Susan prided herself on presenting professionally as a logical being, a methodical woman, a rationalist of the most extreme sort. This was the result of two fundamental, developmental situations she’d experienced in her early life.
Her training in computer science at Stanford had ingrained in her brain the idea that code either worked or it did not; this was a black-and-white, deterministic truth. Sure, she could pick lines and arrays apart, and reconstruct them more precisely or elegantly — but that was all style. The basic standard was whether or not the program functioned as intended. And hers always did.
This success metric proved to be of the utmost importance to Susan. Her New England upbringing amongst highly educated people espousing an antiquated Puritan work ethic despite being staunchly Catholic had taught her to suppress emotion in service of accomplishment. Tears were not brooked in her childhood home. Laughter was a rarity and most often perpetrated at the expense of others’ failures. By the time those troublesome teenage years were upon Susan, she’d internalized the pervasive lesson: The less she allowed herself to feel, the better off she’d be.
And still, through the subsequent years, she would periodically pose the question: “What if I felt even less?” She wondered if walling off her emotions further would more effectively repel the sexism that tainted virtually every office interaction in a red haze and remove the sting from the casual misogyny that abraded her metaphorical skin multiple times each workday. For surely, it was a good thing to be reassured daily by her male counterparts that she wasn’t like those “other women,” that “Thank God” she didn’t try to ram Feminism down their throats, that it was great that she knew both how to take a joke and what her place in the company hierarchy was? Never mind that Susan didn’t know any of these “other women.” That she held locked in her heart the belief that Feminism had gotten her where she was today. That she didn’t find these men funny in the least. And that she tread an ever-present, razor-thin tightrope between feeling exceptional and tokenized.
Therefore, feeling less and less and less might erase the doubts and anger that choked Susan as she regarded herself in the mirror of the hauntingly vacant ladies’ room. “Never let them see you cry, and laugh along with them so they think you’re okay,” she told herself so often, she felt dead to the woman she’d dreamed she could be.
By Catherine Tripp
On October 2, 2021
This piece is emotionally resonant, you speak for so many of us.