I’ve created him, but I’m not satisfied. He has a long, fleshy snout, flecks for eyes, and dust-colored pleated-front pants, but he still lacks something, so I re-open the drawing tool and stain his groin with a generous splash of red.
I upload the photo and add the quote:
I pretended to be an advocate for the females in my office, but I forwarded the CEO’s email with crude period jokes to other male colleagues. I participated, and I’m sorry.
#fuckthepatriarchy #periodblood #meaculpa
—The Ass-Kissing Anteater
He’s right at home next to the Sneaky Snake, dangling from a clothespin like a drying sock, unable to slither away.
(His caption: I lied to my accomplished new hire and told her she wasn’t allowed in a meeting. Then, I presented her idea as my own, which I feel guilty about.)
He also belongs above a monstrous brute with dollar bills stuffed in his mouth and thick, hairy hands tied behind his back.
When she found out her colleague was making 25 percent more, I worked with him to get her fired for poor performance. I’m ashamed I behaved like that.
#equalpay #feminismforever #meaculpa
—The Greedy Gorilla
They all live here on the page, but they also wander my professional world, standing at the front of conference rooms while I’m presenting, hovering over my desk as I design an ad layout, lying in hotel rooms pressing send on harassing emails I now expect to receive. Just when I think I’ve met them all, I meet another distinct sub-type. It’s been ten years since my early twenties, when I started cataloging them, rough doodles and scattered phrases across the pages of a journal. When I got fired by the real-life Greedy Gorilla, I got angry and created an anonymous profile on Instagram:
Men across the alphabet taking responsibility for their sexist/patriarchal/violent/dismissive/misogynistic acts in the workplace. There aren’t enough animals in the world.
My initial traffic was from a few close friends.
“Search for ‘meaculpa,’” I’d whisper on a crowded subway or in a bar after work. “You’ll recognize all of them.”
They showered me with their likes and comments, never revealing my identity.
Sadly, this is all too familiar
soooo true! fucking love it!
Energized by their support, I’ve been spending every night hiding out in a rotation of coffee shops, watching night-goers stream past the windows and then back home again, while I formulate and publish more creatures. I sketch their outlines in pencil onto thick white cardstock, then use Photoshop to add details: neckties around Adam’s apples like nooses, winking eyes stapled shut, a hand shriveled by a stream of scalding office coffee. By the time I pen the quotes, I have already punished each one for his crime.
There is the Excusing Emu, large paperweights duct-taped to his tiny vestigial wings, legs buckling under the burden:
I notice the things my male colleagues do, but I always justify or enable them. One time, I told a member of my executive team she should forgive the offensive VP of sales because he “hadn’t gotten laid in a while.” #reinforcingpatriarchy #nojustification #meaculpa
Then, in a block of ice, I place the Pontificating Penguin, frozen forever, mouth ajar:
I don’t want to hear women’s opinions, so I hold meetings that last hours, never letting them get a word in. I hate to admit it, but I’m tired of hearing the sound of my own voice.
I don’t let my secret project get in the way of work, and one Friday I get assigned to work on concepts for our latest campaign. The client is a real estate developer who’s launching co-working spaces in suburban neighborhoods across the country, targeting stay-at-home moms with entrepreneurial aspirations.
Leadership’s project brief to the three creative directors is trite:
Working women today have more options than ever before—and more ideas. Give us a campaign that shows how this new shared space is a great place to bring them to life!
After receiving it, we break off, each of us responsible for producing a concept worth showcasing to the client’s leadership team.
I fantasize about what it would be like to be honest, and I scrawl some headlines on a notepad:
Men laid the foundation. But that’s about it.
Masculine design, beer on tap, and no tampons in the bathrooms.
Excited yet? 30% less pay? Get 70% off your first month.
As I’m writing, I feel someone behind me. It’s our chief creative officer, a fifty-something industry veteran who’s rarely involved in the day-to-day affairs of the company. “I’ve heard great things about your work,” he says in a mild-grandpa voice, placing his hand on my shoulder. “I look forward to seeing what you come up with.”
I turn my chair around, sliding out from his hand and covering my screen. “Thanks. Appreciate it.”
When he walks away, I wonder what he will become: The Demeaning Dog? The Condescending Chameleon? The Patronizing Pig?
At night, I return to the coffee shop of choice to add another animal and review my notifications. My audience on @meaculpa has grown organically, and I begin to get hundreds of likes and comments per day, both praise and disgust from men and women I recognize only vaguely, or don’t know at all.
Guessing it’s the same kind of cunt who makes bogus rape accusations
This is brilliant @sarahlam @jessicajt @megbyrn
Bet your ugly
my boss always complimemtns me, it makes me really uncomfortable
My husband isn’t like this. Sorry yours is
i don’t know whos behind this but it must be some kind of feminist angel!!!
I decide not to respond, leaving my now 19.1K followers to self-regulate. The levels of engagement deepen: replies to comments, replies to replies, shares on Twitter and Facebook. A few feminist blogs link to my posts, I see my caricatures in Google Images results, and a well-known female gamer writes me a DM:
Wanted to send you a shoutout for exposing this systemic injustice and harassment. I’m sure you know, but just for being a woman in the gaming industry, I receive hate mail and threats that you couldn’t even imagine. I know you’ve chosen to be anonymous (your call, although I do have some opinions on this if you’re interested?), but still be careful. Many of these men (and, really, some women) will do anything to preserve the order of things.
By the time I publish the Ass-Kissing Anteater, I have twenty-six posts, and I need to start reusing letters. I have been forthcoming about each past injustice, but now I’m stalled, holding back certain memories, more bodily, more transgressive, more difficult to articulate. It’s even harder to start the next round when the comments get angrier:
your mutilated corpse will be on the front page
@loverules @pennyjenny @salsagal @meaculpa hopefully none of you have kids, if you do they’ll get raped and killed too
@tombaxter seems like you-know-who, no? didn’t your mom raise you better
I DM the gamer back.
How did—or, I guess—how do you handle the hate mail? Are you scared someone will actually hurt you?
She responds almost immediately.
Of course. I’m worried about it all the time.
I refocus on work for a few days, trying to determine how to proceed. The timing is good, since our presentation is at the end of the week, and I have to perfect my designs. The night before the client reveal, we meet for an internal review where the ECD, Kyle, stands by the whiteboard, his arms crossed, giving feedback on each idea.
First up is Chris, an art director, who presses his spacebar to project and glances back at me as his hand cups his beard. Realizing my legs are parted, I cross them and gaze up to the screen, where a silent video plays, flickering around the edges for a vintage effect. The camera focuses on cookie-cutter house after house, scanning the kitchen, kids’ rooms, and yards for some sign of life, finding only dirty dishes piled in the sink, cribs turned over and empty, and unraked leaves piled high.
“Fucking brilliant,” Kyle says.
Then it’s Carl, another art director, who spreads large color illustrations across the table.
Each features an object: a stitched tote bag, perfectly iced cupcakes, glass carafes filled with jewel-colored juices.
Kyle can’t resist. “All the things she can create if she owns her own business?”
“Exactly,” Carl says. He waves his hand and closes his fist, as if he’s snatching a fly from the air, almost hitting my face on the way by. “The headline would be ‘What’s within Your Reach?’” Fallacious Frog, I think.
It’s my turn to present.
I stay seated and start the slideshow on my laptop. “I’m not going to put it on the big screen,” I say. “You’ll have to crowd around.”
Carl and Chris scoot their chairs over with a stupid slowness. Stubborn Sloths. Kyle remains in his spot, arms still crossed. I am matter-of-fact in showing them the work, never too quiet and never too excitable, but I feel a secret surge of adrenaline as I consider the situation. They’ve always told the men around me to be bold, and now I’m the one stepping up to the plate.
No one says a word during my five minutes of airtime, so I decide to finish with a solitary flourish, shutting the laptop so it makes a sound. “If I were a working mother, I’d want advertisers to be straightforward with me,” I say, looking past Chris and Carl to Kyle, who is looking at his phone. Distracted Dodo.
“It’s edgy for edgy’s sake,” he says, eyes still down. “Please prep concepts one and two.”
It’s past dinnertime, but I have to sit around a table, flaccid, seething, digging my nails into the beds of my fingers, helping to finalize work that isn’t my own. Routine Rats.
I leave around midnight. Every coffee shop is closed, so I go home and sit at the counter, laptop aglow, blinds drawn. I drink some scotch I have in my cabinet, and I bring them to life.
I begin with my first boss, two years my senior at the time. He has no arms, but he does have a long tail, exaggeratedly long, highlighting his miniscule penis, a nub of flesh you need to squint to see. I delight as I make his tail wrap around his body like a flowering vine, circling, only to end up penetrating him, his eyes bulging because he can’t stop it.
At a work Christmas party, I got really drunk. I tried to dance with a smart new junior manager. When she refused, I shoved my hand up her dress and inside her. She told HR about it, and I denied it. I’ve felt guilty ever since. #rapeculture #nomeansno #meaculpa
—The Molesting Monkey
I take another gulp of my drink and I feel emboldened. I pull up an image I started a few weeks ago and add the finishing touches. It’s the Impotent Iguana, and he’s low to the ground, looking up at a group of people’s silhouettes, a pointed black heel poised to stab him in his scaly, horned spine.
I am an executive creative director at a major New York–based agency, and my cock doesn’t work. I blackmailed one of my art directors when she saw me standing over a passed-out intern, limp dick in my hand. All I can say before I get crushed is “I’m sorry.”
The comments come in rapid-fire.
Identifiers now? I’m a captive audience.
i will hurt you you stupid bitch
you guys. shit’s gettin real
@marykreid @jonast do you know who she’s talking about?
My phone lights up with a new work email. It’s from the chief creative officer.
I reviewed your concept after the internal meeting. It’s authentic, and I want the client to see it. Plan to be in early for the prep meeting. —Dale
I head to the office while the sun is still coming up. Dale is the only one there, and he moves toward me like he’s going to give me a bear hug.
“Let’s go into my office,” he says, drawing closer. The tip of his nose is bulbous and shiny, and his breath smells like bacon.
I clutch my folder to my chest and shrink my shoulders down.
“I was thinking we could polish the ideas. They’re so close to perfect.” His voice is congested, his throat coated with grease.
Fingers like claws around the portfolio, I take a step back.
“No,” I say, drawing tall so I’m ready to pounce. “They’re good as they are.”
Christine Olivas is an emerging writer who recently completed her certificate in fiction from the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program, as well as advanced fiction workshops from Catapult and Sackett Street. She is a top contributor to Career Contessa, a career advice site for millennial women, and her short fiction can be found in Pure Slush, New York Dreaming, and Breakwater Review. She also recently placed fourth in Alternating Current's 2017 Luminaire Award for Best Prose.
Illustrated by Meghan Murphy.