I sit in my cubical, responding to emails and filling in some data, calling over the wall to the grant manager and answering her obscure grammar question. The grant manager is one of my favorite people at the office, in part because she asks me obscure grammar questions. As I sit talking to her, I am doing work for my supervisor, a severe woman who is simultaneously as cozy as a grandmother. She is my supervisor because I am filling in for a wonderful woman who is on maternity leave. As I sit with my emails and my data sheets, the CEO speed walks down the hall to the program manager’s office, and the two women talk loudly for a bit about the exorbitance of buying pizza for a hundred teenagers. Just at that moment, the CFO shouts profanities from the mini fridge because she spilled coffee on herself.
After a time, the four cups of tea I’ve had begin to take their toll, and I get up to go into the bathroom. We have a unisex bathroom here on the second floor, and when there are disgusting little flecks of pee on the rim, we know who put them there. There’s only one person on our floor who is physically capable of such a thing. There are lovely smelling floral hand soaps on the sink, and someone left their mascara next to the extra toilet paper.
Later, I go to my class, my first and last of the day, and the first meeting of the semester. The professor takes roll and when she comes to my name, I correct her: “I prefer Mary Margaret, actually.” She makes a note. She comes to one name, a bit further down, and looks up.
“You must be Mason,” she says, looking up at him. He sits near the middle of the room, towards the back.
“That’s me,” he says.
I never have trouble remembering the guys’ names,” the professor says, and makes another note.
The next day, I arrive at my other job and say hi to my boss as I enter. He mumbles hi back as he sits with his eyes glued to his emails. I go to the front desk where the receptionist is already standing, putting something into the computer. She’s pressing her hand firmly into her abdomen and her face is contorted into a prolonged wince. “Everything okay?” I ask.
“Oh, just cramps,” she said, returning her face to normal, but still typing with only her free hand.
“You too? I think half the staff is PMSing right now.”
She nods in assent. “And the other half is either pregnant or praying that they’re not.”
I laugh. “All except poor old Dave.”
Finally, I have reached the pinnacle. This is what we have been waiting for for so long. A world without men. A world ruled by women. No longer under the thumb of the patriarchy, we are free to keep our floral soaps by the sink, stop for Starbucks on our way to our off-site meetings, and cry without reproach when the dog dies in the movie. It’s amazing how easy it is for life to pass a Bechdel test when there are so many named female characters. And it’s astonishing how quickly female solidarity falls away when it requires that you feel an intimate sisterhood with literally every other person you come into contact with in a day. This world is a little better smelling, a little better decorated, but other than it being a social worker’s world, it’s not that much different.
I sit back down in my cubical and open up my emails and my data sheets again. As I go through the motions of my menial tasks, I hear the CEO talking to the outreach coordinator about the interviews they’re about to start. “It’s too bad there’s not even a chance of getting a man,” the outreach coordinator, the pee flecker himself, has the gall to say.
“I don’t disagree with you,” she says. Then she adds loudly, for the benefit of the entire second floor, “If I could, I would have binders full of men.”
We all laugh before returning to our work. It was a funny joke.
But it wasn’t a complete lie.
Because we don’t love this world. We get along fine: we actually won agency of the year last year, so we must be doing something right. But there’s something missing, and we know it.
And it matters.
Mary Margaret is a 2013 English, history, and secondary education grad who went rogue and became a Social Worker in Pennsylvania’s Child Welfare system. Specifically, she works as a caseworker in the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network finding families for children and educating the masses about foster care, adoption, and permanency planning. She made it over the grad-school hurdle with gold stars and warm fuzzies and is on to the next big adventure: the unknown of adulthood. Her major writing dream right now is to finish her science fiction novel that explores the concurrent futures of child welfare and artificial intelligence.