05 February 2015

The jolly fat person makes the normals feel better

Not so long ago I gave a talk at a conference where I described an event that I had co-produced. The subject matter was serious, but I like to throw in a laugh or two when I talk, especially if I'm presenting to a bunch of chin-stroking academics. This lot must have been starved for humour because they really went for it. I was pleased. Later, in the Q&A part of the talk, someone asked me a question that prompted me to reveal some slightly less jolly facts about the thing I had been talking about. People seemed quite shocked by my disclosure, but I felt that it was important they see the reality of what I work with.

The conference organisers and speakers went to a dinner that evening and the person in charge came and sat and talked with me. She was a senior academic, a little bit drunk and braggy, exuberant, thin, kind of posh, straight. She said that she enjoyed my talk but thought it was a real shame that I had disclosed the hard stuff. It had ruined the moment. I felt angry but I smiled and nodded because I didn't want to be blamed for destroying this moment too whilst eating fancy food that her department had paid for.

I thought: this is what oppression looks like. She wants to hear the funny stuff, the joy, which is an undeniable part of my life, but not the struggle. I suspected that she'd rather I hadn't mentioned that part so that she could carry on thinking that everything is fine. She didn't want to engage with my reality, even though she was pretending to do just that.

It's taken me a while to write about this incident because I realise that, up until now, I felt that I had to protect other people. I was worried that if I said what I actually thought, it would make life difficult for people I actually do care about who sometimes have dealings with her. Maybe there would be some knock-on effect on me too, that has certainly happened in the past. This is also oppressive.

This is a small interlude. I don't have much more to add, just wanted to get it off my chest. I suppose I'm offering it as an illustration of a micro-aggression, dressed up as something else. Maybe she thought she was on my side or something, enlightened and enlightening me. It's like a sibling behaviour to concern trolling, or a kind of concern trolling, hatred that is kind: I need you to be happy so that I can feel ok about your oppression.

1 comment:

Mich said...

Seems like academics like to stay in their little bubble of "everything is just peachy" and dislike when that bubble gets burst. I find that to be common across the board.

Book learning can only take you so far.