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Men in Suits

The clothes make the man, but the men make the rules.

"… I was sacked (without explanation) by a man in a suit. Men in suits missold me pensions and endowments, costing me thousands of pounds. A man in a suit led us on a disastrous and illegal war. Men in suits led the banks and crashed the world economy. Other men in suits then increased the misery to millions through austerity…."

Henry Stewart, in a letter to The Guardian, dated 29 August 2016.

There were no men in suits where I grew up. There were plenty of men who were angry and loud, but they lacked the gravitas and authority conferred by refined tailoring and a freshly ironed shirt. Football shirts, and jeans and trainers, were the uniform of my hometown—and when I left home for university, I left that piece of my past behind.

None of my tutors wore suits. Or if they did, they were tweed or corduroy, with elbow patches. They were our mentors, but they treated us fairly and as equals. They would tell us if we were wrong, but they were unthreatening and honest. They upheld standards and were respectable; a few loose threads did not detract from their wisdom and principles.

When I sought a sponsor, I met with men in suits. I wore a suit too, to impress. But it didn’t fit right, and you could see my rough edges around the seams. All the men were accepted, but I was not; they wore it better than I.

In job interviews, I was faced with men in suits, men who asked me questions beneath my abilities, questions that sorted me into lower-status roles, jobs I had no business wearing a suit for. Those same men in suits would scold me for speaking out of turn, for asking for more, for being “abrasive.”

I attended meetings with men in suits. Another man in a suit accompanied me; I couldn’t be trusted on my own. When I made a suggestion, he belittled me and repeated it as his own idea. Everyone thought it was a great contribution. When someone had a question for me, they asked the man in a suit beside me.

I was asked out by a man in a suit. He was charming and handsome, and he made me feel desirable. But I was to tell nobody, and to alter my emotions to suit his insecurities. He told me that women were devious and not to be trusted, and that I should understand his emotional distance. He watched every penny I spent, even my own, and said that you have to be careful because women are gold-diggers.

That same man in a suit told that he wanted to share his life with me, and then betrayed me based on the belief that I would cheat on him, so why shouldn’t he? He criticised my body, and shamed me for expressing my desires. When he ended it on his terms, I had to maintain my silence else he would report me for harassment.

It was hard to keep my feelings inside, so I told my line manager, who also wore a suit. He forced me up against a wall and stuck his tongue in my mouth. I told no one. Rumours were spread from men in suits, to other men in suits, that I was emotionally unstable and a threat to their reputations. I said nothing, fearful of making it worse.

Another man in a suit asked me to send him nude photos, another kissed me on the cheek after visiting our office, and told me he’d like to take me to a strip club. Who could I report it to, but another man in a suit? I would not be believed.

Men in suits would shake the hands of other men in suits, but not mine. Men in suits would talk over me and motion with their hands for me to be quiet. Men in suits were promoted above me, even though they were less qualified. But I knew it wasn’t the suit, or maybe it was a problem with mine?

Another man in a suit cheated on his wife with me, and then isolated me from everyone I knew. He talked down to me because I wasn’t smart enough, my efforts weren’t good enough, I was not enough. I was imperfect and he moulded me in his image—to be compliant, agreeable, a shell of who I was before. When I left, he told other men in suits that I had abused him. He was the victim, it was my fault. I believed him.

I reported a man in a suit for bullying, and a group of other men in suits leapt to his defence. Proper procedures were not followed—the word of a man in a suit is enough. I became friends with a man in a suit. Our boss, a man in a more expensive suit, called me a tart in front of the whole office and read out my CV, mocking it, line-by-line.

A man in a suit sold me a used car. I wanted to take it for a test drive. He asked me if I wanted him to drive it for me. I had questions for a female estate agent. Her colleague, a man in a suit, came over and spoke over her, putting both of us in our place at once.

My suit began to chafe a little. It had never fitted properly, but now it was causing me real irritation. I stopped wearing the suit, and became myself again. Men in suits treated me with the same contempt as before. It wasn’t the suit. It was never the suit.

I walk along the street at lunchtime, and there are men in suits everywhere. I feel nervous, as though any one of them could cause me further harm. They say the clothes make the man, but I know that the men make the rules. I couldn’t bear to put my suit on again after all we had been through, and I had very little time for men in suits. It hangs in my wardrobe, a memory, a warning, like a divorcee’s wedding dress. I can no longer fit into my old suit either.

 

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