Saturday, April 26, 2014

One Zero One: Gateways

There's a trope that the gender warriors are fond of deploying--- one that comes up at Good Men Project, too. It's the the image of the gatekeeper, of women as gatekeepers to sex. Both the gender warriors and their awkward allies at Good Men Project insist vehemently that one of the graver sins of evil male culture is that women are seen as "gatekeepers". I can read the paragraphs where the idea is disparaged, but I have no emotional connection to the idea, and I really can't grasp it.

If you'd asked me at seventeen about the gatekeeper idea, I'd have thought for a second, sighed, and said that yes, of course it was true. All these years later, I'd still say that. It seems like an obvious thing--- males apply to women for sex, women decide whether their suitors are to be allowed past the velvet ropes into the Heavenly City. I am a bit puzzled about why the gatekeeper image is supposed to be a bad thing. Isn't it just another way of presenting consent--- that it's always the girl's choice?  I do wonder what the gender warriors and the GMP columnists see as the downside to the gatekeeper image. I've never seen a satisfactory explanation of why it's a bad thing from the girl's point of view. Is it just that the gatekeeper role is supposed to be passive? Does the trope assume that waiting and (yes) passing judgment is necessarily something that removes "agency"?

If you're male, the gatekeeper image seems to be a very clear depiction of reality. Go to any bar or dance club on a Friday night. Every male knows the scene. The single males are gathered at one end of the bar, building up their courage. The attractive girls are gathered down at the other end, waiting for suitors to approach, marking which ones meet the night's standards, waiting to be paid court to.

I can recall so many female friends in my university and grad school days who looked forward to Friday and Saturday nights at the bar without ever worrying about money.  The protocol was simple enough. A girl would carry her ID and cash for cab fare home. She wouldn't need anything else. She certainly wasn't buying drinks--- "That's what boys are for," the girls would have said. One friend was notorious for announcing that she was "like the Queen--- I never carry cash".  I don't recall ever being angry about that. It was just the way things were. I understood the idea--- you bought girls drinks to get them to grant you dances or grant you time to make your presentation. I never thought buying girls drinks was a way to pay them to go home with me, but I did understand that it was buying time where I could try to persuade them that I was worth hanging out with.

The ritual was simple enough. A girl allowed you to buy her a drink or allowed you to dance with her for a song.  You tried to make a case for why she needed to be spending time with you and making out with you. Buying the drink was a recognition for her value, of the value of her time and attention. The final decision to pay attention to you at all was always hers. I think I once quoted a line from Christopher Coe's "I Look Divine" about the difference between Trade and Tribute, and the line applies here. The girls at the end of the bar waited for tribute, for acknowledgment that they were desired, for acknowledgment that here--- in this place, on this night ---they were the ones with the power to choose.

In all my long life, I can't recall a girl asking me to dance, let alone buying me a drink.  I'm male, after all, and my particulars aren't impressive. I'm a petitioner, not a gatekeeper. I've understood that all my life. The girls at the end of the bar don't need to pursue. They just have to wait. They wait, and then they choose.  That's something I can envy, but there's no point in feeling bitter. It's the way the world works, or at least the way the world works there in the club on a Friday night. If a girl walked down the bar and asked me to dance or asked if she could buy me a drink, I'd be...wary and suspicious. Why was she violating established ritual? Could I trust someone who'd break protocol? Was I being set up for something?

One day I'll have to find an explanation for why being a gatekeeper for sex is a bad thing. It certainly has its advantages for the girls at the end of the bar. It may only be power that works inside clubs and at parties--- a very narrowly-focused kind of power. But that's...not negligible. The power to acquire free drinks, the power to choose or dismiss potential hook-ups--- it's not being a cabinet minister, but it's something that matters in social lives and on weekend nights.    

Saturday, April 12, 2014

One Zero Zero: Space

There's a Tumblr that posts photos of Men Taking Up Too Much Space On The Train that seems to be a current favourite on the part of various of the gender warriors. The Tumblr posts phone camera shots of men sprawled out on subway or bus seats or sitting with legs wide apart or legs crossed with ankle at the knee, filling up space to the side. The idea, of course, is that these men are acting out of "male privilege" and "microaggression" to dominate the women--- a "public assertion of privilege".

I can look at the photos and wonder about some choices. There's a difference between sprawling out in an empty subway car and doing the same in one that's filled. I have to question the choice of some photos of men who are elderly or just very large-framed--- some of the men in the photos are going to spill over into other seat spaces no matter what they do. And I'm male enough to instantly recall women with purses and shopping bags taking up seats and floor space--- that retort comes to mind.  Nonetheless, the Tumblr has a point. Territory is being claimed, power is being asserted. It may not be directed at women, though, as much as it is just a general statement of being powerful enough to claim and defend space.

I've  always tried very hard not to sit like that. Out in public, I try to take up as little space as possible. I really do try to be inconspicuous on subways and busses. On city sidewalks I try to keep moving and slide past and around people and objects. Take up no space, never be an obstacle. Try, really, never to be noticed.  I was brought up to be polite in a very old-school way, and part of that was being told always to remember that, wherever you go and whatever you do, you act as if you're the least important person in the room.  That's not bad training, actually.

The goal, as I've always said, is to be looked at neither in praise nor blame. Nondescript, just part of the background. One shouldn't need to claim great expanses  of social territory any more than one should need to stand out in a crowd. Just be part of the background, something that's never seen as out of place, something that doesn't draw attention.

I've never wanted to be noticed in public. Public space is something one navigates as quickly and with as little contact as possible.  Get to your destination without creating a problem. That's what matters. When I am noticed--- when I'm lecturing to classes, when I'm  trying to flirt with a lovely Young Companion ---it should be by my choice, and in a space that's reasonably restricted.

Being in command of space is always a risky thing--- a challenge, always. I'd rather be a grey, unobtrusive figure on a subway car than spread out to demonstrate my alpha status. If I'm going to command space at all, I'd rather have it be in a lovely girl's gaze across a table. The spaces I want to command never have anything to do with dominating areas in public.