Friday, October 04, 2013

the power of ignorance

I've learned to avoid certain topics around my boss.

Politics.  Social issues.  Equality.  Really anything other than science or technology.

But occasionally I still feel compelled to try.  It seems to be an exercise in futility, but I have a really hard time believing that a fully-functional, intelligent, seemingly kind and decent human being can still have such glaringly consistent fail when it comes to thinking about any perspective other than his own.

It's a radical failure of empathy, and it's profoundly disheartening.  Like the time he took objection to my celebratory attitude over marriage equality wins, pointing out that if homosexual people can get married and adopt children, then those children will all grow up gay and then 'our' (!) population will decline into instability.  I mean really.  These thoughts can really exist in a real live human's brain?  I find that baffling.

Anyway, a while back I tried again.  I forget how the conversation started, but we wound up discussing how there are cultural pressures at work that devalue female people's accomplishments, intelligence, and capabilities while overvaluing appearance.  How this pressure results in forcing a ranking of priorities onto these people, and encourages emphasizing and working on appearance over other pursuits. How it's sad that 'performing pretty' is such a heavy-handed requirement, to the point that many female people neglect to develop other aspects of themselves because of focusing exclusively on appearance.  It's a little simplistic, but I thought it was a good conversation.  I did have to gently steer away from trajectories that would have wound up in 'dang shallow wimmens and their makeup, they ought to just knock that off' territory and stay focused on social effects and causes rather than individual blame, but it was pretty encouraging, overall.

At this point a coworker arrived, and noted my recent haircut.  I'd gotten another one over that weekend, because I like change and we all know how I feel about haircuts.   Boss-man then passive-aggressively opined that I cut my hair 'just to make him [my boss] mad.'

I really don't even.

After I was done gaping a bit in astonished silence, I calmly explained that no, I wasn't actually thinking about the effect my making choices about myself might have on my boss's preferences.  No, dude, you aren't the reason I do, well, anything that's unrelated to the performance of my job.  I wanted to add that it's conceited as fuck for him to blithely assert that he must be the center of my universe like that, but restrained myself.

While mentally preparing myself to launch into a conversation about how his policing of my appearance and attempting to apply pressure in how I had to present myself ties neatly into our immediate conversation about requirements placed on women, he dialed his sexist ignorance up to eleven.

'Well, I think women should all have long hair because it's pretty.'

What the everloving fuck?

Wait, let me say that a bit louder.


When we'd JUST, not three minutes earlier, had a whole conversation about how judging people (especially women) for their appearance is really shitty?  How enforcing one's preferences onto another's body is unconscionable?  Now you're going to assert that your personal aesthetic preference necessarily MUST dictate the behavior of everyone ever?

I realized then that we must have been having entirely different conversations at each other.  I was thrilled to discuss how artificially enforced societal expectations lead to a stifling of individuality, and wouldn't it be awesome if we could move past that and let people be people, so they could be free to express themselves in whatever way felt authentic to them.  I think he wanted to talk about how women are silly for wearing makeup because he personally didn't understand or approve of it.

Maybe someday I'll be strong enough to shoulder through these situations.  Maybe someday I'll have the patience and steely resolve to get beyond my own flabbergasted injury, to continue speaking calmly to thoughtlessly judgmental bigots and have that conversation.

But in that moment, on that day, I couldn't do it.  I lapsed into stunned silence, and went back to work.

But my heart hurt.


  1. Ah, but hair, particularly WOMEN'S HAIR, has been a strange topic/obsession/talisman for men for so so long down through his-story. "Women should keep it covered, women should keep it long, women should beg permission to do stuff with it, blah, blah, blah." It is a bizarre offshoot of men's insane and ill-conceived delusion of their ownership of the stuff that grows on all human heads, especially women's heads (or legs). As if it's THEIR business. We see it play out today in every walk of life, religion, culture, and yes even in the average man's brain in the average workplace. Quite remarkable.

    1. True, but the point here is the profound disconnect that allows for both 'body policing is detrimental' and 'everyone should conform to my beauty expectations' in practically the same breath. Sociopolitical history may support this particular type of behavior, but it's still bizarre and sad.


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