The Resume I Never Wanted To Build

I am a 51-year-old woman who entered the workforce in the 80’s. Big hair, pantyhose and teal eye liner were part of my professional look. “Working Girl” was a popular movie when I was a young professional, the story of how an attractive young woman rose through the ranks of corporate America without using her sexuality. Because, ladies who are much younger than me, sexual harassment was the norm instead of the exception for many women – from secretaries to lawyers – during my coming of age years.

 

For me, it started when I was still in High School, I worked a few hours at my sister’s office to earn extra money one hot summer week. My responsibility was to answer the phone and take messages. I was excited to have a “professional” opportunity and wanted to do my best for my sister and her boss. One afternoon when the office was empty except for me, one of the boss’s friends stopped by and we started chatting. He was in his 30’s, which to a 19-year-old is a very scary “old man.” He started talking to me about my eyes and how nice it would be for us to be alone together without anyone knowing. Terrified, I became quiet because I had no idea how a “professional woman” was supposed to respond to this. He warned me not to “tell anybody” that he had asked me out, there was no need to “upset anybody” because of our age difference. It would just be fun between the 2 of us. Our secret. Ick ick ick ick ick!! Repulsion and shame washed over me as this loser/predator departed from his friend’s office with confidence. Who knows, I may have given him my phone number because he was an adult and I was completely caught off guard. I told my sister a couple of days later but begged her not to “make a big deal” out of it because I was ashamed. I had been wondering what I might have done to cause this man to behave badly and I did not want to get either of us in trouble by exposing the incident. Clearly, looking back on this as a middle-aged woman with a teenaged daughter, I am angry and appalled by the casual way this man was able to dismantle my self-confidence and enthusiasm about doing good work and getting paid for it. He made it feel despicable. I took on the responsibility for both of our behavior that day, because, being a good Catholic girl, I must have done or said something to deserve it. I had just finished Driver’s Ed, for God’s Sake!!!! Finding my bearings in a large city and getting parked in a busy downtown parking lot were my major concerns – but then I had to listen to that creep? I was starting to dislike being a “professional” at the tender age of 19.

 

Moving forward from that big week in the grown-up office setting, I at least was aware that it was always possible to be caught off guard and mistaken for a Bimbo instead of a real professional.

 

Time went by and I encountered creepy professors in college who wanted to “take me to breakfast” (on a Sunday morning!) to discuss life or “have a cup of margarita” (yes, someone actually called it that) instead of giving me the grade I had earned in his class. Again, these guys got by with it because I did not know any better and there were no University guidelines protecting students from sexual harassment.

 

I want to end with the BIG one and sadly admit that, after all these weeks of “#ME TOO” posts on social media, my experience never once occurred to me until TODAY. That’s how long it has been buried within the vault of shame hidden inside of me for 25 years. I was working over a several-month period with a man I considered a friend, from whom I was learning a great deal and whose company I enjoyed. After work one Saturday afternoon, this man, whose wife and child I knew, invited me to Dim Sum – I was hungry, we had worked hard, it was daylight out, etc. – no concerns, right? During Dim Sum he casually mentioned that his family was gone for the weekend and there was another restaurant he really wanted to take me to that evening. STUNNED. I felt embarrassed and ashamed and immediately made up an excuse for not being able to go. We said an awkward goodbye. Several months later, when this man was soon to be leaving town for a job across the country – a package arrived at my home with his name and return address. I opened it and found a VHS (it was the 90’s!) tape with no label. We used VHS tapes in the classes we were teaching, so I thought maybe he had hastily returned one he thought belonged to me. WRONG. It was the most disgusting pornography I have ever seen! And my MOTHER was visiting me the weekend it arrived so she was sitting in my apartment with me when I put the video in!!! Immediately, I was hot with anger, fear, shame and embarrassment. We discussed it for a few minutes and I threw it in the dumpster. She had never had a job before so certainly her advice was not, “take this immediately to your work and report the SOB.” This ass NEVER paid a price for humiliating and frightening me.

 

In the wake of all the recent accusations leveled against powerful men in Hollywood, my “# ME TOO” may seem irrelevant or self-pitying. I am astonished and saddened that the incidents I have described (and a few more I am not recounting) took place as I was trying to build a professional career and reputation for myself yet the fear of being blamed for causing these things to happen on purpose kept me silent all these years. I have been reading the wonderful Glennon Doyle’s memoir this week, “Love Warrior,” and she writes passionately about the importance of being bold, brave and true to our stories and experiences. Otherwise, as women, our silence diminishes us as human beings and hurts others in ways we cannot predict – for instance, my children on the brink of adulthood. They need to know the world does not always treat you fairly or respectfully and it is up to us to make things matter in a time where people in positions of power can no longer bully and shame the less powerful in the comfort of darkness.

 

So the next time you think to yourself, “Gee, middle aged women sure are bitter and angry,” think about the things women my age have endured just to have the privilege to earn a living. I’m so glad my children will enter the professional world understanding that there are limits to the kind of power and authority their superiors may wield.

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The Women Behind Us All

Mary Blanche Greenwell
Far right, my Hot and Happening Aunt Blanche in the Waves

I recently went on a self-indulgent, whiny rant about how it is still not possible for women to “have it all” (career and family).  It was misguided.  It quickly became apparent to me from my friends’ reactions that my preoccupation with the notion of “having it all” is obsolete and a waste of time.  Smart women make use of their talents and available resources to craft “manageable,” healthy lives for themselves and their families every single day.  So what was I bitching about?  Maybe the gnawing feeling I have had since my 30’s that, for me, juggling 2 kids, a household and a career is more than I can handle?  Maybe a sense of disillusionment over a lie the feminists of the 70’s “sold” to women of my generation – that, not only COULD we have it all but we simply MUST?

I was raised by a traditional 1950’s housewife with 7 children.  As the youngest child, I had the unique opportunity to observe from the “caboose” the long train ahead of me that was our family life.  I know my Mother struggled to give each one of us what we needed while also compromising her personal desires to be a writer, artist, social reformer and business woman.  She simply did not have the time in one lifetime to do it all – like the rest of us. Enter my Mom’s greatest personal supporter – her Aunt Blanche.  Born in 1907, the only girl in a family of 8 children, Mary Blanche Greenwell became one of the first Waves in the United States Navy to arrive in Seattle during World II.  Witty, fun-loving and kind-hearted Aunt Blanche was my Mother’s childhood anchor.  She cherished her precocious niece.  For one thing, little Rhetta looked more like Aunt Blanche than her own Mother and this tickled her.  When Aunt Blanche left for the Waves, my Mom was a young girl, an aspiring journalist.  Mom remembers typing victory speeches and mailing them off to Aunt Blanche who was away serving in the Waves. Today, the 70th Anniversary of D-day, is a perfect opportunity to reflect on our heritage and the women who paved the way for later generations to “have it all.”  I am grateful beyond words for my great-Aunt Blanche and her service to this Country.  Above all, I am thankful that she loved my Mom so well all throughout her life.  She gave Mom a sense of meaning, hope and connection through the tough years of raising 7 young children born within a 12-year span.

In a letter written to my Mother in 1960 after she became a mother of 1 child herself, Aunt Blanche wrote:  “Even I with my one, decisions to make work to get done always hanging over me – I get overcome and feel that it’s too much.  Then I get remorseful and feel above all that I’m not a good mother because I get so cross. I’m sure every mother feels this way.”

These were compassionate and comforting words to my Mother from the woman she admired most in all the world.  Somehow, both women carried on, mothering and living and juggling it all simultaneously.  I cannot possibly believe that my silly little rants about “having it all” should be taken seriously with the humbling heritage of strong women I am fortunate to have in my life!