“Happy International Women’s Day!” he texted, the friend I had just made so very uncomfortable by asking about his dating life.
“Woo hoo!” I replied. “I’m an international woman! I have a day. Maybe I’ll eat a pastry to celebrate.”
I might have been flippant in my response. He meant well, very well, and a great conversation followed. I did not mean to undercut the importance or relevance of the day. It was a big deal; I just didn’t know how to respond.
“Another day, another 70 cents on the dollar,” I wrote even though I knew that it was it was closer to 78 cents after so much fighting. Pay inequality dropped approximately half a cent a year.
As a woman, I have been marginalized. I have been objectified, sexualized, and assaulted. I have worked in misogynistic environments for most of my life. I have had my work stolen and my voice silenced. According to one (male) doctor, I probably would have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at least a decade earlier if I hadn’t been seen as a “hysterical woman.” He was disgusted that I hadn’t.
In my first job out of college, as a technical writer and later in charge of document control, corrective actions, and control of nonconforming material, I found myself among a number of employees expected to cover the front desk when the receptionist went to lunch. I didn’t mind; she needed a break. I answered the door, and I answered the phones alongside the head of human resources and coworkers from accounting. The problem was the fact that we were all women. None of the men in the office subbed for the receptionist.
My female coworkers and I planned the company picnic and office parties. We were expected to keep our heads down, do our work (plus those extra duties), and ignore sexist comments, so we did. The one woman in power who’d exempted herself (the head of maintenance and environmental safety) was called a witch, if not worse, by both men and women. She didn’t relent.
At a later job, I worked for a woman in charge of a large financial division who held the same reputation. She was beautiful, smart, and funny but known, rather, for the size of her balls and the fact that she kept others’ in a vice. She could be vicious and cruel. She wouldn’t hesitate to throw me under the bus, and a few times, she did. She had worked hard to reach her position; she wouldn’t let anyone take that away.
My current division includes more women than men; though, that is the exception (not the rule) in our organization. I still fight with certain individuals to receive credit for the work that I do, but for the most part, I am comfortable with my job and my peers. I feel that they respect me for my brain and capabilities. With more than 20 years of professional experience (and 13 with this group), I hope I have earned it, but I still bust my ass to prove I am worth it.
Outside of the office, I work just as hard with nonprofits and volunteering. I read books to kids. I send books to prisoners. I raise funds to fight cancer and MS, participate in social action, and march. I try to do and be good. I try to be the best that I can and accept others as they are.
I cook and I bake with increasing skill. I write. I take pictures. I pay meticulous attention to the food I put in my body, and I exercise regularly, walking at least five to 10 miles each day. I am a woman, fierce, strong, and independent. Most of the time, I have my shit together, but I can be reduced to rubble by the words and actions of others.
I get nervous walking alone on the streets at night. I get intimidated by men who don’t think a smile and kind word are enough. I have been tranhandled and manhandled, and I once awoke on the floor in an unfamiliar building with my head bleeding and pants missing as police officers shined a light in my eyes and shouted questions, “How did you get here?! Who did this to you?!”
I didn’t know. My life is still missing three hours.
In the hospital, a female officer lectured me on the dangers of women drinking alone and she left. Minutes later, I overheard my (male) doctor yelling at her in the hall.
“That’s not what happened!”
I felt better because the man stood up for me.
I was cyberbullied for years. Among other things, I was called fat and lazy, and I was accused of relying on the internet to find dates because “no one would ever want to date [me].” I have been congratulated on weight lost through a horrible year and a half of a poor reaction to medication. I have heard comments from strangers on shapewear, my arms, and my belly. My bra straps. My cleavage. Maybe men deal with the same; I don’t know. I have only ever lived life as a woman.
Living as a white woman in America, I have rights not afforded to women elsewhere. I have rights not afforded to some women here, and I know that I am lucky to be here. My life is good.
Over the years, progress has been made, great progress, in human rights, but on this International Women’s Day, it seems that we still have work to do. When my friend texted, I didn’t know what to say. I delivered a flippant response and ate a pastry.
Oh, happy day.