If you’ve tuned into this blog with any regularity then you know that I have no issue with taking what may be a somewhat unpolaur (impolitic?) stance, and today may be one of those days when you stand across the aisle from me, which is perfectly fine. All I ever ask is that we take the time to reason together.
After reading all that I could stand to read about Adria Richards, I found myself troubled about issues over and above the obvious as they relate to her case. A brief recap for the uninformed, Adria was at a tech conference where two men could be overheard behind her making inappropiate sexual jokes. Ms. Richards proceeded to photograph both men midsentence and posted the pic, their quotes and her reaction to them, to her Twitter account. The news of this incident then spread across the world wide web as many people started shortsightedly taking sides and turning into the Keyboard mob, as many are wan to do in these situations. One of the perpetrators was supposedly fired, which led to many then threatening to either rape, torture or kill Ms. Richards. The negative press supposedly became too much for her company top handle, and word as of this posting is that she too was relieved of her duties with her company.
Folks started to ask why is she being blamed when she is the victim? Others were coming to the defense of the terrible two and asked, why are you being so sensitive? After thousands of death threats, hundreds of variations of the N word being bandied about and countless bloggers blaming the liberal media, we find ourselves at a rather curious impasse.
I didnt seek to answer any questions, and I didnt even find myself feeling particularly srongly about anything that these two characters or Ms. Richards did. Rather, I asked myself, how do these kinds of things not happen more often and can we, as a society, ever truly have the gender equity in the workplace, hell, any shared spaces, that we claim to want so badly.
I know what your sociology, multicultural psychology and women’s studies classes have told you for years, but there are differences between men and women that go well beyond simple anatomy.
In the very simple, pragmatic and ego driven minds of the typical red blooded cave male of our day, the idea of equality suggests plainly that all men should be prepared to treat women as they would other men. Equality, equity, fairness. And this shite is doing more harm than good, if you ask me.
Not to suggest that women don’t deserve fair and equitable treatment, but rather, we as a whole, are not considering what we are actually asking to happen here. You are asking dudes to address women on euqal ground, with equal footing? Shiiiittttt, you better know the rules of a wolfpack. Everyone steers clear of the alpha male, arguments can be settled with verbal or physical assaults, snark, harassment and emotional immaturity in al matters are the language of love between men. Most dudes have no concept of how to make that appropriate for most women, and fewer still have any idea of how to properly engage those men in a conversation about how to be more thoughtful about solving those problems.
Going back to the Adria Richars case, I wonder about why these guys couldnt see they were making some others uncomfortable, why Richards decided to take to the web as opposed to addressing these tech geeks, why people with no dog in the fight feel so strongly about the outcome(s)…this entire matter is a mass of 404 errors.
You know why dudes struggle with creating safe, civil spaces for women? It’s largely due to the spaces that men occupy with one another and how we are typically trained to adjust to account for the presence of women. We all know that if enough of us gather in one place to eat, work, play, park cars, waterboard someone, get haircuts or mow our lawns, and there are no women around, then we are eventually going to talk about women rather lewdly. The jokes are going to steer toward indelicate, the volume of chatter will go up and we will proudly beat our chests amidst a flood of testosterone. Ultimately, we are assholes with one another, and we all accept that as a part of our lives. We take a Broath to deal with it.
You throw the grenade of a woman into that mix, and most of us know that your best bet is to simply say nothing. Which is the filter that these two were clearly missing. I’m not blaming them, just wondering aloud about their standard operating procedures with ladies in the room among other polite company.
This situation looks a great deal like one that many men struggle with daily. “What do you mean treat her like men? So if she mouths off and embarasses me I should punch her in the mouth?” I’m being only partly facitious there, because there are those that believe that if women want to be treated “like men”, then they should be subject to the same politics that men are forced to navigate with one another.
My default here falls somewhere between she made a really big deal out of a small thing, and someone got fired, and dudes simply need to be better about how we manage ourselve with ladies, and we should create a place of compromise for ladies in our shared social spaces.
Can men and women ever truly set all of our differences aside and share these spaces without tension? Can we ever truly abandon “gender roles” and live/work/play in gender free spaces? I certainly don’t believe so, and I think the denial of those differences and refusal to acknowledge their influence on our behavior is what has brought about much of the resentment, defensiveness and resistance we see with this issue.
But, you know…I wonder what my reaction would have been in that situation if the jokes were about Black folks, or New Yorkers, or Southerners, or dudes with glasses or Star Wars…I say that to say that protecting women from microaggressions in the work place is no different than protecting those who are racially different, and it must be done as a means of protecting us all. Ultimately, through conversation and (I hope) some careful consideration, the place that I have come to is one where I understand that women aren’t asking to be treated like every other man. They are demanding opportunities to succeed and fail, without having their gender being used as a negative citeria. Women are asking that we create a new gender definition, to uniquely apply the same aggression and competition to their lives fairly. They aren’t trying to win arm wrestling matches. Women are largely looking to earn their way to the table, and then arm wrestling if they are strong enough to do so, without being dismissed out of hand. I started out hoping to avoid taking a position, but ladies always find a way to get the best of me.
And I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to work anywhere that didn’t have a diversity of women. Dudes are ugly, smell, are combative and generally difficult to manage in large numbers. 8-10 hours of legs, hair, perfume, lipstick, smiles and a woman’s touch make the doldrums of the work day bearable. Uh, was that sexist?