One Day I Will Rule the World

World Domination, Babies and Middle Eastern Dance

May 27, 2009

What it says about them.

With much relief we finish birthday season. Glad to be done with late night crafts and panics about how early invitations have to go out. Still, richer in the little memories.

If my life is a mosaic, these are the shiniest stones. More trouble to place, just so! But, you know… gleaming.

I struggle to make birthdays special without surrendering to gendering. But children soak up their conditioning and they know their place. The girls can’t feel special until categorized as something the boys would sneer at.

I dig in my heels and try to redirect, not to be a dam in the river, but a stone. I can’t stop the currents, would not want to be the force that tried. But I can stir it up.

Meanwhile at work I retell vibrator jokes that were once told at my expense.

I’m trying to illustrate points about sexual harassment, but my audience doesn’t get it. In fact, because I have framed the discussion as addressing sexual harassment, they think they should be shocked on my behalf, when, in fact, my point is that the joke is funny. My point is a lesson about valuing banter, and the finer points of knowing when you’re bantering and when you’re harassing.

But maybe a workplace of 50+ people cannot be expected to conform to policies with finer points.

In my workplace review, I bring up workplace sexism, and first it is suggested to me that the women have to be more assertive about drawing the line and letting people know when joking crosses the line.

I do not make the “blaming victims” point. I mildly lament that, already doing this, I suppose myself to have been branded as the office-angry-feminist. Then, (this is the BEST part,) THEN, they go over the feedback about me and an anonymous feedbacker helpfully informs us that I may be perceived as a party-pooper.

I can guarantee the only party I’ve ever intentionally pooped was a misogynist one.

With another comment from (presumably a different person) that I can be condescending and overly critical, I left feeling very raw. I spent a long time analyzing every interaction, looking for where I am unnecessarily critical without seeing it. So difficult because my job requires me to correct things; how do I do that without making anyone feel criticized, given that some people are so hard on themselves there is no way to deliver a correction that won’t sting a little. And I am SO careful with people when I’m correcting them. Which doesn’t mean I’ve never been misunderstood or had wrinkles to smooth out. But I’ve requested a lot of process changes to change the tone of my involvement from “oversight” to “collaboration”. And I try to sit down with someone who’s been asked to do Quality Assurance tasks for me so I can explain to them that, although the process looks inflexible and exacting, if there are extenuating circumstances, they should tell me because I’ll take their side over the process.

In retrospect, I decide the feedback about my being critical is ironic because whenever I have been asked to provide feedback for others’ reviews I have not given any negative feedback. I once went so far as to reply to the “negative” questions on one of them with a passionate answer (then email followup, then conversation followup) about how inappropriate a venue a review was for casual observers to dredge up one’s character flaws.

So I trust whoever felt I was unnecessarily critical feels suitably revenged. I am, as they probably are, very hard on myself. And I spent a lot of time picking everything about me apart and wondering what I could have done to avoid getting any critical feedback.

But I’m done now. As a generalization, they missed the mark. I am not a critical person, I do not come into work thinking I need to tear someone down to prove my intellect. In specific situations, I probably miss areas where I can improve – but I can’t know how to address them from anonymous generalizations.

A friend in the office makes it all better with this feedback: “It is good to know what your coworkers think of you. Not because it says something about you, but because it says something about them.” And I take satisfaction in reflecting on my own moments of compassion for others being reviewed. So until I know specific ways that I can take better care of my coworkers, I dismiss the anonymous feedbacker’s comments on the grounds that it was never intended to be constructive.

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  1. Alison

     /  2009-05-27

    A: I got called a “fuddy-duddy” today because I refused to laugh at the on-going imitations of hens cackling every time “the girls” started talking and laughing.

    B: Yesterday in my review (which was glowing) I was told that I have on occasion rubbed some people the wrong way. The example used was when I refused to back down about being paid for stat holidays when I was entitled to it. A “softer” approach was called for – which, when I think about it, can really only mean that I should have acquiesed and accepted not being paid, since there was certainly nothing belligerent in my approach. I wonder if a man would have had this same criticism given him for the same situation?

    C: There is no way a woman can draw the line about a joke going too far without being branded with various unappealing traits. See fuddy-duddy above.

  2. Oh god, I know. Every time there’s some kind of interpersonal issue where I disagree with treatment that I’ve received gender-double-standards is actually the last thing I suspect. But then once I suspect that it is coloring others’ assessments of me or how they feel I deserve to be treated, then it becomes ridiculous how consistently I find it. One day I will accept that I live in a patriarchy.

    The friend who comforted me said, “besides, you’re a woman and you refuse to play dumb, of course they’re going to call you condescending.”

    When someone reacts to me as if I’ve been harshly critical of them, I tend to give them the benefit of an assumption that they are perfectionists who find it hard to receive any criticism, no matter how carefully approached. Because I’ve been a perfectionist like that. But when they tell me to “watch my tone” with them, or that I should “appreciate them more” or “take a softer approach” I think “dude, your double standard is showing. And I’m not your mom.”

    Sometimes I like to picture these men actually telling other office men to “watch your tone” or saying petulantly “you made me look bad in front of people,” or “you really didn’t appreciate my efforts” and seriously expecting other men to babysit their egos.

    P.S. You should start making remarks about “sausage parties” every time the guys around your office do something in a gang.

  3. Oh also, I’ve totally forgiven the “party-pooper” remark. Having thought about the most-likely culprit, I concluded that it was probably an attempt to defend me against projected criticisms (that other people might say).

    Also feeling sorry for the poor HR people. I made an off-hand remark around some programmers about whether I was condescending, and it has very quickly become sport for some of them to call everything I do condescending. (OMG, probably because it’s TRUE, right? And they’re relieved to have this JOKE because it’s the only way they could say it to my face because I’m TERRIFYING in my arrogance!!).

  4. Alison

     /  2009-05-27

    I think “terrifying in my arrogance” could be your new tag line.

  5. Alison

     /  2009-05-27

    Maybe even in your electronic signature at work.

    Megan ********
    (Insert job title here)
    Terrifying in my arrogance

  6. Hug.

    Party-pooper. REALLY. I find that hard to believe.
    Intimidating? Maybe. Terrifying? No.

    Anyway, I still think you’re great, even if I don’t see/talk to/deal with you every day – or even every week.

  7. Aw, Amy. Thanks for that.

    And I don’t think anyone called me terrifying – that was my own inflated, dramatics.

    And I think you’re great too. When are you coming back?

  8. THE PLAN is next March-ish. I need one more NZ summer before going home.


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