Tuesday, February 26, 2008

C is for Confrontation

Last week, one of the staff members in the department, a woman about my age with whom I've had a friendly relationship, sent an email around to the other women staff members plus me, inviting us all to participate in a "Women of XYZ Department" bake sale to raise money for a doodleybob for the department.

Ignoring the complexities of fundraising in this way (like, where will the money actually GO? I suspect it will have to route through the fundraising arm of the university as a donation, and from whom, and how would we ensure it actually was used for a doodleybob, and who made the decision that we needed a doodleybob, etc. etc.) the idea of "Women of XYZ" + bake sale was mildly unsettling to me, because it sort of perpetuates certain gender stereotypes (namely: it's a woman's role to bake things for the benefit of others) that I normally try to eschew.

So I mulled this over for a while, and finally decided to diplomatically reply to the email with my concern.

Largely unbeknownst to me, there was some backstory involved that made her already defensive about said bake sale. The woman responded to my email to note that I was not really included in Women of XYZ, it was just certain undergraduate students that she'd been talking to, that she wasn't forcing me to participate, and that I must be some kind of sexist to think there are any gender stereotypes in that activity since after all plenty of women enjoy baking and there is nothing wrong with that.

I should have just left it there, but I was so rattled by her response that I reworded my concern in a reply, you know, just in case it was a misunderstanding (which I should have known it wasn't). The situation quickly devolved: me trying to reroute the discussion to explain my viewpoint while letting her know I wasn't attacking her or the doodleybob or the general concept of a bake sale, and her telling me it was none of my business and I shouldn't pick apart somebody else's idea and by the way if I'm so smart why don't I take on some projects of my own and not waste her time with my narrow-minded issues.


I do have to have a functioning working relationship with this woman, so I'd like some resolution towards that, and while I think that we can't resolve the situation just the two of us (certainly not via email and probably not face-t0-face either) I'd be willing to engage the university ombusdman to meet with us and help us put this behind us. But that seems like a lot of effort to go through over some brownies and whatnot. Yes? No?


Anonymous said...

Thats a touchy subject! When I (male) was in grad school, our department organization tried to organize a bake sale. We got nowhere TILL we had a couple of GIRLS come and help us out and actually do the baking when the time came.

As much as this post could suggest a gender bias in the way we think, there are some things that women are simply better at! BTW, they made some excellent oatmeal cookies....

Anonymous said...

My own experience with fundraisers can offer the perspective that they are generally badly advertised. I hope that things work out with your colleague.

Ms.PhD said...

Better to talk in person than over email. I think you should try to get yourself into a calm, generous state of mind, screw up your courage, and march over there.

You can probably get more of the backstory from her directly that way.

You'll come out better if you try to sound sympathetic to the problem, even if you don't agree with the proposed method of solving it.

And you might have to apologize.

Obviously I agree with you, and there are all kinds of weird issues involved here, but trust me this is not worth having a war over, and this person probably won't change her mind.

Avoid the ombudsperson unless absolutely required. That's really taking it to another level of confrontation.

Email, especially group emails, can lead to all kinds of problems. I've gotten into these kinds of arguments before. Often they're more rattled by knowing that other people read what you said than by the content of any of it.

A lot of it is about perceived tone of voice, which is often not what you had in mind when you typed it.