Friday, August 13, 2004

paper-thin stereotypes

Paper Napkin:

So here's the scenario: You're out at a bar, riding transit, or even just walking down the street, and some bozo who desperately wants into your pants starts up a conversation with you. Rather than make a scene or make them upset (which, hey, could be dangerous), you're polite and at least nod at the proper times. Then, of course, they ask you for your number. Except this is 2004, so maybe they ask for your email address instead.

This net service that lets you (perhaps less than tactfully) give someone who's hitting on you a bogus email address, When the poor bastard sends you an email, they get an automated reply that begins with:

Subject: Sorry, you've been rejected.

Dear Rejectee,

We are a third party rejection service. This email is a rejection notice directed toward yourself from someone who gave you this bunk email address. That lovely person wants to communicate a message to you. In short, they are not interested.

It then proceeds to make disparaging suppositions about the possible reasons for the rejection, which include
  • you're ugly/unkempt/undesirable

  • what you call a 'personality' is really just a collection of behaviors you use to try and get laid

  • if you're a guy, perhaps your ego is inversely proportional to the size of your dick

My first thought is that if the person isn't honest enough to tell you flat out that they're not interested, or creative enough to come up with a better solution than this, you're probably better off having been rejected. I think back on times I've been at shows in bars and women have offered to buy me a drink, and I'll politely decline, talk with them a bit but let them know I'm there for music, not the meat-market, and the protocol of such things is that they usually just shrug it off and that's that.

The other thing about this is the weight of preconceptions it embodies: it's obviously tailored for women to fend off the advances of men, and the baggage that comes with this (for both genders) is pretty heavy. Our culture predominantly believes that sex is something men do to women, though there is a portion of society that has evolved (relatively) to thinking that sex is something men do with women. (Fortunately there has been some progress in recent years, with some guys getting a clue and some women taking responsibility for their own sexuality, and for these people sex has become something two people do 'together' instead of 'to each other'.)

This active/passive division of roles (reinforced by the 'stud/slut' stereotypes) isn't really helping people develop meaningful relationships - it's the source of the 'war between the sexes'. I thought the point of finding a mate was to form a mutual support system, not to have convenient access to the enemy.

It amazes me how many women believe that the only card they have to play is their body, and how many don't realize that their acceptance of this traditional script implies a greater acceptance of all of the rest of the crap that comes with the traditional gender roles. I'm less amazed that guys accept their role in this game... the hunter has less reason to deplore the hunt than the prey does. But I am surprised at how many people of both genders don't associate the resultant relationship fiascos with their original assumptions.

Years ago I was having a conversation with my friend Blaine about this, and I made the comment that on some cosmic level males are passive/receptive and females are active/creative. He quickly pointed out that I was wrong, but when I asked him for examples to back up his assertion the only one he could think of was the act of sex itself (which surprised the hell out of him). In all other things, men are receptive - it it the female that gives birth, bears fruit, brings forth, and the male that receives. It's phenomenal how abstract social conditioning can reverse the perception (in the minds of both women and men) of something so obvious.

Barring some evolutionary leap in our society's perception of gender roles, it looks like we're stuck with this for awhile. So in the meantime, women can use the Paper Napkin service to reinforce their acceptance of the 'weaker sex' role, and men can... I dunno, lift heavy objects and kill spiders or something while they're busy not getting laid.


Blogger krishna said...

I must first congratulate the brain behind this unique service, and then I must find fault with you for making some serious and interesting conclusions about what was obviously a tongue-in-cheek service. You are worse than a feminist!
Of course, Women do not need such ploys to ward off undesirable men. They have their means and methods to ensure that men are taken on a roller coaster ride so far as matters of the heart are concerned. The poor man may not even sense the fall when he is unceremoniously dumped. A humourous ditty in my mother tongue( Telugu) says:
" The world shivers in the presence of a woman;
When two women are together, they can squeeze the last drop of water from the Oceans;
When three combine their forces, one can see stars during the day( They can create a catastrophe of admirable proportions)"
This may have some sexist and sarcastic connotations( I am interested to know your interpretation) but I am amused rather than angry. I would like to think that we women have a fine sense of humour.
Your comment about men being passive/receptive is incisive.

Blogger Foobario said...

I grew up in a very religious culture where women were taught that their only purpose in life was to care for the men and have babies. There was this whole male power structure based on interesting biblical interpretations: man was created first, but Eve messed everything up; the avatar came to Earth as a man, but the starring female roles in that part of the book are the virgin and the whore, the honored woman whose sexuality was purely for child-bearing and the despised woman whose sexuality was not... all of these things convinced the men that they were superior to women, and as time went on they were able to convince the women as well.

That culture created women who felt that there was something wrong with them, that they were lacking something fundamental. It also set the stage for bizzaro-world interaction between the sexes, because the 'head of the household' was the man, but the person who actually ran everything was the woman... and one of her most important jobs was making sure that the man continued in his mistaken belief that he was in charge. A visible display of a woman's power just didn't happen.

Even though that was years ago and far away, I'm still occasionally surprised when I see a woman display that sort of conditioned passivity. I'm just as surprised when I hear a man talking from the corresponding point of view, and had this been a post about a service that catered to them I'd have been bitching about that. I'm very adaptable :)

You are right (oh so very right) about the 'means and methods to ensure that men are taken on a roller coaster ride so far as matters of the heart are concerned'. It's just that I personally don't find that sort of behavior conducive to a strong partnership - it's a hell of a lot easier if people just say what they mean and mean what they say. Men and women both have all of these little games for protecting themselves, for masking their feelings, for manipulating people... and for me, that's the biggest turn-off possible.

As for your Telugu ditty, I think I am more of a believer in that sentiment than most women are. Which was what spurred me to rant in the first place, instead of just posting a link. I think most men know how strong women can be, and fear it, and that's why all of this institutionalized male domination pops up. My position is that it's a tempest in a teacup... because our cultural domestication is so successful that in general the women themselves don't know how strong they are.

By the way, could you post those lines in Telugu? A friend of mine can turn the phonetics back into the correct writing. I think that ditty and the Chinese ideogram for 'trouble' (which is drawn as 'two women under one roof') show the difference in perception of female power... the Telugu piece was almost assuredly written by a woman, while the Chinese ideogram was pretty clearly thought up by a man.

I've never been called a feminist - make that 'worse than a feminist' - before... it's somewhat amusing. I'm a humanist: I want us *all* to be free to express ourselves, free of fear and restrictive stereotypes.

The service is, as you mentioned, 'tongue-in-cheek', taken merely as a concept. My rant was a somewhat ham-fisted attempt to point out that in the context of the consensus narrative of the culture I live in, it is all too easy for 'tongue-in-cheek' to become 'dagger-in-heart'. I believe in the hacker ethic, two bits of which are relevant to this service viewed as a social hack:

A hack must
- be funny, at least to most of the people who experience it
- not damage anyone, either physically, mentally or emotionally

In the context of interpersonal relationships, I think there is a very good chance that this service will end up violating the second of those.

Blogger krishna said...

These are the lines in telugu:

"Okatheku jagamulu vanakunu
anganaliddarunna ambhudulinkun
mudithalu mugguraina,
Sugunakara! Patta pagalu chukkalu poduchun."

"I've never been called a feminist - make that 'worse than a feminist' -"
It's a compliment, believe me!

Another Telugu ditty to help you to cope better with President Bush.
" Tiviri isumna tailambudiyavachu
davili inumuna neeru dravavacchu
tirigi kumdeti kommu sadhimchavacchu
Cheri moorkhula manasu ranjinparadu"

( Does your friend know Telugu? If not, there may be some differences while transcribing it: a to be pronounced like "a" in Rama. The meaning is as follows: One can extract oil from sand; one can squeeze water from iron; One can somehow find a rabbit's horn but one cannot convince a fool.
i.e. No point in wasting one's energies with a fool. No amount of reasoning will pierce his obdurate mind. It's like blowing a horn before a deaf man.). An interesting article in Guardian states how this year's convention of Democratic party was similar to that of Republican party: The traditional Republican talking points like family values, God and Country etc., were adopted and there was more discipline and less chaos unlike earlier conventions.
According to Guardian, "the Democratic convention unleashed a full-scale invasion of Republican emotional terrain." This came to my mind when I read this article:
"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

"There was this whole male power structure based on interesting biblical interpretations: man was created first, but Eve messed everything up."
All the religions (as they are practised now) seem to be similar in their prejudices, especially those concerning women even if do not agree on the means to reach salvation.
I am reading the old testament now and I am surprised to find ( LEVITICUS: The third book of Moses) that if a woman bears a male child, then she shall be unclean for seven days and she shall not touch any hallowed thing or visit a holy place for about 33 days; but, if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean for two weeks and the purification period will be for three score and six days! This hideous concept of women being unclean after child birth is there among Hindus too, though the duration does not depend on the gender of the child, and the practice is not prescribed by any religious book. I presume that the new testament or simply, the literacy levels and sense of independence among women in the West, have put an end to such blatant biases yet, it came as a shock to read about such discrimination being duly sanctioned by a holy book. Sorry for a bit of digresion!

Blogger Foobario said...

Thanks for the Telugu... I have a friend who is a professor in South-East Asian Studies (which somehow encompasses India), between he and his Tamil wife (who is also a professor in the same department) they've got most of the Indian languages down well enough to translate verse into the original script. I'm only good with devanagari, which makes my knowledge less relevant the farther south I go.

>one cannot convince a fool

Aye, that becomes more apparent each day. I've never been more embarrased to be an American, I feel like I'm tainted with idiocy-by-association.

The Dems and the Reps get closer to being the same party every year... they'll pass each other going in opposite directions soon. They've done it before, more than once... the Republicans were once the liberals in this country. The pattern seems to be that both sides get more and more extreme until they eventually start alienating their own people, at which point they start assuming a more centrist stance; each side makes small changes to their platform to try and attract those who where disenfranchised by the other side, and eventually the pendulum gets enough momentum to swing all the way to the other side.

> Leviticus

When I read that book it struck me that any time there was some exhortation to do good it was ignored by modern practitioners, but most of the petty (and socially out-of-context) prejudices were followed faithfully.

I've had 'decent God-fearing Christians' accost me on the public transit, quoting verses from Corinthians about how long hair is 'a woman's glory and a man's shame', and telling me that by having long hair I am intentionally inviting hellfire and damnation for my arrogance in defying this edict. They then move away so they won't get hit by the lightning when God decides to punish me for this. This from adults who apparently have sufficient mental capacity to read, and handle the intricacies of the public transportation system. Some of the things religious people say would get them locked up for craziness if the subject matter wasn't backed up by ancient text... but if a prejudice was good enough for inbred goat-herders 3000-years ago, then 'by God' it's good enough for these people.

Which somehow brings us full-circle to the "one cannot convince a fool" issue again.

That whole 'women are unclean' thing is sad... one of our neighbors had a baby a few weeks ago, and for months before and all the time since it was like she was holding darshan - we (and all of the other neighbors) would go up to see her every day, and take meals to them, and if anything she has been treated more holy than unclean.

(Having a baby is, however, a special instance... and I live in a fairly conscious and caring neighborhood. In the culture at large, women are feared, especially if they are powerful and/or successful. India and Pakistan have had female PM's... while in the US female members of Congress are often ignored or harshly criticized, and there's no way in hell we're going to see a female President any time soon.)

There's this whole architecture of shame - for one's race, gender, social status, nationality, skin color, just about anything, really - the maintenance of which I sometimes think is the primary function of most religions and political institutions. And women almost always get the wrong end of the deal.

Blogger krishna said...

On long vs. short hair:

During my initial years in Karnataka, an obnoxious politician, who was a Kannada (It’s a language spoken in Karnataka where I used to work) zealot, used to the bane of officers. He used to take potshots at officers from outside Karnataka, as their knowledge of local language was poor. Lady officers who had short hair and who could not speak or read Kannada were his favourite targets. (Short hair was supposed to be against the Indian culture.) I always had waist length hair and I was also fairly comfortable in Kannada unlike some of my colleagues. Hence, I escaped his notice. Long hair in men is associated (at least in the urban pockets of my country) with Hippie culture though all our mythological heroes sported long hair! A case of cross-cultural influences at work?

Incidentally, could you define "a bozo" for me? Does the word mean any Tom, Dick or Harry? Or is it used in a disparaging sense?

Blogger Foobario said...

Generically a bozo is a clown, fool, or jackass. In the context in which it was used, it also has the implied connotation that the 'bozo' in question is beneath one's consideration, meritless, and one-dimensional.

I tend to use the word a lot when I talk about the Bush administration.
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