First, housekeeping. I’ve been really busy and haven’t been posting for a while. However, I’m leaving one of my jobs in order to focus more time on the bookstores project, which also means the blog. So all of those ideas I’ve been storing up over the last month should come blurting out sooner or later.
Second, the blogging. My job (that I’m staying at) is with an affordable housing developer. My department is about nine people, all of us women, and the office as a whole is about 85% women. We don’t talk about the gender dynamic all that much; we generally make fun of city agencies or talk about food. But this summer, we had an intern – a 25-year-old man completing his BA after having spent a few years in the military. And this is where it gets weird. Let me emphasize that the women in my department are people I have huge respect for: they are smart, competent, multi-talented women who take on difficult tasks and handle them well. As far as I could tell, this was pretty much how they saw each other, too. But as soon as our intern showed up, suddenly they started saying all these stupid things, like “oh, it’s great to have some more balance around here!” or “oh good, now you can replace the water jug on the cooler!” (which, for the record, I have done more or less weekly for months) or the simple “it’s great to have a man around!”
I was flabbergasted. Seriously? Great to have more balance? What, like having someone around who’s never heard of a tax credit, to balance out the expertise and experience on staff? Great to have someone who came in hung over every day, to balance out the responsible way the rest of us treat our jobs? It’s still always a surprise to me when women – especially those who have such fabulous other women around them – still fawn over undeserving men.*
The most dumbfounding comment was from the only other under-30 woman in the office. “He’s so sensitive!” she exclaimed to me. “That time when we were [cooking and serving dinner to a group of low-income teens] at the campsite, he totally offered to help serve the rice!” Yes, because the fact that the rest of us volunteered to cook, transport, heat, and serve dinner to 75 kids was just, you know, normal! It was another moment when it became clear to me just how man-oriented our general culture is, and how far apart the bars are for men’s and women’s behaviors.
*I don’t mean to rag too hard on the intern; he was helpful, and the first three months in our department can be completely bewildering (I do remember that). But seriously. He didn’t have a tenth of the professional worth that any of the women in the department did, and yet they treated him like a king.