Zacharias

Author. Speaker. Journalism Instructor. Four kids. Three dogs. One grandson.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1517719217 Mary Cooke

    I had just read an article about Gov. Scott Walker repealing Wisconsin’s equal pay law and the statement by a Wisconsin State Senator stating that “Money is more important for men”. It is hard to believe that someone actually said that in public. The article can be found here: http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/04/09/460917/wisconsin-state-senator-money-less-important-wome/

    It tells us all that Lilly’s work is not done as long as this kind of thinking exists. And thank you for the interview and adding another book to my list of to-reads!

  • MaleMatters

    Interesting reading. But here’s what Ledbetter will not tell you:

    There has been just as much sexism against men in the world of children as there has been sexism against women in the world of work. So she cannot claim the moral highground for women.

    As for the gender wage gap:

    No law yet has closed the gender wage gap — not the 1963 Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, not Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, not the 1991 amendments to Title VII, not affirmative action (which has benefited mostly white women, the group most vocal about the wage gap – http://tinyurl.com/74cooen), not diversity, not the countless state and local laws and regulations, not the horde of overseers at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and not the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act…. Nor will a “paycheck fairness” law work.

    That’s because pay-equity advocates continue to overlook the effects of female AND male behavior:

    Despite the 40-year-old demand for women’s equal pay, millions of wives still choose to have no pay at all. In fact, according to Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of “The Secrets of Happily Married Women,” stay-at-home wives, including the childless who represent an estimated 10 percent, constitute a growing niche. “In the past few years,” he says in a CNN report at http://tinyurl.com/6reowj, “many women who are well educated and trained for career tracks have decided instead to stay at home.” (“Census Bureau data show that 5.6 million mothers stayed home with their children in 2005, about 1.2 million more than did so a decade earlier….” at http://tinyurl.com/qqkaka. If indeed more women are staying at home, perhaps it’s because feminists and the media have told women for years that female workers are paid less than men in the same jobs — so why bother working if they’re going to be penalized and humiliated for being a woman. Yet, if “greedy, profit-obsessed” employers could get away with paying women less than men for the same work, they would not hire a man – ever.)

    As full-time mothers or homemakers, stay-at-home wives earn zero. How can they afford to do this while in many cases living in luxury? Because they’re supported by their husband, an “employer” who pays them to stay at home.

    Feminists, government, and the media ignore what this obviously implies: If millions of wives are able to accept no wages and live as well as their husbands, millions of other wives are able to:

    -accept low wages
    -refuse overtime and promotions
    -choose jobs based on interest first, pay second — men tend to do the opposite
    -work part-time instead of full-time (“According to a 2009 UK study for the Centre for Policy Studies, only 12 percent of the 4,690 women surveyed wanted to work full time”: http://bit.ly/ihc0tl See also an Australian report at http://tinyurl.com/862kzes)
    -take more unpaid days off
    -avoid uncomfortable wage-bargaining (http://tinyurl.com/3a5nlay)

    All of which LOWER WOMEN’S AVERAGE PAY.

    Women are able to make these choices because they are supported — or anticipate being supported — by a husband who must earn more than if he’d chosen never to marry. (Still, even many men who shun marriage, unlike their female counterparts, feel their self worth is tied to their net worth.) This is how MEN help create the wage gap. If the roles were reversed so that men raised the children and women raised the income, men would average lower pay than women.

    Afterword: The power in money is not in earning it (there is only responsibility, sweat, and stress in earning money). The power in money is in SPENDING it. And, Warren Farrell says in The Myth of Male Power at http://www.warrenfarrell.org/TheBook/index.html, “Women control consumer spending by a wide margin in virtually every consumer category.” (Women’s control over spending, adds Farrell, gives women control over TV programs.) “A recent research study revealed that the average woman spends eight years of her life shopping [spending] — over 300 shopping trips per year. Men, only a fraction of that.” -
    http://www.terryoreilly.ca/blog/show/id/78

    Excerpted from “Will the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Help Women?” at http://malemattersusa.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/will-the-ledbetter-fair-pay-act-help-women/

    “Nearly half of all American women think they are doing much better in their career than the man in their life, according to a new poll.” http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/half_of_women_feel_more_successful_eao9N2neTpnJZLwFmEONgK#ixzz1rMad9gsF

  • MaleMatters

    Re: “Money is more important for men”

    If someone said, “Children are more important for women,” would you have said anything?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1517719217 Mary Cooke

      Yes I would have said something. And I agree that there is sexism against men in the world of children. We have a lot of work to do against sexism in general.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X