I was walking out of a meeting when an elderly colleague accosted me. She asked me to follow her into her office and wait there, then she proceeded to bring three other women also senior colleagues into her office. Being a smart woman, my brain had already figured out that there was going to be trouble and that it had to do with how I looked because this woman and I had never crossed paths before now. I looked at my hair, neat not over the top, not coloured like a rainbow. My ward-coat was clean and neat and my shoes were flat and demure and then I saw it. My red dress (yes doctors wear red every once in a while calm down!) had ridden up a little to my knee instead of staying where I put it (which was below my knees)- not that that should matter which is why I hadn’t bothered adjusting the pesky thing since I had a coat on but alas I had been called into the principal’s office so all offences mattered. I hastily adjusted my dress as she walked in with the last senior colleague.
“Oh you have adjusted your dress! Why do you think it’s okay to walk around with a dress like this? And see her earrings, her hair obscures them but they look to me like chandeliers”
I was dumbfounded and embarrassed all at once. Words failed me. Not that they would have helped at that point.
She looked at the other women. “She must be unmarried and a house officer or one of the new registrars just starting residency!” She finished. Awaiting their nods and oohs and aahs of similar disapproval.
I was chagrined!
One of the women spoke up. “She is actually married and a senior registrar”.
Madam was taken aback. Maybe if she knew I wasn’t a newbie she may have decided to call me privately into her office like a mother would instead of subjecting me to such open ridicule.
My ears were hot.
“Well then she must be a product of your institution because a graduate from MY prestigious school would not dress like this.” She muttered in further disdain.
One of her colleagues smiled quite a knowing smile and then asked me; “Young woman where did you finish from?”
At this point I would like to pause and say that ‘the woman never hexperrerit!‘
I was married, a Senior registrar and an alumnus from the very same school she finished from! She thought she had me all figured out and as such had acted as accuser, judge, jury and hangman but I was actually just some married woman who left her house in a hurry that morning only to discover the fashion faux-pas as she raced to clinic. A faux-pas that I tried to salvage by leaving my ward coat on all day. I wasn’t a villain, I had never been accosted for ‘provocative dressing’ and I sure as hell didn’t have a secret agenda for the men in my department.
I found my voice…
“Ma, please I do not usually dress like this. This was a fashion faux-pas which I only noticed after I left the house. I am sorry”.
The matter ended shortly and she told me they all would be watching me for future offences.
The other senior colleagues had been quite uncomfortable throughout the whole exchange and one of them sweetly called me the very next day to assure me that the whole debacle had stemmed from only good intentions. I appreciated the call but I was still a bit shell-shocked. You kinda assume that when you’re married and part of the old girl’s club, older women will treat you more like one of their own and less like an errant teenager.
One of my friends who is a banker had so many issues with her line manager till she finally put in for a transfer. The woman was always picking on her dressing, accusing her of not dressing like a married woman even though her dressing was within the confines of the bank’s dress code simply because she was blessed with the kind of coke-bottle shape that made a sack look sexy! (HR would have promptly sent for her if she was erring) and even went as far as calling her husband an irresponsible ‘yahoo’ boy. A husband the woman had never even met! Another woman I know wore mildly distressed jeans (distressed at the knees) out with her husband and while he was parking the car, an older woman came to lecture her on why a married woman should never dress like this and then once the woman spied her husband, she said the younger woman’s behaviour was excused simply because she had her husband in tow! One of my older colleagues had gone for a meeting and had been chastised by a woman there that her suit was attracting too much attention and she shouldn’t have worn it. The suit in question was a dress suit with a sleeveless dress and jacket (she had the jacket in her hands because it was hot) her exposed arms were the woman’s problem. My colleague calmly pointed to another woman who was wearing a very provocative suit and said ‘Why don’t you start with her?’ The woman promptly replied that the other woman was married with a son almost in the university but she had heard that she was single. My colleague shook her head and corrected the woman, she also was very married and her daughter was in SS2! I taya for some people oh. So if my colleague wasn’t married it would have been okay to embarrass her like that? And do women need to wear bigger wedding rings- not to ward off men but to ward off unsavoury comments from other women? These are the issues!
An older woman should be a mentor regardless of age difference- agreed! But what is her intention? To build up or tear down? To effect change or sprout bitterness? Is she speaking the truth with love? Or just telling it like it is regardless of who she hurts? A hurting human is more likely to be obstinate and resist change. Like one woman I know put it, sometimes a woman who is out there correcting other people’s children either has no control over her own or imagines hers to be perfect. Another woman pointed out that a scorned woman may be projecting her frustrations on the next seemingly happy woman beside her enshrouding her bitterness in chastisement. We have all been corrected in the past- old, young, single and married. The gentle old woman, who calls you aside to secretly help you adjust your skirt makes a more lasting impression than the one who loudly points out that your skirt is tucked into your briefs at the back when you exit the ladies room.
Ladies- regardless of age or our diversities, we need to debunk the widely held beliefs that women tear each other down. Let’s be patient with each other and speak our truths with love. Let’s stand with each other and build up instead of tear down. The next woman will not steal the shine off your crown neither will she rob you of your spotlight, make you feel redundant or steal your man and she definitely isn’t the cause of all your problems in life. So many women have missed networking opportunities and opportunities to bond simply because they judged and misjudged another woman too hastily. Let’s be mothers and sisters before we are haters and fighters. Let’s spread love wherever we go. Sowing good never brought forth evil! What are your intentions? Let this guide your words, thoughts and actions.
FYI, the red dress in question is currently serving time at the back of my wardrobe! It cannor come and embarrass me and get away with it!
Have a lovely Saturday Chutzpah fam,