Sunday, October 30, 2011

On Being a Hardass in a Management Position

As I may have mentioned, I supervise a gate at the big football stadium. Some days, I struggle to remember that the cantankerous few are greatly outnumbered by the cheerful, polite, and sometimes even grateful many. I was called "my guardian angel" by a woman who had traveled 600 miles with her two kids to attend the game. They arrived during halftime, and the "visiting team will call" window had already closed, leaving them unable to pick up their tickets. I let the three of them in anyway, and later, when they were leaving, I told them where they could find their team's bus. Earlier in the day, helping someone find their wheelchair-accessible seating, I was told, "thank you so much; last game no one could tell us how to get to our seats and it took us almost 2 hours to find them."

But, then again, I was also called an "asshole."

One man, who was told by the bag checkers that he could not bring in an item that's clearly listed on the "prohibited items" sign, called me over, harangued me for over 5 minutes, and berated me for "coming up with ridiculous and arbitrary rules," for "failing miserably to inform the public about those rules," and for being "in a management position and not willing to make an exception" for him.

Then he asked me for a favor.

I chuckled about the "in a management position" comment. I make a whopping $2/hour more for being the guy who gets yelled at, so for yesterday, I earned about $15 more than the usher who simply calls me over whenever the going gets tough. I was polite; I was apologetic; I stood firm on the prohibited item. And then I did him the favor, finding him a clean, empty plastic bag that he could use. He snatched it out of my hand. He definitely did not say, "thank you."

Not 10 minutes later, an usher waved me over because he didn't know what the "Invalid Date" message on his ticket scanner meant. I pointed out that the ticket he had scanned was for next week's game. The following conversation took place, not with the student who had brought the wrong ticket, but with her drunk, belligerent friend:

"This is ridiculous! She has all the tickets! Why can't you just let her in?"

"Because she didn't bring the ticket for this game."

"But she bought the whole season! You're being a hardass!"

"If you went to the Taylor Swift concert and tried to get in with a ticket for the WWE show, you wouldn't be able to get in, either."

"What the hell is a WWE?"

"I'm just saying for any event, you need the right ticket to get in. She can go to that student box office right over there and have them reprint her ticket for a $10 fee, or she can go to the library and print it herself for free. Or she can stand here with you while you continue to argue with me about it, but that's still not going to get her into the game."

"You're an asshole!"

"Thank you very much. My supervisors are right over there in that office; you're welcome to go tell them all about me."

"I will!"

It's amazing to me how many people think that insulting me and calling me names is going to convince me to bend the rules for them. Being nice is almost always a more effective strategy.

I love this job.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Being a Boy and Being a Man

I grabbed a book to read while Thumper bounced his ass off at Extreme Fun this morning, and because it's been on my shelf for 10 or more years, and I've never read it, I picked Christina Hoff Sommers' The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men.

Now, before you get worked up over the term "Misguided Feminism," I think the essence of the book, that perhaps the author didn't choose to represent in the title because provocative turns of phrase are just plain good marketing, is that improving the academic standing of girls does not necessarily have to come at the expense of boys, and vice versa.

I bought this book years ago, when I was still thinking about the novel that I started to write but never finished as part of my Honors Program Creative Writing directed study in 1996 or thereabouts, a project I was still thinking about finishing in 2000 or so when I bought the book. The idea occurred to me, through the fervor of political correctness that permeated the University atmosphere throughout the '90's, that men in general, and white men in particular, were the villains of the historic and cultural tale that we were told, and how that indoctrination into our own villainy would affect us in the long term. It was supposed to be a novel about the marginalization of men, the irrelevance of men in family and cultural life.

So, anyway, here I am, 11 or 12 years later, a man in a non-traditional gender role, happily married to a woman who is happy with the value of the contributions that I make to our family, trying to teach my son how to be a good man, (despite the accusations of chauvinism that may now and again be raised against me), and I picked up this book. Having finished only 50 or 60 pages, I'm not in a position to say anything meaningful about the book itself, but it's certainly timely as I try to navigate the rough waters of playground etiquette and aggression.

A couple of weeks ago, Thumper ended a thoroughly pleasant play date by punching his best friend in the face. Most play dates or other excursions to playgrounds, bounce houses, and other places where children gather, involve some discussion, sooner or later, about not hitting, about being nice, about not taking toys from other kids. This, according to the book, is exactly the kind of aggressive behavior inherent in boys that the "shortchanged girls in public school" movement believes must be actively "re-socialized" if women are to make significant progress in this society. Sommers seems to assert that that progress has already been made, and then some, but that's not really the point.

Ultimately, though, I don't think raising a boy is so different from raising a girl, as far as trying to teach them to fit into the social order. Do we not all try to teach our kids to be nice to each other? Maybe for boys it's teaching your son not to punch his friend in the face while for girls it's teaching your daughter not to ostracize, or ridicule, or manipulate, or I don't know, whatever the little girl version of not being nice is. I don't believe in the pathology of masculinity, the idea that without intervention, the average man will likely become a predator of women. I believe in the value of teaching my son to be proud of strength and speed and skill, to work to improve these things in himself, to want to play games where scores are kept and winners declared. And I believe that these things can be taught while also teaching him not to punch his best friend in the face, to remind him that he does not want to be hit, or have toys taken away from him, and so he should not hit, or take toys away from, others.

I do not accept that masculinity is defined as a thirst for power and dominion, and that if it is not quelled early, it will develop into a destructive force.

I also hope that he can get through school without feeling marginalized, undervalued, despised, feared, or ignored.
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