I want to talk to Michael.
We were sitting at the Groundwork Coffee in Downtown LA, drinking iced lattes to ward off the city’s burning heat. I was interviewing Audrey Bellis for her feature in the second issue of Bossladies Magazine. She was wearing a red dress; her hair was perfectly curled, and she’d had her makeup professionally done that morning. She looked amazing, powerful, feminine.
I sat there, writing as fast as I could, while she told me how and why she founded each of her three companies, StartUp DTLA, Grid110, and Worthy Women. She was just breaking down the details of the 350-person Worthy Women conference she’s planning for the end of this year, when the two middle-aged men at the table next to us stood up and walked our way, dressed in button-ups and leather shoes, holding folders of presumably important papers.
“Is this, like, an interview?” the older one asked, smirking.
“Yes,” Audrey nodded.
“What for?” his smirk widened.
Audrey just looked at the man.
“Bossladies Magazine,” I told him and turned back to Audrey, hoping he’d get the hint and walk away.
“Bentley Magazine?” he asked.
“BOSS-LADIES Magazine,” I said, enunciating more carefully.
“Bossladies Magazine?” His eyes widened. “Does that mean you are a boss?” he asked Audrey, eyebrows raised. I could feel my face turning pink with anger.
I piped up before Audrey had to answer for herself. “She runs three companies, and her book will be published this year. Yeah, she’s a boss.”
I wished I had been brave enough to keep going:
She’s the one making Downtown LA actually trendy again, bringing tech businesses here so they don’t all end up on the Westside; she’s solving problems that two past mayors haven’t been able to solve and increasing property values for owners of all these high-rises around us.
Then I would have stood and gotten more pointed with my comments:
And what is it YOU have done with your life Mister Leather Shoes? Walked your way up a cushy corporate ladder, privileged to be the mediocre white man you are?
But I stayed quiet, and my heartbeat quickened.
“If you want to see a copy, it’s right over there,” Audrey said, pointing to the table where our friends were sitting, waiting for us. Anything to get them to walk away. The men paged through the magazine briefly then walked back to Audrey and I.
“Do you have a card?” the younger one asked me. “I have some women I’d like to recommend. COOs and stuff.”
All of me wanted to say to him: You and your friend laugh in the face of one of the most prolific women in this city, and then you want to tell me who to put in my magazine? No thank you, sir. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
“The website is bossladies.us. You can reach me there,” I said.
Finally the two walked away, still chuckling, as though they’d seen the circus on the street. I could only imagine the way they’d recount the interaction to their colleagues when they got back to the office.
I tried to make light of it, to reenter the passion and pace of the conversation Audrey and I had been having before they’d interrupted. But the look in her eyes was different, and I wasn’t sure quite what it meant. Was it anger I saw? Exasperation? Saddness?
Later that evening, I rode the Expo Line back to the Westside. There was some comfort in the meditative hum of the railcar and the hushed, tired voices winding their way home. I had all but written off my encounter that afternoon as an unfortunate brushing with idiots: two corporate frat-bros who had sabotaged my interview in order to say something, anything, to two women at a coffee shop. Perhaps, with two of us, they thought they had good odds. Perhaps we were looking particularly fetching with our interview-ready notebooks and photoshoot-ready hair.
My thoughts were interrupted by the charcoal suit sitting behind me, whose voice had gradually risen to the point where he was now yelling into his phone.
“I DON’T WANT TO TALK TO A FEMALE. YOU MUST BE THE SECRETARY. I WANT TO TALK TO MICHAEL.”
All delusions of coffee-shop idiocy washed away, replaced with the bitterness of sexism. At Bossladies Magazine, my days are filled with brilliant, inspiring women. My mornings are sunny; my cappuccinos are foamy, and there in my studio—far from overbearing opinions and derogatory comments—it’s easy to forget how saturated by sexism the business world still is. But then we meet for coffee, or ride a train, or dare to start our own businesses—and there it is.
Photography by Marisa Vitale