Today a young employee (who is mistakenly secure in his position at work) told me that I was “too emotional”, a “control freak” and that I needed to “calm down” regarding my response to his blatant disrespect of myself as a (female) authority figure.
His words echoed decades (eons?) of the patriarchal smack-down of powerful women. Suddenly I GOT IT. I had just been shoved headfirst into an elevator on the rise through a glass ceiling I’d never truly acknowledged. I stood shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Joan of Arc, Corazon Aquino, Angela Davis, Golda Mier, Susan B Anthony and Mary Wollstonecraft, all women who dared to challenge the small-minded egos of men by demanding respect and acknowledgment. Women who were called “Bitch” in polite company, and much worse privately. Women who changed the world.
I have a bumper sticker on my car that says, “Obedient woman are never remembered in history”. It is pithy and easy to say. The living it is harder. I have long worked in the male dominated sports industry, both as a drone and as a manager. How women are regarded there is still obvious in the thong and ski-boot clad girly-posters boldly hanging on shop walls. It has always been part of the job requirement to turn a blind eye to the sexism, laugh it off as “boys will be boys” and pretend like it doesn’t annoy the shit out of me. But up until now, I’d worked in stores that both employed and served a higher income level, and a more educated clientele. Men’s bad behavior was a joke, or a weakness; “men knew better”, but “couldn’t help it”. The men I worked with spoke as if they respected women’s intelligence as well as their boobs, but few women lasted in the job I held. I was good at being one of the guys and men “respected” my ability to ignore their sexist attitudes and sexually harassing behavior. When I was sexually assaulted by a male coworker at an unofficial work event, it was blown off as an exaggeration, but forgiven. He was not disciplined, and though the episode was frowned on, the men“respected” my not “making a big deal of it”. To be successful in a mans world, I needed to ignore the disrespect directed at both my mind and my body. It was a culture that knew that women were treated poorly–and that was wrong–but still believed that “strong women” were “beyond that” stuff. I thought I was.
Then I got a job as a manager of a large sporting goods reselling chain in a questionable area of town, with a staff that was not happy about a woman joining them. On a daily basis I was faced with co-workers who undermined or flat-out ignored my authority and drug addicts selling stolen goods who thought they could bully me. And that is to say nothing of male customers who weren’t used to seeing a woman with “Manager” behind her name in a store where jockstraps were a top-selling item. On the day a deranged customer stared me down saying, “It is bitches like you that should be shot. I am gonna shoot you, you dyke cunt” (and some other equally choice phrases) , I knew I couldn’t pretend any more. My gender was putting me in danger and my coworkers would join in the killing.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. My gender had put me in danger before: as a child I’d been molested, and as an adult had a lover hold a gun to me and treat me like an animal. But, those could be seen as “domestic issues” and sexual assault is mistakenly separated from other issues of sexism in the workplace. It is all the same – men thinking they have a right to domineering and belittling behavior directed at women because men are confident they are the ones with power, no matter their job title. It shocked me to the core that I was doing my job with the courtesy and politeness it required when someone decided that my gender made my answer unacceptable. And not only unacceptable, worthy of death.
My male coworkers were unsupportive at worst and disbelieving at best. The police seemed only moderately interested. The owners of the store were upset, but offered me no added safety precautions or a raise for coping with danger or the lack of respect from my coworkers. I was scared for my safety and terribly alone.
I was treated exactly like I was used to being treated: if I was “tough enough,” I would “man up” and “get over it”and not “make a big deal out of it” like a girl.
I am tired of getting over it.
The fact that a young man, only a few years older than my own children, could still use the same stifling phrases on me that men have used on women for ages, made me wonder if how I have put up with sexist bullshit over the years was the right course of action. That he could ignore my existence, disregard my position and so easily cast doubt on my competency and trustworthiness, yet only get a “talking to” was infuriating. But when I found myself apologizing to the owners for the “drama”, as if I had created the situation, I was shaken out of my accommodation of their ignorance. And so I write.
I want to say this to my daughter Megan, who no longer wants to pursue her career as a carpenter because of how she was treated as a woman, and to all my sisters everywhere who ignore the garbage that gets thrown at them :
STOP APOLOGIZING BUT….
DONT BE MORE FIERCE THAN YOU NORMALLY ARE INCLINED TO BE
BE CAREFUL OF LOSING YOURSELF TO PROVE YOURSELF
YOU ARE NOT WHAT THEY SAY YOU ARE – YOU ARE WHO YOU SAY YOU ARE
“BITCH” MEANS YOU HIT A NERVE… KEEP HITTING IT
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PUT UP WITH ANYTHING
CALLING OUT BAD BEHAVIOR IS NOT BEING EMOTIONAL OR WEAK
THE FACT YOU TURN RED OR CRY WHEN YOU ARE ANGRY IS NOT A WEAKNESS, IT IS POWER SQUEEZING ITS WAY OUT OF YOU
WHEN SOMEONE SAYS YOU ARE TOO EMOTIONAL, THEY ARE SCARED OF WHAT THEY SEE IN YOU. KEEP SCARING THEM. AFTER YOU TAKE A BREAK.
AND REMEMBER, WALKING AWAY IS ALWAYS AN OPTION, BUT NOT BEING TRUE TO YOU IS NOT.