Loving and hating men

The last time I wrote about work, I spoke on the subject of why I’ve quit my job. I condemned my supervisor from every angle that I could manage and still had plenty left over that I could have said.

I can’t help but feel sad and disappointed that I’m leaving. The sadness comes from the thought of losing regular contact with many people who I’ve enjoyed seeing on a daily basis. I’m disappointed because I wasn’t tough enough to stay.

Men ruined that job for me.

I only work with men. My shift is all-male, excluding myself. Women can be found in surplus in many other departments, but in my line of work they are a rarity.

The job that I’m about to take is staffed primarily with women. It will be a huge change for me. Throughout childhood and adolescence, I didn’t have many close male friends. Of course I thought boys were funny and sometimes cute, and I envied their ability to get away with more than girls were permitted to. I was a little tomboy. I kept my hair short, dressed in boys’ clothing, loved playing basketball, grew up with three younger brothers, and still kept “boys” at a distance. So while they were sometimes funny and cute, more often I found them to be mean and coarse. My closest friends were other girls, and even in high school didn’t interact much with boys.

I’ve been working with men for the last four-and-a-half years. I feel like this has done a number on me. Some of these men have been fine and have never given me any real problem. Others have made me regard Lorena Bobbitt as a folk hero. I’m partially joking. There’s a joke to be made somewhere about a partial penis, but I can’t make it happen.

I am constantly taken aback by how two-faced modern men can be. I’d much prefer to experience sexism overtly, rather than having it wrapped up in a pretty package (package…penis…Bobbitt…I’m still working on this one). A former boss who once grabbed my ass was at the very least acting in accordance with what I knew his character to be. Men I work with today, especially the men under 40, have learned to hide those impulses. They have adopted much of the vocabulary of the progressive modern man, the man who pays lip service to feminism because it’s easier than changing himself from the inside.

For at least two years, I’ve kept my guard up around the men who have since joined our department. I have already written about my negative experiences with my now-supervisor. He made me realize that I couldn’t continue to be as friendly with my coworkers as I would like to be. I think I’m a friendly person. I like to smile at people even when I’m going through a tough time. My mood is not their problem–it’s mine. I don’t enjoy inflicting my bad mood on others, and I don’t enjoy having other people see that side of me. Usually the way I cope is by trying to carve out more time to be alone and away from others. I’m doing it today.

I’ve been tempering my personality too much at work, but I also fear a repeat of past situations. When I’m with men and I act like my true self (laughing, telling jokes, goofing off) it is interpreted as an invitation for something more than friendship. I realize that now. My supervisor is not the only person I’ve had trouble with at this job. A former coworker also made a habit of monopolizing a lot of my time, and because I tend to be easy-going, I went along with it for a while. If he wanted to talk, I would talk. He started to fabricate excuses for doing things that would put us together more often, and I began to resist. One time he had the gall to suggest starting a “reading club” together. He printed a list from the internet of some of the “greatest books ever written.” The list was actually okay by my standards because it wasn’t overrun with American literature. He wanted to pick the first book we would read–he hadn’t read one since college. Based on an excerpt (the list included one from each novel), he selected Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. He didn’t ever end up reading it, but I did, and in doing so discovered one of my favorite books.

That was also my way of shaming him a little. He was getting too big for his britches. He wanted to have read big books, but didn’t want to read them. Shortly thereafter, he took the opportunity to say something truly disgusting to me one time when we were together on outside patrol. It was something I could have/should have gone to HR about, but I never particularly liked the idea of going to HR ever since the woman in charge of the department questioned my ability to protect her while I was walking her to her vehicle one day (a routine, mostly done for show, that is part of our daily duties as security officers). After that I decided, √† la Michael Gary Scott, that I wanted nothing to do with HR in the future.

I haven’t always experienced these problems on such a level. In college, I was friends with young men who I thought were mostly lovely people. They had flaws just like everyone else. It’s easier to forgive the occasional remark tinged with subtle sexism when you can recognize that the person is genuinely trying to work through those feelings in order to arrive at a better place. I remember hearing of a few heartfelt apologies, usually from a man to a woman he was friends with, when he realized that a remark he made had stung her. I feel like accountability was in vogue at the time because our friendships were that strong, and no one wanted to jeopardize that. It has been a long time since I’ve witnessed or heard reports of a genuine apology given for a sexist remark made or attitude taken. I think most of us could work on our ability to apologize with humility and integrity. Instead, what I usually see happen is that a person in the wrong will then dig their heels in, unable to embrace what it feels like to be ashamed and have someone else know it.

I think of an apology I had to offer recently, to a person who is one of my biggest headaches at work. I snapped at him in anger, in front of other people, when he attempted to speak to me. I was still fuming over his bad behavior from the night prior and could not believe he had the audacity to approach me and speak to me about anything that wasn’t his own apology (which I still have not received). I apologized for my own sake–not for his. I couldn’t have lived with myself had I not made amends, especially before I left for good. He took my apology as an opportunity to tell me how wrong I was in my assessment of his bad behavior. I reminded him that he had been an hour and a half late in relieving me from my post, which meant that I was unable to complete my scheduled duties that night, and that he had promised me twice that same day that this would not happen (I knew it would, which is why I made sure he promised that it would not). I don’t know who I will miss less–him, or my supervisor. It will feel incredible to be rid of them both.

The person that I am at my job is not really me. I’ve been a shell of myself in an effort to protect myself. I refrain from speaking out even when it’s justified. I don’t want to be viewed as unhinged or crazy, even though I see a number of men around me exhibiting terrible behaviors without any ramifications. On the flip side, I also don’t want to go through the motions of thinking that I’ve found a friend at work, only to discover that they had some ulterior motive the entire time. I work exclusively with men, so my guard is up the entire 8.5 hours of my shift. I know at the end of it, I get to go home and be myself–light, happy, and openhearted if I want to be. At work, that is off the table. I’m still laid-back, but my face is rarely as animated anymore when I interact with my coworkers. My mannerisms are more controlled. I avoid or back out of conversations that appear to be getting personal. For me, this is a drag, because I normally love talking in that way. I love getting to know people better. When I encounter someone who seems to be comfortable opening up to me, I feel honored by their trust.

Now I have to shed that tough exterior, and convince my brain to let me go back to my old ways. I’ll be working with other women soon, and I don’t want to continue being this way. This way that I’ve been behaving has come to feel too familiar. I almost forget that I used to be different. I worry that I won’t be able to just…become. My old self. At work.

I worry that I won’t like my new job. Of course I worry about that. I imagine sitting at a desk all day, performing monotonous tasks while my brain atrophies. As much as I dislike many aspects of my current job, it still allows me some amount of freedom, and I’ve learned some ways to keep my mind occupied while I’m there. I’ve really indulged myself in “my studies” these last four years. It will be strange to not have that option, and to see it disappear so suddenly.

In addition to giving up my “studies,” I’m giving up the possibility of ever working with my fianc√© again. I know I have said that before, but it stands to be said over and over again, for as long as it still hurts to do so.

I’m giving up my volunteer work at the Humane Society because my new working hours are in total conflict with the volunteer schedule. I still haven’t told the crew I work with on Fridays that this Friday will be my last. It will be more difficult to do that than it was to tell certain people at work that I was quitting. I meant to send them an e-mail today, but I never did. I don’t know how to say it. I know that they rely on me being there. Our crew has diminished significantly this past year, and we’ve been struggling to complete our most basic tasks.

And I’m sure that part of me is disappointed because I know in my heart that this new job, just like my current job, will not be where I find purpose in my life. It cannot offer that. What I do hope to find, maybe, is some peace there.