Monday, February 23, 2009

Not Worth Saving

This weekend I was working in a lab room alone for a couple of hours, eventually emerging when I had to retrieve something from my office. I walked out into the corridor, took a few steps, and slipped dramatically and painfully on the hard floor.

A custodian at the other end of the hall started screaming at me "Can't you read signs? This floor is CLOSED. You are NOT ALLOWED here now." I picked myself up and pointed at the lab and said "I came from THERE. There were NO signs. There was NO advanced notification that the floor would be waxed today."

I went to my office, got the item I needed, and returned to the lab via the slippery floor and another screaming session by the custodian. It was not an option for me to leave the lab unattended for more than the few minutes it took me to go to my office, so I had to make another trip across the waxed floor.

I decided I did not need to be screamed at again, especially as the points were irrelevant and redundant, so I went into the lab in the midst of the custodial rant. The last thing I heard before the door slammed shut was that I should stay in my room and not come out again until he was done working. It's been a while since I've been sent to my room for bad behavior.

It wasn't the custodian's fault that his supervisor didn't notify anyone in our building that today was waxing day. When I fell I created an unsightly skid mark in the new wax coating, so I can understand why the custodian was annoyed, even if it wasn't particularly nice that his main concern was to establish that I was to blame, not him.

When he was screaming at me from the other end of the hall, I noticed that a research scientist was standing there with him, having just realized that the main entrance to the floor was blocked and there was no entry allowed for a while. Many hours later this research scientist came into the lab where I was still working and asked, somewhat hesitantly, "So... are you.. OK?" I said yes, sure, I was fine. My arm hurt because I fell on it but it wasn't anything serious.

Another hesitation, then "When you fell, I was torn between asking if you were OK and pretending I didn't see you fall, and I decided to pretend I didn't see you fall."

Me: Why???

Research scientist: Because it's embarrassing to fall. I thought your dignity might be wounded. But then later I felt bad for not asking.

Me: But I had a really good reason for falling. That's not embarrassing.

In fact, this incident made me wonder. I may not be dignified enough to avoid being screamed at by custodians who treat me like a disobedient child, but perhaps some of the research staff think I am at least sort of dignified. That would be kind of interesting, but if I had a choice between saving whatever shreds of dignity I have managed to accumulate and having someone ask me if I'm OK when I fall, I would choose the latter.

22 comments:

Gingerale said...

FSP, you are right on, as usual.

You aren't asking for guidance and you don't need it, either, but I have opinions aplenty so here's my opinion.

A nice note to Research Scientist could focus not on his incorrect decision earlier in the day, but on his correct decision later in the day to make sure you're OK. "Thank you for the courtesy of your visit to my lab..."

Or something like that.

Meanwhile, FSP, I'm glad you're OK. You're the only you we've got.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that Research Scientist was awarding alpha male status to FSP:

He caught her in an embarrassing position and no alpha male likes that. So he pretended not to notice in deference to her high rank.

The funny thing is that it didn't occur to said Research Scientist that a Female Science Professor would generally not have such silly concerns in mind and would, perhaps also quite stereotypically, prefer a sign of social peer support.

I would take a moping male colleague out for a beer in a bar and a moping female colleague to the quite of the comfy lounge and let her spill her heart over a cup of tea. Is that being sexist or sensitive to gender differences? Hmm.

Anonymous said...

You don't say so, but I am going to guess that the scientist you mentioned comes from a culture where "loss of face" (i.e. "loss of dignity") is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. This is a deeply embedded concept in Asian cultures. If viewed through this lens, the scientist's comments to you make perfect sense: they were greatly concerned about your personal dignity and your physical well being.

Anonymous said...

But Gingerale, FSP never said the research scientist was a he!

FSP, my sympathies for your fall. But I must admit, at times I too have felt as this research scientist did - I want to help, but I wonder whether the person who is being offered the help may be embarassed. Next time I won't wonder, I'll offer to help!

MM

Thomas Joseph said...

At least you have a witness who can vouch for you if you need to file an accident report. Of course, the fact that you fell should have been reason enough for you to file a report. If you don't, this may very well happen again ... and only when something is said about it (through the right channels) will the custodial supervisor get the point that they're to make proper notification to all employees who may be affected by the custodial staff waxing/cleaning schedules.

female Science Professor said...

The research scientist is an American male, and I (and others) did complain to the facilities supervisor about the unannounced waxing.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear. I'm from an Asian culture, so maybe Anon 6.21am explains why I would have hesitated to help. But I'm also a woman (an FSP), so why (Anon 2.47am) am I thinking so much of the loss-of-face? I thought some more about my possible reaction if this had happened to any of my colleagues, and realised I would have gone on to help a woman but maybe not a man. Alas, more clay on my feet!

MM

John said...

The nuanced discussion of inquiring about injury is ok, but why didn't he discourage the janitor from yelling?

I'm left wondering why he didn't ask the janitor, who he was standing next to, to behave in an appropriate way.

Similarly, I would complain more about the uncivilized ranting rather than the unannounced waxing. When I encounter unannounced waxings, usually it is possible to tiptoe to minimize unsightly smudges, and the janitors are only slightly aggrieved.

Anonymous said...

I'd be curious as to whether or not the janitor would have screamed at you if you were a man.
I'd also be curious as to whether or not your colleague would have said anything to the janitor about his screaming at you if you were a man (such as "Take it easy, Dude" or other such dudely admonishments).
I hope you reported the janitor's behavior as well, and not just the unannounced floor waxing.

Azulao said...

God almighty, you took a hard spill and all anyone could think of was 1) the floor and 2) your pride?

Holy pratfalls, Batman, but my first reaction to someone falling down is to rush over (carefully in this case) and say "Are you okay?" and it doesn't matter if they're male, female, big and tough, small and dainty, or somewhere in between all that. I imagine that someone doing that would have also shut the janitor up as well, as he would have seen that injury trumps scuffs.

catgirl said...

I think it's a huge to stretch to blame this on the guy's sex or culture. Some people are very embarrassed to fall in public, and some are not, and many are in between. People realize this but also tend to project their own feelings onto other people. I am a white woman, and I am embarrassed to fall in public. Once I slipped on a step at a theater and the usher made such a huge deal about it even after I told her 10 times that I wasn't hurt. Ever since then, I really prefer it when people just ignore it.

Anonymous said...

I hope you took some pain meds. I caught the back of my slacks with my heel a few weeks ago and totally wiped out. I had a massive bruise on my hip and woke up the next day wondering where the mac truck was that leveled me. Glad you didn't break anything.

JoLibrarian said...

I'm glad you weren't hurt, and sorry that the custodian was so rude. He sounds awful.

butterflywings said...

I would definitely come down on the 'embarrassed' side. I would seriously rather people pretended not to see.
Hmmm, maybe that is a stereotypically male thing *checks for lady parts, yes, I am female* ;-).
I dunno. If I was seriously hurt I'd want someone to help, obviously. If I'm clearly OK, as in, getting up, not.
I think in my case though it's just embarrassment at being a clumsy moron (and I am. I always fall. I almost went flying on the bus today although that was actually the driver's fault for stopping too suddenly). Also at drawing attention to myself. Not so much a wounded ego thing.

butterflywings said...

Ah, thanks to catgirl. I now feel like a woman again ;-)
Yeah, maybe it's just a personal thing.
I have had experiences where people make a huge deal of it, too.

OTOH. I slipped on some steps that were wet from rain once, and was moderately injured - I twisted my knee, which proceeded to swell up to the size of a melon and was excruciating (in the end, nothing serious was wrong and it healed itself). I was unable to get up, trying to put weight on that leg and not managing, eventually hobbled away (just barely able to walk at all) and 2 guys clearly saw it all and did NOTHING to help me. Rah.
Also, in the next few days, no-one offered me a seat on public transport although I was visibly limping. Quite obviously. And people would tut and sigh if I put my leg out straight when I did get to sit down. I couldn't bend the knee much at that point.
Yet should I look 'hawt' and man-pleasing enough, by wearing make-up, heels etc. some sleazeball will always offer me a seat I don't need, being young and (for now) perfectly healthy.
Help from men does not come free.
UGH. MEN.

Sam said...

In defense of men, can I just say to butterflywings that we are not *all* like that...

I agree that someone should have been chivalrous and offered you a seat on the bus. However, when no-one did, why are men despicable but the women get a freebie? Double standards go both ways.

As far as only paying attention when you are "hawt" - I admit that some (maybe most) guys are like that. I offer my seat to pregnant women and the clearly injured (male or female) as much as I can, and my girlfriend does the same.

As for FSP - I would have have asked if you were okay and told the janitor to chill out, but people are different - my best friend would probably have ignored the whole thing and only mentioned it later, like the situation you described. He would have then carried around a negative impression of the janitor...

human said...

hey butterflywings, I find that in my area at least you do have to ask for a seat on public transit, but if you ask, people will give it up. I had a stress fracture in my foot a few years ago and had to do that a lot.

John said...

re ButterWings parting shot Help from men does not come free. UGH. MEN.

Let's not invoke broad stereotypes to put down half the human race. Most people here are more thoughtful than that.

Antonia said...

Slightly off the point, but I find it very interesting that no one was notified that the floors would get waxed and the building would thus be difficult to get into that day: yet another administrator who hasn't noticed that academics frequently are in their offices/labs over the weekend. In my case, that once resulted in being without a computer Friday afternoon-Monday morning on what was meant to be a work-intensive weekend - sorry that the consequences were more painful for you!

butterflywings said...

Sam - the bit about not offering me a seat when I was injured was aimed at both men and women. And well done for offering seats, I do too.

human - yes, perhaps I should have asked, but I live in London, where strangers do not talk to each other. I suspect the response would have been a. to ignore me or b. to be rude.

John, ah yes, we silly irrational wimmins do need a MANZ to tell us not to be mean to the poor MENZ. It was not a generalisation about all men. If you do not behave in that way, it's not about you. A tough concept, I know, but try hard and you might one day be thoughtful like the rational MENZ.

James said...

I personally think that all of you are completely missing what is actually going on here. The peer saw her as just that "a peer" at the time of the accident. Because men have been reprogrammed over the past several decades to treat women as if they are equal to males in every way, he was only reacting as he would have if a male had fallin on the floor. However the fact that he felt bad about his lack of response is not typical of the way men are toward women biologically. Something is born into men that makes them want to help females in trouble or at least reassure them that there is someone that cares. This is what drove him to make the special trip to see her. If it had actually been a male that had fallen, he would have had no desire whatsoever to make that special trip. In fact he would have just brought it up the next time their paths crossed, and probably joked about it in a non caring manor. As humiliating as it may sound, men do not care about other men.
I personally feel that if the floor had not been waxed and she had slipped on a wet spot, he wouldve felt overwhelming compassion to run down the hall and help her up.

Here is an easy test for you ladies who would like to try it out. The next time you are around a bunch of men...drop something...like a book...folder...or wallet, but act as if you had no idea it has fallen. One of the males will pick it up and bring it to you, guaranteed. Then a few days later see if you can convence a male coworker to do something along the same lines. At best he will get a yell "hey man you dropped something".

Males are compelled to do nice things for females.
Females on the other hand are compelled to do nice things for other women, the youths, the disabled, and the ones that they love. Males in general often get little reassurance from feamles and nearly no reassurance from other males.

In short I feel as if the peer shouldve skated across that floor to help her to her feet and shouldve scolded the custodian for his remarks. But I am a shivelrous man myself and find it difficult to leave someone to their own devises in a situation like that. But I guess I would not be a very good HealthCare Provider if I didnt.

James said...

I personally think that all of you are completely missing what is actually going on here. The peer saw her as just that "a peer" at the time of the accident. Because men have been reprogrammed over the past several decades to treat women as if they are equal to males in every way, he was only reacting as he would have if a male had fallin on the floor. However the fact that he felt bad about his lack of response is not typical of the way men are toward women biologically. Something is born into men that makes them want to help females in trouble or at least reassure them that there is someone that cares. This is what drove him to make the special trip to see her. If it had actually been a male that had fallen, he would have had no desire whatsoever to make that special trip. In fact he would have just brought it up the next time their paths crossed, and probably joked about it in a non caring manor. As humiliating as it may sound, men do not care about other men.
I personally feel that if the floor had not been waxed and she had slipped on a wet spot, he wouldve felt overwhelming compassion to run down the hall and help her up.

Here is an easy test for you ladies who would like to try it out. The next time you are around a bunch of men...drop something...like a book...folder...or wallet, but act as if you had no idea it has fallen. One of the males will pick it up and bring it to you, guaranteed. Then a few days later see if you can convence a male coworker to do something along the same lines. At best he will get a yell "hey man you dropped something".

Males are compelled to do nice things for females.
Females on the other hand are compelled to do nice things for other women, the youths, the disabled, and the ones that they love. Males in general often get little reassurance from feamles and nearly no reassurance from other males.

In short I feel as if the peer shouldve skated across that floor to help her to her feet and shouldve scolded the custodian for his remarks. But I am a shivelrous man myself and find it difficult to leave someone to their own devises in a situation like that. But I guess I would not be a very good HealthCare Provider if I didnt.