I have two lives.
I am different than the other women I work with. That is unless they also have double lives, and they, too, are afraid to admit it. Or they have lost themselves behind the criteria that the male gaze has laid out for us.
I am a professional working woman. I am a leader in my field, and I have made many sacrifices to get here. One of the most prominent sacrifices I have made is myself. The standard of what it means to be a woman written by the hands of men has become the filter through which I conduct myself.
I sold myself out. I failed myself. I created a persona that was palatable for the patriarchy. I know the way that men perceive me. I tried to remain unproblematic as I climbed through the corporate body.
I have discovered that every man I have worked with fits roughly the same profile—a lot of presumption and a healthy dose of ego. They have a blindness to their privilege. An unwillingness to yield in fear of looking incompetent. Once I figured this out, it was much easier to succeed. All I had to do was fit the shape they wanted me to.
I had to be demure.
I did not challenge directives. I was passive, modest, and reserved. I never cursed or raised my voice. I never showed a sign of emotion that would make them uncomfortable. Happy, interested, concerned, or curious were the acceptable emotions.
I had to be submissive.
Meaning that I had to listen to them and avoid complaining. Complaints are seen as nags, and there are few things that men hate more than nags.
I had to be sweet.
I smiled at each greeting. I was kind in all interactions, even when tired or overworked. I was always polite and cordial. Never giving a hint that I might desire a break or a raise.
This is not who I am.
I wish I would have challenged more or been more authentic. I did not honor my true self at work. Yet, in all honesty, this persona was easy for me to adapt to. It created a secure shell for me to exist in because, deep down, men scared the hell out of me.
I have been victimized by the hands of men who I thought were my friends. While I was seeking meaningful connection, they sought ways to exploit me. These interactions taught me to be fearful of men. I grew hypervigilant of how they looked at and talked to me.
I was hyper-aware that I needed to fit a certain archetype to be accepted. I was afraid that if I was not friendly, they would get angry and take that anger out on me. This is what my experiences have taught me.
Saying “no” was not acceptable. “I see you, and you do not have permission.”
My authentic self is not palatable. It is not demure. It does not fit the archetype. I am a human being with thoughts, feelings, and opinions, not a robot. I should not have to hide my humanness to be seen as a professional.
Yet here I am, writing under a name that is not my own for fear that I will be found out and persecuted.
If I am fired, so be it. I am tired of living in a shell and under a guise.
I found myself buried beneath a heaping pile of shame and self-loathing from my victimizations.
I realized that the watchful eyes of men do not scare me anymore; they infuriate me. If I see a man staring at me, I stare right back. It is my small act of defiance. My way of saying, “I see you, and you do not have permission.”
I will be courageous in stating my opinions and arguing for what is right. I will do it for the women I lead and the women leaders who will come after me.
I am Moriah.