I used to be mail-person, some thirty odd years ago. We had just moved to the suburbs and I needed a job. The only catch was I wanted the best of both worlds. As a young mom, I wanted to benefit from what the workforce has to offer, but at the same time I wanted to be home in time to pick up my kids from pre-school. I had been offered a job as a military translator, but it was in Tel Aviv and even part-time meant that I would be out of the house more than I wanted to be and I dreaded the thought and of employing a nanny. Then, one day I went to pick up a package at the post office and saw the notice: “Mailmen needed.” The only question I was asked in the short interview with the postmaster was if I could ride a bike.
I loved my job. I really did. In my previous more prestigious job at the university I had a picture window behind my desk. I hated being confined in an office and everything it represented and as I gazed outside I would dream about being free in the glorious sunshine. I got my wish and more.
Every morning dressed in shorts and a t-shirt I would mount my bike and ride through the city streets singing to my heart’s delight. I engaged with people. There were those who actually awaited my arrival with a teaspoon of homemade jam and a glass of soda water, ice cream, warm apple pie or freshly baked challa bread. I was part of the community. A busybody like myself couldn’t ask for more. I met the most fascinating people and everyone was happy to share their stories with me. My time was my own as long as I long as I got to daycare on time. And best of all, I never brought my work home. I enjoyed clear separation between work and home life.
But, my co-workers, the other mailmen (many of whom were religious, including an orthodox rabbi), didn’t like me. I was ruining their work standards. While I was always in a rush to get the job done to maximize precious “ME Time” before my other job as “stay-at-home mom”, they had all the time in the world. After sorting the mail there was the breakfast ritual. They would all sit down for a hearty breakfast bantering one another as they shared local gossip and discussed national politics. Then, each went on his way to deal with his own affairs: the rabbi hurried home for a nap, the gabai (synagogue manager) went to the market to do his family shopping, the Persian real estate agent rushed to his office down the road to return phone calls he had received during the morning shift. (NOTE: We are talking about a pre-mobile phone era.) The courier headed off to make his rounds combining postal and personal deliveries. Their unspoken goal was not only to get through the eight-hour workday, but to claim overtime as well.
After a couple of months my work routine became noticed and management began questioning: “If the routes are so difficult, how come she can do them in half the time?” The answer was simple: I had other things to do with my time.
Soon the rabbi, the mailmen’s union leader, was on my case. He was a tiny man with beady eyes. One day he informed me that I was not to return to the post office with the undelivered registered mail until after 3 PM. “No can do,” I answered flatly.
That is when they went to war. At first they tried to delay me by mixing up my mail or hiding it until I was ready to go. “No wonder she finishes early,” they would point out to the postmaster, “she leaves mail behind!” When that didn’t work, they chose a different strategy.
One morning as I was about to mount my bike, the region director, who had come for a meeting, approached me. “How would you like me to buy you a pair of jeans?” he asked half-jokingly.
“It has been brought to my attention that a number of complaints have been filed against you,” he continued, “It seems, that members of the community find it offensive that a civil servant should come to work in shorts. Perhaps it would be more appropriate if you wore a skirt.”
“Have you ever ridden a bicycle, jumping on and off, in a skirt?” I challenged. “I’ll make a deal with you,” I offered, “when the men wear long trousers in the heat of the summer, so will I! As long as they come to work in shorts, there is no reason why I shouldn’t be allowed. And, I bet you, should we ask around, most people will agree that my legs are prettier than theirs!” That was that. No more was said on the matter.
At least not for couple of weeks. One day my boss approached me. He was a really good guy and did his best to look out for me. “I have a personal favor to ask of you,” he begged, “it appears that your female presence is creating a problem. The rabbi has indicated that your shoulders arouse the men’s instincts. Would it be too much to ask that while you are in the mail room you wear a shirt with sleeves?” Out of respect for and devotion to him, I agreed. Until that day it never occurred to me that I had sexy shoulders 🙂 Eventually I left the post office; gave up tenure and all the social benefits …
Until recently, the story of my sexy legs and shoulders was no more than a humorous anecdote from that period of my life. Today, however, with the social/religious issues Israel and other countries, for that matter, are facing, with the increasing attempts of certain sectors of our society to impose their beliefs on others, and most of all with the escalating number of incidents of the exclusion of women from public space, a once humorous story has become quite frightening indeed. It actually happened to me!
My battle with the other mailmen had nothing to do with my so-called inappropriate attire. It had everything to do with work ethics (or should I say “lack of”), power and money. As men, they believed that it was their right to call the shots, their so-called religious ideals becoming their choice of weapon.