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.