Dreadful Matriarch Part I

I work with a dreadful matriarch. It could be worse of course, but it’s bad enough. I’d say there’s more than one, and I wouldn’t be lying, but if I keep saying one they can tell themselves ‘it might not be me’. The worst of it is that I didn’t see it coming, I liked them all when I started. It’s been with me a long time now though, the internal monologues arguing over the petty imperfections in the workplace with a permanently miserable colleague who’s not even in that day. Then I wake up in the night and it carries on. Is she sound asleep?

Yesterday we had a staff planning meeting and did a quick round of each talking about how our work is going. We share a lot of work but our main roles are all very different. We do largely incomparable work which unfortunately leads to lots of negative assumptions about performance and no support or appraisal. So it was my turn and I started by saying “I have to say before I start that I feel like I’m going to be attacked.” I did have to say it, I couldn’t speak until I did. I was so horrified at myself I countered, “but some of this is paranoia … and the things I do badly.” In order to appease the inevitable backlash of my desperate cry for help I stepped in to save them the bother – offering not only my competence but my sanity, on the whoops-too-late altar of positive worker relations.

Goodness knows what they thought, but at least they didn’t interrupt too much after that.

With Byron Katie and many others I do believe that when you are really bothered about someone, it says a lot about you, often that you are focussed in on something unpleasant because you are actually doing it yourself. When I felt persecuted by my ex, my friend made me ask myself if I was persecuting him. In my actions I felt sure I wasn’t, but when I interrogated my thoughts, sure enough, I was right in there beating the crap out of him in the worst ways I could muster. A vicious circle to be sure. My work situation showed up a far worse truth about me when I finally tried to apply this trick.

My colleague needs to constantly pick at and criticise others, and will be vile about anyone when they are not there. Of course this slowly but surely creates the knowledge that she is vile about you when you are not there. Your imagination has to borrow her words to fill in the gaps, and soon enough she lives in your head, offering commentary not just on your performance as you move about the workspace one step at a time, but about everything single thing you see there – whether you have the time and energy to deal with it or not.

My sin I discovered is that I criticise my children. It hit me how much worse this is, because they are young and still forming, there is the power imbalance, and they have lived with me all their lives. There is no going home and having days off where they get away from the nit picking. Luckily for me, I had managed to hear this from others and gone a long way to reducing it before I put two and two together. It could have been too painful to acknowledge before this. However I think what really happened was that when I was still in full swing my colleague’s critical behaviour didn’t appear unacceptable. As a fellow bitch I had assumed all her complaints were reasonable. So it is that I have a very low opinion of my competence in the workplace.


The Mother of all Confessions

Last week I started a post called Confession time Part 2. I started it with a confession about not having followed up Confession time Part 1 straight away with Confession time part 2. I couldn’t actually remember what the second confession was supposed to be, but had something else to confess; now I can’t remember what I was going to confess last week either. Oh dear.

Then suddenly, before I stood a chance of finishing Confession time Part 2, I realised I am ready to confess something SO BIG, personally speaking, that it can only be done to an anonymous group of online bloggers who don’t know who I am and won’t be remotely shocked.

I have to confess that I am not comfortable being a woman. Okay, so, the disadvantage of confessing to a large group of members of the 21st century public is immediately obvious. This is not rare or surprising nowadays, so barely warrants a gasp. But confessing it is a big deal for me. I’d say that everyone who knows me very well knows I’m a bit iffy when it comes to my gender, but many people who know me quite well would never guess. Then there’s the very close friends and family who are probably pretty sure (hoping) I have got over this by now.

It all started when I became a mother and ‘wife’. Before this, and during many years of it, I wore skirts and dresses in many colours, particularly in purple, red, green, orange and anything multicoloured, patterned and flowery. I had long hair and wore it up, down and around about. I wore necklaces, earrings, rings, bracelets and hair accessories. I thought little about being female, I was and it never caused me a problem. I liked men: somewhat mysterious I suppose but mainly compelling and fascinating. My friends were mainly girls and I was proud of having male friends.

Being a mother was something I took seriously, and intended to be good at. Being a wife was not in my vocabulary: we would be a partnership sharing the raising of children equally, this being the only way to be fair to ourselves and the children and show them that they too could fully participate in family life when they were adults. Didn’t quite happen that way.

My first pregnancy was relatively free from professional interference, though during my second I discovered that I dislike being treated like an idiot. But what really changed things around the birth of our second child was that their Dad got his first full-time job. Before that we were poor students, juggling a beautiful baby and determined to get our qualifications too. Work for him meant home for me, and I have never recovered. I was raised an only child by one parent, so I didn’t understand the concept of self-sacrifice. I barely understood sharing.

Ex and I were very committed, determined to break our family patterns of parental separation. We compromised and worked hard and tried to combine traditional needs like money, food and housing with progressive ideals like men knowing their own kids. Desperate for a life outside the home, I volunteered, did paid work part time, and became more and more critical of the social rules I was cruelly forced to argue with.

Thirteen years on from that birth, I am still angry about my gender. I’m not angry about being born female, nor, in all honesty, about being born into a rich, white, stiff-upper-lipped society with dodgy preconceptions about what men and women should be. Pushed, I could probably think of a hundred worse times and places to be a woman, in ten minutes flat.

My real problem is, as my awareness of the twisted reality of womanhood has grown, so has my empathy for men. Every place I feel empowered to change my life, driven to fight for women’s rights, called upon to challenge prejudice, I see men suffering. Instead of embracing an empowered femininity, I can have nothing to do with it.

Now I wear black a lot, but I mix this with a few colours so as not to draw too much attention to it. I wear black in mourning for the colours that men aren’t supposed to wear. Then sometimes I wear colours, because it seems perverse to neglect the liberties one has because others cannot exercise them. Then I wear black again.