Last week I finally got the chance to meet some of my Facebook friends in real life. One of them, obviously more militant than I, asked if I was planning on joining the women’s strike in honor of International Women’s Day. Honestly, the thought hadn’t begun to cross my mind. In general, my office is more entertaining than spending the day at my empty apartment. But more importantly, this year my company had already advised us that they were giving all the women the perfect present to make us feel appreciated: a makeover followed by a photo shoot (sexy clothing encouraged!). Wow. Nothing says I am a strong and independent woman quite like cosmetics and my very own chance to be a centerfold model.
I did appreciate the attempt however, because the year before, I had gotten a gift of a single rose full of thorns. I chose to view this as a metaphor for my career, and I used my lunch break to begin looking for new employment. The year before that the company I worked for had all the women meet up to watch a video of a motivational speech by Sheryl Sandberg. She was gearing up to give her call for us to “Lean In” when half of the women said they had to leave early to pick up their kids.
I knew that I might not be the target demographic for this year’s event when I entered the room where the makeup artist had set up shop.
She looked up at me and said I looked familiar. It turns out that we had worked together for two years, although I didn’t remember her at all. Female bonding isn’t my strong suit. To her credit, she had supplies for a darker complexion. I wasn’t sure if she was just super-prepared, or if she had been warned in advance. She took out a few shades of foundation and put them against my skin until she found a suitable mix. Then, to my horror, she took a trowel and started spreading makeup on my face. 30 minutes later, I was ready for pictures. But I felt more like a construction site than a strong independent woman.
I got dressed in my finest outfit so that I could make a good impression (read this as update my Tinder profile), and trudged up to our building’s roof, which was decorated with flowers, strawberries and wine. The photographers, co-workers who had volunteered their skills and time, got us to climb ladders, balance on ledges, and lay down in flower beds, in heels, while making kissy faces. I’ve never felt more empowered. About halfway through, my boss called to ask what I was doing, and I told him that I was sticking it to the man, with the other women in the company. Duly noted, he replied. But he then told me that several of the company’s female staff were still working. Apparently, the implementation of the makeover and photo shoot was limited to those of us who weren’t mission critical: content writers, designers, accounting, and HR. Anyone who was client facing needed to stow away any desires to express the strength inherent in their femininity.
I came back to the office once the photo shoot was finished, and a co-worker told me that my department was in a meeting. When I arrived, I opened the door to a room full of men discussing a new product. Without me. And that’s the reality. No matter how many sexy photos I get to reel in online dates, International Women’s Day boils down to men not caring if we’re at the table. But if I was going to be left out regardless, at least I got to do it in heels.