I asked for an apology from the patriarchy

Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

They’ll tell you I got fired because I walked out of a meeting. They’ll tell you I got fired for “no longer being collaborative.”

What they won’t tell you is I asked for an apology from one player, one with the least amount of power, of a sexist game. Before that, I asked for a change in process that would work. That’s it.

So why really did I get fired?

I never had the chance to tell them my side of the story before they reached a verdict. Until now.

It was my choice to switch to full time at a large corporation. I had been a freelancer for far too long, searching for income like a heroine addict and her fix.

Every morning, every fiber in my body braced itself for the thick cloud of toxic masculinity. I had no choice but to breathe it in when I entered the colossal foyer, but the hefty hourly rate was enough to keep me there for a year and a half.

I’ll stay 6 months, save up and flourish my own business from what I learn here, I thought.

I did not feel sorry for myself as I did when I got fired from the YMCA at age 23 for sleeping on the cold tile by the shallow therapy pool at 5 a.m. I’ve never been a morning person, anyway. It was a “bad fit.”

Almost as soon as I’d arrive to my post, I’d cover for a fellow lifeguard, watching the entire floor of pools while he relished in a morning shit for half an hour.

I’ll just lie here for five minutes, I thought. No one shows up till 6 a.m anyway.

Instead of the other lifeguard waking me, the sounds of splashes from an senior gentlemen bobbing up and down did so. Panicked, I looked up from my buoy pillow through the glass at an empty lifeguard chair. He was occupied in conversation in the far corner with a lean, swan-like swimmer while members lapped back and forth behind him, moms bounced with their babies and kids slid down the water slide.

Sure, it was my own fault that I got fired, but If I had been cuter or more his type, perhaps he would have peeked his head in to wake me. Perhaps if I were him, I would have just gotten a good talkin’ to. Who knows.

More than ten years later, I initially thought this time around was different, but in reality, I’m still fighting the same fight. I felt the residue of one who had been betrayed by humanity. I felt stuck in my skin as a woman, losing the game once again since birth.

Every move is the wrong move, I told myself at 2 a.m., 4 a.m. and 5 a.m.

I thought I was better than the urge to find a sense of belonging within someone else’s world, including the corporate workplace and actively bend my identity to fit in. Yet, I mingled around the company uttering acceptable, shallow water cooler phrases like all the robots around me.

Silence is a form of compliance.

In a state of raw, post-termination, belonging and acceptance from this society lured me into depression. Much worse, whispers of the demon of estrangement and betrayal had returned. Their haunting was due to the harm caused by an emotionally abusive x-husband years ago. Residue from the past.

Years of therapy, self-love, expression through art and writing and surrounding myself with enriching people have given me the strength to endure rejection this time around. I was able to tell the dull gnawing in my stomach from lack of appetite and the head spins from lack of sleep, I am right.

Boundaries, I have learned, leave space for the thoughts I want to have, the time I value for myself and for healing from trauma. They help me fly and believe in my dreams.

It was silly, really. All he did was wave me away with his hands as if to say, Get out of here. He put his computer on mute.

“What?” he said accusingly, almost shouting.

I had been trying to send him a message with my Jedi eyes to speak authentically and to support us on this call with the higher ups, Search for the human inside you, Luke.

Before he joined the team, I had enjoyed working with other creatives, sharing our insights about how to fix broken processes during walks to a downtown coffee shop. Thick masculine toxicity suffocated my colleagues one-by-one.

Sherri, for example, had told me she’d been waiting nearly two years to advance her position. Perhaps she’d get a desk of her own with a view of the city. She was excited about flourishing her career.

Then the new guy came in, mimicking the boss’s practice of locker room talk during meetings, showing up 20 minutes late or not at all.

“It’s fine,” the boss said. “He’s probably jamming in a corner on the 5th floor.”

He had received the salary Sherri had been waiting for despite seniority. She just up and left one day.

I stared the new guy down hoping after four months of sharing our interests, slowly gaining camaraderie, his naive, malleable nature might be used for our benefit. Ask for a process that works, my eyes told him.

He often threw out acceptable chilled-out bro phrases like one might toss die over and over onto a craps table until he rolled the winning response.

“Yup. I’ll reach out to so and so,” the boss would say as if contacting resources wasn’t part of his job already.

A strategy some women play in the corporate game, I have observed, is to speak off the record to male colleagues until the men think the ideas are their own.

I chose to speak of a solution to a problem all on my own in a straight-forward tone with evidence to back it up, as well as, “Loop me in before you change it again, please.”

Rebuttal.

“It’ll be easier on all of us.”

Fired.

The new guy’s mansplaining followed and a “Yeah. Good point,” from the boss, but his translation of my idea was passive. Not only did they agree to follow the same broken system, but to start from zero, approaching an eight month long, nearly finished project “with a new light.”

The result was dehumanizing. The solution was clear. The new guy and I would revisit the same project — nearly complete — within the borders of a broken process, but this time with more flare!

I shook my head at him with disbelief more so for the system than his words.

That’s when he waved me away, dismissively.

My stomach fell sick. I floated alone in a boat withering the corporate storm around me.

A heard a chuckle across the room: a third person on the call in the creative suite of the towering building. Her smirk met my gaze. It seemed to laugh at me for not being one of them.

Dana had always been poised. Apologetic. Overly sympathetic. Always softening controversy with, “Yup. Great point.” She didn’t see his dismissive wave or the hand or hear his forceful “What?” Neither did the handful of folks on the call thousands of miles away. Maybe if she and I had had more conversations about fashion and baking she might have supported me.

I should have tried more.

When things got rocky, I kept to myself. I met resistance from team leaders with silence. I produced the work, listened to podcasts and music while doing so, found solace in a quick coffee trip. Until I just couldn’t anymore.

I responded with things like, “No, unfortunately that’s not going to work.” “Excuse me. Please let me finish.” “Can you loop me in on that?”

Boundaries, I have learned, leave space for the thoughts I want to have, the time I value for myself and for healing from trauma. They help me fly and believe in my dreams. So, I decided to use words in the workplace that I hoped would produce ease. I needed to breath. I could no longer separate eight hours of my day from the inner strength I displayed among the women’s cycling I’d organized, my friends, my family.

A few weeks prior, my closest coworker and a fellow writer couldn’t take being silent any longer. She sent in her resignation. The boss’s reply: “You’re dead to me.”

They’d asked me to take on all 20 projects she’d left behind.

“Well, we really need to hire another copywriter,” I responded.

About the same time, they hired a new employee who would “shake things up.” He interrupted during meetings, ignored feedback and chose to bring closed projects “back to the surface.” Lean approach. Agile approach. Innovation.

“Dead to me” rang loudly in my ears as the meeting ensued. The boss’s presumptuous voice detailing why we couldn’t do this or that, but he’d consider making processes better: just an old, sad tune playing in background.

My throat tighten, They’ve won again.

I imagined myself elsewhere: a city where my voice was heard simply because my idea was a good one not ignored because I am a woman.

In the past, when met with rejection, I ran. My mind reverted to that soothing feeling of fleeing. If I couldn’t change the system with words, what if I made a physical stir? If anything to slightly show the new guy dissatisfaction of his dismissive hand waving. If he wanted me to leave, I’d leave. Powerful.

I picked up my computer, bag, half eaten falafel and mug full of coffee. Dana’s satisfied eyes feigning shock confirmed once and for all, that her sympathetic act was just sheep’s clothing. She was the mean girl after all. My shuffle toward the elevator was just another juicy story for her and the girls.

I could leave right now and they wouldn’t care. Disposable.

You are strong. No. Stay and fight.

I relocated by a window. With my headphones still connected to the meeting, I watched identical suits walking the streets below like soldiers off to war. How many of them would agree with the people on this call? All I wanted was mutual human respect just like the new guy, and to work in a process that made sense.

Yet I didn’t make sense. Shackled at birth, society had pressured me to see success only by way of stereotype, conformity. Pussy. Cunt. Snatch. That thing in between my legs always in the way.

She is Elastic, poem by The Viragocian

As a result, I felt voiceless.

The next day I mustered the courage to at least ask my fellow creative for an apology. It was amazing how well the new guy knew me better than myself:

“[You’re] inability to reflect on how you affect someone and just dismiss someone’s interpretation of you is clearly a sign of how you feel towards them.”

K.

About a week prior, he told me, “You’re awesome.” I had agreed about a project detail he felt was “sweet.”

Before I was fired, I decided not to play the game anymore. I told myself thereafter, Your insights are valid. Yet today, I’m still met with the feeling that no matter which move I make, it’ll be wrong.

What I can lean on is my side of the story. Details that sloshed around in my head are now contained here. The act of writing helped me washed off the mental residue of feeling betrayed and misunderstood. I’m still trying to feel human.

The integrity of this piece resides from a true recollection of events. I’ve relayed them to the best of my knowledge, and identities have been changed or not named.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store