August 26

Women’s Equality Day (U.S.)

 

Jayna patiently waited her turn.  The day’s rebuilding efforts had been exhausting, for her and her co-workers, so nobody spoke as the line moved slowly forward.

Her shoulders and back ached from transporting boards and bricks and cinderblocks.  Even her fingers were sore from tight grips on hammer or wrench or screwdriver handles.  She wondered if the work would get easier with practice — if her muscles would adjust to these new strains.   Two weeks in, that hadn’t yet been the case.

Her feet ached, too, but standing in line was still a relief after the day’s labor.  She tried that trick of half-sleeping while standing up, but it didn’t really make the time go faster.

Eventually she got closer to the front of the line, where boxes of supplies sat on fold-out tables.  Government coordinators counted out tubes and packets, arranged them in meticulous pile to distribute to waiting workers.  Jayna counted along with the current batch:  eight nutrition tubes, six packets of protein paste, and a blister sheet of water-decontamination tablets.

She counted the next few distribution batches, trying not to think of the government worker’s soft hands, the muscles of his fingers and shoulders and back free from stress.

Then she noticed a discrepancy in the next prepared pile:  only five tubes and four packets, and fewer tablet squares on the blister sheet.  Had they recalculated the quantities?   Were people furthest back in line getting short-changed?

No.  She’d gotten alarmed over nothing.  The next person in line got the full distribution.  It was only one unlucky woman who’d gotten less.  She’d probably come back once she realized the mistake, and they’d make up the difference.

The line moved forward.  8 tubes, 6 packets.  8 and 6 again, like clockwork.  Then 8 and 6 to the guy in front of her.  Frank.  She remembered working alongside him last week, when they’d both been given the same assignments.

He nodded to her respectfully as he left with his payment of supplies.

Jayna’s turn now.

The government coordinator counted out 5 and 4.

“That’s the wrong amount.”  Her own voice sounded weary to her — from the strain of hard labor, from the slow daily drain of nutrition from her body.

“It’s the approved distribution.”  The government worker’s voice was strong and cheerful.   She stood up straight, her cheeks flushed and healthy.

“No, I’ve been watching.  Everyone got the same — ”  Jayna stopped mid-sentence, realizing the problem.  The age-old problem.  She’d only recently been paying attention to the line.  All the payment recipients had been men, except for the one woman they’d short-changed.

And herself.

“You’re giving women less?”  The anger rose in her, almost choking off the words.  She pointed at the space where Frank had stood seconds earlier.  “I did the same job as him.  The exact same job.”

“Our metabolism’s are different.”  The government representative spoke as if reading from a teleprompter.  “Women process nutrition differently, and need less.  In addition, men typically have further responsibilities to provide for family members at home.”

“I provide for my own family,” Jayna protested.  “Three children.”

“These are the rules,” the representative said.  “We’re not permitted to make exceptions.”

Jayna scooped up her payment, her sore fingers tightening over the unfair allotment of nutrition and protein rations.  Her feet continued to hurt as she walked home to her children, to the world that, in such a short time, had changed in such horrible ways…and yet, in other horrible ways, hadn’t really changed at all.