True fact: "bitchy" is a gender neutral term.
And if you’re being passive aggressive, you’re being bitchy -- regardless of what’s in your pants.
And… it is my moral obligation -- to myself, to the speaker, and to society -- to ignore passive aggression.
So next time you say, "It's fine," "Sure," or, "Whatever you want," but you don't really mean it...
I'm not even going to flinch. I'll just say, "Okay -- awesome!" and do the thing I want. And you will not get the thing you want.
Do not say, "It's fine," if it's not fine. Because I'm going to take you at your word.
Similarly, don’t leave the cabinet under the sink slightly ajar, because I’m supposed to infer that it’s my turn to take out the trash.
Don’t frown in my general direction because you want me to help slice vegetables.
Don’t expect me to closely examine all punctuation and emojis in your emails to make sure your words accurately convey your attitude.
I won’t do it.
First of all, I have a moral obligation to myself.
My time and energy are way too valuable for me to waste them trying to decipher meaning from your passive aggressive tendencies. If you want something, say so.
Expecting me to do that is, to borrow a common feminist complaint, asking me to do "unpaid emotional labor."
As a rational person, I often scoff at the use of this phrase. First, it’s often used incorrectly. If you mean emotional labor (managing other people’s emotions, always being cheerful, etc.), say emotional labor. But if you mean administrative labor (organizing a birthday party, scheduling doctors appointments) or errands (picking up the groceries, wrapping presents), say that.
Second, much of the “emotional labor” women complain about is somewhat voluntary. No one forced you to throw that dinner party, right? Or, say, if you took notes in the last meeting and acquiesced when asked to do it again instead of saying, “Actually, I was hoping we could set up a note-taking rotation,” or whatever… people can’t read your mind. They don’t know you object to doing stereotypically feminine/secretarial duties.
Third, as I wrote in Men Can Learn From the “You Could Have Asked” Comic -- But So Can Women,
Instead of hoping they might hopefully maybe get the hint...
It's really not fair to sit around bitching about your husband when he may have no idea he's even done something wrong!
THAT SAID. When you behave in a passive aggressive manner instead of using your big boy or big girl words to communicate your honest needs and feelings… you are asking me to do unpaid emotional labor.
Which is especially insulting to someone who had a master's degree in psychology! If you want me to sit around psychoanalyzing you, you should pay me.
I'm kidding (partly)… but honestly. Do you really expect me to spend my time and mental energy trying to decipher your murky weirdness?
Do you really think I should try to (try to, not try and) read into each and every little expression, emoji, and sentence, just in case there was deep, hidden meaning? It's lose-lose. Either I don't, and I'm a jerk for not picking up on your passive aggression, or I do, and I confirm the dumb stereotype that women are neurotic and overthink everything.
So, no. I won’t do it. I owe it to myself to take what you say and do at face value, and you owe it to yourself to use your big boy and big girl words to get what you want. Which leads me to:
Second, I have a moral obligation to you.
A while back, I wroteIf You’re Not a Psychologist, ‘Positive Reinforcement’ Probably Means the OPPOSITE of What You Think It Does. It's interesting!
Long story short, there is a difference between positive reinforcement (in which a good thing is added to reinforce a desired behavior) and negative reinforcement (in which a bad thing is removed to reinforce a desired behavior). There is also a difference between positive punishment (in which a bad thing is added to punish an undesired behavior) and negative punishment (in which a good thing is removed to punish an undesired behavior).
When I indulge your self-centered, passive aggressive little fit, I positively reinforce a bad social behavior. Not only does it contribute to you becoming a more unpleasant person to be around…
But, in the long run, it could lead to you getting less play time on the frisbee field. Fewer raises and promotions. Less acknowledgement for your work. And, in general, less of all the things you want.
For example, in Hedging Language is Alive and Well -- Come On, Ladies! Do Better! I wrote about a co-ed frisbee team I used to play on. When one of the dudes asked the women on the team if we could change the on-field gender ratio from 4:3 to 5:2, I wrote back and said, “Absolutely not. No.” But other women responded more gently.
i prefer 4:3 if we have the women but if we have a lot of men then 2 women is ok i guess. thanks for asking for our opinion chris.
Thanks for asking our opinion? We'd signed a contract -- and a check. The agreement we'd signed and paid for was that the ratio would be 4:3. It wasn't really a matter of "opinion" so much as "contractual agreement."
Every single woman who responded wrote something to this effect. "I prefer 4:3 but whatever you want is fine I guess."
Which gives others license to interpret your answer however they want -- which, often, is selfishly.
Sometimes I wonder if, without me, the ratio would have been changed, and the women would have gotten even less playtime than they ended up getting. And if they would have even had any right to be mad about it, after their hedge-y, indirect responses.
I mean, for all we know, maybe the women actually did not care that much whether they played 30% less than they expected to or not.
For another example, as I wrote in Everyday Feminism Just Gave THE WORST Advice to Women, POC and Other Marginalized People EVER,
People don't magically notice all your ideas, efforts and contributions. They only way they're going to know what you've accomplished is if you tell them.
Self-promotion matters. But so does not being passive aggressive. Because your boss and co-workers literally do NOT have time to scrutinize everything you say and do for meaning beyond what you have expressed. If you agree to take notes during yet another meeting, and hope they notice your subtle eye roll...
they only person you're screwing is yourself.
And speaking of screwing… I hate to say it, but if you seriously think that your next sexual partner -- especially one you’re hooking up with casually or for the first time -- is going to magically pick up on all your indirect verbal and nonverbal cues, you could end up getting hurt.
(No, I'm not victim blaming. Obviously, in an ideal world, men wouldn't want to have sexual encounters that were anything but enthusiastic. But we don't live in a perfect world, and no matter how good our preventative efforts are, there will always be bad apples and clueless idiots who don't notice nonverbal cues. So let's talk protection a little, shall we?)
Consider the Aziz Ansari girl. She literally wrote, “I know I was physically giving off cues that I wasn’t interested. I don’t think that was noticed at all, or if it was, it was ignored.”
If your cues are so subtle people might not even notice them… maybe it’s best you learn to use your words to directly communicate what you need. Because when you use your big girl and big boy words, you're much more likely to get what you want.
And you're much less likely to get hurt. (See also: I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It was awesome, and we'll probably do it again.)
If I care about you, I cannot, in good conscience, positively reinforce stupid, passive aggressive behavior.
Third, I have a moral obligation to society.
I’m currently about halfway through Danny Wallace’s masterpiece, F You Very Much: Understanding the Culture of Rudeness -- and What We Can Do About It. In it, he defines passive aggression as “the low-level, pleasing, everyday rudeness that we suspect infuriates the most. It’s a clever rudeness; indirect, beneath the surface, and hard to prove. Maybe it’s not performing a task as well as everyone knows you can. Being obstructive of sulking. Blaming, self-pitying, ignoring. It is satisfying for one party, infuriating for the other.” (p.79)
This is slightly different from the version of passive aggression I’ve discussed until now. But it’s a breed of passive aggression and/or rudeness nevertheless.
So let’s discuss it.
Earlier in the book, Wallace demonstrates that, it’s not just your imagination! -- the world is becoming a ruder place. That's partly because literally a million people move into big cities every week (p. 37)... and in cities, you see hundreds more people per day than in small towns and communities. People become background props and scenery and accessories. You can’t possibly smile at or say hi to all of them. Moreover, you are competing for the same resources -- space, time, spots in line, taxis, etc. If you move out of the way for everyone who’s trying to move in the opposite direction on the sidewalk, you’ll never get anywhere.
But rudeness, like a virus, in contagious. According to research led by Trevor Foulk at the University of Florida, simply witnessing a backhanded compliment or sarcastic sneer increases the odds of you being rude to someone else -- creating a ripple effect throughout your workplace, home, or community.
Not only can this lead to anger and hurt feelings… but is can also lead to fewer Good Samaritans (p. 26), decreased workplace creativity and productivity (p.28), and horrible health outcomes (p. 103).
Experiencing rudeness in the morning can cause truck drivers to run over children and surgeons to kill their patients in the afternoon (p. 110).
People are becoming ruder. And, according to Wallace, the cure to runaway rudeness… is rudeness.
Which, in this case, means ignoring your passive aggressive bullshit.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:
For the good of society -- as well as yourself, as well as me -- use your big boy and big girl words.
Make an effort -- and don't be afraid to laugh at yourself. I'll start you off with a few memes.
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About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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