Monday, 6 August 2012

A Change in Attitude

By the time I was 27, I was an angry little camper, people. I remember telling Shrink darling how much I hated men. Shrinkie thought this meant I had a problem with my father and my brothers. I told her that no, I hated all men EXCEPT my father and my brothers. This did not fly with what Shrinkie learned at shrink school, but it was true. Well, almost true. I didn't hate my boxing coach. I adored my boxing coach, who was a hoot, and I think fondly of him to this day.

So why did poor little Seraphic (age 27) hate (most) men so much, eh? Could it have anything to do with the row of Andrea Dworkin books on the shelf in her bachelor apartment? Maybe. But it probably had more to do with 17 years of disappointment with male behaviour.

Dwelling on disappointment with male behaviour goes against my philosophy of Seraphic Singleness, so I will be brief.

First, I had the really bad luck of being in a toxic elementary school environment. Two or three of the boys in my class were sexually precocious (why?) and from about the fifth grade on (which means from when they were ten) they were the model for many of the other boys in my class. I read a lot, so I knew that our faith disapproved of ten year old boys making out with girls behind the school, and was shocked that they and their chosen girls did.

But that was innocent compared to what followed as we all got older, which was sexualized name-calling and, not to put too fine a point on it, sexual attacks. A number of girls were deemed worthy of groping, including mass gropings; oddly, these were the "popular" girls. Fortunately for me, I was not popular. (The paradox of good fortune in not being popular still blows my mind.)

Classically, I didn't say anything to anyone about all this until my sister reached fifth grade, and then I went to see the (male) principal.

Second, the (male) principal said, "Boys will be boys" and "It's all part of growing up."

(In contrast to the principal was the school custodian who actually caught one of the boys with his hands up one of the girls' tops, and he was outraged. He grabbed the malefactor--definitely not the worst offender--and, shouting, roughly led him off to the feckless principal. How sad that our custodian caught him in Grade 8, not Grade 5.)

Third, my (male) Grade 7 teacher made sexist little jokes about girls all the time and blamed us girls for the boys' bad behaviour towards us.

It was about then that I learned about feminism and started to read feminist stuff, which confused me because although feminists were so sensible about some things, they really hated the Pope and Catholicism in general. Whenever a feminist journo mentioned JP 2 she sounded like a lunatic.

(In contrast to my sexist Grade 7 teacher was Stan the Bus Driver. I cannot remember Stan ever saying anything pro-woman in general, but just the memory of Stan brings back safe and happy feelings. Possibly Stan was really good at suppressing bullies on the bus. Hmm. I see that the two most stellar men of my elementary school were the janitor and the bus driver, not the teachers or principal.)

Graduating from elementary school and going to to all-girls high school brought a welcome relief from witnessing the sexual violence of children. However, adolescence brought all the disappointments of unrequited love, which I suffered probably every day. And I do mean every day. In fact, I think I had a crush on someone from the ages of seven to twenty-five without a day's rest. But it was the worst in high school.

I did rather better, socially speaking, in university where, I now realize, I was a heartbreaking menace, the rose-stem chomping bane of Nice Catholic Boys (well, a few of them anyway). But, unfortunately for him and me, I married Mr Protestant Totally Wrong, and that was a total nightmare and led to being divorced at 27, reading Andrea Dworkin and weeping on Shrinkie's couch.

I forget what train of thought led to this exercise, which I wrote about in My Book, but one day when I was sitting about being angry at men, and simultaneously attracted to men, which is definitely hard on the brain, I wrote out a list of everything bad I believed about men. And then beside all the bad things, I wrote the exact opposite, e.g. "Most men would rape if they could get away with it."/"Most men are horrified by rape, and in fact men have enacted laws against it."

And looking at my list, I realized that the opposite list was probably more true than the first list. And when I made that leap of faith, I stopped hating men.

If you are a Lesbian separatist, your life will still be made poorer by hating men, but at least it will be consistent. But if you are an ordinary woman like most women, a woman who wants to get married to a man and is open to having male children, hating men is going to seriously mess you up.

I understand why it is easy to hate men. All you have to do is read the crime pages or see yet another photo of a missing child on a milk container or read an account of the civil wars in Yugoslavia or hear about what happened to your great-aunt when the Russians invaded in 1945. All you have to do is hold a friend's hand as she cries because that man she had a crush on for so long used her and tossed her aside like a tissue. All you have to do is think about what bad stuff has happened to you. Soooooo easy to hate men. So tempting. But a seriously bad idea.

It is a seriously bad idea because if you get into the mental habit of hating men--and I know you might have very compelling reasons for doing so--you are not going to be able to see good men or the good in men who sometimes annoy you. The bad stuff will get blown way out of proportion. And so will the stuff that other women find only moderately annoying.

Benedict Ambrose and I almost blew it the first day we met. I tumbled off the bus from London, exhausted and jet-lagged. I demanded a meat pie and a pint of ale. So B.A. led me out of the bus station to a nearby pub. On the way there, I saw a man emerge from an alley with a bloody nose. I stopped to rummage in my handbag for a package of tissues. B.A., however, put his hand on my back and propelled me into the pub.

Now, I happen to hate pushy male behaviour. I like having the door opened for me, but I don't like being pushed through it. I like country dancing, but thanks to Mr Totally Wrong, I loathe being pushed and pulled around a dance floor.* So I was inclined to think that B.A. was One of THOSE Guys. But then, probably thanks to the Holy Spirit, I decided to trust that B.A. had a good reason for his masterful hand-on-the-back routine. And actually he did because B.A. knew, as exhausted I did not, that Mr Bloody Nose was in the middle of a street fight.**

It would have been so easy, though, were I still in the habit of finding wrong in whatever odd thing men did, just to sit in the pub resenting B.A. for his masterly behaviour. And indeed if I wanted to I could now mentally list all the annoying male stuff B.A. does, and that our males friends do, and sift through any evidence that they might not really like women, and then ponder the crap some Catholic men write about women on the internet, and the fact that I was once a rising star of my theology school and now couldn't take up the collection at Mass without causing mass hysteria. In short, I could make myself miserable and mentally and spiritually cut myself off from men.

And I don't want to do that because, all together now, men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life. Sure, you can live without them, to a certain extent--Christian women don't want to live without Our Lord who was, scandal to the post-Christian feminist theologians, a man as well as God--but do you really want to?

And if you don't want to live without men, you must seriously ask yourself if you are giving off vibes that say that you do.


Note: Changing your fundamental philosophical/emotional orientation towards men-in-general does not mean ignoring the evils that follow upon fallen masculinity and fallen femininity. It means refusing to let them to dominate your life in any way, including mentally. It means refusing to hate people, no matter what as much as you are able. (I edited this because in fact I hate rapists. And I mean rapists, not seducers. Seducers are not my favourite people in the universe, but at them I merely sneer. Rapists I hate. I am nowhere near a level of spirituality where I can love the rapist and hate his rape. Uh uh.) It means neither pessimism nor optimism but caritas.

*Obviously I still have mental work to do so that I can stop thinking partner dancing is somehow connected with male tyranny. Thousands upon thousands of men and women just enjoy partner dancing without thinking of it as men pushing women around. Possibly I should pay Alisha $60 an hour for pro-dancing psychotherapy.

**When in doubt about male behaviour that troubles or confuses you, ASK. You can always begin with a neutral, friendly, "Out of curiosity, why did you...?" Listen carefully to the answer. Deduct points for "It was your fault" if it clearly wasn't. Actually, I think I am going to ask men friends pay me a fine of 10 p every time they tell me something is my fault. It will be like a swear jar.

8 comments:

Jamie said...

Good one, yet again. :)

Also, I just realized, I've never read the whole Auntie/B.A. story. I've caught snippets here and there and I think I caught the basic plot, but is it all in once place somewhere??

Jam said...

The double asterix footnote is a good point, and something I should try and assimilate.

sciencegirl said...

"Hatred leads to suffering!" -- Yoda

Yes, asking can help! Candid conversation is often awkward, but not as awkward as making wrong assumptions and acting on them.

I've had wonderful and terrible experiences on the dance floor. To mention only the best experiences -- dancing with courtly old men at the swing dance club is one of my best memories. Some men on the dance floor actually know how to lead without bossing!

Joan of Quark said...

Thank you for sharing that, Auntie - very honest. I too have done my time weeping on the expensive couch, reading feminist authors and thinking 'Wow'.

My own life story can be summed up (with gender amendment) in this exchange from The Muppet Movie:

Rowlf: Stay away from [wo]men, that's my motto.

Kermit: But I can't.

Rowlf: Neither can I, that's my trouble.

I now haven't had a sexual relationship in 12 years, and I have spent a long time looking for a good and fun and AVAILABLE Catholic man.

But I also have to acknowledge that husbands are neither consolation prizes for a rough life, nor rewards for good behaviour (or even just wearing long skirts, no spaghetti straps, etc.)

They are gifts from God, freely given when God thinks the time and place is right. And they're not for everyone, and I don't even know if there's one for me, although I hope and pray that there is.

But in the meantime, I think you're right: we have to try to see every person as a gift from God. I know I can be guilty of the bargain sale mentality: riffling through the remnant bin and casually tossing aside people who I don't want, in search of the ultimate prize.

Thank you for the reminder to wake up.

Larissa L. said...

This week has been rough on the seraphic domains...I'm very thankfull for cuteoverload.com right now.

Let's change the subject for something lighter and superfluos, like: black polk-a-dots on red fabric: cute or to much like a ladybug? Or hair x humidity, an unwinnable batle?

Seraphic said...

Ladybugs (ladybirds in the UK) are inherently cute and no woman under 40 or over 70 need fear dressing up as much as one as possible. Women in the middle may wish to confine themselves to a ladybug pin, or ladybug shoes from Irregular Choice.

Alisha said...

HOWL! I would do it for free, Seraphic! I've met some jerky mysogynist dancers, and awesome truly pro-women guys. (Actually, a new dancer just moved here who is a Catholic and also a nanny - actually, his term is a "manny". We joked we have to get a picture together!)
Meanwhile, you may find this interesting. It's a link comparing dance manuals and their attitude towards women before they got the vote and after - not what you might think! http://socialdance.stanford.edu/syllabi/partneringquotes.htm

The person who posted this has excellent thoughts on dance and gender; he's an instructor and dance historian in the Stanford University Dance Division, Department of Drama.

Also, 3 words. Fred and Ginger! No sign of tyranny - just two equals who accompany each other in making beautiful movement: here's a compilation I found - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5WLdhKIA3E&feature=fvst

So much of this is very familiar - the hating all men (no longer true) except my brothers and father and other adult men (good teachers, etc) because of the poor/abusive behaviour of boys at school. I also found myself in a strange relationship with feminism and still do for the reasons you stated.
Thankfully, our school principal, who was a woman, stood up for the girls. I'll never forget the day she came into our class and put boys on one side and girls on the other and made us talk to each other to have the boys understand just what they were putting us through. She became my hero that day. (I later found out that she had suffered some sort of abuse at the hands of a principal herself). I am very happy that I generally had teachers who didn't excuse the behaviour.
The thing that actually began changing things for the better was going to university - the majority of the men in my program in musical theatre were gay. Finally, some guys who were nice to me - the first ones to call me beautiful, etc. I didn't even know how to take it! And later I went on to another university where I did meet many good Catholic young men, but I can't help but think that my heart might have been much more closed had it not been for the guys in the first program.
The sad and angering thing about Christian men who are outrageous is that they should know better. They should at least know that they are a sinner. And really, they don't have to look any further than Christ for an example of how to treat women: with the utmost gentleness and respect, not to mention love.

Alisha said...

HOWL! I would do it for free, Seraphic! I've met some jerky mysogynist dancers, and awesome truly pro-women guys. (Actually, a new dancer just moved here who is a Catholic and also a nanny - actually, his term is a "manny". We joked we have to get a picture together!)
Meanwhile, you may find this interesting. It's a link comparing dance manuals and their attitude towards women before they got the vote and after - not what you might think! http://socialdance.stanford.edu/syllabi/partneringquotes.htm

The person who posted this has excellent thoughts on dance and gender; he's an instructor and dance historian in the Stanford University Dance Division, Department of Drama.

Also, 3 words. Fred and Ginger! No sign of tyranny - just two equals who accompany each other in making beautiful movement: here's a compilation I found - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5WLdhKIA3E&feature=fvst

So much of this is very familiar - the hating all men (no longer true) except my brothers and father and other adult men (good teachers, etc) because of the poor/abusive behaviour of boys at school. I also found myself in a strange relationship with feminism and still do for the reasons you stated.
Thankfully, our school principal, who was a woman, stood up for the girls. I'll never forget the day she came into our class and put boys on one side and girls on the other and made us talk to each other to have the boys understand just what they were putting us through. She became my hero that day. (I later found out that she had suffered some sort of abuse at the hands of a principal herself). I am very happy that I generally had teachers who didn't excuse the behaviour.
The thing that actually began changing things for the better was going to university - the majority of the men in my program in musical theatre were gay. Finally, some guys who were nice to me - the first ones to call me beautiful, etc. I didn't even know how to take it! And later I went on to another university where I did meet many good Catholic young men, but I can't help but think that my heart might have been much more closed had it not been for the guys in the first program.
The sad and angering thing about Christian men who are outrageous is that they should know better. They should at least know that they are a sinner. And really, they don't have to look any further than Christ for an example of how to treat women: with the utmost gentleness and respect, not to mention love.