Sunday, September 9, 2012

Working for "the man"; or, lessons in diplomacy

Actually, I don't quite work for "the man" because I am in the community sector, but I still feel like there is an aura of complicity that means you are never quite free to "be yourself" as we are constantly exhorted to be in this neoliberal world.

In fact, it's far better to be a close approximation of a person with a self, but to carefully conceal that actual self behind a facade of cheerful cooperation and relentless positivity. No matter what. No matter whether you have already worked a 12 hour day or whatever else is going on in your life.

Now, fortunately for me, I am white, young enough to be spoken to patronisingly by men who flatter themselves into thinking that they might have a chance at picking me up and generally optimistic and confident enough to move about in most social situations without being too terribly gauche (unless I am unaware of it) or running into the toilets crying because I need someone to hold my hand. This gives me a lot of room to move for the most part, and generally capable of making friends and getting on well with others.

Up to a point.

Because I am unfortunately, not quite old enough for competitive men and insecure women to stop considering me "a threat". It is interesting to note as I write this post, that I had similar problems when I was teaching. That is, the particular students that were hard to work with for me were always the overly competitive men and insecure women that saw me in this light. Happily, there are not that many folk who see me as threat, so usually I am quite ok.

(Side note though: WTF is it that they are so worried about? I have never been able to work that one out...)

This week at work, I have come up against the same problem in my post-academic life.

Insecure women make life painful for me, as I find that they can often be skeptical and suspicious of my behaviour and unfriendly towards me as a result. Totally unecessary in my view. I am but one person and deserve to be treated couteously if nothing else. Also, my feminist history means that I honestly subscribe to the notion of "the sistahood" and really take a dim view of women who undermine other women. In short, if you're a lady in my social circle, then I will always be cheering you on to do your best and helping you to do that wherever I can.

Overly comptetive men make life painful for me, as it's impossible to do my job without being able to manage a project. That is my job role, and if you're not working within project deliverables, sir, then I am going to call you out on that. There is no need to call my boss/go over my head/spread malicious gossip/undermine the project just because I stood my ground.

So these are the two key issues that I deal with in life. Which when confronted with both during the work day, makes me feel like I am not permitted to really be myself. Apparently I can't be too [whatever it is that the women can't stand - independent? Cooperative?] and I can't be too outspoken in standing my ground.

I am going to add another note here too, and say that I also have a problem with the conservatives (of both sexes) as well. That is, I have never learnt that useful art of letting a sexist/racist/homophobic/classist/undemocratic/stereotypical comment go. I have to pipe up and call them on that crap. As I get older though, I am learning to pick my battles better and recognising when someone is doing it deliberately to wind me up, but I will be the first to say that I could be more diplomatic.

I guess what I am realising through writing this down, is that these are personality issues that have been occuring my whole entife life, so I guess there's not much point in worrying about them too much. I am also thinking that there are some workplaces where these issues are not as bad as in others. Perhaps it is the nature of work in general - just learning how to recognise those personality types and situations that aren't  going to work out in your favour before you manage to put your foot in your mouth and get called in to the boss' office.


  1. I really sympathise with some of what you're saying around the circumstances when others in the workplace make derogatory comments - sexist, homophobic etc., and you find yourself in a position where you respond. I've always felt as I grown older that we have a responsibility to respond and challenge - you are right though to mention the point about trying to be 'diplomatic' to some degree, if possible (oh how hard that is!) with the way we deals with these moments. It's a ongoing question/challenge for me that is so important to address. There are all sorts of ways to cope with this and I'm sure you'll find the best option to suit your circumstances without feeling like you have been overly comprised politically. Good luck.

    1. Yes - I am always torn between feeling responsible to challenge those questionable views and behaving appropriately. It seems even harder now too, as when I was an academic, I had a certain cultural authority that somehow made it easier to express a viewpoint without offending anyone. That is, as long as the audience were able to classify me as "the professor" then they could either ignore what I had to say or delegate it to the category of "what people talk about at uni". So I was either less threatening or more easily ignored. But now that the audience doesn't have the same background, then I just seem like I am a socially inept wierdo who says strange things. I feel like I have even less space to speak out against injustice than I ever did in my professional life.