On My Feet: Rededicated to Social Justice & Responsibility

Two or three weeks ago I told my significant other that if he wanted things to continue as they were (with me jobless, running the apartment, and always there to supply him with ironed shirts and warm food and so on), he would have make significantly more money. The truth is that he has been nudging me towards reapplying to graduate school and finding a job. As if taking care of a fully capable adult is not a job.

I told him that I could not find a job or apply to graduate school or do anything other than organize, clean, maintain, and furnish both the apartment and his life the way things were. He said he saw his own complacency and resolved to step up. I stopped waiting today. I have long suspected that because some people think I am stronger than most women, they allow themselves to demand more of me. This short life of total domesticity has proved to me that I am not stronger than most women. I think that I am simply more entitled.

The apartment is done and then is undone everyday until I drop my partner off at the train station so that we can go to work. The difference is that he leaves while I stay. I return home so that I can continue to straighten and wash and clean and make food. I allow myself dinner and one sub-section of Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Woman, Native, Other (which amounts to about one page, front and back). Most often, by the time I sit down to read I’m too fatigued to understand. I read and reread until it finally makes sense, and by then it is time to return to the train station in order to pick my partner up. It’s not a bad life but it’s not one that we can afford, financially. It’s not a bad life but it’s not one that I can afford, as the work I do passes invisibly, unremarked upon, and taken for granted. I cannot afford to be taken for granted.

 

When my partner goes off to work, he goes to a “fine dining” restaurant where he charmingly takes orders from and delivers food to a wealthy subsection of the population here. He comes home completely spent, and it has become my job to bolster his defenses so that his managers can continue to use him like a rented workhorse. But, he comes home with stories of how great his night was and how friendly the staff is and how much money he made. And now that the initial moving-in phase of our apartment is nearly a thing of the past, I feel a strong responsibility to find a job. I asked him, out of sheer laziness, if his job had any openings for some kind of part-time menial labor. I have been searching for a sign for what to do next: reapply to graduate school or…? He spoke to a manager who sounded enthusiastically encouraging even after he was told that I have no “fine dining” work experience. I showed up in a fitted pink blouse, sensible but attractive black pumps, pearl earrings, and a modest, pleated navy skirt to one of the worst interviews of my life thus far.

The manager (I think it is salient to mention here that he is younger than I am) did not seem to want me there. I got the distinct feeling that he was not listening to anything I said. In less than half an hour, he lectured me on the importance of not seating “couples on dates” at “tables for four,” told me that he needed a host, and then said that he was more than happy with the hosts they already had. He asked me what my favorite restaurants were and then told me that my answers were indicators of the “level of service” I would be likely to provide (even though I had told him that while I cannot afford fine dining, I exclusively frequent restaurants in which servers show an outstanding level of care for their guests). He unflatteringly remarked on the length of my résumé, ignored all of the customer service jobs I’ve had, told me that I would be better as a food runner (“It’s not rocket science”), and then questioned whether I had the right “qualifications” to work there no less than three times. If this had not been my partner’s place of work, I would have stopped the interview halfway through, apologized, and left. Instead, I sat straight-backed, head slightly cocked, and attempted to control my face into an understanding smile.

 

Intersectionality (especially gender, race, age, and perceived class) is the crux of this disparity, this issue. I have long told my partner that people treat him differently than they treat me, not only because he is handsome and charming, but because people read him as a man, and I am read as a small, young, Asian woman. This manager who felt it necessary to question my ability to bring people the food they have ordered is attempting to incorporate himself into my partner’s personal life. This young man dreams of being an artist, although he does not have enough respect for the trade to learn about it, and in his dreams, he has given himself a last name made up to sound Asian. I know him: the fetishizing, the double-talking, the greedy, the co-opting, the misogynistic. It did not escape me that upon meeting him for the first time, he turned his back on me in conversation, and later attempted to win me over by serving me a dessert wine so saccharine that I gulped it down while he wasn’t looking so as not to offend this young man whose understanding of his self is so sadly, achingly bizarre.

 

Two of the full-length mirrors in our apartment are warped—when you look in them, you see yourself wider than you are. Standing back from them, you can see ripples in yourself. I think that I am like these mirrors. In me, people see themselves reflected through my perception. All of the good friends I have, all of the good friends I’ve ever had, know that I see them. I am a difficult, demanding person, all the more so for being born a woman. I afford respect to everyone, but once lost, it is unlikely to be earned. I have no patience or time for men who cannot meet my eye because I have disappointed their fetishized impositions on my thoughts, feelings, and behavior. I wish that I didn’t bump up against these unpleasant truths. I wish it so desperately that I spent last night and this morning going over and over the interview looking for some clue of my own misunderstanding or culpability. This is what hegemony has done. This is what the last few years and the place I spent them in has done.

Having gone over and over this interview in my head, I use myself as mirror. I know now that I no longer have to fear becoming complacent. Even here in this supposedly socially liberal mecca, hegemony will always keep me on my toes. The fight now is staying on my feet.

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