“Well-behaved women seldom make history” – Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
This is my first workplace experience of blatant sexism. I hope none of you have gone through anything like this, but if you have, please speak up and resist because this is NOT OK.
Setting the scene here – Our office design is very economic, meaning, we all sit in long rows, next to each other with more than enough private space. Each row is divided through the centre, which makes two people sitting facing each other, divided by a perpendicular separation. So if the person sitting opposite me is taller than average, he/she can directly look at me and we can talk without needing to stand up.
I have realised over the years, and through those pictures my friends clicked (very discreetly) to embarrass me, that my resting face whenever looking into my laptop, is a scowl. My brows will be all tensed and my expression would be so serious you might think I am mentally preparing for a war looking at my screen.
And this was how I looked this Friday afternoon in office to the person sitting opposite. As soon as I got up to stretch myself, I noticed him looking at me. He immediately said – “It’s ok Priya. You can smile.” I was confused and dint know what he meant. I thought he assumed I overheard some joke they just cracked and am not laughing so as not to give the idea that I was listening to them. So I asked him what he meant. And he snapped with, listen to this classically narcissistic statement – “I mean, you sit right opposite to me and I can see your face every now and then. If you will look so serious all the time, I will also start turning the same way, tensed all the time. So you should smile.”
I was in such shock that I couldn’t utter a single word in response. I kept staring at him for a minute, mostly to make myself believe what I heard.
Did he really just ask me to keep smiling all the time so that he can see a smiling face to cheer him up whenever he looks up?
While I am at it, why don’t I do a mini dance every now and then Sir, to keep you entertained? I am sure you must get tired every once in a while and take a break from all the chit-chat you do through the day with the pathetic guys gang you have around you? Wouldn’t you love that Sir?
I wanted to give him a fitting reply, which I think he immediately realised, because he started rambling some excuse and explanation of how he dint mean what I might think he meant, but I dint. I just kept thinking that if he can say such a thing to me, and mind you I have a really fierce reputation in office and nobody dares such conversation (even as a joke) with me, what kind of orders and directives these seniors might be giving to those younger and impressionable female contractors sitting on the other side? Those who have to suck up to such managers or those who are too innocent to realise that this is not the right expectation? No wonder female workers end up being judged based on how well they get along with others, without opposing or protesting against it!
Well, I am not here to get along with people and make them like me. I am here to do my assignment as best I can, even if that meant others having to see me with a frown on my face all the time. I will disagree where I need to and I will argue where I need to. I will also debate where I need to, even if that meant standing on the other side all alone. I will not go along picking up fights but don’t expect me to be quietly smiling like a celebrity, trying to be agreeable when I shouldn’t.
And no, I will not smile for no reason looking into the screen like a dimwit.
I hope all women in the workforce are aware that the same applies to all of them. You are not a mannequin on display trying to attract prospective customers.