Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Bad Spelling and Poor Grammar

This title is slightly misleading. I don't love bad spelling and poor grammar. At least, not entirely. But something happened to me after a few years of Facebooking: namely every time I saw the word "its" or "it's", I assumed it was spelled wrong. I mean, I know the difference between "its" and "it's" pretty organically. But, every time I saw the word, my first instinct was to roll my eyes at the utter failure of the internet to police the it's/its divide properly. "Honestly," I'd think. "They'll let just anyone on the internet."

And six times out of ten? The word was spelled right. But I am very attached to the notion of my own spelling and grammatical superiority. And this is a shitty way to be.

Think of manners. In their right and proper form, good manners serve to make other people feel more comfortable. When people start to use them to underscore their own social superiority, they're doing it wrong, as demonstrated in countless rom-coms where our plucky heroine gets her man after the snooty bitch he's currently dating concocts some scenario with the purpose of outing the plucky heroine as some low-class tramp.*

Grammar, in its right and proper form, serves to clarify communication. When it becomes a tool for dividing one class of people from another, you're doing it wrong.

And English grammar? The rules there are way sillier than fingerbowls and understanding the proper designation for married vs. unmarried women. Like etiquette, much of good grammar relies on having been educated on antiquated mores.

This is not to say that I don't think there's a place for making sure you're crossing the it's/its divide properly. But that place is not Facebook. That place is not casual communication. From this point forward, I vow to no longer care whether you're using "less" when you should use "fewer"; I promise to no longer smugly groan when someone slips up on their/they're/there on a status update.

One day, we'll look at a lot of correct English spelling and grammar the same way we look at the words "thee" and "thou." As current grammar mores become anachronistic, our method of communication will become more democratic. And I think that's good. Don't u?

* Oddly, the ne plus ultra of RomComs (Bridget Jones Diary) did not feature a scene where the snooty bitch tries to show up Bridget via proper etiquette. Instead, there's this skinny naked American lady who sneers, "You said she was thin," which remains the single most random moment I've ever seen in a movie. I mean, I get how the skinny naked bitch might make you feel... but she'd never say that. That was just weird.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Sexual Harassment Primer (It's Really Not that Complicated)

Let me start by phrasing it in geek:

Sexual harassment != Telling a dirty joke
Sexual harassment != Complimenting a colleague
Sexual harassment != Flirting

Any of these things can = generally unprofessional behavior. But, to each workplace its own. And what's unprofessional behavior in one office, might well be the status quo in another.

Sexual harassment, on the other hand, is just one of the many established, crystal-clear, and obvious-to-everyone-involved-in-it-no-matter-how-much-they-pretend-its-not forms of bullying that take places every day (but less so, on a positive note, much less so) in America.

Sexual harassment is something you do *at* someone, not *with* someone. If the person on the other end is not enjoying it, is uncomfortable with it and, especially, if their discomfort is the reason you're doing it, that's sexual harassment. Is the reason you're hurling the comments and behavior around because you want to underscore which side of the power dynamic you stand on? That's sexual harassment.

To wit, during the halcyon days when I was a newbie cocktail waitress at the bar, I remember being on the wrong end of sexual comments and behavior that made me really uncomfortable a lot. And the reason the fellows in question enjoyed hurling the comments and behavior my way was because they thought it was hilarious that it made me uncomfortable. If it didn't bother me, they wouldn't do it. Thus, to the Herman Cain defenders of the world, it was my fault they did it because if it didn't bother me, they wouldn't do it. Which is kind of like saying it was my fault I got the broken rib because if I'd been wearing suitable body armor they wouldn't have felt like punching me. Does that seem hyperbolic? Is a little hyperbole really worse than entrenched, cultural victim-blaming (hint: it's not).

How about another example: if you're out with your buddies and you compliment the waitress on her nice ass, you're not doing it to pay her a compliment. You're doing it because it makes you feel like a bug guy in front of your friends at the expense of the waitress.

And, you know that's why you're doing it. You know what sexual harassment is. Stop acting so dumb. I know that decades of lazy sitcom stereotypes and beer commercials have tried topawn off the notion that men only act like assholes because they're too dimwitted to know how to behave like civilized people, but, come on, you're not. You know you're not. You know what sexual harassment is. Grow up.