Women have come so far, and yet still we stumble.
This thought occurred to me when I began my current position for a very large insurance company here in northern California. I have been here over two years. Like many of my peers, I am a working mother with a husband, car payment, mortgage, and a severe problem with panic disorder and compulsive eating. If I want to afford my gym payment, I have to work. Yet if I want to get my work done, I need to work overtime. If I work overtime, I need to buckle down and rush through chores, budget my children’s homework with making dinner, and plan on having absolutely no time to myself when I get home. Therefore, I never make it to the gym that I am blowing eighty-five dollars a month on, making it seem like a massive waste of time and money. I think this is what they call a vicious cycle, not to mention ironic.
In the meantime, out of self-preservation, I never mention this to my coworkers with anything other than a serene smile and shrug of my generous (and perhaps overburdened) shoulders. I don’t trust myself not to reveal too much. I also don’t entirely trust them, now that I think of it.
It’s nothing personal. I just work with a building full of women.
Outwardly, the female populace of my company is pleasant enough. As I said before, I live in California, the home of sparkling customer service and friendly faces. People walk by me in the hall and ask me how I’m doing whether they care or not about the answer. When you work with women, there is a lot of touching going on. Women have a weird little “sisterhood” thing going on that transcends any need to appear professional. We touch each other in passing. We tuck each other’s tags back into the neck of our shirts and unfold collars that got flipped inside-out. We tell each other to “make a wish” when our chain necklaces are backwards, or when scraping a stray eyelash off of each other’s cheek. I never truly understood that.
We also travel in packs, not unlike hyenas. Several times a day, I will hear my peers over the cubicle wall announcing “I’m going to get some popcorn. I need some tea. Are you going on a walk break? Are you headed to the printer? Are you filling up your water?” It makes you wonder if the days of making a group trip to the bathroom really are over when you leave high school. Guys don’t do that. Most men won’t even sit together in the cafeteria if they randomly encounter each other, let alone plan to grab the table by the window once they pay for their salad.
We flock like so many moths to a flame around one of our peers that has returned from lunch with a new pair of shoes bulging out a shiny shopping bag, even if the congregating stragglers are chattering loudly enough to disturb others in their cubes. I am guilty of this too, so I can be honest about it. Sometimes, I have been the one triumphantly brandishing the shoe box.
We throw too many potlucks, and then micromanage what everyone can bring. The list of foods to bring that should only take ten minutes to fill out once posted on a cubicle wall instead gets emailed to the whole team. Each team member gets a “reply to all” message announcing that “I’m bringing the plates this time, so I don’t have to cook, you’ll all be thanking me later.” And so on, ad nauseam. You never see men emailing potluck lists, bickering over the cute little piece of clipart on the letterhead, or making themselves miserable about whether they will get to go shopping for ingredients the night before.
We joke around a lot regarding PMS. Talk about politically incorrect. Even my female managers and supervisors have done this, and have commonly accepted it. Thinly veiled references to chocolate and Advil fly loosely back and forth all day long where I work.
We’re always too fat. Could be all the potlucks and the popcorn and group treks to the cafeteria. Mind you, it’s not that I am calling my coworkers fat, because I am not. I am saying, collectively, that “we are ALWAYS TOO FAT.” Period. This is how we always perceive OURSELVES in plain conversation. Diets are discussed around the clock. Failed diets. Weight Watchers points. Weight Watchers meetings. “I can’t eat that, I’m on Atkins.” How many times we made it to the gym. How long it has been since we didn’t go to the gym. How much weight so-and-so lost/gained/gained back. Most regrettably, we turn against our own kind and talk about each other like cats when our work clothes make us look fat. Oh, the shame of it. The horror. The ugly truth. My previous manager told us one day “I’m not bringing you guys donuts anymore, you never eat it, it seems like everyone is on a diet.” Amusingly, my manager was religious about staying low-carb. Once again, the men at my job do not chime into these discussions. They are paying close attention at the meetings and cheerfully reaching for another donut.
We’re catty when we are snubbed or passed over for a special project.
We form cliques. It doesn’t take much. You don’t realize you are even in one until one day, you wake up. You notice you have had lunch with the same three people, at the same table in the cafeteria, for six months straight. You have joined all the same committees, and you have signed up for training sessions for the same hour. You may unintentionally dress alike, go to the same hairdresser or tanning salon, and pass the same catalogs around the office. You may buy each other’s kids’ raffle tickets by mutual agreement. You’re in a clique. And people around you have noticed.
We tattle. We take names when it comes time to explain why a deliverable wasn’t met.
We recognize and point out croneyism. We snicker when our manager and one of our number wore the same blouse to work, the same day. We are jealous when it doesn’t benefit us.
We eavesdrop. Sometimes we even chime into a conversation that had nothing to do with us from down the hall or on the other side of the bathroom stall. I catch myself doing that, though; I hate hearing people guess the wrong answer to questions such as “what other movie was that guy in?” or “How do you spell ‘coincidentally,’ with a ‘c’ or an ‘s’?” I just need to keep my big mouth shutÃ¢Â?Â¦
We share one-upmanship stories of our children in exhaustive detail. “My labor was only four hours long, I had a natural delivery. Joey potty-trained at one and a half. My daughter slept all night as soon as we brought her home. My son never swore in school.”
We sometimes conveniently forget simple rules of courtesy, such as not broadcasting when we have had a personal invitation to a peer’s special occasion or event, while assuming that everyone else must have gotten the invitation, too. We also harangue each other to buy Avon, Pampered Chef, Partylite, or Girl Scout Cookies. This bit me in the backside once, when I emailed some friends about a Tupperware party I was hosting, and one of my friends was the compliance officer in our quality department. I got written up. She was doing her job. I got caught doing something that still regularly goes on now.
The following is a top ten list of things you will not (or very seldomly) hear men say at work:
“What time are you going for a walk break?
“I feel fat today. I couldn’t get into my favorite slacks this morning.”
“I wish whoever was hogging the printer would come and get their stuff and add more paper.”
“I really need to drink more water.”
“I hate my hair/I need to get my roots done.”
“It’s embarrassing, my desk is such a pigsty.” (Men don’t get embarrassed. And their desk doesn’t resemble a makeup counter or pharmacy, either.)
“I saw her applying for another job this morning, she’s never been happy here.”
“Let me tell you what I heard the other dayÃ¢Â?Â¦” They never start any anecdote like this. And it’s usually gossip.
“I thought those were your feet that I recognized under the stall.” Men don’t claim such things, ever.
“Yeah, you really look/sound like you don’t feel well.” Women are always frank about this, even when it makes the person hearing it feel worse. Thanks.
The women that you work with can be your best friends, uneasy allies, or the bitterest of nemeses. The dynamics of the relationship between you and your peers may leave you more emotionally exhausted than arguing with your children. You may occasionally get sucked into the common trap of convincing yourself “I come to work, not to socialize; I don’t care if my coworkers like me.” On some minute level, we women usually do care, often too much. The word “woman” has the word “woe” in it. We go to work to build ourselves up and support ourselves, but in the process, frequently, we tear each other down by the water cooler.
By the way, don’t forget to put ice in your water, it forces your body to burn more calories during the day.