Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fifty-One: Pursuit

The gender warriors hate so many things, and it's exhausting to read through their list of all that's "problematic", meaning morally flawed and evil. Nonetheless, a few things do catch my eye.  They hate romances as a genre, and they hate the idea of romance. They certainly hate the idea of seduction. So many of the gender warriors equate seduction with coercion and regard seduction as no better than sex taken by violence. This is not something I can grasp at all. This is nothing that has any connection to the rituals of romance that I grew up with.

They do hate romances as a genre. Faint heart ne'er won fair maiden--- they hate that as an idea, as the underlying text for romantic comedies and romances. The basic story arc for any romance is to introduce the reader to two characters who should be together, then drop obstacles in the way of them coming together. The story is about overcoming those obstacles. The reader's interest is held by watching one character or the other push through obstacles to an ending where lovers can be together. Families, distance, class, misunderstandings, misapprehensions--- all the standard obstacles, all the way back to Greek comedy. Faint heart ne'er won fair maiden... That's been a lesson of romances these last twenty-five hundred years or so.  And that of course is simply a variant of a key lesson in life: what's worth having must be won through determination and effort. The gender warriors hate that. They champion something called "enthusiastic consent", a standard that holds that at the first hint of reticence or difficulty, a lover (male--- always male) must walk away, must never try to persuade or convince. It's a standard that's based on the insistence that romance itself is "problematic". For the gender warriors, passion is always suspect as dangerous and irrational and demanding. Sexual "intimacy" must be something worked through like a Maoist criticism/self-criticism session or a kind of corporate negotiation between robot lawyers.

To immediately walk away at the first hint of reticence says...what? I've asked that question to girls of my acquaintance, and they've all said that they'd feel...somehow offended. It's not that they wanted a clear No to be disregarded, but that a potential lover who'd just shut down at any hint of reticence or uncertainty is saying to them that sex or romance with them isn't worth some effort.  One friend put it simply enough: a boy who'd walk away without trying to persuade or even cajole was saying that he didn't find her worth a few minutes of inconvenience. He could call it embracing "consent culture", but what he was saying was that she just wasn't worth convincing--- which was insulting, really. The girls I talked to told me that the problem with "enthusiastic consent" and "consent culture" wasn't the idea of consent as such, but the idea that they no longer had a way to gauge how much a potential lover valued them, that there was no way to ask a potential lover to show that he'd expend some time and energy and thought to show that he was seriously interested in them. I suppose that's a kind of sexual economics that the gender warriors despise, but it is utterly human: the need to be valued, to be shown that one is worth something.

There is something about "enthusiastic consent" that ruins the kind of romance that I've always liked. I like seductions and flirtations: very formal, very mannered, very based on a kind of dance. Advance, withdraw, advance again. Persuade, tempt, intrigue---  I like the verbal part of it all, too. All very formal and mannered, of course. It's a game that requires two players, and one that I've always loved. The girl involved--- my Young Companion ---understands what's happening and where the dance leads. That's part of it, too. She's chosen to be part of the dance, and she knows where it leads. But there's the whole game of serve and return, serve and return. Flirtation and seduction are about persuasion and temptation, of course, and about a kind of dance through obstacles toward a goal. It's verbal, mostly, and verbal is one of my stronger skills. The delight in it all is about the word games, the ripostes, the serve-and-return that allow both parties to get to the first serious kiss and to the bedroom. Consent is won--- given as a prize for being clever and mannered, for knowing how to volley in the serve-and-return. Or perhaps it's given when the girl lifts an eyebrow and joins in the dance. Seduction and flirtation are both skills, and they're ways to demonstrate a kind of commitment to the pursuit, to how valuable your potential partner is, to offering up mannered delights. Seduction and flirtation are skills, and they're skills that are valued for themselves and show a partner that they're valued, too.

Faint heart ne'er won fair maiden. I still believe in that phrase. And I believe that serve-and-return, that clever words, can win hearts and win through to the bedroom. I believe that the dance is part of the delight. And I will always believe that.

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