Sunday, February 26, 2012

Not Thick-Skinned Enough to be a Woman

Strip #642 from xkcd.com
Recently, I went to the solo recital of a fellow musician and friend.  Coming straight from work and halfway across the city, I was the first person to sit in a pew.  Over the next half-hour, thirty-or-so people filtered in and sat in vaguely definable groups.  Near me sat a quartet of college undergrads.  The last of the four to arrive reminded me of flashbacks to my undergrad: flannel shirt, mussed hair and unkempt beard, loping walk, and a Pearl Jam t-shirt.  Are you the 90's considered vintage now, like the 70s were in my day?  Cool.  Err, I mean "radical"!

Anyway, my friend was shuffling music and straightening stands on stage.  The latecomer to the quartet noticed her, stared for ten seconds and then said to the others, "She looks HOT!"  The other three turned simultaneously to look at him.  He reiterated, "What?  She totally does."



*** *** ***

I've wanted to write a particular entry for a long time.  It's an entry about how women in general -- and women I know in particular -- are treated in society.  Not necessarily society at large, for there are scholars and commentators much better equipped to write about that sort of thing.  My article would be about my society.  The society that revolves around one particular musician with a beard and a pocket watch.

It was to be an article of some weight.  Most articles I write about women are from my relationship viewpoint: slightly bewildered and uncertain.  I write that way because that's what I feel most of the time.  If a woman likes me, I can't understand it.  If a woman doesn't like me, I'm equally at a loss.  I often surmise (as many men have done before me) that I must be the only one who doesn't "get" the opposite sex. 

But in a many important ways, I think I understand women better than just about every man I know.  My treatment of women tends to be first and foremost my treatment of people.  I don't like people to make a big deal out of aspects of my appearance, but I do like to be noticed when I put an effort in.  Strangely, if I don't make a big deal about how woman present themselves, but occasionally make statements of praise for things I find appealing, women seem to like that, too.  I don't like to be put into situations of ridicule.  I don't treat other people that way, and -- by not treating women that way -- they seem to appreciate that, too.  It's not rocket science. 

Where I've gotten into trouble is when I try to use the Man's Way of doing these things.  It's firmly entrenched that guys need to make fun of women to show that they're attracted to them.  Or that men need to demonstrate capability in order to attract women.  Or that men should engage in conversational siege warfare until the woman relents and consents. 

There has always been a significant current in relationship theory that people should always be truthful.  This is an important goal because many relationships have untruths and lies woven in at the core.  The problem that men like me have is taking this as a license to force all the cards onto the table.  There's a difference between being honest (which is good) and being matter-of-fact (which can be bad).

A friend explained how he was attracted to a girl, but she had said she wasn't interested in a relationship with him.  He said he'd be ready when she changed her mind and left (as he put it) a "standing invitation to relationship".  He was disappointed when she no longer wished to hang out with him. 

I see it from his side.  He was doing what conventional modern wisdom says he should do: tell the girl what you think, respect her answer, and be honest about your own feelings.  I also see it from her side.  She politely expressed no interest in this guy, who then effectively communicated that he wasn't going to let that lie.  I'm sure the stalker alarm was going off in her head.

That's what many men don't appreciate: women have a stalker alarm in their heads.  Women NEED the stalker alarm in their heads.  Because a minority of men have done terrible things to women, the majority of women have taken steps to protect themselves.  My favorite article on this subject coined the term "Schrödinger’s Rapist".

I have never worried about someone spiking my drink with an incapacitator.  The mental image of anyone trying to carry me along is hilarious and absurd, though it isn't unfeasible.  My female friends think about this sort of thing often.  They worry about the guy who just doesn't take the hint.  They worry about being in the parking garage alone.  They worry about whether what they wear will be considered "asking for it".  These are all part-and-parcel for what in thought about when considering an evening out.  I blissfully just have to find wherever I lost my keys.

This divided attitude to gender is very much en vogue.  I see it all the time in my particular profession.  There are "good bass trombonists" and there are "good female bass trombonists".  Women who play my instrument are women first, whereas guys like me are just instrumentalists.  I have never in my life heard myself referred to as "a male bass trombonist". 

Back to the opening anecdote.  That guy wasn't doing my friend any harm by saying that she was "hot".  But after he said it, I wondered if he was the guy she'd told me about  -- in bewildered and distressed terms -- who had once described her as "distractingly beautiful" and told her that he loved her and wanted her to dump her current boyfriend and date him.  She clearly told him that she dated her current boyfriend because she wanted to be with him.  Any bets on whether that guy took the answer and left her alone?

I wanted to write an article of some weight, you might recall.  This isn't that article.  This is just an unpacking of several disjointed incidents where I've come out thinking "surely women deserve better than THAT" and "why does this woman seem so angry that I'm making chit-chat?"  For now, it's enough that they're out of my head. 

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