Aunt Pythia’s advice
Holy shit, guys, it’s already fucking February, and Aunt Pythia isn’t ready for Spring at all. Spring is when things get frighteningly beautiful and distracting and the cycle of nature breaks our hearts and blah blah blah and a certain something is due, and Aunt Pythia would rather it stay mid-January for a while yet, do you dig?
The book’s description:
Prepare to enter a fantasy world. A world where clothes get folded just so, delicious dinners await, and flatulence is just not that funny. Give the fairer sex what they really want beautiful PG photos of hunky men cooking, listening, asking for directions, accompanied by steamy captions: “I love a clean house!” or “As long as I have two legs to walk on, you’ll never take out the trash.” Now this is porn that will leave women begging for more!
Talk about perverted! You’d have to be a real fetish freak to be turned on by stuff like that. Personally, and Aunt Pythia doesn’t know about you, but Aunt Pythia prefers the kind of book that involves penises and vaginas.
And, good news on that front: when scouring the web with the phrase “porn for women,” it turned up this book list entitled 10 Sexy Books That’ll Make You Forget ’50 Shades Of Grey’ (Warning: Don’t read bad erotica. It’s bad for your vagina.).
Let’s start there, shall we? And if we ever find ourselves really falling off the deep end we can try out the above smut with vacuum cleaners, but Aunt Pythia highly doubts it will ever come to that. Plus, let’s face it, flatulence is always funny.
Which reminds me, I’m supposed to be farting out some advice to you wonderful and patient people. Let’s start this immediately, with the understand that, at the end of the column, you might just be willing to:
ask Aunt Pythia a question at the bottom of the page!
Dear Aunt Pythia,
I’m a guy and a grad student and I was talking to a fellow grad student, Z, about gender issues in academia. Specifically, I was arguing that gender plays a role in fellowship/scholarship selection and college admissions, and she claimed that no, an applicant’s sex does not have any detectable influence on such decisions. We started talking about affirmative action and before we had time to even discuss the implications of affirmative action, she had to go to class and I thought that was the end of it.
A week or two later, one of my friends, Y, lets me know that Z had told her and several people that I had made some sexist comments. I was shocked and decided to confront her about it the next day. I said, “I heard from a friend that you’ve been telling people I made sexist comments.” When I asked her whether she had told anyone I made sexist comments she said no. I then asked her what she thought about our talk about gender issues several weeks ago, and she said essentially that some people think gender plays a larger role in fellowship selection than it really does. I told her that I agreed with her, some people exaggerate who big a role it plays and that people who obtained these fellowships obviously deserved them, but that gender does play a minor role. I asked her a few more times whether she had said anything to anyone even as an offhand remark (and in the least aggressive way as I could), to which she replied no each time.
I have little doubt that she did tell people about our talk and report to them without context what I had said, but I don’t understand why she wouldn’t just admit it and talk more about it. Of course any statements, even factual ones, in support of the thesis: being female sometimes helps in getting scholarships and in college admissions, is terribly easy to twist into a sexist remark, and I think that’s probably what happened in this case. I don’t think intrinsically this is a sexist stance—it is a statement about the nature of the system, not one about the abilities of women. Am I crazy?
This whole experience has been extremely frustrating for me. Discussion about sensitive issues shouldn’t result in someone being labeled a sexist. How can we understand it if we can’t even talk without people getting defensive? Now I don’t know whether other people in the department who have heard the gossip and don’t know me think I’m a sexist. What should I do?
Gossiped About And Hurt Humongously
Life lesson learned! Or, otherwise put, you play with fire you gonna get burned.
Here’s the mistake you made. You talked to a person you didn’t really know, when you didn’t have enough time to have a proper conversation, about how “people like them” have it less tough than “people like you.” And even though it is not what you meant to say, that’s how it came across, and you’re going to have to live with that. Have you tried to imagine how that came across to her? Not great.
Also, it sounds like you decided to spend your time trying to prevent people from thinking you’re an asshole, but that will only make matters worse, because you haven’t acknowledged any mistake, real or perceived.
In other words, if you want to make things right with the woman you originally talked to, here’s what you don’t do: accuse her of telling lies about you, since that would make her defensive, and moreover, she wasn’t telling lies. She was telling people how she felt after your conversation. In her shoes I probably would have done the same thing, in fact, and if you came up to me afterwards and said, “hey, did you tell people I’m sexist?” I would deny it too, since after all it’s not my problem, it’s yours.
Here’s what you could do that may or may not work, depending on how deep the hole is that you dug already: write a letter to her showing you know how much sexism is in the field of mathematics, with reference to various double blind experiments that show how people assume women don’t understand stuff, how they write weaker letters of recommendation, and so on, and conclude with an acknowledgement that the system has to make up for that in order to be fair. And that, moreover, the result of that system is still probably not sufficient, given how few women there are, but that in any case the women that are in the grad program, on average, are clearly just as strong, and quite possibly stronger, than the men. Finish the letter by apologizing if it came out wrong the first time but now you’ve learned you lesson.
p.s. I’d be happy to publish your apology letter once it’s complete. That way other confused men (and women!) can use it too.
p.p.s. I notice you signed off “gossiped about and hurt humongously.” Hopefully you can understand that you were likely gossiped about because you hurt someone else humongously, and that this is just as much about them than about you. Which is not to say you haven’t been hurt, but if we spend all our time licking our own wounds rather than understanding what went wrong, then no progress will be made. I do actually think this turn out well, but it will require you to think about what you did, and to make amends for that first, before trying to address yourself.
Dear Aunt Pythia,
I take my six-year old daughter to school on subway every day. Recently, ads appeared on our line, which sometimes happen to be right in front of us, for the Museum of Sex, or “MoSex” (incidentally, located around the corner from MoMath). They include the quote “Like a Willy Wonka sex dream!”
My daughter hasn’t asked anything yet, and probably hasn’t paid any attention. I still think it’s inappropriate. Sex may be great fun and entertainment to some, but shouldn’t be advertised as such to children. Am I a prude?
Anyway, I was bothered enough to write a complaint on the MTA website. I got a response:
“As you may know, the MTA’s Board had enacted an advertising guideline that prohibited ads that are demeaning to people on account of their race, sex, religion or national origin, but that guideline was recently struck down by a federal court as inconsistent with the First Amendment. As a result, the MTA is prohibited from applying that standard to restrict ads and must post the ad in question. As we have sought to make clear by requiring prominent disclaimers, the MTA does not endorse or support this or any other paid advertisement that appears in the MTA system. The MTA displays advertisements in the system to generate much-needed revenue to support the MTA’s vital transportation function.”
The response makes me angrier.
Is there anything else I can do? Or should do? Or should I relax and be grateful there is no outright pornography in the subway? Or should I be sad about it? It could also generate much-needed revenue…
Not a fan of MoSex
Dear Not a fan,
It’s New York. And your kid hasn’t actually complained. Personally I find the constant barrage of sexualized advertisements with perfect plastic people more demeaning than straight up sex museum advertising, but I don’t know who to complain to about that.
Luckily, you do have lots of power in this situation, since it’s your kid. Namely, you can talk to her about how ads manipulate people and make her aware of stuff before they reach puberty but after she start actually reading the ads.
Those are some of the best parent-to-kid conversations I’ve ever had, and they basically sparked an ongoing game, whereby my two teenagers compete to explain what the “underlying message” of any advertisement or TV show is (but my 6-year-old doesn’t understand what we’re talking about and that’s fine). It’s fun! It’s life!
Dear Aunt Pythia,
I am a man, not exactly young (I have grand-daughters in high school and college now, and I retired one year ago). My quandary is the following: I have been diagnosed with prostatic cancer and the prognosis if I don’t have surgery is bleak: between one and two years. But the prognosis if I have surgery is bleak as well: even if the hospital I go to has very good reputation, the risk of relapse combined to the pain of post-op, the damage to urinary and most importantly for me to sexual function would probably make me miserable for say five or ten years I would possibly gain with this procedure. I feel very much like choosing to spend the next two years having all the great sex we want with my lovely wife, put my scientific papers in order and damn the cancer anyway.
What is your opinion?
Shadow Or/And Prey
It’s your life! And if you have the option to have more sex with your hot wife, I say go for it. People overemphasize length of life over quality of life.
Hi Aunt Pythia,
I have a higher libido then my boyfriend, who I love very much. How can I satisfy both our needs? I find it would be awkward to “help” myself if he is there, we live together. I think I would be up for doing it everyday, for about 2/3 of the month, he, far less so… On a related note, is there good erotica you would recommend?
On a completely unrelated note, what was your advisor student relationship dynamic like back in your math phd years? I have had both a young advisor and a relatively old one (current) and find that the two operate very differently. With the younger one, we talked a lot, whereas with my current one, I am left with a question and it’s harder to talk to him about intuitions for the problem…etc. We also meet weekly, but I feel like it is harder to speak about a problem with him. How can I improve this to a working relationship that is more similar to the one I had before (in case you are wondering why the previous one is over, it was for an undergraduate research project).
Masturbate! Masturbate until you’re raw, if that works! If your fingers get tired, consider getting an electric vibrator, they are easily available.
And if you find masturbating awkward, keep in mind that the alternatives are often way more so. And hopefully the above-mentioned erotica will help. Please send me reviews of each and every book on that motherfucking list.
As for the advisee situation, experiment on more structure in your meetings with him, until you find a format that leads to better and more fluent conversations. For example, tell him to come each week prepared with three specific questions. And think about it from his perspective, he’s so lost he probably doesn’t even know how to describe how lost he is, and giving him a task to complete, even if it’s just “write a list of three questions for me,” might help him a lot.
UPDATE: some eagle-eyed readers noticed I likely misinterpreted your question. I thought you were the advisor, not the student. Now that I’ve been set straight, though, I wouldn’t change my advise too much. Set yourself the goal of asking three specific questions, and see how that goes. Tell your advisor you’d like to improve the fluency of your conversations and you’re trying different things towards that end. Tell your advisor it’s important to you to have an easy conversational relationship with them.
Well, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied! If you could, please ask me a question. And don’t forget to make an amazing sign-off, they make me very very happy.
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