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Diffusion in the presence of nerds January 7, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, humor, science, societal commentary.
Tags: , , ,

If only life were as simple as mathematics.  Unfortunately, people to act like molecules.  That is, they’re not easily quantifiable and logical.

Earlier this week, I had to do an experiment in diffusion of the human variety.

I went into a meeting where I was the only woman (as usual), and it began with someone telling me a somewhat sexist (as well as old and lame) joke.  At least I think it is.  Either way, it definitely had nothing to do with the topic at hand.

How many men does it take to change a roll of toilet paper?  They don’t know…it’s never happened.

My first inclination was to respond that obviously the investigators had never been to my house.  One of the things you probably don’t need to know about me is that I tend to be lazy and pull TP out of the closet and just put it on the back of the toilet.  My dear, patient husband gets horribly annoyed with this particular quirk of mine.  However, he’s never actually told me he’s annoyed, but he will make a show of picking it off the back of the toilet and putting it on the roller in front of me.  When he does so, I tend complain that he has put it on backwards and that I will have to fix it.  (We’ve both engaged in these practices for at least ten years, so I don’t see them changing any time soon.)

I also had the inclination to say that I’d heard it before…or even that I thought I was inappropriate.  The problem is that there were other people in there, and I got the feeling that most of them were both thinking also that the joke was inappropriate and not sure how I would react.  The overall sense I got (which may or may not have been incorrect) was that everyone was a bit uncomfortable and not sure how to respond.  Hence, I needed a way to diffuse the situation.

I did none of these things (pointing out the inappropriateness of the behavior seems rather useless with certain individuals).  I’d heard a joke the day before and had shared it online with several people.  I decided to not acknowledge the joke the colleague had just told other than to say, “And now I have a joke for you.”

A photon walks into a hotel. The concierge asks, “May I help you with your bags?” The photon says, “No, thanks. I’m traveling light.”

Given I was with a bunch of engineers and scientists, this was a great way out of it.  I didn’t have to look like a jerk for calling the person out nor did I make anyone uncomfortable, even though I don’t think anyone would have faulted me if I had.  And better yet, I think those present appreciated my sense of humor than my colleague.

What would you have done in that situation?



1. Chris Lindsay - January 7, 2012

It sounds like a great response to an icky situation. Well played.


mareserinitatis - January 8, 2012

Thanks. I’m usually not too quick on my feet in these situations.


2. GMP - January 8, 2012

I think you did great — and the photon joke is super cute and nerdy!

Btw, I think women are generally conditioned to do exactly what you did — to sense the mood in the room and help others feel more comfortable.


mareserinitatis - January 8, 2012

I have a whole list of particle jokes. I was posting them on Facebook for a while, and I think a bunch of friends hid me at that point. 🙂

I agree that’s what we’re conditioned to do. My problem is that I can usually pick up on the mood quite clearly but am usually at a loss about what to do or if there is anything I can do. It’s rather stressful, actually.


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