ColumnConscious life, hear me roar.
No matter where you live, no matter how many life experiences you have, and no matter how much self-confidence you hold, there is nothing to stop certain men from treating you like a little girl. Blame it on some bizarre, existential threat that men – and at times, other women – feel equality between the sexes will bring about, but it’s really pretty hard to wrap your brain around how the female gender is still, in 2012, frequently told to step down and be sweet.
In fact, we are told our writing is clearly female, our money decisions should still be dictated by our husbands, and those pat-downs? We should have worn a pants suit because blazers and trousers wouldn’t have provoked the assault. Sexist cliches: the ultimate comeback kid!
“The reality is that women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently. It’s just easier this way for everyone. You don’t argue with a four-year old about why he shouldn’t eat candy for dinner. You don’t punch a mentally handicapped guy even if he punches you first. And you don’t argue when a women tells you she’s only making 80 cents to your dollar. It’s the path of least resistance. You save your energy for more important battles,” Scott Adams of the cartoon Dilbert writes.
I say suit up.
My first job out of college in 1996 was by far one of the more shining examples of sexual inequality.
Working in the city of Portland, Oregon, my ad-writing job was run by three tight-knit Mormon males just as side swept and Old-Spiced as Mitt. The nearly all-male office seemed harmless enough. The patriarch of the family would greet each one of us every morning in his 6’2″ splendor with a vitamin C tablet.
“Because who wants to get sick?” He’d say, laughing through his front teeth.
My colleague, Dan, and I would quickly spit out the tablet as soon as he passed (he waited for us to put it in our mouths) and keep on working, writing ads for truck stops and insurance companies all over the U.S. A few months into my job, I learned I was pregnant, and while everyone was elated (what Mormon family wouldn’t be with a woman bearing fruit?), from then on I was spoken to differently, handled differently.
And then the day.
Co-workers were feeling free to talk shop about pay and raises and time invested and that moment of finding out I was being paid $5.00 less per hour than all the men. The same men who went outside to smoke, who called their wives non-stop to argue, who sat and read magazines when no one was looking while I finished my work and helped whoever needed it – they were being paid more than I was. Furious, I sat there with a baby moving in my stomach, wondering if there was a hidden camera. Was I in a dream?
Dan said I should set a meeting up with the boss. Everyone believed I should be getting paid the same, if not more. And so I did, but the boss had me. Where else could I get a job in the next four months, already being five months along?
I was brought into his mammoth office, which was tricked out in John Wayne paintings, Cherokee warriors and boasting a desk covered in picture frames of kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, husband and wife shots, family shots, him with his two sons.
That toothy smile was bigger than ever and there was a huge bowl of plastic wrapped candy before me.
“Care for a candy, Amy?” Like we were both having a hard time. Like wasn’t being paid $5.00 less per hour kind of a bummer.
Nothing changed from that meeting, and my feelings about candy are now forever skewed.
It’s not a stretch to label yourself as a feminist these days and actually fit nicely in it, because sometimes even the people you think are smart and educated want to put you down. We’ve got the Republican presidential nominees telling us what to do with our bodies and whom we can marry – all the while, enjoying their own sex scandals. It feels a little too like The Handmaid’s Tale, and we are being trained for the Sons of Jacob.
Care for some candy, little girl?
I was talking with an author and fellow editor the other day and she said, “The climate of the country is always reflected by what women are doing.” She mentioned knitting, DIY, this need to be “grounded in something real.” I thought about all the knitting circles popping up all over the country under the guise of simple handwork, when we all know better.
Between the Lines is a weekly column navigating the sometimes-sharp, sometimes-blurred lines of life and culture between city and country, between inner worlds and outer.