Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman. Not that I’d want to be a man. I don’t have penis envy. Frankly, lugging one of those things around seems, I don’t know, cumbersome? The thing I find hard about being a woman is that what it means to be a woman is a very personal thing, a dynamic thing, a concept influenced by societal norms and expectations that are in constant flux.
When I took my first job with an international accounting firm in Houston in the early nineties, policy prohibited women from wearing pants to work. Skirts or dresses only. And this was back in the day where if you were dressed in a skirt, you had to wear panty hose. And, sheez, as long as you were going to wear panty hose, you might as well go all the way and wear heels, right?
So every morning I’d make a clattering dash through my Texas-sized apartment complex, hoping to catch the 8:02 bus into downtown. Not an easy thing to do in the Houston humidity and three-inch stilettos.
Sometimes I’d make it.
Sometimes I didn’t.
Had I been permitted to wear pants (and thus loafers rather than heels), my punctuality would have been better. Also, I would have been more focused on my research into multi-billion dollar mergers and acquisitions if I hadn’t been distracted by my itchy panty hose or - God forbid! - the threat of a run.
Of course the partners and managers in the firm were, by and large, middle-aged men. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they enacted the policy to ensure the female employees looked well groomed, though it’s entirely possible they simply liked to catch an occasional glimpse of young female leg.
I worked for the same firm two years later in San Diego. Entirely different story there. Pants were allowed. More of the managers were women, too. I’m not sure if the firm as whole had progressed or if it was simply a difference in office culture among the two branches, but I have to admit it was nice to ditch the panty hose.
It’s a difficult dichotomy. We women want to be respected for our capabilities, our skills, and our minds. But I have to admit, it’s fun to occasionally get all dolled up and girlie, too. Who says we can’t be professional, smart, tough, soft, and feminine all at the same time?
When I create the heroines for my stories, I find myself facing difficult choices. Who should this woman be? What are her ideals? What does being a woman mean to her?
In my upcoming “Death and Taxes” series, my heroine, Tara Holloway, is a smart, savvy IRS agent who can handle a Glock as well as a calculator. Yet she’s drawn to Brett Ellington, a landscape architect, in part because he provides a safe, secure refuge from her dangerous job.
What does being a woman mean to you? Was there ever a time when you were forced to conform to someone else’s idea of what a woman should be?