Elise on ''Name-calling''
Subject: Re: Name-calling
A> Anyway, this kind of verbal harrassment ["pet" nick names]
A> has always bothered me a little, because it is so
A> pervasive and if one complains, one is accused of having no
A> sense of humor. Does anyone have any good ways to deflect
A> this stuff? Am I being too sensitive?
Nah, you're not. Only you have the right to decide what bothers you and
how important to you it is.
In petty verbal harrassment cases, I have gotten good results by waiting
until the person did the name-calling in the presence of anothe party. Then I
took a very solid stance (plant feet, turn shoulders to face person, use body
language that says "alert and ready for action") and looked squarely into the
person's eyes, saying, "That doesn't work. You will not call me names." It
works best if one holds eye contact and alert body pose until the other person
breaks it. Having the third party witness is also important.
This is all based on animal communication in packs, I suspect. It is
difficult for many women to meet harrassment with a strong, level-gaxe stance,
because it is unfamiliar. The biggest hurdle for many women seems to be the
question, "But won't I get embarrassed and humiliated even more?" They don't
want to make it worse. The catch is that a placatory stance ("Oh, Mr. Smith,
I know you really don't mean to do this name-calling...") or a mixed message
stance (strong assertive words delivered by a person who cannot meet the other
person's eyes, and must immediately either run away or pretend nothing
important has happened) will *definitely* make it worse. How to get past that
Be willing to be embarrassed, at first. If the other person attempts to
laugh it off or make another comment, HOLD THE GAZE STEADY. Do not move an
inch. (This is why it is important to be in "strong stance" first.) You
aren't there to start a fight; you're there to inform this person that x
behavior does not work, that they have made a mess. If you back off timidly,
it becomes *your* mess. Just look at them the way you would look at someone
who has just deliberately broken a beautiful sculpture. Body language and
communication are all acting; USE your stance to convey the message "I've made
you aware of your mistake. I am quite willing to wait here and witness your
solution. Indeed, I'm eager to see your response, and intend to stand here
focussing my attention on you until you make one." The key, again, is that
the attention not be placatory or subservient or cluttered with any of the
other things we are taught to practice around men. You can, by the focus of
your attention, get everyone in the office staring at him. This is pack
behaviour modification, and it can work nicely.
The last thing that must be said is also the most important thing. You
cannot change a person's insides. He may continue to be a sexist jerk. There
is no "magic action" you casn take to make everything work. (Believing that
there is such is a symptom of societal codependency, when all of men's sexist
behaviours are blamed on women.) The action outline above is just a
suggestion. If practiced, whatever the recipient's response, you will be
exploring and using assertiveness techniques and breaking some of the societal
conditioning that makes you less effective in upholding your own standards of
communication and respect.