A quest to make sense of it all. Or a sense to make a quest of it all.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Don't you trouble your pretty little head.

My boss had a meeting this morning that turned into a political debate, which of course I was privy to since I'm sitting right next to the conference room and instructed to half-listen for tidbits to mentally file away. I've never felt so Scarlett O'Hara as when the gentlemen were coming out of the room and they all apologized to me, the little lady, for talking politics in my presence.

This is an example of social custom in historic-district Corinth. The old rules hold on, hard. While things are more casual within our own staff meetings, meetings with other people where I am also present are kinda odd, at least to me. The men all stand up when I stand up to leave the room or just fax something. They are all offered whiskey, I am offered a soft drink. They each only have one drink (this is something I've observed repeatedly) and do not have any more until my purpose in the meeting is complete and I go back to my own office. This is a big one. To offer the sole woman in the company of several men an alcoholic beverage would be a serious breach of etiquette. 1) It would be assuming that a lady drinks at all, and 2) it's just not fly. They accept a secretary's presence in an office as a necessity (who else would do all the paperwork and social arrangements?), but to them, it's not only a ridiculous notion but an insult to a woman to invite her to have a shot and talk business. That's not to say women have no power in this system. They certainly do. It's a quieter power, but it's there. There is a woman in town who comes off as the original steel magnolia. Sweet, overly cosmeticized, belonging to every club that supports the preservation and economy of the historic district. She's also the owner of one of the biggest, oldest commercial plants in the county, and no one knows how many pies she actually has her fingers in. What is known is that pissing her off is really stupid. It's fascinating to talk to this woman, who seems incapable of balancing a checkbook but who has more influence than the mayor.

Is it wrong for a woman to ride the I'm-a-girl-no-threat-here train to the top? Is it better to say, "I'm not a prancing pony. I'm a woman, and I'm smart and creative and capable" and be left behind with your values, or to prance and use the tools deemed appropriate in "a man's world" to get where you want? Does the end justify the means?

Just rambling. Being apologized to for polluting my pretty little head with political brouhaha just got me thinking about it.

They also apologized for swearing in my presence. I don't know if this behavior is a compliment to my femininity or a deep insult to my gender.


theogeo said...

I lean toward considering it an insult. It's part of the long-honored patriarchal tradition of infantilizing women by seemingly placing them on a pedestal. Like children, women are to be protected from the questionable morals of the rest of the world (i.e. men). They are delicate flowers, to be set aside and contemplated for their beauty. They are not essential for the functions of the pragmatic world ('cept for the part where they make the babies).

In other words, those attitudes are horseshit. Old, annoying horseshit at that. The kind you can't get off your shoe.

As for the question of which is better: Working the system or saying "fuck it" and trying to work outside it, I think women can't necessarily be faulted for using whatever strategies they deem necessary to get ahead. That's not necessarily to say that any choice a woman makes is above reproach. That's just to say that the game is fucking unfair and that playing it -- using whatever tools of the trade necessary (hyperfemininity, for example) -- is dirty business right out of the gate. The women who get ahead by working outside of the paradigm are few and far between. Especially in socially conservative cultures such as dear old Corinth's.

sarah saint said...

"I lean toward considering it an insult."

Word. I realize that they don't mean any harm...in that they're not being intentionally malevolent or anything. But those attitudes, regardless of conscious or unconscious intention, are harmful. It's nice that they try to avoid raunchy language in front of me, but that should be in any social setting where you're unfamiliar with all the players...not just because one of the players has a vagina. And the political bit got my goat because it was automatically assumed that, being a hen, I wouldn't give a hoot-let alone hold my own in debate.

This attitude generally shows up the heaviest in these meetings. The daily environment isn't so much like that, perhaps because 3 of the 5 men I work with daily are under 30. My boss is a good guy, and I've seen him shoot apologetic glances at me when a colleague has said something ridiculously Caveman-ish, like a comment I received from someone wondering why I hadn't had children yet. (YEAH. BECUASE I EXIST SOLELY TO MAKE INVOICES AND BABIES.) He's as progressive as a 60year old priveleged deep-Southern man can be. I just wish the rest of the pack would catch up a little bit, and maybe let the little lady get a word in about immigration reform.

Anonymous said...

I am hesitant to reveal my feelings about immigration reform.

BUT I would consider their treatment of you an insult. How you use that information is up to you, as LT pointed out. You can use it as an excuse to sit there all doll-like and mentally check out for extended periods of time (which is actually a pretty great thing to me), or you can whip out your lasso and rein in a few bad attitudes. :)