Monday, January 27, 2014

And Then My Inner Feminist Showed Up

I sometimes eat my lunch in the teacher's lounge. My stomach is usually on "Kindergarten" time, so I often find myself eating with some of the younger teachers. Most of the time I just listen and occasionally nod, not really interested in making conversation.

Last week, however, the two were discussing a consultant. Each team of teachers at the school was meeting with these consultants, and the kindergarten team had met with them that morning.  The male consultant had offered Teacher A his business card and told her that she could email him with any follow up questions.

"And I was like, this guy is old enough to be my father!"  she finished. Teacher B nodded sympathetically.

I tried not to say anything.  I really did.  But curiosity is one of my vices; I had to know.

"You think this guy was hitting on you?" I asked. I was hoping that by phrasing it just that way, the ridiculousness would stand out more clearly.

"Well, yeah!" Teacher A said.

"What did he do that made you think that he was hitting on you?"  I had to know.  Maybe my attention had wandered and I missed something.  Maybe he'd winked or leered as he gave her the card, or pinched her on the butt or something more overt.

"He gave me his business card and told me to email him!"  Teacher A had been offended.  She interpreted the situation, which occurs often in many businesses, as a come on. 

Surely, Teacher A misread the situation, I asked? Maybe the guy was really serious about wanting to help her, I said, since he merely gave her his card and did not ask for her contact information.  Teacher A was having none of that.  This man had hit on her, and nothing I said would change her mind.  

I was appalled.

Unwanted sexual attention is sort of an occupational hazard, if you're a female.  It's not as bad as it used to be, but it's still something that women deal with. I almost don't even notice anymore, it happens so often.  But to interpret this man's behavior in this particular instance as a come on? I found myself sympathetic to the consultant, who probably had no idea that he was perceived so unfavorably.

I was too young to burn my bra, but I remember the protests and struggles of women in the 1970s.  Girls are able to do just about anything that we choose to do these days, because of those women, if we have the ambition and the willingness to work hard. Women no longer perceive ourselves as mere objects, needing a man to be complete. We can see ourselves as individuals. We can stand on our own feet and decide our own fate.

I therefore see myself as someone who deserves respect for who I am, not my gender. I have something of value, my knowledge, to offer people.  I have earned what I have through hard work, and it is mine.

But this young woman sees herself as a sex object.  Her mind cannot fathom the idea that a man might only be interested in helping her to be a better teacher.  No man would want my opinion about something, she thinks.  No man would value my thoughts, my knowledge, she tells herself.  It is only my body which interests a man, she says.  She is outraged, but doesn't see her own misconception.

And that breaks my heart.



  1. I have met this young woman, or at least a dozen just like her. It's tragic and terrifying at the same time. It's tragic that these young ladies don't perceive their own worth past being a sex object, and it's terrifying that women seem to - in many instances - be going backward from all our hard fought and hard won battles to be seen as equals.

  2. How can we have progress if we cannot communicate effectively and appreciate ones offer to help. So if she were to email him a question, she expects a dinner invite in return? So sad all around! Who knows what valuable advice she may miss out on.

  3. Its a shame that she cannot entertain the thought that he saw something in her that was open for development and it is lost to that mindset. This is what feminist in the sixties and seventies worked so hard to stop. I also hate that the word feminist has acquired such a negative connotation. However, a feminazi is what I'll be, it sounds more uptown than fat b ----.

  4. I agree with you. Exchanging business cards is a common business courtesy.

    1. Not only that, it's good business sense. The consultant will get new work by having positive referrals from people who remember his name and his company's name.
      I have to admit, I don't know whether to feel sad about this teacher's attitude or angry enough to tell this young woman to get over herself.

    2. I agree with @cynk about wanting to tell the woman to get over herself.

  5. THis would break my heart too. I guess it does. I don't have this at work and I don't see myself this way. In that situation, I would not have felt I was being hit on.

  6. So true. After all we've been through with the women's movement, are the scales about to tip backward? Very discouraging. I hope not.

  7. This phenomenon is so weird. And I've seen it myself. It's like, by twisting a situation so they are a victim of unwanted sexual attention, they are just reinforcing the idea that their worth is somehow just as a sexual object. Sometimes a business card is just a business card. Unless of course they've handwritten their private cell on it. :)

  8. Working in a field which is predominately male as a woman... This is a scenario that I've seen more than a few times, and one that sorta makes me want to bury my head in the sand because it often seems like the women who are the most likely to misinterpret a man giving them a business card as a come on are also the most likely to be the loudest feminists in the room... and don't you dare try to tell them that it might just all be in their head because then you're silencing their experience.

  9. Sometimes I think we are taught to see ourselves strictly as sexual objects, which breaks my heart, too.


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