Do you know what happens when you blindly respond from your privileged status? Would you be more mindful if you knew of how things change in the pauses?
[The scene: a typical bank in the U.S. So typical you could swap out the desks, the suits, the pens, and even the paint colours on the walls and you’d not be sure which institution you were in if not for the logo. Thank Gods for logos or we’d be lost forever inside these bland cookie cutter places.]
I sat across the desk from you and had a long conversation about male privilege and my experience with one your previous co-workers. I explained, with brave breath, why my name was going on the loan document first instead of my husband’s name. You appeared interested, concerned. I knew it was your job to appear so, but still I hoped to be heard. You nodded. You small-smiled in understanding. I was clear about how I expected to be treated, and why. You verbalized your agreement.
Three weeks and assorted financial hurdles cleared later, we arrived to sign the documents. My name was first, my spouse’s as co-signer. You pulled the first document for signatures and you set it in front of my husband. You picked up your pen and used it as a pointer to detail down the page exactly what he was signing (on the co-signer line) and didn’t even glance at me. And then you paused for questions, looking at him, and waited for the movement of the pen gripped in his hand. You focused on him leaning forward, reading, both of you oblivious to the change that occurred in the air around me, oblivious to the stifled sigh.
And we all paused.
In that pause you didn’t notice how my view of you dimmed as I inwardly unstifled that sigh. “Again, again”, I thought, “the slight unnoticed,” except by me. This rerun of countless scenarios throughout 54 years of life, this repeat of patriarchy in action, privilege thrust into my space, sexism reinforced.
In that pause I thought of all the breath I had wasted. Precious breath, my breath, expended explaining to you why it mattered that my name be the main borrower. I inwardly sighed my identity into the sea of women and our shared oblivion, where we are daily, hourly, summarily dismissed, and diminished, and treated unworthy.
In that pause I felt decades of oppression and decades of weariness in fighting it settle in my bones.
In that pause you went from potential ally and brighter future to a dim clone of one-of-them.
In that pause I realized my error. I had thought you viewed me as another human being, equal to my husband. Again, again, I shift in that pause. Again, again, my view shifts of another human.
In all the pauses and all the spaces, in all the breath I’ve wasted to the collective whole, we both shift, one diminished and one emboldened.
In that pause, your life goes on as usual. In that pause, mine becomes harder to breathe in.