Last Thursday, I started my day off by talking to a male coworker on the way in from the parking lot. I went to my desk and was approached by two men for an impromptu meeting at my desk. I answered my phone (a male engineer), and briefly chatted with my (male) boss. I ran a lunch meeting consisting of 13 men and me, then went to the lab for a meeting with two men, plus me. The only woman I spoke to in person all day long was my girlfriend — who, as another woman engineer, also endures workdays that fail the Bechdel Test. That’s just how it is sometimes as a woman in STEM. Not all of the time, in my experience. But also not none of the time.
Wondering how I’m able to deal with the avalanche of men taking up space in my workplace all day every day? This is going to sound shocking but the answer, it turns out, is fairly simple: talk to them. Yes, that’s right. Men are people too. I’ve been reluctantly conversing with them for years now, and today, I’m going to share a few key survival strategies I’ve picked up in the trenches. Follow my advice and you’ll be well on your way to making apolitical small talk, scoring points for “likeability,” and building career-necessary rapport with 75+% of male coworkers!
**I don’t think anyone should actually have to do these things, this is just sarcastic commentary on my own experience!**
1. Approach men with confidence and a playful disregard for “who’s already talking.”
Men in the workplace love to interrupt. I know this because I get to listen to them doing it to me all fucking day long. It’s how they express affection, I can only assume. Demonstrate your friendly intent and understanding of male cultural norms by following suit.
2. Try to speak using the lower registers of your voice. But don’t whisper. But don’t shout.
Don’t be too shrill, but don’t be too soft, either. Avoid vocal fry and upspeak. Never apologize or apologize for apologizing. The best way to set men’s minds at ease during conversation is to eliminate all vocal traits and verbal tics they associate with women.
Listen. It’s not that your male coworkers dislike women. They’re just more comfortable listening to men, taking them seriously, and talking to them as equals. Why are you glaring? You should smile more.
3. Apropros of nothing, go ahead and share your Game of Thrones fan theories.
Although the HBO show typically airs from April to June, men are fascinated by Game of Thrones year-round. There is no bad time to bring up this show. I know this because this soft porn high fantasy gorefest has served as my workplace conversational workhorse for the past five years, bless it.
If you, too, have time to spare and wish to use Game of Thrones as a conversational tool to facilitate friendly interaction with male coworkers across a broad spectrum of ages and awareness levels regarding what constitutes rape, be warned that there are six seasons out. Getting into this show proved a sizeable time commitment for me even in season one, given that I had to watch each episode three times before I could distinguish between the many bedraggled-looking white men on the show. Persevere. Showrunners have confirmed that there will be two more seasons, which means it will be at least 2019 before your male coworkers change the topic.
Alternatively, if you’re short on time, try throwing a couple of these sentences out: “Arya died and the Waif is wearing her face. Jaime will kill Cersei, and Sansa will kill Dany. Bran is the Night King leading the White Walkers.” Boom. You just bought yourself 20 minutes of coworker engagement. Sit back, relax, and enjoy as a man explains to you why his theory is superior to your theory.
4. Blah Blah Football Blah
Another winning strategy: mention football. Football is like conversational catnip for men. They love it. They inhale it. They will roll around in that shit all day long, if left unsupervised. Although this topic does have a “best used by” date, the NFL season runs from September to February. Even if you’ve completely lost track of space and time in the black abyss that is your professional life as the lone woman in a wretchedly male dominated field oh jesus christ why, there’s like a 50% chance that it’s football season.
Unfortunately I don’t have any specific advice for you beyond that (I’m on the Game of Thrones beat, remember?), except to remind you that this helpful list exists. I did join my first fantasy football league this year, though. To date, my main takeaway is that fantasy football consists primarily of puns and smacktalk. Yahoo! Fantasy gave my team a “B” on its draft report card, but I give Yahoo! Fantasy an “F” for that analysis because “Wookie of the Year” is a very clever name, dammit, and even though Dez Bryant got a concussion last Monday, he says he feels “unstoppable,” so. There’s that. Tips welcome.
5. Video games?
As conventional wisdom holds, most “gamer guys” are faking it, merely pretending to be interested in video games so that women will pay attention to them. And this is true. Undeniably. At least 90% of the time. But when it comes to that other 10% of the male population, there’s a chance you may be able to connect, particularly with the under 30/about-to-be-promoted-above-you crowd. Capitalize on this!
My suggestion: Heroes of the Storm is free, super fun, and clearly relevant to everyone’s interests. Check out these characters, y’all:
If this topic doesn’t land with your male coworkers, well, I guess I just don’t know men. (Kidding. I do know men. I spend hours upon hours in their company. Seriously, so, so long. It’s amazing how slow the passage of time can go sometimes. Like, an absolute crawl. I feel about 292 years old.)
6. Hold your breath. Let it go. Think of Ellen Page.
Breathe in strength, breathe out bullshit. All things eventually come to an end. The workday. The work week. Your male coworker’s lengthy explanation of his Game of Thrones theory. Football season. Capitalism. Patriarchy.
Saturday is coming. I promise.
Notes From A Queer Engineer is a recurring column with an expected periodicity of 14 days. The subject matter may not be explicitly queer, but the industrial engineer writing it sure is. This is a peek at the notes she’s been doodling in the margins.