An Apology to My Sisters: Looking for the Line Between Survival and Betraying Myself

 

Recently Janna G. Noelle wrote a very honest and interesting post on marketing and feminism. The comment stream became lively and stimulating. You should go check it out. This post is partly inspired by the conversations I had with her and by the fact that Sourcerer held a Feminist Friday, which, sadly, I was unable to be online for.

As some of you might know, my husband, Knyght, and I are currently in San Diego, looking for work after a job fell through at the last moment. That left us a bit high and dry at the end of his contract in Japan. Yesterday, I went with him to a job interview at a sign printing shop that shall go unnamed for obvious reasons. I was invited because during the pre-interview phone call, the man hiring asked if Knyght spoke Mandarin. Knyght said he didn’t but that his wife did, a.k.a me. So I was asked to come along.

It was like walking into a movie set for a ruin on the wrong side of the track and it went down hill from there. The place barely deserved the title of office.

That evening after the interview as we lay in bed, I told Knyght that I felt horrible, dirty and ashamed of myself. I felt like I let myself down and let down Knyght. He’s definitely a louder feminist than I am.

Here’s why:

I learned a long time ago, to charm people. If you meet me in person, I will look you straight in the eye, hear every word you say, wait for you to take a pause before speaking my mind. I do not register offense in my face. It’s a skill from childhood that became refined while I lived in rural China where women are not first class citizens or accorded the same respect as men. I’m trained to absorb negativity and slights and not respond when I’m given reason to take umbrage. I learned a long time ago that registering offense meant I got hurt more or didn’t get what I wanted.

Dressing up nice, playing on someone’s ego and smiling got me a lot farther in some places I’ve been.

(Lucky me, it never worked on Knyght. I think that’s one of the reason’s he was privileged to know the real me.)

In short, I can do a very passable imitation of a 1950’s house wife. And Wednesday, unfortunately, I did. I dressed up, did my hair, put in my earrings, wore a pant suite outfit with heels and muzzled myself into polite conversation. I still want to go back and kick myself. I failed myself and I failed women in general.

The man said he was seventy-two. He was egotistical, living on real or possibly imagined laurels of the past. He interrupted Knyght and I if we said anything he wasn’t absolutely certain he wanted to hear, insisted on yes and no answers for questions that didn’t have yes or no answers and then congratulated himself verbally every time either Knyght or I qualified something in a light that was evidently less than favorable for us in his eyes. It was as if we were children he had chastised and he got points for digging out our pretty facades. “There now,” he would say, “yes and no gets us so much father, doesn’t it?” And then he would literally pat himself on the belly and smile at us.

Honestly was definitely not a sought after commodity.

In short, he was living in the wrong century, like a Dickens character, crouched in his decaying office, surrounded by employees who looked like imitations figures from the pages of the Sunday comics. He was lord of his own, crumbling domain with unraveling carpets and computers from the early 90’s, railing against everyone who told him his clothes weren’t silk. His story didn’t add up when I went over it later and he couldn’t even decide over the course of the session which of three ill defined jobs he was interview us for.

And I gave him the damn time of day.

Politely.

Bad Ciara! Bad!

Not once did I break, crack or even show discomfort, even up to and past the point where he congratulated Knyght on “catching” such a “good looking” wife among other comments directed at my use as ornamentation. All this right in front of me! Not once did he look at my resume, bother to learn my name or introduce himself me. He even said right out that the only qualification I needed to work in his shop was whether or not he found me likable. Fuck the four year degree, a year of leading a program branch when I was 24 years old on my own or living independently in three foreign countries in three years.

I really want to cuss a blue streak at this point. Why did I not stand up and walk out? Knyght clearly let me control the flow of the meeting from our end, after the man’s ego destroyed conversation between the two of them. The ball was in my court. One word from me and Knyght would have walked, but I played the part to the bloody polite end.

A large part of the reason I know I kept up the charade is that we are going on two weeks without a job, despite interviews and phone calls and over a hundred applications out for each of us. It’s weighing on me, significantly. Either we’re over qualified or we don’t have some obscure experience in a niche industry. I feel obliged as an adult, to consider every possibility of getting back on our feet and not relying on my grandmother for shelter.

Even though I felt like washing my reputation  in lye afterwards.

Knyght put his foot down that evening. He said no. As my significant other, he was not allowing me to back to the place. And before everyone starts jumping on Knyght and saying he shouldn’t control me, it’s not like that. I have the same rights to him. It’s part of our relationship, we both have veto powers on decisions the other makes if we feel it’s self destructive. I was so happy I kissed him.

It makes me want to put my fist into a wall. I’ve come a long ways and yet forced with a little danger and money, fear takes over and I turn into a pretty face.

I agree with Sheryl Sandburg that women should lean in. I’ve watched women I care about take step after step back until they hate themselves and have nothing outside of their kitchens and their children left and sometimes not even that. I refuse. But faced with a very real possibility of basic needs not being met, noble notions begin to fly out the door.

Pride doesn’t keep you alive.

So where’s the line? The truth is, I’m not very sure at this point. I thought I knew, before all this started but life is so very fragile.

When my daughter is born, I hope she never learns that she needs to dress up to get anyone in her direct life to pay attention to her. I hope she never learns that saying nothing and smiling when she feels like screaming will make people like her. I hope she learns to walk in punching and claim life on her own terms. I feel like I’m begging for work, like I’ve done what I was told my whole life, getting good scores on tests, getting the degree at the right university and taking every opportunity to do extra research and study abroad. Well, they got what they wanted, my money and my parents’ money. Now they can wash my hands of me.

Obedience brought me here. Compliance brought me to this place. Now it’s breaking that good girl and what’s left behind is angry.

This nice girl needs to find her boxing gloves because I don’t believe in this dance of words and grades anymore.

I will tell my daughter that no one owes her a job, no matter what the university brochure says or other people tell her about what she “needs to do to get ahead”. I will tell her exactly how many years it will take off her life to pay back that fancy education should she take out loans and how many real applicable skills it will give her. I will ask her to show me what she has that other people need and if they would be willing to part with their money to get from her.

Because that that last answer is the one that actually matters.

Not very many people are looking for extremely intelligent raw talent. I’m not a 160,000 dollar office adornment. I’m a brain, a person. But that only matters to me.

So, don’t be surprised if you hear I’m pouring coffee somewhere. Actually, the writer in me would kind of like to try that for a while, for the people watching and the experience. There’s no shame in honest work.The shame comes when you betray yourself. Like I did last Wednesday, when I didn’t walk out the door.

 Each morning and night I’m going to be here, on the keyboard, putting in the hours to create an existence where I don’t feel the need to beg for employment.

Or turn into a beautiful empty doll.

By all that’s good, I hope this is not a lesson I need to relearn. I wish I could rewrite Wednesday like a scene in my novels. I wish I had walked out. Damn, I wish I had walked out. But at the moment, I was too scared thinking I didn’t measure up to consider the possibility that he was dragging me in the dirt.

 

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16 Responses to An Apology to My Sisters: Looking for the Line Between Survival and Betraying Myself

  1. I’m a perpetual “good girl”. This is something I put upon myself at a very young age, and all these years later I still finding myself doing it. I’m really working on “speaking my truth” more often. And blogging has been really helpful. Thank you for sharing this, it is helpful to read someone else’s expression of such long-held practices. It helps me to see my own issues a little more clearly. You expressed this so clearly and eloquently…

    • Ciara Darren says:

      I’ll be honest, I almost didn’t hit publish, even after this post was written. Thank you for reminding me why it is necessary to speak, even what its uncomfortable. I’m glad you came by, because that means I discovered your blog. Following.

  2. Girl you are like living my twin life, lol it’s crazy. We’re different, and our situations, but then again so much the same. Won’t comment much here because you actually inspired a post out of me so I will just re-blog you and comment.

    But I just want to put it out there that I hope to meet you (and Knyght) one day (you know beyond the blogosphere).

    • Ciara Darren says:

      I definitely hope to meet you outside of the blogosphere. It IS funny how much we’re alike and yet different. Looking forward to your post. You always have something thoughtful to say!

  3. Don’t be too hard on yourself, Ciara. It is as you say: ideals will only take you so far when there are bills to pay. We all assume various guises from time to time, and they all have their various uses. You have to do what you have to do to take care of yourself, and when you’re able to do differently, you will. 🙂

  4. mobewan says:

    One of the things that attracts me to your blog and your style of writing is how self-aware you are. The reflection, the analysis, the way you use it to shape the future (I know, I’m extrapolating a bit, but I see it in the brief glimpses of your fiction I’ve seen too). Don’t let it turn into self-doubt though. Use those around you (as you have done here with Knyght) to sanity check your reactions. Learning from lessons is critical, but it doesn’t mean you’ll get it perfect next time. Just better. I’m pretty certain you are always striving to be better.

    Love the post (even if it came from a crap experience).

    Oh, and also, that guy sounds like a right twat.

    • Ciara Darren says:

      Twat, what a wonderfully descriptive word! Thank you for reminding me of it and also reminding me to keep my chin up. Self doubt is not something any of us need right now. Knyght is definitely a bedrock of my sanity. I appreciate how thoughtful each and every one of your comments are. Best of everything on your own challenges!

  5. Gene'O says:

    Reblogged this on Sourcerer and commented:
    Ciara timed this perfectly – she posted it right at the moment I was looking for a reblog. I encourage you to read it, and to read the post about marketing she links to from A Frame Around Infinity.

  6. Gene'O says:

    This is heartbreaking. I empathize with the employment problem. I lost a good job in 2011 because of the finanicial crisis – the only job I’ve ever been terminated from in my life. I was lucky I found something half-time a few months later that paid just enough, along with using all my savings, liquidating a decent stock portfolio, getting a little help from my parents, and doing manual labor when I could find it, it support my family. We lived like that until last October, when I was finally able to find another full time job.

    As a writer, honest work can be helpful. One of the best years of my life, as a writer, was a year I spent driving an airport shuttle bus for minimum wage and tips (I was single then, though – couldn’t do that now).

    I agree with you about the education problem. I wouldn’t pay for another degree now. I can’t see how I’d ever get a return on that investment.

    Thanks for your comment at Sourcerer, and for the link. I’m glad you found it worth the read.

    • Ciara Darren says:

      Thank you for dropping by and commenting. I’m glad you’ve found another full time job and I hope to be able to report good news soon. Very lucky that Knyght and I still haven’t chosen to have kids. That had to have been very rough.

      Definitely found your site worth the read. I almost always find something to chew on when I drop in. Keep up the great work!

      • Gene'O says:

        Thanks very much.

        I also took a look at Janna’s blog and liked it so much I left her a few comments and followed. 🙂

        Hope things get better for you soon.

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