I wish I was surprised yesterday, when I read the following report on the US Senate in the wake of Snowmageddon:
Something was a little different in the Senate on Tuesday morning. And Sen. Lisa Murkowski noticed it.
The Alaska Republican was one of only a few lawmakers in the Capitol building following the weekend blizzard, and it was her job to handle the formalities of delaying Senate business until her colleagues could get back to work. After finishing a bit of parliamentary business, she described what she saw in the ornate chamber.
“As we convene this morning, you look around the chamber, the presiding officer is female. All of our parliamentarians are female. Our floor managers are female. All of our pages are female.”
Except, I’m not surprised. Not even a little bit.
I’ve read a bunch of comments about how Senators Murkowski and Collins were the obvious choice to hold down the fort yesterday as they are both local and could easily make it to work (and someone had to be there). And I understand that if anyone is prepared to think of “Snowmageddon” as just another day at the office… it’s representatives from my home state of Maine and our partner in subzero temperatures, Alaska. Where I grew up, the only times we got a snow day were when the accumulation was massive and just late enough into the morning that the plows couldn’t make it to the bus routes in time.
So fine, maybe Murkowski and Collins were the obvious choice. But here’s the part that gets me: All of our pages are female. Because of course they were, even though the current semester of pages boasts an even 50/50 split between men and women.
And the reason this doesn’t surprise me even a little bit is that I have been that low ranking staffer slogging through the snow just to prove that I would show up. You know why? Because if you’re not a white dude, you basically have to prove everything. Forever.
As many of you know, I got married really young. Like, engaged in college young. Which means that for all of my straight-out-of-college interviews for entry level positions, I wore an engagement ring. And you wouldn’t believe the outright sexism I faced during those interviews. One executive questioned if I wasn’t a little too young to be getting married. Another interviewer saw my engagement ring and made a point of telling me how demanding the job schedule was, pointing out that it meant “never seeing your fiancé.” After half a dozen interviews, all of which went in some direction like that, I considered taking off my ring. But instead, I doubled down and decided I wasn’t going to work anywhere that wouldn’t respect the fact that I could hold down a job and be a person at the same time.
That job ended up being at an indie film company. Despite being corporate owned by a global behemoth, full time in 2008 meant that the way to cut costs was to offer entry-level employees an hourly contract position that was only guaranteed for a year and didn’t come with any benefits. Which means that for my first job, I got to commute an hour and a half each way for fourteen dollars an hour. (And I was one of the lucky ones.) And yet, despite having been hired engagement ring and all, I still had to defend myself to the all dudebro middle managers.
So you best believe that come snow, sleet, hail, rain, whatever, I was there. If the Metro North was running (and it always ran), then so was I. There were days when even the president of the company didn’t show up (and he lived two towns over from me), but I did.
And you know why I was there? Because I fucking had to be. I had to be there for financial reasons (no benefits meant no paid time off, so I lost money every time we had a federal holiday). But I also had to be there to prove that even though I was twenty-two and married and living in Connecticut, I wasn’t any less serious than the male staffers I was competing with for slightly less shitty jobs. Because while they got the benefit of the doubt, I had to prove every step of the way that I wasn’t going to drop out of the race and become a professional housewife. (Thank God, I didn’t have kids.) And if you ask around the APW staff, or any of my girlfriends, everyone has one (or ten) stories about exactly the same kind of sexism and constantly needing to prove your mettle.
So do I think it was a coincidence that the entry-level staffers who showed up to the senate on Tuesday were women? No. Because right now the page program is a 50/50 split between men and women, whereas the senate is an 80/20 split between men and women. So my assumption is they look at their surroundings every day, and are able to the math.
On the APW staff, we have a running joke that we’re all really bad at not working. We apologize for getting sick (and that’s even if we’ll admit we’re sick enough to take a day off), we wait five years to take vacations, and we self-flagellate when the work doesn’t feel hard enough. It’s not something any of us is proud of. We don’t wear it like a badge of honor. In fact, we’re trying really hard to break ourselves of the habit. It’s just that, we grew up in America, and we’re women, and this is what we’ve been conditioned to do.
We show up. We throw down. We get shit done. Because frankly, we have to.
Honestly, I just want to take today’s open thread to pat ourselves on the back for whatever unseen work we’re doing. Throw it in the comments.
Editor’s Note: If you haven’t watched 9 to 5 yet, do yourself a favor and throw it in your Netflix queue now. I re-watched it this weekend expecting to laugh at how outdated it is, and instead was mostly horrified at how little has changed. In fact, in ways, it felt more progressive than some of the feminist conversations we’re having now (even our ’80s feminist films touched on intersectionality, if only for a moment). Plus there’s Dolly Parton.