Getting the Jerks to Like You, Cont’d

This is precisely the kind of attitude to rude offensive jerks that I will never understand:

The other day, I had to gather my social skills (such as they are), brush my hair, and put on my most stylish socks to attend a socioprofessional event that required me to be super-nice to everyone I met there. As I was claiming my name tag from a table near the entrance, I asked the table-attendant what the “1” on my name tag signified; the other name tags that I could see did not have any numbers. The answer to that particular question is not important to my story. But this is relevant: when I asked my question, a 70-something man standing nearby said “It means this”, and he made an obscene gesture.

I thought to myself, “This is a test.” And I was determined to pass that test. I decided to practice being super-nice to him. I figured: if I can be nice to him, then I can be nice to almost anyone.

Does anybody want to venture a guess what was the result of this experiment in trying to be nice and understanding to an idiot?

Right you are, it was not very inspiring, to put it mildly:

I asked him another question about himself and his interests (I will not give myself points for these because they were rather routine), and then he said, “All you professors only care about yourselves and other professors.”

To me, that’s even ruder than the obscene gesture, but I was not willing to give up. I was determined to continue to withstand the onslaught of aggressively jerkish behavior. So I said “That’s not true. Many of us care about our students.”

His reply: “So what? Same thing. You only care about students because you want them to be professors one day so that is just like only caring about professors.”

After which, the super-nice professor congratulated herself silently with a victory and left. Yes, that was a resounding win for the good guys. The jerk will surely remember that lesson for a long time to come and will spread his discovery to all of the losers in his circle: you can insult female scientists as much as you want and they will just smile and be kind and patient to you in response.

What a huge achievement for feminism! We have now demonstrated that no matter which heights a woman reaches professionally and intellectually, any random idiot can insult her and she will meekly stick around to provide further opportunities for the jerk to offend her. Yippee!

26 thoughts on “Getting the Jerks to Like You, Cont’d

  1. Thing is, that’s the way the game most often has to be played if one is to keep one’s job — because every act of aggression by a troll is also a trap that allows one to either prove or disprove the hypothesis that one is hysterical. Women in the workplace are always under probation and any petty freak can prove she doesn’t deserve to be there as she ostensibly does not have her emotions under control. If you get the impression that I hate Anglo-Saxon culture, you will have alighted upon an understatement. I love working with Japanese people, though. They’re really polite and it couldn’t be further from their minds to set these kinds of booby traps.

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    1. This is a woman with tenure, from what I understand. If she walks away from a jerk who flips her off, she will not lose her job. If she asks the security to remove him, she will also not lose her job. If she comes to class completely drunk or fails to show up for her courses at all, she will not lose her job. Let’s not exaggerate the plight of tenured professors of whatever gender.

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      1. Okay, I see what you mean. That’s a good point. I’ve often wondered why tenured professors did not make use of their job security to finally say what has to be said in politics and so on. I guess habits of caution become instilled over time. But you are right — within that context of job security, her behavior is remarkably inappropriate.

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        1. That’s the mystery I still haven’t been able to figure out. In academia, you keep hearing people say, “Just wait until I get tenure! Then, I’ll finally show everybody. . . ” But the moment they do get their tenure, many people immediately plunge to such depths of servility, become so fearful and cautious that it’s very confusing to observe. I’m starting to suspect that they are taught some secret handshake during the awarding of tenure.

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  2. bloggerclarissa :
    But the moment they do get their tenure, many people immediately plunge to such depths of servility, become so fearful and cautious that it’s very confusing to observe. I’m starting to suspect that they are taught some secret handshake during the awarding of tenure.

    Maybe they think it’s such an honour to get tenure that they’re overwhelmed?

    I’m thinking a bit more about the American professor lady and her demonstration of self control and niceness. I also think this must be American puritanism at play. It’s a way of demonstrating one’s more perfect morality not to respond to provocation.

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    1. It sounds like you are offended by people not responding in one culture because you imagine they are doing it for the wrong reasons, but you admire people who don’t respond in another culture because you feel they are doing it for the right reasons? I still don’t follow this argument, and it also looks like my comment is going in to the wrong spot. Well here goes…

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  3. Just because you have tenure doesn’t mean you life can’t be made really difficult. You can be given ridiculous teaching loads. Only ever be given first year courses to teach. You can be denied postgrad students to supervise. The list of ways of controlling you is still endless.

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    1. Yes that is true. But if the jerk is not a random then you have a problem. Tenure certainly protects you from random jerks but not institutionalised discrimination.

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      1. The kind of discrimination where female scientists are obligated to be meek and patient with men flipping them off does not exist in the US.

        A person with an ounce of self-respect would never allow people to treat her this way. All this talk about how if I don’t allow people to insult me I’ll be given bad courses to teach makes no sense, honestly. I think it’s just an excuse.

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  4. “It’s a way of demonstrating one’s more perfect morality not to respond to provocation.”

    How would a Japanese person react, and justify or explain their reaction?

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  5. Isabel :
    “It’s a way of demonstrating one’s more perfect morality not to respond to provocation.”
    How would a Japanese person react, and justify or explain their reaction?

    The Japanese express disapproval of any particular behavior with long drawn out silences. This only works if you naturally expect to be in a community and to have community support. It doesn’t work so well in Western culture, because to remain silent is considered to be a confession of weakness.

    Cultures, in general, give us cues for behavior and we learn how to manipulate these, up to the point that we are able, in order to secure our sense of well being. Yet cultures systems of social organisation rather than ethical systems in their own right. There’s never any guarantee that adapting to a particular culture will enable one to enter a context that is defined by ethical considerations.

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  6. Isabel :
    It sounds like you are offended by people not responding in one culture because you imagine they are doing it for the wrong reasons, but you admire people who don’t respond in another culture because you feel they are doing it for the right reasons? I still don’t follow this argument, and it also looks like my comment is going in to the wrong spot. Well here goes…

    Are you addressing me or Clarissa? If the question is addressed to me, I’m not sure that I would have any clue as to what you meant by “the wrong reasons”. In my view, all forms of behavior, excluding that which is clearly psychotic, is rational behavior. Even neurotic behavior is rational in its own way, according to my definition, since it is an attempt to come to terms with situations that are often difficult and contradictory. We don’t know all the influences that were causing the professor lady to respond in the way she did, but I have no doubt that she was responding rationally — that is, optimizing her behavior to the situation she was in. Maybe the situation itself was irrational. Her options to produce the kind of response that I or Clarissa would have preferred seem to have been limited by some factors unknown to me.

    Cultural behavior, as I also said, is not definitively ethical behavior, although the pop politics of left and right would consider the opposite to be true. Asian behavior is not better than Western behavior in terms of any objective scale, simply because we do not have an objective scale to compare they by — and inventing one would be illogical (and probably ethically inappropriate).

    All that is clear from the case of the American professor’s response is that if it were taken apart from any cultural context,it would seem to defy common sense. A stranger is aggressive without provocation and one responds with extreme constraint and kindness. A non-human animal, if provoked in this way, would not respond as the professor did. So, obviously this makes for an interesting case-study of human behavior.

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  7. Yes, “I’m a doormat” seems like a very poor lesson to teach obnoxious jerks.

    On the other hand, when he said “Did you see which finger I just held up?”, he revealed his goal was to provoke offense. An angry retort would just feed the troll.

    Better to walk away, I think.

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    1. FSP routinely posts these stories of how a random man insulted her and she tried to be polite and prove she can be useful to him.

      It sounds like her behavior comes straight from the 1950ies.

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      1. “FSP routinely posts these stories of how a random man insulted her and she tried to be polite and prove she can be useful to him. ”

        LOL!

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  8. I actually learned something about how to handle this kind of situation from a job candidate. One of my colleagues asked her a really inappropriate and unnecessary question and so the rest of us all started chattering about other stuff, so she wouldn’t have to answer and the whole thing could be ignored. But although she could have ignored him then she did look at him and say: “You know, that question was rude and probably illegal!” and then smiled and changed the subject. Much better than ignoring, or on the other hand than demanding an apology (giving further energy to the thing) which I also see as a weak gesture.

    (My e-mail is going to show on this comment again, I guess I’m not logged in right — it’s OK, it’s the e-mail created for the blog, precisely so blog people can e-mail to it.)

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  9. It would be a good idea to develop some staircase wit, but in advance. Have some ready-made come-backs so that you can put people like that in their place. Killing them with kindness doesn’t work unless it’s someone that you have frequent dealing with and that you know will respond the way you want. With a random 70-year guy at a conference, someone you don’t work with, I recommend a swift kick to the balls.

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  10. I think this was an appropriately passive-aggressive response to the situation. He clearly wanted her to act hurt or angry or walk away, but instead she made him uncomfortable by being polite and seemed to enjoy the fact that she was doing so. He was the one who wanted the tone of the conversation to change from a polite conversation to a fight, and she refused to give it to him.

    It reminds me of when I was a kid and I would throw tantrums. I usually expected some sort of punishment, but the worst reaction that adults would give me was none at all. This man was acting like a kid throwing a tantrum and the woman was taking the role of the adult ignoring the whiny toddler.

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