Last week wasn’t all bad, but it was exhausting. Despite the many good things that happened, it was one of the harder weeks I’ve had in a while, and it was hard specifically because I’m a woman.
The most obviously inappropriate thing that happened to me last week was that someone left a love-note on my desk. It was short, fitting in the small, square space on the top of my post-it pad, and unsigned, aside from the XOXO at the bottom. The pen used to write it was left lying casually across the top, a generic ballpoint, translucent blue on bright, matte, neon blue.
I haven’t been able to touch the pen. I just stare at it and feel my stomach turn a little bit. I don’t quite know what I feel. Someone came into my office, which I lock religiously, and left me this weird note. It’s so strange, it hardly seems like it was meant for me. It’s probably nothing. Probably harmless. Maybe a joke, or a prank even. Though I haven’t found the humor yet. I don’t feel unsafe, exactly—until I really stop and think about it, and wonder if I should.
Still, in some ways, it’s easy to deal with. There’s a process. Everyone I work with has been exceptionally supportive through the weirdness, and we’re having all the conversations with the folks who manage our building that we’re supposed to be having. I am both lucky and privileged in this respect—lucky to have thoughtful and kind colleagues, who want to create a comfortable, safe work environment for everyone, and privileged, as a well-off, white, straight, cisgender woman, to have the confidence that my concerns and fears will be taken seriously.
The other things that happened last week were more insidious, and for many reasons, are much harder to talk about. The stories that every woman I know can tell. The casual comments that draw attention to the fact that you’re the only woman in the room. The discomforting conversation with a man who either doesn’t realize, or doesn’t care, that his enthusiasm and persistence reads as aggression and feels inappropriate. The moment you realize your arms are crossed over your chest and your back is against the wall, that your body is radiating “I don’t want to be here,” and yet, seems to be doing so in a language no one around you can read. That was my week.
I am, again, both lucky and incredibly privileged that this was an atypical week for me. Still, I find that these moments tend to bleed into one another. They call back memories that have that same sour taste and heavy feel. My high-school classmates who were certain that the only girls who got A’s in physics were the ones who wore short skirts. The federal employee who saw my “Summer Intern” badge and, upon hearing where I went to college, asked if I was getting my “MRS degree.” The men who hollered at me as I walked down the street toward them, and then hollered some more about my ass as I walked away. The guy I looked up to professionally, who tried to get me to come back to his hotel room during a conference. The time my picture ended up in an article that called women ignorant, apathetic, and lazy for having the temerity to use FourSquare.
None of these were big, life changing events, just as nothing that happened last week was a big, life changing event. They were just moments in time, and some were relatively small ones at that. Still, they are all connected in my mind—strung together in a slow, steady drumbeat of sexism and yes, misogyny, that seems to stretch backward and forward in time.
It is not weather, but climate. There are bright, shining, beautiful days, and I am privileged to have more of them than most. But the overarching trend of the region, the region of being a woman in most industries, in most countries in the world, is still heavy and grey.
My story, these moments, they are not unique. I have never shared them with another woman and not heard similar stories in response. Still, it feels like a risk to write this, to add my voice to the chorus of women who have shared their own stories before. Because of course, the perverse irony is that often, to share your experience with sexism and misogyny is to make yourself a target for more sexism and misogyny. Yet, I know of no other way to silence the drumbeat than to produce an equally steady beat of our own, to counter the weight of the air by sharing these moments and affirming that they are real, they are happening. They are happening to women you love, and women you hate, and women you never even think about. But none of us deserve them.
It’s not enough, but perhaps it is a start—perhaps by shining light on these moments, we can eventually change this climate, and create a future with weeks full of brighter days instead.