Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What box are you in?

On my way to work this morning there were surveyors in the train station with neat lines of 6 or 7 clickers on their horizontal clipboards. What do you call those things anyway? I was going to call them people counters but of course, you could count anything with them. Before that swell idea I was going to call them bouncer clickers because I often see bouncers using them to control the crowd capacity at night clubs. Anyway, I immediately began thinking of a clever blog post about the categories they are using to count people commuting in the morning. The number of their clickers exceeded simply man, woman and foreigner so what boxes are they grouping us into exactly? And into which box would my tick fall?

I promptly forgot about the whole thing when I got to work and only remembered on my way home when I noticed that the surveyors were still there, grouping us into demographic clubs and clicking away. Only this time, instead of trying to come up with a witty blog post I wondered if one of the categories was for women who had possibly been sexually harassed at work that day. And then wondered how one would tell from looking at a woman how her day had been. If my dark eyes and scowl could talk...Let me preface this by saying that I am not assigning a name to what happened today, not calling it sexual harassment or power harassment or any of the other ones that have been assigned names, but the terms did fly through my mind more than once. No matter what you call it, I felt disrespected today and for me it was really the last straw in a long string of small issues that have bothered me over the last year that are related not only to gender but to age and race too.

One of my non-Japanese coworkers was questioning me today in a rather abrupt and strange way, about our schedules. He is newer than I and so while I felt that he seemed to be implying that I should have been doing something that I was not (and by the way not supposed to), I ignored the tone and simply answered his question. This is all being done by email by the way. After receiving a short thank you for the explanation, I reread his first inquiry and thinking that maybe he was having an issue with my schedule and was not being direct about it, I asked him if there was a problem. After reading his reply, which was a long and painfully drawn out "joke" about how he was actually in love with me and needed to know my schedule to still his beating heart, I had a visceral reaction akin to feeling like I needed to puke. I hardly know the guy (arguably too much now) and in a professional work environment his conduct was way out of line.

If you want to look at it from a gender angle, I think (hope) we can safely assume that he would not send anything along those lines to a superior, a Professional or one of our male colleagues. And if we want to get all Japanesey and technical, despite him having at least 10 years on me, I am his senpai and for someone who hasn't been around for very long, he certainly thinks he has a big pair of cojones. I do not wish to become a pariah among my colleagues and on the whole I am usually quite tolerant for things that are said in mixed company. But this. The dormant feminist in me woke up screaming bloody murder and you can call me a "hysterical woman" all you want, but bottom line is, what this guy wrote was inappropriate and he is not above the age exception line. You know, for really old men, you can excuse them for not being politically incorrect but I can't write this one off as a geriatric just yet. So what's the problem? Is he a grade A asshole or has he just been in Japan for too long? Is it an all too common fatal cocktail of both perhaps? Part of my desire to act on it came from the fact that Other Whitie will be leaving me sooner than later and I don't plan on becoming one of the boys, and nor do I plan on becoming "the woman" of the group who is talked down to or talked around, for fear of instigating a hysterical feminist episode. What part of this guy's brain told him it would be OK to send something like that to a female colleague? And to one he barely knows. And he does barely know me, we are face-to-face maybe twice a month and that usually lasts as long as the obligatory pleasantries do.

After my feminist rage began to subside, a different wave washed over me, but this time it had more to do with plain old-fashioned respect. Content aside, the situation in question lays out his general arrogance and disrespect in plain sight. I gave a normal answer to a somewhat normal question and his tactic is to reply to my response with an antagonizing and passive-aggressive email that he sent to me based on some of the boxes I would tick on a survey: female, 18-25, non-Professional.

OK I thought, breathe. An hour or so of debating whether to respond with a humorous but to-the-point comment or to simply come out and say it, I went with the latter option because I feel as I am getting older, that there is no point in hiding behind the proverbial bush. If people don't like me because of what I say or the frank way in which it is said, that is unfortunate but unavoidable. So I wrote a very brief and to-the-point reply telling him that while I understood his sentiments to be a joke, I felt that his comments were inappropriate. Feeling good about my decision, I sat back and waited for what I thought would be a no-brainer response and apology from him: I automatically assumed that in a crazy moment of bad taste he had taken a walk on the oblivious side in sending the email to me, and that as soon as I quietly and simply told him that it had been inappropriate slash made me uncomfortable, he would realize why that was and offer an apology. And then we would move forward a little older and perhaps wiser. Or at least once burned.

If I thought I had problems with the initial confession of love joke, I shouldn't have even allowed it to warrant a response, for the half-assed snarky apology that looked torn from the spiral notebook of a fourteen-year-old boy or snatched from the mouth of a sullen eleventh-grade girl that I promptly received thereafter, was to send me into another downward spiral of desperateness and let's be honest, I wanted to cry. "Sure, sorry. Didn't think it would bother you". For someone who is usually very articulate, I felt like I was communicating with his half-wit brother. So not only did he fail to send a vague semblance of something that could be considered a sincere apology, he appears to not understand what I find offensive or inappropriate or why. He should have just written something like, Chill out, I didn't mean to ignite your hormonal feminine rage, as that would have better summed up his feelings on the matter. I've let a lot roll off my back in my months at the Kaisha because at the end of the day, it isn't worth the battle or the worry lines. But this single incident made me feel more desperate and frustrated than I've felt in a long time. Not only does my colleague not respect me in a professional sense as his coworker, he chose to invalidate my (I think acceptable) response to his inappropriate message.


cowgirl said...

"Is it an all too common fatal cocktail of both perhaps?"

Yes, that just about sums it up.

I think this whole ordeal is a testament to how mature and responsible you are. You weren't overly combative but you definitely stood your ground, two things that make you look like a rational adult instead of a willy nilly female (like me).


Kelley Dawne said...

Sounds like a pure jackass. Frankly, I don't think it matters what country he spent a lot of time in. There is no excuse for treating a woman different from a man. ESPECIALLY if he's foreign and grew up in a culture that respects equality.
I'm proud of you for taking the high road and sending a respectful message. I would have told him to fuck off. Kudos to you!

Sarah said...

Regardless of who the guy is, where he is from, and where you both are now, good for you for standing up for yourself!! If you were uncomfortable with the comment you should be able to say so, and (when you explain yourself logically) you should be able to expect an apology in return.

Sounds like a jerk!