I’m slumped against the frame of the door to the office, waiting my turn. I’m not really slumped, but I feel very slumped. I’m watching you. You may not know that I’m looking at you, but you always look as though you think that someone is looking at you. You’re standing in the office talking to our boss. You’re standing in what seems to be a very unnatural way. Your back is arched, and your ass is sticking out. Your shoulders are turned slightly in my direction, but your hips are turned away, facing the desk. One of your knees is bent, and your ankle lolling languidly, uselessly, the toe of your shining black shoe just resting on the surface of the nubbly office carpeting. This, of course, means that your hips are cocked, one higher and the other lower. The one leg bearing your weight is curved slightly backward, because your knee is locked.
You’re reading a list of things from a packet of paper clasped delicately in your hand; the pressure of your grasp barely flattens the tips of your fingers; fingers that are delicately arched. You are receiving nods and corrections and directions and interpretations from our boss, and you hold this posture impeccably, apart fro a slight sway… a rotation, really… from the hips. Not much, just a few inches. You periodically brush your straight hair back away from your face with the hand not holding the papers, but you don’t need to as the hair that would hang in your face is neatly pinned back. It’s a fidget.
Your voice lilts; you end statements like questions. You are bubbly and high-pitched. You are always smiling, you look at people from under your eyelashes, and you nod earnestly, like an eight year old girl. You tilt your head to one side when listening to people.
The skirt you’re wearing is a little too big for you, I can tell by how the fabric blouses out where the pleats are. I wonder if you’re worried that you look fat, when I can see the suggestion of the pelvic flange even through the fabric of the skirt.
I look at you, and I think that the way that you stand is unnatural. I am probably misjudging you. It’s probably completely natural for you. It’s probably a thing that you’ve done over and over… it’s not probably a posture that you take without even thinking about it. It’s like a language that you speak, and its a language that I never learned. It’s a language of magazine covers and advertisements and television actresses. I never learned that language because nobody on those shows or in those magazines looked like me.
Since the earliest gentle touch of adulthood, I have been a small and sturdy creature, with wide hips, thick ankles, muscular legs, and a low center of gravity. My hands are small but strong, my feet large and wide, my shoulders sloping but well-muscled. So those magazines presented a world that I would never fit in to, and so I never learned the language.
I think that had I seen all this fifteen years ago, I would’ve felt a longing for that world. It would’ve been a secret sort of a longing, a thing that I would never own up to. Ten years ago, I might have felt anger… anger at you, specifically and directly. I would’ve made you a vessel for the rage I felt at a world that seemed to view me as unfeminine or as somehow less than human. Five years I think I might have felt pity or scorn for you, but you deserve better than that, and the pity would only have been a way for me to salve my own hurt feelings with the bitter balm of superiority. But this only lessens us both.
Today, when I look at you, I feel only a faint surprise, not at the fact that you’re doing all of these things, but at the fact that I’m able to notice them without immediately trying to measure myself by them. In truth, you’re kind of incredible. You have the ability to do your work and still conform to an appearance and a language that I never could. Not because I am not pretty, or because I look untidy, but because I am unfailingly practical. I walk to work, so I wear practical flats, truthfully either sneakers or sandals, and I wear pants or a longer, looser skirt, to allow for the motion of my stride and to keep me warm. My nails are cut short and are bare, because I type and knit and draw and work with my hands and long nails get in my way, and the polish left them brittle and fragile and peeling.
You’re an intern now, but you’d get a job before I would in any case because of the fact that you are able to speak this language. And maybe you deserve that, because of all of the additional time and effort that you put into your appearance. Maybe that’s the trade-off. It’s not a matter of unfairness between you and I; that’s a matter of unfairness between men and women.
It’s not a matter of better or worse, or prettier or less pretty. I am simply the donkey to your thoroughbred; small and stocky but strong and steadfast. The thoroughbred, however, has the ability to capture the imagination of the viewer. And this comparison lessens neither the donkey nor the horse.