I work as a server at a family restaurant. I was sitting in a booth having breakfast before shift when my manager came over. He asked what I was reading, and I showed him my book on Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio. I’m not sure why, but he rolled his eyes and said “of course you’re reading that.” I’ve only been at this restaurant for a few weeks, so I’m not sure how he developed such a quick sense of my reading preferences, nor why my book was met with such a judgmental roll of his eyes. I suppose he equates reading about celebrities to reading un-intellectual drivel. From a deeply ingrained instinct to defend my intelligence, I responded that the subject I was truly passionate about reading was feminist literature. I had only briefly begun telling him about my entire bookshelf dedicated to feminist lit, pictured in this blog’s background, when he interrupted me with “oh you’re not one of those, are you?”, the word ‘those’ dripping with malice.
What does a feminist do at this point? Again I was faced with the choice: do I engage in a debate about feminist politics with someone whose misconceptions about feminism make him disdain the whole conversation, or do I keep my feelings inside and change the topic?
I decided to test the waters. “Yup, I’m one of those. Have you read any feminist lit?” He said he hadn’t, but he knew all about it, and he smiled while he said that we were probably going to butt heads at work. I’m always amazed when people think they can know “all about” something, yet in the same breath acknowledge that they have done no research whatsoever. That’s not knowledge, that’s having uneducated assumptions. And it’s dangerous. What’s worse, often the people with uneducated assumptions are the loudest, most domineering people in the room. These are often people with privilege, i.e. my male boss, who don’t study oppression because they themselves have never experienced it due to their privilege, and as a result frequently believe oppression doesn’t exist.
I listened for a while as my boss went on a rant about feminists being man-haters, then switch to rapid-fire to the topic of gay relationships (he may not see oppression, but some part of him linked two oppressed groups in one conversation, women and the LGBTQ community). He expressed what I have heard so many others express. He doesn’t “agree with it” (‘it’ being the act of being gay), but he thinks people can “do what they want”. Not waiting for my response he added this caveat: “I don’t mind you being gay, but don’t rub it in my face. Like, if you’re at a restaurant, don’t be making out and stuff. Respect that others don’t agree with you. Just have respect.” As if all gay couples are hyper-sexual and take every opportunity to make-out in public. I wonder if he warns his straight friends when they come to the restaurant not to make-out in the booths?
The conversation was entirely one-sided. How could it be any other way? He has privilege, takes up more space than me physically and verbally, isn’t really interested in a conversation but uses me as an audience to voice his sexist and homophobic opinions, and he is also my boss. I didn’t stand a chance. So, like so often, I tested the waters, decided they weren’t safe for me, and backed right out. Welcome to the patriarchy. How can people deny its existence? It’s here, and it’s oppressing me everyday.