When I was in college I became friends with a much older man who was in a position of authority where he could snap his fingers and give me a job. I’d gone to him with a project in which he saw value and promised to see through. We had meetings in his office. He took me to lunch a bunch of times. Talked to me like I was people, told me jokes, laughed at mine.
Because I’m an arrogant asshole it never occurred to me that I wasn’t on his level. I thought I had every right to be his peer. And a lifetime of not being considered pretty led me to think that men couldn’t be interested in my body anyway.
He never tried anything. Never moved too close or talked too soft, never touched me but to shake my hand. Never so much as opened a door for me.
But as he promised over and over to find me a job in his department, his assistant, who he kept asking me to talk to, kept steering me away. That job’s been filled. I don’t think that will work out. Let me talk to him about what’s really suitable for you. We don’t have anything there. I’m not sure this is going to pan out.
I thought she was just being a jerk. I needed a job, after all, and I believed people kept their promises. He wants me hired, so get over yourself and do what your boss wants.
Now I wonder. I wonder if she was protecting me.
Like I said, he never treated me as anything less than an equal. I thought he liked me. Like as a person.
I wonder how he would have treated me if I worked for him.
If I owed him something.
Thinking like this might be deeply unfair to a good person trying to help out a broke college student in whom he saw something promising. Thinking like this might be maligning, in retrospect, a friend.
Thinking like this might save the next young woman who sincerely believes a septuagenarian authority figure respects her mind.
I hate that this is the calculus. I hate that this is the math we all do in our heads. It’s not fair to us, in our working weeks, and it’s not fair to the relationships we try to nurture and the networking we try to do and the things we’re taught from day one are essential to our professional lives. It’s not fair to women. It’s not fair to men. It makes me angry and it makes me sad.
Grow the fuck up, everyone.