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Crossing the Line
The discrimination in the short story against women is very similar to the discrimination today. Women in this short story are limited to what they may use because they are considered incapable of handling items such as machinery. Today, women experience limitations to activitys they may do, or even little things to where they stand in a line to get food from the cafeteria.
I knew what happened as soon as I heard the hundreds of women gasp. They were almost like a symphony, inhaling so deeply that their breath became a song. But why bother looking at their faces of terror when I knew what I had to do; yet I sat there, in complete oblivion on my oak stool, without a care in the world to what could possibly happen. This was not the first time that my hand bled immensely, nor was it the first time that I gave my injuries no attention. From working 14 hour shifts, a bleeding hand became a norm.
Without leaving my seat I reach for a remnant of green fabric and rapidly swaddle my hand, hoping to bind the wound before the Man discovers my lesion. My head begins to spin, not even a tornado can spin me faster, and then soon enough my heartbeat syncs to the rate of which the Man stomps across the floor. I twist my head, weary eyed, expecting to make eye contact with the most feared beast of London, instead I saw before me not the Man, but John Locke, my dearest friend, standing, hovering over my aching body.
“Mary are you out of your mind! Hurry to the washroom before the Man recognizes what you have done.”
John attempts to hide me from the crowd as I walk to the washroom, but eyes glare from all angles. The washroom could not be more disturbing. Walls are stained many shades of brown and black, with grim lining the edge where the walls and ceiling meet. The floor is dirt, pure dirt, and with every step one would take in the washroom, a particle storm erupted. John hurries me over to the notorious tin, grimy sink, and while I would normally refuse to run my skin under such nauseating water, I submerge my hand into the dingy black liquid. Dried blood covers the majority of my hand, almost as a chain, keeping me from bending my fingers or stretching my palm. While I pick at the blood, a stinging pain shivers through my palm, my gash pulses, and I wince. I notice John recognize my pain, and he speaks with sympathy “Mary, you know the consequences. If the Man finds out, you will be out of here for good.”
Feelings of anger and hurt shoot through my body. I respond passionately, “ John, don’t you think I know that! I would not be in this situation in the first place if only I had a machine to work with. Continuously threading the needle and trimming each bundle of fabric to perfection for hours upon hours every day can only cause more harm to my hands. Each woman spends their entire allotted time in constructing clothing, yet we receive no credit and no help. You and the thousands of other men have the privilege of working with advanced machinery to make your lives and jobs easier, and all the women receive is a needle, fabric, and scissors.” John looks upon my eyes bewildered, recognizing the suffering I experience on a daily basis. He then grasps my hand, attempting to rub off the blood. Though he uncovers most of my hand, the wide, deep, and bloody gash is ever more apparent. Ceasing in terror I am, over the thought of being caught, yet I walk with courage the few steps from the washroom to my oak stool, where I proceed in my work.
The Man was close, yet he was far. I felt his eyes watch me, even when he was turned away. I have accomplished so much in my 3 hours of work so far, but deep down I knew that in reality I have accomplished so little. I stare directly across the room and catch my eye upon a dolly maneuvering a metal contraption across the line. The line; something that could never be more hypocritical, for it’s only purpose is to segregate men from women, and while men are permitted to cross over, women are forced to remain on one side. But the line could not prevent me from scoping out this foreign object. I push my stool back and stand, watching the object shimmy as the dolly moves. Leaping from my table, I bolt over to the contraption, with my fingertips craving the touch of the shimmering metal. I am only three feet away from the line when I hear the Man bark in anger, “Mary Wollstonecraft, stop right there!”
I stop in confusion, then fixing my posture and the ruffles on my gown I reply, “My apologies Sir, my curiosity overcomes me and I mean no harm.”
“Oh the young and naive Mary, I know of your curiosity. I, however, expected a women like you to behave properly.”
“I beg your pardon-”
“Mary please leave the premise. You have no right to be near the men.”
I felt my face grow hot, “I am extremely sorry Sir, but may I ask what this metal contraption is? Where does it go? Who is allowed to have it?”
“Mary, I will not answer your questions. You have no business in this manner.”
“But Sir, if the women receive this metal, you will have more clothing than ever. While I don’t know what this is, I am sure it will increase our production.”
“You are right Mary, however, it will increase the production for men, they are the ones in need.”
I have been shot - shot with anger, fear, and hurt by a man who lacks such empathy and perspective. A tear streams from the corner of my eye and strikes the inch-long scar on my palm. I stand three feet away from the line, watching the Man and two other men turn their back and nudge the dolly across the men’s floor. A second tear streams from the corner of my eye and again strikes at the scar. In my peripheral vision, I notice John’s head turn and stare.
After nine years of working on the same stool, at the same desk, on the same side every day, never had I thought that my gender could cause me to exist in a living hell. I turn and meet eyes with John as he mouths the words “I’m sorry,” and then I look back at the men walking away. All this seems like slow motion, and my vision begins to blur as my eyes fill with tears. I twist my back slowly, and turn towards my desk - and just after I took a step, I pivot and face the man again and yell, “STOP!”
Eyes glare from all angles and I hear the symphony hymn their gasping song again. The Man briskly turns and stares at me bewildered and outraged. “Excuse me?”
“I said stop! Stop the dolly, stop walking, stop production! Just stop!”
“Mary, what do you think you are doing?”
I took a minute to gather my thoughts but I reply with confidence, “I think what I am doing is telling you to stop. I have been looked down upon for the past nine years that I have worked here and nothing has improved. Each day I put forth my best effort, risking my health, to earn an income. Just one week ago, I sliced my hand deeply with a pair of scissors unknowingly, and yet I still arrive in this dump and do my best work. Why is it that women cannot use machinery? Why is it that women cannot interact with any male? Sir, why are you discriminating against women? The environment you have established here is remarkably unjust.” A wave of heat came upon me. I knew I did something wrong, and I knew I risked my life. Then suddenly I felt the hand of John rest on my shoulder.
“Sir, I can no longer stand for this ignorance either… the way you intentionally belittle women is truly ignominious” John spoke, trembling.
“Both of you get out of my factory!” The Man yelled with horror.
But then I did what has never been done, something no other worker would dare to do. I crossed the line… and just before I was about to speak, I heard the blare of a gunshot. Screams erupted and children ran from the foreground to shelter with their parents and scope out the scene. My side felt fairly warm, and when I looked down, blood spewed from my midshaft down to my toes. I have been shot - though this time not with anger or hurt, but with an actual bullet. My head spins and thoughts of leaving my son and husband put me in shock. I notice John lunge towards me, I’m certain he is risking his own life by even attempting to help me. I try to tell him to stop, but no sounds leave my mouth. My body grows heavy as I sink into the floor. My vision blurs and sounds are muffled. I had done it, I pushed too far, I crossed the line.