He was kind but only in the way that he made sure you knew he was kind. Like, he wouldn’t just do something without making it known to everyone what he had done. Every good deed was calculated and self-serving, even though he was masterful at convincing you otherwise. Poorly pixilated photographs he had printed of kids he had helped in third world countries hung like a banner across his office wall - a trophy of sorts he could casually bring up in conversation during our monthly meet-and-greets with prospective clients.
He was the “cool” boss, the guy who claimed his door was always open and that the foundation of his company’s success lay in the philosophy that transparency was always a top priority.
Only, transparency was a one-way street, something that allowed him to speak freely amongst his staff as though honesty and subordination were one in the same.
To be honest, I didn’t mind it all that much at first. He was off-colored in that funny way. You know the kind. When someone says something inappropriate or sexist, but you laugh uncomfortably because “who the fuck wants to be known as the office tight-ass who can’t take a joke?”
After all, those are your only two options as a woman when you have a high-powered man dictating your job security and paycheck: You either laugh it off or you say something and both options make your stomach turn.
I used to think I always tried to see the good in people - tried to rationalize away bad behavior with “buts.” I used to think it was a good quality to possess, the ease with which I could dismiss something painful or rude or wrong with time. They say time heals all wounds, but that’s bullshit: it simply buries them deeper and deeper until you forget.
Truth is, I’m not a forgiving person at all. I’m simply terrified of the true nature of mankind, so I give them a moral allowance. Denial and dismissal get us through the short term but kills us in the long run.
I bring all this up because this is my #metoo story. Honestly, I have hundreds of them, but none of them seem as significant as this one does, right now, right in this massive tidal wave of social and sexual accountability we’re suddenly forced to face.
I was nervous asking my boss for a raise. I had only been with the company maybe five months and while that’s an insignificant amount of time in the corporate world, I had made leaps and bounds in my position with the company, exceeding everyone’s expectations exponentially. (These are not my words, but ones repeatedly told to me by my boss.)
Truth be told, I still wasn’t sure how much leverage I held. Though my salary was nothing to brag about, so low in fact I had to supplement my income with freelance writing jobs, I still felt uncomfortable asking for more money. My love life depleted, I was currently looking for a new place to live but couldn’t even afford a first, last, down and everything that comes with a huge life change. I had a two-year-old son I had to worry about and my current state of survival lay in the balance of this one man.
It was a particularly hot day and his office smelled of mold and cold coffee. I went in with confidence, ready to list off all the reasons I deserved to make a livable wage. I couldn’t be too forthcoming though - men don’t like that in a woman. It comes across as demanding and no man wants a woman to tell him what to do. A man wants coy, cute, suggestive without being too overt.
Seriously, think about how that’s supposed to look. Explain to me how to ask (but not beg) for money while remaining confident (but not cocky) and still come across as demure (not bossy). It’s a tough act to balance, but one women have been perfecting for years.
The conversation went as I expected. I told him what I wanted and why my loyalty and hard work and output buttressed my desire for a higher salary. He retaliated by challenging my discrepancies in specific areas (fair enough.) The negotiation process went exactly how you would expect two adult people to communicate.
Until I took my sweater off.
Even as I did it, I felt an almost indiscernible shift in the room - the kind of shift only a woman that knows how it feels to be undressed with only a set of eyes. I immediately regretted it.
“So, you think stripping for this job is going to get you a raise?” He laughed.
Now mind you, I am not a hardcore feminist. I’ve heard plenty of worse things and occasionally say some unpolitically correct things myself. While this comment was profoundly inappropriate, I wasn’t necessarily offended. I laughed it off.
My boss proceeded to bend over, squeezing his man-tits together and mockingly say, “So boss, are you going to give me the raise or not?”
Still trying to play it off like any “good girl” would do, I uncomfortably laughed and said, “that probably wouldn’t get me far.”
To which he replied, “That’s true. You really have nothing to work with. I couldn’t help but notice you are far less endowed than any of the girls in this office.”
If a metaphorical album didn’t screech to a halt in your head just then, then that right there is the problem with society and the gross miscalculation and mistrust between the male and female power of roles.
I was coming to him for help.
I was coming to him because I was a hard worker and deserved respiration (or at least some verbal acknowledgment of it.)
I came to him because my life and my son’s life was suddenly flipped upside down and I was in survival/panic mode.
Mind you, my boss doesn’t “owe” me anything, monetarily speaking. Just because my life is in the shitter doesn’t mean he is obligated to fund my lifestyle.
You know what he IS obligated to do?
Treat me like a human being. Treat me like a faithful employee. Not degrade me. Not abuse his power. Not make me feel less valuable because of my lack of breasts.
I was shocked, but I didn’t say anything and this is where there seems to be a HUGE lack of understanding between people.
Why didn’t they say something? Why didn’t they come out with this information while it was happening? Why did they wait so long?
These are the comments that infiltrate Facebook and news threads day after day.
Here’s an answer that should be all you need to know: BECAUSE WHEN YOU ARE PHYSICALLY AND MONETARILY RELIANT ON ANOTHER HUMAN BEING, YOU WEIGH OUT THE ODDS. IF YOU HAVE A TWO-YEAR-OLD SON WHO IS RELYING ON YOU TO PUT FOOD ON THE TABLE, HOW EXACTLY ARE YOU GOING TO EXPLAIN TO HIM THAT YOU HAVE NO MONEY BECAUSE YOU DECIDED STANDING UP FOR YOUR RIGHTS AND SELF RESPECT IS WORTH MORE THAN EITHER OF YOU EATING?
When Oprah Winfrey made her speech at the Grammys about time being up, it’s hard for me to believe this to be true.
Why? Because right after that speech, men everywhere (and even some women) decided that it was more important to shut her up and demean a powerful black woman than to recognize a huge societal problem and choose to be part of the solution.
So, until a man is sitting across from his boss who tells him not to drop trou because his tiny junk doesn’t compare to all the real men in the office, I’m not sure most men will sincerely understand the scope of the issue women deal with on a daily basis.