In case I haven’t been clear enough in the past, I would like to start with an announcement: I am a staunch feminist. And I’m proud of it. I don’t appreciate women who put the Hilary Swank politician spin on the term. I don’t appreciate Time magazine’s decision that gender inequality is apparently a thing of the past, and the implication that anyone who says otherwise is a hysterical (female) drama queen. I don’t appreciate Riley’s griping (over and over) about having to read approximately 60 lines about an important figure in feminist literary history. Seriously dude, stop crying about it.
Unfortunately, thanks to my constant lookout for gender inequality, I sometimes overreact when I perceive that someone is evaluating my choices in the context of being a woman. Just a little. So, as you can imagine, since gender is a pretty basic aspect of romantic decisions, I can sometimes get a little defensive with dates.
To illustrate: Pre-law school, after I’d told a man about my career, my defiant little self would inevitably follow it up by demanding that they weren’t to think less of me because I choose to work with children in a traditionally female field. To accentuate my point, I’d try to prove how intelligent I was by dazzling them with my wide knowledge of feminist theories and the LSAT.
Luckily, it never mattered because my date had already stopped taking me seriously upon learning my career and found me about as threatening as a LOL Cat. Instead, they’d have moved onto wondering if I was the type of woman who demanded breakfast in the morning.
I’ve spent years being annoyed at this kind of behavior, and I’ve come to perceive infantilization as a top-three deal breaker. (The other two are 1) being in a persistent vegetative state and 2) supporting Sarah Palin). Yet suddenly, all because of this law school thing, even my singles bar scene has been turned topsy turvy.
As evidence I submit the real life story of the night someone actually tried to impress me.
Friday evening at a super cheap bar in the West Village. Bar is known for great happy hour specials, thus it’s nearly impossible to get seats unless you arrive around eleven AM. Luckily, two of my friends had gotten there before I did, and used their powers of feminine persuasion (read: cleavage) to convince a few gentlemen to give up their seats.
My friends: attractive women in their early twenties. They work a variety of barely above entry-level jobs and don’t give off any impression of wealth. Instead they exude the typical semi-hipster but employed presence that permeates non-student areas of Manhattan between Houston and 14th Street.
The men: all in their late thirties. They had traveled into the city for the Yankee parade that had taken place earlier in the day and as a result they were displaying various examples of Yankee paraphernalia and beer guts. They had grown up in the blue-collar suburbs, and had that indeterminable accent that you can earn in any part of New York or New Jersey within fifty miles of Manhattan.
I had just arrived, about halfway through the flirt fest that the men had earned by relinquishing their seats. I quickly learned that one of the men worked for a sanitation department in Maryland, as he kept alternating between referring to himself as a “sanitation technician” and a “friggin’ garbage man.” He also spit when he talked and kept making wild gestures that spilled beer all over nearby people and belongings. However, keeping in mind how important seating can be, I was trying to be cordial and he soon asked me what I did:
“I’m a student,” I answered, leaning back to avoid as much spewing barley as possible.
“Oh really? Hey, hey boys you hear that? This one doesn’t even have a job!” he “joked”. His friends seemed to agree this was hilarious. My friends gave me a look that urged me to refrain from violence. “So, Missy Student,” he continued, “what are you studying?”
Now, to be honest I’d usually lie right here. I mean this guy certainly wasn’t my knight in shining armor, and any vague response would likely end this conversation and allow me to get back to eyeing the much younger and more attractive men next to us. Except his unemployed comment made me mad. So I told the truth. “Law.”
“Wait you go to law school? Where?” Using my haughtiest voice (ah, defensiveness) I told him the name of my school.
“No way. You don’t go there.”
I sighed, and rubbed my temples. “Yeah, yeah I do.”
Right then I started to get really angry. I mean, why wouldn’t I be going to a good law school? Beyond gender, I couldn’t think of a single reason this guy would question me. I was not going to let it go now.
So my nose went up in the air, and my best Queen Elizabeth impression came out. “Fine, you want me to prove it? Here is my ID.” I removed said identification card from my wallet and handed it over to my sanitation inclined lover. Unfortunately, my ID not only looks very little like me, but the person in it appears to be on crack.
Garbage dude looked at me, looked at my ID, then looked back at me. “This isn’t you,” he said as he tried to triumphantly hand it back. His friends high fived him to recognize his observational acuity.
I closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. I wondered if this jerk actually thought that I would take the time to fake or steal a law school ID. For what purpose? Library access? Movie discounts? Moments like this one? Refusing to give up, I took out my driver’s license, which is an equally awful picture.
“No it’s me. I’m just not good in ID photos. Look at my license.” I handed the second card over, and tried not to make a face as he cringed.
“Ew. Yeah. I guess it is you.” For a brief moment he was silent. I’m not sure what he was thinking, but I’m guessing it was akin to that same feeling I used to get when I was afraid some guy was doubting my professional capabilities. Except, unlike me he didn’t get defensive, he became absurd.
He leaned in conspiratorially. “Listen,” he looked at his friends to be sure they had lost interest now that I had proven I was a law student. They had, and were instead creeping on my friends. “So, I’m not really a sanitation worker.” Dramatic pause.
Despite all my annoyance, I for some unknown reason decided to encourage him. “Oh yeah?”
“No, I’m not. I’m actually an FBI agent.”
Now, I wish I could tell you this was a joke. That he was just kidding around, trying to make me laugh. That he said it with a smile and just wanted me to lighten up a bit. But he wasn’t kidding. He was clearly lying, but he wasn’t kidding.
Either way, I had to abandon the ice princess act at that point. “No you aren’t,” I responded.
“No, I am. Why are you laughing? I’m just undercover.”
“No you’re not.”
He leaned in closer, and spilled a little more beer into my lap. “I didn’t want to say anything before, since your friends are just teachers and secretaries and I didn’t want them to feel bad.”
I, however, couldn’t help but feel bad for the douche bag himself. Beyond the typical response to someone telling you that they are a “garbage man” (although I understand it to actually be a very well paying, albeit smelly, job) I really didn’t think any less of this guy because of his profession in the first place. I thought less of him because he was old and kept shouting and spilling beer on me and weirdly putting his hand between my shoulder blades no matter how many times I tried to shrug him off, but not because of his job. I thought it sucked that the mere fact that I am going to law school would make him feel like he needed to tell me some outrageous lie, when just four months ago I would have fallen into the same “teachers and secretaries” category as my friends, which apparently doesn’t require any effort to impress.
It was an odd feeling, since like I said, I’ve spent the last few years hating it when men didn’t take me seriously because of my job. I have to admit that I’ve looked forward to the book-cover validation that being a lawyer would earn me, which is more or less what I got that night (after I could convince him I wasn’t lying). Men might be more likely to hate me up front, but at least they won’t write off my job as easy and unimportant. Yet, I never imagined that suddenly I’d be shifted into a world where people felt like they had to impress me.
To be honest, I didn’t handle myself so gracefully that night. I managed to make my way to another group of people soon after this exchange, and “I’m actually an FBI agent” has fast become an inside joke. Only in retrospect did I consider that maybe this was more than just a funny incident. Maybe it was an indication that, although I may have gotten what I wanted on one hand, the payoff might be greater than I imagined.