Cookiegate 2016

Yesterday in passing conversation, I heard two senior colleagues discussing the recent promotion of an equally senior female peer (“equally senior” is what peer means, right? Just want to make that part clear). One of them said, “Well, she’s a smart cookie.” This was said with admiration and something akin to professional affection–clearly not intended to cut or criticize–and yet it really freaking bugged me for some reason I couldn’t quite put my finger on. So I turned to Facebook, asking:

Am I right in thinking that no man has ever been called a “smart cookie”?

Immediately, women near my age and/or in my profession started liking (or “angry facing” the post).

Just as immediately, an investigation was launched into the history of the phrase “smart cookie,” calling upon online dictionaries, historical newspaper databases, etc., which suggested no gender bias in the history of the phrase–indeed, “smart cookie” (and “tough cookie,” for that matter) seems to have emerged out of military culture, which is nothing if not male-oriented.

Of course, throwing out a claim of “never ever” invites exactly this kind of research, because you never ever find that something never ever happened. I knew when I posted it that I’d be inviting this kind of digging. So now, we have proof! “Smart cookie,” in a vacuum, is not a blatantly sexist phrase. Not in the way that “women are inferior” is.

But then again, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

Here’s what’s different now: younger me would probably have thought, “Huh, I guess the facts show that I’m wrong about ‘smart cookie’ and need to just chill out.” Cranky Ann, however, knows that two adjacent things can be true at once. It can be true that the origin of the phrase has nothing to do with sexism, and also true that hearing it yesterday made me uncomfortable, so it is worth investigating why. “The facts” (such as they are), do not overturn or replace my experience. They illuminate it: they tell us that etymology is not the problem here. But that doesn’t mean there is no problem here. The phrase itself is not the problem -> but I was still troubled, and got the impression that many of my peers felt the same way -> so something else must be going on.

A key turning point occurred when the second man mentioned that they didn’t think the phrase was patronizing, but they did think it was dated/archaic, and were puzzled by its being used at all. “I would be surprised to hear anyone say ‘smart cookie,'” he said. This was a lightbulb moment for me. Because I feel like I hear it All. The. Time. And I’m going to take the liberty of assuming that the 20+ women who acknowledged the post have heard it as well.

This helped me make sense of the etymology/history issue. OK, yes, granted: the roots of “smart cookie” are not female oriented. But the (highly limited and unscientific) anecdotal evidence suggests that men in the workplace don’t hear this phrase (though “some men” must, because they are largely the ones saying it…), and women do. Is this the “Ashley” of epithets? (That is to say, a masculine or gender neutral label that has now shifted irrevocably to feminine?)

What I hear when I hear this phrase–and finally here it is, I’m honing in on what bugs me–is a qualifier. It’s a special justification signaling approval and special status of the “smart cookie.” Though it’s disguised as a compliment, I hear it being used to explain, justify, or approve someone’s success or presence at the table when apparently their name, position, experience, or the simple fact of their presence is insufficient to convince everyone else. And it’s not, as far as I can tell, applied to men in the same way.

It is hard for me to imagine someone saying, “I’ve asked Bill to join us, he’s a smart cookie.” or “Harold will be leading this project–he’s a smart cookie.” No: it’s “Harold will be leading this project because he is the Director of Leading Projects.” Or just “Harold will be leading this project.” And that is enough. But I have heard myself and my colleagues introduced this way countless times. As with almost every language question, it’s less about these specific two words than it is about the context, of course. But this is (as has been noted) a kind of strange, slightly uncommon phrase that today, I *only* hear used in circumstances like this, where it is basically code for “don’t worry, she’s all right.” Of course, there *are* instances where a very junior person is being brought into a higher level conversation, and a boss or colleague is sort of paving the way. But the more senior the person to whom the label is applied, the more strange and troubling it feels to me.

Said of an absent female peer’s promotion, it suggests not “Well done!” or “Good move!” or “Wow, they’re lucky to get her,” or even, “I want that job,” but something more like “I approve because according to me, she is smart and therefore deserving.” Hm. Who asked you, anyway?

And that, my friends, is how the cookie crumbles.

How life is now, or, “Things I never knew I never knew”

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Birthday hats are delicious!

The Fustible turned one last month. I had no idea this would seem so much more momentous than any birthday or anniversary or commemorative occasion, ever. Honestly, the last year didn’t feel especially fast or slow to me. There were the days that seemed like they would never end, and then there were the whole months that just evaporated. On the whole, though, the year felt substantial. It felt like, well, a year. But as we closed in on January 16, and I thought back to where we were a year ago–as the sense memories and the snow crept up on me, I started to relive those early days more vividly than I had, well ever. And it’s crazy. 365 days, and our baby’s no longer a baby.

So, in the spirit of sniffly noses and full hearts, here’s a bunch of random anecdotes and thoughts about what’s up, one year in (and some change). In the inimitable words of George Washington (or maybe Lin-Manuel Miranda, same thing), “I wanna talk about what I’ve learned, the hard-won wisdom that I’ve earned!”

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On being Cranky Ann

Cranky Ann is my workplace alter ego. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that she is my truest self.

It all started a couple of years ago, when a co-worker tweeted this image:

I printed it out and taped it to my desk, and Cranky Ann was born.

Cranky Ann is the vehicle for and receptacle of all my snap judgments, my short temper, my indignant opinions on completely subjective and benign topics.

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She has a giant bib on, and dark blue overalls underneath, and yet the pumpkin still got trapped *inside* the overalls, secretly smushed up against her onesie! Stains is clever.

She has a giant bib on, and dark blue overalls underneath, and yet the pumpkin still got trapped *inside* the overalls, secretly smushed up against her classy beige striped onesie! Stains is clever.

Welp, another onesie bites the dust. Pumpkin is to blame this time. Thanks, daycare sensory activity!

And I close my eyes and take ten deep breaths.

Why does this drive me so nuts, this inevitable destruction of baby clothes? It’s basically a given. It matters so little in the grand scheme of things. She’s going to wear these clothes just a handful of times before she outgrows them. And secretly? Most of them we got for free anyway.

I really don’t want this to be the thing I get worked up and lose my temper over.

So what gives?  Continue reading

Maternity Leave: a tale in three parts

I’ve been back at work full time for five months now, which is a full month longer than the end-to-end dates of my non-maternity-maternity leave. And it all seems so long ago. We’ve pretty much got our morning routine down now (you know, except when we….don’t) and I can barely remember those days where 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. was just a long, dark blur.

When did she stop sleeping on my chest on the couch? When did we switch from the tiny bottles to the big ones? Let’s try to remember….

I took leave from work in three distinct segments, with 2-3 weeks at work in between each. As a result, I had three very distinct experiences that stand totally apart in my memory. Here’s how it breaks down: Continue reading