As the newly elected executive vice-president of the association, I was in line to become the next president. Normally the president would have chaired the meeting but he’d been called home to deal with an emergency. I got a message from an administrator telling me I had to chair the meeting fifteen minutes before it was scheduled to begin. I wasn’t worried. I had the agenda that had been sent to the new board members, and running a meeting didn’t seem all that different from meeting new students at the beginning of a semester.
I watched the members of the new board file in. All men. All wearing dark pants and white shirts, some with ties and jackets, similar enough to have been bought as a group. My long blonde hair and purple outfit looked as out of place as I suddenly felt—the only woman in the room. No one knew I was taking the president’s place.
As he sat down, one of the men said to me, “While we’re waiting for the meeting to start, get us some coffee and donuts from the kiosk downstairs.” He stood back up and pulled out his wallet, preparing to give me money.
I stared at him. Astonished. None of the other men seemed to notice my reaction. They acted as if his request was perfectly normal. They were men. I was a woman; therefore, I was supposedly meant to serve. Not me. “Get the coffee and donuts yourself if you want them. I’m here to chair the meeting. We start in ten minutes.” I busied myself looking at notes for the meeting and the posted agenda.
Now he was stunned. None of the men said anything. Suddenly they were busy looking at folders. He sat down. No coffee. No donuts. I chaired the meeting with an efficiency the president lacked. The meeting was short, to the point, and effective.
At the end, a couple of the men complimented me on how well I’d run the meeting. The rest walked out with only a wave of their hands. Mr. CoffeeandDonuts was the first to leave.
Have you experienced a situation where you are singled out because you are different, treated with condescension and contempt? How did you feel? How did you act?
Nancy King is a widely published author and a professor emerita at the University of Delaware, where she has taught theater, drama, playwriting, creative writing, and multidisciplinary studies with an emphasis on world literature. She has published seven previous works of nonfiction and five novels. Her new memoir, Breaking the Silence, explores the power of stories in healing from trauma and abuse. Her career has emphasized the use of her own experience in being silenced to encourage students to find their voices and to express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with authenticity, as a way to add meaning to their lives.