I’ve been on the fence about this one. Even as I sit down to write, adrenaline kicks through me and I’m shaking with hurt and anger all over again. Like many women, I was taught to be polite, to not cause a fuss, to not ruffle any feathers even when they deserve a ruffling. Something yucky happened to me, and how female is it that I worry about hurting the feelings of the people who did the yuckiness? It’s easy to forget, insulated as we are, that being a woman, even a pretty, middle class white woman, often sucks. That people, sometimes but not always, men, think less of us because an accident of our birth, that no matter how hard we work or what we accomplish we will always be second class the eyes of some.
Two weeks ago, I had a job interview with what I thought was a really awesome marketing company. I’ve been doing freelance copywriting for awhile now, but I wanted something with more stability and structure, a home where I could take my talents and not have to live with the feast and famine that goes with being self-employed. Funny thing, they actually contacted me. I had applied months before and not been hired for a more technical job, but now they had a position open that they felt would be a better fit. I went down for a writing test, passed with flying colors (because I am damn good at what I do), and they immediately scheduled me for an interview, which I sailed through, falling in complete mutual love with their marketing supervisors. I was scheduled within hours for a follow up interview the day after Christmas, this time with the president and his “HR Guy”.
The day of the interview, several little birds from the company told me that I basically had the position, that they weren’t even talking to anyone else at this point. I was beyond excited. This was my dream job, with my dream company. I liked their products, believed in their vision, I had researched their clients so I could speak specifically about what I could do for their social media strategies and marketing needs. I was ready, Eye of the Tiger fighting fit.
Here’s the thing: I’m not desperate. I make enough with comedy and freelance to have the luxury of searching for a job that really fits, for both me and my employer. I’ve been completely honest with potential employers about my situation because I don’t want either one of us to be dissatisfied. Honesty is important to me, even if it means I don’t get hired. I’m a single mom, and being a single mom means I need a certain amount of flexibility, flexibility I’m willing to extend to my employer in return. Need me to answer client phone calls after six? Great, I have an elementary school concert I don’t want to miss at 2pm. Need me to meet with clients on the weekend? No problem, I need two hours to take my kid to the dentist tomorrow morning. This isn’t some wild concept I just came up with, it can and does work out for thousands of companies. The corporate world is changing, we don’t live in a 9-5 world anymore. Lots of companies allow telecommuting and flexible scheduling, and it can be great for both parties, increasing morale and productivity.
During my first interview, I was extremely upfront with their head of marketing about what I needed and what my expectations were, knowing full well that many employers see that as a potential red flag. Like I said, I would rather not get the job than waste anyone’s time. But they were fine with it, explaining that they were a family company and that they worked around several employees’ school schedules, so it wouldn’t be a problem to be flexible with me, after I was fully trained. Fantastic!
So. Day after Christmas, I went in to meet their president and “HR Guy”, who apparently doesn’t work for the company, he’s just there to offer advice. My little birds warned me that this would be tough, that the Pres likes to play up the whole hardass thing. I was expecting a rigorous interview, ready to show him how valuable and eager to work I am. I knew that there were plenty of reasons not to hire me: I don’t have my degree, I don’t have much experience in a corporate environment, and my scheduling needs are a little eyebrow raising for a new hire. I was fully prepared for a thanks, but no thanks, but hoping I could convince him that I would be a talented, ambitious, charming addition to their team.
What I was not expecting, was to be bullied for an hour by two middle aged white guys about being a single mother. Get out your snap-crotch bodysuits, ladies, apparently, it’s 1992 and I just had an interview with Dan Quayle. Lucky me! It was like they were playing Good Cop, Bad Cop, but they forgot to establish who was going to be the Good Cop, and so the whole thing just escalated and escalated, as they tried to out-dick one another. It was brutal. By minute 35 of being mocked and harassed, I was near tears. I didn’t want to cry, I tried to stick up for myself and hold my own, but I was betrayed by Shaky Lady Voice, which is where you want to be all assertive and say “Shove this job, you dumb, ugly shovers!”, but, instead, your stupid lady voice goes all high and quavery, and your stupid lady eyes go all watery, and you end up warbling uselessly, trying to defend yourself against things YOU DIDN’T EVEN KNOW WERE STILL AN ISSUE.
Much of the harassment was centered around the fear that I would “change the culture” of their company if hired, because as you know, single mothers are solely responsible for the decay of moral values and family structure in American society (Well, the gays helped, too. Thanks, gays!). FOR AN HOUR, they questioned my professionalism, punctuality, integrity, and work ethic, and not in a “tough interview, give us specific examples of these qualities and where do you see yourself in five years” way. In a “clearly, as a single mother, you possess none of those qualities, let us harangue you for our own feelings of inadequacy and impotence” way. They mocked me for working from home when my kids were little, dismissing my accomplishments as an author, publisher and freelance copywriter as if they were hobbies. They cut me off and interrupted me when I tried to defend myself. They treated me with derision and scorn in such a baffling surplus that I sat dumbfounded, shaking and confused. I have no doubt that they wouldn’t have treated a single father in the same way, that they would have admired his honesty, and praised his commitment to his family.
Again, I understand an employer’s reluctance to hire a single parent with special scheduling needs. I empathize with the financial commitment that goes into a new hire, and can fully appreciate not wanting to invest in a person with 1) lots of irons in fire 2) spotty job history in the last decade 3) a better sense of humor than you. I am walking red flag, I get it, I really do. But nearly everything, EVERYTHING, they said to me could have, SHOULD have, been said between the two men after I was quickly and quietly dismissed. I don’t care that I didn’t get the job. I care that instead of a quick, five minute NOPE, they kept me there for AN HOUR to abuse me for their entertainment. I care that they felt it was necessary to berate and humiliate me. To make me feel like crap because I don’t have a husband. To treat me like a disease, a joke. To take time out of their busy schedule to bully a single mother, put her in her place, the day after Christmas. How professional. Nice work, fellas.
I sat and cried in my car afterward. Then I drove home and cried some more. I felt demoralized and belittled. It’s easy to forget that people still hate women. I deal with it some in comedy, but it’s on my terms, I’m usually able to pry at least begrudging respect from even the most conservative audience. This...this was something altogether different. A type of dehumanization that is tough to shake, that has sat with me like an oily stain for over two weeks now. That has worked to alter my perception of my value as a person, no matter how much I tell myself that this is their problem, not mine.
The head of marketing called me in the afternoon to personally apologize for the way I was treated. She said she was embarrassed and sad about what happened. She explained that the president and HR Guy were often intimidated by strong, independent women, and that they got hung up on this one detail about me, and just wouldn’t move on. She told me that she and the other marketing head were incredibly bummed, that they had been excited to work with me and thought I was perfect for the job. She encouraged me to keep looking, saying I was totally qualified and would do well in a similar position. She was very sincere, and I appreciated her call. It helped me process just how messed up the whole encounter was, that I was right to be upset, and shouldn’t protect the two men from the wrongness of their behavior.
You’d think a marketing company would be smarter about the image they present. That they’d be careful to give a polite no thanks to people even if they don’t personally like them. You know, just in case that person has a comedy show that same night and decides to unleash a bunch of injustice-fueled, anti-patriarchial, righteous lady fury on a bunch of unsuspecting post-Christmas drunks at a sold out show. Just in case that person works with and for several large companies and nonprofits who frequently ask her to recommend reliable web design and marketing agencies. Just in case, in spite of her debilitating floozyhood, she really does have a talent for social media marketing and reputation management. Just in case she writes a popular-ish blog and hosts a popular (no -ish) show with hundreds of extremely hip and well-connected people in the audience, all of whom will now be asking her “What is the name of this place so we can all avoid it forever and ever, at all costs?”
You know, [redacted] Media, just in case all that.
[edit: I took the company's name out so as not to hurt those still working there. I will refrain from listing it here outright, but if anyone is curious, I am more than happy to divulge.]