"Hey, come over here," my boss barks from across the room.
I look up from the instrument I've been tinkering with for over half an hour. "What?"
"Come over here. I wanna show you something."
"Is it good?"
"Just come over here!"
I come across the island of desks to see what he's pointing to on the screen.
And there I am. "In a world of Kardashians, be a Sarah O'Connor." He means I am the Sarah O'Connor; I couldn't be farther from a Kardashian.
As I'm sure many of you did, I saw Hilary Clinton featured on "Humans of New York"
“I was taking a law school admissions test in a big classroom at Harvard. My friend and I were some of the only women in the room. I was feeling nervous. I was a senior in college. I wasn’t sure how well I’d do. And while we’re waiting for the exam to start, a group of men began to yell things like: ‘You don’t need to be here.’ And ‘There’s plenty else you can do.’ It turned into a real ‘pile on.’ One of them even said: ‘If you take my spot, I’ll get drafted, and I’ll go to Vietnam, and I'll die.’ And they weren’t kidding around. It was intense. It got very personal. But I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t afford to get distracted because I didn’t want to mess up the test. So I just kept looking down, hoping that the proctor would walk in the room. I know that I can be perceived as aloof or cold or unemotional. But I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off.’ And sometimes I think I come across more in the ‘walled off’ arena. And if I create that perception, then I take responsibility. I don’t view myself as cold or unemotional. And neither do my friends. And neither does my family. But if that sometimes is the perception I create, then I can’t blame people for thinking that.”
And even more jarringly, I read Hope Jahren's story in "Lab Girl" about opening her University mailbox to find an envelope of cum from a fellow staff member. I have tried as hard as I can right now to find you a specific reference, because in no world would I have imagined this, but I am defeated so I will promise to find it later and provide it. For now substitute this article from her website which although not as graphic firmly depicts the disgust you can feel from being a woman in high academia.
Both of these stories elicited a "What THE fuck?" reaction when. (Sorry Mom and Hope Jahren, sometimes the impact is necessary) What the fuck would make someone act like this? What the fuck would give these entitled sycophant boys the idea that these things are appropriate? Thank god neither of these things would ever happen to me.
They'd never happen to you? Are you very sure about that, Elise?
And no, unfortunately I can't give you certainty. But I can give you a "highly unlikely" rating. The worst I've had is to be told, "I don't call you a slut just because you're a woman" the falling out of which was documented and handled in a way I'm satisfied with. Has anyone else noticed most of the people in HR happen to be female these days? So, in a world of Donald Trump and Brock Turner's making it seem as though the notion of female autonomy is nothing but precarious, what makes me so comfortable that the transgressions of generations past are truly behind me and that we're living in a better world now?
Most of my greatest supporters have been men. I'm not talking about my father who with five older sisters and three daughters is unsurprisingly an excellent feminist. ("Don't get married until you're done with college and have a career." "I just don't understand why men are so dismissive of the WNBA and female sports. What does that message send to their wives and daughters?") No, my support has been from men -let's be a bit more frank, from boys- making it unexpected, unlikely and a bit confusing.
Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Which came first: my desire to be heroic or people telling me I was heroic? As I've mentioned before, I was a tomboy and grew up watching James Bond, the Terminator movies, the Alien movies, the Matrix movies, so on and so forth. I didn't want to be with James Bond as a companion floozy. I wanted to be James Bond. Cool, calm, collected, witty and ever suave in response to stress. So I learned to act like James Bond, and let me mention, there's a lot to be said for "Fake it 'til you make it". And when you're young, it's fun to play inside your head and believe to be what you say you are to yourself, not knowing that time and experience will wheedle your confidence and self-importance away.
If only. Instead, I went to camp and got labeled a clever minx for using my counselors' hubris against them to win capture the flag. And so they doted.
And I went to high school where my peers awkwardly dated while I got compared to Trinity and was told, "Elise, is going to show up in the nice black cars and wear suits." And that they liked the way I walked, which is to say swaggered, around campus oblivious to attention in the moment.
And then I went to college where my dates told me I'd soon be running companies as the CEO and that I would be the next "blah-blah-blah" scholar sending me on a free ride to Germany and beyond.
And then I went to real jobs where they saw me in interviews and afterwards stopped to comment, "Damn girl. You just look so nice all the time and then you get in there using the big words and I'm like 'She's the boss."
And I wondered where all of this came from. Did I want to wear suits and roll up in nice cars and run companies? Was that something I desired in my future? Even if it was, what made people say that about me? What made them turn to me and say, "Yeah, you're going to run this some day" the question they leave unasked but I ask myself, "Are you ready?" And another, "Aren't you suspicious they're just using you as the token 'girl'?"
My theory is I can play with the boys because I act like the boys. My James Bond facade made it through, and I can speak the body language of projecting confidence even when I have no idea what I'm talking about. Even at 5'2" and 120 pounds, I muster a death glare to stop anyone in their tracks. I can parlay and do the give and take of office joshing with the best -the mechanism of social revealing that simultaneously prods a person for insufficient performance while offering and easy route to close the gap.
Which leads me to the real question of myself: if I gained my power by acting like one of the guys, how do I make sure I'm acting well towards women? Was I tricked into acting this way or is this the way I want to act? I don't want to be "The Cool Girl" of Gillian Flynn's design, so enraptured of being 'cool' that slights or offenses towards women are ignored. And, of course. there are any discussions in Hollywood over the "Badass Babe" image. That a kickass female persona only sees to gratify the male sensibilities that a gun toting, guns ablazing hero can be hot too. Those images don't appeal to me. Can I instead hope that the language of being a badass is beginning to transcend our gender boundaries? I want to be Trinity, Sarah O'Connor and Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley because they represent a relentless search for truth and justice, and isn't that really what being a hero is? Can I believe that boys are finally starting to be okay with those images? As is said of Ripley:
"She's not a sidekick, arm candy, or a damsel to be rescued. Starting with Alien, Ripley was a fully competent member of a crew or ensemble — not always liked and sometimes disrespected, but doing her job all the same. As each film progresses, she comes to the fore and faces challenges head-on — she's the hero of the piece, in other words [...] Ripley isn't a fantasy version of a woman. Science fiction film is filled with hot kickass women doing impossible things with guns and melee weapons while they spin about like a gymnast in a dryer. As fun as that is to watch, at the end of the day it's still giving women short shrift, since what they are then are idealized killer fembots rather than actual human beings. Ripley, on the other hand, is pushy, aggressive, rude, injured, suffering from post-traumatic syndrome, not wearing makeup, tired, smart, maternal, angry, empathetic, and determined to save others, even at great cost to herself. All without being a spinny killbot."
My boss who told me that I am Sarah O'Connor in a world of Kardashians is an avid Trump supporter despite Trump's numerous aggressions towards women.. He is also the one who told me, "I wouldn't call you a slut just because you're a woman." Simultaneously, he tells me I am his favorite. I am the one who will take the keys to the castle after he is gone, and every minute he spends berating me or my coworkers is because he cares and he knows what good looks like. I'll grant him that; we have many of the same demanding and uncompromising tendencies to do good work because we know what good looks like and there is no excuse for not doing good work. Still, how can someone hold those views in tension? I don't know. But I do know he is gone while I remain, so what I really need to do is to figure out how to train a generation of badass girls to take my place one day.