CONFESSIONS OF A UNICORN — A YEAR OF HELL (Parts 01 &02)
01. This will be a continuing story where I will attempt to get at least one page down each day until this story gets told.
02. Mostly based on personal experiences, some jest, some by others, but very real problems at least one of you could relate to.
The problem with being a Graduate in a field such as the likes of International Relations is that your scope of work is as wide, but also as limited as you believe. It’s a gold mine (for the large part), if you are an exceptional student — which I am not.
I enjoy learning new things, and have nothing but love for those who possess greater brain prowess than I. But when put in a hall of silence for three hours with a few hundred-frantic people around me, trying to condense years of knowledge in a manner befitting of convincing our colonial masters that we are smart and deserve a piece of paper making us ‘qualified experts’? Then I am most likely to fail. And I did. Which resulted in my 5-year plan going up in flames (An entirely different story which will most likely be addressed at a different point in time).
However, after much trial, error and tears, graduate I did with a 2.2. So how to make it in the world despite my (per many peers) barely-there educational qualifications? Land a job with the name and prestige, so that everyone who laughed at my apparent lack of brains, would be left to wonder how I did it.
And wonder they did. I can’t begin to count how many people asked me, “So whose dick did you have to suck?” or “Who did you have to sleep with to manage that?!”. This led to my being ashamed of having a job which I worked quite hard to get. It got to the point where I would hide it from people..
In the name of self-preservation, I have decided not to name this Organization, as it would leave me wide open (the way many imagined my legs were for me to get the job in the first place) to a lawsuit.
The post itself was magical at a glance, everything I could have imagined and more, and even stood up against my questioning nature. Regardless of the name of the position and the office, I wasn’t about to settle into some dingy role where I would be exploited (Been there. Done that).
And so, full of hope, I embarked on a yearlong journey to which I can only describe as Hell and regret.
These are not the ramblings of an entitled brat incapable of handling a little criticism or a hard day’s work. To the contrary, I know what I am capable of handling, and hard work, tough bosses and the like are well within my range of capabilities.
However, this was nothing like I could have ever imagined…
And thus began a new chapter in my life. My first clue when I walked in should have been the lack of any other person identifying themselves as a female in my department. There were plenty of women in Organization in its entirety, but they were encountered whilst catching the lift, or if they needed to contact my immediate Supervisor — let’s call him Mr. D. Remember this guy — it’ll be important later. However, no matter I thought. I am after-all, a strong independent woman, and holding my own in a male-dominated department should be a breeze.
Most often than not, whenever someone meets me, they assume that my grasp of the language of the land is minimal if non-existent. And while I am the first to acknowledge that my communication skills in the language are not worthy of sonnets, I am still capable of doing a better-than-average job with it. But, Mr. D’s first question when he met me was, and I’m paraphrasing for clarities sake, “Do you understand Sinhala? Are you sure? Here — read this document”. One of the primary tasks assigned to me was translating posts into English. Therefore, the logic behind assuming I’m incapable of understanding Sinhala, after hiring me, escapes me.
However, I was willing to let that slide (the first of many things I would let slide) because I was there. I was present. I had beaten out several dozen applicants. And by the heavens, I swore that I would prove my worth to the organization and make myself indispensable. My professional priority has always been ensuring that I deliver quality work, and I assumed that if I did so, I would be accepted as a vital part in the Organizational culture.
How naïve that all seems looking back now..
Before getting into the inter-department drama I underwent, it’s important to understand the Organization I was going into and the mindsets that prevailed.
The Organization had a flexible dress code in my department and one other. The rest of the departments saw the ladies clad in sarees. However, and I checked and double checked, I wasn’t required to wrap myself up in 6 yards of stress. I wore shirts — never sleeveless — paired with knee-length skirts and trousers (like the other department I just mentioned). This seemed to attract a lot of attention from the saree-clad ladies, proving that women truly are your own worst critics. And this was never more evident than in that Organization.
Misogyny and gender roles have been internalized that women accept it as the norm and thereby enable harassment (in all its forms). Evidently wearing skirts and pants and acknowledging that I have limbs (gasp! the horror!) didn’t sit quite well, and blasphemy on me if I should expose my calves, while the midriff and belly-button were fair game. There was no logic to this madness. All these unabashed stares and pointed whispers shouldn’t have bothered me, but they did.
Going into this job, the gentleman who interviewed me (Not Mr. D), stated outright that he believed I had a task ahead of me in fitting into that Organizational culture. I was warned that my liberal beliefs on issues such as Gender equity and LGBTQ rights would seem alien to the rest. But again, I was ready to take up another challenge. What better way to address gender disparity and challenge societal mindsets firmly wedged in archaic notions, than to engage in a meaningful dialogue with people?
Small disclaimer before I proceed any further, and before the keyboard warriors who lurk at every corner of the digital space come at me, kindly understand that these are views based on personal experiences, from a personal perspective. In no way am I saying that these situations are true of everyone, but they are true for me and relevant to the story of my own personal Hades. But unlike Persephone, a six-month reprieve did not seem forthcoming. And if you don’t believe that the issues I address are a systemic problem, I urge you to take a long look at yourself and wonder if maybe you’re part of problem as well. And if your energies would not be better spent by being part of the solution.
Mr. D was probably in his mid-to-late 40’s — maybe even 50’s. I never asked as it had no direct impact on the work I was tasked with carrying out. After questioning my knowledge of the language, he proceeded to introduce me to the remainder of my male colleagues. They struggled quite a lot with my name — not uncommon as many people do — but they proceed to make fun of it. Rather than try to learn the proper pronunciation of my name the way Krum did Hermione’s, they decided to call me something entirely different with which they were comfortable, and which I was meant to respond to. I was renamed after a feline. Rest assured that I wasn’t consulted in this matter, nor were my protests, or refusal to respond to my new name, acknowledged.
The work itself was dreary, dull and far from what was described to me. Meaningless work masked like the bright white elephants and golden palaces which dot the Sri Lankan landscape. Try as I would to make suggestions which would not only streamline the work process, but also make it more efficient and inclusive, these were listened to (if at all) and instantly dismissed. So, I kept to myself, did my utmost best on the work handed out to me, and even received praise from the higher-ups on my work.
** I did learn some cool skills though, such as video editing and the like. And for a person like I who is incompetent with any kind of technology, this was an important skill to add to my arsenal. And for that, I am thankful. **
However, these validations and reviews were so few and far between that I can count it on one hand. In any new role, it is vital to have your work evaluated and receive feedback in order to improve and do better. That fact didn’t seem to register at this Organization. I didn’t want to be a glorified typist for the rest of my life after all. But I can firmly say that after a year of working there, my brain turned into soup. Efficiency and personal-professional growth were non-existent, as were ownership and credit where it was due. Any queries and concerns raised were dismissed or outright ignored, and yet, I persisted, because I was determined to not let the system beat me.
But beat me it did, until I was a mere shell of a person at the end of it..