Monday, December 28, 2009

Treading the Twisty line.

My current work partner is, to put it mildly, not from my cultural background. He was raised as a very strict Traditional Values Evangelical Christian complete with weird homeschool co-op, didn't have sex before marriage (which wasn't such a hardship since he married at 17), and he still doesn't know a lot of the important dirty words. I'm teaching him so much. (That's not a joke. He's not a prude, simply sheltered, and although he would never do any of these terrible things himself, he's quite fascinated by what heathens do in bed.) He's sort of in the process of moving into the mainstream; he's not renouncing his faith or anything but he's started swearing and drinking and other things people from his original community would never do.

And he tends to say sexist things without realizing it. Not overt, "git in the kitchen bitch" stuff, nothing that's meant as an offense, but he loves to deride frivolous or wimpy things as "girly." (Or "gay," which is, intriguingly, a synonym. But "lesbian" doesn't connote toughness and strength, so it's not a consistent system.) He's always saying shit like "I drink light beer, I'm such a woman." Or "that guy was acting like a total girl. Man up, pussy!"

I'm never sure how far to go with pointing out that, hello, the person you're talking to is a total girl, cannot man up, and has a pussy. And I love me some Double Chocolate Stout.

On the one hand, he's a decent guy to me and we know each other pretty well by now, so I think he'd at least try to listen. On the other hand, I don't want to be a controlling jerk. There's a line between standing up for your gender and being the Language Police that wants Christmas carols to say "peace on Earth and good will toward multi-gendered inclusive humanity," and I'm not sure which side of the line I would fall on. Or more importantly, which side of the line he would see me on. It's hard to refute negative stereotypes of my gender by acting sensitive and demanding. A real man would laugh it off.

With the beer thing, I did point out that I like dark beer, and he thought it was very funny that a woman liked man beer and vice versa, but I couldn't quite explain why that's not the point. The point isn't "sometimes girls do manly things," the point is that the whole concept of manly and womanly things is 98% a crock of shit. There's no beer that interfaces better with a Y chromosome than another, for god's sake, so declaring a beer manly and seeing women who drink it as exceptions (or more perniciously, "cool girls," not like those lame girls who like girl things) is ridiculous. Some people like some beers and some people like others, and you can leave it at that. It's not important, it's not exactly denying my civil rights, but it's symbolic of a pointlessly gendered worldview. And one that always seems to assign my gender the shittier beers.

Kind of hard to convey all this to a guy who's only spent a couple years out of a culture that really would have me in the kitchen.


  1. I say he's gotta learn sometime. I'd probably point out his error every time, but I can be an argumentative bitch.

  2. Ridiculously tangential (since I had no idea it's like this in the US), but I find it funny how our cultures differ on this. Light beer is cheap beer and is considered a 'manly' beer around here. It's the piss you buy in a cheap plastc bottles to grease you up for the nearest crap distilled thing to get you plastered on a Friday night. So, um, manly. Dark beers, being pricier (mostly because they're more labours of love for some small breweries than the nationwide piss that's easy to sell) and generally tastier, are considered girly drinks.

  3. About half the time I eat at a restaurant, the wait staff places the wrong food in front of me. The dark beer and burger? Those are hers. Diet Coke and salad? Those are mine. It's a running joke with my female friends.

  4. Just cause being a sexist pig is ingrained in him and "he can't help it" doesn't mean it shouldn't be pointed out to him each and every time he does it.

    It's not being a jerk, it's helping to transition him from the constructed reality he grew up in to...real reality. Which it seems he wants to be a part of or he wouldn't have left The Travelers to work in the real world.

    He's unwittingly being a jerk. You're not being a jerk by helping him not appear to be one. You're being his friend.

    Besides, I always have wondered if sexist attitudes correlated with violence. Not saying your friend has a violent bone in his body, but your post just brought that up. It seems that men who view women as "other," and anything not male as less than human (why else would someone need to "man up"?) would have fewer qualms about treating them as less than human as well.

    (Originally the above paragraph was gender neutral, but then I said screw it and decided to be specific. I'm sure it goes the other way as well, but society blah blah tends to mean that's a bit more rare...I think.)

  5. I'm going to advocate treading lightly. Yes, what everyone else said is correct, but, as someone who has gone through this from his side, you don't want to harp on him so much that he acts like a jerk out of spite. Because linguistic structures are buried pretty deep, and they just take time to work their way out, but no one likes being picked at. (Yes, I know, now someone's going to jump on me because Holly's getting insulted repeatedly throughout the day. Take solace in being "right". :) )

    Once, maybe twice a day at the most, is all you'd want to issue a "correction". And really, subtlety is good if the guy will get it. Once you've explained that he's being insulting (which I can't tell if you've been that direct from your post) the next time he says "That's so gay" as a derogatory, just cough and raise an eyebrow at him. Hopefully he'll get it and work to temper his own language, without you needing to resort to a long (and embarrassing for him) explanation each time.

  6. To the people who suggested chewing him out every time - That's needling him. I'm conflicted about whether to have a serious "I'd like you to think about the implications of what you're saying" talk at all, not whether to go "you're doin' it again!" every time he says "fireman" instead of "firefighter." It doesn't matter if I'm right every time, that would annoy him, not teach him.

    Amy - Maybe it's because he's my friend, but I think it's going way too far to accuse him of being potentially violent. His sexism is definitely on the semiconscious "man up" level, not the overt "this is no job for a woman" level.

    (Which actually happened to me at work the other day! A total stranger tried to push me aside before a heavy lift saying "let a man do it." Um, how about you let the person whose job it is do it? What do you think I do the 20-odd times a day that you're not around?)

    Perlhaqr - Yeah, sounds about right. I don't want to say nothing, but he's a partner first and a project second.

  7. There's also going over the top and making a joke out of it because it IS ridiculous. The way I've dealt with the relatively few people I've had to cope with in a social circle that had a verbal habit like that was, as it were, searching for the penis on the beer.

  8. I struggle in similar situations with well-meaning but sometimes clueless guy friends/relatives/co-workers. I agree that you can't just call them out on every little thing, or YOU become teh crazy and the message gets lost in the noise. Choosing a few key battles here and there (usually you know them when they arise) and addressing them with humor carries a lot more weight than ceaseless nagging. And I think you're right on the money with using yourself as the "personalizer"...if he knows you, an actual woman, and your capabilities/preferences/beer tastes, then that might plant a seed as to what to expect/not to expect/generalize from the theoretical "woman." Good luck! :)

  9. Well, to start with, stop saying "gender." You don't have a "gender", you have a sex. Gender is a grammatical term, having to do with nouns in languages other than English. I hope you're not also one of those people who say "Sci-Fi" when they should say "SF."

    Sorry to bother you, but the server at the Autism Hub seems to be busted at the moment, so I thought I'd cruise around amd annoy the normals with some pedanticism for a bit. (The server really is down, and that makes me a Sad Panda.)

  10. Justthisguy: That's not being pedantic, that's being a contrarian smartass. "Gender" in the general sense of the word simply means "a divison between classes or categories". There are several uses of the word, some technical, soem not, and "grammatical gender" is only one of them.

    Also, english *does* have grammatical gender, though only in a handful of special cases, like he/she and actor/actress - most words are neuter. Unless you consider "noun classes" to be a form of gender as well (some linguists do, some don't) then English has considerably more than that - for example, we normally say "some salad" and not "a salad" because salad is considered to be a mass of small things rather than a single object, so it is part of a different noun class for grammar purposes.

    When referring to people, gender can mean their physical sex, though this should really only be used in conversations where the word "sex" might be confused with sexual activity, or it can also refer to their social role preference. The most blatant example of this being: transgendered people desire to look, act, and be treated as a member of the opposite sex as the one they were born as, so their gender is not the same as their physical sex.

    *That* is how you engage in pedantry. (And as a parting shot, I don't think "pedanticism" is an actual word.)

  11. ...Oops, I don't think "soem" is an actual word either. I hope no one needs it to be explained what that was supposed to have been.

  12. Shorter sex/gender pedantry:

    In humans, "gender" indicates a complex of social roles, attitudes, and traits that are assumed incorrectly in American overculture to be synonymous with sex.

  13. Justthisguy - What everyone else said. Sex is "XX/XY," but gender is "man/woman," and gender is what I'm talking about here.

  14. I would agree that you should avoid needling this guy and policing his language every time he says something you don't like. For one thing, it won't work -- if he doesn't get or hasn't been exposed to the general theoretical stance that "masculine" and "feminine" are culturally constructed categories with tenuous (at best) connections to biological sex, he won't pick that up by having his words corrected. He'll just learn to watch his language around you, or think you're easily offended. So I would keep the "corrections" light and friendly, by saying things like "well, I like dark beer" or pointing out the absurdity of thinking that something many men like can be inherently feminine. Use humor when you can. Then if you're interested in having a deeper convo with him about these issues, look for an opportunity to do so. Maybe if you're out having some of those beers after work, for instance. Some social settings are conducive to more philosophical, theory-of-life conversations, & in the right context, explaining your ideas about gender could come off as an interesting exchange of views rather than as "correction." It would give him something to think about the next time he's tempted to say "I'm such a girl" (or the like).

  15. I had to make a similar change in my speech patterns, and I'd recommend the serious talk. It won't change his diction immediately, but it'll probably get him thinking. Each time he calls something "gay" or "girly" he may be thinking, "Oh shit, that was really insensitive of me." With some further gentle prodding, he may also be thinking, "I need to change the way I express myself. I don't want to be an asshole."

    That's just how it worked for me. Your mileage may vary.

  16. It's not your job to teach him , or to avoid standing up for yourself in case it offends him. He's offending you pretty regularly from what you've written. You have no obligation to go about correcting him in a "nicer" way. Respecting yourself is not an offence.

    I'm not saying I think you should view him as a project... view him as a human being who needs to take responsibility for his shit. If I had, say, a trans friend and was saying offensive crap, no matter how unintentional it may have been, I would not consider myself free from being called out on it every single time. If I get unjustly offended by this so-called "needling", then that's my own damn issue.

  17. I just wanted to add that telling those who being offended that they need to go about standing up for themselves in a nicer way (the whole "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" shit, which, funnily enough isn't even actually true) is classic behaviour from those in a position of privilege. If someone is offending you, you have no obligation whatsoever to be gracious about it. None.

  18. Kate - A) He's not The Oppression, he's my friend and work partner. We have good times together and we do hard work together. He makes me laugh and he saves my ass. He may have a mouth on him sometimes but I still respect him.

    B) Not only is it right not to be a pain in his ass, it's more effective. I may not be "obliged" to be polite to him, but being rude is just going to make my workday unpleasant and it's not going to shatter any stereotypes.

    C) Frankly, the whole "honey's no fun, vinegar that shithead" attitude assumes some privilege--it assumes that I won't face any consequences and am free to yell at him, when in fact if I start drama and word spreads around the company (it always does, within milliseconds, EMTs have Super Gossip Powers), neither management nor most other coworkers are going to look kindly upon it. I probably wouldn't lose my job or anything but I might get myself a reputation that made it a lot less fun. I'm not privileged enough to feel safe saying anything I want to anyone I want.

    D) I want to be nice about this. Respect my choice here.

  19. Holly! You needed to vent. Your supposed fans want you to 'stand up to him'. He just has an unfortunate upbringing, he's not your enemy.

    I always respect others choices. Whether I agree or not. My job here was to be a sympathetic "ear", not some schlub who believed that you just prostrated yourself before them, and besought their oracular wisdom. If they DID believe that, they effed up. Encouraging bellicose behavior is always a no-win proposition.

    Idn't your co-worker, so much as your fan-base who could use some sensitivity training....

    Myself included at times.