I’ve developed thick skin.
But I still spot injustice, side with those fighting to eradicate it and try really hard in my personal life to be conscious and conscientious about what I say and do and how it affects others.
And, there’s so much going on out there, I try to regularly note my place of privilege so it’s not lost on me that my injuries — while real to me — do not outweigh my opportunities.
My training, my personal politics, my passions all rest with feminism. I’ve studied it, lived it, preached it and been fatigued by it. It is the lens through which I see the world.
And, rightfully or wrongly so, I build expectations of other women through that lens; I seek solidarity and like mindedness on things that seem so universal.
Take, for example, people who ask “are you pregnant?” We’re scolded perpetually not to comment on women’s bodies in this way. Tales of imminent awkwardness should have, by this point, eradicated the gesture like polio. We are vaccinated against the temptation to make suppositions about muffin tops or baggy shirts.
At least I thought we were. Twice now in my life I’ve been asked this question. The first time was from a senior man while I was wearing a pleated, poofy dress. I was stung, but forgave the question because of the inquirer and his penchant for odd, inappropriate commentary.
The most recent assault was deeper. A woman asked me. A co-worker who is highly educated, smart and has traveled the white collar world of ad agencies and political correctness and feminism and spends her life with messages and careful language. This is someone who knows better. She is a trained word-wielder.
She didn’t just ask if I was pregnant. One day, she layered it with “Oh, I’m sorry, I meant to ask the other day…” which cut deeper — not only did a poofy shirt hint at excess belly below, but apparently, she’d thought the same of a different outfit a different day. She followed it with “when are you due?” I truly didn’t hear her clearly, so found myself asking for a repeat of the question. Despite more time to reconsider what she was saying, she continued by asking again, this time with a wider smile.
I’m proud of the immediacy and bravado of my answer, “Oh, I’m not pregnant. (she looks a bit (but only a bit) embarrassed.) No, I’m just chubby and I really like this outfit.”
She didn’t really apologize or seem too embarrassed. And I’m proud that I didn’t wave it off too lightly, in fact, call out my body myself. Claiming a muffing top with pride. A lesson is buried deep in there, like my Midwestern roots. A light that flickers reminding me not to make those who injure with words or deeds feel more at ease doing so.
Then, as I walked away and told friends, I thought longer and harder. I’ve been triggered. I’m realizing that she does know better and the jab was just that — a jab. A reminder of the things that offend or can hold power over you. Women and fatness and bodies and excess and fertility and fashion and pride. She tapped them all.
I’m less angry about it now, and certainly haven’t dumped that outfit or suddenly started some advanced workout plan. But I am furious that such a tactic exists, can be deployed and that someone had calculated to do so.
I felt a bit Bridget Jones-y when it happened. I always joke that I’m the haphazard heroine, stumbling through life, messing up and surviving with comedic grace all the time. In this case, I didn’t stumble off in a Bridget-like huff. I worked hard to look my inappropriate co-worker in the eye, make note of how wrong she was.
I’ve kept it at the front of my mind, too, realizing if women in high positions can wield such surgical swords and tap so many veins at once, then we need not only a hammer to break the glass ceiling, but a suit of armor to save us from one another as we trample to the top.
So many days at work I think we’re past this. So many days where intelligence and creativity rule the meeting rooms I’m in, regardless of the gender represented. And all it takes is one gesture to crisply reanimate activism. To clean my feminist lenses and remind me to see straight. We’re not done. We’re not even close.
Feminist, activist, outdoor advocate, animal lover, chocolate shake lover, reader, watcher, talker, actor, speaker, worker, writer, urban adventurer, hustler, involved, passionate, excited, ready.