Latest Entries

Caesar Non Supra Feminismus

I’d originally set out to write a follow-up post to the one about tribalism, about the war feminists are waging against men, believing myself to be an innocent bystander and collateral damage. It contained *cough* such gems as “the emasculation of the human male” and “the repression of mens’ sexuality”. There’s probably still something to it, but now is not the time. What happened was that I had a solid moment of introspection that led to an epiphany about my relationship with women where I am not a good guy. This was a surprise given how I conscientiously try to avoid being a dick (literally and metaphorically), and support causes for equality.

Yes, this is A Very Serious Topic, and it’s even longer than my usual rants. I’ve got my big boy pants on.

I recall at least four occasions where I believe I caused significant hurt to specific women in my life – not physical hurt as such, but mental or emotional damage. I’m going to refer to them as One, Two, Three and Four not because I’m trying to hide the truth or strip them of their identity to lessen my culpability, but obviously these things didn’t happen in a vacuum, so there’ll be those of you out there who know the other person that I’m talking about, and that could be fairly embarrassing in itself. So for what it’s worth, I’ve tried to keep the focus as much as possible on my own transgressions, but of course I must ask that those of you who know the person I’m talking about to please don’t say or do anything that might draw attention to them, without their explicit consent.

I’m not writing this to be brave. And despite my writing style and how I normally come across, I’m not using prose to try and exert my moral superiority over everyone else for once (unusual for me). I don’t even know why I’m motivated to write this at all. Maybe the writing process is an attempt at trying to understand and right the wrong within myself, and publishing it makes me accountable; maybe I’m writing this as a legacy to my son, for him to learn from my mistakes and be better than me; maybe I’m riding the zeitgeist and cobbling some pretty words to make myself feel better and fool others into thinking that I’m doing The Right Thing. The truth requires a degree of objective self-awareness that I simply do not possess.

And maybe, to the women that matter in this matter, this was not the right thing to do. If so, then I hope there’s some small comfort for you to know that I didn’t know, and didn’t intend for this to be cathartic or otherwise beneficial to myself. And whatever eventuates, I will try my best not to let further elaborations in comments and such turn this into a yay-me for being so enlightened, or a sorry-not-sorry through backpedalling.

Alright, so with that said – deep breath – let’s do this thing.

One

The first was in primary school, around Year 5. Yep, I started young. I have a terrible memory at the best of times, but from what I can remember, I developed a huge crush on a girl in my year. I don’t know where I got the cojones from, but I would harass her day in and day out, during recesses and lunch times, demanding that she profess love for me. I was a bully.

The situation culminated in an act that even now baffles me as to how I pulled it off, and, more importantly, why I did it. I managed to persuade a group of my friends to trap One and her friend in a series of concrete tunnels in the playground at school, with one of my friends blocking each of the three exits. As an adult I now appreciate how terrifying that would’ve been.

My next memory of that situation is being given a talk by the teacher, Mr Higgs. In my adult life I humblebrag about how I was nearly expelled because of it, because it makes me sound tough and rebellious, antithesis to the coward that I often am. I’m not sure that it was entirely true but that’s the narrative I settled on. Maybe my parents might remember something about it – surely the teachers would’ve spoken to them, but I never bothered to ask – and still haven’t – because the truth might be less flattering.

That’s not where the story ends though. A couple of years later, in the final year of Primary School, I went around collecting autographs from everybody. Unsurprisingly, One was a holdout, but after much begging and pleading she relented and wrote her name. It may seem like such a trivial thing but it was a forgiveness I didn’t deserve.

There’s more. I came across her again in university. I don’t recall exactly whether I first recognised her when I saw her in the lift, or whether I saw her name on a noticeboard first and then later figured it out. She didn’t recognise me, but even if she did, it’s not like as if she’d say “hi” and we’d shoot the breeze or something. I think it was also around that time that I became aware through an article somewhere that her older sister, who also studied engineering, suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. What I’m guilty of here was thinking that because she and her family seemed to have been dealt a pretty shitty hand in life, that it somehow lessened my own culpability.

Two

The second part begins in high school. I did some pretty stalkery shit with a few girls, which is also definitely a thing with me, but that isn’t the story. I had a crush on Two, although she was already dating someone at the time. Still, we were in a tight-knit social group and spent a lot of time together. Even though she got a new boyfriend sometime between graduating from high school university, we developed a friendship through shared lectures, and a love of music and TV (in particular, X-Files). One time, we spent about 5 hours on the phone together all night watching the Oscars or some other interminably long awards show. I don’t think we even talked all that much – we were just together. This was on a landline, mind you… mobiles phones weren’t widely available back then.

I thought we were Very Good Friends and I remember being physically and emotionally close to her, but somehow I mistook that trust of friendship to be something more. I’m cringing as I recount it now, but one evening on the way home from uni, only a couple of weeks after she’d broken up with her then boyfriend, I decided it was finally “my turn” and asked her out. Her shock must have been palpable, because I recall instantly trying to walk back what I’d said, muttering something about being sick and talking out of my ass or something. Our buses arrived and we went our separate ways.

In the aftermath of that event I fell into a deep depression for around six months, during which all I could focus on was myself: where did I go wrong? What did I do wrong? Wasn’t it a natural evolution of our friendship? etc. Me, me, me. I only had a vague awareness of the fact that I no longer saw her around the campus. She went missing from lectures and may have even dropped out for a bit? I haven’t got a clue. That’s the depth of my ignorance towards somebody whom I considered a friend and thought I cared deeply about.

I fell in with some other friends and into religion, which offered hope of salvation through repentance. I found absolution through the forgiveness offered to me by God via Jesus’ suffering on the cross, a lame proxy for real forgiveness from someone who actually suffered for my sins. It was an easy out and I took it, riding the high horse of religious morality for the next decade or so.

Three

I almost didn’t include this one because I felt like I wasn’t the instigator and therefore recused from accountability. Three had separated from her boyfriend of many years, and partly as a result of the timing of when I moved to Sydney, I became a friend and confidant. We would have deep, long conversations at her place lasting late into the night (clearly late nights aren’t a good sign for me).

Neither of us ever would’ve admitted to being romantically interested in the other but we were pretty close, to the point where people often asked me whether we were a couple (and if not, why not). I took full advantage of being in a relationship with someone without accepting any emotional responsibility. I once chided her for “looking like a sex crime waiting to happen” as if it were a compliment and a sign of how much I cared and was concerned about her… *cringe*.

My fault here was once again believing there was more than there actually was. I got it into my head that I was becoming too emotionally involved (as if there was anything wrong with that anyway), so in the emo fog that drives most of my writing, I hand-wrote a letter containing some terrible analogy about fishermen, anchors, choppy seas, etc. and delivered it as a letter slipped under her door in the dead of night (see what I mean about the weird stalker thing?)

We remained friends in spite of that. Later, she met somebody, and told me about it like you would to a friend, but I twisted that to suit my own egotistical purposes by telling to others that even though I rejected her – as if there was anything to reject – she was still looking to me for guidance and advice.

Four

The fourth one was a work colleague. We’d known each other since I started working at the company, but it wasn’t until a few years down the track that we became friends. She was like an office wife – someone to whom I could vent frustrations about work, clients, office politics and such. Being single, she always gave her complete and undivided attention, which was intense for a social retard like me. I basked in it like a bear emerging from a winter of hibernation into the bright, warm sun.

As I spent time with Four, my thoughts congealed around an “epiphany” that had been formulating in my head for a while: I prefer being friends with women than men! I mean, after all, didn’t I have such satisfying friendships with Two and Three? Plus I vastly prefer the company and conversation of women to that of men. Surely that explains my complete and utter failure to form healthy, positive male relationships in spite of my attempts over the years. I rationalised that toxic masculinity (which to me essentially means anything I’m not interested in, like sport) would ultimately ruin any male friendship I was ever likely to have.

Except I was never really a friend to Four or any of the other women; I obsessed over them, not dissimilar to the jilted protagonist of the TV comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I used them as salve for my psychological problems. I pressed Four to get involved in issues that had nothing to do with her, and when she tried to dial back in order to maintain a healthy distance, I chucked an epic hissy fit and annihilated our friendship. Worse, I played my wife off against her, making out as if there was bad blood between them, when they previously had a perfectly cordial relationship.

We encountered each other one time after I changed jobs. I attempted to paper over the situation and see if I couldn’t salvage at least a little of what we had before, but she was the one that had to hold strong and protect me from myself.

Five

I mentioned four women at the beginning of the post, but there is a fifth that that I must mention – the most important one. It may never have occurred to her that I could ever have been one of them and therefore she wouldn’t have expected a post like this. I don’t think I have hurt her, at least not in the same way that I’ve hurt the ones above but she deserves no less than any of the other women already mentioned here.

To Jenny: I see the trials that you go through as a woman. For the judgement you receive as a stay-at-home mother and home-maker, and the oppression and bias you receive on a daily basis from the societies and cultures that we live in. I’m sorry for my role in this – mostly for my silence, but also what you’ve suffered directly from me over the years, like being an insufferable know-it-all and mansplaining everything; the unwritten agreement that binds you to carry the bulk of the emotional, social and other burdens in our family; and even this post itself and the violation of your privacy for my purposes.

—–

There stands the current ledger of my most egregious sins against women. There were a couple of other cases that I thought about including, but chose not to in the end because maybe the repercussions weren’t as severe as for the ones chronicled here. If you are one of those women and I’ve misread the situation, make it known to me and I will attempt to make restitution.

It’s customary at this point to provide the reader with some kind of closure. A summary of the things I’ve learned and henceforth I will sin no more, or some such homily. But I assure you there’ll be no such thing. This has no resolution because I have no claim to forgiveness; I can’t and won’t beg it from any of these women because none is owed to me.

Sadly, it would be an all-too-trivial exercise to find forgiveness in excuses: I was only a kid; it was all just feelings; it happened a long time ago; I misunderstood the situation; my transgressions are trivial compared to real crimes against women – it’s not like I hit or raped anyone. And the problem is that society is OK with that, happy to be complicit in it, even. I now see why one of the basic tenet of forgiveness in Christianity has such cut-through: you don’t even have to confront your victims to find forgiveness. As you confess your sins God forgives you. Jesus-fucking-Christ! Where indeed, are my accusers? Probably too afraid to speak up lest they themselves be judged by men, or even their peers, against the standards of our so-called modern society.

Nope. Sorry, but that can’t be where it ends any more. Men must come to the realisation of the role they, as individuals, play in the subjugation of women on both a conscious and subconscious level, and we must join together, men and women, on a journey towards true equality.

In-tolerance we trust

Us vs Them

Something has gone terribly wrong with media and the Internet: we’ve lost the ability to tolerate opinions that run contrary to our own.

These days, if you express a politically incorrect point of view (which sadly, is increasingly coming to mean not toeing the line on a progressive, “small-L” liberal political agenda), then the Internet sees it as its moral obligation to set you straight.

But I get where the hate is coming from. We’re forced on a daily basis to contend with fake news and dangerous, unscientific ideas, and that’s got us all riled up because it might harm us or that which we love – both people and things (like the planet we live on). But in our attempt to protect ourselves we’ve taken to passing instant judgement on things that we’re unfamiliar with. What’s worse is that we fail to appreciate the subtlety and nuance of a debate and defer to simple archetypes and tropes in order to cope with the sheer volume of crap being slung at us at high velocity via our social media feeds.

The Same Sex Marriage postal vote currently underway in Australia has pretty much become a worst-case example, where an issue has been reduced down to exactly two tribes: Yes and No. For what it’s worth, I’ve already cast my vote, but I won’t be drawn on which way I voted because in the spirit of this post I maintain that both sides have valid arguments – not that they are equal and opposite because I did eventually choose one over the other – but that neither side of the issue is completely wrong and without merit as some would have us believe. There are people on both sides who will claim that the issue is as simple as all that, but it’s precisely this kind of reductionist thinking that’s causing the problem I’m talking about.

The obvious danger is, of course, groupthink, when you defer responsibility for understanding the issue to the tribe you identify with, which inevitably boils down to “us” vs “them” (or “Yes” vs “No” in our case here). When you Like or Share a meme on Facebook that supports your point of view without comment, you’re pretty much certainly guilty of groupthink. On introspection, you may even find that you actually disagree with some of the things that your group thinks, but in order to belong you overlook them as minor or inconsequential.

It also leads to close-mindedness against arguments offered by the other side. Given the impossible task of discerning a valid argument from an invalid one, the reasonable course of action is of course to consider all of them invalid. But because we’re challenged to engage, we avoid doing so at the intellectual level and respond emotionally and viscerally instead.

But there is a high road: just shut the fuck up.

People who haven’t read this blog nor spent the time to get to know me, and only know me from my infrequent posts on social media, will probably be surprised to find that I lean conservative on a lot of socio-political issues. Even as an atheist, my sympathetic attitude towards religion finds me few friends on either side of the fence, and I’ve learned that it’s better to keep a low profile than to attempt to nut out one’s immature, partially-formed worldview in full view of the public. To be otherwise is to provide know-it-alls and holier-than-thous with an open invitation to a slagging match.

But more than that, we need to practice tolerance as a skill; the ability to suck it in and let something pass without comment. Don’t get me wrong, I see no small irony in my saying that and writing this post, which is the very picture of me not tolerating the bullshit that I’m seeing on Facebook and elsewhere. But in my own defense I have at least made an attempt to lay out some form of argument instead of trying to get my point across in less than 140 characters and/or a narky picture.

I won’t be unfriending or unfollowing anybody, or trying to convince anyone to vote the same way I did. I’m not going to label you as a monster who hates human rights, nor some fanatic who is out to destroy the innocence of children. I will tolerate your views, with the view that one day we might be able to discuss them from a mutual position of respect. There’s more to life, and presumably friendship, than where you put your mark on the survey form.

And if you disagree with me on this, I will gladly tolerate your thoughts on that too. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Okay, okay, okay…

Today, 14 Sep, is “R U OK?” day where people go around spamming the cryptic phrase everywhere hoping to get people to fess up. It’s noble, but seems vaguely misguided in the deep cesspool of awesomeness that is social media.

For my part, I’m not OK. I have some serious shit going on in my life but that’s not an invitation for pity. I am seeing a psychologist so I have professional help. For what it’s worth you can usually tell how bad things are with me by how much I’m writing. I’ll readily admit some of my best writing came from the darkest of places and the number and frequency of blog posts is usually a clue.

In my circle of FB friends I know there are several of you just as fucked up as me, more or less – don’t worry, I won’t out you – but isn’t it funny the stigma associated with mental illness such that it’s a secret held between me and each of you separately?

Of course the point of all this is to ask, in my usual way, using way more words than is necessary, “are you okay?” Because if you’re not, then I’m somebody who has been down the rabbit hole, and is still digging around down there. I know what happens next when you respond to that question with “no, I’m not,” and I won’t just offer some hand-wavy “advice” to call up a helpline or talk to your GP. Heck, I’m not even going to offer to talk to you about it over a beer, primarily because I hate beer, and if you even thought that was ever going to be a thing with us then I don’t know you.

I’m not really here

As an atheist, the reason why I go to church is not for religious reasons but a social one. It’s the antidote to my geeky tendency to stay at home and “socialise” from behind a computer screen.

In Talk To The Hand, Lynne Truss’s treatise on the rudeness of today’s society, she hypothesises that one possible cause of impoliteness stems from an increasing focus on individual rights, and the right to assert one’s personal space, freedoms and liberties even when in public. Therefore going out is no longer a social experience, but an exercise in managing one’s “bubble” necessitating new forms of etiquette that explain how to maintain one’s state of isolation without raising the ire of others (think mobile phones on the train).

Social Networking makes many bold claims about increasing peoples’ connectedness, but this too, is done entirely in isolation, with each person sitting alone in front of their own computer.

Truss spends a chapter talking about the historical impact of the telephone: one could, for the first time, speak to somebody that wasn’t physically present. The Internet has added yet a third layer on top of that – you no longer transmit yourself directly through your own physical voice, but with mere words. The book points out the rudeness of talking on the phone in the presence of others, but now now you can be texting somebody while talking on the phone, adding yet another level of “unpresence” to conversations.

Church, which is still predominantly conducted as a physical gathering, forces me to participate in a community, as week by week I see the same people. People who I may not want to talk to. Ironically, the small talk that I fear in “meatspace” is exactly the kind of thing that passes unremarked in a constant stream in cyberspace (via Facebook).

It’s ironic. A big criticism of religion is that it requires a belief in the intangible, the metaphysical, and yet religious institutions are the ones offering real community experiences.

—-

This post is a part of the series An Atheist in God’s Kingdom.

Re-present

I’d like to start a discussion about changing attributes of fictional characters, which has cropped up a lot recently in cases like black Hermione in the stage production of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”, Jodie Whittaker as the next Doctor in the TV series, calls for a female James Bond… the list goes on: Myles Morales, Thor Girl, Ghostbusters, etc., etc. (Isn’t it interesting how it’s predominantly a “nerd culture” problem, although that’s not what I’m going to be talking about.)

I tend not to wade into internet arguments, because I have friends that straddle both sides of the fence, and I like to always keep an open mind. But this one’s been around long enough that I’m comfortable taking a position on it. Maybe I’m going to cop a lot of flak for it, but it’s been a while since I’ve put up a decent, meaty post, so it’s probably about time.

I guess it shouldn’t come as any surprise that people only seem to be able to take a binary view of the matter – either it’s OK to update any character with different attributes (because it’s all just make-believe, right?), or it’s not, because to change anything messes with some kind of mystical sacred bond between creator and creation (or rather, then ownership that the consumer feels towards both of them because they spent their hard earned on it).

Of course, the rational position is never so clear-cut and lies somewhere in between, so let’s try and pull together some things that we can use to make a call on whether or not a character should be changed.

The Everyman

The first concept I’d like to present is the Everyman (with apologies for the gendered nature of the term, but that’s yet another whole kettle of fish). This trope describes how authors and writers get us, as readers and viewers, to relate to their stories. It’s when we find a character so relatable that we can put ourselves into their shoes, and be them or be like them. Therefore, the protagonist of a story becomes a conduit for engaging with the narrative plot and setting, via empathy from the reader. Books remain popular in spite of TV and movies because consuming the written word requires imagination, and people imagine themselves in the role of the protagonist.

Some are more obvious than others: I still remember a conversation I once had with a former colleague after I first finished reading Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. He asked me whether I noticed anything about the main character. Remembering details is not one of my strong points, so I told him I had no idea. “Ender is never physically described,” he replied. Now I never verified this claim, but taken at face value, the character becomes an avatar that the reader can project themselves into, so that the author could emotionally hook them into the morality tale inside an epic space opera.

However, an everyman is not every man (or woman, or child). Naturally, there must be some attributes that make the character unique, or special, in service of the plot. Ender Wiggin was a small child. His being a child was an essential component of the story that Card was trying to tell, because of the innocence that children possess. Gender, less so. And ethnicity, not at all. But it should be easy to see that as more plot-essential attributes are added, the less relatable a character becomes. This is why there are very few (successful) speculative fiction novels about aliens set in alien worlds with no parallels with our own.

Another example that hits close to home for me, as a Transformers fan, is the Michael Bay live-action movie franchise. These movies are universally panned by fans and critics alike, and yet in spite of that, they have been extremely commercially successful. During the production of the first movie, Stephen Spielberg (one of the producers) told the screenwriters that “a boy and his car” should be the focus of the story.

Now this may seem like an odd choice for a franchise about huge transforming robots, but as a successful filmmaker Spielberg probably has some insight that the rest of us don’t. This is just my guess, but I reckon that at some point the special effects budget dictated that they couldn’t give the robots enough screen time to make them relatable, so therefore a human cast was brought onboard to do the emotional heavy-lifting. The fans’ crushing disappointment then, was most likely in no small part due to having to shoulder the role of… well, Shia Labeouf, when they were expecting to emulate their heroes, the Autobots – who in the sequels, were themselves cast into horrible, unrelatable stereotypes.

Representation

That last point leads nicely into the other concept I believe to be relevant: representation. This is the question of “who wants to be that character?”

We obviously relate most to those who are most like us, whether that’s our physical attributes, socio-political (or even literal) environment, or emotional state. So there more like us a character is, the more engaged we’re likely to be. That’s all very well and good for books, where, as I said before, it allows some imagination on the part of the reader. The problem lies in visual media, i.e. comics, theatre, TV and films, where creators have no option but to make certain choices about what a character looks like. Hence we get Asa Butterfield as Ender, for instance. He could have been any race, but Hollywood cast a white boy because of their deeply entrenched capitalist status quo that maintains whites represent the “largest market share”[1].

It should be apparent how alienating this decision is to people of other races. That’s not to say it’s wrong. The singular nature of race means that no matter which one is chosen, the rest are then excluded. The mistake is in thinking that these choices somehow become an essential part of the character. With each attribute that is added to the “core essence”, the group of people who identify with the character becomes smaller, but the degree of identification becomes stronger, and therein lies one of the key reasons why some people insist characters can only be a certain way. Taken to its logical conclusion, this also flips our earlier question on its head, turning it from “who wants to be that character?” into “who does the character want to be?”

That’s why diversity in representation is needed, so that everybody gets a chance to see themselves portrayed in print or on screen, which will grow the market rather than shrink it.


Hopefully all this gives us some guidance as to whether changes to a character are justified: let’s take a look at the cases mentioned at the beginning of this essay:

  • Black Hermione: does the character’s race have any plot implications whatsoever? Nope. Next!
  • Female Doctor Who: this is an interesting one. The Doctor isn’t actually an everyman – that’s the role of the companion. The character serves as a lens for us to observe the human condition. Given the topicality of gender roles, it is entirely appropriate because the character is nothing more than a plot device in spite of being eponymous (kinda like Zelda in The Legend of Zelda videogames).
  • Female James Bond: this is an example of “limited appeal”. Bond was specifically concocted as a suave, sophisticated alpha-male archetype that men wanted to be, and women wanted to be with (back in those sexist, misogynist days). Given Bond’s anachronisms, he should be retired, not replaced. So that’s a firm “no”.

Do you agree?

 


[1] It should be noted that international earnings are starting to exceed US domestic earnings, putting paid to this theory; see: Why U.S. Audiences Matter Less To Film Box Office Success



Copyright © 2004–2011. All rights reserved.

This blog is proudly powered by Wordpress and uses Modern Clix, a theme by Rodrigo Galindez.

RSS Feed