"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I'm Not Your Baby

I just lent a key for a piece of equipment to a male contractor at my job, and as he returned to my office and handed it back to me, he said:

"Here you go, baby."

My inner monologue went something like this: "Did he really just call me 'baby'? Seriously? Should I be flattered or something? No! I'm not flattered. I'm not your baby!"

What did I do, though? How did I -- a card-carrying feminist -- put him in his place?

I smiled slightly less than I usually would as I thanked him and avoided making eye contact.

Boy, did I show him, or what?

He went on his way with his world completley unchanged, secure in his privilege to never give our seemingly innocuous interaction a second thought, and I'm left in my office, annoyed with myself for not having the balls/ovaries/whatever to call him out on his sexism.

On one hand, this is a guy I don't know and will probably never see again, so why waste the energy it takes for me to respond negatively (and surely cause him to regard me as a total bitch in the process), but on the other hand, why should he feel entitled to call me "baby"? That shit makes me totally uncomfortable, and while there may be plenty of women out there who either don't mind it or find it flattering, I can say with confidence that it's certainly not true for all of us.

It's just frustrating that I can be spoken to so dismissively and "endrearingly" called names like "baby" and "sweetie" by men who don't even know me simply by virtue of my being both young and female. And it's more frustrating that when it happens, there are so many reasons to not even bother to speak up about it.


Anonymous said...

What confuses me is why I'll accept this kind of comment from women (typically older than me) or African-Americans but not white, males. I don't feel so offended when the two former groups do it then when the latter group does it.

Tracey said...

That's a really good point, and I know just what you mean. I almost described the man in the post (he was white, middle-aged, burly, and blue collar), but I wasn't sure if I should. Part of me thinks it shouldn't matter, but it probably does, and that gets into some really interesting class and race issues.

I remember a thread on one of the big blogs a while back in which white women described how they reacted more negatively to catcalling on the street when it came from black men or Latino men than when it came from white men and wanted to confront those biases, but it almost seems to work in the opposite direction in this case. It's possible that if this man had been a man of color, I would have found it more palatable somehow, and I'm sure if it had been a woman, it wouldn't have bothered me much at all.

I actually had an older female co-worker call me "Punkin" this week, and while I found it odd, I found her actions more cute than dismissive.

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah, Nik-who-always-bothers-me-when-I'm-on-the-phone-with-you ALWAYS begins his dismissive, let-me-teach-you-a-lesson sentences with, "Sweetie, sweetie, . . ." It drives me INSANE. Maybe next time he's yelling at me for saying something is "retarded", I'll pull this out of my bag.

Tracey said...

Wow. I can see how that would be annoying, but it's so hard for me to picture any of the guys I work with using "sweetie".

Miss Ernst said...

Hi there! I realize this is quite late, but I was reading through your archives and thought, "I have something to contribute!"

At work one day, answering the phone, a manager phoned and said, "Hey sweetie, can you transfer me to [so and so]?" I transferred him but then later, on my break, I nervously went to talk to him and said I felt it was inappropriate, would he not do that? He seemed confused, and then it dawned, "No, I said, 'It's me', not sweetie." We had a good laugh and we have had a great working dynamic since then.

But I deal with the sweetie thing occasionally at work. I hate the knowledge that if we speak up we know the best we'll get is an awkward eye-roll, or "I call everyone that!" Oh do you? You call the men that, do you?

Last point, I was showing a new guy how to do the job I do all week and off-handedly said, "I know everything." and he replied "Of course you're supposed to; You're a woman!" I fixed him with a blank stare and said we would move right past that. I felt like a superhero. I don't need patronizing from someone who I have 4 years seniority over.

Okay I'm done. :)