Once upon a time, when I was in my 20s, I worked for a Big Financial Company – heretofore known as BFC – where I thought Wow, I’ve made it. I had an office with a door. They gave me a brand new car and paid for the insurance and the gas. They entrusted valued customers to my care, ones with famous names as big as my BFC, and gave me prizes. I thought they did all of this because I worked harder than they asked me to and because I always made my numbers and because I earned it. I thought they respected me.
Down Under in Australia, the first major tennis tournament of the year started this week. After winning her match, 20-something Eugenie Bouchard was being interviewed on court in front of thousands when the interviewer asked her to twirl. Bouchard stood there, stunned. Twirl? You know, twirl, like a little girl might twirl around her bedroom with her favorite doll or in her back yard when nobody’s watching or with her best little girlfriends or with her daddy around the living room. Twirl. Bouchard balked, but the interviewer asked again. And to cover the awkward silence of the spotlight shining hot on her, she twirled.
I watched her twirl and turned off the TV and went to bed thinking about my old job at BFC. One time I wore a brand new pantsuit I couldn’t really afford to a customer meeting. I gave a presentation in a boardroom full of old men in suits. My boss and my boss’s boss were there. After 2 long heart-pounding hours we were on our way to the elevator when my boss pulled me to the side. I thought he was going to tell me what a great job I did, that he was proud of me and my hard work; he said, Don’t fucking ever wear pants to a customer meeting again. I’m thinking about Eugenie Bouchard, a professional athlete, and how she worked and fought hard through her match, doing her best at her job, being asked to twirl. I’m thinking about the skirts, tight and short, that I always wore with my suit jackets, and how those skirts were expected. Of Bouchard twirling, her skirt spinning up and out. Of the time a famous customer of BFC told me how much he liked looking at my legs, and how, like Bouchard, I balked, and then just twirled.
In her post-match interview, Serena Williams, the #1 tennis player in the world, was asked about the Bouchard twirl. “I wouldn’t ask [the men] Rafa or Roger to twirl,” she said, and quickly added, “Life is far too short to focus on that. Whether I twirl or not, it’s not the end of the world.”
One time my boss’s boss’s boss pulled up a chair at the corner of my desk, while smoking a cigarette in our nonsmoking office, and said, If we promote you, you’re not going to go and get pregnant are you? I twirled. One time we were leaving a late business dinner and the big shot executive in town insisted I drive him to his hotel even though it was the opposite direction of my house. He had strong busy drunk hands. I twirled. Way more than one time I had to change hotel rooms because a bunch of us were on a business trip and the (mostly older and married) men would go out and get wasted and then hunt me down; so there I would be at one or two or three in the morning, sneaking down the back stairs to the front desk with my luggage and my brief case to beg the desk clerk, often a man, for a new room while trying to explain my “special needs”, all the while knowing the next morning my male counterparts and bosses would give me nine kinds of hell for “going missing.” I would twirl.
I twirled because Wow, I thought I’d made it. I twirled because the hot spotlight was on me at BFC, and I was only 20-something and afraid of losing my job and did not yet realize that life is short. I remember thinking, back then, that this was what I had to do. I thought about how hard I worked and the prizes I’d won and the respect I thought I’d earned and how, if I lost all that, it would be the end of the world.