I have a lot of thoughts to collect today. I read this article and thought about how most of my life, I’ve been that annoying bitch who constantly calls people out for sexist behavior. I stand up when other women can’t or won’t because they are in that minimizing place or scared, etc. I flip off that guy that drives by making kissy noises at me. I refuse to smile at the asshole at the grocery store who thinks I come in so he can talk to me about my hair. The other day the UPS guy sort of snuck up on me at work, saying, “Boo” from behind me. I told him that was a really bad idea, to sneak up on a woman at work, and if I’d been at my other desk he’d have pepper spray in his eyes. I said it with a smile, but I could see his opinion that I’m a humorless shrew percolating in his head. Or maybe part of him realized that he had done something thoughtless and stupid.
When I was in high school I worked at Peter Piper Pizza, and we hired this manager who was shorter than me (I’m tallish, 5’9″). When he would ask a woman to do something, he would touch her at the same time. He asked me to do something and put his hand on my shoulder. I told him that I didn’t think it necessary for him to touch me to do his job and to remove his hand forthwith. The next day I was called in the General Manager’s office. He asked me to sit down, and they both stood up (an obvious tactic to intimidate me and make the short guy feel more powerful). The GM told me I needed to apologize to the other guy. I said I would do no such thing, and his Short Man Syndrome wasn’t my problem, and unwanted touching is a form of harassment. The boss demanded I apologize again. I took off my apron and cap and walked off the job. It was my 17th birthday.
I worked as a dental assistant for a horrible dentist. He refused to wear gloves, we threw all the infectious waste straight into the dumpster, and he required us to dress up for work. Like really dress up–and if it was sexy, fine. One day a patient in the chair said something about how nice I was and what a good assistant and the dentist said, “Yeah, and she’s got those lovely things on her chest for you to look at!” Afterward I said, “That’s not appropriate. Please do not talk about me that way.” He actually defended himself by saying that I should see him as “that dirty uncle, you know, you put up with him because he’s harmless.” I refused. He docked my pay. I filed a complaint with the labor board and they made him repay it. Then he cut my hours until I left, because I was pregnant and could never afford a lawyer.
A few times I’ve laid down and not called something out; a friend got me a job at a dentist’s office that I really needed. There were two dentists there; one who was bothered by me being taller than him (seriously, I never understood that and I’ve been happily married to a short guy for 20 years now) but also let me take breaks to nurse my son. The other dentist was older, the owner of the practice. One day he walks in, and pats each of us “girls” on the ass as he says good morning. As he left I looked at my friend and she said, “We all weren’t sure what YOU would do, but really it’s harmless.” Subtext: Don’t fuck this up for the rest of us. I let it go.
A little over a year ago, I sat in a courtroom next to a student’s mother. The student had reported to me that a man who came into our classroom had stalked her two years ago and she had gotten the police involved. Now he suddenly appeared in our space. When he tried to walk back in I ordered him out, brooked no argument (he was clearly very angry) and called the police. I backed that student all the way, taking a day off work to go to a hearing that was cancelled at the last minute, taking another day when it was rescheduled. Sitting next to her mother, we watched as the man’s lawyer said the most terrible things we could imagine to this young woman. He asked her if she was afraid of men. He said that he could see that she was attractive, and his client was attractive, so what was the problem with her? Did she know how much trouble she was making for this young man who did nothing wrong? It went on and on, and I think only by sitting next to each other did her mother and I remain in our seats and not leap over that rail and beat that man down to protect this student. It took months, rescheduling my vacation plans for a hearing that was cancelled by the criminal’s lawyer, all of us wavering and wanting to give up, before finally a no contact order was issued and she was free of this burden.
All along I told her, you aren’t doing this just for you, and you aren’t doing this because it will for sure work out the way it should. You are doing it for every other woman this man will cross paths with in the future. You are doing it for all of us, because you are part of a process and even if we lose (and at times it seemed we would and he would walk away), the process will roll on, and the next woman is that much closer to winning. Otherwise, it felt hopeless. It felt too hard.
I’m in the middle of another thing, right now, and I can’t talk about it, but I can say that being the one who stands up is hard. It’s exhausting. It feels hopeless, it impacts my health, it’s lonely. I have moments when I wonder, “Why am I doing this? Why don’t I just walk away, let it go, move on?” Because I can’t. Because:Other Women. Because I have a daughter and she has two daughters and because I teach other people’s daughters and I am modeling something for them that they need to see. I am modeling Doing the Right Thing, but also, that Doing the Right Thing is not like it is in the movies. The moments where one is galvanized by righteousness are few and in between is doubt, anxiety, headaches, not sleeping, pounding heart, crying, loss of motivation and all that other stuff that happens when we are in a very stressful situation. Self care is both more important and harder to do.
But, just like I told my student, I’m not just doing this for me. Even if I lose, even if I don’t prevail, it won’t change that I was right, that I stood up for what was right, that I modeled that for other women. That on the next go-round, someone will get a few steps further than I did. At least there will be that.