The day after the election, I learned an important lesson.
Actually, I learned two important lessons. The first is this: When you are raking leaves and you find a fun sized pouch of M&Ms that some hapless trick-or-treater lost in the chaos, do not say “Yahtzee!” and eat them. In the week since they fell, they have been reclaimed by the earth and are no longer safe for human consumption.
The second lesson, unfortunately, left an even fouler after taste.
I was at Staples getting some copies made. (Side note, if you sometimes wish you worked from home and not in an office setting, think about all the free copies you get when no one is looking! It’s a nice perk, and I miss it very much.) I had my essays for writing group and a craft pattern printed and was just about to pay, when a nicely dressed silver haired white man interrupted my conversation with the sales person to ask a question. Let’s cast him in your imagination with the actor John Slattery. I’m sure John Slattery is a perfectly lovely human in real life, but this guy was the same type of basic white man. And John Slattery did that movie The Adjustment Bureau which was terrible, so I don’t feel bad fobbing this off on him. (Spoiler alert: angels are real, but they are allergic to water. Same basic premise as signs but with a better looking cast.)
The man at Staples completely ignored me. He acted as if I wasn’t standing there, and once he got an answer he didn’t like, he began arguing his cause based on the semantics of the coupon he wanted to use. I waited to see if he was going to at least acknowledge me, as I would have done. As the minutes ticked on, it was clear this wasn’t going to happen. Then I thought over all the times over the last few years (since Trump was elected, basically) that I have been verbally interrupted or physically cut off or just disregarded by a white man and I have stood there thinking, “the next time this happens to me, I’m not just going to stand there like an idiot following my ‘respect the priesthood’ programming. I’m going to say something, dammit!”
Then I thought of an interview I heard with Rebecca Traister when her new book, Good and Mad, came out in October. It is a book about women’s anger. She said that she began writing it immediately after the 2016 election when she didn’t know what to do with her emotional response and the anger she saw all around her, but it had the good fortune of coming out during the Kavanaugh hearings when the anger of women in this country hit the bell at the top of that carnival attraction that tests your strength (just googled it: it is called a High Striker. The more you know!)
In that interview Rebecca Traister told a story about a friend of hers who decided that she was no longer going to step out of the way of white men plowing toward her on the sidewalk. She decided that she had as much right to the sidewalk, and she simply stopped moving to the side. And she body checked some people, which surprised them and delighted her.
I can’t think of a better metaphor for how I’ve been feeling since the 2016 election. We women have been patiently waiting our turn, thinking we had achieved so much and that breaking that “glass ceiling” was basically just a technicality that would happen in time. Be good, stay in your lane (or step out of it, but only if it serves others), and it will happen. But then… no. We learned. Not only had a highly qualified female been beaten by an unqualified mediocre white man, the highest office in the land went to a misogynist and self-described pussy grabber. We aren’t seen as equals with internal genitalia. And all of our waiting and staying silent in the face of that pussy grabbing shit has only served to hold ourselves and our daughters back.
So women are saying, “no more!” We are speaking up in the face of injustice! We aren’t moving out of the road for you! We aren’t covering for your bullshit! And, goddamalmighty, we are not letting you bastards butt in line!”
Effectively worked up into an “I just watched Oprah” esque state of empowerment, I said, “Excuse me sir,” I called him sir! “But we were in the middle of a transaction. Do you mind if we finish our business?”
I was polite. I might not have been kind, but I was polite.
And he LOST his FUCKING shit.
He told me to grow up. He called me names. He used the F word multiple times. He imitated my voice. And then had the audacity to ask me “Why don’t you just grow up?” I was shaking as I tried to pay and then tried to get out of the store but I first went to the “in” door and you have to go all the way around to the “out” door, and EVERYONE was staring at me, as if to ask what I had done to that man to deserve such a tongue lashing.
It was so bad, I went next door to Harmon’s and bought myself some flowers. Then I went home, and I logged back on to my computer to focus on work… and failed. And then I cried for nearly two hours.
I turned to Facebook and related the story, hoping my friends would tell me what I wanted to hear. Specifically: I was right to speak up for myself. (Meaning this man was wrong in his behavior.) I got the reassurance I wanted, along with a few laughs, which helped stop the flow of tears. Then a mentor of mine left a comment that read:
The man’s actions were unforgivable. He’s a boor, and you can bet that he’s a boor at every moment of his life. I suspect that standing your ground with him would have escalated what was brutal and painful. This guy lives on escalation–especially with women. You might have turned to the clerk and asked that the clerk verify that you were mid-transaction. So sorry you had to go through this.
“Boor.” That was the word, exactly. “An unrefined, ill-mannered person.” I belive completely that he wouldn’t have responded to me the way he had if I were a man. Or even if I had been accompanied by a man. Either way, there would have been some respect of the equality of status. I can’t prove it, of course. I believe that sexism was at the core of the exchange, as I believe it is why he ignored me in the first place.
I’ve thought a great deal about this exchange over the last few weeks. It is shocking how easy it was to kick that hornets’ nest by asking for something so basic as adherence to the line system. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been the day after the election. Maybe he was on edge because of the Democrats taking back the house. Maybe I was feeling more piss and vinegar in my veins for the same reason? I don’t know.
I have decided that I don’t regret standing up for myself. And I would do the same thing over again, and I will next time, even having had this experience of being put back in my place. I reject the binary choice that I seem to have: I can either be a doormat or a bitch. I can’t control the way others respond. Especially those who are accustomed to inspiring doormat behavior in those around them. Maybe I will start carrying my Dudeist Priest badge in my wallet so the next time this happens I can pull it out and say, “Respect MY priesthood, bitch!
(Actual photo of John Slattery in The Adjustment Bureau)