Monday, February 17, 2014

Women Matter

Today is President's Day.

When I was a kid, we had two days off in February: the 12th for Lincoln's birthday and the 22nd for Washington's. I remember being pretty amazed to hear that people in the south didn't get off for Lincoln's birthday, and it wasn't until I was in junior high that I fully understood the reasoning behind that. I understood it, but I sure didn't like it. My theory was that after the Civil War, we were all one country and we should be celebrating the same Federal holidays.

Martha C. W. 
Besides, I had another issue with all holiday nonsense: where is First Ladies Day? I mean really, our First Ladies were a pretty remarkable lot. Martha Custis Washington disapproved of George's decision to become president, but she was a renowned hostess for the new government at their temporary digs in Philadelphia and in New York. Abigail Adams brought panache and style to the new capital, Washington, when the government moved in 1800. The title First Lady probably originated with that never-say-die Dolley Madison... when President Zachary Taylor used that title in her eulogy. Mary Todd was a bit off, but hey! she held séances.  No presidency was complete without a First Lady. And if you didn't have one of your own, like James Buchanan, your niece Harriet Lane stood in nicely as a replacement. Who wouldn't want to celebrate the life and times of Edith Wilson who probably ran the government after President Wilson had a stroke in 1919. How about Eleanor Roosevelt who had her own diplomatic life after FDR died? The women of the White House brought, class, color, and conviviality on the exterior, and dogged determination on the interior.

(L-R) Nancy, Lady Bird, Hillary,
Rosalynn, Betty, and Barbara.
Quite a club. 

[William J. Clinton Presidential Library]

These days, the role of the first lady is significant. She gets press, she does stuff on her own, she sets an agenda...and she gets pilloried for whatever it is from whatever direction. Comes with the job. But one of those ladies is about to launch in her own right despite having been a First Lady. Whether she wins of loses...or even runs, Hillary Rodham Clinton has changed the game...and done it on her terms. 

We could use a few more women who decide doing stuff on their own terms can be a reality. And we just lost one of them this past week. 

My friend Linda Brodsky left the building.

Linda and I met in Hebrew school and went through Jerusalem Avenue Junior High and Wellington C. Mepham High School together. We weren't close friends, but we were social enough. We argued in English class, but she was much better in math and science than I would ever be. She went on to become a doctor, a pediatric ENT. 

Being a doctor wasn't enough for Linda. She girded up her loins and went after gender equality in medicine. A federal anti-discrimination lawsuit ended with settlement, but that wasn't enough: 
“I spent the next 10 years fighting in order to right what I learned is a pervasive and pernicious problem for many women in medicine. I became a litigant in a federal lawsuit against my employers, two large and powerful institutions. My journey of litigation has come to an end, but I want to make sure that what I have learned will benefit those women with dreams but who are faced with problems of pay inequity, gender stereotyping, 
and gender discrimination.”
Linda founded Women MD Resources in 2009 to help women in medicine “deal with unexpected career challenges and get the jobs they want, be paid fairly and live as a happy and successful women physicians.” She was a Lilly Ledbetter for women doctors who were being paid at a significantly lower rate than their male counterparts. 

Since I'd fallen off the face of planet North Bellmore, it took Facebook to put us back in touch. I found her blog just as I was starting this one. She had lots of things to say about how to write a blog and I patiently explained I was already a writer and had a pretty good idea how to put a cogent sentence together. That didn't slow her down for a minute.  We took to debating on the blogs and in emails. I think we annoyed the shit out of each other, but that wasn't a big enough reason to stop arguing. And then, right after last Rosh HaShanah, she went silent. No Facebook, no blog, no comments.

I posted on her FB page asking if she was okay. No response. A few days later, one of her friends messaged me. There had been an accident and Linda was in placed in a medical coma so they could perform surgery to stop bleeding in the brain. She never emerged from that coma. 

The accident, I would come to learn, happened at a friend's house; she fell backwards down a flight of stairs and hit her head. 

Such a simple misstep and the world stopped for Linda...for her family, her patients, the women she mentored....and in a small but profound way....for me. A renewed friendship halted, a debate stopped, and no backsies. I am the poorer for it.  

May her memory be for a blessing for all of us. 

[Late addendum: Linda's daughter, Rebecca Greenfield, wrote an excellent piece on her mother's quest for gender equality. Advice to Jill Abramson From My Mom. Definitely worth reading, and a lovely tribute to a woman who lived according to her beliefs.]

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week

Wenn ihr wollt, ist es kein Märchen
If you will it, it is not a dream
                        Theodore Herzl - 1902

Linda coulda said that, too. 


  1. Losing a friend is hard. To hear that one is gone "before her time" is even harder. I know you are a richer person for knowing Linda. Bless you and Linda's memory.

  2. Linda Brodsky was a super physician
    and a truly courageous champion of the drive for gender equity in the workplacethe

  3. I am extremely saddened by the loss of Linda Brodsky. The world needs her now.. we need her leadership. A true heroine. I am hopeful that others stand up in her place and carry on her work. I will stand up.

  4. I am sorry for your loss. A number of us who worked with her experienced a very different person than the one you describe, she was a tyrant, rude, ruthless, arrogant, self-righteous, having a long-term affair and threatening when anyone dare question her rather "interesting" uses of grant monies. For your sake, I am glad you did not know this Linda.

    1. What a coward you are not to post your name!
      Linda, however was not a coward. She was a courageous woman, very driven, and changed the world by standing up to gender inequity. She was an amazing physician, and demanded no more of anyone than she demanded of herself. She could come across as a bit harsh sometimes, but always strove to do the right thing, and encouraged others to do the same. The world is a better place for having her in it! Linda and I were very different people, and I can't say that she didn't hurt my feelings a few times, but she challenged me when she was alive, and continues to challenge me to be a better doctor, a better person, and to stand up for what is right!

    2. What a rude, out of line and inappropriate response! Who are you to try to judge and dictate how someone chooses to respond with or without a name?! What she stood up for was equality for physicians only, she made it very clear that is was all about being a physician and did nothing to help other medical professionals. Care to talk about her finance management? She used grants for her own personal gain. I understand she was a friend, but to those who worked with her, she made it clear you worked FOR her, not WITH her. Bit harsh? thanks for the laugh, she was a tyrant.

    3. That woman saved my life. I have much more respect for someone who saves lives than someone who is a coward and anonymously posts trash. My guess is that you were involved with the lawsuit she won and you're still bitter. Your attitude belongs at Walmart, not here.