“You work for X?”
“How are they with women?”
I was taken aback by the older woman’s question. We had had no previous conversation, no words spoken at all between us. I was not in charge of the crew that day. Quite the opposite actually, having spent the past two hours working on my hands and knees on the floor setting up and wiring twenty-five uplights.
As soon as this unknown woman (who I believe was the client) asked this question, I did the only thing I could in the moment: I smiled, said, “Yes,” and got back to work.
There was no way I could honestly or fully answer her question. She stood next to two of my bosses, chatting about the event happening that evening. I was low man on the totem pole, oddest possible person out. In fact I had only been standing there because I was waiting for the best moment to interrupt their conversation to ask one of my bosses about another project.
You can’t ask that question while someone is at work. You can’t ask that question with their boss right there. You can’t ask that question and expect a real honest answer. I don’t know why she asked, but that question has lingered with me since.
I couldn’t say the thoughts that ran through my head in the following moments, as I pushed this case, packed that one, and was eventually cut til the load out.
I couldn’t say how my industry is a sausage fest, how most of the companies are owned and operated by heterosexual white men, how often on gigs I am the oddest man out, a black woman surviving in this world.
I couldn’t speak about the jokes I don’t want to hear. The nicknames I insisted they stop using (which, to their credit they did). The dearth of female leads (let alone black female leads). I couldn’t talk about my occasional nerves, my occasional annoyance, and my constant anger.
The feelings that bubbled up after she asked her question feel like a monkey on my back that was once quiet but is now cackling. It isn’t one specific company; it is the industry. It isn’t one slimy guy; it is the culture of ignoring their behavior and promoting the men anyway.
So no, I didn’t answer her question honestly. And for her to believe I ever could or would was just a different form of privileged folly.
Categorised as: Work
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