Monday, 25 June 2012

Bitchy Lions, Episode 2: Nobody Puts Mommy in a Corner

I try to limit myself to wearing jeans to the office once a week. I try to give the
impression that I find annual fiscal budgets really interesting. I try to pretend that I do
not strongly covet the entire wardrobe of this woman on my floor who wears things like
a simple black dress with a big, hot-pink necklace and makes weird Aladdin pants look
good. I try to sit up straight and limit my bathroom stall naps to once a day. I try. That is
the point: I am trying.

So, when my sweet co-worker with kids got pneumonia and had to miss some (a lot) of
work, I tried extra hard. I tried on her behalf too. I tried to remind people that she was
working from home (she was) and that just when she was feeling better her child got
a double ear infection (he did). I even came to work with food poisoning and barfed in
between two presentations. I did this because working moms have to try to be (if not
just BE) better than they were pre-baby, and we certainly have to be better than our
childless contemporaries. Obviously a company would prefer a childless worker (no
baggage, no sick kids, no mid-day daycare calls), but look! Look over here, look at me
multi-tasking! LOOK!

Because I try, I felt I had to attend a Women who Lead Networking BS seminar. (Oh,
and because the president asked me in a cab if I was going. “Oh, yes, sounds fun!” I
say.) My work hired (PAID MONEY for) some woman to say things like, “When I had
my third baby, I treated myself to a whole month off!” (audience laughs — silly woman,
taking time off with her children!) and, “In between my booming career, my kids, my
husband, my marathon running and my speaking engagements, I am also learning
woodworking…in my spare time” (audience laughs — silly woman, girls can’t do
carpentry, but so cute that she is trying!). “For the love of God!” I felt like screaming as I
stood there with my warm Chardonnay. Are you kidding me?

This is the problem. Women like that are a huge part of the problem. I know the seminar
wasn’t called “Tired Mothers who Lead”; it was called “Women who Lead,” so she didn’t
have to cater to me specifically. But not only was she insulting the women there who
were moms, but also setting a pretty high bar for the women who might be considering
motherhood. And worst of all, she was telling the non-moms and never-gonna-be-moms
that we moms SHOULD be doing everything, with no stress, and just fucking loving it!

This woman had a huge opportunity to talk candidly to other women, not spout out “I am
superwoman, be like me!“ My employers also had an opportunity to address the very
real world of working women and the challenges we face with honesty, but they didn’t.
I’m not surprised.

To be fair, I did leave early (because it went ’til 5:30 and that is crazy talk to me). And
I sighed all the way home. What kind of a message are women sending each other
when we decide that superwoman is the model we should strive to be? Why do we
consistently reward women if, and only if, they can do pretty much everything (including
woodworking, apparently) and stay thin? Why is 9 to 5 not enough, even though that is
what we are paid for? Why do I feel like I need to preface every conversation with, “Oh,
this cold isn’t contagious. I have had it since August; it is from my son’s daycare”? Why
do I get nervous about calling in sick? Why do I have to try so hard?

I know why. Because when my co-worker with pneumonia finally came back to work,
the queen Bitchy Lion swooped past our desks and said, “Oh, hi. How are you feeling?”
My friend: “I’m good. My chest does still hurt a bit, but all my X-rays looked good!” Me:
nodding supportively. Bitchy Lion makes a pinched face: “Well, stay in your corner,”
followed by an awkward laugh.

Stay in your corner. That is what a real-life woman who leads said. Out loud. She
thought it was a joke, I think.

-Tightrope Mama

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