Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Auntie Seraphic & Mistrust Men

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Hello! I love your blog!

Here is my dilemma. I could just say I'm [an older teenager] and have never dated but I realize that's all too common. What I'm really worried about is--and I don't know where this came from, it could be that I worked at a part-time job that I ran into a lot of filthy old men--but I have this default mode that I mistrust men and worry that they might be attracted to me.

With this in the back of my mind, I sometimes will act kind of bitchy towards men without intending to, like not acknowledging them, or breaking off eye contact, etc.

I wonder if you can offer any advice? Perhaps the simplest answer is your "bless his little heart" technique but I'm really bad at constantly keeping that on my mind. [...]

Thanks! Your advice is always wonderful and you're in my prayers. You're a blessing to women :)

Mistrust Men

Dear Mistrust Men,

Thank you for your kind words and prayers!

Dating in your teens is pointless. As Catholics, we know the point to dating is not to divide the world up into boyfriends and girlfriends but to find a spouse. Very few Western women are ready by 20 to get married, and hardly any Western men are. So never mind about dating. Congratulations on spending your teens on more worthwhile activities, like developing friendships.

I'm sorry about the filthy old men, and it is a real shame you had to run into them because no woman should have to put up with sexual comments, teasing or attention while trying to earn money. I wish ALL men would get a clue that they must not talk like that in front of young girls, but you might as well put an ocean in a bucket as try to change how the stupidest, most venal men behave.

But that's just the stupidest, most venal men. Most men are stand-up fellows, if weaker than we are in the chastity department. It's hard to remember that as a teenager, especially when teenage boys stand around sniggering at dirty jokes, and old men ogle you. However, once you are in your 20s, things get better.

Heavens, I was terrified of men when I was a teen. And now they almost never scare me at all. Getting older rocks. The advertisements try really, really hard to make women feel bad about turning 30 and 40 and whatever, but actually, the farther you get from 22, the more confidence you have.

The problem with being an older teenager is that you look like a grown-up woman, but you lack confidence and are therefore vulnerable and therefore the vultures flock. However, they are easy to scare away. Usually all you have to do is stand your ground. Your best friend is the sentence, "I don't allow such comments", closely followed by, "I'm sure you mean well, but I don't find that very funny." "You're making me very uncomfortable" might also knock some sense into a thick head.

I haven't the slightest idea how not acknowledging men or breaking off eye contact is bitchy. Bitchy is hitting a man in the face with a high heeled shoe. I suspect you don't know what bitchy can mean. If a man you have been introduced to says "Hi, [Christian name]!" and you ignore him, okay, that is bitchy behaviour. But if you catch a man staring at you, and you look away, that is not bitchy behaviour. That is modest, often self-protecting behaviour.

If you catch a man staring at you and you smile at him, that is friendly behaviour, but it also sends the message that the man can come up to you and talk now. If you don't want him to do that, don't smile.

It doesn't really matter a damn if strange men like you or not. (Obviously you want teachers, professors and potential employers to like you, but you get their approval just by being polite and professional.) The best thing to be, around complete strangers (like customers at work, or men on the bus) when you are your age, is almost invisible. You dress quietly and modestly, keep your voice down, and project confidence and strength.

Around Catholic boys your own age, it is a good idea to dress in a way that is both modest and flattering, and to project happiness and friendliness. If boys your own age are attracted to you, that is a good, natural situation. All that is required of you is politeness--true politeness, which is neither frostiness nor unhappily putting up with behaviour that makes you feel uncomfortable.

If a man is attracted to you, that's his business, and there's not much you can do about it. It is natural for adult men to be attracted to older teenage girls, however inappropriate is for them to approach you. Remember that a man's feelings of attraction don't affect you in any way unless he tries to get your attention and communicate with you. For adult strangers, I recommend responding with complete reserve: "Yes? Can I help you? Sorry, I don't know./No, thank you. I am not interested. Good-bye." Taking out your mobile phone to call somebody might be the action that makes an inappropriate man think twice about pursuing the issue.

My gut instinct is that as a teen you are right to be a bit suspicious of men, since amongst all the good men there are a few bad men who prey on older teens because they perceive young women as weak and vulnerable. And it is natural to be angry at such men and to wish to avoid them. However, in doing so, don't forget that most men are good, and that most of the boys your age you know are either stand-up fellows or will be when they grow up. As we all know, girls mature faster than boys.

I hope this is helpful. Channel your maternal instincts and say "Bless his little heart" silently whenever you see a man (if you remember), which will both make you feel affection and cut him down to a comfortable size in your mind. A man is neither a big scary beast nor a superior god-like presence. He's just a different kind of human being. He's also an ex-baby. Try to imagine him back when he was 2, banging on a pot with a spoon under his mother's feet while she was cooking, being either charming or a frustrating brat. That baby is still in there somewhere.

Grace and peace,

P.S. Never feel bad for snubbing over-friendly strangers on the street. Once upon a time, it was considered incredibly rude for men to approach women they didn't know. The correct procedure was for a man to ask a mutual acquaintance for an introduction. But at a 21st century social gathering of any kind, be polite, if formal--unless the man in question is behaving very rudely. Then feel free to scowl and tell him off.


IA_ said...

Rather than "I don't allow such comments" the writer may want to say "those comments are entirely unacceptable." this changes the subject of the sentence from MM to the inappropriate behaviour.

sciencegirl said...

I think IA has a good point, but sometimes it's actually better to put it on yourself. That way the person might get less defensive. It may indeed be totally inappropriate for all people, but it allows the person to save a little face if he gets to think it's just your particularity.

fifi said...

For this young woman, and indeed for every woman who reads this blog, I would most highly recommend the book "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin DeBecker. It's a wonderful book by a highly respected professional who has worked with rape and stalking victims, as well as domestic violence victims. The book identifies common tactics that The Bad Guys use to weasel their way into womens' lives, and even potentially to victimize them. It's super empowering to know those tactics, not only because it allows you to spot a baddie a mile off, but also because it helps you identify guys who are just being awkward and don't pose a threat, and to NOT be scared of THEM. It helps you honor and trust your emotions of fear and mistrust, when necessary, but also to recognize and differentiate between fear and paranoia, and to recognize the situations and people who are truly dangerous (and they are not necessarily the ones you see on tv). It really should be required reading for every woman. Go get a copy, friends!

Alisha said...

I agree with IA, if you really feel strongly about it...it just takes a certain kind of tone to be able to pull it off so people won't laugh at your "prudishness"...and in some situations there is no point in letting someone save face - in fact, you shouldn't let them since public humiliation can be a great behaviour modifier.
I also agree you should never feel bad about "snubbing" people in public or rejecting forward behaviour - if he has any kind of intelligence and maturity, he'll realize that women have to watch out for their safety first. If he doesn't, there is no loss on your part!
"The best thing to be, around complete strangers (like customers at work, or men on the bus) when you are your age, is almost invisible."

I have to admit this phrase made me wince somewhat...unless you're talking specifically about how to prevent from being targeted for a crime. Other than that, the idea of making myself invisible is troublesome. I'm not a nothing; I'm a person. That doesn't mean I have to be loud, but if I'm a person that happens to have a "big" presence, I'm not going to shrink that unless I have good reason to do so - ie. charity to a shy person in conversation with me.

It's true that there are a lot of good men out there, but I'm not so sure that it's the majority. I'm quite convinced that the majority, while they may mean no harm, don't aim to do much particular good either - they are lukewarm, lack courage and conviction about what is important and are often really very close to the ex-baby stage you speak of, Seraphic. Honestly, I've met very few men as strong or smart as I am - I don't necessarily mean physical strength or just academic ability, obviously - men with whom I get the sense I could safely entrust myself to them in some way. In general, though I like them, as a lot, I don't hold men in high esteem, though there are many of them I respect in particular; sadly, I find most of them to fall really short of greatness. If I want someone really strong, I'll go to a woman before a man any day - with a few exceptions.

Seraphic said...

Re: invisible. I'm talking about teenagers, Alisha, especially those who don't have the confidence to confront badly behaving men, discourage their attention or even to yell if they feel them up on the bus. Many, many, many girls and women simply don't have the confidence and the skills (and the street smarts) to do this until they are older.