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Thursday, August 2, 2012

My Final Word on the Sexist Hit Piece at Harper's

Cynthia Ruccia

I have sent this letter to the owner of Harper's, John R. "Rick" MacArthur. Subject closed.

August 2, 2012

Dear Rick,

I am writing you because my father always taught me to go right to the top, and that advice has served me well. My name is Cynthia Ruccia, and my husband, Nick, and I have been enjoying Harper’s for some time now. We’ve enjoyed the quirky, the thought provoking, and everything in between that we have had the pleasure to read. Even during the economic downturn a few years back when we were streamlining and simplifying like so many other American families, and although we cancelled some of our magazine subscriptions, we decided to keep Harper’s because we love the history of the magazine and because it wasn’t really slanted left or right or any other way.

It is with that as a backdrop that I am telling you that we are cancelling our subscription. I’m writing you my story because I believe that it is something you ought to know for the future. I am not a writer, so please forgive my writing style. I know you are an esteemed journalist and may be sensitive to my deficiencies in that department. I was blindsided by the hit piece that was put on the July cover of Harper’s concerning Mary Kay. Totally blindsided. I have been with Mary Kay as an Independent Beauty consultant and Sales Director for 28 years. Although Virginia Sole-Smith wrote the article beautifully, I was shocked at the shoddy research and the half-truths and outright lies that brought her to the conclusion that Mary Kay preys on women and their naivete that has left a trail of bankruptcies and divorces in its wake. Furthermore, she characterized the few successful Mary Kay people as stupid, Stepford-wife sychophants.

I couldn’t believe after all of the terrific articles that we have come to expect that have been in Harper’s that you would stoop so low. I’d expect to find this level of writing in the National Enquirer, not in Harper’s. However, that alone isn’t why I have cancelled my subscription. The story is a little more profound than just that. After all, it’s okay to disagree.

I decided to dig a little deeper myself to find out why someone would even want to write such an article let alone publish it, and this is what I discovered. Your writer, Sole-Smith, had teamed herself up with a group, pinktruth, made up of disgruntled folks who had an axe to grind with Mary Kay. Sole-Smith, an aspiring writer from the Nation Writer’s Institute, saw this as her ticket to ride, and embedded herself into Mary Kay with the sole (no pun intended) purpose of writing a hit piece. Fine that’s her prerogative. However, along the way, she got very little right and a whole lot wrong. I visited the pinktruth website and familiarized myself with what they are about. I even wrote a piece on my own blog, the result of which I was inundated with the typical slams, attacks, and character assassination techniques used by folks on the internet when they can’t win on the facts. And I discovered that the vast majority of the folks who hang out at pinktruth have never even BEEN in Mary Kay. I can’t imagine why they hang out there and want to go after folks like me, but so be it. Pinktruth has been grinding its axe at least since 2006, a crazy endeavor. But that’s just my opinion.

My main gripe with Harper’s was how in the world they got sucked into putting such a crazy piece on their COVER no less. As I keep saying, not only were the facts wrong, but the author never made any attempt to balance the piece out with testimonials from people like myself who LOVE our association with Mary Kay. She did mention a few people who had found success, but she dissed them royally by talking about how silly they dressed and how in her opinion they were all cookie cutouts of one another.

Rick, I am probably 4 years older than you, my husband and I met at your alma mater, Columbia, when we were there in the early 70’s, me studying music and my husband engineering. I became something of a radical feminist back then, and I decided in my youthful enthusiasm to devote the rest of my life helping women get ahead. And in my own small way in my own little part of the world, that’s what I’ve done. As such, I am extremely sensitive to the endemic sexism running throughout our country, and one of the worst sins of all to me is when it is women who are perpetrating the sexism.

I was also particularly upset that Sole-Smith was doing a victory dance on her blog that she had gotten her “big deal” written and published and done of all days on the day of the biggest Mary Kay event of the year. Forgive me for going a little overboard, but that is akin to the Palestinians attacking the Israelis on Yom Kippur in 1973.  Or watching that video of the women in the Arab world dancing in the streets when the WTC went down on 9/11.

I’ll get back to that, but first back to Harper’s. I called Harper’s last week to discuss my concerns, and a lovely person answered the phone and spent a good close to an hour on the phone with me. I will not reveal who that person is because I don’t wish to get them into trouble because that person probably revealed to me more than they should have. I was told that the newish editor of Harper’s is a woman (yay!!), and that she had been working hard to increase the number of female bylines (yay----a huge problem that I write about on my blog). However, I was also told that there had been a certain amount of discord and dissatisfaction about the publishing of the Mary Kay hit piece, and that not everyone was happy about it. And I was also told that another piece written by a woman, the breastfeeding article, had gotten a huge amount of blowback to the magazine. However, I was also told that no editors were in that day and if they were, I wouldn’t be allowed to speak to them anyways. I wondered why if there were a female editor why the female bylines had to be about female only subjects, and why in the world did these articles have to pit female against female? And that is a question that hasn’t been answered to me yet. So I wrote another blog piece about the Harper’s piece, received another round of pinktruth folks accusing me of everything you can imagine. It was actually a bit entertaining to go toe to toe with them for a day. But when they started to go after me because I have a husband, I started thinking that these folks were just crazy, and I’d had enough.

I still wanted that conversation with Ellen Rosenbush, your editor, so I called yesterday. Well, she got very breathy, her voice quivered, and she said that absolutely under no circumstances was she going to speak to me. I asked her why, and she just kept repeating herself. She said to speak to Jason, your PR guy, and when I asked for his email address, she snapped at me that she had already given it to me, which she hadn’t.

I called Jason Chipuck who accused me of lying, said I had never spoken with anyone at Harper’s, said that Harper’s was perfectly happy with the tone of the piece, and kept asking me what I wanted. When I told him, he became combative with me. He asked me why I hadn’t written a letter to the editor. I had, but of course no one had bothered to look at it or if they had, it perhaps hadn’t fit into the meme very well. He was unable or unwilling to address the sexism and dishonesty, and again accused me of lying when I refused to reveal who I had spoken to at Harper’s. I know exactly who I spoke with and I have that person’s name sitting on my desk. But I refuse to get them in trouble by naming them. I was then accused of going through all of my actions to piggyback on them and gain some fame for myself.

Rick, I have had a piece of the national spotlight at several junctures in my career (I have run for Congress twice and other endeavors), and having the spotlight on me holds no appeal. However, I have a good sized organization myself, and when we have an upset customer, we do whatever it takes to appease their upset, even eating some crow for our organization. In most customer relations manuals, it is written that a disgruntled customer who has been satisfied is the best advertising a company can get.

All I have wanted is some understanding of why Harper’s would put such an article out there, one so sexist, condescending, and so inaccurate. And all I have gotten is a bizarre, cloistered look into what happens behind the scenes at Harpers. And I have really lost respect for what I thought Harper’s was.

Let me say this, the infinitesimally small number of disgruntled former Mary Kay consultants pales in comparison to the large numbers of women and men like myself who feel that their lives have been changed by working as part of the Mary Kay organization. Apropos to the current conversation about whether women can have their cake and eat it too, we women in Mary Kay can. We can make good money and still be the kinds of parents we want to be. There are very few instances of companies in America that have resolved the work/family issues the way Mary Kay has. We also get to work in a very positive environment that develops the greatness of women in a way no other company I have ever seen or heard of. When not having to contort themselves to fit into a man’s working world, and let’s be frank, women haven’t progressed as much as people think they have, women can become something truly amazing, and Mary Kay Ash and the company she founded knew that. 

She and the company that bears her name have been leaders in the movement for women to be all they can be. And those of us, the vast majority of people who have gone through the door of that company, have been lucky beneficiaries of that terrific ethos. It is this story that was never touched on in the Sole-Smith hit piece that was put on your front page, and I say shame on you for putting it there.

Worse, no one in your office was willing to even hear that there was another, wonderful side to Mary Kay. All they had to do is ask around a little bit because the country is full of people like me who have benefitted greatly from our association with Mary Kay. The conclusion I have drawn is that Harper’s was just more interested in making women look stupid fighting one another. And worse, there was an underlying whiff of the 99% vs the 1% meme going around which is also distasteful.

Who doesn’t want to be successful?

So it is with sadness that I have cancelled my subscription quietly today. I thought Harper’s was a cut above. It turns out that they were just less than.

Cynthia Ruccia