I realized today that I have come to appreciate the phrase “off the reservation” in comments. I hadn’t thought about it being racist at all. But I had started to notice a correlation, how like 60-70% of the time, if someone uses the phrase “off the reservation,” they’re probably not going to have a lot of things to say that I need to engage with because I’m not going to find them interesting or informative. And then, of course, once you think about what it means–that someone is somewhere they don’t belong, somewhere that makes no sense, like an Indian off the reservation–voila, it’s not surprising that a majority of people who use it are not people I would want to talk to.
It’s a nice sorting tool.
If I heard someone described as a patriarch, depending on the context, I would assume that either the writer was signalling that the “patriarch” in question had some serious, annoying character flaws to go along with his leadership skills–in other words, that the person being described was an exclusionary asshole–or I would assume that the writer was an exclusionary asshole. The term is another nice sorting tool. I hear it used benignly and I figure there’s a 60-70% chance of the situation it’s used to describe being not worth my bother to try to be a part of.
It kind of doesn’t matter what the dictionary definition of the word “patriarch” even is. Because it is a signal word, also, to women who are trying to navigate spaces where there aren’t a lot of women. No matter what the dictionary says it means, to us it means, “keep your eyes open for the good ole boys club.”
So, you know, I’m not offended to hear Marcus Whitney and Nicholas Holland described as our tech patriarchs. Fine, if I’m around them, I should keep my eyes open for the good ole boys club. Glad to have that clue about them.
But if I were Whitney or Holland and that weren’t true? If I’m not at the heart of some woman-unfriendly hierarchy, I’d be at least confused, if not pissed, about having that signal associated with me.
The funniest part–in a funny ouch way, not a funny ha ha way–is that I would bet you good money a woman wrote that press release, so engrained in all of us is the idea that men have their little tech club and most women, if we’re going to participate in it, do so in supporting roles.
Anyway, words. They mean shit. Some of what they mean isn’t in the dictionary.