Wearing the Big Girl Pants
By: Lavina Plonka
I had a real job once, almost forty years ago. I was an account executive at a major advertising agency in New York. Every day I ran the gauntlet of sexist “compliments” from guys that should have been in the cast of Mad Men. They made me blush and start wearing super-long and wide pants over my platform shoes to hide my legs. I tried to be innovative, efficient, and no nonsense, but often I was trotted out for clients as eye candy. Each night I’d go home and scream for five minutes (I timed it so that I wouldn’t miss Star Trek) and then begin again.
One day, Amy, (I’ve changed the names to protect the guilty) the only other female account executive, called me into her office for “girl talk.” I had no idea what we could possibly talk about. We had once had lunch where she explained to me that the whole point of being in New York was to land a rich husband. She had set me up on a blind date with a dentist from Long Island. He was rich beyond my wildest dreams, but spent all his time talking about his mother and the great real estate deals he had made. Amy had been very upset when I refused to return his calls.
“You are making quite an impression on everyone here,” Amy began. “You have a lot of potential.”
I could feel myself swelling with pleasure at this unexpected compliment.
“But between you and me, I think you’re really sabotaging yourself.”
“What?” I was stunned. I thought back on my work. What had she noticed? My atrocious typing? Those times I would sneak out of the office to take a mime class? My bad-hair days?
“You know Bill likes you an awful lot,” she continued, tossing her blonde flip, dragging the words out in her exaggerated Atlanta accent. Bill was the senior vice president.
“He does? I didn’t think he even knew I existed. Wow, how cool is that!” I was delighted.
“Oh honey, everyone here knows you exist, that’s why we’re havin’ this little talk.”
“I don’t get it.”
Any sighed. “You could go a lot further a lot faster if you were just a bit nicer to Bill.”
“I’ve always been nice to Bill. I mean, I’ve hardly ever said a word to him, but I’m always polite.”
Amy rolled her eyes. “Not that kind of nice. I mean, nicer, you know?”
I sat there stupidly trying to imagine how I could possibly be any nicer to Bill. Amy was fiddling with her pen. And then I suddenly got it.
“Oh my god, are you saying….”
“Uh huh,” Amy smiled.
“No!” I exclaimed in horror and shock. Bill was old, why he had to be at least in his late 30’s, which to me seemed ancient. He was married. He had gray hair. I felt nauseous. “That’s disgusting! I could never do that!”
Amy looked up sharply. “Why not? It takes you places.”
“Is that how you…”
Amy raised her eyebrows and sighed. “Of course honey, how do you think a woman gets anywhere?”
I backed out of her office as if I had seen an alien.
That night, instead of screaming, I wrote in my journal. “I have to get out of this job, I have to get out of this job,” over and over.
Last week, a dear friend sent me a link to a YouTube video that consisted of eight and a half minutes of men apologizing for their thousands of years of mistreating, disrespecting, ignoring, and just being downright unappreciative of, as one of them put it, our “goddess nature.” I only made it through the first four minutes. I’m sure it was made with the best intentions, and that many women appreciate hearing the words “I’m sorry” over and over again, but I, being the contrarian I’ve always been, couldn’t get rid of two sacrilegious thoughts.
The first is that, in some crazy way, I remain grateful to every boorish, insensitive, predatory male I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. The list is long. Some were terrifying and horrific and some were just ludicrous. Perhaps my favorite was the member of the Salvadoran security forces who pulled out his gun and threatened to shoot me if I refused to have sex with him. (Don’t even ask how I ended up on the outskirts of San Salvador at midnight). I laughed and said that either it would be pretty unsatisfying sex with a dead girl, or he had necrophilia issues. He broke down and sobbed because all his friends could get laid and he had no seduction skills. I went from defying death to patting his head and handing him tissues.
Each one of these sad representatives of the Y chromosome—whether employer, theatrical agent, photographer, or acquaintance—gave me the opportunity to question who I am, and then make a decision that would impact my life. Standing up to my Father (yes, he definitely qualifies here) made me a warrior. Quitting the ad agency propelled me into my show biz career. Walking out on the dentist and others prepared me to recognize the gem who became my husband.
My second thought is more complicated. I’ve always felt that violence and cruelty are the result of fear. Now why would men be afraid of women for thousands of years? What is it about women that could fill people who are bigger and stronger with such terror that they have to crush them? Surely it’s not our delicate, patient, kindness. According to some myths, there was a time when man worshiped woman – the goddess, the giver of life. So what went wrong? Is it possible that women are not perfect? That we nag, manipulate, can also cause wars and grief? (Catherine the Great and Lady Macbeth come to mind.)
Truth is, no one has the right to oppress, repress, or depress anyone else. I hope we are entering an era of mutual sincerity and respect, where no one needs to apologize for the past.
There is a psychologist named Armand Dimele (thepositivemind.com) who has a radio program in NYC. Once someone called in and spoke about having “forgiven” his ex-wife for something. Dimele interrupted saying something like,
“Stop. Stop forgiving.”
The man was stunned. “What?”
“Each time you ‘forgive’ you are remembering the insult, the injury. You are re-living the past, re-opening the wound. In the present, there is no wound, there is no injury. There is only now. So there’s nothing to forgive. That’s where love begins.”
I only hope that Amy found herself a rich husband. And I thank every person of either sex who has polished my character to get me where I am today.
When not confusing men by opening the door for them, Lavinia helps others realize their true possibilities via the Feldenkrais Method and the Creative Body. www.laviniaplonka.com More CosmiComedy? Visit www.cosmicomedy.com.