Saturday, October 21, 2006

Heo Abealg

I know, I know. Some of you read that title and said, “How is THAT news? I thought that vexed was your default emotion.” There’s no need for the guilty start; I’m glad you said that. Now I have the opportunity to respond to you in the time-honored tradition of those who have had a comment intended to be charming – and possibly self-deprecating – agreed with a little too enthusiastically by their (admittedly imaginary) interlocutor. To wit: “Don’t be a wiseass!”

That was fun, wasn’t it?

And now I give you our regularly scheduled rant:

In conversation with me last week, a man who isn’t more than 25 years old said in explanation of a literary reference he was making: “This was back in the 70’s, before you had to be all PC with women.”

I really hate it when people who weren’t yet born in the 70’s describe the ethos of the decade to me, but that’s not the largest issue here. To be frank, I’m not exactly sure what the largest issue is with this statement. There are so very many issues to choose from.

Let’s start with the fact that he was speaking in a group that included me. I am a feminist. People who are not my students know this for a fact, because I tell them.* In fact, I know I told this guy, because he made a crack about the ‘insanity’ of 70’s feminism to me when I did. I actually ended up teaching Feminism 101 in that conversation. Apparently, I’m a very bad Feminism 101 teacher. I also know that the comment was made with at least minor hostility to my opinion about it because I got the sideways-glance/eye-roll thing as he said it. At minimum, we’re talking about rudely injecting deliberately inflammatory commentary that had approximately fuck-all to do with the piece he was talking about. That’s a manners issue, not a political one.

And that look says much that underscores the whole problem with his construction. (I’m hostile because I may have to defend what I’m saying here, because you’re a bitch.) To paraphrase Chris of Mixing Memory, the translation of that mindset is, “It’s not because it’s wrong, it’s because it’s not PC.”

Let’s make what I consider to be the fair assumption that he thinks the behavior he was describing is not wrong at all. There are still some problems with his framing of his problem.

The nostalgia this man was experiencing for a time that pre-dates his life was based on the idea that one** could – in some magical past that has since gone – treat an entire group of people contemptuously, with impunity, when they had not earned one’s contempt. As it stands, there really is no law against being a braying ass unless you’re using public funds to buy your megaphone. Hell, if you’re an elected official, you can be a braying ass with a publicly-funded megaphone. So, the impunity he wants is social impunity, not freedom from the interference of the police state. What he laments is the lost ability to be a braying ass in social interactions without the threat of hearing a voice of dissent. Especially not dissent that comes from the group he is attacking, and is therefore a sort of verbal self-defense. And somehow, I’m supposed to feel bad for the terribly oppressed situation he finds himself in. Sadly, though, the first amendment doesn’t grant Americans the right to universal approval. So, the whole woe-is-me-I’m-being-picked-upon thing doesn’t really work here.

Someone will now think about labor laws. That someone might be thinking, “Hey, he could maybe get fired for saying or doing certain things that aren’t ‘PC.’” Right, he could. So, Someone, are you suggesting that he should be able to fight for the right to behave unprofessionally at work? May I do that, too? ‘Cause this whole 8:30 in the morning, showered and fed and ready to deal with people in a professional manner thing is not really working for me, either. I would love to demand the right to stroll in 2 hours late, disgruntled, munching on a bagel, wearing wrinkly clothes, and sporting bed-head and possible underarm funk. (Depending on my desire to shower, and/or the anti-perspirant I wore the day before.) You wouldn’t like that, Someone, now would you? At work, one behaves professionally if one would like to keep one’s job. Save the keg-stands and questionable personality traits for evenings and weekends, and we can all get our work done efficiently and go home to the people we like.

The next issue is one of emotional development. He doesn’t think certain behavior is wrong, but he (erroneously) thinks he eschews this behavior. And he thinks he does this to avoid getting shit from other people. If I do X, it will be unpleasant for me. Better not do X. This is a child’s ethical reasoning coming from an adult. Adults say things like “I don’t do X because I think it’s wrong,” or “…because it’s not the image I want to present to the world.” Now look, there’s plenty of stuff I do because doing the work is easier than dealing with the shit that comes of not doing the work. We all do that stuff. We don’t all advertise it as we do it. Like, I can’t go to Academic Stah’s event and introduce myself to her with, “Yeah, I really hate all your work, and I’m pretty sure you’re a bad person, but Herr Professor Doktor Department Chair would kick my ass if I weren’t here. That would be an even bigger drag than having to be in your demonic and intellectually challenged presence for a few hours. Sucks to be me.” And the reason for my choice not to do that is not that HPD D. Chair would get mad at me for it, but rather that I’m a fucking adult. I made a choice between unpleasant options, chose what I considered to be the lesser of the two evils, and that’s my business.

To summarize: If you have a problem with being asked to behave like a damned professional adult at work, start your own non-service industry business or marry rich or something. If you find dissent that oppressive, start a dictatorship or hang out with mutes. Just genug schon mit dem Manners-are-the-debbil whining. And quit sassing your elders, too. We get cranky.

*With students, I adopt the devil’s advocate position. I found that I learned more and argued better when I had no idea what my instructors thought about issue X, and so I just don’t say what I believe in class. Unless the students are uniformly on the level of holocaust-deniers with false arguments, I just argue whichever position isn’t being covered.

** ‘one’ = a straight, white, man of at least middling economic status.


Chris said...

Woohoo! I got quoted.

Wouldn't it be great if the young grad student read your blog? Well, it would make anonymity a problem, but I'd love to see the reaction to this smackdown.

HeoCwaeth said...

Ha, I find it extremely unlikely that the man in question would continue reading once he saw the feminist label at the top.