So many studies done that try to tell us about women. What are women like? What do women want? Some of the studies ring uncomfortably true, like the studies that show women lack confidence, that even the most talented, most capable of women often feel like they are imposters, like they are not worthy of their own accomplishments. So today, I give you Angelica, aware that she is no angel, but struggling to deal with what she really is.
Everything about her was a lie. The clothes. The make up. The shoes. Even the ID card in her purse was a lie. She wasn’t who she said she was, even though everything matched her birth certificate, her marriage certificate, and her social security records. Angelica. Jeff called her Angel, but he knew she was no angel. He would have run away as fast as he could the other direction if she had been; he preferred his women real, he said, not cherubim.
She crossed her legs nervously, wondering if the interviewer would see right through her. Would they realize she was a fake? An imposter? Or would they believe the list of degrees and awards, the resumes showing previous jobs successfully undertaken, the glowing references? It was always frightening, these job interviews, because if she couldn’t convince herself to believe, how could she convince them?
The door opened, and an unseen woman called her name. Angelica Barnett. That was her…or at least, that was who she was supposed to be. She straightened her skirt, adjusted her shoe which had slipped slightly off, and entered the office. The woman greeted her without warmth, efficiency the only emotion allowed here. She introduced herself as Mrs. Littler, and showed Angelica where to sit. Then she disappeared, and Angel was left on her own.
She watched the hands on her watch creep by as she waited. One minute. Two minutes. Three minutes. The door opened, and a large man bustled in. He introduced himself as Mr. Wade, Roy Wade. Good. That was who her appointment was with. She wasn’t going to have to wait any longer. She watched him as he moved toward the coffee pot, poured himself a cup, and offered him one. She turned it down, wanting coffee but afraid she would spill it on her nice yellow shirt. She had changed three times already today, her nervousness about the interview causing her hand to shake and covering outfit after outfit with brown liquid. She gave up on the coffee and went to work without her stimulant. It would be a long day.
Mr. Wade settled behind the desk and opened a file…her file, she assumed. The file they opened on her the day she applied for this job. It was thicker than she expected. She figured all they would have was her resume, but there seemed to be a lot of information in there. Was that all about her? Where did they get all that? She gulped. This didn’t look good. Why would they collect so much background? She began to wish she had followed Lucy’s advice and requested her FBI file. Don’t be silly, she’d said. Why would I have an FBI file? Lucy spoke in whispered tones as if afraid the office might be bugged. Of course you have one, she said. Don’t you know the FBI keeps a file on everyone? And besides, you’re a….Lucy broke off then, because Mr. Duncan wandered into the office, and Angel never discovered what she was.
Mrs. Littler swept through the room, responding to a buzzer that Mr. Wade pushed on his phone. She brought him a stack of something…forms? More information about her? Her FBI file? Angel tried to see what she was carrying without looking like she was trying to see what she was carrying. Still more papers went into that already overstuffed file on Mr. Wade’s desk. He rifled through the papers without speaking, without looking at Angel, and without interruption.
“So.” It was the first thing he’d said. Angel nodded, not knowing what was expected of her.
The silence fell again. What did that mean, so? Was she supposed to say something? Do something? He smiled, the sort of smile she was used to, the smile that says, you’re a pretty enough woman, why are you here? It was a smile she saw at most job interviews, at least those that were with men.
“What’s a pretty girl like you doing in a place like this?”
Oh, God, he said it. Most of the men left it unsaid, but he had to go there. The lamest line he could have started the conversation with, and he had to reach for that one, stupid phrase. The phrase she hated most in the entire world. She had no idea how to answer such a question. Should she deny she was pretty? Or should she try to explain it away, to explain that pretty women could be smart, talented, capable? Or just…make a joke? That last was impossible. She had never been able to think of a good joke to answer that question.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean that. Forget I said it.”
Good. She would…well, no, she wouldn’t, but she would act like she did, because she didn’t have anything to say about it anyway. She was here because she wanted a new job. She wanted a job that challenged her, that offered her something more than the waste of time she was in at her current job now that the new owners had reorganized.
“So you are Angelica…do they call you Angel?”
“My husband does…but no one else.” Angel decided she would be forthright this time. She had struggled a lot at her current job because she had just nodded dumbly at her last interview when the bossed asked that. It took forever to straighten them out and be called what she preferred.
“Good. Angels aren’t much good here. I’m looking for a hard scientist, not a miracle worker. So is it all right if I call you Dr. Barnett?”
Angelica nodded. “Yes, that’ll be fine.” She was relieved. She would rather be treated with the respect of being called doctor than the often mocking Angel that she was saddled with thanks to whimsical parents.
Mr. Wade turned back to the file. “Very impressive credentials. Very impressive indeed.” He paused and examined a piece of paper in the middle of the stack. “Such an accomplishment for one so young. You’ve received more awards than anyone I’ve ever had in this office for an interview.”
Angelica didn’t speak. She was embarrassed about her awards, because she never had deserved them. She had managed to fool so many people for so long. She knew genetics, yes, but there were so many who knew so much more than her. So many more deserving people. She waited for him to speak again.
“You know, don’t you, that if we hire you you’ll be the first woman on our team?”
She shook her head. She had not known that. It didn’t surprise her, though. She knew so many talented women, but most of them struggled to find the good jobs. Most of them didn’t even get interviews. She rarely got interviews.
“We need a woman. It looks…bad…not to have any women. Your resume looked…good. It’s a little off-putting, you know, a name like yours. Angelica. So, oh, I don’t know, how should I put it? Feminine. Such a feminine name, one doesn’t expect such good scientific credentials.”
Angelica was stunned. This wasn’t the conversation she expected. She had expected to be asked about her background, her experience, her education. She had prepared to talk about her research, about the groundbreaking work they had been doing in her lab before the reorganization. About what she liked about this firm, and why she wanted to come to work here.
“Women don’t really belong in science, you know. Too kind. Too nurturing. Too…delicate.” Mr. Wade was frowning at her file. “Still, you do seem to have done a lot of stuff…you really did this, right? This isn’t, like, something you made up? Or maybe stuff a man was lead researcher? Not that I think you aren’t capable, of course. We just…have to be sure. I wouldn’t want to offer the job to someone who was…you know…window dressing.”
Angelica sagged. He had seen through her. No, a man hadn’t done any of that, of course not. She wouldn’t lie on her resume, and most of that stuff looked like he had collected all her papers, all her degrees, all her awards…everything anyone could know about her. It was just…she didn’t feel like that should be her. She felt…wrong, somehow, like, no matter what she did, it wasn’t good enough. Now he had spotted that, even though he drew the wrong conclusion. Yes, she was a fake, but not that kind of fake. It was just…everyone looked at her work and thought it was good. They didn’t know how small and unworthy she felt inside. They thought she was a scientist; she knew she was just a little girl playing scientist.
“Well, you know, we could probably work something out. We do have a need to diversify our crew, and you certainly have the background. Your background is almost as good as the team we already have. You might fit in, if you…well, if you…”
“If I was a man?” Angelica couldn’t believe she was saying it. Her words came out as if on their own, without her permission.
“I don’t mean that. I mean…well, it is difficult, you know, when you have a woman in a lab. There might be…complications. What if…what if some man…what if you…fall in love? And there are tears?”
“Mr. Wade, I am happily married, and have never met any other man that can match up to my husband in my eyes. I can’t imagine I will fall in love. And I can assure you, there will not be tears. Unless the men on your team are in the habit of crying?”
Mr. Wade turned red. “No, of course not. I just…it isn’t natural for men and women to work side by side without…you now.”
Angelica stood. “I don’t think I’m interested in this job. I have worked along side men for a long time without…you know. Yes, I do know. Funny, I thought I was in the 21st century, but it appears this office is still locked in the 19th century, with Victorian morals and ideas about women. But if you still want to hire a woman, I can give you the names of many talented, capable women. You might be able to persuade one of them to work here…if you can get past their feminine names and how pretty they are.”
She didn’t look back as she swept out of the office. She saw the startled look on his face before she turned away, and was satisfied. He wasn’t used to having people stand up to him, she supposed. She held her breath until she was in the elevator headed down, and then released it in a long, slow sigh. She felt good. For the first time since she could remember, she felt like the truth. Her life was hers, and she was who she said she was. She was not an imposter.
She did regret not getting a chance to work on the projects they were doing in this office, but perhaps it was for the best. And she knew, when she explained it to Jeff, he would understand. He would know she had done the right thing.