Novelist Nuria Labari (Santander, 1979) reflects in her novel The Last White Man the reality that most women go through when they reach leadership positions. Many feel the need to become a business “man”, they change their body, their time and their sexual relations in order to fit into a world that has not only ignored them, but also excluded them. Labary would have been grateful for a feeding room in companies or institutions to deal with painful periods, but it hadn’t even crossed his mind that they could exist. “There is no place for women at work. I’m not talking about a couch or period blanket that could be made, but about lactation rooms or anything that affects our biology or our needs. Even the air conditioners in the offices are adjusted to suit the jackets they wear, which is fine because this is a space made by and for men,” lamented the writer during her visit to Bilbao to promote her book.
Should the white man disappear?
The white man as a symbolic space, of course.
Who is this white man?
I can tell you who it’s not: it’s not women, it’s not LGBT people, it’s not someone with intellectual diversity, it’s not someone with heartache, it’s not someone fragile or vulnerable, it’s not someone who should take care of their own children or dealing with caring for other people… That’s the mental picture of where we’ve placed success. This is the God of the Old Testament, the man with the white beard, who guides us all down the mountain. It’s time to get rid of this mental image.
And how is it overcome?
This novel tries to analyze what this mental image is like and how this concept of peace, competition, success, hierarchy, efficiency dominates us from a very young age. We have to study to get a degree, learn languages, study to get a master’s degree… climb the mountain we imagine. What if there were no mountains? This novel tries to show what this mountain is made of, what the cage we’re stuck in is made of, and what makes us feel like hamsters. As paleoanthropologist Juan Luis Arzuaga said, living does not mean working all week and going to the supermarket on Saturdays, but we feel it and agree. Nobody gets off this wheel. Why’s that? This book attempts to find out why. It sometimes happens with romantic love that once it became clear what it was about and that it wasn’t entirely positive, another way of love was devised. I am not saying that you should stop working, but that you should think about work differently.
Is there a perfect job?
No, you don’t need to. I want there to be a human labor in which everyone can do what they do best, and where there would be small doses of happiness. I think it’s quite possible. There are things that need to be adjusted, but all employees in all sectors that I know usually want to give their best, learn, collaborate. However, everyone ends up feeling like a hamster and getting into a toxic relationship at work. It’s not that everyone is super ambitious and wants to succeed at any cost, but we imagine it the way it hurts us.
Apart from how the law is regulated, it is surprising to mention that the rules belong to women; it would be different, for example, if it was a migraine
Is women’s leadership in companies different from men’s?
Not yet. That’s what this novel is about. Work has traditionally separated the body from the brain or mind. On the one hand, there are jobs related to the body, such as nursing, a rider or a courier, a cleaner… Jobs with hourly pay and little pay. On the other hand, there is a man’s work of prestige and rigor, which we do exclusively with our heads. There is this terrible dissociation, and we are called to become like this absolutely rational mode of production and action. Women have assimilated in the first place because when you are a minority you can’t do anything but assimilate, get a chair, but now there are a lot of women’s bodies in the workplace and many of them have power. Now, for example, we are talking about the rule. In 2022, we are talking about menstruation in working women, and many women say that it can stigmatize us or that we will lose our competitiveness because of it.
No matter how regulated by law, it is surprising to mention that women have their periods, it would be different, for example, if it was a migraine. There is no place for women in the workplace, I’m not talking about a sofa or a blanket to get through my period, which could be done, but nursing rooms or anything that affects our biology or our needs. Even the air conditioning in the offices is adapted to the jacket they wear, which is fine because it’s a space made by men for men and what happens is that we put ourselves there to try and achieve equality. Equality is perverted, because until now equality has gone with the norm, and the norm has been masculine.
In fact, there is a sentence in your book that says “pain, like menstruation, does not exist at work.”
Certainly. Usually people do not cry at work, emotions are extinguished from this place, because it would be unprofessional. I was pumping milk in the toilet, not even imagining that I could do it in a super-comfortable room with a sofa. People would have thought that some beastly company did this to me, but it was a company, if I asked them, they would put that room, but it didn’t even cross my mind. That’s the problem, we accept and perpetuate such things. You have to stop and see which of these relationships are wrong. Maybe I need to be able to cry at work if I need to cry. Why is it more professional not to do this? The current way of working is neither sustainable nor ecological, nor does it guarantee people’s intimate well-being. This is the worst possible system, but it is very flexible and adaptive.
I pumped milk in the toilet, not even imagining that I could do it in a super comfortable room with a sofa.
If men were menstruating or lactating, would the situations at work you are talking about already be resolved?
Certainly. Jobs were built for them, for their biology, their needs, their clothes… They chose the rules of the game, the field, the referees and how much the ticket cost. We arrived and had to accept everything. Then there is another part, which is obedience, the perpetuation of a norm that is absolutely masculine, the obedience that they have with power, these are issues that mainly affect them. If you were told that there is a war going on in Bilbao and you have to stay here to fight, you still won’t stay, but the guys will. There is not a single cry of people in the world saying “enough” of the fact that people have to die in wars. It doesn’t exist because their level of obedience is so great. We had to interpret and rethink ourselves with feminism, and they don’t, they believe that equality lies in the fact that we are like them when they amputated the female part of emotion recognition, empathy for others, the ability to be a rebel. There is a lot of work. When feminism takes over and the feminist message reaches the boards of directors, a lot will change.
In her book, she also touches on the guilt many women feel about being a successful professional trying to be a good mother. Will this guilt ever go away?
He tries to get him to leave. There are many recipes, and if they have been doing this all their lives, then how can we not do it? Guilt should also be with many men, for example, for the fact that they are not engaged in raising their children. We were told that modernity is such that women work, and men sit at home and take care of their children, but no. There is a significant issue of reconciliation that particularly affects us, those who allow this rupture, but also them. Of course, the solution should not be that we accept male roles that are killers for a society that needs to be taken care of.
We were told that modernity is such that women work, and men sit at home and take care of children, but no, there is a problem of reconciliation
Will this be fixed with a more flexible labor system?
Certainly. People have a lot of strength and imagination. Remote work was unthinkable before the pandemic, we all imagined it at home and implemented 80% of jobs in 24 hours without technological preparation, without business culture, and it was so easy.
This remote work during the pandemic was also somewhat misleading due to scheduling and hyperlink issues. Not?
Yes, then things come along that need to be rushed, but how could it ever occur to any company that everyone couldn’t go to work the next day and that absolutely nothing would happen? It’s like a nursing room, you can’t imagine, but it works. We have to imagine where we can’t or haven’t done it, and that’s what literature is for.
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