(Disclaimer: This blog is not as serious as it sounds in the first couple of paragraphs; read on at your own risk).
Raging debate about women’s equality and their desire to work full time was a significant part of the early to mid 70s. I am (barely) old enough to remember this time, and it seemed, from a kid’s perspective, that people were in an uproar. For example, the television show, One Day at a Time, about a divorced mother of two who was struggling to balance family and career, was widely watched and considered controversial. I liked the show, as did my mom and dad, though my dad seemed uneasy about some of the subjects it tackled. It was representative of the time in which we were living.
I was probably about eight years old and, therefore, had very little say in the matter. Nonetheless, I did not understand what was so radical about these ideas. It seemed simple to me; women should be able to work the same kind of jobs as men (despite the fact that I had the greatest stay-at-home mom in the world).
I still recall mustering up all my kid wisdom and saying to one of my older sisters, “I believe men and women should be equal. Women can go to work if they want.” Her response was something like, “Yes, but women also still want men to take care of them.” This 1970-something statement served as my initiation into the conundrum that is the role of modern man. Ladies, this making sure we treat you as equals but still taking charge when you want us to is a tricky task. It is a lot like juggling with jars of sulfuric acid. Sure, we look like studs when we do it correctly, but when we mess up, we get severely burned. Balancing masculine/feminine duties is daunting. One can get a bit confused trying to talk about the big game with a guy at a store while holding the wife’s purse, a diaper bag and a pink sippy cup, but I digress.
Decades passed, and women are now all over the workplace. I want to say up front that I love and admire women, and it goes without saying that they are excellent workers and have made major contributions. This blog, however, is not so much about the serious debates, contributions, and rights of women as it is the daily life changes to the culture of the workplace since women became so integrated into it.
Some of these feminine changes at the office have been positive. For example, farting contests at work have been decreased dramatically. The workplace smells much better. I venture to guess there were no “Vanilla Nutmeg Forest” candles in offices in the 1950s.
Also, we don’t have to listen to as many “weekend conquest” stories from guys who are habitual liars. With women actually living and breathing at work, it becomes easily apparent which guys are NOT “lady killers.” This keeps the poor saps from even trying to lie anymore.
On the other hand, some changes to the office culture are a little more disturbing. Below are work scenarios and the most likely male and female responses to them.
Scenario 1: There is some sort of weird, low buzzing sound on one side of the office, possibly coming from a computer server or some sort of light. The buzzing is especially close to one particular cubicle.
Male Response: The guy thinks, “Hmm, that’s weird.” Then, he gets used to it in about 45 seconds and never really notices it again. Every once in awhile, a coworker delivers a memo and says, “what’s that buzzing?” The guy says, “What buzzing?”
Female Response: The woman gets very perturbed about the sound and complains about it to coworkers during most lunches and breaks. She asks that a subcommittee be formed to look into the sound, which is “like a freight train.” After nothing is done for a full month, she comes to the conclusion that her cubicle is the one closest to the buzzing because so-and-so colluded with the boss to place her there. She pictures so-and-so and the boss having a good laugh about it behind the closed door of the boss’ office. Henceforth, she no longer includes so-and-so when she forwards emails of various cute babies making cute faces.
Scenario 2: Someone in the office has a birthday.
Male Response: If a man accidentally becomes aware that it is a coworker’s birthday, his response will likely be concise. After slapping the birthday boy on the back, he will say, “45 years old, huh? Get a prescription for Viagra yet?” Then, they go about their day.
Female Response: Once someone (female) is appointed to run the birthday festivities, that person goes around the office asking everyone to chip in a few bucks to pay for the birthday worker’s lunch. Everyone is instructed to meet at Applebee’s (the birthday person’s favorite restaurant) at precisely 11:20 so as to beat the crowd and obtain a large table or booth with ease. Also, a few women huddle in a cubicle to work out who should drive and who should ride with whom. This is very complicated and delicate because Worker B is still angry at Worker F because Worker F did not order any candy bars when Worker B’s kid was selling them for a cheerleader fundraiser. This is especially troubling to Worker B because Worker B bought two tubs of “Extreme Mint Mountain” cookie dough when Worker F’s kid was having a soccer fundraiser. Charts are literally designed to ensure that everyone is comfortable with the riding-to-Applebee’s situation.
Scenario 3: Worker A discovers that his/her paramour used to date one of Worker A’s coworkers.
Male Response: There will likely be cursing and quite possibly a punch or two. Approximately 24 hours later, the two guys become friends and grab a beer at a nearby sports bar.
Female Response: After she severely scolds her boyfriend by phone for ever even thinking about that “fat skank” in a romantic way, she begins an all-out silent treatment against the “skanky” coworker who once went out with her boyfriend. The treatment lasts at least two months and is interrupted only by an occasional email, such as, “Trish, I would appreciate it if you would stop taking all the multi-colored post-its from the supply closet. I am stuck with the yellow ones, and they hurt my eyes. Thanks in advance, Caroline.” This goes on as long as the relationship with the boyfriend lasts. Once that ends, Trish and Caroline become fast allies and spend breaks talking about the various ways in which the boyfriend is inadequate.
Scenario 4: A client calls and tells off Worker A before proclaiming that he is taking his business elsewhere.
Male Response: He throws a paperweight across the room while stating that he is sorry the client “feels this way.” He then gives the “finger” to the phone receiver before hanging up. After a couple of audible “F” bombs, he regroups and decides to try harder with his remaining clients.
Female Response: She acts as though it does not bother her…for awhile. At the ten-minute mark, however, she breaks down in tears by the coffee maker. The other women in the office gather in the break room for support (no doubt after urgent “meet us by the coffee maker/something’s wrong with Trish” emails make the rounds). They remind Trish what a great worker she is. At some point, Trish sobs through her tissue something unrelated to work, such as, “I can’t believe I ate four Oreos last night. I’m supposed to be dieting!” There is agreement all around that Oreos are devilishly irresistible.
The workplace has certainly changed over the years. Despite some of the weirdness, the change was needed. After all, if women have to put up with discrimination and living in a society that has a need for battered women’s shelters, then we still have a long way to go. Plus, they have to wear pantyhose at least some of the time. I suppose guys having to put up with some strange female work culture is not that much of a hardship. You go, girl, and here’s $3 for the next birthday lunch.