My most recent professional incarnation is as a wine salesperson. Half of the time, I am in the office - at our headquarters like a professional, or in my home wearing PJs with coffee stains - crafting various marketing materials for the company, creating sell sheets, making shelf-talkers, and writing the florid prose that gets slapped on the back label of wine bottles. The rest of the time, I am literally knocking on doors, hocking my wares, from the under $10 bottle of wine, to the eye-poppingly expensive First Growth Bordeaux.
I really, really, really love what I do, which shocks even me, as I've pretty much hated any decent job I've ever had. I'm learning new things constantly, meeting new, interesting, intellectual type people, and hullo! free wine! Sure, the job has the standard drawbacks: long hours, unreliable pay (commission is quite the adjustment for a previously salaried gal), no benefits. But honestly, I can totally deal with all of that. For the first time ever, I find myself thriving in times of professional stress, largely because the stress here, unlike other jobs I've had, is based around completing tasks accurately and on time, rather than the holy-fuck-my-boss-is-a-bigot issues I've had before. That said, my job has presented a few new... um, challenges, that frankly, have me positive I've failed as a woman, a professional, and a feminist.
Most salespeople in the booze business are men, but my company is a serious anomaly in that our sales force is predominantly female. With that said, I encounter sexism, if not blatant misogyny, daily. And the truth is, I do nothing about it. I don't do anything about it because, as long as my customers are happy, as long as the old men on their stools behind the counter of their grimy liquor stores think I'm flirting with them, they keep buying my products.
They hold all the power in our relationship, and they know it. Never mind that the wine I sell is fantastic and well-priced. Never mind that I will bend over backwards to secure an emergency delivery for them at 7:30 on a Thursday night. Never mind that I am unabashedly honest about what I sell and how I feel about it, for better or worse. Never mind that I keep them in the loop on shipments and price fluctuations and upcoming product offerings. No, it's a little more than that, isn't it?
Some days, I know I've betrayed all the other women salespeople somehow, by laughing at a horrifyingly graphic dirty joke that I cringe just thinking about (no, it wasn't The Aristocrats), by not saying anything when a customer - or a customer's customer - gives me the once over, by saying "thank you" when someone (almost always a male someone) remarks on my appearance instead of telling him to put that bottle of burgundy where the sun don't shine, and by accepting the above text from a customer this morning (who I do actually like, but DUDE, we aren't friends).
But most days, I don't have the luxury of thinking about it too much. I have another appointment or another deadline or another quota to hit and I can't fix these people. And I can't tell, in all honesty, if I've just run out of fight, if I've given in, or if my crushing dependence on my meager paycheck is really what's driving this. Me! A woman who once walked out of a secure, exceptionally well-paying job because it was a den of racist bastards with all the money in the world and no sense to match. Have I compromised my once staunch morals just to make a buck? Have I actually found the price of my soul? (Incidentally, my soul apparently isn't worth a whole helluva lot...)
Not all of my customers are cretinous. In fact, not even most. Some are all-business all-the-time types, who are cranking on calculators even before they've tried my product. Some are the most well-spoken, educated, kind people with whom I've ever had the pleasure of working. And these folks, I love working with them, and trying their amazing food, or the newest craft beer they got in, and chatting about what makes the vintage I'm selling today special. I have come to enjoy the quick glimpses of personality, the trading of stories of our past lives, as a lawyer or doctor or non-profit slave, only to chuck it all to wallow in particularly hedonistic business. The moment when we realize that we've been living parallel moments in time is almost always entertaining, and I never realized how rewarding unloading grape juice can really be. So maybe I do see many as friendly, if not friends.
But underneath it all is the idea that, while never Glen Garry Glen Rossing my way through sales, never lying or cheating, or stealing territory, I still occasionally feel the slime of being in sales. Except, unlike Mr. Baldwin there, the slime isn't mine, and somehow, that makes it a little more livable, even while I know I'll probably regret it.