I want to talk a little bit about women.
I like to count myself as a feminist. Unapologetically. I would like to believe that I’ve been one more or less forever, and maybe on some level that’s true (and if so I credit early exposure to science fiction, which I’ll talk about later**), but really what I could point to as early feminism was more a matter of an idealized attitude about fair play, not any kind of studied assessment concerning women’s rights and so forth. My progress toward self-conscious feminism took a while.
First, a video:
Okay, it is that negative reaction she experienced which (a) I don’t “get” in any visceral way and (b) I find continually, almost universally shrugged off as “harmless” by people who otherwise would never dream of behaving that way. Which sets the stage for this:
Really, Tiedemann? You really get that from a bunch of mouth breathers in basements playing online games?
It has been my experience that one of the components of “gaming” has always been a self-defensive insularity, an in-group “bunker mentality” that defaults to mindless rejection whenever anyone suggests that maybe the game in question is, you know, stupid or dangerous or fosters questionable attitudes. Balance goes out the window when the game is threatened, even its accoutrements. Online games or field sports, I don’t care which, there is a mindset that some adherents embrace which reduces reason to the buzzing of a fly when the game itself is threatened. (You may not quite grasp this unless you have been threatened with bodily harm by members of a varsity football team for the mere suggestion that something else is more important for the school than new uniforms for them, that maybe it would be a bad idea to cut Band because there isn’t enough money in the budget for both.)
Combine that with the nature of in-groups and you have a perfect recipe for this kind of nonsense.
And yes, I think teaching people that just because they belong to a group gives them unquestioned privileges vis-à-vis The Rest Of The World is a formula for creating objectionable behaviors in certain members of that group.
In this case, the members of the He Man Woman Haters Club.
I grew up watching The Little Rascals on tv, and one of the repeated tropes was Alfalfa’s inability to “man up” and tell Darla to stay in her place. Spanky and the others had their club and Darla and her friends attempted again and again to break into it. Barring that, divide and conquer. It was an early lesson in sexual politics, and I wonder sometimes if the writers and producers knew what it was they were portraying. The subtext was the immasculation of Alfalfa, who continually embarrassed himself—and by extension The Gang—with his romantic goofball behavior when Darla winked at him, bent her finger, and drew him off for a tryst.*
The message was clear: girls are not to be trusted, not to be tolerated, unless you want to be a doofus like Alfalfa.
Then puberty hits.
Personally, boys who don’t know how to talk to girls well into adulthood I think don’t know how to talk to other boys, either, but the games template of childhood provides a format for pretense. Don’t discuss feelings, don’t share anxieties, talk about the Game. The Game substitutes for genuine sharing.
Who am I talking about? Not a majority, certainly, or we would be unable to have this conversation on any level. But a large enough slice of the male population to cause trouble.
Wait a minute, Tiedemann, you’re not blaming the games, are you?
Tempting as that is for me, no. While I do believe the games reflect the attitudes of those who are involved in them, blaming the games is like blaming Jack Daniels for drunk driving.
(I don’t like most games, I admit. I’m not competitive that way and most games are zero sum endeavors. I like chess, but I don’t play it to win, and for some reason that seems to be okay in chess, there’s no chest beating of any kind. But I was once nearly beaten up in a bar by a pissed off foosball player who invited himself into our game and got angry because I didn’t play to win. I don’t like that attitude and I avoid it when I can and I find it wired into most games.)
Men who beat women, who killed them, who are outraged by feminism, who think in terms of “women’s proper place” are alien to me and rather pathetic—instead of working on themselves and their own shortcomings, they blame failure on everybody else, and the women in their lives are close and available for them to exercise what they conceive as their “manhood” in the most bestial way. I would pity them but for the very real damage they do.
I wrote about that damage and one of my defining moments here.
I’m thinking about these things today because it happens to be an anniversary. Twenty-three years ago today the Montreal Massacre occurred. A frustrated, pathetic excuse of a human being decided (assuming such actions can be derived from a process of decision making) to vent his anger at failure by—wait for it—blaming women for his inability to fulfill himself.
But remembering that, I’m also thinking about the new women in my life. I’m working for Left Bank Books now and in the past weeks of learning my way around I’ve been working with some of the coolest women around. What a shame it would be if they couldn’t do what they do and be who they are because some bipeds with external genitals and low I.Q. held sway in our society and decided—because they lack the imagination or perception to see past surfaces and their own limbic reactions—women “shouldn’t be doin’ that kinda stuff.”
(As I’ve written before, I do credit my lifelong love of books and an early exposure to science fiction for preparing the ground for the feminism of my adulthood. I’m hard pressed to think of a better antidote for what is, at base, a profoundly anti-intellectual cultural ill. The inability to reason, to understand, to empathize, all this feeds the kind of insularity and self-limitation that can result in these deeply irrational—indeed, anti-rational—behaviors. Do I think reading alone is a cure? Of course not. But, for cripessake, guys, read a book once in a while! Get out of your own heads!)
I’m grateful to the women in my life: friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and I can say without reservation that I’d rather be in their club than in Spanky’s.
Better yet, let’s stop all this nonsense about clubs. I never got my membership card in the He Man Woman Haters Club—I was too much a wimp to qualify—but then, I never applied.
*Tryst? Why, yes. What else is it? She gets him off alone, there’s a lot of goofy grinning, sharing of a meal, coy conversation. No, of course there’s no sex, but Darla has segregated Alfalfa away from the other boys and…it’s all done in such childish innocence, but really look at those interludes and analyze them, then imagine Darla and Alfalfa about ten years older.
And of course the proto-stereotyping of gender roles is right there. Darla is the seductress—ostensibly she’s trying to break down the group cohesion among The Gang, but that’s secondary—and Alfalfa is the male naif, completely taken by Darla’s attention and unable to control himself—or even speak intelligently. And of course when it’s over he’s the one who’s been embarrassed—been “had” by the female and made to look foolish.
** Science fiction was where I first and continually encountered strong, self-possessed female characters and models for what I came to believe women were, both potentially and preferably. Sure, there were plenty of the standard models in SF, but there were also powerful, independent women who early on showed me that any assumptions about female inability, weakness, or ideas of “proper place” were all just noise.