Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A stern talking to

Yesterday I went to a job / volunteer fair at a local high school.  I was recruiting student volunteers for an event at Pinkie Pie's school, and was quite successful in that.  Beside me at the fair was a pair of people representing a summer camp that needed students to work at it as counsellors over the summer.  The two people representing them were a man and a woman, and while the woman did a reasonable job talking to prospective student employees, the man did some things that really bothered me.

His method of talking to students involved calling to them loudly, rushing up to them, and then aggressively trying to sell them on working for his company.  During the conversations he repeatedly smashed his fist into his other hand making a loud noise and leaned in close to them, looming over the students he was talking to.

This presented two problems for me.  The first was that the students were clearly intimidated and sometimes upset by him and it was clear that he was getting no traction in terms of actually getting them to work for him and they were unhappy.  The second was that the students obviously felt pressured by his hard sell tactics and as soon as they broke free of him they fled, rushing past my spot at the table so I had no chance to speak to them.

I wasn't sure what to do.  My brain looked at this from two independent perspectives:  A feminist one and a sales one.  Large men really ought to keep in mind that being loud, physically aggressive, and pushing in too close to people is a real problem.  It is especially so when dealing with young women who are socialized to try to placate angry men.  It wasn't that he was *trying* to be intimidating, as I watched his behaviour when there were no students about and he was constantly bashing his hands together as a nervous sort of thing and was clearly agitated about his lack of success.  Intimidation wasn't the thing he was aiming at, but it was definitely the thing he was accomplishing.

I wanted to call him out on his behaviour, but it is a tricky thing.  If we got into a disagreement about it I doubt anyone else around would have backed me up, as he wasn't doing anything outside normal aggressive sales tactics.  I know what I saw was not good, but if I all I can accuse him of is whapping his hands together, talking loudly, and standing close to people to speak I don't see anyone official siding with me.  I would not expect that conversation to go well even if nobody else stepped in, especially because he would desperately want me to shut up so he could get back to his job.

I thought about couching my criticism in terms of sales technique.  That would be less likely to get his back up and I might be able to make him see what he was doing, or so I thought.  The fact is that if he just relaxed, kept his hands at his sides, and didn't lean in so far it would be far more comfortable for the people he was talking to and would have been far more likely to get him the results he wanted.

Perhaps "Hey dude, I have some sales techniques that might improve your odds" would go over better than "Hey dude, you are being an asshole".  I don't really know though.

There is a fine line between assertive and aggressive and you are far better off staying on the assertive side of it for most applications, and perhaps I could have made that point.  Unfortunately right as the session was winding down he and his partner grabbed their stuff and took off before I had a decent chance to try to bring it up.

This sort of thing is tricky for me to evaluate.  On one hand the individual incident really isn't so bad.  The guy wasn't hitting anyone or screaming at them.  And yet his attitude and lack of awareness really speak to a deficit of understanding of what male aggression does to society, women in particular.  This one guy changing his way of relating to the world might be a small thing, but all men changing in that way would be a huge thing.

Being a good feminist and being a good salesperson aren't really things I would expect to find in alignment, but sometimes strange things happen.

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