Family of Me

by Daphne
Updates Mondays and Fridays

Scene 97: Corporate Patriarchy

(Aura is standing in a bedroom with an outfit laid out on the bed. The outfit is clearly business attire: Cream colored blouse, black blazer, black knee-length pencil skirt. Aura is staring at the outfit with a frustrated expression.)

Mom (Me): Good morning, Aura.

Aura (The Professional): Oh, hey Mom.

Mom: You look annoyed.

Aura: I am annoyed. I hate the way this outfit looks — it’s barely different from what a guy would wear. It’s so drab! Where’s the color? Not to mention the skirt… I can’t wear that; I don’t tuck and I’m not starting just for this.

Mom: You don’t have to wear it, you know.

Aura: Don’t I though? Succeeding in business is just as much about conforming to some arbitrary standard as it is about performing your actual job. Looking and acting like your higher-ups means getting promoted faster — beyond a certain level, it can be the only way to advance your career at all.

Mom: It isn’t always… But you’re right, it can be.

Aura: It’s not like you actually get feedback when that happens either. It’s just that there are limited positions available, so you’ll just have to wait for the next opening… Performance is measured as much by the vibe your boss gets off you as anything else.

Mom: I can’t argue with anything you’re saying here. It’s no wonder you had so much trouble accepting you’re a woman though.

Aura (disbelieving): Wait, what? How does that follow from what I said?

Mom: Companies expect you to conform to an arbitrary standard, just as you said. Upper management is most comfortable around people that look, talk, and act like them. And *they* tend to be upper class white men. So they expect the people around them to act like upper class white men.

Aura: You tried to convince me of this before…

Mom: I’d *mentioned* it before, back in Scene 88. *Now* I’m trying to convince you. To start, just take a look at the clothes you’re considering. It’s a suit.

Aura: A women’s suit. There’s a clear difference between men’s and women’s business attire.

Mom: Sure, but is that what we want to wear? As you asked earlier, where’s the color? Where are the fun fabrics and frills and pretty flourishes? We *adore* those little details, but all but the tamest of them are considered less professional, and you risk being taken less seriously.

Aura (dismissive): Okay granted. But that’s only clothing, and if that’s your only argument…

Mom: Oh no, dear daughter. I’m just getting started. Let’s talk about our feelings — the emotions that transition allowed us to feel in spades. Having big, powerful feelings might be our favorite thing about being a woman, and none of them are acceptable in a business setting.

Aura: That’s not true. Managers encourage people to be passionate.

Mom: Passionate about the business. Passionate in service of the company. Unrelated passions like an interest in queer culture or a writing hobby… They aren’t frowned upon, but they aren’t celebrated either.

Aura: Okay, but passion isn’t the only emotion that’s allowed. What about… Hmm…

Mom: Sadness? Not really. Love? Definitely not.

Aura (triumphant): Anger! Managers get angry, and that’s acceptable.

Mom (disbelieving): Is it? In my experience anger is tolerated at best. Even so, how angry do you want to get?

Aura (hesitant): I… Not angry. At all. I had a lot of problems with destructive anger and I’m pretty happy I don’t have to deal with them any more.

Mom: I’m glad we’re in agreement on that.

Aura: So clothing is restrictive, emotions aren’t allowed…

Mom: Men talk over us now. Women in the workplace are ignored, distrusted, dismissed… I’m a senior engineer and I’m lucky to be part of a pretty good team, so I don’t have to deal with it quite as much. Still, there’s always a chance of having to deal with certain people acting dismissive, especially if they’re at or above my level.

Aura (defiant): Fine, let them try. I can talk over them too — I can be pushy if I have to.

Mom (cautious): Are you sure that’s a good idea? Sometimes that works, sure… But there are plenty of stories of men who feel offended by a woman’s comment and react by dedicating a ridiculous amount of time to making your life miserable.

Aura: I’d report him for being an asshole and damaging the company’s productivity.

Mom: Good luck convincing anyone. HR isn’t likely to do anything about it, and they may even be sympathetic to him. His coworkers will probably be sympathetic to him too.

Aura (frustrated): So what, we’re not supposed to do anything about it at all?

Mom: The best defense is to avoid the situation in the first place. We need to be very careful when making our mental map of who knows whom and how we think people will react to things, because the stakes are a lot higher now.

Aura (angry): That’s not fair!

Mom: No, it’s not. The business world, more than anywhere else in our lives, is an extension of Patriarchy. It’s vital to take that into account. It’s risky to conduct business the way we used to now that we present female, because much of what we learned relies on privilege that’s no longer accessible to us.

Aura (upset): So why do any of this at all? Why put yourself through this gauntlet of anxiety, why roll the dice with fragile men’s emotions? Why not find something else to do with your time? Why bring me back to your headspace at all?

Mom (resigned): Well… Corporations pay very well. There isn’t anything else we can do that would make us a significant fraction of the money we earn in our current role.

Aura: So you need me.

Mom: I do need you, but I want you too. I think what you’ve learned is valuable, I really do, but I’m trying to find a way to use it without acting like a man. I want to be a businesswoman who doesn’t shelve her femininity in order to do business.

Aura: So… I need to adapt again. I adapted to corporate life once, and I need to do it again.

Mom: I don’t think it’s such a large change this time. Much of what you learned is still valuable knowledge, it just needs to be applied differently now.

Aura (pensive): Applied differently… I’ll have to think about it. Give me some time to work through this in my head, okay?

Mom: Of course, daughter.