"Gen-DAR the Barbie-Arian" by Kelly J. Cooper
19 July 1999
It's interesting. Every day, I come into work and sometimes I pass the nice lady receptionist, and sometimes I pass any of a number of nice men who are security guards and then I pass cube after cube after office after office filled with men, the line only broken up by the occasional female administrator (or, even more rarely, the female technician) and I get to my office and I settle in and I boot my PC and check my meeting maker while logging into my Unix box and checking my mail and in between waiting for one thing or another to go through its sluggish processes, I read my personal mail.
I don't spend a lot of time on it, because that'd be rude to my employers, but I like having something that keeps me thinking on the personal-interaction side of my brain while I maintain the reins on a security organization that I ultimately have responsibility for, but over which I don't have any actual authority (intimidation doesn't count).
And I look at my nice paycheck, which is finally up around someplace respectable for what I do, and I look at my office, which is a cluttered pit of disorganization, and I wonder whether I should go through the pain to become a manager. Only one female manager comes to mind, as I cast my thoughts out over the various people who work in my part of the company. And one female supervisor. No female directors.
Understand that I'm not mistreated. And on the rare occasion when I am mistreated, I tend to be oblivious to it until someone else, incensed on my behalf, points it out. Or if the idiot doing it is so blatant that even I, in my half-blind state of stubbornly plodding forward no matter what, catch the drift, I can shift the interaction such that I still come out ahead, pride intact and situation neutralized.
It's become instinct, that neutralization of people who pass judgement or withhold information because I'm a woman. Most of them are men, but a surprising number of them are women - older women, often the loyal administrator of some gray-haired executive.
It's become instinct to keep the boat steady when some asshole tries to rock it by directly challenging me. I've built up a reputation as being smart but cautious and infinitely responsible. I am trustworthy. I challenge calmly, creating situations where it becomes natural to do what I wish, because I've arranged the circumstances such that it's much easier, more pleasant, and obviously reasonable to do it my way.
But every so often I notice that there's a voice in the back of my head, and it's screaming itself raw. It's exhausted from thinking and neutralizing and balancing and challenging. It's tired for every little thing that gets pushed back, subtly or not, to test me. It's tired of assumptions and statistics. It's tired of watching out in the parking lot, because women are more likely to be attacked. It's tired of protective language and Political Correctness games where kindness and consideration are used as weapons. It's tired of hardly ever getting to see a woman KICK RIGHTEOUS ASS in a movie. It's tired of hardly ever getting to see a woman doing work at my level or above. It's tired of listening to the administrative assistants plan baby showers. It's tired of the questions about biological clocks, and hormonal changes, and minivans.
Listen to that voice and think about all the ways in which you've been hurt or ostracized or marginalized for something. Think of all the subtle and unsubtle ways in which people inform you they don't like your hair or your clothes or your nerdly glasses or your geeky ways or your facial hair or your habits or your memes or your whatever-the-hell makes you into you. All the ways you get treated like a social outcast or a child or a fool. All the ways you are pressed to hate yourself, to change yourself, to improve yourself.
Then think about every magazine you pass telling you that you don't look right. Every newspaper that you read tells you that there's something wrong with you and there are lots of cheap and easy ways to fix them if you'd only come around. Bookstores are filled with books that explain how you should behave if you want to fit into society. Important people are always bemoaning the fact that they can't seem to reach people like you and bring you into the fold. Grave-sounding people perform huge studies about how your sexual needs aren't being met for some reason. Courts of law debate the morality of the use of your body - for money, for breeding. Research associations leave your entire group out of studies, because your system fluctuates, and then apply their results to your group anyway. Your own kind are encouraged to turn against you if you're different or to compete vigorously for things that probably don't matter. Every other television commercial tells you that you smell wrong, you feel wrong, you sleep wrong, you eat wrong, and you haven't properly justified your existence by getting married and having children and craving diamonds.
And realize that, no matter what you want or what way that you want it, you can't change (without tremendous personal pain) the biological fact of what you are.
So you filter it all out. You ignore it, you gloss over it, you pick and choose the things you want to be or have or read. You try not to let it have any impact on you or your self-image. Maybe you lock the bathroom and freak out about those things for a few minutes once a day or once an hour or once a year or maybe even never. And you find circumstances where those pressures aren't the standard, so you can feel normal.
And then, when some asshole makes yet another sweeping generalization (not meant with any particular malice but certainly presented without much thought involved) and the statement is made in a fairly comfortable, private, personal setting where most of those pressures are not present... when that kind of statement adds another scream to the background whitenoise, think about how that feels.
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