Tag Archives: passive

From sexism in science to examining my own capacity for sexism

I’m glad the article focuses some on her positive impacts and solutions – those are what are most important to me 🙂 It’s a little worrisome though because this Ofek thing seems to be an instance of outright straight-forward disrespect and ‘ism’ – wound up into one moment and reply. I think a lot of it is more structural, persistent and crafty than that. Like, for instance, a lot of industries rely on participants who are essentially workaholics to be competitive to get limited positions and grants. This doesn’t seem bad at face value, but might exclude people who have alternative values – say, those who see the importance of having a family, collaboration through friendship in the workplace or doing engagement to bring in diverse perspectives, etc… Essentially a woman who wants to have a family or a person from a different culture who wants to take care of their grandmother or whatever gets penalized and this sort of thing feels like structural ‘ism’ to me. When we make our talking points mostly about people in white hoods we lose sight of the redlining.

I guess on the flip side I have no idea how to deal with resocializing men. I’m especially bad at connecting to and influencing guys who are sexist. In the overt ways I’d disagree with, anyway. Dudes really into violence and running over animals in pickup trucks and guys who think verbal expression of emotions is for weak people.

I mean I guess my definition of sexism is debatable – a friend once took the position that my suggestion that all people should have the capacity to be more assertive and rely on individual agency underscored an emphasis on a greater masculine narrative – from the one end I can suggest that girls should reclaim territory: to be a person who is ‘assertive’ and ‘confrontational’ shouldn’t be the turf of just men, but both genders, but on the other end it excludes alternative structures of interaction, such as trying to encourage everyone (but particularly men) to be more ‘passive’ or ‘reconciliatory.’ In other words what I see as an idealized social form (compassionate, informed, positive assertion) might be considered masculine and to suggest women need to match it might be sexist because I’m asking them to conform to the masculine norm. But if most did then it wouldn’t be a masculine norm anymore. I think she was mostly just mad at me for not really truly recognizing the costs and barriers that exist for women to do this (again, my ability to believe agency matters more than structure is not just optimistic, it is enabled by my vast swaths of privilege), but on another level I guess she could be right – I may just be sexist. Even if I just use positive encouragement (promote girls who are assertive) as my mode I’d end up marginalizing those who differ. Hell paying more attention to more attractive women than less attractive women is downright sexist and for me that’s in large part driven by hormones and decades of social conditioning – I do it automatically without thinking (but can choose to override it and do my best to do this). I probably have more sexism in me than I care to admit and therefore more ability to connect to other sexist men than I might realize but some of this stuff is so ingrained and nuanced that I have to make it a big soap box project to do it – and nobody wants that.  It really seems so radical. Like sure, I can recognize that genders are social constructions and try to convince people that we should move beyond them. But ain’t nobody gon understand that ish. Or maybe I just suck at explaining and convincing. Or maybe that’s better done through time and life exposure and not words.

Ah well, speaking of soap boxes that are about to crumple beneath my ego…

Hyperbolistic Depression

Hyperbole and a Half ran a come-back post recently on depression. It might say something about my current peer group, or perhaps society in general, that I saw it referenced by at least a dozen friends and acquaintances on various social media sites.

It’s a profound illustration of what some people have to deal with, and I’m glad she wrote it. I feel bad for her, and, more importantly, I feel like I understand her perspective, one that I’m sure would ordinarily be alien to me.

I have two notable points to make:

1) In reading the post, it was easy to identify who I am in this story (pictured above). I have a savior complex. That is, I’m a privileged, empowered white hetero boy who grew up upper middle class, who has always been able to make a difference in his surroundings and make himself be heard. When a person comes to me with a problem, especially if they’re posing as a helpless attractive female, I don the cape and pick up the sword and fire my problem-solving death rays at them. I may not be qualified, I may not understand their problem, it may not even be the actual problem that’s bothering them, I just do it instinctively. People complain, I want to fix complaints. I have to actively police myself to not do this, ordinarily. It’s revealing of my own discomfort with being useless. I don’t actually know how to just sit there and be a passive listener. I don’t think I will ever say something like “boy those fish are super dead” in response to this question. I can’t generally be depressed and defeated along with the person complaining in this context – I don’t want to, but I also just don’t think I actually know how to. SO, this means I’m not the right person for ultra-depressed people to open up to. Check.

2) While that’s all fine and dandy, what I’ve found is that very few people are consummately/comprehensively depressed like this. A lot of the time only a part of them is dead. For instance, I’ve had some of my heterosexual male friends (around my age) who have never really dated express that they think romantic desire has died in them. I think people can be contextually or partially depressed. Generally with my friends who tell me this I haven’t had a lot of luck helping them to solve their problem – US society isn’t well-structured for people who don’t follow the standard steps in the sprint to the white picket fence (dating in college, job plus marriage after). I think their solution often requires single assertive women, and it seems like often those women are often paying more attention to the loud, confident men in front, not the depressed, inexperienced guys in back. Or at least, that’s what often happens when I try to set them up. Anyway so my actual response is exactly what is criticized by Allie’s blog post – I try to help them work with other problems. It’s not formulaic, exactly, but I think one of the root issues is confidence and people skills, so if I can get the romantically deceased dudes out with a gang of friends and doing things those other issues get better, usually. I don’t think it’s a direct solution, but I have faith that it’s worth doing.

Revisiting the Passive

Most people that know me well have at one point or another heard me complain about people (often women) who are ‘passive’ in damaging ways. And I still think this can happen (one of my present roommates provides a powerful example but I don’t want to waste space criticizing him), but as I’ve spent a lot of time in GSLIS, a place where extroversion is about as rare as men, social conservatives and people of color, I’ve started to gain a little perspective.

Here, for the literature review, some terrrible reading that I dragged out of the archives that will make you hate me:

So  the metric I generally operate under, when thinking about passiveness and assertiveness is a spectrum based on initiation and response. People who initiate, lead, speak up, negotiate and otherwise make themselves known through action would be assertive, people who are responsive, reactive and compromise fall in the middle as reciprocative, and people who follow and don’t alter their thoughts or activities noticeably based on social stimuli and communication are passive.

Very few people really fall into that last category, and most of those that do are probably those with more severe social disorders or conditions. Hating on shy or introverted people is stupid. I think what I’ve really been struggling with over the years has been in part people who are passive aggressive, and whether or not people are confident or positive, and these intersecting threads that are hard to tease out at times (because they’re so contextual).

Anyway this post is not about this, really.

It’s that my narrative that I clung to so desperately when I was younger, that girls are (were) passive and cause hurt because of this, is only 50% right, at best. The reason so many people have avoided me, not answered my messages, talked bad about me behind my back (I was once lucky enough to be cyberbullied at age 26 – real-time tracking making fun of my soul-crushing break up via multiple Twitter accounts established by GSLIS students) or otherwise reacted to me in passive (evasive) ways is because of who and how I am.

At best it’s that I’m weird, at worst I think it’s that I’m downright undesirable. I’m pretty convinced that if I were more attractive than I am I wouldn’t have problems with this – the handsome surprise contact is a flattering secret admirer, the ugly one is a creep, so to say. But, generally, I think people find me annoying. Since I’m so frequently an initiator people probably assume that I’ll just be fine if they forget about me – afterall, they likely assume they’re probably just one minimal contact amongst hundreds (I’m 1400 Facebook friends cool, right?). And that’s shit, really, because I took the time to make the effort to do reach out to them, which shouldn’t be dismissed, but it is, all the freaking time.

I sent out gifts in the mail to approximately 50 friends this past Christmas, a spread of variety of folk of different genders. About 25% responded or acknowledged in some way or another and there was no discernible difference between men and women. Keep in mind, I’m not bitter about this, I didn’t expect responses, and I encouraged people to continue the positive event chain in their own lives. In fact I still owe responses to some of them (sorry Alicia and Matt!). What I want to emphasize is that it’s not so much that girls are passive, it’s that people don’t have time for this shit. I have to come to grips with not being worth their time.

If I think back over people that I’ve found annoying in my life, I think the only one I’ve gone to lengths to avoid or not react to is my mother. I’m terrified of becoming her – so very out of touch and untold levels of obnoxious. Now, in my world of self-imposed isolation as a miserable attempt to finish a dissertation, the second a friend reaches out to me they’re greeted with overwhelming verbal vomit, like this blog post. And no one wants that. If Tom Fairbank, my sister and a few others weren’t immune to me I’d probably have given up long ago.

Anyway I don’t know if I have that much of a point to saying all of this, other than acknowledging to the world that, yes, I get it, I’m annoying as hell and while you feel bad for me occasionally, you don’t really want to hang out with me. That’s why it was always essential that I had groups of friends over. The question is how much I want to bottle myself. I can be subdued, ask the right questions, douse the intensity, play the ‘be mysterious’ game, all pretty unhappily. It was pointed out to me recently how easy it is for me to slip in and out of making arguments and discussions simultaneously personal or theoretical/hypothetical. Now that’s yet another flaw I get to police, along with the savior complex, pigeon holing, inability to be apathetic, duty for social good and more I’m forgetting at the moment.

I think my sister captured the meditations on this better than I could:

I actually thought it was really interesting to hear your concerns about how you interact with other people, and talk about how to choose or not choose whether to continue acting in a way they might find annoying. It’s so hard to balance being yourself and conforming to or reflecting the situation you’re in. And I think it takes a good amount of self awareness to get to where you are. I also think it’s shitty that some of these groups have made you feel shitty, though. I realized another factor in your situation might be getting older; energetic positivity is much more widely embraced and followed in idealistic college years, but in masters years it wanes, and in phd programs it dies and becomes reviled. That’s the academic course; I think in so-called RL, it follows a similar trajectory but for different reasons. People get out into the working world, or don’t, and realizes how much it can suck to have and to not have a job. They have to do taxes, sign leases, worry about carpet stains, try to make friends without the support structures they’re used to, etc. And so energy saps away–or is redirected into sterile, accepted gym environments, rather than games and adventures–and world outlooks shift to become cynical and jaded. People begin to compromise on every front, including romantic ones. I think there might be an upswing when they start to have kids and have to get excited about things like Blues Clues and delude themselves into believing their progeny will inherit a world worth inhabiting, and they become interested in making it a world worth their children living in. Maybe that will be your moment again. Who knows.