Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Further thoughts on Demure

A while back, I wrote about the curse of Demure. By this I meant the tendency of some women (me), who've been socialized into a certain kind of passivity (and credit goes to commenter Freddie, who made the connection to the romantic sphere), to extend that same reticence to professional situations. The same waiting-by-the-phone approach.

The Demure isn't exactly about fear of rejection. It's about not knowing the rules of assertiveness. When do you press on, and when do you leave it be? And - drumroll, please, for my theory* - it could be that women's (typically) superior appreciation of social nuance ends up backfiring. In social situations, if you have a good sense someone doesn't really want to meet you for lunch, you're generally well-advised not to keep asking. So it pays to be able to pick up on such things. Not to neurotically overshoot the mark and assume if someone's busy once, they secretly despise you. But to just kind of suss out situations without even thinking about it. Women, I suspect, pick up on such cues better than men do, given our socialization or who knows. (Remember those stories from a while back, about how even girls with Aspergers find their way to having social skills?)

So we - I - may be entirely right that (to give an example from my own world) an editor who says no thanks but pitch again isn't waiting impatiently for our next submission. Perhaps men either don't notice when they're not wanted, or don't care, but let's say probably it's "don't notice" a lot of the time. Either way, the result is irritating in a social context - potentially creepy in a romantic one - but incredibly effective in professional interactions of this sort.

*Is this my theory? It seems of a piece with the overall lean-in meme, but I've never noticed it expressed exactly like this.


Rachel @Musings of An Inappropriate Woman said...

So we - I - may be entirely right that (to give an example from my own world) an editor who says no thanks but pitch again isn't waiting impatiently for our next submission.

Well, no - not waiting impatiently. But it almost certainly means they would be open to hearing from you, and more likely to pay attention to subsequent emails from you than they were to the first one. Take it from a former editor: when they don't want to hear from you they either a) don't reply at all, or b) if they do reply, keep things short, to the point, and don't invite you to pitch again out of courtesy.

I totally feel your point on the turning down of lunch dates, though. I am constantly confused and over sensitive to that side of things.

Petey said...

Have you considered purchasing a firearm and including a photo of you holding it with all article submissions? Nothing says 'assertive' like a firearm. You don't even have to load it, thus preserving your private sphere of 'demure'.

(This is the hidden secret behind Sheryl Sandberg's success, FWIW.)

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Thanks Rachel. While this specific scenario has happened to me at least once in recentish memory, I've more often met with situations that are far more confusing, but also far too particular to get into here, in the post or comments.

Which brings me to other specific confusions I've had that don't really relate to "demure." Basically, I'd been pitching *very* sporadically, on the side, during grad school. This gave me ample opportunity to do close readings of whichever emails I did get from editors.

But it also meant that I was used to a whole different system of interaction. Professors kind of have to email you back, at least the ones at your own university. So it's neither a good nor bad sign if professors respond to your emails. Switching over, it felt new to me that so many editors and such simply don't reply, even ones who you've interacted with previously and not had any kind of falling out with. But it also took me a while to realize that every even somewhat tepid email from an editor, etc., is a good sign. (Obviously the outright "no" means that this is a diligent editor, and nothing especially positive about one's chances.)