Recently a relative and friend jokingly said that we all wanted to be princesses. I told him to call me a Queen, and then after thinking about it to call me a Warrior Queen. I was not completely joking. I am nobody’s damn princess.
I remember the one and only time a man who I supervised at work called me princess. Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either.
I was working in a six bed group home with teenage boys who had been abused. It was called residential treatment because they were there to get counseling with the licensed social worker and to work on behavioral issues as a result of being abused and neglected. They were children, teenagers, who went to a public school, some participated in sports and did very well, had friends, they laughed and joked, disagreed and played like regular kids. They were kids but dealing with serious shit as a result of their parents’ abuse and mistakes.
I worked there for years and I had earned their trust and their respect. I and the other staff were to act as role models for them. I treated them with respect and I expected the same in return. I was also kind to them and took care of them, preparing meals, driving them places like school, to the park, and medical appointments. I listened to them when they wanted to talk. I intervened when they had verbal arguments, as did all the staff. I laughed with them. We had a relationship as did all the staff who worked with them, albeit one with boundaries. They told me about music they loved, one little boy and I shared a love of animals and he hoped to become a veterinarian. I helped with their homework. I really liked and cared for these children, their inner strength, their intelligence, their tenacity.
And although I never would have said it to the teenagers I worked with, most were a lot larger than me and in a moment of rage could have done some damage if they decided to kick my ass, or just punch me in the face one time. I did not fear them. I was being realistic. Yes, they had anger issues. They had good reason to have anger issues. Their parents FUCKED UP. Their parents fucked up but they were the ones taken from their homes and everything they knew to go live in a group home.
I was there to help them feel safe, to nurture them. I, and all of the other staff, were there to teach them how to deal with all of their emotions including anger and sadness in an appropriate manner that didn’t hurt anyone else or themselves. I was there to stay calm even when they didn’t. I, as well as the other staff, were there to show them how to treat themselves and other people with respect and kindness and hopefully how to move on with their lives.
I, however; was not there to be called “princess” by anyone. I was more okay with being called “bitch” by an angry child than being called “princess” by a coworker who didn’t know what the hell he was doing. Of course, the child received consequences for being rude and inappropriate. The consequences were given in a calm manner and at the appropriate time. That only made sense.
I remember it clearly. I was kneeling down to get a pan out of the cupboard so he could begin dinner, something he didn’t want to do and had told me he could not do. He had been telling me he could not cook and I was about to hand him the pan and one of the many cans of chili we had for dinner that night. After that I was going to talk him though making a salad. Not hard stuff.
That is when I heard said employee, we will call him Joe, say, “Listen, Princess, I know you are married…”
I don’t know where he was going with that, but he did not get another word out. I turned around and the look I gave him SHUT HIM UP immediately.
I calmly, as I had practice being calm, said, “Do not call me princess.”
He said,”I call my mother Queen.”
I stood up and faced him. He was several feet away.
I said, in a calm voice, but I really did say, “That is a problem between you and your Mother. No one calls me Princess.”
“Not even your father?”
The teenage boys we supervised were watching television in the living room or were in their bedrooms so I was hoping they were not hearing our conversation.
I then said, again calmly, “I need to talk to you privately in the office, right now.”
We went to the office and I calmly explained a few things to him.
I was respectful but I meant what I said. I told Joe that from that point on he was only to call me by my first name, nothing else.
That I was his supervisor and I expected him to treat me with respect.
That the way he treated me showed the teenage boys in our home how to treat me and also how to treat all women. I told Joe that he was a role model for them and most of them had not had a male role model in their lives or at least not a positive one, so he had to keep that in mind in everything he said and did. If he taught them how to treat women with respect, they would know how to do that and also that it was important.
I told him, as I had been trying when I bent down to get the pan out of the cupboard, that there were two of us working together and we were going to take turns cooking meals when we were working there together because it was not fair for him to expect me to do all the cooking.
I told him that we could keep the meals simple to prepare, but he would take his turn cooking. I told him we would also take care turns doing the paperwork, which one of us could do, or at least part of it, while the other one cooked. I told him that the person doing paper work could supervise the children at the same time. We had already been taking turns taking children on outings to the park to play basketball if someone was on restriction and a staff had to stay behind with a child who could not go. We shared the work.
I said, “We are child care workers and the job is taking care of children. It is work.”
I asked if he had any questions and as I recall, he did not. We talked a bit and then the issue was over, done.
He wasn’t a bad guy. He hadn’t understood some things and in my usual direct manner, I had explained them. He had been through training and he just needed some more.
I think when he understood how important his role was, he took it seriously. Then he stepped up. He had good qualities. Sometimes he made mistakes and I nicely explained them and then he made corrections. Hell, the teenage boys called him on his mistakes if he did something sexist and he and I could laugh about it.
The boys learned and he learned. We learned together. Yes, it was natural for him and the boys to look at a beautiful woman who was having car trouble when they were out together coming back from the park. No, it wasn’t okay for him to pretend his van broke down also so he could stare at her. The boys, all that had been with him, ran in the house and immediately busted him, telling me all about it. Yes, they stared at her too, as long as Joe had the van pulled over, but then they told me about it immediately. They knew I would have something to say. We talked about it, all of us together and we laughed and I gave my opinion on why it was not okay. The boys said to Joe, “We told you!”
Yes, Joe was flawed like all of us humans but he had many good qualities. He genuinely cared about those children. He worked at that house for a long time. He worked hard and tried to show them the important things about being a man.