We All Knew

Stone quartet, by Mary Frances @maryfrancesness

 

by Maddy Costa

 

We all knew* that she was earning less than him

for doing exactly the same job

with the same experience

except we didn’t because no one talked about it

in the absence of conversation we assumed they were earning the same.

I know I did

until I bumped into her on the tube

still furious about it.

She left on principle.

He still works there.

 

We all knew his starting salary was higher than her finishing salary

except we didn’t because she didn’t tell anyone

at least, not anyone who could have challenged it.

She also knew he had asked his male colleagues what they were earning

but not the women

because who wants a woman’s salary?

He sure didn’t want my salary.

 

We all knew they didn’t pay on time

or at all

not from checking with each other

oh no

just from marking the invoices late, unpaid.

We carried on working for them anyway

and didn’t say anything

at least, not out in public where anyone could hear

for fear they’d never have us work for them again.

What other choice did we have?

 

We all knew that they made promises

of certain work

or as close to certain as it gets in uncertain times

but we kept it secret, not to show off.

And when they broke those promises

brazenly

but invisibly

(we’d kept it secret, remember)

we could have said something about it

but we didn’t

because we want to be there when the promises are handed out again

don’t we?

 

We all knew that there was a clause in the contract

demanding they pay this percentage

should they exceed this earning

except we didn’t

and they didn’t

because the contract wasn’t sent to them in advance.

So it came as a surprise, but also

not a surprise at all.

Sure they complained

and brought in lawyers

but they didn’t tell anyone

– OK, they told me in the pub –

but I’m not telling anyone.

It’s not my story to tell.

 

We all knew that he couldn’t be trusted around women

because he…

because he…

because he…

Actually, I’ve no idea what he did.

I can imagine, of course.

We can all imagine.

 

We all knew that he coudn’t be trusted around women

because after it happened to A she told B, and B warned C, and C took care of D

a circle of gossip**, spreading wider and wider

but still so many women outside of it.

Younger women

unconnected women

who didn’t know

and don’t know

because nobody told them

who won’t know

until they encounter it too.

 

Or maybe it won’t happen to them.

Maybe they will just live in fear of it happening

without knowing what it is

or who to be afraid of.

 

We all knew that he had been

and she had been

manipulative

coercive

untruthful

shaming

cruel

except what we saw from the outside was a better future, hope

and so we didn’t know

we didn’t know at all.

And the people who had been manipulated, coerced, lied to

didn’t talk about it

even as their faces caved in with the pressure of it

even as they carried the pain of it in their bones

because they felt so ashamed

ashamed they let it happen

sure it hadn’t happened

to anyone but them.

 

And because no one talked about it

and because no one knew

and because it looked like future hope

she got that job

and he got that job

and the power structure stayed intact

and they carried on as always

but it’s OK

because we all knew.

 

We all knew that we were complicit

if not in the actions

then in the silence

the secrecy

the protection of authority.

And even when we really knew

we carried on not talking about it

at least, not above a whisper

not out in public

not naming names

or naming deeds

and it’s not because

we want them to continue.

It’s that we don’t know how

we don’t know what

we don’t know where

it will end.

 

* “The reason I’m so angry is I’m so shocked that we’d got to this point and we’d all accepted it. We all knew about it! We. All. Knew.” What exactly did she know a month ago? “I knew that pretty much every single woman I know had suffered sexual harassment in her life. I knew that, and I’d just accepted that. I’m hardwired to accept it. I’m a feminist, and when I talk about it, it shocks me. But I had literally accepted it, like I accept that we have a class system. I’d accepted it like I accept that there are homeless people. And that’s just bizarre – but it’s what we’ve done. And then suddenly someone speaks out, and you start to think, why are we as a society accepting of this situation?” Vicky Featherstone, The Guardian, 4 November 2018

** Hatred of gossip is hatred of women talking to each other – it is generally women who do this work of love. When we gossip, we share vital information: this one is sad, this one is in love, this one is dangerous. In most families, news of birth, death, failure and achievement travels through the women. Communities of gossips nurse each other through the degradations that partners, bosses and families inflict on us. Without the love of gossips, most of us would be either dead or dead inside. Hannah Black, Tank Magazine, Spring 2017

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