Sunday 26 February 2017

"You have great hair. Can I see your tits?"

Why, sure, strange man on the Internet viewing my online dating profile, I'd be delighted to send you nude pics.  Would you like a blow job as well?

Where do men get their sense of entitlement?

This recent post in my opera group inspired an outpouring of similar screenshots and tales from other women:
A female barrister posted a reply to a man mistaking LinkedIn for PornHub and it went viral.

I respond to about one out of 50 messages I get on the online dating site I am using.  Guys I don't respond to sometimes message me angrily with some charming variation on "Fine, don't answer, you stuck-up cunt, guess I ain't good enough for you, well, fuck you, bitch."  Gosh, missed a gem there.  My loss I didn't take him up on his request to send more pics.

Apparently, when a woman posts a photo on the Internet—whether a professional headshot along with sound clips by a singer, a suited and suitably dour LinkedIn pic, or just your bog standard profile photo on Twitter or your blog (no, I don't have one here, but that's less to avoid the creepers than because this blog is deliberately anonymous to keep me at least nominally employable)—she is inviting men to make unsolicited comments on her appearance, request more photos, and excoriate her as a lesbianfeministmisandrist (or is that redundant?) if she doesn't respond, or responds negatively.  And I haven't even gotten into the dick pic phenomenon.

Actually, since what I want to know here is why men feel this sense of entitlement, the dick pic thing is instructive.  A journalist actually conducted an (admittedly informal, unscientific) survey of men who sent unsolicited dick pics to learn their motivation.  Were they just trolling, attempting to annoy and get a rise out of random women?  Did they actually think the women would want the photos, that some positive contact might result?  In some cases, it was the former: “I think that 'lashing out' towards women on online dating sites, whether harmless annoyance or genuine harassment, is caused by being ignored so thoroughly by so many women. After a while, women on these sites aren't people with feelings; they're just thousands of profiles who all seem to dislike you for completely unknown reasons."

But for the vast majority, it was the latter: "Anais Nin once said, 'We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.' I would be over the moon if some woman sent me a picture of any nudity whatsoever, so I assume that women feel the same way.”

I suspect that is also part of the reason for the inappropriate compliments on professional photos.  Men aren't known for their empathy; women tend to be better at seeing the world from another's viewpoint.  A man wouldn't mind getting unsolicited nude photos, or having strange women tell him he looks hot in his professional headshot.  He wouldn't see it as threatening, nor as denigrating his professional abilities or trivialising his worth in any way.  So, it simply doesn't occur to him that women might view it differently.

But that's only part of the story.  There is also an overriding sense of entitlement that seems to be pervasive amongst men of all races, classes, and cultures.  Cat calls and online harassment are its most benign manifestation; it is exhibited throughout the world via rape and the subjugation of women.

Where does it come from, this sense of entitlement?  It seems to have been an indelible part of the male psyche since the dawn of recorded history.  Was it an evolutionary adaptation that tracked with some useful traits for survival?  Confidence may be sexy, but entitlement is a turn-off.  Yet, entitlement is rooted in narcissism, and some amount of selfishness is undoubtedly linked with an instinct for self-preservation.

Entitlement also manifests outside of the battle of the sexes, in behaviours like cutting in line, road rage, cheating on tests, stealing, etc.  And women are certainly not immune—I have a shocking sense of entitlement in certain areas of life, and I don't know anyone of either sex who doesn't.  But what mitigates it in dealing with other people is empathy.  A lack of empathy is at the root of an obnoxious sense of entitlement.  Men, stereotypically, do not develop empathy.  Is that nature or nurture?  The jury is still out on that, but it seems to be a little of both.

Digging for the cause might help us find a solution.  In the meantime, occasionally a creeper gets what's coming to him:

Saturday 18 February 2017

What forges a connection?

“For there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one's own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.” 
― Milan KunderaThe Unbearable Lightness of Being

Before Facebook, there were email lists (via Yahoo! Groups and other hosts) to connect with other horse-crazy lunatics people who shared your interests or profession.  I subscribed to groups for opera singers and early music lovers, knitters, Alaskan Malamute owners, political scientists, with subgroups for environmental policy and constitutional law, and, of course, a group dedicated to Friesians.

The Friesian list was global but it was started by a Friesian breeder in Australia so the list had a high proportion of Aussies.  I joined in 1997, which was 16 years before I had a Friesian of my own.  I lived vicariously through the experiences of other listees, as did other members who were Friesian-less.

List members would come and go, and ugly spats occasionally ensued, but a core of frequent contributors grew to share off-topic personal info – marriages, divorces, babies, moves, job changes, accidents, cancers, etc. – in addition to all the Friesian talk.  One U.S. listee even took her honeymoon in Oz so she could meet list members there.  Questions from newbies about caring for those long, thick manes and tails (it's a full-time job) and keeping black coats from getting sunbleached (not possible unless you only let your horse outside at night), came up so often some list members compiled FAQs.  The best posts were about someone finally living their Friesian dream, or going on their first Friesian ride, with the obligatory photos sporting the "Friesian grin".  Worst were the panicked colic posts, when we waited with our hearts in our mouths for news, which was always bad – Friesians rarely survive colic.

People would also post about the illnesses and deaths of their non-equine family members – dogs, parents, etc.  The problem with a large global list was that there was always someone celebrating a joyous event – the purchase of their first Friesian, the birth of their first foal, a first premie award at keuring – at the same time someone else was experiencing the death of a beloved Friesian or other personal tragedy.  It was an emotional roller coaster.  Some days, I could not face the list, knowing that my emotions would be buffeted by events out of my control, happening to people and horses I had never met.

Oh, I did meet some people.  I've met most list members in New England, and their Friesians.  I experienced my first Friesian ride (yes, I posted the inevitable Friesian grin photo) thanks to a list member, and the memorial portraits of my dogs are by list members, one in NH and one in Oz.  The artist in NH used to have a booth at Equine Affaire, in which she hired me to work each year.  I've made friends, both equine and human, thanks to the list.

Once we all started connecting on Facebook, the list petered out.  It still exists, but posts are rare.  Most conversation has moved to Fb, either on personal pages or in the various Friesian groups.  It's easier to connect on Fb but more diffuse as there are dozens of Friesian groups and none replicates the environment of the list, which felt closed and close-knit, even though there could have been any number of lurkers, just like on Fb.

I mention this because last month a list member in Oregon had her barn roof collapse under the weight of unaccustomed snow, killing 5 of her 6 horses.  I don't know how she and her daughter are coping with such a devastating loss.  I followed the disaster on Fb, cringing at the photos in helpless horror.  I found my heart going out to someone I barely know, have never met in real life, and probably never will.

Members are diverse; the only thing we have in common is a love of Friesians.  There are a lot of right-wingers.  This wasn't as apparent on the list, when things like politics and religion were almost never discussed.  But everyone's views are on display on Facebook.  Horse owners are often rural people in red states, with pick-up trucks and without a college education.  It's to be expected they'd be guns'n'god types but the recent election tested some online friendships.  Listees who are gay saw "marriage is between one man and one woman" posts from other members, views that would never have been apparent on the list.  Can liking the same horse breed overcome these sorts of differences in an increasingly polarised climate?  The list member whose barn roof collapsed had recently un-friended me.  I have no idea what I said to offend her, but I can only assume it's linked to the election—my anti-Trump posts have been frequent and scathing.

Of course, the bigger picture window into other's lives afforded by Fb also shows how good some people are.  One listee has turned out to be one of the nicest, most kind-hearted and deserving-of-all-good things people I have ever known.  She is in Oz, so it's unlikely I will ever meet her, unless the plane ride gets a lot shorter and the wildlife gets a lot less homicidal.

They have bad brush fires in Australia, just like in southern California.  Every year as the fires rage in both places, listees in those locales are expected to check in and let everyone know they're ok.  Yesterday the super kind listee told us the nearest fires to her were moving slowly in another direction and local authorities had assured everyone that there was no need to prepare to evacuate.

Next post she is explaining that wind picked up, shifted direction, and the fire is at her property line.  She got her kids, her dogs, and as many of her chickens as she could and evacuated with only the clothes on her back.  She had a hauler coming to evac her two Friesians and she wondered why it wasn't arriving.  As she was forced to flee, she passed a road block – on the only road to her place – through which the police would not let the trailer pass.

Needless to say, she spent a sleepless night in the evacuation centre with her family, practically puking from the fear and horror of imagining the great loves of her life being barbequed alive.

“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.” 
― Walt WhitmanSong of Myself

She posted this Thursday night and my dreams were haunted by fears for her horses and chickens left behind.  I couldn't grab my phone fast enough when I woke up Friday morning.  The news reported that 15 houses had burned to the ground and the smoke was too thick to speculate about animals.  Finally, a neighbour got through and was able to inform her that her house was still standing, albeit with burn marks on the brick and the downspouts melted.  Every fence and outbuilding and piece of vegetation on the property was burned to the ground.  The chicken coop and yard were just ashes, along with her favourite rooster, Charlie, three younger cockerels, some beloved hens, and 12 baby chicks.  Her hay shed was toast, along with all her hay, feed, and tack and equipment for her horses.

The only thing standing was the fence to the horse pasture, because it was made of steel.  And moving slowly on burned feet and with pained lungs, looking like ghostly apparitions through the haze, came the two pieces of her heart she'd been forced to leave behind.  Every patch of ground, every tree and bush in their field was charred and smoking.  I can't imagine how terrified they must have been.  No-one knows how they survived.  I can only assume they stood in the pond in the middle of their pasture.
When she posted that photo, sent to her by her neighbour, I was at the gym, on a bike, waiting for class to start.  But I cried—tears of relief for the horses, and of sadness for the chickens.  I have not met this woman and I probably never will.  But I cared deeply that these horses survived; I've heard so much about them for the last 20 years, I feel like I know them.  I felt her wrenching fear for their fate all night.  I don't particularly want to; I can't take on the weight of everyone else's troubles in the world, especially when there is nothing I can do but worry helplessly.

"To perceive is to suffer" - Aristotle

I can't say why the Friesian list has become so much tighter than other online groups.  I can't say why I care about animals, and to some extent people, I've never met.  (There have certainly been scammers on the list, people who were not who they portrayed themselves to be.  I never fell for them—my innate distrustfulness and shrewdness come in handy sometimes.)  But it seems to be human nature to put yourself in others' shoes and imagine how you'd feel if it were your babies in that fire.  This isn't a political post but it makes the callousness of the right more galling, the lack of empathy.  And it sure as hell makes me wish my little fuzzy guy wasn't so far away so I could hug him now.

Sunday 12 February 2017

Valentine's Day is the kick in the arse some relationships need

It's hip to hate on V-Day.  All the cool couples scorn it.  It's passé, a cheesy Hallmark holiday to sell overpriced roses and waxy chocolate, an obligatory sex day even if it falls on a work night and your back hurts from shovelling all that snow.  Besides, if you need a greeting card company to remind you to express affection to your partner, your relationship has problems ain't no annual blow job gonna fix.
Take note, guys: Most women would rather have a dozen orgasms than a dozen roses.

All men hate Valentine's Day.  At least, I have yet to meet one who doesn't.  My ex refused to even acknowledge its existence.  Despite having had two long-term relationships in my adult life, the only Valentine's Day gift I've ever received was from a high school boyfriend who gave me chocolate-covered strawberries.  Strawberries are not exactly in season in Chicago in February, so they probably tasted like Styrofoam but, at 16, I thought it was pretty sweet a boy had gone to Godiva to get me something.  (30 years later, he now hates V-Day, too.)
"Sex tonight?  Aw, sorry, honey, I can't.
I have to clip my toenails & do my taxes."

Guys give the same reason for rejecting the holiday:  Forced displays of affection are meaningless.  I agree.  For the couple getting each other generic gifts, like the cliché of the executive who has his secretary order a dozen roses for his wife every year, it is meaningless.  But, even if you choose not to celebrate it, there is a lesson couples can take from V-Day, if you apply a little perspective to the holiday.  I first wrote a defence of Valentine's Day 14 years ago, the gist of which was:  No, you cannot feel emotions on command, nor should you.  Yes, you and your partner should have sexy romantic fun time and give each other random gifts throughout the year.  But life gets in the way.  Couples with the best of intentions to make time for each other, to keep the romance alive, to have other than perfunctory weekly sex, don't.  Responsibilities, from work to kids to housework, family, friends, hobbies, binge-watching Netflix, sleeping, take priority.  You may even feel guilty taking time for yourselves as a couple—spending money on dinner out or a babysitter, or staying up late to fuck.  Valentine's Day isn’t going to repair a broken relationship.  It's not going to reawaken sexual desire or feelings of warmth and affection, but if they're there, just pushed onto a backburner, it is an excuse to make your relationship a priority, guilt-free.  You can go out for dinner and agree not to talk about the kids or the mildew problem in the basement, hold hands and flirt like when you were dating, schedule a hot tub and massage and then go home and fuck without worrying about being tired in the morning.

This unisex card has the perfect message.
In that way, it's not so much forcing you to feel emotions based on the calendar as providing an excuse to express ones that are already there.  If the day itself doesn't work for you — maybe a kid is sick or one of you has a major work deadline or it's just too cheesy — use it as a reminder to schedule that time at the first opportunity.  If you find you don't want to, that's a red flag.  You don't have to celebrate or acknowledge V-Day at all but if the thought of having any kind of a date night leaves you cold, the relationship may be dead and you just didn't notice.  It may be possible to resuscitate it or it may be time to move on.  Either way, don't hit snooze and ignore the wake-up call.
Any holiday can be made political if you try hard enough.
Shy about expressing your desires?
Make some of these.
I used to write a sex advice column in the persona of a dominatrix.  For a completely unserious lark, the column received a lot of serious questions.  By far the most common one was "I'd like to try <insert sexual activity> but I'm afraid to ask my partner."  V-Day, or its personalised substitute, if you prefer to use your birthday, anniversary, Arbor Day, etc., provides an excuse to kick a routine sex life up a notch.  If you don't feel comfortable straight-up asking for what you want, you can pen it as a fantasy, draw a picture, make coupons, or, if all else fails, there's always alcohol and handcuffs.

(That last was a joke – not suggesting anything non-consensual.)

If you agree as a couple to ignore Valentine's Day, that's your prerogative.  But in my experience it's usually the guy who wants to disregard it and the woman goes along because she has no counterargument and she wants to seem cool and not sappy or needy.  Ladies, here's your response.  Gentlemen, bear in mind that this is the one holiday that is guaranteed to get you laid.  How can you not dig that?
If you're not sore for the next few days, you need to 'celebrate the holiday' again.