by Alessandro Alotto
It was the summer of 1984, and I had just received a job as a journalist for the New York Times. Since I was a little girl I’ve always dreamt of working here and I believe it’s where I belong. I cannot clearly portray how excited I am to storm the doors of the building and take action right away. Before I pull the knob of the door, I take a deep breath in, centering myself. As soon as the door opens, I see hundreds of people rushing through one another and talking on their little company gifted phones. As I walk through the crowds to try to get to my office, I see all their eyes acknowledge my presence and my neck suddenly goes stiff. They are all wearing a confused look on their faces, making me feel like I have chocolate on my cheek or something. After I get past all the staring eyes, I clock in and make myself acquainted with my new desk. I notice that it is alot smaller than all of the desks around me and there isn’t much leg space. I shake that out of my head, convincing myself that my desk is probably small because I am new and the company got it on short notice. I place my pens and notebooks on the desk and place a photo of my dog Lucky by the corner. I try to get up to use the bathroom but before I can a tall body intercepts me cornering me back into the chair.
“Hey, me and the boys need coffee and 2 dozen donuts,” he demands.
I look at him with a funny look thinking that maybe he’s suffered a concussion or something like that. I let out a faint laugh and said “good one.” He doesn’t even crack a smile and keeps a straight face the entire time, putting a barrier of silence between us. I’m confused at first, but then I’m hit with the realization of what’s happening. The men in the entrance weren’t looking at me because I was new and the desk I was given wasn’t smaller because of short notice. These guys asked me for freaking donuts and to get them coffee. This is because I am a woman: a woman who for some reason unbalanced the scales of “logic” in their workplace. Tears prickle my eyes as I try so hard not to let a single one fall, especially not on my first day here.
“I think there is a misunderstanding. I’m not the secretary, I’m a journalist here,“I say in a quiet voice.“My name is Michelle, nice to meet you,” I say, extending my hand in front of him.
This time he is the one laughing. Not in the good hearted way I did when he said the coffee bit but in more of an amused-malicious type of way. I sink deeper into my chair as I hear his loud hyena cackle. I think a tear escaped but I didn’t bother wiping it away. I turn my back to him and pretend to work by moving my journals around to get him to go away. He doesn’t. Instead, he calls over the other men screaming, “She’s a journalist you guys!” At that moment I feel so small and humiliated that I run into the hall to find a bathroom. Some of the men on their breaks look at me as I run through the long hallway, tears running down my cheeks, as I try to catch my breath. You have got to be kidding me! After a few minutes of running around, I realize that I’m not going to find a bathroom anytime soon because there aren’t any bathrooms for me here. I should run out and found a new job but I don’t. Rather than doing what other women might have done in this situation, I run towards my problems instead of away from them. I adjust myself and fix my hair as I march back to my desk. When I get there, I still see men standing near my desk gawking at me. I decide enough is enough.
“I am sorry that you men find it strange that a woman is doing work other than running around for you and fetching your coffee and donuts. I just want to make it clear to all of you that I am a journalist. I graduated from Brown University with a 4.1 GPA and I worked my butt off to get to where I am right now. This is not the first time I have encountered sexist innuendos and men that can not keep their maturity around a woman in a workplace.” I breath taking a deep breath in and out
“I will not stand for this maltreatment and I believe that I deserve the same respect that all of you without a doubt receive each and every day. This is a place of work and I will not stand for hateful comments about me being a “stupid woman” or secretary or whatever your previous undeveloped assumptions about me are. This ends now. Or so help me god I will make sure that every newspaper in the country knows just how ignorant and bigoted you men are. I’m assuming some of you have wives and children so I would hate for you to lose your jobs over a story outbreak.”
The men all look at me, their jaws dropping down to the floor. I swear I see a bit of fear in their faces and I know that I made the right choice.
“Sorry, won’t happen again,” a man tells me who is followed by apologies from other men in the office as well.
After that day, I was treated as an equal and given the respect I deserved. I did not go through 4 years of college to be treated unfairly just because I am a woman. I am a talented journalist and I refuse to apologize for that. Something I learned that day is that as a woman I cannot keep my mouth shut in conflicting situations. There will always be some man or boy that will have something against me just because we are the opposite sex. Unfortunately, we can’t change this overnight, and the female community has been trying to change the system for years. It may not be a quick change but if at least a few of us speak up in the workplace, home, or even at school we can make a difference even if it’s small.
Categories: Lit Magazine