ASK Musings

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Etiquette Archive



January 2015



The Weirdness of Social Media

Written by , Posted in Random

The past few days on social media have just been … odd. It started with the State of the Union, where I found myself getting physically tense because an author whose book I was reading (and at that point enjoying) starting tweeting some really problematic items. Things that disparaged people with low incomes, people who need childcare, people who need healthcare. Then I continued reading the book, got to a really disturbing part, and had to figure out how to write a review that would go up on a public blog that expressed my anger but that wasn’t over the top. Once I did post the review, a friend asked if I’d thought of contacting the author to see why she seems (to me) to have this huge disconnect in her writing, and I responded honestly that I can’t do it on Twitter because who knows what kind of responses such a public figure would elicit, and I won’t do it privately because I don’t trust that she wouldn’t put it on her blog and mock me.

Then, last night, I made a mistake and deleted everything from the 2 Do app. If you use it, you’re probably familiar with the interface. Each tab is a category, including one that says ‘all’ and one that says ‘done.’ While there are many steps to delete items, if you are in the wrong tab, there could be 100 steps and it still wouldn’t matter, because you’re already in the wrong place. Anyway, user error, I deleted everything from the ‘all’ tab instead of the ‘done’ one. But 2 Do allegedly has multiple back-ups, including to Toodledo and one on the Android itself. Both Austin and I jumped into action, but neither backup system worked. And that was not user error – that was the app not functioning as advertised. I posted a (surprisingly not snarky) tweet mentioning the issue. They responded with those same fix options (which I appreciate), and I thanked them but said neither worked, so I was going to have to switch apps.

Then things got weird. Whoever manages their social media decided that it would be funny to get snarky and question why I would change apps due to “human error.” They even included a smiley face. I said if they mean human error as in the humans who programmed both back-up systems that failed, then yes. I, too, included a smiley face. After that I stopped responding, as I was at work. But I the next time I checked Twitter I found something like eight messages from the 2 Do account (I can’t confirm, because I’ve now blocked them) essentially trying to call me stupid.

Look, I freely admit that the initial error was mine. But since the back-up system the app claims to have (multiple ones, actually) didn’t work, I think the less reasonable thing to do would be to stick with them. If I make an error again – or the app itself freaks out – I don’t want to lose everything a second time. I didn’t choose to engage, because I got a brief taste of the attitude that comes with engaging with someone who isn’t happy with you on social media. The repeated tweets brought with them someone who thought it would be fun to @ me and join in the snark. Which, dude. I don’t know you. You get blocked. And now so does 2 Do. It was the tiniest of tastes of the kind of bizarre entitlement that social media brings with it, and I did not like it. And I starting thinking about what kind of entitlement I feel when I’m on social media.

Somewhere in the middle of that, I chose to tweet on the #7in10forRoe tag related to the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. It was a pretty basic tweet, but it ended up retweeted by NARAL and Huffington Post (their ‘women’ account, I believe). Which then brought many more favorites than I’m used to, and a few new followers. Yes, I’m on social media in part to interact with others, but coupled with everything else it just struck me as … weird.

Apparently, despite writing a public blog, and maintaining two public twitter accounts, I’m really not comfortable with public social media interactions. It was a good reminder that there are people (like me) behind these accounts, but also that sometimes the people behind those accounts act like giant assholes. Did I include 2 Do in my first tweet in the hopes of getting a response? Definitely. Although for once I wasn’t trying to shame a company who fucked up – and yet I ended up getting treated poorly all the same. Not sure what the lesson for me here is, other than maybe it’s time to cool it with the #ing and the @ing for a spell.

Or not. Something might REALLY piss me off tomorrow.



January 2015



Good Manners for Nice People who Sometimes Say F*ck by Amy Alkon

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars


Great title, right? GREAT title. I love etiquette books, as evidenced by my many reviews of such books. When I see a book on etiquette, or manners, I tend to snap it up. This one, however, has taught me about more than just manners; it has reminded me of the fact that the people who write these books we devour and then write about are real people. In fact, I think that much of what I read in this book has helped me to write a kinder review of it, if that makes any sense (and might surprise any of you who followed my Twitter ranting last night).

This book starts out really well. In fact, I think this is the most challenging review I’ve ever written because it is nine really solid chapters, two amazing chapters, and one utterly awful shit show of a chapter. Instead of the usual layout of a couple of scenarios and then some advice, Ms. Aklon treats manners and etiquette the way I think, in many respects, they should be treated: not as rules to follow, but as ways to think and act that can a) make life for others more pleasant and b) help you assert yourself so that your own life can be more pleasant. She offers a lot of fun little suggestions – some I plan to employ – told with anecdotes of how she’s acted (or reacted) when faced with people with poor manners or a lack of empathy.

Then I read the dating chapter. If you read this whole book but skipped this chapter, you’d probably look at me sideways when I say that the suggestions offered up in this chapter are sexist and even a little transphobic. But they are. The author starts the chapter off by warning the reader that some of what she’s about to say is going to sound a lot like what our grandmothers tell us … but that we should listen, because our grandmothers are right. Ultimately, it just meant that Ms. Aklon’s advice was about to get really conservative really quickly.

The dating chapter reduces men and women to Mars vs. Venus. The entire argument appears to me to be that men want hot women, and that women want a good provider (no mention of gay people, lesbians, or bisexuals). So men need to shell out money and women need to look good. I mean, she adds in more words and briefly suggests that it’s all a bit unfortunate, but when you boil it down, what remains is a lot of stereotyping and sexism.

That would be frustrating enough, but there is a section that really turned my stomach. In this section Ms. Aklon uses an example of woman turning a man down to tell the story of how not to treat others. Before I go further, please keep in mind that before this chapter, and after – basically throughout the entire rest of the book – Ms. Aklon’s advice seems to me to hinge on the idea that no one else has a right to your time. They don’t have a right to invade your space on a train, or make you listen to their music on a flight. They don’t have a right to litter in front of your house (taking away your time by forcing you to clean it up). So much of her advice depends on the idea that we all have the right to our own time and space.

Okay? You with me?

The example Ms. Aklon uses is one I know (you can read the full original post here; in fact I suggest you do, and then keep in mind how Ms. Aklon chooses which parts to include to illustrate her point). It made the rounds on feminist blogs a few months ago, and when I first read it I had a physical reaction because I could relate to what the woman went through. The story one example of the experience the woman has with street (train) harassment. This woman always wears a (fake) wedding ring and reads a book on the train so that people (men – it is always men) will leave her alone. In this example, which includes multiple men who will not leave her alone, the woman takes every opportunity to let the men know she is not interested, to leave her alone, and to back off, to the point where she basically fears for her safety. It’s horrifying; sadly most women I know who live in an urban environment have experienced some version of this story.

So, why does Ms. Aklon use this example? Surely it must be to point out to men how terrifying they can be when they ignore the signs women show them (the book, the not engaging, the short responses), right? Surely she felt the need to reproduce this familiar tale in her book because it is a very clear lesson of how men should not act around women, right?

Nope. She finds the woman’s actions to be outrageous. Not the man who tells her to suck his dick, or who says if he had a gun he would kill her. No, in Ms. Aklon’s telling of the story, it is the woman who acted incorrectly because she did not want to interact with men who she (rightly) worried could act in this way.

The author does not seem to understand that by saying “again, she couldn’t just extend herself just a little by … making some excuse?” she is actively contributing to the culture that make men think they have the right to women’s time. If you aren’t street harassed multiple times each day then you just do not have a clue. Every time we ‘extend ourselves’ the asshole talking to us takes it as a sign that we want to engage them in further conversation. We literally cannot win. Either we’re stone cold bitches or we’re sending mixed signals.

The author also makes a transphobic comment when talking about dating sites, explaining that one reader (she has an advice blog) said he was tricked about someone’s gender. Her response was that ‘being a woman isn’t just a state of mind.’ Now, because the author provided no context, the only thing I can assume is that the person on the dating site was transgender and decided (rightly) that the status of their genitalia was not up for discussion on the first date. And the author’s response was to make a comment that implies transgender women are not women.


Despite that section, the rest of the book mostly returns to its former awesomeness. The chapter on friends who are seriously ill is, frankly, lovely. But as I said at the top of this review, reading this book made me think about the authors who write the books we read. Before I got to the dating chapter in this book, I decided to follow Ms. Aklon on Twitter. I was looking forward to some great little snarky etiquette tips peppered in with my breaking news tweets and cute cat pictures. But last night was the state of the union address, which Ms. Aklon chose to live tweet. And suddenly I was reminded that the author is a person, and people are inconsistent. And even though she may not choose to express empathy via her twitter feed, she at least argues for others to have empathy – and compassion – in (all but one chapter of) her book. And that is something.



July 2014



The Lady’s Book of Manners

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars


This book is not widely available online (although apparently you can get it from Amazon for a penny). It’s from a publisher in the UK that specializes in gift books; specifically ‘reprinting’ vintage books as a bit of a novelty. For example, this book claims to have come for a work originally published in London in the 1890s. Given my love of old etiquette books, I can at least vouch for the fact that many items in here are hilariously outdated, so they at least theoretically could have originated in a book from that time period.

I purchased this book when I came across it in a fantastic store filled with all manners of knick knacks, lotions and curios. I find them fascinating, and while the vast majority of the content is classist and sexist, some of it actually is intriguing. Some suggestions are actually not that bad – for example, spend four-five hours in the fresh air each day. Of course this assumes having four-five hours available for such leisure. But still. Can you imagine being able to do that? I have a 30-minute walk each way to work and I feel so lucky that I get than hour to myself, breathing (mostly) fresh air.

The book ranges from the extraordinarily detailed – “When tripping over the pavement, a lady should gracefully raise her dress a little above her ankle. With her right hand she should hold together the folds of her dress and draw them towards the right side.” – to the extremely general – “A lady is a lady at all times.” While some rules are patently outrageous (when referring to ‘servants’ “Never treat them as equals!”), some are quite lovely. For example, “Read such books as will enrich the mind, improve the heart, and add to the happiness and usefulness of your life.” Frankly, I think that’s kind of awesome.

If you happen across this book, and know someone who likes this sort of thing, this one won’t disappoint. But no need to seek it out if it’s not really your style.