I’m involved in a feminist community which is very connected to the media industry (facilitated by the excellent Women, Action, and the Media conference), in which mentoring has been a big topic lately – to some extent for the whole group, and more specifically for me. Continue reading
I find myself looking at large physical documents, needing to find some small piece of information, and thinking “Ctrl+F, no problem.”
What’s worse is that when I realize that physical documents have no Ctrl+F function, I consider, for a short moment, completely re-typing them so that I can use Ctrl+F.
I’ve also found that the tiny muscles in my right hand have seriously atrophied from lack of writing by hand. They get tired after a few lines. Sick, right?
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.
One of my jobs is at a community agency that serves mostly LGBTQ folks, where, among other things, I provide childcare at our drop-in center. The childcare space is off the lobby, and has a half-door that I usually leave open – like I did tonight, while I was in there with 4 children under the age of four. At one point, while we were all in the second room (with no access to the entrance door), the infant fell and started screaming bloody murder. I took her into the front room to calm her, and while she continued screaming, the other children wandered in to check out the action. Her cries also attracted the attention of someone else who was hanging out in the front lobby – a middle-aged man who came over to the half-door and kind of poked his head in. I barely made eye contact with this man, more intent on calming the screaming infant and getting the other kids back on track. So I turned away from the door and asked the other children to go back into the other room and find their snacks, and followed them in with the baby – who, distracted by the movement of the children, magically stopped crying.
I feel uneasy about how I acted toward the curious man tonight. My first priority as a childcare provider is for the kids’ well-being, which I accomplished by herding the kids into the back room (and also by not involving a stranger in an already-stressful situation.) And in the past, I’ve had strange characters invite themselves into the childcare, invading the children’s and my privacy. So I’m clear that I did the right thing tonight. What makes me uneasy is this: most of the folks that hang out in the lobby of this community agency are struggling with homelessness, mental illness, HIV infection, and other things that bring about social stigma. I’m sure that the clean, pretty mommies with their clean, pretty babies regularly shun these folks on the street, and I feel like I acted like the clean pretties tonight.
I know I didn’t act based on prejudice (I would have steered the children into the back room regardless of anyone being at the door), but part of being a community agency is supporting the people on the margins, not replaying the same stereotypes (i.e. middle-aged gay man as child molester) that harm these folks every day. It weighs on me that my actions came out looking like actions based on stereotype and prejudice.