Wednesday, October 3, 2012

To Report or Not to Report Offensive Comments

Several weeks ago I was a function where I was sitting next to a senior man, who was retired from industry but teaching at our university. We were eating lunch to celebrate somebody's promotion or retirement, and he and I were idly chit-chatting about nothing of importance. At some point in the conversation he said, "I'm sorry I'm having trouble hearing you. Some study came out that said older men can't hear women's voices because they are too high pitched." I was stunned. Noticing that he lacked a wedding band, I said, "That must be difficult for your wife." I turned my back and refused to talk to him the rest of the function.

Comments like this are offensive because they make me feel uncomfortable. I found no humor in the comment, and it deeply bothered me because it seemed to say that whatever I had to say couldn't (and wouldn't) be heard. This fellow is of no consequence to my career and has a year-to-year contract.

Upon telling someone higher up the food chain about the comment, they were horrified and told me that I needed to report it. Part of me thinks that reporting is the right thing to do, but another part of me doesn't want to be accusatory. I just want to go on pretending this didn't happen, even though it still bothers me. It could result in the termination of this guy's contract. I wonder if he is saying things like this to his female students? If so, then I don't have a problem reporting him.

So many times in this career have things been said that cross my line of my idea of gender bias. And time and time again, I don't report it. I just complain. I suppose if I reported all the biased things said and done, then the upper administration would get so tired of it that they wouldn't take me seriously anymore.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this colleague of yours was sensitive to his aging process.

According to the Merck Manual:

"Understanding what women and children say may be more difficult than understanding what men say because most women and children have higher-pitched voices. Gradually, hearing lower pitches also becomes more difficult" (http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/older_peoples_health_issues/the_aging_body/changes_in_the_body_with_aging.html).

Is this statement by the Merck Manual offensive as well?

Patty said...

First of all, that study was in the news a while back -- of course, I took it as advice (when speaking with an older man, keep my voice lower than normal) AND thought "what the hell difference does it make, even if they can hear us, they don't listen to us... ".

I would tend not to report it -- from the context it could easily be interpreted as meaning "I want to listen to what you have to say, but my ears are failing me"...

And, in the comfort of my own computer and not being in the position of being shocked, I came up with a few good responses...

"Oh, the way I understand the study, hearing is the second thing to go..."

OR... "that explains the existence sexism entirely, thank you"

OR... "that was the worst pick-up line, EVER... no wonder you aren't married."

OR "excuse me, what did you just say, my feminist ears don't register sexist bullshit"...

Diane said...

I get that it's frustrating to hear that someone isn't hearing you. I don't think it rises to gender bias or discrimination because the poor guy told you he has a hearing problem, not that you were saying something he didn't find worthwhile. I'd turn it around and think of it compassionately, unless the guy is an ass in other ways. If it's one data point, he's just hard of hearing, and higher voices really are harder to discern as we age.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:

Yes the statement in the Merck Manual is offensive. It should have just stated how hearing is lost, and not attached (not always true) a sterotype about women's and children's voices. Not all women's voices are "high" pitched.

Anonymous said...

This post doesn't make any sense to me. The way you describe it, it seems as though he was having trouble hearing you and made a lighthearted comment about it. It also seems like you're on constant lookout for reasons to be offended.

Anonymous said...

Maybe there is some offensiveness that came across in his tone that didn't come across in you post, but ... it sure doesn't sound offensive. It is true that higher-pitched sounds become harder to hear with age-related hearing loss, and this happens more to men. He might well have taken offense at your lack of sensitivity to his disability.

Anonymous said...

I would recommend not to report this comment. It's not a 100% clear case of sexism, it might just have been meant as a light-hearted comment from his side. Maybe his hearing problems are a huge problem for him and his way of dealing with it is to make (lame...) jokes about it?

Anonymous said...

Frankly I am surprised that you were offended. This was a statement of a well known phenomena. As a teacher I receive IEPs that make the statement that students have trouble hearing in the higher register for various hearing loss related reasons and we are asked to provide lecture notes for students who have trouble intrepreting our tones. Generally the student can hear the noise but can not intrepret the words as well from me as s/he can the booming voiced guy next door. I would NEVER think to take offense at someone who is trying to be a good conversation partner but is having trouble intrepreting my words and I feel bad that you insulted him. He has as much right to report you!

academiccautionarytale said...

In re: the "anonymous" posts:
It is very easy to dismiss racism, sexism, ableism, etc, when one doesn't recognize his or her own privilege.

About reporting it, especially if someone else already said to report it, my wonder is, who do you report it to? HR?

academiccautionarytale said...

I ask who to report to, because it's refreshing to hear people take these things seriously.

My impression, in my department at least, is to not make a fuss and ignore it, that there's no changing the culture. Which is very tiring...