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Turn Theory and Workplace Feminism

turn-theory-by-timothy-tiernanThe following was written after reading about shine theory and thinking about my place of work and the pockets of feminist opportunity for men. I discussed with a feminist friend on Facebook  my tongue-in-cheek (but no less serious) “turn theory,” in which I redirected attention to a female colleague whom I felt was being ignored in a conversation. The following conversation is fictive self-dialogue to playfully express the idea outside formal nonfiction. Also: I am a heterosexual, middle-class white man in his mid-thirties.


“As a guy, what do you do to be a feminist?”
“I work in the space I know. I start from where and who I am.”
“But what do you do? That’s your college answer. What do you do? How do you engage in little moments of feminism as a man?”
“Sometimes I deploy ‘turn theory.’”
“Sounds like bullshit. Explain.”
“In fall 2013 a male business consultant came to our marketing department and met with me and a female colleague to chat SEO. She and I were both equals in that hierarchy, and in fact she had the more prestigious title. The consultant sat across the table from me and spoke almost primarily toward me, ignoring my colleague directly to my right. So my ‘theory’ is just politeness—I angled my chair at 45 degrees away from him and toward her.”
“So that the three of you were in a kind of triangular formation.”
“So that it is not a straight line of dialog between two men while the third person is effectively ignored. The privilege is that I don’t have to turn. I could bask in the privilege of the undivided (or divided, depending on how you see or don’t see it) attention.”
“And what about the eye contact?”
“And so that now my eye contact was split, shifting between him and her. And so he was guided to make eye contact with her. I also waited for her input and paused my own. She and I were often of the same opinion wavelength, anyway.”
“So the other guy was forced to consider her presence.”
“It subtly corrected him without embarrassment, and it gave space for her to speak. It wasn’t really a conversation until that shift. I checked in with what she would say on a particular subject, suspending my opinion. The consultant naturally followed my lead. It was a simple dance.”
“What’s your colleague’s name?”
“That’s kind of cheesy. And who are you?”
“An ally, I guess, as they say. And you? Who will you be?”