Friday, July 12, 2013

Culture of Patriarchal Oppression - episode 7/12/13

"Hello, Darling!  Is the Man of the House available, please?"

Ok, so it wasn't quite that bad, but M.I.T. has called our house six or seven times in the past few months, first soliciting and then acknowledging our donations to several causes, including Hillel and the Alumni/ae Annual Fund (which share records).  Every time - every time - they ask for "David Gordon".

This was M.I.T. - which you recall has been "proudly admitting women since 1861, a full hundred years before they could attend our neighboring college up the river!"

I know it's not easy for these students in the undergraduate phone bank to make calls, even to previous donors.  They are necessarily bothering people who will be annoyed.  But I just can't understand their insistence on speaking to "Mr." even after my repeated patient explanations via phone and email, that we are both alumni/ae and that in fact, I prefer to be addressed as I handle the philanthropy, and could they please update the record to reflect that fact.

Let's leave aside why they are calling in the first place, since electronic communication and even the good old U.S. mail service would do just fine and be more convenient for everyone involved.

Twenty-five years ago, I was told in my own undergraduate phone bank orientation that often it is "the wife" who makes the money decisions, or perhaps she just wishes to be included, so always be careful to address both halves of the couple, not just the "engineer".  That was sexist enough it its time, but apparently even the noblesse oblige to include Mrs. Engineer has now gone by the wayside.

Maybe it's a reactionary response to women in science - or sadly, maybe it's just more of the widespread degradation of telephone etiquette.  I used to be shocked when a business would have rude people, or no people, answering the phone.  This week I was told, after calling the main number, during business hours, at an education agency: "I'm the Executive Director and I didn't mean to pick up the phone, so I can't talk to you."

Callers don't usually identify themselves any more, assuming the ubiquity of caller-ID, although only 50-70% of Americans use that service, according to the most recent research data.  People on a primary conversation think nothing of breaking off to tell an "interrupting" caller to hang-on, while leaving their first partner left in the lurch.  All of these micro-aggressions are surely behind the decreased patience with humanity that some of us are seeing in the classroom, in shops, online, and even on the road.

But that's getting off the topic of C.P.O., so back on track....

It's always bad form to assume that the main character in a transaction will be one half of a couple, when you really don't know.  My guess is that this costs real dollars to charitable causes.

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