-coloroutoflines, Melbourne, Australia

It’s been almost 3 months since I’ve been back from my maternity leave. A couple of weeks ago I was on the train on my way to work when this gorgeous woman walked in the carriage and disrupted my usual train-face (where I look pensive and bored at the same time). Seriously, this woman demanded to be stared at, so I gawked at her.

She had this big, beautiful black hair, framing her perfect face with big, luscious lips. She pretty much had big everything in all the right places! But that’s not what made her gorgeous and stunningly worthy of stares. It was her attitude. She had that perfect mixture of arrogance and coyness – her face was so transparent yet closed. Her eyes, soft but had that dark don’t-fuck-with-me look, too.

I so wanted to take a photo of her, but I was fascinatingly scared of her presence that I wrote about her instead.

I’ve been thinking about this lady on and off since I’ve seen her. I mostly think about her during those times when I think I should have had that “don’t-fuck-with-me” attitude. However much I tried emulating that attitude I seemed to just get asked why I looked pained. Obviously I don’t have “it”.

I needed the attitude when the following things happened to me at work:

1. When I got told that I’m too friendly to lead a team
2. When I was described as someone who is ok to just cruise along (as opposed to being career driven) because my priorities have changed now – I had a baby. Again.
3. When I was told that I won’t be able to carry off a strategy that I developed and designed because I’m not “senior” enough, i.e. I don’t have a manager title under my name.

Any person I shared these incidents with would know that I was pretty upset when it happened. I actually used the words “insulted”, “disappointed”, and “with all due respect” a lot to the people who said these things to me. And to anyone who know me well enough, would know that the reason why I was upset is not because they were questioning my ability to lead, execute a strategy or be career-driven; I was upset because what they said are unfair assumptions about me because I am a woman.

the reason why I was upset is not because they were questioning my ability to lead, execute a strategy or be career-driven; I was upset because what they said are unfair assumptions about me because I am a woman.

Of course these conversations happened because I put myself in that position. I initiated it because I would like to continue my career where I left off. Unfortunately, here is what I found out after being away for maternity leave:

You will be marginalised. No matter which position you are in the hierarchy
You will be treated like all your competencies and skills have been drained out of you
You will be asked a thousand times how hard it is to “get back into it”
All your hard work before going on maternity leave is thrown out the window
A woman is seen as “weak” if she is also seen as a mother in the workplace
Since, I returned to work I’ve spoken with a few mothers who went back to work after having their babies, too. And it’s always the same story. And it pains me more when they say that: it’s not unusual. They are even surprised that I’m surprised. I guess I should not have been seeing as when I had my first daughter and came back to the work-force as a single mother I had to quit my job at the time. I found out that they were paying a peer (a man) more than me because I’m a mother and I couldn’t work 60-80 hours a week like I used to. (I was working 50 hours instead, but only because I became more efficient. Motherhood makes us better time managers after all.)

Yes, the struggle is real. There is inequality in the work place. There is still a lot more leaning in for us. (And yes, I did read the Lean In book by Sheryl Sandberg. I actually related to it. Sue me.) So much more leaning in that it might be called a bow.

What can be done about it? I would like to think that if I had the “don’t-fuck-with-me” attitude of that beautiful woman then these things would never have happened to me. But I know that it still would have happened – in a different matter and coated with a different condescending line. Should I speak up more? Do I call HR? Would it make a difference? All I can think of doing now is moving on, start anew.

Well one of the biggest feminist I know, my husband, also took a 5-month leave to look after our baby. He started his leave when I went back to work. I wonder if he would be told that he’s too friendly to perform his role when he’s back or he’s now gone all “fatherly” therefore cannot perform as he used to. Would he be told to just cruise along? We’ll find out soon when he’s back at work in May. Stay tuned.

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