On a recent afternoon when the temperature hit the high nineties, I joined some 120 other women in a poorly air-conditioned theater. We gathered to take part in a "discussion" on women and work to be aired on television. We were asked to arrive before 1:15 so that the two-hour taping could begin promptly at 2:00. Was I the only one who hadn't had time to grab lunch? I figured that the women who were producing the show would know that more than a few of us might be running on empty and have munchies on hand. Wrong. There was nothing but a few bottles of water and not enough cups to go around.
It was an omen. The words "This ain't gonna get it, girlfriends" were on the tip of my tongue. But since everyone else seemed to be such good sports, I took a deep breath and put on the good-girl face. So there I was, hungry and getting hotter by the minute as the temperature in that room continued to rise once the TV lights were turned on. Before we were midway into the show I was sweating bullets, my good-girl face had melted, and I was barely holding on to my manners.
Imagine, a "special" on women and work, with only a dozen women of discernable color in the group, no recent immigrants, no women with disabilities. And if there were working-class and working-poor women in the room, they were silent. It was as if the overwhelming majority of female workers were white, all women working outside the home were middle- or upper-middle-class careerists, and everyone worked for a corporation. So much for reality. It was very clear that diversity wasn't in their vocabulary. And even with Patricia Ireland in the room, their agenda didn't seem to include moving women from conversation to actionÑas in "Girlfriends, aren't we sick and tired of being sick and tired? Let's change the damned system/workplace!" Instead of a call to action, they wanted to talk about "balancing." That's the fin-de-si`ecle code word for "It's all on you, baby."
When I got the chance, I asked why we weren't demanding universal, safe, affordable, quality child care? The moderator changed the subject. Another woman attempted to break through the middle-class cocoon by bringing the economic needs and issues of working-class and working-poor women into the discussion. It was as if she'd never spoken.
From that point on, the moderator pretended that the two of us were not in the room. I was sweating, and seething. I thought about grabbing the microphone and cutting in. But all too aware of the fact that many women in the room had not said one word, I didn't want to silence someone else. So instead of yelling "Cut!" as I longed to do, I raised my hand and waitedÑin vainÑto be called on, as good girls are supposed to do.
So why am I telling you this story? Partly because I want to make sure that if any of you happen to watch that program and wonder why I am glowering, you'll know what got my evil up. But, mainly, because I know that, chances are, you all have had similar experiences. That like me, you've been in conversations, or gone to public discussions about "women's issues," where it's all about the personal, and political connections are avoided like the plague. You've tried to speak your mind to no avail, or you've been in situations where you tempered your remarks and checked your behavior, done the good-girl routine instead of rocking the house. And like me, I'm sure you've ended up mumbling to yourself, frustratedÑno, mad as hell.
I left that theater in deep conversationÑwith myself. "Why the hell did you succumb to making nice?" "Where's your passion?" "Since when do you meekly abide by the rules?" I am sure that more than a few people who passed me in the street thought the heat had scrambled my brain. In fact, I was spirit keeping. By the time I got home, I knew what I had to do. First I drew my good-girl face on a sheet of paperÑshe smiles on automatic and wears a pink bow in her hair. And then, while swearing "I'd rather make trouble than make nice, rather be a hussy than a honey," I ceremoniously burned it. Here's to bad woman rising!