Monday, October 22, 2012

#nofilter

Lately, my fuse is a little bit on the short side. Maybe its the season (the grading is rolling in, I have my first cold, my students are getting stressed out, I have a budget meeting with the Dean). Then again, maybe it is something else. I find myself less able to hold my tongue or sugar-coat statements. Indeed, I find that most of the time I am ready to drop my gloves and fight for every inch of ideological space I am trying to inhabit in the institution and in my life. Got a problem with me? I'm going to set you straight. Make some sort of thinly-veiled sexist comment? I'm going to call you out on it. Acting like a bully? Holy cats, watch out. It is as though some manners-dam has been breached and I am incapable of letting foolishness go uncommented-upon. Forget the #nofilter apps on Instagram, I've got no filter when I speak!

Where is this coming from?

When I was a child my parents taught me never to interrupt, to wait until it was my turn to speak, and when I was speaking, they encouraged me to make my points clearly and succinctly and then let the other person respond. This training worked wonderfully well ... at home, where my parents valued what I had to say as much as what the other adults in the room were discussing. In high school I attended cotillion, which is etiquette training class. It was a mix of ridiculous social etiquette lessons and some really valuable lessons. I know how to foxtrot, how to waltz, and how to get out of a car wearing heels and a short skirt. I also learned which fork to use at a formal dinner table, and, additionally, I learned how to facilitate conversation, and how to listen. There was a lot of emphasis placed on being a good listener. None of these things -- having respect for others, being a good listener, recognizing and respecting rules -- is inherently bad, unless of course there is a breach of conduct by another party. I mean seriously, if someone is being disrespectful there is a time, place, and way to address it. (Did I mention cotillion also taught me the Southern art of the cutting remark? To be wielded with caution.)

Here's the thing: I am tired of the same kind of issues Margrit has written about here, Aimée has written about here, and I have written about here, here, and here. In short, I'm tired of how difficult the job market continues to be, how prevalent sexism continues to be, and how quietism seems to be the rule of the day. All that tiredness seems to be resulting in the loss of my filter.

#nofilter verbal sparring! Ka-pow! No foolishness allowed!

Suffice to say, I haven't always been so feisty, and I am not so sure it is wise for my career. But let me tell you, even if I wanted to tone it down, I'm not so sure I could! So the key becomes figuring out how to speak frankly while walking that fine line between respecting others and refusing to let lazy thinking go unaddressed. For me, right now, the filterless approach is working. For the future, I think I'll return to Heather's post on Tina Fey.

9 comments:

  1. Ugh. I know what you mean. Part of the point of my Bad Female Academic series was to address just what you are talking about here. Even just to blog, as yourself, seems to still be an act of rebellion.

    I got particularly angry with all of the negative and dismissive comments on the IHE piece about "mansplaining" in academia. Gah.

    We need to keep speaking, writing, and talking back.

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  2. A little over a week ago I was at a really wonderful conference that featured two (male, American, famous) keynotes who both, in different ways that I won't detail here, turned out to be disappointingly sexist. I responded to this disappointment by A) having a wonderfully empowering bitch about it with other young female academics and B) getting roaringly drunk and, on the neutral ground of a friend's apartment, yelling at a young male academic for about an hour. At no point did I even consider, however, telling either of those Big Famous Keynotes why I found their behaviour so disappointing.

    Right after this conference I picked up a copy of Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman, which probably should be required reading for everyone who follows this blog. She calls for a new brand of strident feminism based not in berating the patriarchy but in laughing at it. Considering how disempowered my own combination of silence and misdirected anger left me feeling, I'm trying to figure out if humour might be a better weapon. But is there space for humour in the so often humourless academy?

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  3. You know, sometimes I come home from work, and I'm tired, tired because I feel like the emperor has no clothes, and I'm the only one that a) can see it and b) will say so. And that makes me look like a bitch. Or at the very least a killjoy. No one likes to feel like a bitch or a killjoy, and certainly, no one likes to feel like the odd woman out. This is tiring.

    When I turn my filter off, LOOK OUT. I can actually be very nasty. I have always had a wicked sharp mouth (it's genetic: my six year old is already manifesting similar talents) and while I tend to feel awesome while the words are flying like arrows from my mouth, I've found it's not effectve.

    So now I go for the laugh. I am aiming now to allow whatever group I'm in to share a laugh with me about whatever absurdity I wish to point out as absurd. This is a little more successful. But I still spend a lot of time feeling like I'm rocking the boat and that no one is much enjoying getting splashed.

    Hugs to you, Erin. Please don't punch me. But if you do, remember, you get more power if you put your whole body into it ...

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  4. You can come visit and speak for me ;p I am aiming to be as quiet as possible this year, and feel greatly relieved when others speak so I won't have to--and so I won't have to feel guilty that problems are not being pointed out. I'm just trying not to rock the boat. Not that this is at all an easy task for me.

    @Hannah: sometimes it works to let people think their outrageous or sexist behavior does not bother you at all. Ask intelligent questions, preferably ones they cannot answer, that reveal the flaws in their logic/approach/focus. I also like to let people save face when this happens; they knew they couldn't answer and I know it, and likely everyone else in the room knows it too.

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  5. Hey y'all! Thanks for the comments. It is interesting to me that I tend to get more response from folks (written, that is) when I am in a quandry, a fit, or a state. Hmn.

    @Sherbygirl: I love BadFemaleAcademic! One of the things I am trying to think through here in this post and in everyday life are the ways in which affect is gendered. Sure, lots of folks have written about this, but when it plays out at the level of your own life, well, suddenly it is pressing, hey?

    @Hannah: I'll have to find a copy of the book. Both you and Aimee mention using humour as a weapon (a tradition with a long-standing history in many communities) and I don't disagree. But I do think -- really! -- that there are moments that call for unmitigated frankness. Now, while I get
    @Aimee's concern that frankness may turn into lashing out, what I am trying to work with is more along the lines of saying 'Hey! The emperor has not clothes on!' rather than 'Hey! You're ugly and naked!' See the difference?

    And I guess regarding rocking the boat: given that my contract is up May 31, 2013 and I have no definite employment after that, and given that I have been quite and it hasn't gained me all that much, I don't see getting splashed as being such a bad thing... But again I'll say that I'm not aiming to be nasty (which is hard sometimes, right?) I'm trying to say what needs to be said so that I can look myself in the mirror and know I gave as much as I could in an honest way.

    Does that make sense? Am I crazy?

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  6. Definitely not crazy, Erin! I'd say brave.
    Also, as you know, I'm totally with you on the horrors of precarious unemployment (or downright unemployment) but I also appreciate the "positive" spin on it in your above comment (i.e. feeling free to speak up because, hey, you're contract is ending anyway).
    And also: maybe this is just a kind of voyeuristic curiosity but I'm so curious to know exactly what kinds of situations we're all thinking of here, ya know?

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  7. Oops, I meant precarious employment, obviously.

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  8. Yay Erin! I love it when you're feisty.

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