Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Dick-i-tude

I love Dr. Crazy... Can I say that? Seriously, her blog is always interesting and often challenging. Today, though, Crazy went above and beyond. Yes, she took time in her blog to mention a phenomenon with which most academics, especially women academics, are familiar: I will call it "dick-i-tude."

Dick-i-tude is the assumption by male academics that everyone should defer to them. It becomes a dick-related issue because it is just so freakin' male.

I am sure that there are women academics who think it is their right to undermine processes, take up physical and verbal space, and expect everyone to defer to their own perspective... I mean, these women MUST exist. But, in my 10 years as a faculty member and 22 years in higher education, I have only encountered this kind of behavior in men. And it is so incredibly maddening. And it is paired, as Crazy reminds us, with society's corresponding lack of willingness to deal with a woman speaking out, speaking up, advocating her position, and fighting for her own values and needs. She is cast as demanding, needy, pushy, whiny, a castrating bitch, and other negative terms.

I had my own example of dick-i-tude just today in a first meeting of an interdisciplinary committee. We were informed about the purpose of the meeting and asked to introduce ourselves. The leaders--a man and a woman--even started themselves, so we knew what the expected parameters were: name, discipline, and area of research that relates to the committee. Should last about 1-2 minutes, tops. Everything went well until we came to Dr. Oldwhiteguy. Oh he of the white male penis felt the need to expand on his own disclosure. We spent the next 6-8 minutes learning about Oldwhiteguy's latest research project, the findings, and ongoing disagreements he is having with his co-PI about interpreting the findings. It could have been worse, but it was bad enough.

We all basically acted like he farted--inwardly grimacing and ignoring the stink, and we continued and finished introductions. It did make me wonder, though, what a whole semester in meetings with this joker would be like. Will we be treated to little treatises like this at every meeting? Will he never recognize that he is colonizing the airspace? Will the chairs feel empowered to tell him to can it? The first interaction didn't bode well.

Now, as I explained to Crazy, the nice thing about being a big old dyke is that all the criticisms the dicky-boys might lay on women are already part and parcel of my disparaged identity, which means that I can't lose. If I interrupt and create my own space to speak, I am just living into my manhating, pushy, lesbo-self. If I call Oldwhiteguy out, privately or publicly (though I almost never do the latter unless he is my friend or I can play it as a joke), I am just acting like a dyke. The best part of being a big scary lesbian in academic settings is that the dicky boys are secretly afraid that (a) I have a secret penis that is just as big as theirs, or (b) I am proof that you can live a good life (and even get off) without one of those pesky penises (or peni, if that is the correct plural). I find that managing these dicky colleagues is not as difficult for me as it can be for my younger, more attractive, heterosexual female colleagues.

I have confronted a few of my male friends and instructors about their dickishness, occasionally, when I felt like it was getting away from them or bothering me in a way that was impeding my own work. A few years ago, I had a fantastic conversation with a good male friend when, early in our relationship, he dickishly implied--through his actions and his words--that he was smarter, better read, and better educated than me, and that he would educate me. Well, he never said that outright, of course, but that was the implication. So, when I explained how he was coming off, the way he was deploying his privilege, and how much it was pissing me off, he totally got it. He had heard similar criticism before from other women in his life, and he knew he had some dickish tendencies to address. I left the conversation feeling better about him and better about myself. That said, it was a risky conversation to have, and had he not been a reflective and thoughtful guy who was committed to feminist and anti-oppressive interactions, we could have had a massive fight that ended our friendship and cost me access to a lot of opportunities at the university.

After talking over Crazy's post and my committee experience with the gf, we decided that the primary reason women don't tend to exhibit dick-i-tude is rooted in our socialization to take the temperature of the room. When I am at a meeting, I notice who speaks and who doesn't, who looks unhappy and who looks pleased, who wants to talk and who wishes they were elsewhere... And I take the temperature when I speak. Not that I can't speak out, knowing that I am pissing people off. I have certainly done that. The difference is that the dick doesn't know how his actions/words are affecting people and he can't be bothered to care.

The options in how to deal with dick-i-tude from more senior colleagues are limited:
  1. Expect it, accept it, and laugh about it with friends ("Oh, there he goes again. Do you think he gets cold when he whips it out and leave it out there like that?")
  2. Expect it, resent it, and stew silently about it ("I can't believe he did that again. How am I supposed to live like this? Maybe I should look for a new, dick-free job." Good luck with that, by the way.)
  3. Expect it, interrupt it, and live in fear ("Uh, Oldwhiteguy, I have to interrupt you. We're running out of time, and I want to make sure that we hear from everyone." or "Actually, Oldwhiteguy, we already voted on that and we went the other way. Now we are discussing how to implement our decision.")
  4. Be pre-emptive and see if you can stop it before it starts. (see my story above)

One size doesn't fit all, that's for sure. Which option you take depends on the time, the situation, and the people involved--not to mention your own mood, stamina, and mental health. I seem to fluctuate between 1, 3, and 4, depending on my levels of personal investment and professional fear regarding the dick in question. I also try to remind myself that every man with dick-i-tude has been socialized that way, just like the passive-aggressive women that drive me nuts. All I can do is try not to let either one get to me, and to do all in my power not to become either one of them.

Thanks, Crazy, for sparking a good discussion and another "Aha!" moment for me.

8 comments:

Dr. Crazy said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Lesboprof! And I think that you're right about the options for how to deal with it. I'd say that mostly I'm a 1,3,4 sort of person myself - I think the thing that's so frustrating about my current situation is I've felt boxed into #2 - and that is SO not my way of operating in the world. (What's so awful about the current situation, by the by, is that the dicks in question are NOT old, should know better, and that they are flanked by passive-aggressive women who whisper in the wings while the dicks hold forth publicly. It's truly diabolical.)

Anonymous said...

The worst dickitude I've ever encountered came from a woman. And that threw me off more than if it had come from a guy. I know how to handle the latter.

Anonymous said...

We have some of those. They make meetings twice as long as necessary as they blather on and on...and on and on.

But I find equally annoying the "Everything is witty humor!" guys around whom not a single serious sentence can be uttered. It makes conversations difficult when 100% of what is said must be sarcastic or multi-leveled wit. Someone should find a name for this. Also these people get all the good teaching evaluations even though they don't write more than 5 words on student papers, because students think they are so entertaining. ANNOYING.

Anonymous said...

oh yeah, I have a woman dick as a dean now. a guy dick would be much easier to handle......

Anonymous said...

feeling insecure? we are just made this way, come to terms with it rather than whine about it. When its a guy, its favoritism, when its a woman, its equal opportunity.

Anonymous said...

When reading this blog, I like to replace "men" with "black people" and "women" with "white people," and notice that all the arguments still work, but now we have a special word we call the author... ;)

Lesboprof said...

To my most recent anon... The problem with replacing "men" with "black people" and "women" with "white people" is that the examples and arguments don't work, because the argument is about **privilege**. If you don't have the privilege and you don't assume the right to exert it in meetings, then it won't work. I have been in meetings with people of color and white people, and people of color rarely behave in that privileged, assuming, arrogant fashion. Again, not to see that some POC don't act like jerks, but my critique is about asserting unearned privilege, not just being a jerk.

Lesboprof said...

Oh, and I bet you already have a special word to call the author... Just guessing, though.