Calling out Miss Conduct, Part I

June 4th, 2010

The blog “Feminists with Disabilities” called out my May 2nd column, about the mother who insists that her toddler have vegetables with every meal, pretty harshly. I have certain reservations about that blog overall, and I don’t agree with their analysis of my advice, obviously, but the discussion is fascinating, and the comments are really worth a read. Even if you disagree, there are points being made that are definitely worthy of consideration. Eventually someone did come in and defend my point of view.

(Side note: I was amused that one of the most indignant commenters referred to me as “Miss Demeanor.” I’ve always said if I’d gotten to name the column myself, that’s what I would have preferred!)

A particular dynamic that I find intriguing, and that comes up a lot, is that I will say in my column — either implicitly or explicitly — “X is something controversial that people are passionate and not wholly rational about.” And then I will get a slew of angry letters or comments disagreeing with me, by people who apparently don’t realize that the very nature of their passionate, judgmental, highly personal disagreement validates my point. I get this sometimes over gender-related etiquette (especially the use of “ma’am,” honorifics, “you guys” or any other term to address women), but I don’t think anything brings it out quite as much as food or religion.


7 Responses to “Calling out Miss Conduct, Part I”

  1. Abby on June 4, 2010 11:29 am

    Congratulations! You’re officially controversial. :)
    There were some interesting comments but mostly they sounded as high and mighty as they claimed you were being. Keep up the good work!

  2. Jerry on June 4, 2010 12:48 pm

    “Bringing food safe for children is not being rude…” FwD’s conflation of “safe” and “healthy” really jumped out at me. Apparently LW’s in-laws are trying to *poison* her daughter! With the absence of vegetables!

    And then…you said “I’m not diagnosing you,” and FwD immediately calls that a diagnosis. Hmm.

    I originally thought your third paragraph was a little out of the blue, but the fact that you touched such a nerve does seem to make your point.

  3. Amy R. on June 4, 2010 1:35 pm

    I still want to know where the letter writer’s spouse fall in all of this. Maybe I read too many advice columns…

  4. Stupendousness on June 4, 2010 7:27 pm

    I wasn’t completely happy with you bringing in the orthorexia bit. You said you weren’t diagnosing, that the term itself isn’t a real diagnosis, but it is nonetheless a label, even if not medically legitimate, for disordered eating, which is a real diagnosis. I think you could have still asked those two questions, perhaps paraphrased, without mentioning orthorexia at all.
    I’ve been told before, “Have you ever thought you might have [insert mental illness here]? Have you looked up the symptoms of anxiety? Manic-depression? Asperger’s? I’m not saying you have any of those, but I think you should probably look into it.”

    Seriously, is it really so ridiculous for me to think that that person is of the opinion that I have a mental illness and feels the need to inform me of hir personal thoughts? When said to me by a close family member or friend, I don’t get mad. When said to me by a coworker? Very inappropriate. I’m not sure where advice columnists fall in there, since people do come to you, but does that then mean it’s not possible for you to step outside some boundary?

    I know that my personal experience as being the object of armchair diagnoses makes me more sensitive to this issue. It’s been very frustrating for coworkers to jump to conclusions about why I am the way I am, the motivations behind some of my actions, and to tell me, even if subtly and in kind voices, that I basically need to see a doctor, and until I do, I can not be as good of an employee as I should. As if there couldn’t be communication problems because none of us communicate the same way, we have different perspectives and non-obvious motivations, we simply have different personalities, and our knowledge of the situation is limited. How does that help me? How does that help the staff to work together? They think they’re being helpful, they think they know enough about me to give me useful advice about a very personal matter. And because they’re so certain they’re correct in their assumptions, they’re totally missing the boat and incapable of seeing the truly productive steps they could take to help improve the working relationship. How can they work towards fixing a problem when they don’t know what the real problem is? Because they’re wrong. I’m sure there are some people out there who have done the same or similar things as me because they are truly suffering from a mental illness, but that doesn’t mean all rectangles are squares, you know?

    I had a coworker who chalked my “strange and rude behavior” up to Asperger’s Syndrome, which I do not have, and refused to listen to me when I laid out, point by point, why I did the things I did that had caused her to get upset. (She was trying to micro-manage me, even though she wasn’t my supervisor – and her own boss very much agreed she was micro-managing me, so when I would tell her, “I got it, I’ve already worked out a plan for that problem/sent the email/called that person” she thought I was being condescending and refusing her “help” because I don’t like people, which also isn’t true. This meant she refused to see anything wrong with her own behavior, and so the problem was never resolved. We basically agreed to forget about it, and then she quit a couple of months later. Other coworkers think I have anxiety or depression because I don’t go to most staff social get-togethers, when really I’m just very introverted and suffer from migraines, easily triggered by loud noise, which is always found at bars, restaurants, and parties. I have to carefully mete out my spoons among professional and personal engagements.)

    In any case, I don’t think one misstep, if that’s what this was, makes you a horrible person or incapable of doing right by people with disabilities.

  5. Jerry on June 4, 2010 9:09 pm

    Folks who don’t know what Stupendousness means by spoons can find out here:

    http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/personal-essays/the-spoon-theory-written-by-christine-miserandino/

  6. Robin on June 6, 2010 11:40 am

    Amy, I wondered that too. But I feel as though I always ask that question when I give advice about in-law problems, so I thought I’d change it up a bit on this one.

    Jerry, thanks for putting in the background info on Spoon Theory.

    Stupendousness, I see where you’re coming from about armchair diagnoses. But dangnabbit, if I say I’m not diagnosing a person, I’m really truly not, and I’d like my words to be taken at face value. I think the reason that I used the term, and didn’t paraphrase the questions, has to do with my academic background — I feel obligated to cite my sources as close to the original as possible. I didn’t want it to seem like I’d come up with the idea myself.

    And I’m really sorry your coworkers are so clueless. Maybe you should make up some scientific-sounding terms to diagnose *them*? “I think you may be suffering from Neurotypical Tunnel Vision. Our HMO might cover treatment for that, I’m not sure.”

    Regarding the line between a close friend, coworker, and advice columnist … that’s an interesting question. One thing to keep in mind is that while I’m addressing the LW, I’m also writing for an audience, and if there’s a chance to put in information that might be useful at large, I’ll do it.

  7. Kathleen F. on June 9, 2010 2:58 am

    I mostly disagree with the FWD analysis and agree with your original response, but the orthorexia “diagnosis” did feel a little off the mark. It doesn’t seem quite right to say that a given individual might suffer from orthorexia, because it doesn’t feel like an individual condition. Our whole *culture* is orthorexic! Worrying that kids will be somehow compromised for life if they don’t eat the most healthy foods possible, ALL of the time, isn’t a quirk that affects a few people some of the time–it’s become downright normalized. Framing it as a uniquely disordered pattern of eating seems to send the message “you have something mentally wrong with you, and you have a disorder that prevents you from thinking logically about food” not “you’ve bought into a harmful idea about the way food works and how the food we eat affects our bodies–but that idea is everywhere in our culture, and it’s probably more of an indication that you’re culturally normal than that you’re mentally ill.” IMO, the latter statement is far closer to the truth.

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