How to know when to shut up

This Reuben Bolling cartoon reflects a common situation. If you are ever tempted to start giving your opinion on something with the preamble “I know this is not politically correct but …” or “I know this is going to upset some people but … ” or “You may not like what I’m going to say but …”, it is probably a good idea to think twice, because the chances are that what you are going to say is really offensive or poorly thought out and is going to get you in trouble.

Tom the Dancing Bug 1374 chagrin falls 22 isle of mansplaining

I have a friend who is like Gavin and when he starts that way, I quickly jump in and say, “Maybe it is better not to say it”. But he never listens and does so anyway. Then when he is challenged on it, he invariably retreats into more and more indefensible positions. The most recent instance occurred when during a discussion of all the sexual abuse cases in the news, he used the preamble “You may not agree with this but …” to lament the fact that men could no longer tell a woman that she was looking pretty or give a friendly hug without being viewed with suspicion and that this was reducing the warmth and quality and friendliness of human interactions and creating a more cold world. He is totally opposed to sexual harassment of any kind but felt that the boundaries now being drawn went too far. His point was that he would be pleased if a woman complimented him on his looks, so why should it be different if he did the same to a woman?

He could not understand that the power dynamic that exists in our society, in which men and women are not on an equal footing, prevents that kind of reciprocity.. When a woman is complimented on her looks by someone who is not a close friend or relative, she might well be wary about the motives of the person doing so because of fears as to where it might lead. Hence she has to quickly figure out how best to respond without giving offense. A man usually has no such fears when a woman does so. The situation is compounded in the workplace where they may be an actual hierarchy that separates the two. My friend could not understand that keeping things on a professional level could not only exist alongside with a friendly relationship, it would prevent all manner of awkward misunderstandings.


  1. Mark Dowd says

    He is totally opposed to sexual harassment…

    You might not like what I'm going to say, but anecdotal evidence suggests that his opposition is somewhat less than total.

    If he has a problem with professionalism making things cold, he would do well to remember that men are the ones ruining the situation (and are the one that should be complained about) by being inappropriately close, not women for wanting to keep comfortable distance.

  2. axxyaan says

    The problem is that such a situation can occur, independent of whether Gavin is correct or not. Gavin could be the person knowing a bit of the science in a group sympathetic to quackery. He could be the person willing to go against tribal culture. And the only thing different would be the last frame.

    And yes trying to explain the science to people sympathetic to quackery or going against tribal culture can be deeply offensive to these people and get you into trouble.

  3. DLC says

    Actually, Gavin can go jump in a hole. It’s the new rule, get used to it. No more personal greetings, hugs, compliments or smiles. Just forget it right now, because any of those can be misinterpreted by the recipient and be seen as offensive. Just be cold, impersonal and polite. Don’t get excited, don’t hi-five anybody, don’t get angry and yell “Jesus Christ!” Just don’t. Because you seriously don’t want “Was dismissed from employment for failure to conform to company policy” on your CV. You’ll never work in your chosen field again.

  4. sezit says

    DLC, you have a chip on your shoulder that is visible from here. “Be cold” or “You’ll never work in your chosen field again.”

    There is no evidence for this extreme position. No hordes of blackballed pleasant, sincere men who were respectfully friendly to their coworkers. Friendliness is great; intrusiveness is not. Paying attention to the other person -- backing off if they show signs of discomfort is a STANDARD human practice. If a person meets the basic criteria for employment, they have this skill.

    The men (and women) who cross the line are not clueless. They do it on purpose.

    The complainers (like you) who create hyperbolic false scenarios (like the one you just did) are motivated by something other than sincerity.

  5. Mano Singham says

    I agree with sezit @#7.

    I worked with a large number of women during my career and my relationships with them were very friendly. I would even categorize some of the relationships as close and warm. But none of them involved the need for any such remarks or touching. In fact, such things might well have poisoned the relationships.

  6. mnb0 says

    “men and women are not on an equal footing”
    Here is the real problem. Put a lot of effort in “equal footing”. The rest solves itself.
    Indeed the women I worked with never were afraid to criticize me. It actually helped me. See, I’m not exactly perfect.

  7. DLC says

    Actually, I’m the one who acts as I described above. I don’t consider it onerous or an imposition. I also don’t consider myself ill-used, I’m not nursing a grudge and I am not some cleverly disguised MRA moron. sezit @#7 I notice you sliced out some words. I said “cold, impersonal and polite.” I could have said detached instead of impersonal. Let’s explain a bit further: When I say “cold” I mean the opposite of heated — not angry or rude. Next comes Impersonal — by which I mean don’t take anything at work personally and don’t be personal in your own self. Don’t call Joe a Fat-ass even if he is one, It’s insulting. Also, don’t stare at Joe or Jane like you’d like to rip their clothes off, It’s Insulting. If a colleague comes up to you and says “you moron, you missed a whole week’s data!” don’t get mad at them, just tell them why, and then calmly tell them not to go around calling people moron. I see now that I might have selected my words better. It’s a thing I call Professionally Friendly. Although I’m not too sure I really mean friendly. There’s been many people I’ve had to work with whom I found personally offensive or repulsive, like the boss who much to his delight had more or less constant flatulence.

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