I’m Feeling Tired, After a Lifetime of Men Asking About My Uterus
With all this recent interest in the contents of women’s uteri (thank you Georgia! Thank you Alabama!), I thought it was time to talk about how this is not a new strategy for keeping women down. Here I review my own personal history of men asking what I was going to do with my uterus, an organ inside my own body. (Just so you know, I don’t bring it out and flash it around, which then of course might invite commentary :-)) Please chime in with your own stories!!
1) My fiancé’s father, who when I was 21 and engaged to his son, said “I hope [son’s name] is using birth control, because I know you’re Catholic.”
Mind you, I was a graduating college senior headed for law school in the fall, so I was pretty interested myself in not getting pregnant at that time. And yes, the birth control was firmly in place. In my **.
2) Fast-forward to law school, where we were cautioned 400 times if we were cautioned once, NOT TO ASK ABOUT MATERNITY LEAVE in job interviews. You could ask about other kinds of leave, but not maternity leave. I guess this was all so as not to disturb the interviewing law firm guys by reminding them that we were female, and possessed of uteri. Like everyone knew their mindset was when they came to interview was, e.g., “I’m just going to think of this law student here as a fellow graduate of Oklahoma State (go Okies!) and try to ignore the fact that she’s a woman, but if she asks about maternity leave, I’m going to have to remember that!”
Side note here to call out the practice of law firms, which I understand is still followed today, of holding interviews for summer jobs in hotel bedrooms.
One highlight from such an interview when I was in law school: the interviewer shook my hand, sat down on one of the beds, and waved his hand at the TV and pool outside through the window and said “We could watch TV or go for a swim, I guess,” to which I replied, thrusting my resume at him, “Or talk about my resume!!” I’m trying to remember if that was the same guy who said “that’s a very nice suit” (the women law students sitting around waiting for interviews looked like a convention of flight attendants in our identical navy blue skirted suits, thank you John Molloy), and the kicker “and you’ve feminized it nicely.”
(BTW, asking a woman to be comfortable answering the probing questions of a strange man for 30 minutes sitting on one of 2 beds in a hotel bedroom is akin to asking a Black candidate to be comfortable meeting in the local Ku Klux Klan Lodge Hall.)
3) The partner in the real estate department of a large firm in Philadelphia, the first place I ever worked, who asked me when I was new to the department in my first year, “So, what are your plans for starting a family?” Because of course every time you go in to report on your legal research for a client’s issue, you’re expected to be queried about the contents of your uterus. Being raised as a Catholic to be truthful (see paragraph one) and being afraid that he would find out shortly that I was lying if I said we didn’t have plans (I was 2 months pregnant at the time), I said I was pregnant.
From that moment on, I didn’t get any further serious assignments in that department. Mind you, the week before, a senior associate had told me how impressed the chairman of the department was with my work, and this was a department I really wanted to practice in. While I was pregnant, the head of the department (who had been informed by the other dude) told me “You remind me of my wife when she was pregnant”, which I knew was bad, of course, and even more so when I found out that he was no longer married to that woman.
That information came to light on my last day at the firm when the chairman of the entire firm and the head of the real estate department told me I had to “make a choice between being a lawyer and a mother.” The head of the department shared with me that he had “lost his first marriage” (did it just wander off, I wondered, and couldn’t get back because they didn’t have GPS back then?) because of his dedication to the law, but that was just the way it was, and they were giving me the 411.
Sitting there 8 ½ months pregnant with my very full uterus bulging out under my regulation black Mothers Work maternity jumper (you could also wear the camel-colored version of the jumper if you were a fashion daredevil), I wondered about their sense of timing. They seemed to not understand that the baby was already there. Were they asking me to take the baby after birth and put her in a box and leave her on a street corner? Is that done? I do recall sitting there thinking, “If I really have to choose between you assholes and this delicious baby, you’re not gonna win.”
I was also scolded for not having sufficient work hours, and when I brought up that I hadn’t gotten assignments, despite asking for them, I proactively asked, was there any problem with the quality of my work? Both of them said no, people spoke very highly of my work, and informed me “It was because of your condition” (which is what they called it, so as not to have to say the word “pregnancy”). I guess as part of their argument as to why I should not further indulge in child bearing. But of course, seriously, seriously illegal.
4) Which brings me to my next firm! (I know you’re shocked, that I didn’t go back to the first one. My sense of masochism had not been sufficiently honed at that time. Keep reading.) After a few years there working part-time (because I did have the baby, and did not put her in a box on a street corner), they decided to lay off all of their part-time female associates (i.e., mothers) as part of a purge during the recession of 1992. I was engaged at the time, about to be married that summer, to another associate; my fiancé was at a firm function and a partner (who was aware of the layoffs) said to him “Now would be a good time for you and Linda to start a family.”
So not sure in that case if they just hated the idea generically of mothers being lawyers, or were specifically afraid that I was going to become more of a mother by having more kids, or wanted to push me into having more kids to satisfy the fiancé (very Handmaid’s Tale of them). As my yoga teacher says, “yogini’s choice!” as to their motivation.
Finally I got fed up that this had happened to me a 2nd time, and with the help of my secretary (who simply slipped me a list of the names of all the women laid off, which she had gotten clandestinely from the secretary of the head of the firm who did the laying off), I organized 6 other women and hired as a lawyer the first female Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, drafted the complaint I would’ve filed with the EEOC against the firm (oh yeah, after the first firm, I switched my legal specialty to employment discrimination :-)), and we settled promptly for a full year’s salary guarantee for each one of us.
And yes, I can tell you that because we refused to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
5) Which brings me to my 3rd firm, which I started with the fiancé who became the husband in the summer of 1992. When I suffered an injury and wasn’t able to work for some months after we started the firm, he physically abused me and my daughter. I told him to move out. As we were still engaged in the more difficult process of disentangling the firm, he locked me in a conference room one day when I was trying to get out for a court appearance to express his displeasure about the ending of our relationship. I called out to the glass door to our joint secretary to call the police to get me out of there so I could show up in court. He then proceeded to write me a nasty letter as to how I shouldn’t have “put our secretary in the middle” and “should have called the police myself” (in a room that didn’t have a telephone line, and I didn’t have my cell on me.)
Workwise, at that point I learned my lesson and became self-employed, which has been working for me for the last 20 years.
Anyway, that is the short history of my being denied the existence, proper use of, and privacy of my uterus. What’s yours?
And second question, when is this shit going to end?