We all know I stayed way too long in a horrible job. That point needs no debate. But it didn’t end the way I planned– I always assumed I’d depart in a blaze of glory, pulling a Mean Girls Janis Ian and screaming “suck on that, aiyaiyaiyai!” after they found out I’d been writing about their stupidity and negligence on the internet for the last two years.
But that didn’t happen.
But then I went home and the darkness settled in.
I couldn’t believe I’d worked there for almost five years and was still dealing with the same old bullshit. I know I mock the hospital for being a part of the problem, but my deepest darkest secret is that I actually worked hard to come up with a solution. I organized events, championed policy, masterminded projects, and pushed for better practices. But none of that mattered. Because I have a vagina. Or more accurately, I have a vulva.
We’ll come back to that here in a minute.
I decided to talk to HR about what had happened. I knew I was (hopefully) on my way out, but I felt like I owed it to whoever they hired to replace me. What if it were another 24-year-old who’d be told “boys will be boys” when a male coworker told her she belonged on her knees? What if she had to endure an authority figure who’s favorite topic was sexual assault?
But I should have known better. Years ago, when my ex sent private photos of me to our coworkers, I reported it and was told “well I hope you’ve learned your lesson.”
A new internal investigator– who’d been hired since then– began interviewing staff to figure out who was involved in spreading the rumor. Meanwhile, Alex was in the middle of applying for different jobs out of state. I crossed my fingers that I’d be out of there before long.
But it didn’t happen soon enough.
I was called into a conference room with the investigator. Despite considering him a work friend, I pulled my iPhone out and started recording. Something told me I might need to prove myself wrong if I later doubted what was about to happen.
“I’ve traced the origin of the rumor,” he started.
I nodded, ready to get this over with and already caring a little less because I’d blogged about it and that’s how I deal with everything.
“As you’re aware, staff have been saying that you lift your shirt up when people drive by your window.”
In the recording, you can actually hear me laugh a little. It was just so ridiculous.
“But I understand that’s not the case,” he said.
I thought he was laboring over the obvious, but then he dropped this bombshell:
“What seems to have happened, is that you exposed your vagina to several men who were in your office a few months ago.”
He went on to tell me how two maintenance men were fixing the windows in my office during lunch when I’d sat in my office chair, lifted my skirt, and spread my legs for them. He delivered this information like a statement of fact.
“So somehow you flashing your vagina got misinterpreted as you flashing your breasts.”
“Are you kidding me?” I asked. “That did not happen. And they’ve never even fixed my windows.”
“They weren’t trying to start a rumor,” he said. “They were concerned about your behavior so they reported it to their supervisors and apparently they were overheard by a few other people.”
I wish I could tell you I stood up from the table, threw a cup of coffee in his face, and stormed from the room in a blaze of feminist glory. But I was so shocked and caught off guard that I just sat there and kept saying variations of “you’ve got to be kidding me” with a few “what the fucks” thrown in.
“Do you recall showing them your vagina?” he asked.
I’ve answered some pretty fucked up questions, but this one was completely new to me. I told him no, but obviously that answer doesn’t mean anything to a man like him.
“Do you recall when they were in your office and you wore a short skirt with no underwear and spread your legs?”
I kept telling him no, absolutely not, “are you kidding me?” but he didn’t stop.
“Do you often wear short skirts and sit inappropriately?”
I literally had no frame of reference for this victim-blaming Mad Men era bullshit. Like always, I got rabid on the details.
“When did this supposedly happen?” I asked. “My windows are still screwed up, they only fixed my boss’s windows. Maybe they saw HER vagina?”
Let’s not forget she does like to pull her pants down in the middle of the bar.
“No,” he insisted. “They were very clear that it was you who did this.”
This had now become something I did. That sounds familiar.
He couldn’t give me any details on when it had happened, even though I told him I no longer wore dresses to work because the landscaping crew catcalled me in the parking lot.
“Well then why would they make this up?” he asked in a patronizing tone.
I don’t know, maybe because they’re a band of emasculated pieces of shit who daydream about sexual violence and take any opportunity to humiliate a member of the opposite sex?
But it was obvious he’d sided with them before I ever walked in the room. His message was clear: Don’t report stuff like this or we’ll make it worse for you. I couldn’t believe I’d allowed myself to continue working in a place where a conversation like this was even possible. The fact they didn’t even seem shocked that I would just randomly toss my lady bits around was perhaps even more revealing. When you’re fucked up, you expect everyone else to exist on that same level.
I got up from the room, went to get my handbag, and walked out of the building. I called Alex.
“I have to quit,” I said.
I felt so stupid, so foolish. Why didn’t I leave that place years ago? Every little abuse along the way was just building up to something bigger and bigger and I’d stupidly stayed around to see what it was.
Alex asked if I could wait it out for a few more weeks, in hopes he’d get a job out of state.
“No,” I said. “For the rest of my life I need to know that I didn’t put up with this.”
I typed out my resignation the next day and gave it to my boss. Despite her obvious ridiculousness, she was remarkably human.
“That is the craziest bullshit I’ve ever heard,” she said.
I told Mandi that I had to abandon her.
“I’ve known you for four years,” she said. “I’ve seen you in all sorts of dresses and I’ve never gotten to see your vagina.”
“It’s actually called a vulva,” I said. “You’d need a speculum to see all the way to my vagina.”
I composed an email to the inspector with this same anatomy lesson, pointing out that he obviously didn’t have very much experience with a woman’s sexual organs. Gunmetal Geisha talked me out of sending it because it was a low blow to insult his manhood.
Of course I wanted to insult his manhood. I wanted to travel back in time to that conference room so I could do it to his face. I wanted to change my own personality so I would stop being so damn docile. I swear sometimes, I was born to be a doormat.
But there’s something to be said for the slow game. I may not be very reactive in the moment, but I can strategize like a motherfucker. And despite the full sum of life’s bizarre experiences being heaped upon me, good karma has a way of showing up to bat when I most need it.
My boss redeemed herself by giving me a month of paid vacation so I wouldn’t have to actually show up for my two weeks notice. I left without looking back, a flashdrive of interesting information in my pocket, and a box of documents in the trunk of my car.
The next day, Alex got a call. He’d been hired in Denver.
Life has a way of working itself out. Even when we take our time at coming to terms with the obvious.
[Tweet “It’s actually called a vulva”]
Have you ever stayed in a bad situation for too long? What would you have done if you were me? Do you think I should go ahead and send that e-mail?