Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cat Person 2

Here's some telling language:
Roupenian’s story is the fiction version of “It Happened to Me: I Had Bad Sex Because It Felt Awkward to Say No.” 
Your failure to say "No" is not something that happens to you. It's something you do to yourself. This is a trivial matter; it isn't a matter of someone being a bit sloppy with language. This shows a disease in thought that plagues our times.
In fact, “Cat Person” specifically tapped into a need that those xoJane personal essays also fulfilled: honest, vulnerable narration of women’s real-life experience. So much about women’s lives and bodies is framed as shameful, embarrassing. We’re taught to hide our periods, fake orgasms and say yes to a date so as not to hurt a guy’s feelings. 
As I said would happen in my previous post on the subject, the justification for reading this story turns out to be honesty. Except that it's not honest. You were taught to fake orgasms and to say yes to sex so as not to hurt men's feelings? By whom? Shouldn't these people be getting the Harvey Weinstein treatment for doing that? Except that no one taught anyone anything.

What has happened is that you made choices. You made choices in a complicated world where choices play out in complicated ways. You made choices in a world where doing the right thing or making the best possible choice is often difficult and might cost you something. That makes you just like every other human being who ever lived.

A man's take on Cat Person

Have you read it? Everyone seems to have done. I'm going to spoil it below if you haven't read it yet.

It's one of those stories that gets praised for being disturbing rather than entertaining. I think people read stuff like this because they convince themselves that no matter how uncomfortable and dirty reading it made them feel, they've at least read something "honest" or "true".

Much of the discussion is about who to blame or who to blame most. Some are offended that people are doing that. I can sort of see that but why else would you read a story like this? For pleasure?

Forget making judgments for a moment and consider point of view. The entire story is told from the woman's point of view.  There is free indirect speech giving us access to only one character's thoughts. There is only one character we can really judge and that is Margot. We can reasonably conclude that the guy, Robert is socially inept guy who comes across as creep but it's not a story about him and we only have access to him through the eyes of a deeply flawed person so we can't trust what we're told. It's also a story about Margot even though there is another person in it. Margot is the sort of person that the story is always going to be all about her.

Here is the key moment in the story. It describes the thoughts of a woman about to have sex she doesn't want to have. Remind yourself before you read it that "having sex you don't want to have" is one way of defining rape. And yet this is not rape.
Margot recoiled. But the thought of what it would take to stop what she had set in motion was overwhelming; it would require an amount of tact and gentleness that she felt was impossible to summon. It wasn’t that she was scared he would try to force her to do something against her will but that insisting that they stop now, after everything she’d done to push this forward, would make her seem spoiled and capricious, as if she’d ordered something at a restaurant and then, once the food arrived, had changed her mind and sent it back.
That is, in a sense, pretty damning. Margot has set this in motion and she fails to stop it because she is unable to summon the "tact and gentleness" it would take to stop it. Why not? And why did she let things get this far in the first place?

We should know the answer to that last question. Margot is responsible for what happened to her. Her neediness, her pathetic pursuit of affirmation from a guy whom she should have realized was incapable of giving her what she wanted is what drives the events. She walks into it step by step but she is in control every step of the way.That so many people have read this and yet hesitate to hold her fully responsible says a lot about how messed up our attitudes about women are. (If only there was some movement that promoted treating women equally, as adults responsible for themselves.)

The story ends with the guy being really creepy—stalking her and then calling her nasty things. She, on the other hand, ends up surrounded by supportive friends on campus, all of whom seem to have been told all about her sordid experience. I don't find that part credible. I don't believe someone who is as socially inept and who understands herself as poorly as Margot does could share the details she does. I think she'd veer between two extremes: 1. hiding everything and 2. making false accusations against the guy; she'd do both to try to protect herself from feelings of shame because people who need affirmation as desperately as Margot does can't handle shame.

Is there anything at all in this for men? Not in the story itself but there is something in the reaction. There are men who've responded by seeing themselves in the story. Here's the lesson; DON'T DO THAT! You are not seeing yourself. What you are doing is reporting that Margot is real: there are women like her in this world. There are a lot of them.

Okay, I'll stop shouting. But it's a story about Margot not Robert. Men need to stop thinking that we need a woman's perspective to understand ourselves. Know thyself so you aren't at the mercy of pathetic, self-serving losers like Margot.

Second lesson: don't have sex with women like Margot. Not ever. You want sex but you don't need sex and sex with someone like Margot is never worth it.

Sex is a social skill. We treat it as if the mystery, the magic is something incredibly private, intimate. You should be able to figure out everything you need to know about what a woman is going to be like in bed by observing her outside of bed. If you can't relate to her well outside of sex you won't be able to relate well through sex. Sorry, but that's the way it is and it's not going to change. You could have sex with someone not so much as a human being but as a human-sex-toy and that could be satisfactory I suppose, so long as you don't think about what that says about you.

Final question, knowing what you know about Margot, how do you think the story would have worked out if she'd interacted with a normal, well-adjusted guy her own age instead of a creepy loser like Robert? Imagine further that this well-adjusted guy somehow misses the warning signs and actually has sex with her. Would it be good sex? You're probably holding back because you don't want to be harsh but having sex isn't a human right. It's not enough that you want it and a woman is available. Margot's problems aren't going to be fixed by having sex and it's not your job to fix her. It's her job to fix herself and the things that need fixing can only be fixed outside of bed.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Discuss among yourselves.

I found this on a hipster girl blog from the early 2000s:
"generosity and selflessness are not the same"
I think that's a rather profound point. And which would you prefer? In yourself or in others? I don't anyone should actually have to think about that.The right answer should be obvious.

"You're only saying that because it's what you want!"

The quote in the header was something a woman I know said to her then boyfriend. She said it with vehement anger in her voice. What had inspired the remark was a model in a leather jacket taking part in a televised fashion show.
I don't think she was completely wrong. If she'd showed up wearing that jacket, her boyfriend would have been pleased to see it. On the other hand, I doubt the guy consciously chose to say what he did in order to encourage his girlfriend to buy a leather jacket. He wasn't putting any pressure on her. He most likely didn't think about it at all. He said it with no conscious motive; he said it because he believed she would look good in the jacket and for no other reason. And she knew that. That's why she was so angry about it. The jacket reflected an image he had of her and she didn't want to have to live up to that image. For him that is. She had no trouble living up to it for the rest of the world. There was nothing random about his associating that style with her nor was it some personal fantasy he was imposing on her. It was a style of dress she was fond of. It was exactly the sort of clothing she bought for herself when she wanted to feel good about herself. One of the reasons they had become a couple in the first place was because he took her self-image as a glamorous woman who could wear a leather jacket seriously and she liked that about him.

The event in question happened a long time ago in a house that I and five other students rented. It stands out in my memory not because there was anything unusual about the intensity of the woman's anger but because it was the first time I'd seen a woman of my generation do that. I'd seen similar responses hundreds of times growing up. My mother did it to my father all the time. That's what made it weird. I had thought that sort of thing was supposed to be over. The women of generation were going to be different; they weren't going to be full of hypocrisy and mixed messages like my mother's' generation had been.

At a committee meeting a few years ago we were sitting around chatting waiting for everyone to show up. A woman remarked that she had seen my wife looking very glamorous a few days before. I joked that she was on her way to work in a female-dominated office and that it was the lot of a husband that our wives put more effort into dressing up for work than they did for us. I said this in a joking tone meant to imply irony. I needn't have bothered, the women on the committee went off on a long riff about how they do that to their husbands. It's not surprising that they said it. It's true. They all said they should do something about it but they said it in the same tone they'd use to say they should exercise more.

My experience is that women don't just put on nicer outer-clothes, they will even put on nicer underwear for occasions the man in their life won't be a part of. And it's not hard to figure out why. It makes them feel more confident. The need becomes intense when they're out to meet their girlfriends from college or, as mentioned above, going to a female-dominated office. These are intensely competitive situations and it's important for a girl to feel good about herself in a situation like that. Any man who would begrudge her dressing up in these situations is a boor who deserves to be alone.

The point worth noting is that she dresses up on these occasions because it is what she wants. If she wants a boost to her self-confidence when meeting with the girls or because she wants a little attention from men she's willing to make the effort. But why is it some sort of injustice that her man should want her to do it for him?

The answer to that is because she has been trained to think that way. She is taught from an early age that men's desires are illegitimate. Both hard-core traditionalists and feminists line up on this.

It's important to acknowledge that this is a logically consistent position. Women aren't being irrational when they stop making an effort a man who has committed himself to her. If it is true that men's desires are illegitimate, then it is perfectly reasonable for women to use those desires to achieve what they want and to get angry or passive-aggressive if he hints he'd like some just because he likes it. There is no purely logical reason for her to ever change.
"The unconscious spirit of devilry which urges is to offer a thing only to those who do not want it." Proust
I quote Proust because this is the sort of issue he loved to comment on. A man falls in love with a woman in a large part because of her own image of herself. She shows him that she likes to look and feel glamorous. She isn't a liar about it and he isn't stupid about it—they both she isn't like this all the time and she doesn't want to to be like this all the time. Just sometimes.  But there is a promise being made in these transactions. We spend a lot of time denying this. We say that men ask for too much and sometimes we do. They say that men have unrealistic expectations about what happens to women as they age and sometimes we do. But we aren't always wrong. A lot of the time we are right.

Friday, December 8, 2017

"Can we be honest about men?"

David French asks that question on his way to making a horrible, terrible argument over at National Review. He begins by asking, "When will it stop?" and quickly, way too quickly, concludes,
The obvious answer is never. At least not until we stare human nature in the face, confront it squarely, and call men to live according to a higher and better purpose.
Okay, sure, but are we really supposed to believe that having a compulsion to masturbate in front of women is human nature? That's French's claim: that this is what happens to human nature when it's not controlled. You, know, I'm a tad bit skeptical. I think people having sex is what happens when human nature tends to lead to and it's a damn good thing or else humanity would cease to exist. I agree that we need moral and social constraints on our sexual impulses but I doubt very much that human nature has all that much to do with what these men have done.

Human nature tends to be shaped by what leads to procreation. Masturbating in front of women, as Louis CK and Harvey Weinstein did, is a remarkably inefficient way to procreate. Let human nature run wild, and such men will be eliminated from the gene pool. What's stunning here is not that men have a strong sex drive or that they are acting in incredibly boorish ways about it. What's stunning is that we have a bunch of grown-up and powerful men acting like badly adjusted adolescents.

I direct you here to Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women. This is a universally acknowledged masterpiece coming of age story written by a strong feminist. In the penultimate story, the title story, in the book, the heroine fantasizes about sex. The sex she fantasizes begins when her clothes mysteriously fall off. She'll be standing near some guy and whoosh, off they come. That, I put it to you, is a normal adolescent sex fantasy. Sex fascinates you but you don't have the slightest clue how to make it happen and you're not entirely sure you want to happen. In fact, you most likely don't want it to happen for a few years yet. But it's very exciting to think about so you devise fantasies wherein it happens but it isn't actually your responsibility because your clothes just fall off, if you're a girl having the fantasy, or her clothes just fall off, if you're a heterosexual boy having the fantasy.

And you might actually do it. When I was a teenager, I was over at my friend Bruce's house and his 17-year-old sister Barb came into the room wearing a dressing gown that fell open and she was naked underneath. And then she left the room quickly. It's a cherished memory. That said, it was several years before I figured out that there was nothing accidental about it. Again, though, this is pretty normal. Responsible parents will pretend not to notice. It's only if it keeps happening that they will say something.

Charlie Rose, an incredibly successful and very intelligent man, was apparently doing this sort of thing when he was over the age of 40! Think about that for a while. It's not hard for celebrities to get sex. You know, normal sex where you socialize, flirt, slowly build up to a kiss and then more. There would have been a constant stream of women offering them that. No, these men are freaks. Weird, maladjusted freaks in positions of great power and influence. That didn't happen because people aren't raising boys to have "to live with a "virtuous purpose, to use his God-given characteristics to advance that purpose, and to understand that he will always be held accountable to that purpose" as French argues. That happened because powerful men were not held accountable.

Is God is telling you to man up?

A friend of mine shared this on Facebook this morning.

I know why he posted it. It's a joke and we're supposed to laugh and that laughter is supposed to give us some relief. But maybe life is tough because you're supposed to be a man, because you can, in fact, handle it if only you;d make a serious commitment to be the bad-ass man he means you to be.

Saturday, December 2, 2017


In the past, philosophers usually assumed thinking to be a superior cognitive skill capable of penetrating the essence of reality. So thinking was associated with truth, while individual experience was dubbed subjective and downgraded to mere appearance. In fact, the opposite is the case. It is our direct individual experience that is unerringly true; being one with the external world, it cannot be wrong.
I think that's right. More here.