Sunday, May 25, 2014

One Zero Four: Duello

Today is a day when the idea of "misogyny" has been all over the web. There was a shooting in Southern California, and as far as I know, seven people are dead, including the young shooter, and another dozen were injured. The shooter was an ex-student at UCSB, and he left one of those long, ranting, ghastly "manifestos" that we've become all-too-familiar with. He blamed women--- blamed them for rejecting him, blamed them for preferring other males--- ones he despised ---, and blamed them for ruining his vision of his university years as a time of sex and fun. He stabbed three of his roommates and then tried to get into the sorority house that he labelled as the center of the evil conspiracy to reject him, but when no one answered the door he shot two girls outside the house and then drove through the university neighbourhood shooting at random people and smashing his car into bicyclists and pedestrians. He shot himself after an exchange of gunfire with local police--- the usual ending.

His manifesto is on the web, and it's given rise to a series of angry articles by the usual gender warriors, but also to a long-running Twitter hashtag where women talk about the abuse and casual hostility they've endured from men. It's a day where the word "misogyny" is in the limelight. I suppose I should consider my own feelings about what it means.

It's easy enough to say that one doesn't hate women, that one isn't literally misogynist. After all, I support all the abstract political things--- equality of pay, equality of legal rights, an end to glass ceilings, reproductive rights. It's harder to deny a certain amount of misogyny in one's social attitudes.

No--- I don't cat-call, I don't fondle women on subways, I do take No for an answer. All simple things. But there is always a certain amount of hostility built into male-female social relationships. The boy who was the shooter in Santa Barbara was involved in various Pick-Up Artist sites, and took part at a forum attacking PUA sites whose techniques didn't work.  It's taken for granted that the PUA types are all misogynists, of course, and that all PUA techniques regard women as no more than targets.

And yet...courtship and mating rituals--- dating rituals, if you'd like ---always have something of the game about them.  They lend themselves to game theory fairly readily.  Each party makes moves, deploys his or her assets, tries to maximize returns. Courtship and dating aren't just about mating,  of course--- whether you regard "mating" as being about sex alone or as being about forming pair-bonds and longer alliances. They're overlain with all sorts of things about social status and social expectations. I suppose I'd argue that the shooter in Santa Barbara (and so many other men who claim to be "involuntary celibates") wasn't seeking sex as a physical act so much as he was seeking social validation, seeking to be regarded as "good enough" for attractive women to date. Isn't part of any social activity with a date the desire to show off and be shown off?  All of that is about games--- or at least can be analyzed as a set of game moves. Doesn't that go back to "The Games People Play" in the mid-1960s?

There's something in seeing the girl you're trying to court as the Player On The Other Side. Though mating games aren't a straightforward zero-sum game. If you're the male player, you're trying to persuade a girl to go out with you and, if you're lucky, join you in bed. But the female player isn't--- or isn't always, or isn't only ---trying to block those intentions. She'll have her own agenda, which may be much more complicated than simply saying No...or holding out for whatever "the best deal" might be. Mating games, courtship games, aren't simply about one party winning and one losing. Both parties stand to gain something, even though each player's preferred outcome may be hidden. The problem I suppose is that the game isn't chess or Go or backgammon. A zero-sum game, one with a winner and a loser, may not create as much hostility as one where the outcome is always ambiguous. Does anyone have any thoughts on that?

So...misogyny. As long as dating and courtship aren't purely formalized, as long as all that's built into them (sex, status, validation, loneliness, longing) depends not on purely external forces (e.g., family and clan arrangements) but on individual needs and hopes and fears, there'll be some degree of hostility, or at least wariness. Is that misogyny?

I hope that I've never been openly hostile to an individual girl, to any young companion in my past and life. I do know, however, that I've felt anger and bitterness in the social world. That goes with the territory. No one enjoys rejection, and romantic or sexual rejection hits much closer to home than, say, not getting a job. Romantic and sexual success are also social markers (let's not waste time denying that), and there's bitterness about what rejection or failure say about you (or can be imagined to say about you) to others. I've felt that kind of bitterness. (Let's make another note here, too, about the irrelevance of the word "entitled".  Bitterness wells up even you know very clearly that you aren't "owed" something.  Anger and bitterness at loss and rejection isn't about anything socially correct or even rational.)

I'm quite certain that I'm regarded as an evil misogynist in some quarters, and I know that I have felt anger at some social/sexual outcomes. I'm a gentleman of a certain age, though, and I see it as absolutely key to use politeness and courtesy to rein in any bitterness or anger. Whatever you may feel, we've had centuries to create social forms and formulae to get around those feelings.

"Misogyny" is a broad word, and it's broad enough to encompass lots of things. In the end, I've no idea where I fall on any kind of spectrum for misogyny. I'm note even sure where the boundaries are. If you are reading this, I'd appreciate any thoughts and comments.

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