Rogue Ink

June 17, 2008

Your Copywriter. Now In ‘Attractive.’

Filed under: Entrepreneurship — Tei @ 5:35 am
Tags: , ,

Way back when, I promised you guys more gender/race relations. Remember? Remember how I said I’d talk about it the next day? Well, I lied to you. Kindly keep in mind that the proprietor of the Lusty Weevil is, in fact, a rogue, so lies are to be expected and encouraged. But today I got into a talk with some other female freelancers about being, you know, us, and whether we’ve really come all that far from the olden days, when people still said things like ‘olden’ and we would have been auto-delegated to positions as secretaries and . . . um. Secretaries, I guess. They didn’t have that many choices, did they? That must have been boring as hell.

The Assumption Shift

The Assumption Shift is powerful to behold. For purposes of this discussion, you need to know that I am fairly young and, as they say, easy on the eyes. I won’t be giving any supermodels a run for their money or anything, but let us not beat around the bush here. I’m a good-looking girl. If I had not been aware of this before business interactions began, I would assuredly have become so right quick, because the Assumption Shift begins with – shockingly enough – an Assumption.

The Assumption is based on appearance. I’m an attractive young woman, consulting on a copywriting gig. The Assumption has usually been that I am in this meeting because I am an attractive young woman, and not because I am a professional copywriter. Initial introductions have garnered all kinds of fun reactions to the Assumption. One older executive woman actually rolled her eyes when I walked in the room, while another up-and-coming young gentleman came out with what was undeniably a pick-up line. At the outset of a business meeting. Awkward.

So it’s fortunate that in today’s day and age, there is the Shift.

The Shift is based on personality and communication. Usually, the Shift takes approximately five minutes. Those are a slightly painful five minutes in certain instances, when the Assumption is particularly strong, because those are the minutes in which I have been talked down to, flirted with, and quite frankly insulted. However, by the time those five minutes are up and I have shown none of the reactions that would be typical of the aforementioned Assumption, the Shift occurs. Which is when everyone who was following the Assumption quite suddenly becomes embarrassed. And it serves them right. The rest of the meeting tends to be quite enjoyable. We rogues are not above gloating.

Why Does the Shift Happen?

I am a professional. I can speak eloquently and intelligently about any number of topics, and I am a wily enough rogue that I can generally maneuver my way through a meeting gracefully even if I missed some nuance or technical term. I can make a recommendation for good copy or marketing strategy and stand by it, and I don’t feel the need to apologize for myself for giving a reasoned opinion even if someone senior to me at the meeting disagrees. I don’t say ‘like’ every third word, I don’t have an overenthusiastic bubbly voice, I know when and how to use the word ‘whom’, and I will beat you with a stick if you say the word ‘irregardless’. I am not to be trifled with.

I don’t feel the need to over-emphasize these qualities. The only way to contend with the Assumption is to have another one lying in wait. My Assumption is that I will be treated as a professional, because this is the 21st century, and I am damned good at what I do, and these people have no earthly reason to doubt me. My Assumption is pretty powerful, because it has actual logic behind it. Theirs doesn’t. If asked why she rolled my eyes when I walked in the door, that senior executive could not have given one good reason. “Because she’s pretty” would not have flown. She doesn’t have a reason behind her Assumption. I do. I win.

Why Doesn’t the Shift Happen?

There are a great many people who never manage the Shift, and I get why that still happens. It usually has to do with the fact that none of the abovementioned tenants of the Assumption Shift has anything to do with actual ability. Teenybopper of the Tabloids herownself could be at a business meeting, and for all we know, Tabloid Teenybopper is a mean coder. We don’t know. And we never will. Because she looks, sounds, and acts like Tabloid Teenybopper. Ability has absolutely nothing to do with the Assumption Shift.

I am not suggesting that you are Tabloid Teenybopper. (Although if you are, my readers are not quite the demographic I had in mind). However, I’ve met any number of women who are extremely good at what they do, who cannot get the Assumption Shift because they never got over it. Those first five minutes completely stunned them. They are good at what they do, they were asked to consult, and yet, they are not being treated as professionals. Why?

It throws them. They start to doubt. They don’t stick behind what they’re saying, or they overdo it and insist on what they’re saying, even when, as we all learned somewhere in the School of Things You Never Really Want to Be True, the customer is always right. Even when he’s wrong. The loser. Ability never figures into this equation, only the way they are perceived. Sadly, they can’t act naturally in the face of the Assumption. They start to change.

They allow the way people treat them to form the way they actually behave, and that is not good. You can make people do anything if you treat them as though they’re likely to do it. True for anyone, but particularly true if you’re already feeling vulnerable. I have had people clucking like chickens in front of me, just by saying they seem like the sort of people that would.

The Power of the Assumption

Seriously. Try this on anyone you like. Ask them to do something outrageous. Ask them to crawl on their hands and knees across the floor of a busy mall store. Ask them to burp loudly in front of a group of strangers. Ask them to recite the alphabet backwards to the tune of Bonny Portmore. Ask them blithely, casually, as though you had no doubt that they would do this insane thing. Most of them will do it. To the ones who don’t, just look at them as though bewildered and a little hurt and say, your voice faintly sad,

“Wow. You’ve really changed.”

A strange thing will happen. You will see a look cross their face. This is the look of delving into one’s personal history, to see if one really was ever the type of person to burp at the hot-dog guy. Even if they still don’t do it, you have seen the magic of the Assumption at work. They questioned it. They questioned themselves. They questioned whether they would do something completely idiotic, and further, whether they were the sort of person that did frankly idiotic things for no reason.

The power of the Assumption is Doubt.

So How Far Have We Come Again?

Pretty far, according to my parents’ generation. Used to be that the Assumption would hold for a much longer time. We’re more aware now, as a society, that this Assumption is unfounded. People used to actually believe, in a scientific, logical way, that women were inferior to men. They had research. It was common knowledge. So those Assumptions had reasons. Really stupid ones. But reasons. They felt secure in those Assumptions, and they never went away.

Today, people don’t have that excuse. We all know we’re all equal here. The Assumption is a leftover, and it will go away eventually. I hope. Women used to never be able to escape the Assumption. It hung around like a bad smell, or a devoted trapeze artist. Now, it’s five minutes. Not bad. Maybe in another fifty years, it’ll be gone. We have to hope.

Not Just for Women

Crystal of the Big Bright Bulb has had the same experience, except that she has the double whammy of being both female and black. For her, the trump card wasn’t speaking well, but a degree. (The whole story’s in the comments of My Useless College Education, back here somewhere.) I’m going to quote her at length here.

I’ve done the potential-job-candidate-walk-around and been introduced by my degree, not my experience, “This is Crystal, she has a degree in Architecture from Virginia Tech.” And 85% of the time hearing that sentence changed people’s body language. Notably. Who knows what the hand-shaker thought they were looking at, but it required a visible reset.

A little further down, there was this gem of an Out-of-Context conversation, which makes me want to shake people, but serves to prove my point.

Interviewers, new supervisors, co-workers, new customers and clients, and most (though not all) of the strangers of my professional life responded like they thought I was a dunce and were pleasantly (or not so pleasantly) surprised to find I wasn’t.

My favorite was overhearing a new supervisor say to a crony, “Well, Crystal is just terrific. I mean, I hired her because she was black, and come to find she actually knows what she’s doing and does a great job.” Lovely.

Lovely, indeed. Racist, sexist, all the same beast. It’s an Assumption. And you know what they say about Assuming.

That’s right. They say it’s dumb.

The Magic Key

There is one. Humor. Laugh at it. Seriously.

Crystal does. I do. Getting upset about it just makes your day worse. Laughing at it makes you feel better, and it makes the guy who assumed look like an idiot. Imagine this.

Assuming Dude: “Well, I’m sure a pretty little thing like you doesn’t really care about this technical stuff.”

That is not a made-up comment. That happened to me once. Here’s what I could have done.

Me: “No, I do care! I am perfectly capable, really I am.”

Here’s what I did.

Me: (Incredulous look and a peal of laughter that actually brought tears to my eyes. I was doubled up. People were staring. Assuming guy was embarrassed as shit, which he should have been.) “People still SAY that? A pretty little thing like me?” (More laughter.) “Oh, my. That just made my day. That’s hilarious. You were explaining the technical stuff to me, I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to get distracted.” (Small chuckle.) “Pretty little thing. Heh.”

And you know what? He shut up and explained it.

Which is what I assumed he would do, in the first place. When I asked.

Subscribe. I assume you will.

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33 Comments »

  1. I’m a teacher specialist by day, and this new teacher (a guy) dared to call me sweetie during a professional workshop — that I was presenting! My immediate reactions was “Sweetie?” He looked embarrassed. I was glad.

    Comment by Sandra — June 17, 2008 @ 5:55 am | Reply

  2. Holy SHIT, I cannot believe that “hired her because she is black” thing. Fark. I do believe in affirmative action for the purpose of getting people to the interview stage so that everyone has the same opportunity to show that they’re the best person for the job etc, but jeeeeebus. As a young woman from a non-English speaking background myself, I have wondered about whether I’ve been picked because someone needed to fill their females/NESBs diversity quota or something, but I’d always hoped that had never actually happened. That would give my ego quite the shock. So I guess I’m glad I haven’t overheard anyone, I suppose.

    Comment by Sunili — June 17, 2008 @ 7:39 am | Reply

  3. Very interesting writeup. As a youngish, white (nerdy) male working at obtaining my chemistry degree, I’ve seen my share of assumptions being made about girls I’ve gone through university with. The number of professors (professors!) that act similarly to your ‘Assuming Dude’ is appalling. Thankfully in Australia the ‘baby boomer’ generation that dominates this kind of thinking is starting to retire, so hopefully that will lead to a more tangible equality and less presumption in the workplace.

    Again, nice writeup and thanks for sharing (:

    Comment by phill — June 17, 2008 @ 8:56 am | Reply

  4. Tei,

    Girl power. In a non-girly way. Very attractive.

    Ooh, I have been waiting for this post since Crystal’s OMG comment. Well-written! I especially love the “Wow. You’ve really changed” part. I don’t think I’ll check on burping or clucking abilities of colleagues, but I feel the truth of what you wrote there. On a professional level I don’t think I do a lot of clucking. I’m a pretty tough nut. I think I’m a pretty, tough nut too. I’m good with those Assumptions out in public. I’m not quite as old as your parents but times have been tougher than they are now, believe me.

    In personal dealings, though, I can think of situations where I’ve looked down the barrel of “Wow. You’ve really changed,” and been shot at close range. I’ve come out clucking, and wondering about myself.

    I wrote about gender stuff for Just Creative Design this week. Take a look if you have a moment. Reading this cracked me up, because I began the article talking about not wanting to believe gender makes a difference. That’s the tough nut in me, handling those bad smells with ease.

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Comment by Kelly — June 17, 2008 @ 11:09 am | Reply

  5. Call me male, but you’ve confused me. I know that there is gender bias and that “pretty little thing” always comes before “smart professional.” I know that women writers are treated differently by clients from the moment they say two things: home office and kids. WAHMs have a rough time.

    I *think* what you’re saying is that this bias, rough time, perception issue only lasts five minutes and that if it lasts longer, it’s the woman’s fault. Is that right? Because I don’t think I agree with that.

    On a side note, we have French/English situations like that up here in Quebec. There are quotas for hiring English. There are moments when I speak French to be treated properly. There are times when I know pulling out my English will get me further.

    Other side note: A friend of mine (pure French Canadian) often says, “If you can get in with the English, your job security is golden.”

    This was an interesting post, definitely.

    Comment by James Chartrand - Men with Pens — June 17, 2008 @ 12:16 pm | Reply

  6. Oh, dontcha love the look on the face when you open your mouth and intelligence comes out instead of the babble they expected? Once I had an encounter with a clueless young thing who was selling cars. I had shopped very carefully online, narrowed down my choices to three, and hit the dealerships. This young man obviously had been taught that women buy cars for cup holders and aesthetics, for he actually said to me, “…and look at that emblem. Isn’t it nice?” The lesson was clearly in order. I smiled and said sweetly, “Yes, that’s nice. But can you tell me – how much torque does this deliver and does it come in turbo?” My revenge was in the confused, dazed look on his face. He stuttered, and said, “I’m… not…sure. Let me check on that.”

    James makes a good point. I doubt very much the perception is the woman’s fault if she fails to react. I suspect you meant more that the reaction you give can win them over to your side if you choose the appropriate response.

    Comment by Lori Widmer — June 17, 2008 @ 1:23 pm | Reply

  7. “I will beat you with a stick if you say the word ‘irregardless’.”

    Finally, somebody who agrees with me!

    The bit about ‘unable to handle the Assumption’ really hit home with me. I get flustered by that stuff quickly (tried GMing a game recently and gave up after five minutes of ‘she doesn’t know what she’s doing, let’s annoy her’ on the part of the players). Maybe I need to work on that ‘logic’ thing you mentioned.

    Comment by FekketCantenel — June 17, 2008 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

  8. For the record, I’ve been hit on more than a clay pigeon when I go to conferences or I extend my friendly demeanor to others. One poor chap was so embarrassingly smitten I had to back off the professional relationship entirely. I’ve narrowed it down to this – I’m approachable and open with people. Oftentimes that translates into strange reactions from shameless flirting to actual professions of how stunning I am. (note: I’m not stunning. Stunned, yes. Stunning, no.) I try to gauge my demeanor to avoid these situations, but how do you change who you are? My husband once asked why some women seem so cold. I merely point to any number of personal experiences in which being nice to someone was translated into flirting or worse, an invitation to get touchy-feely.

    Comment by Lori Widmer — June 17, 2008 @ 1:28 pm | Reply

  9. Ha! Car dealers. My ex-wife and I went car shopping once. Her car. Her money. She was the buyer. I was just tagging along.

    Every single time we hit a car lot (and we hit 12), the salesman would speak to me first – despite the fact that SHE held out her hand before me and SHE said, “I’m looking for a car.”

    The salesperson (all men, you’ll note) would start pointing out cars… to me. Not her. Me.

    She’d listen, ask questions (the answers got directed at me) and point out cars she liked better. But the salespeople didn’t bring her over to those cars to try to sell them. They would look, say something like, “Oh yes, that’s a nice one,” and then turn back to me. I would even TELL the guys that I wasn’t buying and it was her decision. Didn’t matter.

    12 dealerships. Three cities. Same reaction from every single one.

    She ended up taking a pad and paper and going around every car she liked on her own, taking notes. When she found one she liked (on her own), she waited until the next morning, told me to stay home, marched into the dealership and said, “THAT is the car I want and I’ll give you THIS much money for it.”

    Comment by James Chartrand - Men with Pens — June 17, 2008 @ 1:43 pm | Reply

  10. Great post Tei,
    Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.I have found that a direct look and a no-nonsense smile has wiped any other thoughts right out of their heads. But it took me some time in my 20’s to get there.

    The bottom line is that for the most part, people will treat you the way you let them. Tei’s right, maybe not in the first five minutes, but what you believe about yourself radiates off of you. If you have boundaries, if you have confidence, if you know that you can handle the job and don’t have an overwhelming urge to have to qualify everything or apologize for every other word, it will come across.

    That being said, you can’t always make people like you.
    There are still people hanging on to their antiquated belief systems out there. To my grandmother’s dying day, you wouldn’t get her tolike you or respect you if the color of your skin was anything less than Arian white and you had blue eyes. She was as racist as they came. But you could have gotten her to stay away and leave you alone if you radiated that you weren’t to be trifled with. She wouldn’t have given you a hard time. And in the business world, sometimes even that has to be enough.

    I hope you are right Tei. I hope we reach a point where all assuptions like that go away. I know as a mother I am doing my best to see that they are gone for good.

    Comment by wendikelly — June 17, 2008 @ 1:45 pm | Reply

  11. Hmm.

    It’s odd for me to read an article like this. I can understand what’s happening in an academic sense; but I’ve not observed it on a personal level.

    I don’t doubt that it happens, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure it does.

    I just don’t know how widespread it is anymore. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve encountered any form of gender bias, and I’ve seen it work both directions.

    I’ve seen it more often in regard to race, but I still wouldn’t say it’s been rampant, at least not in my experiences.

    As a former mommy writer, I do see what James is saying – throw the word “mommy” or “work at home” into the mix, and there are a bunch of assumptions. I’ve seen that one, though maybe not to the degree that others have seen it. I often wonder if that isn’t a niche issue, though, rather than a gender one?

    I also don’t question the validity of others’ experiences. I do wonder about the evidence, though. Correlation doesn’t always equal causation.

    In other words, how do you know the shift is happening? A pick-up line is unprofessional, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the guy thought you weren’t a competent copywriter. And eye-rolling can mean any number of things. Maybe she didn’t like your outfit, or was eye-rolling at a conversation that’d been going on before you entered.

    Again, I’m not saying that those experiences didn’t reflect the assumption you describe, just that I can imagine scenarios where they’re unrelated.

    I recognize that, as a white American male, I’ve got the luxury of being able to look at the issue from afar. My view could naturally be skewed. I just know how I work and what I’ve seen. And because of those things, I’m not sure of how widespread the problem is.

    Comment by Bob Younce at the Writing Journey — June 17, 2008 @ 2:07 pm | Reply

  12. Great post. Bob’s response is typical — I love you, man, but it’s typical. When I’m not doing whatever it is I do with words and the Internet and stuff, I teach “Gender, Race, and Class” at the university here. In Vegas — yes, Women’s Studies in Vegas, it’s truly a thing to behold. Anyway, a good part of my class is getting the men to recognize the stuff that most of the women in my classes just know, deep-down. And the white students to recognize the stuff that my students of color just know, deep-down. Last semester, a student nailed it — a heated argument had developed over my contention that white people have the privilege of being seen as individuals and not as representatives of their race. Suddenly, a Hispanic student in the class speaks up, says “Does anyone notice that the only people arguing with this point are white males?” At which point, the *entire* non-white population of my class started nodding and giving loud “uh-huhs!” The class calmed down quite a bit after that…

    The point is, so much of this just seems like individual awkward behavior. Sure, I’ve seen *a guy* be a jerk, but so what? Deal with it and move on. But if you’re on the receiving end of that jerkiness, and say 1 of 10 guys are jerks (I am being *soooo* generous, here) that pretty much amounts to a constant stream of jerky behavior. And if the other 9 of 10 do *nothing* about it…

    I think James raised a good point, though — it’s not a woman’s fault if the Assumption Shift never happens. In the end, she can’t be responsible for the moral and civic education of every male jackass she runs into. I’m glad our Rogue host has worked out a way to deal with jackassery and get her job done, but frankly it’s one aspect of a whole system of disadvantages and not everyone’s going to have the energy, creativity, peronality, etc. to deal with it. As a freelancer, too, you have the ability to get in, make your mark, and get out; you’re not going to be dealing with it day in and day out, watching promotions go to the men around you because they were “team players” or “leadership material” or whatever.

    I think it’s important that more women follow the example above, but also important that men like Bob, James, and I learn to be a little more observant, of our own behavior and the behavior of those around us, so maybe we can skip the whole Assumption/Assumption Shift thing and focus on creating value. I mean, seriously — 5 minutes of lost time with every client? Times how many attractive female copywriters? (And I’m sure the older and/or less attractive get their share of crap, too, even if it’s different crap — and then there’s the non-white ones, male and female both.) Let’s just think what we could do as a society with all those extra minutes we didn’t waste on being idiots!

    Comment by writertech — June 17, 2008 @ 3:54 pm | Reply

  13. Bob,

    It’s there. It’s widespread. Turning it around is the best solution there is, and I think we may have even less than 5 minutes to do it in.

    Oh, car dealers. Mechanics (ugh). Anyone at an electronics store, or the tool department at your local home improvement store. Me oh, my, you don’t even have to be trying to close a deal to discover it all around you.

    Speaking of hot dog dudes, I once had one challenge me to fisticuffs (yes, really) after I refused his little hot-dog advances. (I don’t want to date you so you’ll punch me?) Turned from dog to absolute cur in two seconds. Unbelievable.

    Until later,

    Kelly

    Comment by Kelly — June 17, 2008 @ 4:02 pm | Reply

  14. I wish more women thought like this. Feminism, Girl Power, etc. should be about confidence and convincing people through skill and demeanor that you are not a plaything, but a professional.

    I got this more because I was young than because I was a woman. When I wasn’t obviously the youngest person in my office, the treatment immediately changed. Didn’t matter that I had a kid and a degree and a house and all that “adult” stuff.

    Comment by Sandie Law — June 17, 2008 @ 4:06 pm | Reply

  15. ::doing the little happy dance, for a rogue loves a good debate and she JUST got up this morning::

    Okay, all and sundry, let’s do the line:

    Sandra: I love it when all that’s necessary to mock them is to repeat what they just said. That is how you know it’s a fuck-up.

    Sunili: I’m actually against affirmative action in a lot of ways because of this logic leap. As though Crystal needed to be black to secure her position. How about she’s fucking qualified and she happens to be black? I’d almost sooner have a harder time getting a job as a woman rather than deal with that bias. I think (Crystal?) she feels about the same.

    Phil: Oh, it’s definitely shifting. I’ve found that the more liberal the community, the easier it goes. And yes, that often translates to ‘younger’ but not always. I know some savvy sixty-year-olds.

    Kelly: Yeah, it’s rough when someone you want to like you says come on, just cluck once. I thought you were so cool. Peer pressure, baby. This is what it is. I’d like to believe gender doesn’t matter either, but it does. It’s how you roll with it.

    James: Mm. Work-from-home-mom and ‘women’ are two separate animals, and I think that the bias against work-at-home-moms is fresher simply because they haven’t been in the workforce as long. It’s a recent ability, to telecommute and take care of the kids, and because of that the assumptions are fresher. I think WAHMs are farther back in the assumption timeline than women in general, which is a shame, but it doesn’t mean they can’t get there. Hell, I wouldn’t fuck with Naomi, and she’s as WAHM as they come.

    I don’t think it’s the woman’s fault, per se. I think that frequently women unconsciously begin to reflect the bias that is projected onto them, and that encourages the assumption, and then it is much harder for it to go away later, when the woman has more assurance in her position. And then she’s like, hey, why is everyone still treating me like I don’t know my shit? Because you let us, initially, that’s why. It’s not a fault thing. It’s an unconscious acceptance of the bias, and I think a lot of women don’t know they do it.

    Lori: Heehee. Love it. I like to go to the hardware store wearing a silk skirt. I really love my hardware store because they employ all the older carpenters whose bodies won’t bear hard labor anymore, and they’re trying so hard to be all gentlemanly. They’re not condescending at all – they’re just trying so hard to be the dashing rescuers, and they get all flummoxed when I say, “I’m looking for a belt sander.”

    No, I don’t think it’s the woman’s fault. I think it’s a controllable perception in a lot of cases. Obviously they shouldn’t even have the assumption, the losers. That is their fault. It’s a quick fix, though, and I don’t see why we wouldn’t all employ whatever strategy we can to take care of it.

    FekketCantenel: That’s hilarious. My guy friends were afraid to play with women because they were fucking RUTHLESS, not incompetent. They had crazy rule-mastery and their characters were all chaotic evil and they were all scared to play with them because they kept role-playing them into the ground and killing them brutally.

    Lori: Oh. Dude. Whole. ‘Nother. Post. I am TOTALLY with you on that. I am a funny, funny chick, and damned if people don’t assume I am making them laugh to show them I am attracted to them, instead of, oh, I don’t know, being the AWESOME person in the OFFICE?

    James again: I make no excuses for car dealers. They should all be shot.

    Wendi: Yeah, there are certainly the unbeatables. That’s okay, though. We know they’re unbeatable. We don’t do awesome work for them. Sorry. Ain’t worth my nickel.

    Bob: Still happens. As I say, it’s subtler now – you’re certainly not going to hear much trash-talking around the water cooler. It’s more in people’s heads, most of them would never say this shit out loud. If you’re not the target, you don’t often see it, because, hell, you’re a normal guy and why would ANYONE be sexist in today’s day and age? Doesn’t make any sense, say you. And keep on keeping on, Bob. The revolution begins and ends with people who have forgotten to assume it was even necessary in the first place.

    writertech: Amen. And again, for the twelfth time now, no, not the woman’s fault the assumption exists. Bad assumption. But it’s totally on her plate what she does with it. Should she HAVE to react to it? Hell no. Bad society, shame, no cookie for you. But she DOES have to react to it, and there are good ways and bad ways to do that. I found one way that works for me. Won’t work for everyone. I found one way I know perfectly well never works. Will never work. For anyone. Clucking? Fuck clucking. You can quote me on that. Please do.

    Sandie: Yeah, young’s a pain. What helps is that I have a better vocabulary than most people twice my age. And I look older than I am. Handy. I know some women who still look like they’re in their teens though they’re around thirty, and it’s really hard for them.

    Comment by Tei — June 17, 2008 @ 5:20 pm | Reply

  16. :: Extends a hand to Rogue. “May I join you in this happy dance, not as a superior being, but as an equal who sees you as a professional first and everything else second?” ::

    Tei, I hope you put away the rotten fruit. I’ve a feeling folks are going to be grabbing for it in a minute.

    Here’s my problem.

    How can anyone know what’s going on in someone else’s head? I just can’t subscribe to the “women intuitively know” or “minorities intuitively know” philosophy any more than I can subscribe to the “white men can never understand” philosophy. That is both sexist and racist.

    Keep in mind, too, that I didn’t deny racial or gender bias exists – I’m just saying I haven’t witnessed much of it. And it’s not because I’m not watching for it.

    I realize there’s a personal and subjective component to the question – that was my point about experience above. But I also believe you can observe something that you’ve never experienced. I wrote extremely well for several years on the topic of childbirth, but I’ve never been through it. I can’t tell you about the pain, but I can tell you about the process. Same holds true for racial or gender bias. I can see it when it happens. I’m white and male, I’m not fucking blind.

    When I was in Grad school, every course I took had a Race, Class and Gender component. In the History field, you can take for granted the fact that every paper you write or book or article you read has to deal with this “holy trinity” as we called it. I get that these are important issues. Really, I do. But they’re not entirely determinative.

    My favorite discussion was the one in which we looked at a book whose thesis was that the South lost the Civil War because the women at home stopped supporting the Confederate troops.

    Sorry, but that’s crap. There’s just too much evidence against it.

    Here’s my problem. I don’t think that gender bias exists because men are evil; I think gender bias exists because some men have evil ideas. Race, class and gender play second fiddle to ideology. Bad ideology produces bad beliefs about race, class and gender, but it is the ideas that are determinative, not the other way around.

    Again, for those of you playing the home game, let me reiterate: I absolutely believe gender bias occurs. I’m not denying it. I question how widespread it is. I ask folks to to examine all of the possible causes when a suspected incident arises.

    Furthermore, I have no ability to determine what’s going on inside someone’s head. Their motives are their own, and they are sacrosanct. I take them at their word unless the evidence is overwhelming. Why? Because I want others to take me at my word when it comes to motives.

    OK, let’s go. Fire away. I’m golfing this afternoon, so we’ll have to finish our dance tonite 🙂

    Comment by Bob Younce at the Writing Journey — June 17, 2008 @ 7:53 pm | Reply

  17. ::I should be delighted to dance with you, for your website tells me you know how.::

    This is actually a problem most people have experienced when trying to be exceptional people. It sucks for us, because the ground has been laid for non-exceptional people, and that invites all us trying to be better to just go with low, because that’s what’s expected, and how we are often perceived regardless of our intent.

    So. I agree that the bias is dwindling. I have personally experienced it in very few of the business situations I have been in, and many of those, I believe, were reacting far more to my youth than my gender. I think the youth and the gender combine for a bit of a double-whammy there, especially because the stereotype of hiring a young attractive women in the hopes that someone in the office gets to boink her is still going strong. Check out your pop culture. It’s still there. Strong women in the workplace? Also there, but so’s that bimbo. Damn her.

    I certainly don’t think you are unable to perceive it. I will note, however, that we generally only pick up subtle signals if we are the target of them. You, as a white dude walking into the black feminista meeting group, will feel all the weirdness shunted in your direction, even if said feministas have amazing control over their verbal and facial reactions. The black woman who walked in with you? She isn’t going to sense a damn thing. No one’s projecting evil thoughts at her. It’s kind of like that. Now, I am not suggesting that all of this is going on full-force in front of you, because most people do show some sort of observable reaction on top of other things. But that older female professional? I knew when she rolled her eyes that she rolled them at me and I knew EXACTLY what she was thinking, and she was otherwise extremely professional. She didn’t mean for me to see her. We became buds later and she ‘fessed that the hiring guy was known for hiring attractive incompetents, so she thought that’s what had happened. She was delighted to be wrong, and she never treated me poorly. But the assumption was there, I felt it, and no one else had a goddamn clue.

    I will, however, grant you that not everyone’s radar is as finely tuned as they think it is, and I have seen well-meaning women berate men for being sexist when said men were in fact being no such thing. Which in turn made them those melodramatic women. It’s a funny little cycle.

    Gods. Debate. Okay. Continue.

    Comment by Tei — June 17, 2008 @ 8:13 pm | Reply

  18. Great post and great discussion! I am 44, black and female and did quite well in Corporate America (including becoming a VP in my 20s) before starting my own business. I don’t let negative assumptions bother me and no longer feel a need to prove a point (it really riled me in my 20s). We all have assumptions, it is the foundation from which we begin. Assumptions, in my opinion, become dangerous when entrenched. I assume that when I put the key in my ignition it will start, and if doesn’t I won’t continue to stay stuck in my assumption but will use the new information to investigate. Racial and bias negative assumptions are not dead we’ve just gotten better at hiding them, after all it’s not “PC.” I have heard “Oh you’re not like other Black people, ” intended as a compliment to my intellect. Oh yea, that’s not offensive at all. I still have people clutch their bag when I come near (and I could not be farther from a would be thief or gang member, in fact I find myself looking around to see who is posing a threat) and have heard every stupid, thoughtless comment that many women have heard. However, I’m 44 and all that stuff now makes me either pity you or laugh at you, and when I’m in the mood I may even tell you how stupid you are (nicely of course). On the other side of the equation, we also make assumptions about men, beauty and anyone not from our country of origin. It’s all silly which is why I have chosen to allow people to show me who they are and over and over I have found that idiots come in both genders and all races.

    Comment by Karen Swim — June 17, 2008 @ 8:34 pm | Reply

  19. @Sunili—It did bruise my 19 year old ego, but I only let it hold me back for a bit. It was a lesson better learned sooner than later. It’s all good 🙂

    And as I understand it, Affirmative Action is a fucking hazard for all parties involved. Everyone. Acceptance can’t be legislated or enforced, and attempts to do so embitter every side of the argument…and there are many more than two sides.

    @Tei–Yes, as you say, though overall I’d prefer folks perceived me as a dumb ass because I did something dumb. Which I do, of course, and then I’m cool with it. But because of something they assume/think/believe based on my appearance? Puh-lease.

    To be sure, managing my own preconceiveds about folks has become as funny (and fun) as managing others preconceived notions about me.

    I’ve got my own thoughts, both good and not-so-good, about BMW drivers, politicians of every party, Buddhists, Radical Right, Radical Left, Radical Fence Sitters, men with beards, redheads, professional cyclists, dudes with ponytails, and on and on. I am alarmed (and amused) at who (and how many) I have biases for and against. Silly Rabbit.

    Like anyone else, I can be a presumptive jackass. But I’m sure to do a neck-up checkup when I catch myself thinking ahead of the handshake…ya know?

    Because I’ve gotta accept everyone, irregardless 😉 . Can’t raise a hand to One World while pushing “Those Other People” away with the other hand. Nosir. Can’t do it.

    Comment by Crystal — June 17, 2008 @ 8:47 pm | Reply

  20. Bob,

    Let’s say people who’ve experienced this junk over… their whole lives… don’t “intuitively know,” but instead “have lots of experience.” Like the way you know just when a rotten tomato may be pulled out. Not that I’m doing that. Sometimes prejudice is very -ist, and sometimes it’s pre-judging based on sound knowledge. If the hot-dog guy was the only wacko in my life who ever expected me to act a certain way because I’m a blonde female, I’d chalk it up. He was 12 years ago, there was a line before him, and the current line extends to a dude who was unbelievably condescending to me in front of my kid at an auto-supply store just a few weeks ago. I hope she didn’t notice, but after wards, she said, “Mama, when that guy got all ‘Honey, lemme help you’ and that other stuff, why didn’t you say “Sweetie, come to the fabric store with me and I’ll make you feel like a jerk?”

    Uh…

    because there’s a time and a place for everything. Though maybe, that was the time and the place.

    Karen,

    Beautiful. Assumptions are all over, so true. In my apartment building we have got such diversity of color, country, and gender that NOBODY LOOKS AT EACH OTHER. I try to smile and say Hi as we pass, but everyone is busy clutching their metaphorical purses.

    Boy I want stuff like this to fade a lot faster than it does. Getting a lot better at hiding it is a step toward forgetting it’s there at all, though, because we aren’t teaching it to our kids nearly the way we used to. It takes time.

    Until later,

    Kelly

    Comment by Kelly — June 17, 2008 @ 9:00 pm | Reply

  21. :: I’m a passable dancer, who’s impressed you recalled that detail from my about page ::

    @ Tei – I don’t think we’re that far off from one another here. I do like your practical approach to handling things, suggesting that we all act in such a way as to blow assumptions out of the water. I tend to think like the idealist, that it shouldn’t have to be that way to begin with, that people ought to just be respectful and reserve judgment until solid evidence compels them to do otherwise; yours is the approach of the active realist.

    To continue playing devil’s advocate, I do wonder if the older woman’s reaction was more about the hiring guy and his hiring habits, rather than your attractiveness. I realize that’s probably splitting hairs, but it illustrates that there are a near limitless number of reasons that can cause a person to make assumptions. Only some of them are gender-, race- or class-based.

    And, I’ll readily admit I’m horrible about reading body language and other nonverbal queues. My radar is not only off, it’s plain broken most of the time.

    Now, the black feminista meeting? You bet I’d be uncomfortable, but only because I’m completely outnumbered by folks who look different than me. It’d be the same in a white feminista meeting, a black men’s group, a trailer park community meeting (I lived in a trailer growing up; I’m not being a dick about trailers), or just about any of the groups that Crystal lists above. If I’m the odd one out, I’m going to feel uncomfortable.

    Whose fault is that? No one’s. Folks just tend to be more comfortable when they’re with other folks like themselves.

    Is an attractive professional woman more likely to find herself in in that situation? Probably, and maybe that has more to do with the assumption problem than anything.

    @ Kelly – I majored in philosophy as an undergrad; maybe that’s why I have issues with anyone knowing anything “intuitively” about another person. I get what you’re saying, though; it becomes second nature. Like with the tomato, you’ve picked up enough bad ones to know what they feel like. Still, like Tei says, our radar can be off.

    @ Everyone – It boils down to this: I suggest that the responsible course of action in any human interaction is to not judge a book by it’s cover, or by it’s opening paragraph. First impressions can stink, body language can be misread, and we ought to assume the best about folks and reserve judgment until we see a solid body of evidence that suggests bias is occurring. Assumptions work both directions and in just about any human interaction.

    Assuming the presence of assumptions is an assumption in itself.

    Comment by Bob Younce at the Writing Journey — June 18, 2008 @ 12:41 am | Reply

  22. Tei,

    That is just crazy. And so wrong.

    The young thing I can identify with, and I’m a bit older than you, yet where I work I am “young”.

    (Well, 38 is not old, but…)

    My point being, the “old boys” won’t trust us in a lot of ways. Sadly, they forget that the great advances at my company were made by people just like me, who had never done it before, but had common sense and guts in spades.

    Nope, the old boys are coming to grips with the fact that they are, indeed, mortal, and they fear failure. Sad.

    Carry one of your swords with you next time 😉

    Whether you are young and good looking is not the point, the fact that you kick ass – that’s what matters. That’s what the world needs – more ass kicking people like you.

    -Brett

    Comment by Brett Legree — June 18, 2008 @ 12:51 am | Reply

  23. @Tei & Crystal — yep, totally agree as to how AffA can fuck things up. All I was saying was that if — and ONLY IF — it may be required for a teensy part of the process to level the playing field, so that everyone has the same opportunity to show that they are fucking qualified, then maybe it can be kinda helpful. But having said that, I think the need for it is a lot less pronounced these days. At least, I fricking hope so.

    @ Bob

    I just can’t subscribe to the “women intuitively know” or “minorities intuitively know” philosophy any more than I can subscribe to the “white men can never understand” philosophy. That is both sexist and racist.

    See, I don’t think it’s an “intuitively know” thing as much as it is a “this shit happens to us aaaall the time ::roll eyes::” thing.

    White men can see it, watch it, totally understand it, accept it happens, heck, even sympathise, but I wonder if they can ever truly empathise… It’s like when the soccer ball hits Amanda Bynes’ groin in “She’s The Man”. She can pretend like it hurt like a guy got hit in the balls because she knows, like we all know and accept, that it fucking hurts guys when they get hit in the balls. But we’ll never REALLY know what it feels like.

    Comment by Sunili — June 18, 2008 @ 1:10 am | Reply

  24. Here’s something about intuitive knowledge.

    I’m half-French and half-English by both blood, upbringing and language. I live in a bilingual country. My province (Quebec) is also bilingual but predominantly French.

    Look at two people from Quebec, one French and one English. We’re most likely both white with brown hair. Nothing – not one physical trait – can give us away to the other.

    Without moving, without body language and without any cue, we each know who the other is. I am not kidding – this is intuitive.

    Take 100 people and line them up. I can point out who is French (or English) almost to 100% accuracy.

    This is not just me. I have often had conversations with friends who “just know” if the other person is English or French. Survival instinct, perhaps, or a sixth sense, but I swear it’s there.

    (just another example because this is a great conversation)

    Comment by James Chartrand - Men with Pens — June 18, 2008 @ 1:24 am | Reply

  25. @Tei—One quick thing: I agree that Bob would catch some serious vibrations if he walked into a black feministas meeting because he was the focus of the vibe. BUT the black woman with him would also get her share of vibration because she was with him. I’ve been dating men of every color for 23 years, and I can vouch for that. Prejudices and assumptions abound among and within groups of folks.

    @Bob—I can’t imagine how you’d witness what we’re talking about in the quantity that we’re talking about it. This is our daily experience, while you would have to luck into one of these occasions. Also, you live in middle-Michigan in a small town. You work primarily from home. I don’t see the occasion presenting itself often.

    Besides, I lived in middle-western Michigan for two years and I don’t recall a whiff of hostility from the folks there, from Traverse City to Grand Rapids or anywhere in between. Maybe confusion, a little discomfort, but never the hostility or frustration or bitterness that I found in Baltimore City, or Deliver-Me-Please-From Richmond, Virginia.

    My hubby-to-be (who is white) is a Seattle transplant and he feels the entire mid-Atlantic is overwound, and the way folks evoke and project their prejudices over here is horrendous. I wouldn’t say that he’s well-tuned to people’s emotions BUT this particular behavior is so foreign to him that it stands out. To him, a white male, there’s no question that it’s prevalent over here.

    So no, Bob, you’re not fucking blind, it’s just not fucking there.

    …but just because you don’t see much of it where you are doesn’t mean we’re not up to our elbows in it elsewhere.

    Comment by Crystal — June 18, 2008 @ 3:25 am | Reply

  26. Don’t be fooled folks.. Tei does a decent job at copywriting, but have you ever met her? I have. Here she is, in her latest YouTube video.

    Comment by RhodesTer — June 18, 2008 @ 9:13 am | Reply

  27. Oh, I almost forgot.. do you have any bikini pics?

    Comment by RhodesTer — June 18, 2008 @ 9:31 am | Reply

  28. @ James – Sounds a lot like French Canadian Voodoo to me. 😉

    @ Crystal – Oh, I know bias exists. Again, I’m not questioning that. And I’ve lived and worked in a nice little line from Atlanta to Saginaw, so I have seen it on occasion – more, actually, in Saginaw than Atlanta. I’ve heard stories, and more than just here. I just wonder about the frequency. I don’t doubt for a moment that some regions are worse than others.

    Not especially related, but I find it interesting: the city with the least amount of racial bias I’ve ever lived in was the second biggest I’ve lived in: Indianapolis.

    ———-

    All I ask for is that we do what we ask of others: assume the best intentions about a person until the evidence is overwhelming – and more than body language. In my mind, that’s the high ground. That’s how I try to live my life.

    When I go to the pool or the beach, I don’t assume anymore that everyone is looking at my overweight, overly-hairy 35 year-old body. Could they be? Maybe. But until someone calls me a “fat fucking lifeguard” for telling them to get of the guide buoy (true story, I’ll tell it another time) I assume good things.

    Is that naive? Perhaps. Am I putting on blinders? Maybe. Is it because, as a white male living in Podunkville, I can afford to be less sensitive to it? Could be. But I’m not the thought police, and until someone’s actions prove to be less than pure, I’m not going to make assumptions about their motives. I just won’t do it.

    Comment by Bob Younce at the Writing Journey — June 18, 2008 @ 10:32 am | Reply

  29. Everybody has issues.. They are as diverse as the people themselves. Thus, I never assume what they are. Moreover, I don’t acknowledge them. It’s not that I don’t notice people getting tripped up by their own issues but – having no desire to make them mine – I don’t partake. I just proceed. It works. No fuel to the fire, so to speak. Wendi Kelly said it best, “what you believe about yourself radiates off of you.”

    Of course, being half Hispanic from a German-founded town that was literally split by railroad tracks & punk in that conservative Hellhole to boot, it’s not that I haven’t experienced unfair treatment. Mellowing merely to goth over the years, I’ve seldom been able to shop without being stalked by security but simply don’t give a damn & laugh in their faces when confronted. I once challenged a guard to explain how I was going to accomplish the suspected shop-lifting given my tight clothing, lack of purse & pockets; we became friends. ^_^

    Bob nailed it too: “Assuming the presence of assumptions is an assumption in itself.” I’m simply not willing to assume what someone else’s assumptions are. Sad but true, there are too many things that could be screwing with their common decency; black leather, purple hair, youth (til more recently ~_^), being married (trust me) or just being a woman &, worse yet, a damn smart one. Their loss but potentially a mutual gain if I don’t buy into their thought processes.

    (|_|*cheers*|_|)
    “Judge me all you want, just keep the verdict to yourself.” ~ From a Winston advertisement

    Comment by Dorian aka coffeeister |_|) — June 18, 2008 @ 10:51 am | Reply

  30. James,

    So when they line YOU up, what do they see?

    These assumptions, by the way, are why my servers discussed my shoes in front of me at le chi-chi restaurant a couple of weeks ago. In Spanish, which they quite wrongly assumed I couldn’t speak.

    Bob,

    Never discount voodoo.

    😉

    Comment by Kelly — June 18, 2008 @ 6:41 pm | Reply

  31. Assumptions get made about me too, but they’re actually kind of amusing.

    I’m a husky guy. When I’m’ on vacation, I have a scraggly beard and hang around in a T-shirt and track pants and baseball cap.

    When I stop at roadside diners, they ask me which rig I’m driving out front, and where am I headed? Would I like a re-fill on coffee, Hon?

    …They think I’m a TRUCK DRIVER!

    I could explain to them that no, actually I’m a PhD Research Scientist.

    But why bother? I just keep my mouth shut and play along.

    (It’s more fun that way!) 🙂

    Comment by Friar — June 18, 2008 @ 11:00 pm | Reply

  32. @Bob, @Tei

    Great quote from Anais Nin that sums up all I would say next:

    “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

    ‘Nuf said.

    Comment by Crystal | Big Bright Bulb — June 18, 2008 @ 11:40 pm | Reply

  33. Great post, Tei. I have certainly seen some of this myself in the computer science field. Actually, the primary location I ran into it was while attending career fairs, trying to find good companies. I got a laugh out of James’ comment about the car dealership, because I had that same problem while trying to talk to a recruiter at a company I was interested in. After a moment, I gave up, and decided that it was a good sign that it wasn’t a company I was interested in 🙂

    Have to say that it’s not everywhere, though. At my current company, I haven’t had to deal with it at all, so I have no complaints whatsoever with it! 🙂

    Comment by Maquis — June 20, 2008 @ 4:05 am | Reply


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