A Lifelong $hit-Eater Develops Intolerance to $hit

An interesting thing about middle age, or at least my middle age, is that, after a lifetime of holding my tongue and playing nice and putting up with $hit for the sake of peace and doing (or at least trying to do) what’s societally expected of women, some thresholds have been crossed and now my body reacts quite violently to additional incidents. A lifetime of swallowing small amounts of $hit is not unlike swallowing lead or absorbing radiation in that the effect is cumulative: I now have $hit poisoning and am entirely unable to tolerate added exposure to $hit. So when you fling what may be a really small amount of $hit at me (or another middle-aged woman), and I turn into a $hit dragon and bite your head off (and then all the $hit comes flying out of your neck because you’re in fact full of it) you have all the $hit-flingers who came before you to thank for that.

Seriously, so many men. (Not all men, sure, and yes some women, too, but very, very, very few women.) Mostly men. Listen, FFS. You do not know everything. People around you are not morons. They know things and want to be heard and respected for their expertise. You know, just like you. Listen, and do it respectfully and attentively, like others listen to you, and not how you do it, which is a) by talking all over them until they stop even though it’s their turn and you had yours but voila now and forever it’s your turn again or b) by jumping in at the first opportunity a speaker has to take a breath and taking over again or c) either a or b but with the added “No. This instead” regardless of the actual value or veracity of what was previously said.Β  Listen the way everyone listens to you even when you’re talking out of your ass.

Several unrelated incidents all speak of the same fuckin’ annoying mansplainy bullshit, of people’s pigheadedness and unwillingness to be corrected or adapt even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are wrong, speak of some people’s rejection that they could ever be wrong.

First of all, I am about to leave a potential collaboration because I will not work with a certain colleague. He is fine, even amusing, in small doses, but I’ve always suspected we shouldn’t work together if we are to remain friendly. Talking all over me in a brainstorming session yesterday re-confirmed it. The fact I’ve got over 15 years on him doesn’t mean that I could possibly know anything he doesn’t. So I am pulling out of that. And no, I will not be discussing why, because all that does is labels me as difficult one. It’s so easy to be labeled difficult when you’re a woman; that’s like the original fuckin’ sin.

Second, let me start with an example. I read and write a lot and I like to know precisely what words and phrases mean, and if I’m pronouncing them correctly, so I look things up all the time. Even so, some errors sneak through. For example, a few days ago I realized that a word I’d been sure was detrius was actually detritus — for some reason, I’d never noted the second t. I’d also never heard it pronounced because it’s not exactly a colloquial word, so I made sure to look up the correct pronunciation. Overall, a face-palm moment, but hardly an ego-shattering one: I identified a misconception and then corrected it.

In contrast, I recently had a whole ordeal with a student (a native speaker of English) about the word homogeneous. That’s a word we often use in technical communication to characterize samples, applied fields, etc. Anyway, he said it probably three times in rapid succession during a single meeting and he kept mispronouncing it — it’s a common mispronunciation of this word, making it sound as if were spelled homogenous. I stopped him and told him about it and he just wouldn’t believe me. We went to the online dictionary and heard the pronunciation (I was right). He then asked how you pronounce inhomogeneous and homogeneity and I told him. We looked those up too, and I was right again. To which he asked who says the online dictionary was to be trusted; I said we did, because we all agreed to make it the go-to resource. I then went to Merriam-Webster online and obviously the information was the same. Finally, he said he didn’t care and that he would continue to pronounce it like homogenous because that’s what he’s used to.

This level of obstinacy is baffling. Instead of saying “Oh, I’ve been saying it wrong,” making a mental note to correct himself and moving on, he will go on being wrong just to prove that he’s…not wrong? That he’s infallible? I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’ve ever met a girl or a woman behaving this way (although considering the anti-vaxxers exist, there are probably many).

Third, on another blog I said something, let’s call it “this,” to which a commenter jumped in to say “It’s not this; it’s that.” I read that comment and immediately felt pressure rising in my neck. “This” was my opinion. “That” is the other commenter’s opinion. I don’t even think he’s wrong, but a) the two opinions are not mutually exclusive and b) it’s annoying as all hell to have one’s opinion dismissed as wrong (“It’s not this”) with another opinion delivered as fact (“…it’s that”). Framing one’s opinion as though it’s a fact that anyone with brain function would accept as true is an excellent way for people to think you’re an asshole and to stop talking to you.

If you want to converse as a human being, you could do worse than follow the guidelines on how to give constructive criticism, which were nicely articulated by the critiquing group Critters.

https://www.critique.org/c/diplomacy.ht

https://www.critique.org/c/whathow.ht

I share the above links often because they emphasize that, if you want to be heard, delivery is very important because no one likes being talked down to, even if they are wrong. (People who say they’re brutally honest usually enjoy leaning into the brutal part a little too much. Fuck those people.)

The problem is that I can’t really pretend all is peachy anymore. I get a tightness of chest, racing heart, and a pressure in my head and neck when people piss me off. I bet my blood pressure goes through the roof. The body is telling me to avoid certain people and situations and I have to listen because fuck people’s callousness and egomania. I have to do my work, but I can’t and won’t eat any more $hit if I can avoid it.

15 comments

  1. Hard same on the ‘splainers of the world, except that I received a lifetime max-sized dose in grad school and have been a complete harpy about it since I was 26, in consequence.

  2. Also! I too was unaware of homogeneous and thought it was homogenous! Though unlike that dude I’m cool with you being 100% right. I bet it’s from lifetime exposure to containers reading “homogenized milk.”

    I’m also willing to bet that a shocking percentage of people in the US really think it’s sherbert, including me into my thirties, despite it being spelled correctly on cartons. I’d literally never heard it pronounced correctly until five years ago. Weird, right?

  3. +1 person who always wondered about homogenous vs. homogeneous but only just now bothered to look it up. Luckily, most things in ecology are heterogeneous, so I think I’ve mostly avoided it πŸ˜‰

  4. The links you provide from critique.org promote using wording I commonly provide to my students. But as a new, young, female PI I feel sometimes this more suggestive, polite wording isn’t always taken seriously. I’ll have to go back and say it a second or third time… I find myself going back and editing my wording to try to find a balance between being direct but not too harsh. Any suggestions of walking the delicate tightrope of being too nice vs. too bitchy?

  5. Hi newPI19, those links also delineate that, if you are in an actual position of authority and especially if you are also an educator, it is perfectly fine to be a bit more blunt. When you are a first reader/critiquer of someone’s fiction, the writer asks you for help as a peer and doesn’t consider you a Knower of All Things Writerly. But when you are in an advisor/advisee relationship, it is expected that you, the advisor, do actually possess the wisdom that the other side does not, and that your comments are not gentle suggestions that may or may not be accepted, but are in fact requests. It’s still fine to share how something came across and you should certainly convey the rationale behind requested changes because you are trying to teach. There’s never a need to be mean or rude or belittle the writer as a person. However, your wording suggestions better be adopted and your calls for clarification better be addressed. When in doubt, err on the side of bitchiness.

  6. @positive definite : speaking only for myself it’s because I find the arrogant student mansplaining to be completely and regrettably unsurprising, but am in fact surprised by the word thing.

  7. Hi – thanks so much for your posts that let me know I am not alone in getting less and less capable of putting up with this stuff. Literally this evening, at a conference reception – where I am one of the plenary speakers – the organiser was congratulating himself on the great (four person) panel he had put together for the final discussion. I pointed out it was all male. His response was to tell me that he had thought about this, but had asked his 8 year old daughter if she thought it was a problem not having a woman in the panel, and she had said that of course there was no need to include a woman, just for the sake of balance, that would be stupid. So there you go, his 8 year old daughter’s opinion is more valid than mine, a senior female academic in the field.

  8. Oh, and I should add, that the upshot is that (after some further unproductive discussion) I spent the rest of the evening stewing about it, while he has probably just labelled me ‘difficult’ and gone on to the pub to talk science with some less difficult people.

  9. Good for you! The “homogeneous” thing would have been enough to banish that guy, or should I say That Guy, but who starts questioning legit sources like that? Flat earthers, that’s who. Glad you shut that down and listened to your body.

    I recently unfriended one of my most toxic and performatively woke and mansplainy colleagues on Facebook–first time I’ve ever done that–for exactly those reasons: my body would tense up wondering how he was going to attack the institution and the program I run this time. It’s a small step, but it’s a step.

  10. Thank you for pointing out the exactly ONE good thing about how my body has changed with age…this shit-intolerance is real. I am trying to go 100% shit-free, but it turns out—its in EVERYTHING and so hard to avoid.

  11. That’s an angle I hadn’t considered — maybe I’m not putting up with things because I physically can’t anymore. There are family members I can’t talk to because they pull this nonsense or they expect that I should tolerate this nonsense in other contexts with a glacially placid aspect.

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