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.    

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