“let’s pretend social interactions happen without social context”

JT Eberhard decided that his contribution to the discussion about sexual harassment at atheist conferences was going to be to talk about how to make sex happen anyway, especially for socially clueless guys like himself. And the list that came out of that might even be decent advice to guys. But the post itself? And the comments?


For one, this is crap:

But ladies, we need your help (which is why I’m writing this post). I’m not an idiot, but I’m terrible at catching subtle hints. Seriously, I’m awful. Men like me need you to communicate with them. If we’ve crossed the line and you don’t tell us, it’s very possible that we won’t even be remotely aware that the line has been crossed at all. If you then go tell other people how terrible we are for having crossed your line, you’re creating drama instead of working toward a resolution.

You know why women give “subtle” hints? It’s because 1)they’re actually not that subtle at all, certain people just prefer not to listen when it’s about sex, and 2)rejections that are more-blunt-than-socially-accceptable are socialized out of women because they regularly and rather thoroughly get punished for employing them.*
So yeah. Women are going to be “subtle”, which really just means they’re going to behave averagely, because that’s usually enough (when it’s not about sex) and because even a bit more will usually get a woman punished.

Oh, but of course we’re not supposed to talk about this:

For the purposes of this blog post, I’m talking only about these two very fun things, flirting and physicality, that are ultimately a very small aspect of getting to know somebody. I say that because I’m trying to avoid the conversation of, “but women don’t want to feel like sex objects whose primary purpose is to be flirted with.”
Now there are guys who do view women as a means to sex and have no interest in respecting a woman’s boundaries if it means they can’t push for sex. Those guys are a liability. They don’t want help and I’m not writing this post to help them. I’m talking about the men who want to create a friendly environment for women but who also want to interact with the possibility of flirting/getting laid if things go well.

Well, sorry JT, but you can’t just exclude the context from the conversation. Because women can’t exclude that context from their life into which you’re barging when you flirt with them!
You can’t exclude the existence of the creeps, because after being creeped on by 5 guys, it simply no longer matters that you’re not a creep, you’re still Yet Another Dude Who Wants Sex. And at that point, a woman might simply no longer care why you want it or whether you’d flirt correctly and respect her boundaries; because at that point, she’s too sick of all the unwanted attention to still want any sexual attention at all.
You also can’t exclude the existence of creeps, because in order to give you an unsubtle answer, a woman will by definition have to give an unsubtle answer to every man who may or may not be flirting with her. Which not only goes against past socialization, but is also most likely going to result in her being punished for it, both by the man she was just “unnecessarily harsh” to (or maybe she interpreted the signals wrong and he wasn’t even flirting with intent; then she’ll be an altogether “presumptuous bitch” for thinking a guy would even want to fuck her. pffft.), and likely by others in the social circle as well. I mean, shit, Rebecca Watson loosened an internet-wide shitstorm for just saying “guys, don’t do that” about cold-propositioning in elevators late at night!** And you want women to go against socialization and risk social punishment every time they talk to a flirty dude, just because you’re socially awkward?

Yeeeeaaahh, no. You can’t remove the social context because the social context is what determines how women will respond. they’re not flirting with you in a social vaccum, and pretending otherwise is just fucking stupid. We have to fix the social context first (i.e. not punish women for being above-average-assertive, and instead shut down those why try to punish women for blatantly and “rudely” setting boundaries and even taking initiative themselves), before you can seriously expect women to consistently “help” socially inept guys at flirting by being blunt with them.

And nevermind that this whole scenario ignores the existence of socially inept women, since it puts the burden of clear communication on them (notice how it’s the women who have to say “no” as bluntly as possible, socialization and possible punishment be damned, but the socially awkward dudes are still allowed to operate within the subtleties of basic human interaction).

And then, the fucking comments. The entire fucking comment section there needs to read “Yes Means Yes” instead of bleating shit like this:

While I have many times found myself in similar situations, I have to say this: it is absolutely vital that you find a way to communicate effectively, as there is absolutely no way that JT or anyone else can create a functioning environment that is safe for people who won’t/don’t say “no” when they mean “no.”
I totally agree that social leveraging is a dick move. That doesn’t change the fact that your refusal to say “no” makes every social situation more dangerous for everyone involved.

or complain how a “ask first, hug later” culture would somehow be a logistical nightmare.

And of course, the stupid-ass “why don’t women just wear buttons” idea came up. I’ve dealt with that crap before, and some of the less dense posters also pointed out that degrees of consent are every-changing, context-specific and person-specific, so such buttons are fucking worthless. But hey, here’s an idea for you lot: since desire for intimacy is shifting, but social ineptness isn’t, why don’t you guys who want to flirt and get laid but are afraid of missing signals wear a giant red button saying “socially inept; speak bluntly to me”? That way, women would know when they can safely be more assertive (or, if they don’t think they can bring up the energy to go against socialization, just void you) and also remind you that you wanted bluntness when your sexist conditioning kicks in and you (or one of your friends) feels like punishing the woman for being blunt. And at the same time they’ll know that those who aren’t getting their messages and aren’t wearing the button can be safely reported as harassers.

Everybody’s problems solved (that’s fucking sarcasm in case you didn’t notice; but don’t tempt me with more demanding posts like that, or else I’ll decide I’m serious about this buttons-for-the-clueless thing)

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*yeah, I am quite aware that both links talk about rape. The concepts discussed therein are still applicable to flirting and similar interactions. Rape, after all, doesn’t just happen out of the blue; it is simply the nasty pinnacle of rape culture, and rape culture reinforces itself in all these much smaller, much more innocuous-seeming interactions in which boundaries are pushed and assertive rejection punished.
**and then there was also the woman who said “no” to the obviously not-previously-discussed super-public proposal of her boyfriend, and everyone came down on her like a ton of bricks for being “cruel” for rejecting him publicly.

Toxic Masculinity (part two)

Ok, so this is gonna be finally that essay on Toxic Masculinity and sex that I said I was gonna write.

Sex and Toxic Masculinity are an idiotically complex, convoluted and messy topic. This is because Manly Men are supposed to have lots of sex; in order to do that however, they have to be involved with those horribly deficient and nasty creatures called “women” (because having sex with men is what women do*, and is therefore feminine and therefore must be avoided at all costs by Manly Men). Prolonged exposure to these “women”, and being seen in their company, and worst of all enjoying their company could lead to ball-shrinkage and possible loss of penis, and therefore must be avoided at all costs. So, how do you have lots of sex with women, but still avoid being contaminated by their womenness?

The answer usually is to treat sex as something you take from and do to women, as opposed to something you do with and for them. Once women become the antagonists in the sex-game, sex not only stops being feminizing, but becomes actively masculinizing because it means having men “conquer” and “vanquish” women; when sex happens, it means the man won.

This has several effects on people. For one, the constant need to keep sex antagonistic requires a vast amount of toxic sludge being poured onto women, and relationships with them. Once upon a time, being married was considered a must for a gentlemen and properly established man. Now it’s a trap existing solely for the purpose of “taming” the man-beast, which men are taught to avoid. It still isn’t actually true that men don’t want relationships and commitment, but the culture teaches them that they aren’t supposed to want them, and in the most toxic environments are pressured into either avoiding them completely, or twisting them to their benefit (i.e. reducing the partner to a domestic slave and incubator either verbally or in fact; cheating; pretending that it’s not a relationship, but rather this crazed chick chasing after you).

Two, the interpretation that sex is antagonistic puts rape on a continuum with actual sex. When sex is not ever considered to be actually mutually consensual, but rather something that a man tricks or pressures a woman into doing(learning how to lower her defenses by various means is the premise of this nasty little book, which is a prime example of the antagonistic interpretation of sex), rape simply becomes the most extreme form of “getting sex from a woman”; and the concept of date rape becomes invisible altogether, since without the concept of true consensus, the only difference between sex and rape is physical force.

Three, toxic masculinity shapes the way women who grew up with it learn to interact with men, and with other women. This ranges from a form of self-hatred (similar to the self-hatred exhibited by black kids in the doll tests) and hatred of other women that causes some women to prefer being “one of the guys” rather than make friends with other women, to extreme territoriality in relationships (i.e. if your boyfriend tries to devalue you and your relationship by demeaning you and cheating on you, your only defense becomes keeping your man on a very short leash, and keeping all other women (except those “loyal” and “subordinate” to you) as far away as possible from him; remaining single is not an option), to accepting the role of evil harridan, because it is the only way you can get cooperation out of a toxic male**. IOW, toxic masculinity creates toxic femininity. And this in turn validates and strengthens Manly Men’s low opinion of women. A fucking vicious cycle.

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*no, I have no idea how lesbians figure into this, precisely.

**all of these are situations I got to personally witness in this glorious place called ND. Seems almost the only exception were the religious folks, where the guys treat the women like precious, pure and fragile dolls, and the women acted this angelic role out *facepalm*

Toxic Masculinity (Part One)

Toxic Masculinity (Part One)

This was supposed to be a single post, but then that sex conversation broke out on Pharyngula’s Endless Thread, and issues from that kept invading this as I was writing it. Since it was all rather tangential to my point here, I cut those bits out and will make a separate post about toxic masculinity and sex some other day. This post is about toxic masculinity and environmentalism.

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Toxic Masculinity is one of those “patriarchy hurts men, too” things; the “patriarchy” part is the part where men are better than women; the “hurts men” part is where having your dangly bits between your legs rather than on your chest is a necessary but not sufficient condition for being a man. For that, you must under all circumstances and at all times avoid accumulating women-points by doing or saying things that are considered feminine; best is to do the opposite of “feminine”, which of course then would be “masculine”, and gives you man-points.

Now, what precisely is considered feminine (and therefore having its opposite considered masculine) is almost completely arbitrary, but it’s one hell of a long list. It starts at such relatively harmless things as peeing while sitting down, but it also includes things that have real consequences to men (hence the “hurts men, too” part), like the weird belief that going to the doctor is “girly” unless you’re bleeding to death (and even then, you’d probably get extra man-points if you just sew your wound shut with spiderwire), so men miss out on a lot of preventive care because it’s not manly, and they end up suffering health consequences. This goes double for mental health; men are still more likely than women to commit suicide, and toxic masculinity is a main reason for that.

Toxic Masculinity has other, broader effects as well. Something I hadn’t much considered before, but am starting to notice more because it touches on issues I find important, is that it affects how far and how fast progressive changes to society can be advanced. Toxic masculinity seems always at the forefront of every imaginable backlash to progressive politics, most obviously of course in terms of women’s and LGBT rights (because they clash with the very basis of patriarchal thinking). But it also clashes with efforts to become more environmentally sustainable.

I’ve recently read this article from my free monthly trial of Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture (because I’m dirt-poor, and can’t afford subscriptions to these kinds of things :-p ) about meat consumption and masculinity. It talks about three commercials (this and this, and a third one I couldn’t find on youtube) which show manhood attacked by “chickfood”, i.e. small portions, veggies, tofu, et cetera. “Chickfood” stands in contrast to “manfood”, which in the first commercial are giant slabs of red meat, and in the second one it’s a ginormous, fatty burger. Now, why precisely healthy food is chickfood I don’t know (it’s probably some weird hunter-gatherer pretension where meat=manly, greenery=womanly), but it being “chickfood” means men must avoid it in order to avoid turning into girly-men. Now, the first problem is simply that this manly food is unhealthy, so being forced by the rules of toxic masculinity to eat it or else turn into a girl is already bad for men, on an individual level. On a societal level though, this also means that shifting away from highly processed foods, giant slabs of red meat and other highly inefficient forms of food threatens toxic masculinity, and as such is being actively hindered by this “eating less meat will turn you into a girl” peer-pressure/backlash. At the same time, the words “sustainable” and “organic”, and “vegetarian” are considered essential chickfood labels. And god forbid you actually go to a farmer’s market! On a Saturday morning, when every self-respecting manly man is recovering from a proper hangover!

And the same goes for transportation: the humvee AKA Hummer is most “manly” vehicle; a Honda Civic or a Toyota Prius already makes you pretty girly; a bicycle turns you immediately into a “bike fag”. And for saving electricity (what sort of man doesn’t have a ginormous entertainment center?! or wears a sweater, like that girly-man Carter?!), and for recycling, and for recreation (ATVs are manlier than biking and hiking), and for a whole bunch of other things.

So, the big question is: how do you move forward in creating a healthier, more sustainable society when men are being told that doing so will make their penis fall off?

Toxic Masculinity (part two)