“Which seat are you in?” Jeremy asked no one in particular. He seemed more interested in looking at the line in worry. The long snake of people we waited in for our flight was wrapped around seats, columns, babies, and old men, so long it seemed as though we may not make it onboard.
“I’m in 25D,” chimed Dan, whose usual excitement emanated from his answer. He loved going on trips no matter where we went. I swear I could send him to Siberia and he’d pack swim trunks happily just in case there was a hot tub. If there weren’t he’d make one.
I allowed a bit of a pause and then decided to answer as well, “I’m in 25E. Shocker.” My thick sarcasm was intended to communicate irritation that yet again, my ass was in the middle seat.
Picking up on my annoyance immediately, Dan turned to me with a huge smile, “Aw c’mon Joni! You’re the smallest, it’s not nearly as uncomfortable for you as it would be for us big guys.” He dropped his bag and lifted both arms to flex his biceps, apparently believing his somewhat swollen muscles would be both impressive as well as confirm his point.
He was right though. I am a good 100 pounds lighter than both of these guys, making my width considerably less. But dammit, it sucks! “For once, can I just get the damn window set?” I think to myself every time I hand the ticket person my boarding pass, a gesture of accepting my middle-seated fate.
I realize how trivial this problem is. How dumb it is to complain about sitting uncomfortably in the middle seat of an airplane. 40 years ago flying on an airplane was a luxury experienced by only the elite, a happenstance which merited wearing the finest suits and best behavior. However now the airplane ride is a cluster-fuck of nonsense, as the industry is scrapping to make ends meet, resulting in an experience more akin to an afternoon in a California DMV.
However the trivial annoyances add up after a while. We boarded the plane and I took my usual position in the middle seat. I didn’t complain and decided to make light conversation. We guesstimated how tall the suited man was who hit his head on the TV monitor above the aisle. We laughed at the flight attendant who made a joke about Dan’s tattoo. I was feeling better.
I posted my final Facebook check-in and turned off my phone. I don’t know why I always check-in at airports, maybe it makes me feel like my friends are coming with me…anyway, my phone was now off. I was officially disconnected from my world, and my only companions were Dan and Jeremy. Jeremy got the window seat and Dan, the aisle. Dan was arranging all his electronics, untangling wires and telling me about his new super battery pack that will charge his iPhone anywhere. He always has the latest in everything and is eager to share how cool the new whatever is. Jeremy on the other-hand was in his own world, being his usual socially awkward self and humming some tune uncomfortably. I feel bad for him, as he’s pretty new and Dan and I get along so well. I nodded in approval of Dan’s new gadget, feigning interest long enough until he could turn his music, Kindle, and neck massager on.
Once Dan was self-sufficiently amused, I turned my attention to Jeremy, who had a book on his lap. “Whatcha reading?” I asked cheerfully. There was not response, and I realized he had his eyes closed. No matter, I’ll look out the window. I love looking out the window for take off, it doesn’t matter where I am. So I placed my elbow on the armrest and cupped my head in my hand. Watching the palm trees whiz by I drifted into thoughts about how much I love where I live and frankly couldn’t wait to return.
Jeremy decided to close the window. I watched in amazement as he settled his head on his seat and folded his hands together. “Are you fucking kidding me right now?” I yelled at him in my head. The annoyance I felt earlier returned with a much greater force.
What can I say, these are small tiny things, but again, they add up. I survived the windowless flight, connected in Atlanta, and finally arrived in Orlando. We made it to our hotel, to the conference where the real “fun” began. This conference was a success I suppose, as this was my account and over the past year I have been responsible for ensuring this franchise signed up for our product. I now have about 70% of them, and after the trip I’m pretty sure we will have the rest by the end of the month.
This seeming success doesn’t come without a price tag, and I have realized it’s a price I no longer want to pay. I am in an industrywhere sexual harassment is a norm, and my being a young woman I am the perfect bait for their pleasure. At one point there was a man growling audibly at me like a rabid dog, and I found out later from the men around him he was saying he wanted to take a bite out of my ass. Another man who had his arm around me and was staring at my chest announced multiple times I had “amazing tits.” Of course I was in a group of others who nodded and while trapped in this arm lock all I did was agree. The worst I’d say was when I was getting off an elevator, and another perv exclaimed how happy he was that my “hot ass” was on his floor. He went on about how he’d be dreaming of me later, and confirmed this claim with a firm slap on said ass.
After those experiences, the middle seat and the closed window were the least of my worries. At these conferences, I’ve realized that I have pigeonholed myself into awful situations, and it’s completely all my own doing. NO, it is not due to what I wore. If you must know the night of all of those examples I was wearing skinny jeans, a long sleeved black shirt with a cleavage-less collar, and a pair of high-heels. It doesn’t matter what I fucking wear, by being a young woman present in these situations, it’s going to happen.
However I will no longer accept this treatment, as I previously have. By being in these situations and not saying anything about it, I have tacitly agreed to harassment, which is not acceptable. For that, I am sorry. I know well that if I were to say what I really thought of those perverts, I’d move quickly from the hottest person in the room to the snobbiest bitch on the planet. That was something I was not willing to do. When I later told Dan about what happened, he was furious and told me to tell him when those things happen so he could do something about it.
“What do you want me to do? Frown approvingly, tell them they are inappropriate and to leave me alone? Do you think we’ll get the rest of the franchise that way?” I stirred my diet coke with a straw, and wished I’d put rum in it.
Dan looked down and understood. “I guess not,” he frowned, and moved his mouth to the side of his face sadly. The silence that filled that moment also filled a part of me that believed I could make a change in this industry. I am one woman in a sea of probably 500 perverted old men in a giant conference hall. My standing up for myself just ostracizes me from the group, the bitchy snob who thinks she’s all that.
I am not a bitch, a snob, nor the hottest thing on earth. I am a smart woman who knows what she’s worth…but haven’t been saying so in these situations. I know for damn sure I’m not a pair of tits and an ass. Most of these deals were closed over the phone, via webinar and email. They didn’t know what I looked like and my voice and brain were enough to convince them I’ve got a good product. The only “ass” in this situation is that I’m a badass salesperson.
I’m not suggesting women hide what we look like. Fuck no. I also am not saying that because there is an environment of extreme sexual harassment that we have to slink away as losers who won’t win the fight to equality. But I think there’s only so long that you can put up the fight before it drains everything out of you. At this conference, I realized there was no helping the old men who were growling, tit staring and ass slapping. But there were other men who I pointed these deplorable acts out to who actually listened, and some even agreed with me and gave my position a thought. That’s progress in my book, and that’s how I’ve survived these environments for this long.
However I am tired. I have fought this fight in this environment for almost 2 years and it’s taken the life out of me. I get cranky over middle seats on airplanes. That’s dumb. I have to make the big leap I am scared out of my mind to do – move on. The first step is to declare publicly, here, on the interweb, “ENOUGH!” I have had ENOUGH of this. After that first night of awful, I didn’t deal with it anymore – I frowned and said something about it. I am committed to not being a slap-ass darling at all anymore. If there is one more hand on my ass it is going to meet fire. Maybe I will get ostracized at the next conference. I don’t care anymore because if self-determinism and equality doesn’t sell, so be it. I can get fired and I don’t care. I am ashamed that I put up with it that long, and that is ENOUGH.
There is another way. I may have to sit in the middle seat on airplanes because I have a smaller body than my male companions. I can live with that. But I cannot live with knowing that I allow people to perpetuate a society where sexual harassment is a norm and a requirement to doing a job well. I have to lead by example and today – I am taking my stand.
I am excited, and ready to move forward. I hope you are too. The purpose of this blog is to encourage others to think differently and fight the ways that this world is currently functioning, and this matter is of utmost importance to me. I hope sincerely you agree and will join me in this very real fight – I need others to stand with me as I cannot change this world alone. Onwards.