My ex-husband worked on Wall Street. He traded institutional equities. That was before the world fell apart, before there was accountability in the financial business. Part of his job, a big part of his job, was entertaining clients. Sometimes this meant couples dinners and an evening at the theater. But more often than not, “entertaining clients” was more of a euphamism for ‘hanging with the boys.’ Whether it was tickets to the Knicks, a weekend boondoggle on the golf course or a multi-bottle wine dinner followed by a visit to Scores, these forays into “client relations” were almost entirely male-oriented. His clients were men. His colleagues were men. His world was made up of men. The key to success on Wall Street in the 90s was to be male, well-dressed and marginally intelligent. There was one girl in the group. Her name was Kathy. And Kathy was hot. Kathy was not a dumb ass. In fact, she was smarter than most of the guys. And she wasn’t Blonde Bimbo hot. She was Wall Street hot. She was tall and smart, with a knockout body, a killer sense of humor and the ability to drink any man under the table. She also, apparently, could suck the chrome off a tailpipe and had, on many occasions, “serviced” her male clients with great aplomb. She was a top producer for her firm and was more often than not the only woman at any given business function. But Kathy was an anomaly. Regular girls, girls who were smart but not spectacular looking, girls who didn’t know how to hang with the boys, didn’t make it. Wall Street was home to the kind of sexism that dictated that only a super-brilliant, wildly hot woman who was willing to blow her clients and colleagues could succeed.
My business is different. Or so I thought. For many years I believed that the entertainment industry was the one place a woman could succeed on a level equal to a man. The movie business boasted of iconic pillars of female power – Sherry Lansing and Dawn Steele paved the way for the Stacey Sniders and Amy Pascals of the world. Julia Roberts broke the $20M mark before many of her male colleagues. And after two decades in the business, I have become so used to being the only girl at the table in a multitude of meals and meetings, that I very rarely even notice that I go to a different door when I excuse myself to use the restroom.
I have believed, and continue to believe, that mine is a better industry than most for women. But the other day, I was complaining to a male friend and colleague about the promotion of a man we both considered unskilled and unintelligent. And I said to my friend, “Truly, honestly, tell me what that guy does that I don’t do.” My friend took a beat and said, “He signs people. He isn’t that smart, he doesn’t understand the business that well, but he does favors for people, he takes them out, he knows how to own them.” I thought about this for a while. And realized as I started to open my mouth, why I couldn’t explain to my male friend that that skill, that tactic, is not available to me in the same way that it is to Dumb Guy. Let me digress a moment and explain my own experience in client relations.
A few weeks ago my boss called me down to his office to tell me he was giving me Laker tickets, and I was to take a particular director to the game. My company has season’s tickets to the Laker games and it just so happened that he was giving me two tickets on the floor to a playoff game. Big deal. Really coveted seats. And as I’m not a particular follower of basketball, I called all my dude friends before leaving and got the basics – who are the best players, who are the assholes, what to watch for on the sidelines, etc. We took a car service from the studio and sat in fancy seats, went to the bar at halftime (is that the right term or is that a football term?) and schmoozed before the third quarter. We commented on the Laker Girl bodies and on the skills of the players. It was fun. But there was something vaguely awkward about the evening. Something that felt like a date. I am a married woman, madly in love with my husband. So what am I doing on the floor of the Staples Center, at a playoff game in highly coveted seats with a man who is not my husband? Nor is he my boss. Or even my colleague. Because the boss or colleague relationship is more familial and, as a woman, you can get away with hanging out with those men as long as you’ve spent enough time convincing their wives of a truth that is obvious to you but inconceivable to them – you have NO INTEREST WHATSOEVER in their husbands beyond a VERY platonic business relationship. This is hard for any wife to understand (and believe me I’m one of them) because we each believe (hopefully) that our husbands are as irresistible to other women as they are to us.
Because no matter what I know or the director who is truly just my friend knows, the fact is that a married woman with a single man at a ball game (or a screening or play) looks she’s on a date. Dinner, somehow, does not count. Lunch or dinner or breakfast or cocktails have all been koshered as appropriate meeting scenarios and do not lend themselves to the awkwardness of an event. And generally speaking, men do not have this problem. Because a man would never take a woman to fill the other of two seats on the floor of the Staples Center during the Laker playoffs. Particularly not a married man. And there are so few women in a position that would dictate they be taken that it never hurts the man’s career.
Likewise there are those directors, agents or writers who are more than happy to have lunch with me, but share dinner or multi-cocktail evenings only with my male colleagues. It isn’t so much that I WANT to go out and get drunk with the boys. It isn’t that I like the idea of hearing about how their wives are hassling them or their mistresses driving them crazy. But these are experiences that, to these men, are bonding moments. These moments become commodities – opportunities that are equivalent to “signing the client”. And that signing privilege is simply not available to me in the same way as it is the guy in the office next door or down the hall.
As the economy shrinks, as the movie business realigns itself to conform to corporate structure and as I grow older and more aware, I realize that sexism is not relegated to Wall Street or any other industry. Sexism, like racism, will rear its ugly head more obviously in times of economic hardship, when the boys will take care of their own and jobs are harder to come by. But really, it has been there all along. Really the working world is not the same for women as it is for men. It never has been. Naïve fantasy instilled by our parents and perpetuated by the media led us to believe that times had changed, that though different, we were equal. But its bullshit really. And it always will be. I don’t want to be same. I don’t want to be a man. And I don’t want to live in a world that continues to create a fantasy world in which men and women are treated the same in the workplace. We’re not. I understand why we’re not. But I no longer want to pretend.