When faced with the quandary, if we can even call it that, of a woman dressed as a man, Miranda from "Sex and the City" said, "Please, I have enough trouble figuring out how to be a woman in a man's world without trying to be a woman pretending to be a man in a man's world." This begs a series of questions: how do women figure out how to be women in a man's world, how often do women "pretend to be men" by putting on masculine characteristics in order to compete in a man's world, and where do women actually fit into this "man's world"? These questions are much too big to be answered in this blog, but these questions also became a central concern for me during my stay at the liquor store.
The reality is that women don't exactly belong there as anything more than cashiers. I'm stronger than your average Jane, but I still can't lift a full keg on my own, placing a heavy reliance upon my male coworkers to aid me or, as most times proved, lift it for me. While I have no problems lifting around 50 pounds and lugging it around the store, things get more difficult as they near the 160 pounds that characterizes a full keg. I didn't want to be banished to the registers though. I longed to be away from the counters, away from the perverts and ass-hats that visually and verbally accosted me throughout the day. In order to do this, I had to prove that I was capable of doing actual work.
I volunteered to go put things away. I asked for chores when the manager was around long enough to assign me something. Sometimes, if I knew no one else wanted to put some deliveries away, I commandeered the job for myself. It wasn't about putting things away, it was about showing the boys that I could put things away. If you've ever tried to be nonchalant about doing something while making it clear and public that you're doing it, you'll know how difficult this can be. You don't want to come across as an elated toddler who just used the potty on their own for the first time, "Look what I did, praise me!" Life doesn't just hand you gold star stickers when you've done something that you should be doing anyway, and neither do liquor stores.
Overall, the boys were rather receptive to the idea of a girl doing the same work as them. I was teased and jeered, but no more than I was teasing them. When anyone would lift a keg or a hefty box of liquor, I would heckle them with, "Dang, muscles! Good job!" It was good-natured and I always meant my gibes to be encouraging. Once I started doing these things for myself, I started hearing it back. Rumi, my day-walking ginger roommate who also worked at the store, and Dreugh were usually the ones who would "Dang, muscles!" me back.
Some of you may not understand when I say "day-walking ginger" in reference to Rumi. It goes back to "South Park," wherein a day-walker is a disguised ginger. They aren't as pale, don't have as many freckles, and their hair is a bit darker than the stereotypical ginger. But they're still ginger. That's Rumi: a secret ginger, walking amongst the 'normal' people, a rent-and-taxes paying, hilarious infiltrator of non-ginger society. I commiserate with day-walkers because I was a bit of an infiltrator in the store; I made a show of doing manly tasks so that I would blend in better.
This didn't fool the customers, however. They were still fully aware of me as woman, therefore weak, or at the very least, weaker than any of the guys that worked there. It was outstanding the kind of sexist crap I put up with. I like to judge people based on what they demonstrate to me, not based on strictly physical appearances. Becoming a victim of snap judgments was a becoming I wasn't going to allow. I had people refuse to allow me to carry out boxes for them because I was a girl, "No, get one of the boys to do that." I resented being told what I wasn't capable of doing, even if the customer was trying to be polite or accommodating. I resented being told that being a woman made me disabled.
Among the plethora of "Get the boys to do that"s and "You sure you can get that? You're a girl"s (as if I weren't fully aware that I have a vagina instead of a penis) I got at the store, there was one man who took the Male Chauvinist Shitbag of the Year award. He was a rotund, aging gentleman who appeared to have hit the butter a bit too hard during his youth. He came up to the counter and helped himself to a box for his two bottles of whiskey. In the process, he broke a fingernail. He held his finger and brought it close to my face, his jowls shaking as he said, "I broke a nail. If I were a girl like you, I would be crying, wah wah wah wah wah."
Little did this clown know that earlier that day, I had indeed broken a fingernail. Not only that, but a splinter had jammed itself underneath what little nail actually remained attached to my finger. It burned like frost-laced fire and I almost peed my pants when it happened, but I DID NOT cry. It took everything I had not to punch him in his fake-blubbering face. How appropriate that the fingernail I'd had to bandage in place was on my right middle finger.
The truly baffling thing was that it wasn't just the male customers who treated me this way. Women were just as bad about it. Shouldn't we be sticking together? Especially in this day and age, when women are in the workforce and making a fuss about getting paid just as much as the men in their field. I carried a case of wine all the way from the back of the store for a woman more than once, and each time, she said, "Oh, are you sure you can carry that?" No, I was obviously incapable of lifting the case of wine I had just carried from the very back of the store. Whenever a woman asked me if I was sure I could carry their stuff to their car, I wanted to drop it out of spite.
I'm willing to tolerate sexist jokes if I know the person is kidding. I'm guilty of making self-deprecating sexist jokes myself. Sometimes, these jokes can be really funny, when the timing is just so. Dreugh earned himself a hearty laugh and a "You're a dick" one night when we were closing because of a sexist joke. I'd mentioned that I needed to find something productive to do.
"Well, there's a Safeway right across the parking lot. There's stuff to make sandwiches with over there." he replied, hiking his thumb over his shoulder.
If someone said this and they were serious, I would have been livid. Because I know Dreugh isn't a sexist jerk and he meant it as a joke, I laughed. Rumi sometimes tells me to get back in my kitchen when I'm being petulant, and once asked me if I'd run out of aprons when he caught me doing laundry one day. He knows I rarely cook and that I don't even own an apron. Still, the humor lies in the knowledge that he doesn't mean it.
I can't help but wonder if these jokes are really helping to address the issue of women trying to find a place to be in a man's world, or if they're making things worse, even in jest. Does being capable mean I can't be a woman? More importantly, does being a woman mean I can't be capable?