On perfectionism

by Increase M

To begin with, perhaps as a disclaimer, perhaps as an invocation of the muse (or lack there of), I should say that I am not a perfectionist. No, if there is an easy way, a cutting corners half ass of a way, a mildly sloppy good-enough that will allow me to drink some wine, play some video games, watch BSG and then go to bed, I will go that way. So, I imagine, would most people. My success, if you want to call it that, is more about my obsessive need to win rather then my obsessive need to get things right (just relax, I’m not endorsing cheating). Frequently these things overlap and I am very fortunate in that regard.

I doubt that most people are, truly, perfectionists but I hear about perfectionism a lot. From my friends, colleagues, mostly women, mostly in the context of making a demand. They say, “I’m just a perfectionist” and that means “indulge my silly whims and do it this way” instead of “my way is right, you should follow it.” It’s a way of softening the inevitable ego blow of being told what to do, a way of embodying assertiveness as a kind of character flaw, or at least, a quirk.

Perhaps I’m overstating it.

It’s like that asinine interview question: “what is your biggest flaw,” to which everyone responds: I work too hard. As an aside, if I ever get asked that question again I’m going to say something interesting and true, like “I’m an arrogant bitch-monster”, or maybe something interesting and false, like “I killed a man in Reno just to watch him die.” People rarely work too hard. Not even me, who got rid of most of my friends so I could hang out in my apartment reading blogs, Bruno Latour, and watching stupid documentaries on the porn-industry* is working too hard. I just have dubious work-play distinctions. As a counterpoint, I know a woman who works full time at an extremely demanding job suffers from extreme fibromyalgia but comes home from work everyday to sweep the house (by hand, with a broom) because she has 6 or 7 inside cats, a poodle, a husband who’s a farmer and she cannot handle her house being dirty. She works herself sick.

Academic culture, at least for me, is rife with misrepresentation and hyperbole. Back in the day, it seemed everyone was underestimating how much work they were doing; now, I feel like it’s all about the overestimation, the “I stayed up for 32 hours straight reading Derrida therefore I am worthy of being taken seriously,” or “I’m a perfectionist, I’m a work-a-holic, please take me seriously.” Inevitable this burden of proof falls unevenly on the portion of academia that consists of non straight, white, het dudes. It’s obnoxious, to say the least, to participate in a class where the bar for “engaged participation” is set at “doing everything, all the time,” especially when adjuncted to other criteria such as “being male”, “being white”, “being a mansplainer.”

Some of those criteria I can never meet, it’s pointless to even attempt it through self-serving hostile space making, where others, particularly minorities, feel like they have to go over-the-top just to fit in. Like, I don’t study all the time. Not at all. I’m even a little sloppy. I half-ass things, I make mistakes, I enjoy fielding the juggernaut of Kardashian-themed reality shows. I have pretty horrific spelling. I don’t care that much about my spelling. I like clothes.  And do you know what? People have to take me seriously anyway.


*This one was really awful. I had to turn it off. I can handle soft-core wank material (although REAL TALKE: why would you watch this when you can just beat it to the nubile, soft-skinned internet), or alarmist propaganda for the evening news crowd, but I cannot deal with faulty methodology in a scientific study. Listen guys, if you’re going to do a “study” on the effects that porn has on a relationship, you really should include both partners, and hey, a woman or two more generally would have been nice also. Although, I mean really, why should you control for sex differences? Also, Art Alexakis, WTF are you doing, broski?