I miss my sisters

October 15, 2013

This will be slightly atypical – so those that feel I should blog only about what they are interested in can step off. Meet the rest of you after the jump.

I don’t actually have a sister.

As it happens, I grew up in a household without a lot of what some might see as the traditional female type of influence within US culture.

My secondary educational experiences did not greatly expand my boundaries in this area either. My closest high school friends were male. For the most part. I had an extracurricular activity profile that was gender split as well. I mean sure, there were both girls and boys teams in these sports but our practice time was pretty much segregated. And I just didn’t spend a lot of time hanging about with small groups of friends anyway. Sports tended to suck up that variety of free time.

College was a different experience. In particular, the years spent residing in dormitory housing put me in near constant proximity with many people who became life-changing friends. Some I am still in contact with, some I am not. Mostly not, save for the arms’ length of Facebook feeds. Some have passed away. Whatever the outcome, I am ever grateful to the ones who were at that time very close friends.

Especially the female ones. I had several friends who eventually took on what I imagine to be a sort of ersatz sisterly role. These were the people who allowed me my first insight into what it was really like to be a woman in our culture. The pressures. The expectations. The privileges. The complicated navigations of social environs entirely unlike those I experienced as a male-American up to that point. They were smart and intellectually driven in a number of different directions. In the *cough*cough*years*cough*cough since they have gone on to be the kind of people I like now and aspire to be. Professionals. Working meaningful jobs and excelling at them. While maintaining clear priorities of family and community. (and of course leftish-wing politics :-)).

In short, I was fortunate to find many great people to hang out with as an undergrad. They were fantastic then and they continue to be fantastic now.

And these women, bless their hearts, sistered me through more than one bit of stupidity, anxiety, failure and broken heartedness during my undergraduate years. They were the ones that helped start to knock me off the path of arrogant little adolescent male smart ass that so many never depart. They started a process of being able to interact with women properly, not as some kid trying to get busy.

I imagine that boys that have sisters, particularly those close in age, get some of this beaten into their consciousness earlier. Not all of them, but I imagine it helps. And I imagine that boys who may not have sisters but have female close-friends in the neighborhood or school setting are likewise advantaged.

Graduate school was in many ways a pleasant reboot of sisterly interactions. I had two or three women in the broader graduate student social environment that continued the process of straightening me out on male/female expectations in our society. Straightening me out on my interactions with people where I lapsed and providing excellent support when things were not going well professionally.

We drift apart, as life goes on. This is natural. If we are lucky we find new people to replace the supporting pillars that are no longer there.

But now, the population narrows. The likely individuals with whom one can venture a personal depth disappear. This is for a variety of reasons for different people. The so-called leaky pipeline of academic careers is certainly a contributor to the disappearance of women, but male friendships narrow as well. The exiting of larger group social culture and the development of a nuclear family is a major contributor. Professional obligations take up our time as well. It is a necessary tradeoff in my view, certainly in my life. I can see, however, that for some people this tradeoff may be entirely uncomfortable.

I can see that some people may not be entirely at peace with the narrowing of their social space as they get older.

I am thinking about this today because of discussion in the internets about highly inappropriate levels of attempted-intimacy in professional relationships.

Intimacy not of the sisterly variety but of the gettin-busy variety.

It is here where we move from fond regret for the social richness of our youth to something entirely more sinister.

Professional power is a necessary barrier to interpersonal intimacy. I am not one that has ever been comfortable with at-work relationships* and advise against them. Especially when there is a power differential. I suppose I was fortunate to find the right person working in another field of study, long before I had any sort of career power advantage over anyone. This was not entirely accidental, however. People in my graduate program were off my list, so to speak. This did not cause me any undue distress that I recollect. When you have a personal aversion to looking in population X for your romantic entanglements….you just don’t. And you look elsewhere if you are so inclined.

It doesn’t seem to be that difficult to me.

I can only recall the Harry rule hitting me hard on a handful of occasions. And it was brief and rapidly overcome.

If you are trying to re-expand your social sphere, for whatever reason, really I’m not judging that part. Not my business. I mean, yes, I have an entirely traditional view of the boundaries for physically intimate re-expansion of one’s social life in later life. And I may judge people in my heart of hearts. But you know what? Fuck it, who am I to worry about whatever arrangements work for other people.


Not at work.

Look elsewhere. Look somewhere there will never be any question of coercion. Never any question that a professional power dynamic may be pressuring a person to react to you in a way that is not their unfettered reaction.

We have a lot of people on this planet. You only work professionally with a very small number of them.

Find someone you don’t work with.

*my extreme discomfort with even this took a maturing step at one point thanks to some of my sisters-in-thought in the past.

14 Responses to “I miss my sisters”

  1. anonymous postdoc Says:

    Oh I feel this. Many finger snaps.

    I miss my brothers. My brothers meaning my undergraduate and graduate and postdoctoral dudes that I respect and can rely on to respect me, and support me, and generally interact with women as goddamned professional adult human beings. And then there are…

    Suffice it to say, you could have written the last bit about a colleague who has the potential to reach brother status. That said, he is skirting the line of sexual harassment with a junior person because he doesn’t get the power dynamic thing. He’s being very nice. Too nice. I should sister the shit out of him, but said junior person has asked me not to say anything, because the power dynamic means she doesn’t want to rock the boat. So what do I do? Leave anonymous comments about it on the internet, I guess.


  2. DrugMonkey Says:

    Sister the shit out of him.


  3. odyssey Says:

    We all need sisters.


  4. Dave Says:

    I grew up in a female-dominated environment and was raised entirely by my mum, and I am very grateful for that (although I wasn’t always). I don’t doubt that it has made me a better person in so many ways, but it does mean that I am only now learning how to do oil changes, ride a motorcycle and other manly stuff :)!


  5. bam294 Says:

    Very vanilla, Ted. Try again.


  6. Sister the shit out of him.

    I don’t think I need to be your “sister” for you to respect it when I say “don’t try to fuck me at work.” That’s akin to telling us that if we were more nurturing, we wouldn’t be treated this way…

    While you have been blessed to have had these women in your life, we are under no obligation to “sister” our professional colleagues to keep them from trying to fuck us/fondle us/harass us in professional situations. Don’t try to fuck where you eat. Enough said. Done.

    I love you and consider you my brother, but try again.

    Lovingly your sister,
    Isis the Scientist


  7. drugmonkey Says:

    try again.
    we are under no obligation to “sister” our professional colleagues

    My comment was offered in reply to a commenter posing this as a potential option, presumably one she came up with herself. I voted for that option.

    This is in no way saying that I think women have any obligation at the workplace to browbeat knuckleheads into line. at all. I agree with you entirely on this.

    I love you and consider you my brother, but try again.

    I am humbled and eternally grateful.

    Very vanilla, Ted. Try again.

    My blogging history suggests I will.

    oil changes…and other manly stuff

    At least one of my readers is laughing her ass off right now at the suggestion that vehicle maintenance is the province of “manly stuff”.


  8. namnezia Says:

    Ha, I grew up with four older brothers and have no fucking clue as to how to change the oil in my car.


  9. anonymous Says:

    I didn’t quite get this at all, the reason to respect women is because they are people. I don’t understand why you need sister women in order to understand the concept that you should treat people like you want to be treated. I am sure you didn’t mean it this way, but this smacks me like the daughter, sister, mother, or wife thing- women should be respected because they are people, not because of their relation to a man, and I don’t understand why that is something that has to be taught by sisterly women.


  10. gerty-z Says:

    What about the women in your life that are girlfriends, or wives, or just fucking aquaintences or co-workers? you can’t listen to them, too? sigh. #WTFIWWP


  11. Dave Says:

    At least one of my readers is laughing her ass off right now at the suggestion that vehicle maintenance is the province of “manly stuff”

    Ha!!! Yeh I’m sure that’s true, but my other half considers driving a car something that only a man should do LOL!


  12. DrugMonkey Says:

    anonymous- my gratitude for certain people in my life over the years doesn’t mean anyone “needs” women to learn to be a decent fucking person. It means that I am grateful to certain people for the influence they’ve had over my thinking.

    GertyZ- of course. I just happened to be thinking about some people who have played a certain type of role in my life. I didn’t say jack squatte about my romantic entanglements but believe you me they all had influence. Casual colleagues and mentors alike. Why do you think I am belittling such influences just because I was thinking about a different set of folks?


  13. Jason Says:

    Like anonymous said.

    You never go full-emo.


  14. […] Drugmonkey’s I miss my sisters. […]


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