Dear Aunt Acid,
I’m an undergraduate woman participating in a summer math research program. My project team consists of me and two other students, both men. Both of them curse constantly and casually. As long as they’re just swearing, it doesn’t bother me enough to make it worth bringing up, but I do object to their misogynistic language — “what a little bitch,” “don’t be such a pussy,” and so on. (Whether or not these words can be “reclaimed,” that’s definitely not what’s going on here.)
Today Bob held out his hand, gimme-five style, and said, “Here, touch me.” When Dave reached out, Bob jerked his hand away and said, “Just kidding, FAGGOT!” They clearly don’t think any of this is a big deal, and I don’t know how to call them out without them thinking that I’m an angry feminist. (I am an angry feminist, of course, but I’ve found it’s easier to get men to behave if they don’t know this.) What should I say?
The world is full of injustices and cruelties over which we have no power. We can yell at Republican primary debates on TV, at international news coverage, at local news coverage, at street construction, at August weather; we can go all Howard Beale and stick our heads out the window and scream, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!” So often it seems like farting on a subway platform: No one will notice and nothing will change.
Every once in a while, though, life presents you with a problem you can solve. Not just that: a problem you can yell at, where yelling might actually make a difference.
If these boors in your program were your superiors, I would have to tell you to do the boring, responsible thing: approach them at least once, asking them to be more considerate in their speech; keep records, especially any example of their being offensive in writing; and file a complaint with Human Resources.
But these guys are just students. They’re on your level. Not in terms of maturity or understanding, but you know. Age-wise. Seniority-wise. Why not try yelling? Why not respond to them in the only language they seem to understand?
“Jesus Christ,” you could exclaim, slamming your hand down on your desk, the next time one of them does his hilarious routine. “What, are we in fourth grade? Can you cool it with this shit, please? You’re being juvenile, you’re being ignorant, and even if I weren’t offended, which I am — which any person with a functioning limbic system would be — you’re being ANNOYING. Shut the fuck up or I will go crazy and vomit angry feminist all over your laptops. Got it?”
Vent your frustration. At them. It might work. Even if it doesn’t, think how much better you’ll feel.
Dear Aunt Acid,
I live in a biggish U.S. city, but the queer scene is incredibly small. There are already quite a few spaces where I don’t go because of the racism/transphobia/misogyny/scene politics, so my social circle is pretty limited. Some of my friends who have lived here longest have a friend, who I’ll call Charlie, who I fucking hate. He’s never done or said anything offensive around me, but I find his personality just…grating. He’s a white cis man, I’m unsure if he identifies as queer (I’m a queer cis woman), and he talks CONSTANTLY over everyone, about nothing at all, and what he does say is almost always factually wrong. He’s friends with literally all of my close friends here, and I really like his partner, but I haven’t gotten to know them very well because Charlie is always around and I feel like I go out of my way to avoid him. I have no idea WHAT merit my other friends see in him, but they do. I guess my question is, should I say something to my other friends? Should I tell his partner that I want us to hang out, but please don’t invite Charlie? It’s a situation that has persisted for a while and I don’t know how to handle it. I don’t want our mutual friends to feel like I’m attacking him over nothing — I don’t like him AS A PERSON, it’s not that I think he’s a serial murderer or something — or can’t just suck it up and be around someone I don’t like, but I also know that I’m not going to warm up to him, having now been to enough house shows, parties and events that he was at to determine that his contributions to conversation do nothing for me, and I’d pretty much always rather he not be there.
Possibly Petty, Definitely Cranky
Never underestimate the appeal of confident cis white men. There’s just something about them: their ability to take up space without apologizing for it, perhaps. Their voices, which we have been trained over millennia to associate with reassurance and authority. Their basilisk eyes. They run nearly everything important in the world, from the stock exchange to the New Yorker. Is it any wonder they are also playing havoc with your friend group?
This Charlie person sounds like a particularly irksome case in point, and I’m sorry all of your friends have been taken in by him. There are measures you can take to extricate yourself, though. We’re not in Kindergarten anymore; everyone understands that some people simply do not get along. Pull one or two of your closest friends aside and confide in them: “Look, Charlie and I are like oil and water. We don’t mix well. Can we aim for a thing where, if we’re doing something, we only invite him every third time? That’s about as much as we can handle of each other.”
If your friends are at all perceptive, they will not be shocked by this revelation. Nor will they stutter to a halt if you start taking more control of your social life, throwing more parties and organizing more events as well as, crucially, more one-on-one or intimate group gatherings, so as to have more of a say over the guest list.
Think of these efforts as counter-programming. It’s easier to start your own basic cable station than to try to get NBC to stop showing reruns of “Friends.” You may find that other people in and around your social circle are excited to have an opportunity to engage and relax in a Charlie-free environment — to change the channel, at least once in a while.
This doesn’t mean starting the equivalent of a “No Homers” clubhouse. You don’t have to be a jerk about excluding Charlie. In fact, please don’t. Assume that you will still probably see him more frequently than you would like, and be as cordial as you can without letting him raise your blood pressure. Because unless he does something truly heinous and/or you want to get all High Drama about forcing friends to choose between you, you’re probably stuck with him. You can reduce your exposure to Charlie, though, and if he’s been making you this cranky for this long, you should.
If people ask — and, duh, they will — make clear that it’s not personal. He hasn’t done anything to you, and you don’t wish him any harm. You’re not aiming to start any in-group fighting, let alone some kind of schism. You simply prefer to spend as much of your quality time as possible with people who are more like you in the important ways. Like, for example, they don’t have basilisk eyes. But keep that part to yourself.
The role of Aunt Acid is played by Brooklyn-based know-it-all Ester Bloom.