Friday, August 26, 2011

Drizzly Areolas and the Ethics of Chivalry: the effects of feminism on men

In a recent social networking debacle, I commented on a morning discomfort I experienced while loitering at a coffee shop directly in front of a breastfeeding woman. As expected, a gaggle of hysterical females angrily squawked over what they perceived as my insensitivity. No idea how that happened. To be clear, I would like to assure every woman reading this that I don’t care at all if you breastfeed in public. I’d much rather see your breasts than hear your screeching baby. Wait, that’s not a good reason. I’d much rather your child receive the vital sustenance he or she requires during such a formative time. Yes, that.

In a subsequent series of emails on feminism to my special ladyfriend, a woman who makes more money than I do, speaks four more languages than I do, is generally a better human being than I am, and for whom I’d be content donning a frilly apron and fluttering about a shared kitchen like Donna Reed, I defended my Facebook martyrdom as follows:

“I react to women’s boobies with wide eyes, puckered baby lips, and a gummy cry, ‘Mama!’ Then, I shit myself and require changing.”

On a spiritual level, that’s what’s going on behind my dull stare when I see sudden and unexpected breasts at 8am.

That’s certainly not a woman’s fault, but is it mine? I was taught social masculinity by a hierarchy of developmentally influential females in my life (e.g., mother, grandmother, various tias, family friends who behaved as surrogate mothers, etc.). They were tyrannical overlords but they wisely tempered my inherent aggression to assure that the physical strength that comes with manhood would never be turned against them. I learned. As a boy, I’d even lead rock-throwing campaigns into the territory of other boys, channeling the husking beast within, for the favor of some maiden waiving atop a playground prison tower; and when I’d affectionately punch and jump-kick my sisters, I assure you, they only ever received 35% power, tops, because I always tried to obey the half-dozen fingers that perpetually wagged their painted nails under my little mouse nose and teary eyes. “You don’t hit girls,” they’d say, commanding I unball my wild fist and release the wad of pink tee shirt clenched tightly in the other. You don’t.

Those same painted fingernails spent years pointing me ahead of them to open doors, squash bugs, carry out stinking bags of garbage, cut thousands of miles of summer-heated grass, and investigate suspicious noises in the middle of the night. If I refused the killing of a cockroach or rat, if I picketed for equal lawn-mowing duties with my sisters, if I expressed a self-preserving reluctance to be murdered by an intruder, those singly pointed fingers would turn into singly, swatting palms or joined by pinching thumbs at the backs of my arms. Operant conditioning at its finest, people, and quite frankly, I’m thankful for it.

That psychology, however, was and is not just extended toward women. I’ll hold a door open for an old man. I’ll hold a door open for a young man. It’s called manners and it has nothing to do with what is or is not dangling between a person’s legs. But therein lies the problem. My problem. See, I’ve actually had women laugh at me (on more than one occasion) for pulling open a door and standing piously aside. Fuck you, jerk. Do you realize how humiliatingly contemptuous that is? Very. What’s worse, my polite, closed-mouthed smile usually turns to an indignant frown and the door that I’m holding open is suddenly regarded as a potential weapon for repeatedly smashing her in the threshold. Think about that kind of crazy the next time you’re an asshole to a stranger who’s being civil for absolutely no other reason that because his mama told him that’s the way things should be.

I’ve never had a man think it odd or emasculating to have a door held open for him. Never. On the contrary, it’s become laughably ridiculous when he responds, “No, after you,” followed by my, “No, after you,” to which he responds with a generous, extended hand, “No, please,” and I bashfully thank him and prance into the building, which essentially means I’ve thanked myself for holding open a door, but the courteous exchange still makes me feel less cynical about people.

I try to be as socially conscious as humanly possible but understand, boys and girls, that men have been pounding their chests for 50,000 years and even today, life histories like mine have been inundated with traditional social norms by the very gender that demands their abolition. It gets confusing. However, empathetically understanding why a person feels so strongly about a subject is, in my opinion, more important than whether or not the impassioned individual understands his or herself. Maybe you can explain it to them once you figure it out.

Why does one person feel I’m being disrespectful by holding open a door? Does it recall, and leave undeniable (subjectively speaking), a sense of perceived inferiority? Does a cavalier smirk slime across my face as I impose my gallantry? Oh yeah, I’m gonna hold this door NASTY! Yeah, walk through that door, baby girl. Do it. You look so fine, girl. You see how strong I am? Yeah, you do. You like it when I hold this door, don’t you girl. That’s what’s going on in my head, anyway. Maybe there’s something dick-like in my rigid stance as she passes by and my very presence offends her. But why does another person regard me as disrespectful when I don’t hold a door open? Does that also recall a sense of perceived inferiority? Perhaps shouldering past a woman to enter a building first indicates that a man was never taught to comprehend his physical potential and his thoughtlessness makes him morally unpredictable, which in turn reminds the offended woman that voluntary social rules are the only barriers keeping brutes like him from total dominion. Perhaps I’m overthinking it, and should just start entering places through windows so I won’t have to deal with the agony of doing the right thing. The lyrics to The Flaming Lips’ wonderful “Fight Test” come to mind as they often do:

I don’t know where the sunbeams end and the starlight begins,
It’s aaaaaaaall a mystereeeeeeee.
And I don’t know how a man decides what’s right for his own life,
It’s aaaaaaaall a mystereeeeeeee

So yeah, breastfeeding. Do it. That was never an issue, I guess. Just, please, attempt empathy for the squirming man sitting across the coffee shop, attempting empathy for you because there’s more going on in his head than plotting the best ways of perpetuating the institutionalized sexism that keeps your tits cupped away in their bras. If that doesn’t move you, do it for no other reason than because you are, after all, sharing the same oxygen.

Festering Addendum:

If you’ve ever scoffed at another human being for holding a door open for you (empathy considered and gently set aside), I hope you’re one day beaten with a swinging sack of un-ripened oranges . . . by an orangutan, not because you’re an insolent man or woman without humility, but because you’re a genderless asshole who would benefit from a good ass-kicking.


sonya said...

2 things:
1. Keep opening those doors. We women are confused these days, trying to do everything all the time, but even at the most superficial level, we still need men...sometimes. And holding open a door IS polite...and southern. So just keep doing it.

2. Your writing has improved. Immensely. Good work.

C. Andres Alderete said...

Thanks, doll.

a girl who collects shells said...

Agreed, keep holding doors open. They'll learn eventually.

C. Andres Alderete said...

HA! I will, Ms. a girl who collects shells. Thank you for your support.

Julie Buz. said...

It's been more than a week, and the formidable woman you described still can't think of anything intelligent or funny enough (appropriate?) to say in reaction to this truly delightful post.

Oh, well. :o)

Marvin the Martian said...

I think the most militant feminists generally hate themselves because they want to be men, so they turn that hate against men. I ignore them after they've identified themselves. If they're obnoxious to me, I'm obnoxious back, since they don't learn to behave unless they're challenged. Otherwise, I treat the rest of the people around me the same, regardless of their gender. I'll hold the door for anyone. But I will find somewhere else to look (or to be) if they're breastfeeding.

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