When I was 13, I had an amazing group of teachers, one of whom was Mr. Meinecke, who taught social studies. He was a long-haired hippie who wore cowboy boots and jeans every day, but he was razor sharp and world-weary. Two things about Mr. Meinecke stick out in my mind: once, he caught me trying to pull my hair back with a rubber band (not a hair elastic, and actual, office supply rubber band) and he said, “Sarah, you’re going to absolutely RUIN your hair that way”, and the other was that he introduced me to the term “feminist”.
“You’re a feminist, you know that?” he said to me one day during classroom banter.
“A what?” I asked. I wasn’t often labeled.
“A feminist. It’s someone who fights for women’s rights. Equality and whatnot.”
I remember being genuinely confused. “There’s a WORD for that? For wanting equality?”
It would be far from the last time I wore that moniker.
In high school, we were asked what our career paths were. There were standardized aptitude tests – those tried to sway me towards “administrative tasks” or “educational careers” – or there were sessions with guidance counselors. There were so many ways that we were encouraged to explore our potential, but you know, not TOO far.
My sessions always went like this.
“So – checking name on the paper – Sarah, what would you like to be when you grow up?”
:: crickets ::
“No, really. What would you like to be?”
“Okay, president of WHAT?”
“The United States. President of the United States.”
“Let’s try and focus on realistic goals.”
It’s actually in our senior time capsule and in lots of my senior year memorabilia – I wanted to be President of the United States. I look at that now and I think, I never said the first female president. I just said President. Because I had faith I wouldn’t be the first.
I could list the #YesAllWomen experiences here that I’ve had – the guy who brought me a banana daily to watch me eat it, the radio director who called me a whore in a staff meeting when I asked for a day off, the many MANY hands in inappropriate places when I was a server – but the truth is this: every exit interview I’ve ever had ended with my (always male) manager telling me, “You’ll never succeed in this new position. You’re setting yourself up for failure.”
I’ve had most of those guys work for me since. I’d like to say I’m better than that, and it’s a momentary victory, but it’s a victory nonetheless.
I have cried so many times this year in particular as I’ve watched women around me struggle. If I look at the statistics, how the demographics of women in management decline dramatically as you go up the charts of either age or management ranks, I have to concur. It’s because the stakes get bigger, the roadblocks seem more insurmountable, and the boys club gets airtight.
I remember on International Women’s Day (which, I can’t help but note, is also National Dog Day) that I shared my feelings The glass ceiling is just a façade that hides an iron barrier. You think you’re shattering something, but it’s only to stop us from trying once the shards fall.
I love politics. I’ve debated running – still debate running – to help institute change. But in my professional career, I’ve had much more effectiveness in positions where I could stay agile, unfettered by red tape or bureaucracy. I’ve satiated my political hunger by working through civilian forums – grassroots efforts or local council engagements – but maybe that time has ended.
Today was a monumental day.
I voted for a woman for president. President of the United States.
So America has made a declaration today. And because I’m an eternal optimist, I cried my eyes out all night and again this morning, but I came into work and looked at these people – my coworkers are my family, I love them deeply without reserve – and I knew that most of them voted on a different ticket than I did. I can’t assume that they were voting pro-misogyny or pro-racism or pro-homophobia or all of the things that were my BIG TICKET ITEMS. I have to assume that they are making a declaration in some other arena, not supporting the man behind the podium or his ill-conceived, small-minded words but supporting the party they believe in. I’m choosing to believe that we need to listen, to understand, to heal, and to recover. And we will.
This morning, I took a long hot shower, applied copious concealer under my eyes, penciled a smile on my lips, and straightened my glasses. We’re just getting started, y’all.