I never considered myself a vocal female in the feminist way. I think we should be respected, I stick up for myself, I support other women and want them to succeed, but I also tend to just sometimes sit quietly by.
Except when a man tells me to smile or calls me a term of endearment, and nothing about our relationship is endearing.
I worked with a guy once who was very kind, super old fashion, good ol' boy if you will. He was harmless, but also naïve to the female empowerment movement. I mean he was about 40 years my senior. One day he said to me "Hadley, I hope you don't mind me saying this, but you have really nice legs." I snorted awkwardly and gave him a half smile and wouldn't look him in the ey. He wasn't my boss, he wasn't hitting on me in the sense he thought that would lead to something, he was an old man saying something he thought a young woman would want to hear and truth is, I had really nice legs. My awkward response made him shutter with embarrassment and we quickly went in separate directions. He meant no harm, my job was not on the line because of his comment, even at my young age of 28 I knew that much, but I also knew it wasn't worth a visit to HR.
A few years later my boss and I started having a conversation about my compensation, about taking some of my commission out of my pay. When I spoke up about the situation, he screamed at me, literally, slammed his hands down on the desk and screamed so loud that I don't remember what he said, I just remember the feeling of the red rise up my neck and the tears slam the back of my eyes. I knew my instinctual reaction to someone yelling at me was to cry and the last thing I wanted to do in that situation when I was absolutely right and was being wronged, was cry. So I did what I knew to do to divert the tears and lighten the flush that was now in my cheeks, I changed the subject. I knew I would need to get my thoughts together and approach it with more clarity at a later date. When five minutes had passed, his blood was still boiling and mine had cooled off, he decided he wasn't done. He looked at me square in the eyes and yelled "What are you going to do? Are you going to cry now?" with an anger and prodding I had never experienced from a man, let alone a superior. The tears came so fast and shot out of my eyes that I'm pretty sure they landed across the desk and onto his stack of papers. I went running out of his office, he won.
A few years later, after I had left the job and moved on, he reached out to me an apologized. Not for screaming at me like a wounded hyena, but apologized for having not realized how much work I did when I worked for that company. It took me leaving for him to see my worth. Doesn't it always?
A few years after that I met an advisor for one of my events out for a glass of wine with his co-chair. I didn't want to go, I didn't like the guy, but I am professional and could go to keep the peace of the relationship. He had been at the bar drinking for a while longer before we arrived and after my first and only glass, before I could leave gracefully, he stopped me. He asked if he could give me some advice. Begrudgingly I nodded. He said to me "Hadley, if you smiled more, you would get more respect from people." He didn't stop, he kept going, explaining to me my smile would get me further. I politely excused myself and thanked him for the drink and started to leave. He followed me out of the bar, walking with me to my car and continued on his unsolicited "advice". I finally stopped him and explained with anger in my voice that I smile when something makes me smile, I listen with intent and I've gained enough respect that has gotten me this far in my career from the right and best people and I should not need to explain that to him.
His oblivion to his insult was shocking to me when a year later he made a surprise visit to my office and with awe in his voice, said "wow, I can't believe you have an office. I can't believe you have your own office." I wasn't sure why he was so surprised, but I didn't care, I just gave my usual side smile and nod. He didn't like that I didn't care so he continued to more observations, "wow, have you lost weight?" I had, I kept the same smile on my face, which was neither welcoming nor inviting and he responded "Wow, like a lot, a lot, like a lot of weight". I hadn't lost a lot, a lot, like a lot of weight. But his only observation was of my physical body and the physical space that surrounded me, not at all the work that I did, he wasn't worth it to me. I thanked him for coming by and showed him out.
Not long after, as I walked past another committee on a bus, he brushed his hand against my butt. It could have been an accident, I thought, he was sitting next to his wife. And then he said "oh, I didn't mean to do that, but I didn't mind it either." Again, still sitting next to his wife. At dinner with 25 other people, he came over to me, and put his hands in my hair and said "I've always wanted to touch your hair.". I pulled my head away and smiled and walked away.
I guess that's what I do, I smile and make it awkward. I don't bring someone to their knees because personally, I don't want to get embarrassed. But recently, I went to the Verizon store to buy a new phone. Should be simple, but it never is. The guy who had been waiting on me was training a young new employee so I was polite in making conversation, but really being polite in making patience. The young guy asked me so many questions. What I did for a living, if I was married, if I had kids, what snack I was planning to eat later. I mean, he was clearly not comfortable in silence, but he was kind and eager. The other guy was doing most of the work, talking to me about the plan. He had decided to write numbers down on a piece of paper rather than telling me, he told me it was because he learned better that way and I nodded and said I do as well. Rookie mistake. He saw idiot on my forehead. When he came to sell me a phone with more memory and I took the time to consider it he tuned his head towards me, put his chin closer to his chest and said "Look, sweetie". And without a second thought, I said to him, "Do not call me sweetie" in the most authoritative surprising tone not only to him, but to me as well. The mood shifted. I walked out of there getting him to pay 32 dollars out of his pocket when his register didn't work and he first wanted me to come back and pay it. Had he not called me sweetie, I may have offered to do just that.
I have been complimented, insulted, screamed at, unwillingly touched, received unsolicited advice, told to smile, perk up and cover up my tattoo and I have smiled and nodded through most of it, but if someone refers to me in a derogatory way in a term of endearment that was not earned through familiarity, I have now figured out, that is when I come alive and join the feminist movement. I could probably have stood to say a thing or two more in those other situations, but I didn't, that's all.
That's my story for today..