If I made one mistake, it was that I’d addressed my concern with the wrong person. Still, he was (is) the manager in charge of the groundskeeper, and it was the groundskeeper who had inconveniently parked his tractor blade right in the spot where I needed be. The chair trailers are tricky enough things to put away – heavy and unbalanced, with no jockey wheel, and meant to go in a narrow shed that’s tucked away up a slope and has an uneven, muddy floor. In order to line the trailers up with this narrow shed (and not have them sit in the mud, where they are near impossible to roll out) I needed to start the turning circle right where the tractor blade was now sitting.
For half an hour, one of our (female) casual staff had struggled with the task of chipping back and forth, trying to get the trailer put away. The day before, another (male) staffer had given up after 10 mins and left the trailer outside. The following day, yet another (male) staffer did the same. When I went up to the shed to give him a hand, I fully understood the problem.
So it was a shock that, an hour after having raised the concern (with a busy event in full swing) this manager sought me out in my office, shut the door and grinned.
“We were just looking at that blade and having a laugh,” he chortled. “Only a woman would think that was in the wrong place.”
I flared a nostril and cocked an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
“Well, you know. It’s not really that hard to back a trailer…”
I sucked my teeth and did my best to form a calm sentence. “How old are you? 22?… I’ve been backing trailers longer than you’ve been alive.”
He was clearly still young enough to be unfamiliar with the experience of having his sexism called out. “Oh, is that right?” But he was grasping for control.
“Yes… You came all the way down here on a busy day to tell me that women can’t drive? Get the fuck out of my office.”
And he did. Chastened, hurriedly, but without apology.
Now I’m sure that he learned virtually nothing from this exchange. What I learned was that (despite his otherwise sensible and friendly demeanour) he’s quite sexist, and not all that bright, and thinks he can get territorial with me. What he probably learned is that I’m a bitch. But that’s ok. I’ll be a bitch to anyone who wants to waste my valuable time seeking me out to inform me that having a vagina somehow affects my spatial awareness.
In so many ways I’m lucky that I’m now getting old enough that guys like that just want to call me stupid rather than than calling me stupid and sexy. I’m also lucky that I’ve been through enough rumbles now that I no longer care about apologising or minimising or de-escalating situations like this one. He’s probably not going to stab me. He might have a moan to the General Manager, but he also might learn not to try and take on the big dogs. Mostly, I’m glad that I’m no longer afraid of men like him. And that’s the big difference.
Yes, in retrospect, despite his age and abysmal lack of experience, we are at the same management level within this business. In theory, we exert exactly the same level of power over one another (which is to say, not at all). But he has been with the company longer, and is well liked by the owner, so this gives him confidence in his role. Enough confidence that he clearly feels safe coming to my office and being a dick to me. He’s a dick to quite a few people within the business, but only women and only people who (he perceives) are less important than him. Due to the length of his tenure, and his ability to be likable with the boys, there is every real potential that a turf war could end badly for me… But the fact is that I don’t care. Despite mortgages and other scary debts, I’ve been laid off before and the reality of joblessness and poverty no longer seem as ominous as once they did. Life goes on. I will keep fighting and keep the faith. I would find something else. That’s another benefit of age and experience: I’ve already been through enough bad things to know that they won’t kill me.
However. The fact is, I shouldn’t be the one wearing a negative consequence for calling out his behaviour. What started as a simple request to get a piece of equipment moved, was turned (by him) into something much more serious. And for no reason other than that he wanted to cow and control me. He’ll find that’s no so easy.
He has a baby on the way, a very short work history, and confidence that can read as arrogance. Yes, he’s probably more likable than me, but the fact that he left my office without escalating it further means to me that he’s the one who’s more scared… and I wouldn’t have known that unless I confronted his sexism head on and named it for what it was.