The year before I get sober, I’m asked to be The Woman on a panel at the company where I work. (That was literally the pitch: “We need one woman.”) Three guys and me, talking to summer interns about company culture. There are two female interns in the audience, and when it’s time for questions, one says:
“I’ve heard this can be a tough place for women to succeed. Can you talk about what it’s been like for you?”
As The Woman, I assume for some reason that the question is directed at me. “If you’re tough and persistent and thick-skinned, you’ll find your way,” I say. “I have.”
I don’t say she’ll have to work around interruptions and invisibility and micro-aggressions and a scarcity of role models and a lifetime of her own conditioning. My job on this panel is to make this place sound good, so I leave some stuff out. Particularly the fact that I’m drinking at least one bottle of wine a night to dissolve the day off of me.
But she’s a woman. She probably learned to read between the lines before she could read the lines themselves. She thanks me and sits down.
“I disagree,” says the guy sitting next to me. “I think this is a great company for women.”
My jaw gently opens on its own.
The guy next to him nods. “Absolutely,” he said. “I have two women on my team and they get along great with everyone.”
Of course they do, I think but don’t say.It’s called camouflage.
Guy #1 continues. “There’s a woman on my team who had a baby last year. She went on maternity leave and came back, and she’s doing fine. We’re very supportive of moms.”
Guy #3 jumps in just to make sure we have 100% male coverage on the topic. “The thing about this place,” he says, “is it’s a meritocracy. And merit is gender-blind.” He smiles at me and I stare back.Silent balefulness is all I have to offer, but his smile wavers so I know I’ve pierced some level of smug.
The panel organizer and I fume afterward. “Those fucking fucks,” she says. “Ratfucks.”
What’s a girl to do when a bunch of dudes have just told her, in front of an audience, that she’s wrong about what it’s like to be herself? I could talk to them, one by one, and tell them how it felt. I could tell the panel organizers this is why you never have just one of us up there. I could buy myself a superhero costume and devote the rest of my life to vengeance on mansplainers everywhere.
Instead, I round up some girlfriends and we spend hundreds of dollars in a hipster bar, drinking rye Manhattans and eating tapas and talking about the latest crappy, non-gender-blind things that have happened to us in meetings and on business trips and at performance review time. They toast me for taking one for the team. And when we are good and numb we Uber home, thinking Look at all we’ve earned! That bar with the twinkly lights. That miniature food. This chauffeured black car. We are tough enough to put up with being ignored and interrupted and underestimated every day and laugh it off together. We’ve made it. This is the good life. Nothing needs to change.
The longer I am sober, the less patience I have with being a 24-hour woman. The stranger who tells me to smile. The janitor who stares at my legs. The men on TV who want to annex my uterus. Even the other TV men, who say that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” What the fuck business is it of yours whether it’s rare or not? I think.
The magazines telling me strong is the new sexy and smart is the new beautiful, as though strong and smart are just paths to hot. The Facebook memes: muscles are beautiful. No, wait: fat is beautiful. No, wait: thin is beautiful, too, as long as you don’t work for it. No, wait:All women are beautiful! As though we are toddlers who must be given exactly equal shares of princess dust, or we’ll lose our shit.
And then I start to get angry at women, too. Not for being born wrong, or for failing to dismantle a thousand years of patriarchy on my personal timetable. But for being so easily mollified by a bottle. For thinking that the right to get as trashed as a man means anything but the right to be as useless.