Just Girls

“We’re just girls,” Mimi stated, defending her behavior in a situation where she believed she and her female colleagues were powerless. Just girls.

Mimi was one of four young women, all recent college graduates that made up the support staff of the ESL company I taught for in Chongqing, China.

For the first three months, William was also there ostensibly as a recruiter. His role was never completely clear to me. William was tyrannical to the females and rude to us, the three newly arrived teachers. He spoke no English-in a program that advertised total English immersion. It was undetermined whether he blatantly refused to or couldn’t. Since Chinese students begin studying English in middle school, we suspected the former. We talked to the owner of the company who in turn, repeatedly, discussed his behavior with him. One of the teachers left in frustration within a few days. Finally, when the other teacher and I threatened to leave, which would have shut down the program, he was let go.

One afternoon, a month or so after he was fired, William returned to the office. He ordered the young woman who was working at his former computer to get up- he wanted to use it. Without question, she did as he commanded.
I happened to stop by the office on my way to class. When I saw him, I told him to leave, that he did not work there- that he was not entitled to any company information. His lips curled into a malicious smirk-unmistakably disdainful of being told what to do by the likes of me. But he didn’t move. I told the office manager, who was at her computer a few feet away to tell him in Chinese what I had just said-so there would be no mistake. She bowed her head, avoiding my request. I was astounded. All four girls sat at their desks with lowered eyes as if they were submissive concubines. I told the manager that if she couldn’t tell him to leave she needed to call security and have them tell him-immediately. I reminded her that her allegiance was to the company, not to him.
I needed to get to my class; my students were waiting.

After class I went back to the office and asked what had happened. No. They had not called security. No. They had not told him to leave. He had stayed there until he had found what he wanted-had left when it suited him..
I was aghast. “How could you think of allowing an ex-employee to take over your computer-to obtain information he is not entitled to? Who do you work for? Who pays you? Don’t you feel any loyalty to your employer?” I told them I felt they should all be fired-that in America they no doubt would be. When I was finished postulating; when I had run out of what I considered legitimate reasons for my point of view, the room grew quiet.
Finally Mimi spoke. ” We’re just girls, Ruby. We had no choice.”