Monday, 10 December 2012

Plumbing the Depths

Yesterday at Sunday Lunch I picked up an altar server's manual (published 1961) to discover its mysteries despite the jealous growl of one of the parish altar servers. Since I wrote my post about how we ought not to let men to define whether or not we are real women, or accept at face value their judgments of which women deserve what treatment, I have been pondering why it is that men make such definitions and judgments in the first place.

In general, human beings are rational so, in general, men are rational creatures. Why then are they so irrational about women? How is it that St. Gregory of Nyssa could say of his sister Macrina that she was so astonishingly bright and good a woman that it could hardly be said of her that she was a woman, but not make the conceptual jump that maybe this was because women are a lot brighter and better than his age gave us credit for?

The altar server's manual gave me a tiny clue. Although there was a hopeful chapter called "The Altar Server is a Christian Gentleman" the only women I found mentioned in this book were Mom and Sister, Sister being the Altar Server's schoolteacher. Possibly the idea in 1961 that the Altar Server would ever be tempted to snap the bra of the girl sitting in front of him (for example) was so outrageous, the author didn't think of it. And, anyway, this book seemed to assume that the fledgling altar boy was about ten.

My tiny clue was the hectoring tone of this very American book. It stressed that the Altar Server is not a weakling ("You're not a cream puff, are you?") and that he has important responsibilities and that he should be obedient and grateful to the authority figures he takes for granted. He eats because his father puts food on the table. He has clean laundry and attention because his mother loves him. Priests and nuns have given up their family and friends for him. Does he not realize all this? "When will you wake up?"

I hope I find the altar service manual for 1951, for I am sure it will give me more insight into my dad. Meanwhile, this guide made me ponder both that from a young age men are told not to be weak and that they are nagged a lot. Girls don't get nagged as much because we usually do what we are told from birth, cleverly associating love and cookies with obedience, whereas there seems to be some mechanism in boy brains that gets in the way of this connection. It is very hard for me to imagine what it would be like to be my nephew Pirate; the closest I can get is to imagine myself at his age, only high on caffeine and selectively deaf. WHOOT! WHOOT! WHOOT!COOKIES! AAA-AAA-AAA-AAA! I'M A HUMAN TORPEDO!! CAN WE GO TO THE PARK? CAN WE GO NOW? NOW? NOW? NOW?

(Imagining what it is like to be someone else is a fun activity, especially if they are in the same room as you. Try to imagine what the room looks like from their perspective, keeping in mind their height and their glasses, if any, and their lack of comprehension of things you might immediately have recognized, with a dash of colour-blindness for men, plus heightened awareness of who is wearing the lowest-cut dress, etc.)

This is not an incredibly original thought, but it strikes me that if you are brought up from birth being nagged at more than girls (which you think is unfair) and then told not to be weak (and girls are comparatively weak), you are going to be really angry when you discover one day that some of those privileged, weak girls now have power over you.

Some of these girls honestly don't know it, and you can either resent them for being so dumb or you can forgive them and feel protective of them.

But some of the girls know they have this power, and you know that they know it, and some of them even use this power for evil, which you realize even if they won't admit it (which they rarely do), but there's not much you can legally do about it, and that sucks.

That, incidentally, sums up the philosophy of the manosphere.

Men's resentment of the fact that women distract, frustrate and hurt them, and make them feel weak when the number one rule of manhood is Don't Be Weak, drives women crazy because much of the time we can't help how men feel. We especially can't help it when for whatever reason boys or men attach special sexual symbolism to us, as in the case of my poor elementary school classmate. The only sexually suggestive thing about her, as a child, was an unfortunate name, but that was enough to trigger whatever it was in the sadly influential chief class bully.

Meanwhile, I am not so thrilled that current immigration patterns mean I share public space with men who think women who don't wear Islamic dress are "uncovered meat." It's not enough just to wear knee-length skirts, elbow-length sleeves and cleavage-covering bodices anymore. Noooooo..... I don't wear a hijab, so I've got it coming to me if I walk into the wrong Parisian suburb. (That said, I got hassled yesterday by Scotsmen for what I was wearing, although presumably not because they thought it was suggestive of anything except Tory Bastards.)

And since women are just as worried about being called uncool or dowdy as we are about being called slutty, we are astonished when various men take exception to clothes we wear that most women wear, or that we wore as kids (e.g. denim shorts) and nobody complained.

Of course, sometimes we are not astonished by men's reactions because we have figured out the link between men's reactions to certain words, behaviour and clothes. It takes many of us decades longer than the rest of us to figure this out. And even then I doubt many of us really understand what kind of power we have to distract, frustrate and hurt because it is very hard for us to imagine what being a man looking at/dealing with a woman is like, especially when that woman is us.

For example, I am 39++ and was 140 lbs the last time I checked. According to almost all of world fiction plus all the fashion mags that ever were, absolutely nobody is supposed to be attracted to me any more; my husband is a lunatic, or something. And yet I got hit on by a Swedish hockey player at a party this year; life is exceedingly strange.

When it comes to dealing with women, most women are pretty smart. We know how to be cautious, we know what not to say, we know what to say, and by adulthood most of us know how to protect ourselves from women who want to take advantage of us some way. It is often a great surprise to realize that men do not know how to do that too.

And then, of course, no woman alive is perfect and sometimes we do try to control men, particularly when it comes to matters of the heart. Girls used to buy love potions from gypsies to make men fall in love with them; that wasn't very nice or respectful of the men's autonomy, was it? Brighter girls figure out more effective means, and use it either for good or, as I've mentioned, for evil.

We could no doubt argue for hours when influencing (to use a nicer word than controlling) men is for good or for evil, but I would say that there is quite a difference between sounding like Princess Leia ("Help me, Ben Kenobi! You're my only hope!") and hiking up your skirt on the highway to get a lift, if anyone actually ever did that in the history of the car.


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Seraphic said...

Ah ha ha ha ha! ROFL!

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Yes, thank you, Seraphic - I know where to turn for plumbing advice! ;-) #lovemesomespambots

As for girls not getting nagged a lot - maybe you were better about putting your clothes away than I was, and maybe you didn't have a (wonderful in many ways but) somewhat naggy Grandma living with you who did the laundry... Otherwise, I love this post - especially how funny we are about blind spots - like Gregory about women when he had such a perfect example of how mistaken he was in his own family.

Sorry you got harangued - very, very odd what liberties some people will take. Maybe they should think about how they'd want their sisters to be treated.

Eowyn said...

Regarding your last sentence, have you ever seen "It Happened One Night"?

Irenaeus G. Saintonge said...

You were saying that men cannot be allowed to define who is and who is not a "real woman". I entirely agree. I've got nothing to add to that.
I wonder though, if it might be relevant to also say that women should not define who is and who is not a real man. Is that a comparison that makes sense? Are there potentially ways in which men might feel that sort of pressure (justified or not)?

Obviously any of us could talk all day about how the media portrays men and women. I think it's harmful for both sexes. I have to wonder how much of that is affecting young men, even if it manifests itself differently.

Seraphic said...

Actually, for the past six thousands years (at least), men have defined who men are. Sometimes powerful men have indeed enlisted women into their campaigns to convince less-powerful men to do what they want, for example enlisting as soldiers in the First World War.

But I would say that it is only in the past sixty years that women have had that much to say--without or in the face of male imput--at all about what men should be. Part of this is because of the sad increase in single-parent families, which cannot be left entirely at women's door.

The only place I have ever seen ads for botox with male models, selling botox to men, is in Toronto's Gay Village.

Men have a lot to complain about, particularly in wartime, but they do not spend their lives looking behind their shoulder worried that women might attack them, or that the women in their lives will think they are not worth protecting from female violence. Nor do they stand in shops worrying about whether their clothes will be found either too drab or too sexy by the women around, potentially ruining their reputations.

Irenaeus G. Saintonge said...

The kind of paradigm that I'm specifically thinking about is the... well the 'stereotype' that men have to be silent, even emotionless, at least six feet tall, thin and muscular, make over 100 grand a year, etc., etc..
I mean, to some extent I think that stereotype is exaggerated, but I don't think it just appeared in a vacuum either.
I think that men in general feel a certain social pressure to fit a kind of mold. I won't speculate as to where that pressure comes from, because I think there are probably a lot of variables.

Maria said...

The only thing you can manipulate men into doing with "feminine wiles", as far as I'm concerned, is sleeping with you. I've tried getting some guys to actually date me with the power I think Seraphic is hinting at (it's regrettable and I'm not proud of it, pinkie-swear I will never do it again Seraphic), but it DIDN'T WORK. At all.
Using one's attractiveness for power's sake is not exclusive to women and I just don't believe that when women do it, it's somehow more effective...I'm pretty sure no man has ever cried himself to sleep simply because a girl refused to fall into bed with him, no matter how short her skirt was. I have, however, known men who act, say, and do everything necessary to see just how far they can get, and then immediately make tracks once their curiosity is satisfied, oblivious of the broken hearts in their wake. I also have known men who (I suppose) like the ego boost of just having a girl in love with them, even if they would never ever give her a chance. I remember a guy I knew very obviously keeping a poor girl hooked, though anybody could have told her he'd never date her. Looking back now, the memory makes me squirm and I should probably have said something to her. But what?

Seraphic said...

Irenaeus, men project a lot of their own insecurities about their height, earnings, value, car ownership etc., onto women, another burden women simply do not want or ask for.

There is no doubt there are pressures for men to conform to certain standards or to kowtow to the men who do. But they do not originate with women but historically with powerful men and more latterly with advertising agents.

That said, every woman is free to reject a man as a suitor for any reason she may see fit, just as no man has to court a woman if he does not want to for any reason he might see fit. If her sexual imagination just cannot thrill to the idea of a man who has no car, well, that's just how her sexual imagination is. She's unlikely to begin a campaign against men who don't own cars.

Maria, there is more to female power than "feminine wiles" and it can indeed be used for good.

Lucy said...

Seraphic, this makes so much sense! Thank you! I spent my university years being not noticed or dated by anybody while simultaneously receiving spiteful emails from Catholic men about how by being at university I was distracting men from their studies. It is doubly annoying to be told over and over that you are a seductress who destroys men just by sitting there when, like, none of the destroyed men actually even know your name, let alone ask you out for coffee, let alone anything else!

But this makes sense. The angry guys were Catholic. The guys who didn't notice me weren't religious, had never been told to be The Man, and, as such, were neither threatened nor thrilled (alas) by my presence.

Thanks for the closure!

Seraphic said...

Lucy,I am glad you have closure, but those are the most bonkers men I have heard of since the guy who chucked paint at Our Lady of Częstochowa. Catholic guys sent you emails saying "Bad you for going to university where you distract us???" Okay, obviously I suspected they felt threatened their sexual response to women, but I did not know they were actually writing emails complaining about it. Madness!

Urszula said...

First of all, I love your description of your nephew. It sounds like exactly the mental processes of my nephew, who is always up to something, but has so much happy energy!

In regards to female power, I agree that we have much more power than we realize over men. When I was the only girl on a team of guys, disapproving glances or simply telling them to spare me their dirty jokes often worked - and didn't stop them from wanting to hang out with me.

I think we have more 'sexual' power over men than they do over us, while they may (consciously or not) wield more emotional power over us.

Would you mind writing a bit more about how female power can be used for good? I'll admit I've often resorted to the feminine touch (not to call it wiles) pretty much unconsciously to get men to do things for me – mostly move heavy furniture – but I’m not sure what moral shade that has, if any.