To start with not many people have called me a bitch to my face. I’m sure many more have said it behind my back. I used to find it quite irksome. Yes it would irk me (Did anyone get that Two and a Half Men reference?! Love that show).
Then I grew a second layer of skin and got over it.
In case you weren’t aware sexism is alive and well even in the liberal Northeast.
I recently had a client’s husband call me to discuss my “method of billing” a.k.a asking for money owed to me for services already rendered via an electronic invoice. Seemed pretty harmless to me when I sent it to them. He took this tone though, the “Settle back little girl while I explain to you how the real world works with us big men folk doing all the heavy lifting and don’t worry your pretty little head about stuff like billing and money, and by the way how about you put your boss on the phone because I’m sure he and I will compare penis sizes and talk about the futility of females doing math…” I mean he didn’t say that, but that was the gist. I smiled and in my sweetest voice possible I said,
“Sir, I very much appreciate your call, but I find it completely unnecessary unless you have a credit card number you’d like to give me over the phone instead of just inputting it into the invoice I sent you. Was the invoice too complicated for you to figure out? I know some people just are not tech savvy and that’s okay. You mentioned my boss; I don’t have a boss, I actually own this practice, and from where I’m sitting this situation makes perfect sense to me. You owe me money. Please pay me.”
There was silence for a moment on the other end. Then he gave me his credit card number.
These occurrences happen on the regular. I hate to generalize but it’s generally men who come into my office confrontational and attempt to put me on the spot and make me feel intimidated and uncomfortable in my own office.
I’ve sat with more than one man in my office, often the father of a teenage client, who has said “I’m not trying to intimidate you but…”
If I was not a nurse practitioner, perhaps if I was an MD, and perhaps if I was a middle aged white male they would not act this way. But I’m not middle aged or male or an MD.
I have wild curly hair, I wear colorful and sometimes tight clothing, I expect to be looked at in the eye not the chest (though I do have a big chest which I know in our society is called a distraction and should just be hidden…yawn and eyeroll). I do know my shit and thankfully I can say I graduated from an Ivy league school when these lovely gentlemen demand to know where I went to school.
There’s more to me than that moment though of being put on the spot, an entire eleven years of nursing is behind me in those moments and an entire thirty three years of living. 33 is young yes, but I’ve seen a lot.
I’ve held children’s parents as they were told their child is dead. I’ve put IV’s into kids who weren’t breathing and who were on the cusp of life and death. I’ve seen my fair share of death, dying, abuse, neglect, and quite possibly the worst of humanity. So some jerk coming into my office pontificating and waving his phone at me with WebMD pulled up showing me why I’m wrong and he’s right…well yeah I’m going to roll my eyes potentially and then educate you on why WebMD may not know as much as me and feel free to call me a bitch on your way out the door.
I used to be intimidated which was the very goal of several male individuals I’ve encountered in my career. But I’m not now. Because I know what I don’t know. If I don’t know something I have no issue saying it. If I think people need a second opinion I say it. If I think I do know something, I also say it. Take it or leave it. I also have a loyal following of clients who refer their family members to me, their friends, their partners, and that I think is the best compliment I can receive.
I’m not going to shut my mouth because my intelligence makes you uncomfortable. That’s a you not a me issue.
The incredibly painful aspect to this though is the message I received growing up was that an intelligent strong female is a bitch. That there is no place in the world for my boobs when they are attached to a brain and a face and a woman who will point at you in the face and tell you “My face is up here.” (Yes I did that. At the nurse’s station to a resident in front of the entire emergency department staff.) I used to feel shame around my intelligence because it just wasn’t sexy or fun or admired.
That this message has not changed for girls in the past thirty years is freaking depressing. That we elected someone who normalizes sexual assault pisses me off. And no I won’t shut my mouth about it.
I recently watched Nanette (because I literally watch it once a week), a stand up comedy show by Hannah Gadsby. She ended the show by NOT relieving the tension. By making profound and gut wrenching statements and self disclosures and then pointedly saying, I’m leaving you with that tension, it’s yours to hold to feel and figure out. That resonates with me.
I’m leaving people with tension because I’m not going to be quiet about discrimination and sexism. Because what’s most important is that I want to be the role model for some teenage girl who is being told her intelligence is not sexy, that her ideas are too bold, and she should just try and be nicer. Because seriously screw that noise.
Intelligence is hot. There’s a whole kink devoted to it! Sapiosexuals are attracted to intelligence!
My ideas have gotten me a successful business, a beautiful family, and I will continue to think boldly and outside the box because dreaming big is necessary. Be nice? Sure. I can be nice, but I will also call bullshit when I see it. I will play hardball when I need to. And in the words of the great and wonderful Pink: I Won’t Back Down.
Some one online recently told me to not be angry about discrimination. I also think that’s bullshit. Don’t tell a minority to not be angry. It’s rude.
Do I think I should carry that anger all the time and let it define me and let it guide me in interactions with others? No. But when my wife is disowned by her family, when my children have never met their grandparents because of their intolerance, when my wife is told to unpack a carload of firewood because she’s gay, when my transgender teenage clients are told to get out of their homes by their discriminatory parents…yes I’m angry. Yes I have a right to be. Until you’ve walked the walk of a minority don’t presume to think otherwise. That’s called white heterosexual cisgender privilege. Check it.
So what can we do with all this information? Educate our young girls. Don’t stifle them into boxes of pink with bows and niceness. Let them explore all of themselves. Let them be “nasty”. Let them stand for something. Encourage their exploration of their intelligence. Don’t tell them they are pretty when you see them; ask them what book they’ve read recently and tell them they are smart! Don’t define yourself, your daughters, your friends in the narrow confines of “female” in our society.
Let your hair be curly and wild, let your cleavage show, while simultaneously quoting Martin Luther King Jr. and discussing neuroscience. Be brainy, be sexy, and if needed be angry. Because we need to keep feeling angry and not numbed to what’s happening in our country. Don’t be numb. Don’t live in a bubble. Acknowledge the problems.
Be part of the solution.
“But please, please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. It’s always worth it. And we need you keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives. And to all the young girls, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world.” Hillary R. Clinton