On letting the dirty jokes go by.

There was a tempting dirty joke setup on Twitter the other day. Someone said something that I could have easily turned into a sex joke, or at least innuendo. I let it go by. This was my work-related Twitter account. The fact that I even thought about it was interesting to me.

Back in the heyday of the alt.music.chapel-hill newsgroup, if someone barged in and started berating people (which happened), a regular on the newsgroup would gently explain to them that they’d barged into a conversation, like at a party. It was as if they’d come to a party (and they were welcome!), but then behaved quite rudely, yelling at people who were trying to have a good time.

At a party with friends? I’d probably never let such a tempting setup go by. So the old alt.music.ch-hill party metaphor is doesn’t work well for a Twitter account that’s obviously connected with my job, and that I curate mainly to learn more about technical stuff.

There is certainly a friendly, joking around feeling to some of the conversation there. But it’s not a party with friends.

I mused to my co-worker today: Is it like the break room at work? Sometimes it does feel that way, where I slip in just wanting a mug of hot water and have to work my way around some folks who I don’t know well, talking about their kids, or a home reno project, or a work project that doesn’t involve me. Just here for the tea, don’t mind me…

I would most certainly let the opportunity to make a dirty joke go by in the break room. But then, the conversation is a little more banal there than on Twitter. You never hear people talking about biases against women and people of color in tech there, for example. Or sexism in tech driving women out of their careers.

Actually, the fact that sexism in tech is a topic on my work Twitter gave me another reason to let that particular one go by: although the setup was provided by a man, and I am (if you haven’t figured this out yet) a woman – it would be no more okay for me to turn a man’s innocent remark into a sex joke than it would be for a man to turn my innocent remark into a sex joke. Or for anyone to, regardless of sex. At least… not in that context, where it could conceivably be harassment or at least contribute to a hostile atmosphere.

At a party with friends?  Well… if I didn’t think the guy would be mortified by it – I probably wouldn’t let a good setup go by.

So, it’s not a party. It’s not the break room at work. It’s some crazy merging of the two that is, frankly, difficult to parse. The safest approach is to see it as an extension of my workplace, and in many ways I am sure I shall. But will I get the same benefit out of it if I keep it dryly professional? Where’s the line?

( Beautiful post revolving around a similar topic but framed completely differently:  Uncomfortable, by Elizabeth Naramore )

One thought on “On letting the dirty jokes go by.

  1. I would totally talk about sexism & racism in tech in the break room. And then I would remember where I am and think, uh oh, I should have toned that down…

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