Girls don’t ask

I am not what most people would think of as stereotypically girly.  I think fashion is stupid.  I think designer shoes are especially stupid, as not only will they give you bunions and other foot ailments, everyone stuck walking behind you as you teeter along can’t help but think of ways to exterminate you and your kind (I’ve heard “these are actually really comfortable” and “just shove some gel soles in them and you can practically run” and it’s all lies). I find shopping stressful.  I prefer my hair short — I get it cut twice/year and enjoy having several inches chopped off, even though the stylist is always afraid I’m going to cry. I don’t like most rom-coms.  I like some romance novels, but they have to be well written fantasy novels with good world-building (I think the Game of Thrones books are basically just romance novels for dudes, but not as well written as some I’ve read by female authors, albeit with excellent world-building) (dudes who have never read a romance novel vehemently disagree with me on this).  I read comics and watch superhero shows and movies.  I drink beer and whisk(e)y.  I curse (my favorite is the “c” word).  I talk about poop…a lot, to the extent some friends have named a certain kind of poop after me.

(Many of these qualities also apply to most of my female friends, which is probably why we’re friends in the first place.)

Some areas where I am more typically female are:

  • makeup, nail polish and jewelry, mainly because these are fun accessories that can be used to subtly or dramatically alter one’s appearance.  I also happen to be lucky I have darker skin so I can pull off blue, green, purple eyeshadows without looking like a hooker (this and the fact that I don’t sunburn seem to be the only advantages to being not white).
  • eyebrow tweezing — I don’t have many controlling compulsions, so this is probably THE one.
  • pro-skirts and dresses — this might be more of a comfort thing than anything else, and for dresses, the convenience of having only one article of clothing to choose rather than two to coordinate.
  • the angry cry (aka “tears of rage”)

The angry cry happens most often at work, unfortunately.  The exact place you want to be most in control, and just when you need to be strong and powerful…instead you’re a red-faced, snotty sniffling mess, i.e. the exact opposite of how you want to look and feel.  This is the worst, or so I thought.

After a discussion yesterday with my immediate boss, I decided I would ask our boss today if I could have a title upgrade.  This was months in the making, since I had already asked my boss his opinion back in March and then, with his blessing, taken his wife to dinner to pick her brain and get advice from a female professional.  I talked about it in a few therapy sessions, and had a productive one last week where I acknowledged I had just been putting it off, and I ended the session in a good place, between “let’s just get this over with” and “I’ve got this, I don’t give a fuck,” along with some ideas how to proceed.  The first was to transform the bulleted notes from my dinner with my boss’s wife into a sort of script, a fleshed out pitch.  The next was to run that by my boss and get his approval before taking it to the man above him.  Done and done.

I rewrote, reread and rehearsed.  Went to bed at a reasonable hour.  Woke up early to get a workout in.  Ate breakfast.  Dressed as professionally as possible without looking like I was interviewing for another job.  Read my notes on the train on my way in.  Wrote them down on paper to help them stick in my brain.  Checked our boss’s calendar to see when he would be free (my boss’s two helpful tips were “ambush him” and “get it over as quickly as possible”).  All set.

I had something for him to sign, so I waited until he wasn’t on the phone so I could go into his office.  I read over my notes one last time, grabbed a notepad and the signature page and went to his door.  I was ready.

Did I mention we call the trading desk “the fishbowl”?

Picture a rectangle with glass on three sides (including actual windows facing another office building to the north across 57th street).  Add three glass partitions almost reaching the glass wall that runs the length of the rectangular area facing the rest of the office, forming an office, three cubicles and a small walkway enabling one to walk from my boss’s cubicle on my right to the corner office of our boss at the left end. The door to his office? Glass. The door to the conference room perpendicular to the fishbowl? Also glass, although it, along with the glass wall dividing it from his office, is frosted. And of course, the conference room is also glass on three sides.

Definitely to scale.  For sure.
Definitely to scale. For sure.

As if this weren’t bad enough, the acoustics in this section of the office are bizarre.

I can blast music at my desk (after hours when no one else is on the desk) and it can’t be heard outside the fishbowl even if the doors are open.

She’s in a glass cage of emotion.

Everything said within the fishbowl, as well as what is happening in the area right outside, can be heard in the fishbowl.  So we can hear people speaking quietly in the kitchen though they can’t hear us.  Meanwhile, if you speak, even softly, near any open doors, sound will carry down the hallway clear to reception.

So I knock on the open glass door. He is sitting at his desk and motions for me to approach.

“Hey, we got the signature pages back. I wanted to make sure I got yours before you left for your trip.”

“How much cash does the company have?”

“It has a little over a million remaining authorized. Where would the cash be?”

“At MSI. It should have more than enough.”

“OK, I’ll check the account.” I jot a note on my pad and look up. “Do you have a few minutes to chat?”

He blinks and his face makes an expression, which is noteworthy in itself.  Sort of a mix of suspicion, apprehension. Surprise but also not surprise at the same time.  Slightly south of neutral, and I’ve definitely caught him off guard.

“Uh, can we do it a little later?”

“Sure, no problem,” I reply too casually and hurry back to my desk to drop off my notepad, then to the copy room to scan the signature page.

[20 minutes later]

“Hey, do you want to talk now?”

He had silently sidled up behind me at my desk.

“S-sure.”  Shaken, I almost take my phone by mistake, switch it for the notepad and pen at the last moment, and follow him back to his office.  I am no longer ready.

I do not close the door for fear of drawing too much attention to the interaction.  He is already settled behind his desk when I sit in the chair facing him and start talking.

I am sweating.  I wear natural deodorant, and it’s not even 2pm yet so this is a catastrophic turn of events.  My voice is shaking; it does not sound like itself.  Somehow trying to speak quietly so that my voice won’t carry manifests as talking with my mouth partly closed with some sort of grimace/smile hybrid frozen on my face.

He watches me.  I’m not even sure he is blinking.  I catch my eyes darting left, out the window to avoid his gaze.

I talk faster.  I skip over parts I was going to say, sensing he just wants this to be over with, which to be honest, I do at this point, I’m doing so poorly.

I finish meekly.  He says nothing.

“So…thoughts?  Suggestions?”


“Well, I have no thoughts.”  He finally looks away and turns to his computer.

Heartbeat not slowing down.

“There have actually been a few other people asking about titles and changes lately.”  He is looking at me again, not unkindly.

Maybe slowing a bit now.


“Yeah, and we’re still figuring this all out.  So I need to talk to HR first.”

“Right — I don’t really know how it works here.”

“Where my daughters work, every few years you’re eligible to be evaluated for the next level…”

“Same where my sister is–“

“But we don’t have any system in place here.  So that’s why I can’t just say ‘yes’, because I don’t really know what this means.  I’ll try to talk to HR before I go on my trip.”

“Oh, there’s no rush, I know you’ve got a lot on your plate before you go–“

The next thing I remember, I’m sitting back at my desk, where I can see my boss’s neck craned around to face me through the glass partition mouthing “WAS THAT THE TALK?  DID IT JUST HAPPEN?”

There has been a lot of research done about “why women don’t ask,” and fear, though justified, can easily be countered with the very reasonable notion that the worst thing that can happen is they say “No.”

Actually, the worst thing that can happen is that you can do the work, be prepared, feel confident and deserving of what you’re asking and still dissolve like a drenched Wicked Witch of the West the moment you open your mouth (that bitch had power, too).  Yes, I’m pretty sure I got power played in a classic tactic by a seasoned pro.  Even knowing that, I have never felt more defeated, more disappointed in myself than for my stumbling performance since the one thing you’re meant to project when asking for a promotion is confidence.

Officially the worst girly trait I exhibit.

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