Friday, 10 May 2013

Gut versus Self-Doubt

I've been thinking a lot about my controversial advice to the nineteen year old reader whose first impulse, when approached for friendship by a stranger a few older than she when she was on a family outing, was to ask her father. She was embarrassed that she had done this--and perhaps that her father  had given his opinion not only to her but to the stranger--and wondered what else she might have done.

I said she had done the right thing, and she could do it again in future. But this is not because I am a huge fan of the patriarchy. I do not think adult women should have to consult their fathers every time an adult man asks them on a date. It is because I think women should trust our gut instincts and not second-guess our snap decisions about men.

My usual example is the elevator. You are about to get on an almost-empty elevator. You see a man who instantly makes you feel uncomfortable. He looks at you. You look at him. And then either you get on or you let the elevator doors slide shut. I recommend you let the elevator doors slide shut. Who cares what he thinks? You should care what you think, and so should he, if he wants women not to avoid getting on an elevator with him. ("Wow! Maybe my four-hours-a-night internet porn habit is starting to show on my face!")

I've also been thinking a lot about the Cleveland kidnap victims. A lot. Maybe too much. It creeps me out that Gina DeJesus was the best friend of Ariel Castro's daughter Arlene. Did it ever occur to Gina that Arlene's dad was kind of creepy? And, when he offered her a ride, did she dismiss her feelings that he was kind of creepy by thinking, "Well, you know, he's Arlene's dad, and I don't want to be disrespectful"?

And I think this because once upon a time when I was a kid in Toronto, a bearded stranger in car stopped beside me and offered me a lift. Now, I had been brought up always to be polite to grown-ups, but also never EVER to get into a car with a stranger. So naturally I said, "No, thank you."

The next day at school, one of the boys in my class told me with disgust that his dad had mocked me at their dinner table. He had offered me a lift, and I had looked at him as if he were "some kind of pervert." In short, this boy tried to make me feel deeply ashamed, and no doubt he succeeded for, behold, I still remember this incident thirty years later. (Oh nooos! I had hurt the feelings of a Grown-Up I ought to have RESPECTED!)

But for all I know his dad was a pervert.  Even if I had recognized him, even if I had remembered he was my classmate's father, that would have been absolutely no reason to trust him.

Sadly, we don't need external voices like my classmate's to make us feel dumb about snap decisions we make about our safety. Many of us have an internal voice that says, over and against our gut, "Oh, such-and-such, don't be so silly" or "Oh, such-and-such, how can you be so uncharitable?" I don't know where this voice comes from. It could be the result of an unfortunate psychic accident that occurred when we were four or five and our mothers lost their tempers. "Oh, such-and-such, don't be so SILLY," they said, having no idea this would stick in our heads on a repeating loop for years.

At any rate, this voice needs to be replaced and overcome by a trust in your gut, especially before you become the victim of your own wishful thinking.

As an adult woman, I went on a date with a guy who confused me. I had met him years before when I was a lot more confident about my importance in the world, and barely gave guys like him the time of day. However, I was going through a bad patch of "Why am I Single?" and "Wow, my male religious friends are so much more supported and confident in their futures than I am!" So I went on this date, and the guy behaved in a really weird way. He kept losing his train of thought, and telling me it was because of me. He said I was queenly and that I frightened him. It was kind of flattering but also kind of weird.

It was also kind of Game. The point of Game is to unsettle a woman so that she feels like she will go crazy if she doesn't figure out what is going on and therefore looks to the Gamer for the answer. And that sure worked on me. I sat by the phone for days (at least, I hope it was days), wondering how I had simultaneously attracted and frightened this guy. And why, since he said I had really knocked him for a loop, had he not called me? So, I am sorry to say, I called him.

And so began a particularly nasty relationship featuring a lot of screaming from him and a lot of frightened apology from me. My goodness, I would sit under the phone in the kitchen with tears streaming down my face while an impassioned voice shrieked dramatic and alliterative insults in my ear. What a contrast his screams were to his little gifts, his avowals of love, the candle-lit dinners, etc., etc.

At the time, I had not heard of Game, and indeed I did not find out about it until some time later, when I recognized some of the lines and techniques and the name of one of its local experts, once referenced by Mr Screamer in one of his abusive post-relationship pseudonymous communiques. But Game works on me, which is sad, but I am indeed one of those women who scrambles to make sense of the absurd. As I told my spiritual director, I am attracted to men who behave in crazy ways, and we came up with a deal that from then on that I was going to avoid men who act in crazy ways.

I'm not sure I lived up to that since, you know, I ended up with B.A. But, actually, I never got a "Well, THAT was weird" feeling from B.A.  When B.A. proposed after ten days, it felt happy and hilarious (I giggled all the way through), but never crazy or weird. And since them B.A.'s impulsiveness has mostly manifests itself in unexpected funny remarks and puns. An inherently relaxed individual, having made a huge effort to get what he wants, he lapses back into cheerful plodding along. My gut always knew that B.A. was good.


April said...

I was walking down a mostly-deserted street in the afternoon last week when I saw an African American man approaching whose dress and walk and look made me feel uncomfortable. Thinking of your previous advice that no amount of respect for minorities trumps personal safety, I moved from the sidewalk to the street and walked past him very purposefully, avoiding eye contact.

"Aw, sweetie, I ain't gonna hurt you!" he wheedled ingratiatingly as I passed. And you know, at one time my sweet, naive little self would have felt *so bad* at that and maybe even stopped to talk to him to make ammends (egads!). Even now, I had a little tremor of "Gosh, if you were an honest person it would suck to have women constantly fleeing away from you." But then I quickly thought, "But that is the price he pays for dressing and smiling like that-- not my fault," and went on my way grateful that I've learned to squash misplaced feelings of pity that could really put me in danger as a woman.

Domestic Diva said...

THANK you, Seraphic, for articulating that we women should trust our guts. I can't tell you how many times I put aside my gut feeling for the sake of following some rule that had been drilled into me (like always respecting adults), and this put me in some very vulnerable positions when I began dating. I've come to value/respect my gut, and while I still second-guess it sometimes, paying attention to it has certainly saved me from some pretty awful situations.

c'est la vie said...

I thought your advice was good because the young woman in question felt vulnerable and asked for help from someone she trusted. She didn't allow herself to be guilted into a social situation she was uncomfortable with, on the grounds that somebody might think she was weird if she asked her dad. I think lots of young girls, myself at a younger age included, are likely to feel social pressure to agree to hang out with people they aren't really comfortable around. Social experience and confidence in dealing with these situations is an acquired skill, and it is better to ask for help than to be pressured into a bad situation. Not everyone has the same social confidence at the same age.

Mustard Seed said...

That story about your classmate's dad is awful, because clearly if the dad were a mature, halfway-sensitive, brain-using adult, he would realize how creepy it was that he offered you a ride like that. Of course a schoolgirl who doesn't know some random bearded guy would be ill-advised to get into his car. He should have been the one to feel silly after realizing that mistake, instead of bringing his son into it so that he could tease you at school. Ugh ugh ugh! I think that guy was still creepy, not kidnapper-grade creepy, but clueless and arrogant-creepy nonetheless.

sciencegirl said...

A man who made fun of a teenage girl for being cautious is not a nice man. His son sounds like a bit of a jerk, too. Why do men act so annoyed when girls are cautious, but so know-it-all when girls get hurt by NOT being cautious enough?

Apparently, we are all supposed to be psychics! Gah.

Athanasius lover said...

Have you read "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker? Your post reminded me of it. The book basically tells us that we should trust our gut instincts when something or someone doesn't seem right to us, while giving advice about indicators that your fear might be justified. (He doesn't call it Game, but Game seems to be one of the warning signs he talks about.) It's been a long time since I read it (I was in junior high or high school), but I remember thinking it was quite insightful.

Seraphic said...

Teenage nothing! I was somewhere between 10 and 12! Thirteen, tops. So, yeah, that dad was really jerky about it.

Seraphic said...

Oh, April! I can just imagine the scene! But, yes, woman trumps race when it comes to safety, and if someone insists on walking in a way described variously as a "pimp walk" or a "perp walk", then maybe he should think about the messages his body language and clothing are giving out.

Trust your instincts and never stop to apologize.

Seraphic said...

Oh, and I forgot to say, "Good for you! Good work, my little honey-bun! Never apologize, never explain, just get home in one piece."

american (not) in deutschland said...

I agree that guts should be trusted. And maybe (I don't have THAT much experience of my own, let alone a more wide-ranging sample) our guts are usually right.

But it is ALSO true that we are conditioned to get good gut-feelings from lots of accidentals of appearance and behavior that can have as much to do with class and race as "creepiness."

I'm not saying that in an individual case, a woman should talk herself out of her bad gut feeling. Just that, in cooler times, maybe we should try and be very aware of what is socially coded as "scary," especially to middle class white women.

Even apart from class and race, something like "beardedness" -- come on now! I'm interested in unpacking why beards are such a code for male threat.

But ultimately it is the sad truth that most sexual abuse is committed by family members or close friends -- that is, the men we are socialized to think are safe. "Acting creepy" or "rapists" are sort of an uneasy joke that commonly comes up (in my world anyway) between (young?) men and women because of this uneasiness about how much standards of behavior can really predict and help protect.

I am usually uncomfortable if anything about a man makes it hard to predict what might happen next. Sometimes that difficulty predicting is more due to style of speech, social cues, and so on -- and men who can't learn those things ARE more dangerous to us simply because they make it hard for us to negotiate and predict situations. But men who have a pitch-perfect ear for social cues and manipulation also do more than their fair share of damage.

Urszula said...

Doesn't Game work on most women? I thought the Game's whole appeal (to some) is that is plays on women's deeply-rooted insecurities and desire to please others.

For me, somewhat like for you, Seraphic, it is the puzzle that is intriguing. The 'why' this one particular person does not find me attractive - or does so on and off. It's pointless and silly - but can be addicting if it's not addressed. Not all men who behave this way are necessarily using Game - some may be clueless, others just uninterested. But the principle you always reiterate of taking reality for what it is, and not what we want/imagine/desperately hope it to be is definitely one that should be applied in such situations.

I reiterate the comment above about the book "Gift of Fear". I haven't read it myself, but there is enough information available online (including I believe the first chapter of the book) to make it seem like a book every woman should read. The examples he uses are frightening but unfortunately that is the reality surrounding us sometimes.

I also recommend self-defense for women classes. A lot of cities offer these for free, and honestly even just a few classes could help. They not only teach you techniques to use if you are attacked, but also teach you walk confidently and be aware of your surroundings in such a way that you are not seen as an 'easy victim'. One of the points of the "Gift of Fear" is that people who want to perpetrate a crime are looking for easy victims, and if faced with any opposition or display of courage at the start are likely to back off.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

A (male) friend of mine, who is heavily into martial arts and self defense for women, also strongly recommends "The Gift of Fear" and listening to your gut. He says that your gut is really your subconscious mind which works at lightning speed compared to your logical, rational mind, and that often it has picked up on warning signals that your rational mind hasn't yet noticed or keeps trying to discard.


Veronica said...

This post brought back a few memories. And looking back, I thank God that I listened to my gut and did not get into the car. Looking back, it puzzels me, that when a man from my parish whom I barely knew and gave me that distinct 'danger' feeling in my gut, i did say no. I know myself, or I thought i did. And If I was looking in from the outside in, I would've predicted myself getting in the car.

It terrifies my how complacent or 'egar to please' we raise girls. I think that's how squashing our 'gut's voice' really happens. We need to breed confiedience and conviction in girls from a young age. It took me a long time to understand my own 'need to please.' In fact I am still slowly working on it.

Self-defence classes should be a must! Women need to learn to run, kick and shout. Unfortunately it took me going mute when a guy was acting inappropriately, for me to realize this. I opened my mouth and nothing come out. It was like a nightmare come to life. That's when my sis and I took a self-defense class together.

Game is the most horrid thing. But like another comment above, I think in my own experience it was really a clueless guy. I'm not being apologetic, I really believe it was the case. Nonetheless, the puzzel is addicting, the urge to solve it, to fix him, put him together.

Funnily enough, this topic fits in with the discussion of building the confiedence of young women. Our parish has been thinking of developing a self-esteem and women's workshop for youth of the parish. Sepharic, do you have any resources or advice for the development of a workshop like this?

Seraphic said...

I don't know about self-esteem... It's not really a word I come across in Catholic circles, as we're more worried about people having too MUCH self-esteem and not enough humble dependence on God's love and forgiveness.

But I can tell you that Blessed John Paul II's "Mulieris Dignitatem" is a fantastic document about women, packed with good stuff for women and men to discuss and ponder. If you could find a study guide for it, so much the better. It really is awesome. Also awesome--St Edith Stein. You don't even have to read her stuff. You can just read about her life, and everyone will feel inspired.

MichelleMarie said...

I have to also put in a good word for "The Gift of Fear". I read it, and re-read it recently. I may read it yet again. Such a practical book. It will not make you paranoid, don't worry - it'll actually make you understand what the function of fear is, and how to distinguish real, useful fear that is telling you something important about your surroundings from unnecessary worry and anxiety.

Evelyn said...

Another vote for The Gift of Fear, and the sequel for parents, Protecting the Gift. It's sometimes annoying that my kids are not unquestioningly obedient to adults, but if it saves them from the sexual assault I suffered, it's totally worth it.

Toni said...

This is cool!