I do not fight against men, but against the system that is sexist.
~ Elfriede Jelinek (Nobel Prize in Literature in 2004)
I answered the phone at work the other day and a fellow gave me his name and the company he was calling from. I asked how I could assist him. And he said: “What I’m calling about darl, is – “ I cut him off there and asked: “Did you just call me darl?” He said: “Yes.” So I hung up on him.
He called back within seconds and immediately said: “Look, if you don’t want to be called “darl” you just have to – “ I hung up again.
He called back again within seconds and said one word: “Bitch”.
I should preface this by saying that I knew this was a marketing call. I always try to be polite to marketers (they’re only doing their job) unless they get me on a bad day at which time I tell them the owner of the company, aka The Chosen One, is currently in conference with Satan. I must also add the waiver that I do have clients who call me “Love”, usually older gentlemen who think I’m the slightly-smarter-than-average-secretary, and I have no problem with this because I recognise the motivation is pure and their choice of language generational.
But lately I've been thinking about the fact that for a lot of men, in professional situations, I am either “Darl” or “Bitch”. I don’t know if it’s specific to the industry I work in or not, but I do get called “Darl” or “Love” a lot. Here’s the thing – whether I’m standing in front of you or on the telephone with you, I always seem to remember your name. Miraculous, isn't it? And in a group situation, even when there are more than two of you, I still remember your names. If I find myself in a situation where your name escapes me, I revert to “Sir”, because that is the etiquette, isn't it? You seem to remember the names of all the men in the room, but still I am, always and somehow, “Darl”.
“Darl” might do your laundry, get you coffee, pick up your dry-cleaning, or give you a toothless blow-job in a back alley for $50, but she doesn't pay your invoices, or remedy your contract issues, or carry out the logistical and administrative requirements necessary for keeping multiple construction sites up and running. And confiding in me that your secretary is a bitch tells me a whole lot more about you than it does about her.
And you know when it is I segue from “Darl” to “Bitch”? The moment I insist on being spoken to the same way you would speak to a man calling to hire a chemical toilet. The second I insist on maintaining professionalism when you want to reduce me to a vagina, I become the “bitch” without a sense of humour. I can’t fucking win: if I’m friendly I’m a flirt and if I’m firm I’m on my period (oh yes, that’s been said to me too).
So here's the deal: when you call me “Darl” or "Love" I promise to turn into the nail-filing, gum-snapping, breast-enhanced, fake-tanned, stiletto-wearing, high-school-drop-out you assume I am.
Oh, and did I mention? – My eyes are up here....