Underneath my yellow skin

Bias and reason

One thing I’ve learned from reading advice columns. If you introduce animals to the question, all bets are off. Today at Ask A Manager, there was a question involving two large dogs, a party, and reasonable (or not) requests. And academia. It garnered over a thousand responses (granted, it was one of four questions, but I’d estimate that at least three-quarters of the comments were about this question), and the comments were all over the map.

It fascinated me because it’s a question i didn’t have much personal interest in. I wasn’t invested in it, so it was the perfect question to take the longview on. I could see what got people upset, what pushed other people’s buttons, and what made this such a thorny topic. And, boy, did it get ugly.

First of all, there is a way that the letter writer (LW) wrote the question. They stated that they hosted an open house once a month with their partner in order to help their friends and colleagues (acadameia) to socialize. They’ve been doing it for a year. It’s open in the truest sense in that people were encouraged to bring friends, kids, and dogs.

That was the one stipulation the LW made. They had two large, sweet, well-trained dogs who they were not going to shut up in a room. They were very clear about that to everyone who came to the parties, and it was not a problem.

Cue the actual issue. They have a colleague, Paul, whom they invited to dinner a while ago. They made sure Paul new about the dogs, and he indicated he was fine with that. When he got there, he wasn’t fine with that and ‘was rude about them when they approached to sniff him and greet him’.

LW decided to keep their distance from Paul outside of work. Fastfoward to now. Paul, recently divorced, asked if he could attend one of the parties. LW said it was fine but that the dogs wouldbe allowed to roam, and there would probably be other dogs, too. Paul said that was fine but then later texted to ask if the dogs could be put in a room and other dogs asked not to attend.

The comment section exploded. The first comment about this question (which I saw fairly soon after the new post went up scolded the LW for not being nice. And then it was an all-out bawl. The comments ranged from people saying the LW was completely in the right and that Paul was being a total dick to those who said poor Paul was being attacked (not physically) and LW was a complete monster.

It was wild.

When I read the letter, my first thought was that I was mostly on the LW’s side. Full disclosure: I don’t like dogs. I don’t dislike them, but I am not ooey-gooey about them. Much like how I feel about kids–they’re fine–as long as they are over there. And in small doses. I am a cat person in part because dogs are dangerous if they are not well-trained, whereas cats are less so.

In addition, dog lovers are rabid about their animals and can be offended if you don’t feel the same. I saw my brother get viciously attacked by the dog next door just for going over to return a tool. The dog bust free from its leash (it was in its house in the yard) and sank its teeth into my brother’s leg. A decade or so later, I was at my brother’s work place. A coworker had brought in his two badly-behaving dogs and did not have them on leashes. They ran over to my brother and was barking at him and jumping on him. The owner was laughing and saying they were friendly as my brother sat there, rigid, and clearly afraid.

In this letter, the LW said the dogs were well-trained, but that they went over to Paul to sniff and greet him. Which, to me, isn’t well-trained. Other dog lovers were adamant that you can’t keep a dog from doing this. Which is bullshit. You can absolutely train a dog not to sniff a stranger (as other dog owners attested). But it just goes to say that what dog lovers mean by well-trained and people who aren’t dog lovers think it should mean is very different.

That said, this is the only way in which the LW misstepped. They should have made it clear that the dogs would have come over to Paul and sniff him. If you told me a dog was well-trained, I would not have expected them to come over to me.

You might be surprised to know, though, that is the only thing I fault the LW for. Otherwise, I am on her side. And, yes, she wrote in to clarify that she was a woman, that she was not above Paul in the hierarchy at their college, and that they were both tenured. There was specualtion to all of those. The reason I started by using ‘they’ is because the gender was not specified in the letter and that’s how I read it. Meaning, I didn’t really have a gender in mind. Other people clearly did. She came into the comments to clarify, and while I appreciated the details, I did bristle at the scolding she gave about people assuming she was a man because she did not specify her gender and she was erroneous that the gender is assumed to be female unless otherwise stated. Alison uses feminine pronouns when others are not provided because she wanted to combat ‘he’ as default, but she never made it a thing that commenters had to do the same.

I do appreciate the sexism in assuming she was a he by what she wrote, but she could have stated that bluntly without the rest. And I do think there is some sexism going on in assuming that the LW was an entitled man. I didn’t read it that way so it was interesting to see the people who did.

It became a question of how comfortable do you want to make your guests, which was fascinating because I disagreed with just about everyone. One person said that you could not ask anything of the host, which seems bizarre to me. But other people said that the host should accommodate almost every request, which is also bizarre. And another person said that hosting is a gift they gave other people so that the other person should take it or leave it. Not surprisingly, I disagree with it all.

I think as a host, it’s about what you want. The one time I hosted a dozen or so people, I wanted to feed them, which meant making food that they could eat. That turned out to be a chore and a half, and I would never do it again, but I tried. There were three or four vegans, one of whom was completely ridiculous. Two veggies, one person who did not eat red food, and then a few omnivores (including me. This was before my gluten-free/dairy-free diet).

It was a pain in the ass, I’ll admit. And as I said, I would not do it again. But if I invite people to eat in my home, it behooves me to have something they can eat. So when the person said it’s a gift they give, I would ask if they gave gifts they knew the person they were giving it to couldn’t use? I think a balance has to be struck, but I’m not sure where exactly that balance lies.

Leave a reply