It has been brought to my attention over the years that I am always defending my intelligence if I even perceive that someone might be attacking it. I admit, my guard always seems to be up. I guess when you’ve had to fight to prove your intelligence your whole life simply because people judge you on your gender, at some point your defenses go into auto drive. It’s the only explanation that seems logical. And it’s something that isn’t going to change overnight, but I am getting better at it as time goes by.
Here’s an example of the crap I have had to put up with, an extreme one at that. It happened my freshman year of high school. I was accepted into the Pre-IB program at my school. (For those who do not know what that is, its programs that are modeled after educational systems from around the world, without being based on any particular one. It takes high marks to make it into the program. The program was TOUGH!) I was totally stoked. One of my favorite classes was World History. In this class I had this one guy, a sophomore at that, (World History was a sophomore level course in this school), who thought he’s was the man. He was always talking about how freaking smart he was, and how his intellect was so far and above everyone else’s. Whatever, I could have cared less, I was confident in my own abilities. As the weeks rolled by, he started noticing that the cute girl who sat in front of him was getting just as many A's in this class as he was. He could just not accept this. He would constantly say that the teacher missed something in grading my homework/tests. I blew him off. When we got our first quarter report cards, he was quick to let the whole class know that he had 2 honors course, of which he was maintaining a B average in. Then he grabbed mine, (because the concept of asking for it eluded him), to see that 5 or my 6 classes were honors, and pre-IB at that. (The 6th class was JROTC, and if they have honors for that, I would have been in that as well.) He told the whole class that they misprinted my report card. To the class credit, they saw him for the jerk he was.
His crowning moment was after the unit test. The class was divided into 3 units, and there was a test for each, as well as the mid-term, second term, and final exams. So, if you aced these 6 exams, you could do so-so the rest of the class and still pass. And these were not easy exams. Oh no no! These were essay exams, six questions, six pages, answers were a page each, grammar, spelling and punctuation count. A week later we got the results. As she was passing out the graded exams, she announced that one person scored a 96, the only A. Well, the idiot behind me proudly let everyone know that he had received an 89, one point shy of an A. At this point I was looking at my exam. I had received the 96. One of my classmates asked what I got, and I told them. Everyone in the class was congratulating me, except for Mr. Ego behind me. This was so unacceptable to him; he proceeded to whack me over the head with his history book. If anyone remembers their history books, they were not thin and light. My vision actually went blurry for a few seconds. The class, including the teacher, was completely shocked. Nowadays, he would have been expelled. When I was going to school, it was only a detention. It was a crushing blow to my self-esteem, no matter when it happened.
Like I said, it was one of the more extreme cases, but it was one of many that I’ve had to deal with over the years Yet it's not just men that assume things. Women do it to other women all the time. Should they know better, possibly even having it happen to them. Yes. Do they have the same preconceived notions. Absolutely. Is it just as annoying. No, it is more so, to the point of feeling like a betrayal.
In my mid-late 20's, I worked as a Assistant Store Manager for a major retail chain. There are two things you need to know for this tail. 1.) All the managers wore name tags that in large red capital letters said "MANAGER". Basically, we were very well identified. (And I admit that there were days I wanted to hide that name tag because it felt like a bulls-eye.) 2.) Only managers could process refunds.
One morning I was working with an older gentleman that was there part time for some extra spending money. (He used the money to take his girlfriend out on really nice dates over the weekend. I know it has nothing to do with the story. I just thought it was sweet and wanted to share.) He was running the register while I was behind the counter double checking the markdown list.
A woman comes up to the counter with an item she wishes to return. I go over and ask her what the reason is for the return. Without even acknowledging me, she proceeds to tell my co-worker why. He let her finish, then informed her he could not give her a refund. When she questioned him why, he told her that only a manager could do refunds. She looked at him with annoyance and said, "Yeah, so you are the manager. Just do it." He looked over at me, almost embarrassed, pointed at my name tag and said, 'No ma'am, she is."
Not once during the time I was taking care of her return did she apologize or even admit she was wrong. Quite frankly, I didn't care if she did or not. I did receive an apology though, from my co-worker. He felt bad about the incident, like it was his fault. I told him he did nothing to form her opinions, and she had already made up her mind before she spoke to either one of us who she believed was in authority.
Can I be overly sensitive to the point where an innocent comment is misinterpreted? Well, yeah. It’s a reflex reaction; I admit it and I’m working on it. Has it been easy? I had no illusions that it would be. And though my daughters face some of the same challenges that I did, it is getting better, as it seems to do with each new generation. I know that one day, we will get there.
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