speaking of my androcentric english professor!
Yesterday we read a story written by Ellen Goodman.
The Company Man
He worked himself to death, finally and precisely, at 3:00 A.M. Sunday morning,
The obituary didn’t say that, of course. It said that he died of a coronary thrombosis—I think that was it—but everyone among his friends and acquaintances knew it instantly. He was a perfect Type A, a workaholic, a classic, they said to each other and shook their heads—and thought for five or ten minutes about the way they lived.
This man who worked himself to death finally and precisely at 3:00 A.M. Sunday morning—on his day off—was fifty-one years old and a vice-president. He was, however, one of six vice-presidents, and one of three who might conceivably—if the president died or retired soon enough—have moved to the top spot. Phil knew that.
He worked six days a week, five of them until eight or nine at night, during a time when his own company had begun the four-day week for everyone but the executives. He worked like the Important People. He had no outside “extracurricular interests,” unless, of course, you think about a monthly golf game that way. To Phil, it was work. He always ate egg salad sandwiches at his desk. He was, of course, overweight, by 20 or 25 pounds. He thought it was okay, though, because he didn’t smoke.
On Saturdays, Phil-wore a-sports-jacket- to the office instead of a suit, because it was the weekend.
He had a lot of people working for him, maybe sixty, and most of them liked him most of the time. Three of them will be seriously considered for his job. The obituary didn’t mention that.
But it did list his “survivors” quite accurately. He is survived by his wife, Helen, forty-eight years old, a good woman of no particular marketable skills, who worked in an office before marrying and mothering. She had, according to her daughter, given up trying to compete with his work years ago, when the children were small. A company friend said, “I know how much you will miss him.” And she answered, “I already have.”
“Missing him all these years,” she must have given up part of herself which had cared too much for the man. She would be “well taken care of.”
His “dearly beloved” eldest of the “dearly beloved” children is a hard-working executive in a manufacturing firm down South. In the day and a half before the funeral, he went around the neighborhood researching his father, asking the neighbors what he was like. They were embarrassed.
His second child is a girl, who is twenty-four and newly married. She lives near her mother and they are close, but whenever she was alone with her father, in a car driving somewhere, they had nothing to say to each other.
The youngest is twenty, a boy, a high-school graduate who has spent the last couple of years, like a lot of his friends, doing enough odd jobs to stay in grass and food. He was the one who tried to grab at his father, and “tried to mean’ enough to him to keep the man at home. He was his father’s favorite. Over the last two years, Phil stayed up nights worrying about the boy.
The boy once said, “My father and I only board here.”
At the funeral, the sixty-year-old company president told the forty-eight-year-old widow that the fifty-one-year-old deceased had meant much to the company and would be missed and would be hard to replace. The widow didn’t look him in the eye. She was afraid he would read her bitterness and, after all, she would need him to straighten out the finances—the stock options and all that.
Phil was overweight and nervous and worked too hard. If he wasn’t at the office he was worried about it. Phil was a Type A, heart-attack natural. You could have picked him out in a minute from a lineup.
So when he finally worked himself to death, at precisely 3:00 A.M. Sunday morning, no one was really surprised.
By 5:00 P.M. the afternoon of the funeral, the company president had begun, discreetly of course, with care and taste, to make inquiries about his replacement. One of three men. He asked around: “Who’s been working the hardest?”
And the professor was asking why Goodman didn’t give Phil a last name, to which the appropriate response was so that the readers could apply the story to their own lives; by making it less specific, the cautionary tale was now accessible to a much wider audience.
To drive this point home, he used some examples. He said, if Goodman had given Phil a last name like Han, we would most likely imagine Phil as a Chinese man, and therefore anybody not Chinese can read the story and say, oh, well Phil’s Chinese and I’m not so I won’t work myself to death! If Goodman had specified what Phil did, say if she had written that Phil was a lawyer or a doctor or something, then all the readers who are not lawyers or doctors or somethings can read the story and dismiss the cautionary tale as not applicable to them because, well, they’re not lawyers or doctors or somethings.
So I raised my hand and said, but she made Phil male. That logic can just as easily apply here in that any female readers can just as easily dismiss the caveat because Phil is male and the readers are female.
I see what you’re saying, but no, he told me. She had to have given him some descriptor. I argue that she mentioned other characteristics to distinguish him from other people in her story- the main character is a workaholic, the main character has a family/children (to whom the author may refer as spouse & children), the main character has a specific age, etc. Gender is just as equally relevant/irrelevant in this case as a person’s perceived race/ethnic background or professional field. He kept arguing that’s not the case, that identifying Phil’s gender was just a necessary writing element for the story to even be coherent.
Then someone was all, “He could just as easily be Phyllis!” excpet not, dumbass, because he’s listed as Phil. You give me that argument, and “Phil Han” could just as easily be “Phil Handel” or “Phil Khan” or “Phil Kahn” or or OR OR!
I just. After about five-ten minutes of that, and only one other female-identified person in the class attempted to speak up and help me get the class to understand what I was saying (even though they still didn’t understand; I’m glad at least she did). I gave up because the guy behind me, when I was saying I give up because nobody was getting it, said, “We get what you’re saying, we just don’t agree at all.”
Okay, white American men. I’m done with yall.
The classical problem of western media:
If the character is a straight white cis-man, they are presumed to be blank; they are the default and their experiences can be perfectly understood and empathised by anyone. Thus, their stories are universal stories.
Anything beyond this default? Then the character can only ever be understood by a person who shares at least one defining factor with the character.
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- saminal said: The fact that his wife and daughter are “married” but he and his son are “hard-working” stood out to me, too..
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