It is 7 a.m. I am walking across the open-plan trading floor, with most of my male colleagues are applauding, wolf-whistling and booing me as I pass by. All this, just because that I am wearing the exact same dress I wore yesterday.
Ten years later, while writing this article, I am still debating with myself whether I should disclose the reason why I had not changed my attire. Had I fallen asleep on the bus home from a club? Or had I had a one night stand? The truth is: I had done both of those things. So why is it such a big deal just to admit to this in public?
Interestingly enough, a guy suspected of having had an overnight adventure would be applauded in a very different way. He would be cheered on and encouraged by the very same colleagues, and could even become a role model to some. But a girl in this position could well be subject to the judgment, resentment and even condemnation of her peers.
Typically it takes a very particular kind of person to join investment banking in the first place. What many front-office staff have in common is some kind of disturbed upbringing, resulting in greed and a bouquet of insecurities.
Men in investment banking were often bullied at school, and therefore have a huge need to prove their oppressors wrong. This type of man works extra hard and walks over anyone standing in his way, just to buy that coveted Ferrari, put a blonde in it and drive it back to his hometown, to make everyone envious of how well he’s done.
With female over-achievers, it is slightly more personal. Most will typically have daddy issues. There are two different scenarios: an overly authoritarian father or an absent one. In the latter case, a girl will spend a large chunk of her life trying to be the best at everything, desperately hoping that her dad will eventually see how great she is, and regret ever leaving her. Naturally, most of this plays out on a subconscious level.
As for me, I had a rather controlling mother who always knew best: how I should behave, what I should be interested in and what I should do with my life. She surely meant well, and was trying her best to make me a perfect fit for society as she knew it. Unfortunately, with so many choices made for me, it was hardly possible for me to have any idea about my authentic desires, values or needs.
As time went by, these questions kept popping up more and more often. However, as an exemplary Dirty Thirty and perfect representative of “work hard play hard” culture, I did my very best to avoid answering them.
Years later, when it became impossible to live in denial any longer, I had to face my fears and take responsibility for my life. This is much easier said than done, though. Subconsciously, I would still follow distractive behavioral patterns.
For as long as I could remember (and probably even earlier), I had been praised for being a ‘good’ girl. For instance, as a schoolgirl I would be given a candy for every grade A I received. Equally, I would be punished for not complying with the will of my seniors.
So it follows: how can a good girl say no to a senior colleague who accidentally touches her butt? The whole thing gets even more confusing when she gets praise, a promotion and even a raise for it.
A guy wants to sleep with her on the first date, and she is unable to restrain him. So is it really so surprising after all, that she is wearing the same dress the next morning?
But good girls do not have one night stands!
In our heads, though, we have done nothing wrong. We are simply behaving as we were taught – to be obedient, to do as we are told – but somehow it feels so wrong … not to mention all the clapping and booing in the office.
We must resist and stay strong. We do whatever it takes to project all that alpha-female confidence to the outside world, so that no one will ever even suspect there is a vulnerable little girl inside there. We protect this little girl with all the resilience and determination we have, without even knowing who she really is.
We work extra hard and walk over anyone who stands in our way or doubts our capabilities.
Many women in corporate environment also want to date a good guy, preferably one with a (much) higher salary and superior rank, a good education, an expensive car and an executive lifestyle. As much as we want this, it rarely happens. For some reason, we only date various random assholes, hoping for them to fall in love with us and change their ways.
Of course it is an illusion. So we convince our friends and ourselves that he was just a pretty face, a hot body, rich, or whatever, and in no way fits our impossible list of qualities the perfect guy must have. Of course, the list is as superficial as we are. There is no way anyone could ever tick all the boxes – and this is our way of escaping the need to befriend our inner little girl, our authentic self.
Ever since I started writing and making music, I discovered so much depth in me that I could never have imagined I had. It attracted new opportunities and new people into my life, including my most improbable and most amazing boyfriend. As much as my life now differs from the common perception of success, I have never been happier.
To get there it took quitting banking, moving to another country, getting a degree in psychology and writing a novel to recognize my value as a person and a woman, and now there is nothing that can take this away from me anymore or make me ashamed of it.