b06e0402f942b97cbbd6b1ff527acdfeOnce 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.


28 thoughts on “Twirl

  1. castellris

    Its sad how Eugenie Bouchard was publicly embarrassed. When you think about it, most ladies have gone through a similar situation,not twirling necessarily but humiliations on different levels.

    I remember when i had heard of a job vacancy that was really good.Seeing that i knew the boss,i talked to him about it and he invited me to meet him for lunch.I arrived with my documents and had even emailed him a copy in advance.Little did i know that he needed sexual favors from me in order to assist me.

    I wont forget how i stared at him with surprise at what he was asking.I twirled.That was the beginning of many.It feels so unfair but a the same time,i feel comforted at the knowledge and feeling that i respect myself too much

    1. Teri Post author

      We twirl because we know that’s the only way to deflate the situation without seeming like a difficult and uncooperative bitch. Because that’s what the man you met with would have told his peers/bosses about why he wasn’t giving you the job.

      Castellris, I’m sure you have dozens of stories that involve some kind of twirl. I think I could have gone all night writing this post …

  2. castellris

    Reblogged this on castellris and commented:
    ….I saw this post and imagined it as a form of discrimination against women. Reason being, a man can not be asked to practically twirl. There are many kinds of twirling now that of read this post. I don’t want to say that the women who conform to such are letting the rest of us down….maybe just think that they dint know better…
    …..Besides there are different circumstances to different situations

    1. Teri Post author

      That was 25 years ago for me, and yet here we are. What broke my heart watching Eugenie was the balk and giggle, as you could tell she was thinking WTF?!?!, but then he asked again and she had to make the instant choice, the one so many of us make to deflate a scene we feel going bad with us as the star.

    1. Teri Post author

      I know you know exactly what I’m talking about. There are so many kinds of twirling when you’re a woman at work —- so not only do you have the stress of the job you fight at/for every single day but the too-many instances where you have to not be one of the boys (twirl) in order to be one of the boys. Ugh.

    1. Teri Post author

      Me too. The day I quit, within 20 minutes they took my office keys, watched me box up my office, and followed me home. They dropped me and my box on the curb and drove away in my company car and there I was, and none of them ever spoke to me again. I wasn’t playing the game anymore, and that was that.

  3. donnaeve

    Much like some of the other “incidents” we’ve commented on here at your blog, Teri, this one too, unfortunately, hits home for a lot of women, doesn’t it? Much like you at the BFC, I worked at a big technology company. I was a single mother with two kids. I was in my late twenties, and remember one day walking out onto the manufacturing floor with a senior manager, and as we paced down the broad cement “safety” zone (think about that word), the machines, the forklifts, the assembly lines, one by one, as we passed went quiet. He stopped, dead center in this 50,000 sq ft facility to point out a land line that needed to be moved from the mezzanine to another spot. I looked up at the line and when I looked back at him, he wasn’t staring up at the ceiling with me, he was ogling my chest. This was only one of many, many demeaning events over the course of the next several years.

    I saw the “twirl” segment too, and was SO hoping she’d say WTF are you talking about? No. Not only no, but HELL NO. Yet, we understand the twirl she produced, just a little too much.

    1. Teri Post author

      Donna, reading this scene I could absolutely feel exactly how you felt in that moment. There were so so many of them. So often when I’m listening to the Equal Pay argument for women, I think about how much more energy a woman has to put in at work on this twirling level — she’s not only doing the job equally to her male counterpart, she’s like a feral creature on constant alert, preparing for the next time she has to fucking twirl.

      1. donnaeve

        Like you said above, I too, could go on and on about all that twirling I did to keep my job, keep the peace, get that white hot spotlight off of me. That whole equal pay thing steams me. If the woman is in the position, why wouldn’t the pay be the same? She’s there, isn’t she? It makes NO sense.

        Off topic, did you see that piece about “man spread” on subways/public transportation? Don’t get me started on that.

  4. joplingirl

    Twirl long enough and we become disoriented entirely. No longer able to stand on our own. Equilibrium out of whack. That’s the point isn’t it? You are steady on your feet now. Writing from a full grown woman’s perspective. Bravo.

  5. Teri Post author

    A friend sent me an email saying she watched the Bouchard interview and wanted her to stare down that interviewer and say, “I am a world class tennis player, and you want me to do WHAT?!?!”, all the while understanding how hard that is in the shock of the moment as a 20-something. And that most of us have been there.

    And when I saw Serena Williams comment that it wasn’t “the end of the world,” I thought, oh honey, that’s exactly what it is. Stand up.

  6. Pamela

    Excellent post. I just tweeted it and Facebooked it. (Your favorites, ha)

    I remember a boss inviting me to his home. He wanted to give me a graduation gift and show me some videos of his swing-dancing tournament. I went. He asked if I wanted to get in his hot tub. I was 20-ish. He was probably 50-60. I said, “Um, no, I don’t have a swimsuit.” He pulled out a pair of tiny, cutoff denim shorts and said, “You can wear these,” and I blushed and answered, “but there’s no swim-top,” and he said, “That’s okay with me,” smiling, scooting near me on the couch and rubbing my back. I laughed politely.

    He had just given me luggage and an envelope with $300 in cash. I was confused and frightened. I got out of there – went to my car and drove so fast down the highway toward home that I got pulled over and ticketed for speeding.

    My immediate female supervisor was a family friend. I confided in her and….you guys, this is SO GREAT: she didn’t pause or doubt me or herself. She certainly didn’t twirl. She confronted him. I don’t know exactly what she said, but she was furious, refused to stand down or make nice. I admired her.

    1. Teri Post author

      Hahaha Pamela! I just re-opened my Twitter account so I could post this and tag Serena Williams!!

      I love that you told your female supervisor, and then that she took action! How rare, both of those things. I never told anyone but my female peers, and it was like a club because we were all dealing with the same thing. I should also note that there were a few “nice guys” at the BFC who tried to help me and others when they witnessed these things, but there was little they could do without risking their own jobs.

  7. Rocket

    This is way overblown. Serena was asked to twirl because her dress was open in the back. Nike/Serena clearly wanted people to see her back and look at the dress. You can’t design/wear a dress meant to get attention, and then get upset when people want to see it. If Serena were wearing a nike t shirt and shorts, I would maybe understand the outrage, but since the dress was designed for the back to attract attention, asking her to twirl makes sense.

    1. independentclause

      I don’t think it’s that simple. I know nothing about tennis, but I do run. Women’s running clothes are tight and designed to be revealing. Men’s clothes are more durable and are designed for comfort. I wear the women’s clothes because they fit me, not because I want to flash cleavage as I run.

      I participated in a poetry reading recently. I dressed up so that I looked (in my mind) nice in slim-fitting jeans and a blazer and tank top. I read some poems out loud that had been published in an anthology. If a reporter had come up to me and said, “Nice poems, dear, but would you please show the world how your ass looks in those jeans” I hope I would have had the presence of mind to tell him or her what for.

      Yes, I chose a pair of jeans that looked good on me. But what I was wearing was completely irrelevant to the work I was doing, which was reading and talking about poetry.

      No one would ever ask a man to twirl. Men’s clothes are less revealing, and it’s also how our culture is structured. Women are supposed to be on display for men’s pleasure. Fuck that.

      1. Teri Post author

        Exactly, Indy. And she’d just been running all around the tennis court for 2 hours — isn’t that plenty of time to see all sides of the dress?

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