Last weekend I was catching up on a couple episodes of Jane the Virgin, the amazingly exaggerated CW telenovela, when I was struck by how much I related to the usually over-dramatic show. ‘Chapter Seventy-Five’ centred around the concept of “re-framing”, a narrative device that uses previously withheld information to reshape the context of the plot. In Jane’s storyline, the episode focused on re-framing her relationship with old flame Jonathan Chavez, her hot graduate professor that she almost lost her virginity to. This episode really struck a nerve with me, dredging up emotions I’ve been wrestling with the past few months and rousing me from a 2.5 month blogging stupor. Jane, and her complex relationship with Chavez so articulately encapsulate everything I feel toward Mr. Man. So to borrow a page from Jane’s own playbook, I’ll be using her story to re-frame how I’ve been feeling in mine. Meta…I know.
Jane needs a job, which leads her to message Chavez asking for an introduction to a professor who is currently hiring. Rightfully so, she feels tentative about reigniting things, re-writing her email to him over and over to ensure she’s portraying the right message of easy, breezy, and unbothered by the shitty end to
Cut-to: Me trying to compose work emails to Mr. Man that are friendly without being flirty, polite yet professional, but not like I’m trying to intentionally be so. Our ending may have been a little different from Jane’s (she cried before a hook up, while we just stopped talking) but nonetheless, the same awkward, unresolved tones hang in the air in both cases. Honestly, I’m sure that I’ve written university papers that are less edited than some of my responses to Mr. Man.
Jane manages to overcome her email communication hurdles and reconnects with Chavez, just in time to learn that he’s seeing another student. She stalks him a bit online only to see that this pattern has happened not once, twice, but at least four other times…ouch.
Cut-to: Me finding out from a friend at work (Margaret) that Mr. Man has a rather widespread reputation for hitting up young girls in the office. Nice huh? This new-found information made the whole situation seem incredibly icky and I couldn’t help but feel like it was a reflection of my own optimistic naivety, where I somehow thought that I was *shudders* something special. Maggie & I agree that it’s possible that I was to some degree based on what he’s shared with me, but it doesn’t matter either way. Finding out about this pattern basically invalidated all of my feelings and made me realize that at best I am just a rainbow chip in a larger chocolate chip cookie…damn, now I’m depressed and hungry.
Jane explains the situation to Raf in the quintessential intersection of her storyline and mine, sharing how she (and I) felt in two succinct sentences:
Jane: “I didn’t feel like he took advantage of me, at the time. I had a huge crush on him and I went after him. But knowing that he slept with all these other grad students, it just reframes everything.”
Raf: ”You should report him.”
Jane: “For what? He’s not Marissa’s advisor. I checked. And there’s no clear university policy.”
Raf: “Well there should be, those are some intense power dynamics.”
Swap out Jane for me and Raf for Maggie and I SWEAR I’ve had almost this exact conversation. While I don’t think that Mr. Man has ever ventured as far as Chavez, the parallels are still apparent. I didn’t feel like anything was wrong with his attention because I was really into it, I let him know I was open to something and was not innocent prey by any means. But knowing that he may have tried to pull the same thing with others is so disheartening, as is the realization that what I deemed to be ok behaviour really wasn’t, it just seemed that way because I was drunk on hormones.
So, should I report him? I’ve thought about it…but what would I report? Clearly he’s well-practiced in tip-toeing the line, making sure to push his bounds while never doing anything I could overtly point to at the end of the day. Thiss tactical approach only shows me how well-versed he truly is at this game, definitely upping the ick factor.
I feel as if the notion of power dynamics is one that becomes even more exaggerated in a business context. This is because in a literal sense some positions are just more powerful than others, a notion that isn’t groundbreaking by any means. However, on a more nuanced level, men in powerful positions also seem to have an inflated sense of self-importance, as if their role somehow points to having a higher status level overall. I can’t definitively claim that Mr. Man’s role at work made him feel as if he could treat me like a play thing with no feelings. But as the ‘feelingless play thing’ in this particular circumstance, it sure as hell seems that way.
So shout out to Raf for saying it best…those really were some intense power dynamics. Really what else was I to do in that situation…Be rude? I had no reason to think that he was being anything but genuine and only looking back does the game become more clear. From the moment he bought me a drink at the bar I was indebted to him to some degree. He always got our bills, made me feel special (*shudders* there it is again) and even recommended me for another job, making me feel like I should be grateful for his attention and cleverly masquerading whether or not I was being manipulated. He’s mindfucked me to the point that even now I feel absurd writing this blog post when “nothing” has really happened…but “nothing”doesn’t bother you for months after, so it’s time to put to rest the notion that this fabrication was created all on my own.
The last thing I will say is that I am so grateful that Jane the Virgin, which sounds like campy show about sex, tackled an issue as difficult as the power imbalances between men and women. While I never thought I was the only person to experience something like this, it was comforting seeing my own experiences articulated so clearly, and helped me re-frame those 6 months for what they really were: an inflated fantasy of an office romance constructed by trashy rom-coms, my own optimism and most of all, by Mr. Man.