Women in a Cage

I’ve finally succumbed and am watching Mad Men. It’s kind of refreshing watching something that’s no longer on the air. It’s no longer the current topic of conversation at the water cooler (social media), so I’m not getting a lot of spoilers. And I watch it when I have time, a bunch of episodes at once. Then nothing for a week, maybe more.

I’m coming to terms with an injury that’s effectively sidelined my running. I’m not going to beat myself up about my 5-race 2015 goal: I placed 3rd in my age class at my last race. If that finish was the best one and all I have for this year, and even next, ok. The important thing is to just knock it off, rehab, fix what’s broken and remember I am a runner in my mind and heart, even if my body is not cooperating. I’ve been a runner since the 7th grade, with a lot of breaks for illness, pregnancy, etc. But it’s me, in there.

In one of tonight’s Mad Men episodes, I was struck by how little has changed in the business world, and it made me sick and angry. There was an episode – this particular one was set in 1961 or so, where everyone was working very late and over a weekend because of a big deal at the advertising firm. Food was brought in. They showed the account executives and big shots all talking and eating from the food that was provided, and the person who was in charge of the secretarial staff standing off side with the women who were patiently waiting for them to be allowed access to the food. Second class citizens. She was placating them and telling them it wouldn’t be much longer.

I spent so many years of my life being that person.

The person who worked so hard to arrange shit, to set things up so the meeting would go great for everyone else. Waiting to be allowed access to the now-cold leftovers, which I would overly heap onto my plate because I was starving as I’d waited so long to be given some food. I was so angry watching this scene.

If I ran an office or a business, the support staff would get so much more than this. If the clients were picky and politics-minded, who would find it distasteful that “the help” was eating before they did, I would insist that arrangements be made for another buffet to be set up in a separate room for the supporting staff. I’d check that they were giving each other breaks so that everyone had a chance to rest, to eat, to sit down. I was run ragged my years as a secretary, as an event planner, as a personal assistant, and executive assistant. If I were the boss, they’d get regular coffee. They’d get the best rooms when they had to travel for work. They’d get days off if they had to work OT. They’d get periodic, spontaneous thank you gifts. To be my assistant would be the envy of others who were treated as less than, hoping to set an example of a higher bar that people could bring up to meet mine.

Some people might say, you would do that in theory, but in practice, you’d just be like everyone else. But I had a cleaning woman once, a housekeeper who was from Peru. A lovely, sweet woman, whose grasp of English wasn’t great but whose heart was huge. She took care of me. I saw it quickly after I moved into the house she minded, through multiple owners, and so I tried to take care of her, too. I insisted her pay be doubled when I moved in. I cleaned before she arrived to lighten her load. I hugged her when she arrived if I was there, or when she left. I left her little thank you notes showing my appreciation. I bought her small presents that I left for her in the kitchen. Honestly, with my extremely poor upbringing, it felt terribly uncomfortable for me to have someone coming to clean my house at all, but this was Beverly Hills and everyone had a housekeeper. And with a four-story house and me working full-time and “performing” as BH arm candy almost every evening, I didn’t have a lot of time for cleaning windows and toilets, or ironing, or mopping the floor. She went back to Peru a couple of times while I lived there, and she brought me presents that she carried back all the way from her home town. It was so touching. I wish I still had those items, but I fled there and took so little.

I remember the last time I saw her before I left to flee back to Cleveland. “I’m leaving, Rosa,” I told her. “I’m going back to Cleveland.” She was nonplussed, and simply nodded. She knew the type of person I was living with and was not surprised. “Ok,” she said. “I miss you, missus. You take care. I enjoy taking care for you.” I cried and hugged her, and she cried too. “The Mister,” she said, “He know?” I shook my head. “I will tell him when he comes back from overseas.” She nodded. I felt like we were of the same class, and she saw me for who I really was, and she understood. It was as deep a connection as I felt with anyone the whole of my time in west LA. Which is sad.

Why, decades later, are we still in this situation? With women waiting on men in business scenarios, waiting for a few leftover crumbs from their meals, second class citizens. It’s upsetting. It makes me want to propel myself forward to some kind of power position just so I can have a bunch of assistants that I treat like gold, showing everyone how it’s done. But that wouldn’t change things, would it.

I lost a couple of friends who deleted me from their lives this week. I added a couple new ones who sent me friend requests. Mix keeps changing, oh yes. Change it up. I’m riding the wave. Interesting times we live in.


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