Some online and real life conversations provide so much substrate for this blog that I’m indebted to all the people who engage with me and exchange ideas. They give me things to think about and ideas to bounce around. Really, this blog would be a barren land of nothingness if I didn’t have people who differed with me. They are the real power behind my words because they bring back memories that I reflect on.
A woman this morning didn’t agree with women being enslaved to patriarchy or rather that patriarchy should be highlighted anymore as a road block. I didn’t agree with her but what she said is also something of an opinion. Our experiences and observations shape our opinions and I think that I have finally agreed that patriarchy doesn’t affect all women the same. It reserves its nastiness for some particularly.
Her response was to a popular Pakistani show that highlights patriarchy and Neanderthal-era chauvinism. She thought that women should start celebrating their successes more and not allow men to determine their fates. She believed women are enough. I don’t disagree with that. Women are enough. Some are more than enough.
But her comment did bring back many memories of job interviews, maternity benefits, workplace harassment, being passed up for a position, stricter scrutiny because I’m a woman and a disparity in salary. All that came rushing back. I didn’t tell her that because I didn’t think I’d change what she thinks.
My interaction with her reminded me of my first job as someone’s assistant in a busy clinic. I was scared and timid to begin with but the constant complaints that were filed by men for not helping them with this thing or that took me out. I was an assistant to the person who signed my paycheck but every man who walked into the clinic and my office expected me to humor him. Some asked for water when the water cooler was right there and this wasn’t my job. Some asked for the newspaper, TV and even tried to engage me in a light chat when I was busy organizing the office before my boss showed up. If I didn’t engage back they complained to my boss. Most of the complaints were imaginary. This became tough. To have my boss talk to me at the end of the day about who felt slighted by what became exhausting. I started getting to the station early in an attempt to reach work early and finish up most of my office “pre-business” duties as early as possible so I could “entertain” these clients. Whoever is aware of a big city’s underground and above the ground rail system knows that this is a feat. I would wake up early and shovel through the snow to work and still would be unable to meet all expectations.
Surprisingly, not my workplace but actually the bus and train stations became anxiety provoking. They represented a sense of doom. Like I was walking to the scaffold. Each evening as it struck 5 o’clock, I dreaded my boss telling me that I didn’t speak with this client or that colleague. There was little praise. There was a lot of dissatisfaction. I was fired without a notice. I was “let go”. To protect my dignity my paycheck was mailed to me.
When I look back at that time I laugh at my stupidity. Why was I giving people so much credence for baseless complaints? I should’ve defended myself. I should’ve said, “I’m sorry but I can’t get you the water. It’s closer to you than it is to me and it’s not my job”. Instead I let many men trample me.
Fast forward to looking for work in another country. They knew I was traveling by bus. I was spending twelve hours on the bus, one way. The interviews, sometimes at the same institution between departments, couldn’t be scheduled to the same day. I requested but I was asked to pick one position that I’d like to interview for.
How could I pick one? Does unemployment allow us to pick one interview if we have two? I got on the bus for twelve hours multiple times and traveled. The bus station became morbid to me. I stood there, sometimes at 4:30 in the morning, avoiding lecherous men and creepy glances, waiting for the bus. The bus represented some form of reprieve from the deprave ogling that I always had to endure. The idiosyncrasy of this paradox isn’t lost on me. The bus was my savior but the bus stop was the bane of my existence. When I scored more interviews and winter got particularly terrible requiring me to reach the bus stop many hours in advance to be sure that I’d make the bus I asked one prospective employer if I could interview with them around the same time I was interviewing with someone else in their area. The man on the phone said casually,
“Darling! Do you want the spot or not? Sounds like you don’t”.
I wanted the spot so I almost killed myself to reach my interviews. I still was passed up for my good friend, a man.
I was offered a position. A prestigious one, many years later. I came home happy. It was another state and I had had to leave my child with a baby sitter who had charged five hundred dollars for eight hours. As a desperate mother who had no other options and couldn’t trust an unfamiliar person with my toddler, I paid the five hundred that I didn’t have. I came home skipping. I was told to wait for the contract in the email. I did get an email that night. It wasn’t the contract. It was asking me to come back for another look as the director hadn’t had a chance to ask me a few things. I requested if this could be done over the phone. They refused. I booked a train and traveled to another state again, leaving my child with the trusted baby sitter, paying the baby sitter the five hundred dollars again that I had never had.
I was passed up. I waited in the lobby from 9 in the morning until 1 in the evening. The director finally sent for me. He asked me the same questions and then politely told me that they’d want someone with a little more experience. They had my CV. My experience was actually all on my CV. It didn’t require a visit. He could’ve turned me down over the phone.
I found myself waiting for another bus to an inner city job, excited to interview for a program that showed great promise. I got down at four in the morning from my bus and made a beeline for my hotel. I quickly got dressed and reached the place by 7. I was hungry and tired but I didn’t let it show. Men don’t like tired looking women. They don’t get how I had to scramble for a baby sitter, then couldn’t get one. How my husband who was working in another state had to get on the red eye to reach us so he could be with my child. How I had to book the most expensive tickets because they had offered an interview date very close. I sucked it all up and interviewed, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They had lunch while interviewing me but didn’t offer me anything. I was interviewing as their partner and they didn’t think I was worthy of sharing a meal with them. I didn’t get an email for two weeks after. I emailed them but didn’t get a reply. They had been extremely eager to interview me so this was weird. I called them and introduced myself. After trying to remember who I was, the secretary who had been chatting with me everyday for a month before I had been interviewed, apologized for me not being a good fit. I hung up.
I’m employed now, for those worrying about me. It’s all in the rear view.
But here’s the thing! One woman, the only woman who was in a leadership position, interviewed me. She wanted to schedule my interview with another interview in the area. She promised it. She scheduled it. She finally called me two days before my planned interview and apologized for her partners not agreeing to interview me on the date that she and I had worked out. Her words,
“I’m so sorry. It’s so hard to please them and you’re in a position where you have to make a good impression. If I were you, I’d schedule how they want you to”.
Do you see this? No one cared, except one woman who was ultimately helpless also, that this was another trip through subzero temperatures to another country. No one cared that my child would be left with a baby sitter who didn’t speak English fluently. No one cared that as a woman in training it was hard for me to take so many days off for interviews. No one cared that I had had to fight some pretty strong circumstantial and logistic aspects of being a working woman to even get that far. Each time I stood at the station waiting for a bus or a train, I felt that Patriarchy washed its hands off of how it could be better for me. How I could be more supported. How I could be honored. Each time I shivered under multiple layers of clothes, afraid to drink too much water because then I’d have to search for a bathroom in a sea of scary inhabitants of a downtown transport station, Patriarchy just shrugged its shoulders and said, “It’s not my problem”.