Thanks HF!
But I disagree - I think you are a workplace diva. You have a way of describing situations that are similar to ones I've had but with a clear-eyed focus on the underlying power dynamics & the GOAL of the conversation/interaction. This allows you to concentrate on solutions to the problem rather than the emotional reaction to the difficulty.
I've re-thought a lot of interactions I've had over the years using some of your earlier posts and its been an eye-opener.
Great & practical post - thank you!


So I'm not a lawyer, I'm basically a secretary. I suspect this issue comes up even more for me and others in my sphere of the work place, because we're fulfilling typically feminine roles.

But some of the things that have been said and done to me by so-called absent minded professors are just unbelievable. One would think that when they have intelligent, equal-ranked female colleagues on the faculty that they might be a little more enlightened when it comes to how to treat women in professional settings - but the secretaries don't seem to count!

Example one - harmless banter with a professor who forgot his keys at home. I said, "Well, wasn't that silly of you!" in the teasing manner that is pretty ordinary around here, and which was completely appropriate in the context of the conversation. He puffed up his chest and said, completely seriously, "SILLY?! Is that what they teach you to call your BOSS in administrative assistant school?" And he stalked out of the room. Like I went to school in order to do THIS job. Right. And he's not my boss.

(I suspect he was already feeling foolish for having forgotten his keys, but what an ass.)

Example two - I'm setting up our annual Spring picnic at the chairman's house, which involves hauling a large number of boxes full of wine and beer up on to his back porch. His wife hands him his infant son and disappears up the stairs to get ready, and he stands on the porch watching me work. Not talking, not engaging the baby, just standing and looking on. I finish, obviously in some pain and with sweat running down my face, and by this time he's sitting in the deck chair. I say, "Wow, I need some water!" He says, "Oh, would you get me some, too?" If that's not enough, when I bring him a cup of tap water, which is what I'm drinking (gods only know why I actually did it - blame it on the heat), he says, "Oh, I thought you were having the SPARKLING water" and dumps the baby in his high chair while pouring out what I brought him.

The Happy Feminist

Thank you j0lt! And Jess, I agree 100% that secretaries have to put up with a lot more crap. I was a temp on and off for several years, and I just couldn't believe how people would talk to me. And I think it's harder to deal with it in your role. I am not sure I had any great success fending off that kind of thing when I was temping.

That professor guy sounds like a total ass.


Those two incidents, two different guys, are certainly not isolated but make the best stories. :)

Here's another workplace condescension topic - what do you make of the "kiss of greeting?" By this I mean the phenomenon where women are greeted with a kiss on the cheek rather than a hand shake in certain situations. I HATE it. I showed up to the Christmas party for an old job, and my boss who usually barely grunted in greeting every morning felt the need to plant a wet one. What, because I put on lipstick and a nice outfit?! Of course he was half soused by then, but still!

I notice the same thing in introductions for female speakers - if they're introduced by a man, the man usually smooches them on their way to the podium, regardless of the forum. Like when GWB introduced Condi as the new Secretary of State at a press conference - big smackaroo. Ick.


I usually kill 'em with kindness, but with such a twinkle in my eye that others around me know I'm taking the high road.


Jess: I have an entirely different reaction to your two anecdotes.

Story 1: "Absent minded professor reacts strongly to 'harmless' remark about losing keys." The U.S. -- as I hope it is not controversial to point out -- has a deep anti-intellectual strain, which tends to manifest itself in varying degrees of disrespect towards (largely) intellectual men. He may have experienced your remark as being rather patronizing instead of being 'harmless banter'. It did seem to bely a bit of indifference to his social position, which is interesting, given your reaction in your second anecdote.

Story 2: "Deferential treatment of chairman garners inappreciative response." Here, you behave much more deferentially to a man who presumably wields considerably more power, more real power, more power over other people. No 'harmless banter' at chairman's expense here. Instead, already put out, you 'go the extra mile' when he asks you for an ambiguously servile favor, and you're non-plussed when seems indifferent to your effort.

Now, I am obviously analysing based on inadequate information. Perhaps your 'lost keys' remark really was just idle conversational gloss, meaning nothing, and the professor was a jerk. And maybe the chairman is your boss, in which case 'erring on the side of servility' is not a bad rule of thumb if a situation catches you off guard. Or maybe you teased the chairman about his somewhat overstrong cologne later in the evening.

My point is just that, to me, these stories illustrate part of the asymmetric ways in which gender privilege works. For men, gender privilege generally accrues primarily to the males in the upper part of a hierarchy, and not (as is often alleged) to males as a whole. (Offered just as 'a different perspective' and not 'a definitive argument'.)


ballgame, more like the chairman could get her fired, whereas Prof. Absentminded could not.

THF, one thing I've found works when somebody pontificates, unasked, is to follow up their lecture with a long, chilly silence and then a flat "Well, thanks for filling me in" and turning back to my work.

There is one junior attorney in particular who has a habit of asking me how to do something, and when I explain it, argues about it.


mythago: I run into the "please explain" followed by argument quite frequently. Which of course requires further explanation/argument. Often I am tempted to say, "look, if you don't like my answer, go ask someone else." I usually refrain unless I'm in a really cranky mood.
ballgame: I'm not sure how the comment supposedly shows "anti-intellectual bias." Everyone makes mistakes/does silly things sometimes. I think the professor was attempting to put Jess "in her place" for daring to suggest that the great professor could make a mistake - showing a severe lack of a sense of humor or ability to take himself less seriously, both serious failings in my view. But then, neither of us was there, so . . .


Which of course requires further explanation/argument.

With this guy, I've learned to just shrug and say "Sure, do it that way" and let him go on about it. Eventually, I figure, he's going to try and tell a senior associate that he screwed up X because I told him to do X a certain way, and they're going to laugh at him.

The Happy Feminist

Oh god. I had one of those guys in my last firm. It was just a matter of waiting for him to crash and burn.

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