I was raised in the Bible belt in a religious community. After graduating from college, I accepted my first job as an assistant to a local elected official in a nearby town of about 20,000 people.
When I first took the job, I was 22 and married. I was hired by a man in his early 70s. He had been working in local politics for over 40 years. He was well-known in the community and attended the same denomination of church as my family, although not actually the same church.
At first, all was well. I was his assistant and also got to be involved in local political meetings. I got to write resolutions, ordinances and be involved in city planning, budgeting and other issues. I really enjoyed it.
About a year into the job, I went through a divorce. When my boss found out, his demeanor toward me changed. He began to leave me notes about marriage with bible verses. He tried to counsel me to work it out with my husband.
I wasn’t the one who had initiated the divorce. My husband had left me for someone else. But this was a rural county, in a rural state, in the Bible belt. Since he was an elected official, he could pretty much hire or fire me for any reason he wanted with no questions asked. I just tried to do my job.
Finally, a friend and co-worker had to tell him to knock it off.
Then my boss started making comments that my dresses and business suits were too “fancy,” that I wore too much makeup and that my perfume was distracting. In contrast, he never complained about the quality of my work. In fact, he often commented on how efficient I was and how impressive my knowledge of the law was.
Fed up with his sexist, ridiculous comments, I started looking into other career options. That’s when things got crazy. One day, about a year-and-a-half after I had started working for my boss, he called my father at work and asked to come in for a meeting. Keep in mind, my father had never met the man before.
My father went. He said the official started off by telling him what a great job I was doing. He said I was smart and efficient and knew the law and was passionate about politics. My father agreed and said I had always been interested in politics and he knew I enjoyed my job.
Then, my boss said he wanted to talk to my father as one Christian man to another. He asked my father why I had gotten divorced. This was difficult for my father. He’s a very religious man and does not believe in divorce for any reason. My relationship with my father was very strained because of my divorce. My father explained this to my boss.
My boss then told my father he thought I was drawing unneeded attention to myself by dressing “provocatively” and “wearing a lot of makeup.” He told my father, “Pretty single girls can get themselves in a lot of trouble.” He also told my father I was too passionate about things for my own good and needed a good, strong husband to “keep me in check.” He told my father that if I continued on this path, my job would be in jeopardy, and that my father should talk to me about my behavior.
Even my father, who is very conservative, was astounded by this. He came by my apartment that afternoon to discuss what my boss had said. I stood up in my calf-length dress with a cami underneath and cardigan over it and said, “Does this look provocative to you? By the way, the perfume I wear every day is Ralph Lauren and mom gave it to me for Christmas.”
My father just said I needed to do what the boss requested if I wanted to keep working for him.
However, I was done working for him after that BS. I applied for and was offered another job in a large city about four hours away. A month or so after he spoke with my father, I quit working for that boss. He acted as if he was happy for me and even threw me a going away party. I left as soon as possible.
It’s been three years now. A friend who still works there occasionally told him I was recently remarried and am expecting a baby. His response? “I’m glad she’s settled down. I hope she plans to stay home and raise her baby and not ship it off to daycare.”