We were preparing to leave [a party in Aspen] when our host said, “No, stay a little longer so I can talk to you.” He was an imposing man who’d made a lot of money in advertising or something like that.
He kept us waiting while the other guests drifted out into the summer night, and then sat us down at his grainy wood table and said to me, “So? I hear you’ve written a couple of books.”
I replied, “Several, actually.”
He said, in the way you encourage your friend’s 7-year-old to describe flute practice, “And what are they about?”
They were actually about quite a few different things, the six or seven out by then, but I began to speak only of the most recent on that summer day in 2003, my book on Eadweard Muybridge, the annihilation of time and space and the industrialization of everyday life.
He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?”
So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingenue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I’d somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book — with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.
So, Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, “That’s her book.” Or tried to interrupt him anyway.
But he just continued on his way.
I sometimes wonder if such assholery is a particular problem in the hard sciences. This isn’t sexism in the traditional sense: it’s more like an extreme form of condescension, where it’s automatically assumed that the female grad student will need more hand-holding/reassurance/coddling/etc. Is this a problem? Ladies, please share your stories in the comments section.