Thursday, May 23, 2013

Brosie and a Wrap-Up on how to deal with offensive comments

To anyone who's been following the blog, a big thanks for supporting my post about dealing with offensive comments.  Because of your enthusiasm I was the most popular blogger in the Grandmother Power campaign.  Thank you!  It seems this topic has struck a cord with people, so I wanted to do a quick update and wrap up.

If you are just checking in now and haven't read the Grandmother Power post, you might want to start here.  

Since posting last, I've come across two more sources of wisdom on this topic.  

I recently connected with Anabel Jensen, a local EQ expert, who founded an EQ training organization called and a local elementary school called Synapse School, which teaches a curriculum rich in EQ training.  

Here's some of what she had to say in response to  dealing with an offensive comment, or negativity in general:

"I truly put on my invisible raincoat--with which to repel any and all data to which I do not want to respond or absorb.  I constantly remind myself that 'emotions are as contagious as the common cold."  Therefore, I arm myself with this emotional metaphor.  I recognize that I can repel anything aimed in my direction.  I also recognize that I am responsible for what ever emotional vibes I am generating."

And specifically about the kind of sexist comment I encountered:

"If you had asked him to define "hot," he might have replied, "Very attractive." He might not have meant "sexy."  I work to make people good.  I work to frame their words in a positive way.  If you had responded--"I agree with you.  She is extremely attractive, beautiful, gorgeous, etc."--he then might choose to use that word in the future."

I like her approach to be curious about what the person meant by the comment.  In essence, it gives the conversation a second chance.  This style of a response feels light and precise.

And second, as if on cue, out there in the world, another woman, was coming up with her own clever response to an offensive situation.  If you have not read about Brosie at the Hawkeye Initiative, you have to check it out.  An employee, going by the pseudonym K2, reports the story of a prank she pulled to make a point about a poster her CEO had in his office.  

In an interview for Wired last week, K2 spoke at length about her own strategy for dealing with sexism at work.  Two words that stand out to me from her explanations were "camaraderie" and "playfulness."  She was also very supportive of her male co-workers, who she characterized as occasionally clueless, but wanting to do the right thing.  Here's a little excerpt from her interview.  Prepare yourselves, this woman is super funny!

"Meteor Entertainment is my first gaming company. I’d talked to a lot of geek chicks before I decided to join the industry, and I knew there was a lot of baggage. I was intimidated for sure. Then, on one lunch break trip to a thrift store, I found this giant stuffed rooster. I bought it and stuck it on my desk. Whenever someone asked “what’s up with that?” I’d say “I heard it was much easier to be successful in the gaming industry if you had one of these! So I bought one! Big, huh?” The reactions were hilarious. I could brandish it at people who annoyed me and they’d literally run away. We, and mostly I, laughed some of that tension away. We could joke about the elephant in the room.

That, if anything, is what I hope people are taking from the Brosie story. Playfulness. Because whether or not women are broadly infiltrating STEM and gaming, the men who are coming in are from a very different generation than the last. They’ve grown up around strong female figures. They are listening and they are ready to have this conversation. But we cannot start this or any conversation with yelling. Yelling puts people on the defensive. People on the defensive are scared. Scared people can’t think. I think Jon Stewart said: 'it is physically impossible to be scared while laughing.' So let’s laugh. It’s awkward. But let’s laugh about that, among friends. Even when the male co-workers we love do the stuff that reminds us of those Bad Old Days."

And to wrap up, here's what I've learned about responding to offensive comments:

1.  Dealing with offensive comments and scenarios is challenging.  Most people don't respond in these situations, and for someone like me, who gets a little stunned, responding will be a skill that needs to be learned.  So I'm working on a plan to learn how to do this; it will definitely include practicing with "playfulness."

2.  Wise people approach with a sense of camaraderie, love, and goodness.  I think the most important concept Miller, Jensen, and K2 offer, is that they all talk about response strategies that pave the way for connection, and a more positive continuation of the conversation.  No one got bogged down in over thinking or spinning stories about the person or sexism in general.

3.  A response should always be directed at the comment itself, not at the person.  Each wise woman crafted a response that was about the comment.  No one suggested, for example, to respond with something like, "Are you as sexist your comment makes you sound?"  The response was about the comment, and assumed nothing directly about the person.  But indirectly, each of the wise responses assumed the that the best was possible for the person who made the comment.

1 comment:

  1. I love the reminder to give the speaker the benefit of the doubt and assume "that the best was possible."