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About a month or two ago, I was surfing the internet while waiting for my mother to get ready to go with me to the gym. During this brief time, following from one link to another, I came across a shampoo ad that was, according to the post in which it was embedded, getting a lot of attention on the internet. The ad showed women in everyday situations offering apologies that the makers of the video deemed unnecessary. The title card which introduces the video asks “Why are women always apologizing,” which implies that they are doing something that men don’t.

Sitting at my computer, whiling fifteen or twenty minutes waiting for my mother, I was not in an especially critical mindset. If that week’s viral videos had been cute puppies I would have watched cute puppies. I nodded in implied agreement while watching. While I don’t think I have heard about that particular habit before, it did not surprise me. In women’s studies classes that I took in college, I read about similar studies that examined seeming trivial differences in male and female behavior. Although the video doesn’t say so in so many words, the clear implication is that apologizing makes one appear weak. The title of the video is “Shine Strong.”

This video was still fresh in my mind when I arrived at the gym.

I walked in, grabbed a towel and headed up the short flight of half a dozen steps to the weight lifting area. A man rounded the corner and came down the stairs rapidly as I was going up. He stepped backwards saying, “Sorry.”

I stepped to my right saying, “Sorry.”

Another step to the right on my part and we were able to pass each other on the stairs without incident. This is the sort of thing I wouldn’t have even noticed if I hadn’t seen that video. No one was at fault. He couldn’t have predicted my arrival and I couldn’t see him approach, yet we both apologized. Thanks to the video, I noted that he was male and I was female. I also noticed that he was African-American. He was probably about ten years my junior.

(Aside: Do you, too, dislike the false intimacy of WordPress telling you to “Keep on goin’!” or is it just me?)

A little while later, I took a barbell off the rack. Carrying the barbell, which is awkward, I weaved between the benches to find a location to do some curls where I wouldn’t be in anyone’s way but I could see my form in the mirror. A man was coming from the opposite direction, also weaving around equipment. He turned around a bench at the same time I did and we came nose to nose. With the barbell, it was a bit awkward for me to get out of his way, yet he made no move to do so. I backed up a few inches saying, “Sorry.” He moved forward without acknowledging my presence. To say that I felt slighted would have overstated the case, still there was a very slight unpleasant feeling left by this encounter. Normally, I would dismiss it and think that he had something else on his mind. However, since I was now attuned to this issue I realized that he was male and white.

Going to put the barbell back, I had a nearly identical run in with another man. This time, the man said, “Sorry,” I said, “Sorry,” and the man rapidly stepped backward to allow me to pass. This time it was a black man near my age. This was starting to look to me like it wasn’t a coincidence.

Over the next few weeks, I observed people’s behavior. The gym struck me as a prime location for this because as gym members we should all be on terms of equality with one another. Furthermore, the gym is large and appears to have equal numbers of black and white members present. There seem to be more men than women, but it doesn’t feel male dominated. There are all age ranges present. There are relative few Asians or people who appear to be Hispanic, but that is unsurprising given the demographics of Baltimore. Of course, this is still anecdotal evidence even if it’s multiple anecdotes. However, over several visits I couldn’t help notice that black men apologized in the same situations in which I did whereas not a single white man apologized during the same period. I did not have any incidents with either black women or white women but Asian women did apologize to me.

According to an article about the video in FastCompany, “Apologizing unnecessarily puts women in a subservient position and makes people lose respect for them.”

I began to see the question in a new light. Instead of wondering, “Why are women always apologizing,” I started to wonder, “Why don’t white men ever apologize?” However, I didn’t feel respect for those men who didn’t apologize. If I felt anything, it was mild irritation. Meanwhile, the men with whom I had done the sorry-sorry tango left me with mild positive feelings towards them. One of them said “Hello” and smiled every time we encountered each other in the gym after that.

Last year, there was an article on Slate that questioned the conventional wisdom about this. Amanda Hess notes that it is not an established fact that women apologize more frequently than men. She also goes on to say that apologizing is not inherently bad.

And treating others with empathy doesn’t equal devaluing ourselves. Yoko Hosoi, a professor at Tokyo University, describes the “apology-forgiveness culture” among men and women in Japan as “an ingrained cultural heritage, which serves to make a harmonious, peace-oriented society”—not to lay blame or establish hierarchies. Saying “I’m sorry” is a cultural thing. Often, it’s a positive one. And yet when we recognize a trend in the culture of women, our impulse is to say, “Women do X. Men do Y. Therefore, women should stop doing X.” Why don’t we instead think: Perhaps men could be a little bit more like women.

My casual observation would indicate that any further studies would have to take characteristics other than gender into account. Furthermore, the assumption that it’s inherently bad needs to be questioned.

Since moving to New York City, I have had several white men apologize for getting in my way on the sidewalk. So, it seems even one more factor would have to be taken into account.

 

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You may have noticed that I tend to get my nose a little out of joint, okay, a lot out of joint, when people complain about some stupid thing that Americans always do, especially if it’s not something that I’ve witnessed much myself. Now, some time ago, an Englishman complained to me about having his spelling corrected by Americans although it was perfectly correct by British standards. Even worse, according to him, was that some people “corrected” him when he used the word black, telling him that the proper term was “African-American”, even though he was not talking about an American.

“Pshaw!” I said. “Just because some idiot said something stupid, suddenly there’s this terrible thing we Americans do! Harrumph!” And with that, I got my nose as displaced as in a Picasso portrait.

Now, lo and behold, I just saw a similar mistake in The Daily Beast. Emily Shire criticizes the feminist site Jezebel for having double standards due to a post, “Disney Dudes’ Dicks: What Your Favorite Princes Look Like Naked.” Personally, it strikes me as so weird I’m not sure it can even rise to the level of a double standard. It struck me as the sort of things girls might giggle about at the age when the only penises you’ve seen were in photographs. I have a vague recollection of being twelve or thirteen and being told by other, equally naive, girls that the size and shape of a boy’s penis could be determined by… his nose, his hands, his fingers, his feet. The Jezebel post seemed too stupid to worry about, but I kept reading to see if there was perhaps a larger point. Meanwhile I came across this:

Jezebel also dabbles in some racial stereotypes by ensuring that Prince Naveen—the sole African American male in the collection—has the longest genetalia.

I had not seen the movie. Prince suggested to me that Naveen was not the from the United States, but that could just be a name for some reason, so I just watched a few minutes of the movie trying to determine whether or not Prince Naveen could be described as “American.” I think he cannot. Nor is it clear that he is of African descent. It is very clear in the movie that he is from another country. His accent seemed to be Italian. (I’ve since found out it’s Brazilian.) His country is named as Maldovia, which is fictional. Even if Naveen is of African descent, he is most certainly not “African-American.”

I know that someone with a degree in literature can spit out twenty pages on seemingly nothing at the drop of a hat. However, I can’t help thinking that Emily Shire should have at least done a close reading of the Wikipedia entry for The Princess and the Frog before accusing Tracie Egen Morrissey of racial stereotyping.

Note to Americans: African-American is only a politically correct term for dark-skinned people when talking about Americans of African descent. (Now, stop embarrassing me! This is getting humiliating. I get angry and say, “How dare you call Americans stupid!” Then a few weeks later I find myself apologizing. “Um, maybe we are that stupid.”)

Note to the Editors at The Daily Beast: Do you pay, and, if so, how do I submit something?

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, this is a lazy post.

I saw this a few minutes ago:

He quotes Bill Nye; my favorite part is this:  ”We need scientifically literate voters and tax payers for the future….”

Does Nye think that Creationists don’t pay taxes, or something?

Mama said there’d be days like this…. so she taught me to diagram sentences! Really! I don’t know about you, but when I was in school they didn’t teach this any more, but my mother made sure that I learned. She promised me that one day, I’d be thankful. Today is that day!

A diagram of the sentence, "We need scientifically literate voters and tax payers in the future."

Me, I’d be happy just to stop at step three with literate voters and taxpayers.

The New York Times website as a fun little quiz that asks a series of questions and comes up with a heat map showing which areas of the United States your dialect most resembles. I took the test and all of the United States was stone cold blue with the notable exception of the Greater New York area. It said that my speech most resembled the speech in Paterson, Newark, New York City and Yonkers. My parents grew up in Paterson, I went to high school in the same county as Newark and lived for many years in New York City. Yonkers is the only town on the list to which I have no connection.

Questions are things like “What do you call a sweetened carbonated beverage?” I remember when my college roommate from California suggest we go get a pop and everyone just stared at her.