Thursday, January 28, 2010

Explain yourself

I just finished reading a fascinating post and thread about "mansplaining" over at Thus Spake Zuska (I also contributed an example). I would like to state: I am a feminist. (I am also a socialist. Those are my main "ists.") If you define feminism with a variant of the word "nazi" or think it means that all men are evil and all women can do no wrong, you don't define it the way I do. After reading Zuska's post and thread, I am really struck by the hectoring tone of several of the comments on the last post--they are reminiscent of "mansplaining".  At least one of the negative comments was from a woman (Cyndy: thank you for identifying yourself), but others were from "anonymous". These comments all privileged "Jim's" experience by explaining to me that I needed to be more understanding, that I was actually the crazy one and that he was doing me a big fat favor by even bothering to write to me. Wow.

(That leads me to an actual comments policy: no more anonymous comments. Make up a name, any name. For example, I have a long time commenter: Anon11. If you don't come up with a name, I will reject your comment. You could even come up with a different name every time if you don't want me to know it's you, but it's so much easier to engage if I can tell the "anons" apart. Thank you.)

Maybe we have some new people here, but let me explain something: I write about my personal experiences. A lot of my writing is about dating. Sometimes I parse emails and other virtual exchanges I have on internet dating sites. I also think a lot about gender roles and expectations in dating and in social relations generally--though that thinking is under the surface. I am telling stories about my life and giving you my reactions and sometimes doing a little analysis.

Thus, it's not helpful if you explain to me that I'm thinking about the wrong thing or taking a wrong approach to something. It's my lived experience and it's my blog. I am very interested in other's opinions, but not about what I should or should not THINK. If I ask for your advice, please give it. If I've missed some crucial point, please tell me. But if you really think I'm nuts and undateable (despite all evidence to the contrary), then I don't even know why you're reading, much less telling me how to improve myself.

I also think it's pretty strange to provide a long list of reasons that you don't like cats. Do you really think a cat-owner has no concept of why someone might not like cats? You get to not like cats--for any reason you choose--no need to enumerate them. Dude gets to reject women because they don't like cats. I get to think it's arbitrary to reject someone for a silly reason. Look, I like some people and I dislike others. Just as I like some dogs/cats/birds and dislike others. I don't make sweeping generalizations about all creatures before having any actual experiences with them.

Last, for those of you took the dude's side: why do you think this fellow needed defending? I actually think he made himself very clear. I get where he's coming from. He hates cats. I have a cat. He doesn't want to date me because he's afraid of getting attached to someone who has a cat. Because there is absolutely no chance that he could overcome his hatred of cats, no matter how great the woman is (not me!) and because he assumes that any woman who now has a cat will forever, in perpetuity, have a cat (for reals?). I agree, he was considerate to answer my messages. In my internet dating experience, it's very rare for someone to go to so much trouble to reject me. If the reason were that I was just kind of a loser and he had zero interest, but still wanted be polite, he could have written something like, "Thanks so much for writing, you seem really interesting/smart/sweet. Good luck on here!" Or "Thanks for writing but I don't think we're well suited." He has zero reason to explain about the cats. I mean, why bother?

Perhaps this is what you were really getting at: how presumptuous of me to think that I might be worthy of a date with this guy. How wrong of me to initiate our email exchange! Silly girl, don't you know that you are supposed to wait for the man to come and get you? He'll let you know if you're worthy, if he gets around to it, after he weighs all of his (obviously much better) options. Yeesh.

Grateful for: feminism.


  1. Sometimes I wonder how my life might have differed if I had grown up in an era when women were allowed to make the first move, to ask men out on dates, etc. I spent a lot of time waiting to be asked by people who probably never knew I existed.

    This has nothing whatsoever to do with hating cats or those who do, but was sparked by Zuska's post with more comments than I could even count.

    Today's women still have to fight for equality, but things have come a long way.

  2. Barbara: well, I think you were part of the generation that broke the ground for mine. I was fascinated the comments on Zuska's post and that's why I had such a strong reaction to the comments I got on the last post. Even with all the strides we've made, some people have to come around and make sure I know my place. I know it's not about it me--but it's astonishing how common it is. (Also, I'd be happy to never talk about cat-haters again.)

  3. Yo-
    I wrote the last anonymous comment on your last entry. Thank you for posting it given the tone was not friendly (and feel free not to post this one). How to say this without brushing either of us as argumentative? Here: I don't think your descriptions of what you wrote and how the commenters responded accurately captures what happened. For example: Jim treated you quite politely, although perhaps expressing a bizarre (in your perception) decision to avoid women with cats. You felt comfortable writing in a fairly derogatory tone that this explained why he was single, and also called him nuts. Then you question why the commenters defended him. Hey, it's your blog as you say, and you can do whatever you want. But were this a conversation in a public space, it seems clear (to me, at least, and perhaps the other commenters) that people overhearing your conversation with Jim in a hypothetical public place would think you are being unreasonable and odd, and he is not, and might in that forum speak up on his side. You say you were characterized by the commentors as 'undateable'. perhaps by a comment you didn't approve, but certainly not by any of the visible comments, including mine. i did say you may be a bad date - meaning if i had a similar email exchange with you (that nevertheless still held out the possibility of a date) i would be wondering, if such a date were to happen, whether you would respond unexpectedley intensely and uncomfortably again to something that didn't warrant it. i have to say i take your suggestion that i am 'mansplaining' as fairly ridiculous. i think my point was/is fairly clearly not that. you say in this post that you don't make sweeping generalizations about all creatures before having actual experience with them. great, i think most people agree. but in many surface interactions, one has to make such generalizations - one doesn't have enough time to have a meaningful interaction with everyone to decide whether further interaction is warranted. i take jim to be doing this, and you seem to be faulting him for not allowing for more complexity. he may acknowledge the possibility, but not have the time to actually investigate it.

  4. Philip: First some housekeeping:
    1) Thanks for identifying yourself.
    2) I didn't delete any comments. I only delete spam and comments so offensive as to be pointless (a total of less than FIVE over the entire history of the blog).
    3) A lot of the old comments have been lost due to a change in the commenting software so you can’t see the full range of previous comments.
    4) I reserve the right to remove any comment, though I prefer to publish them all.

    I don't see how you can question the accuracy of what happened. I presented verbatim emails (some identifying info removed). Then I interpreted them. You don't agree with my read of the exchange, but it's my opinion and I get to have one. You think that the guy's decision- making was reasonable, but I don’t.

    I’ll try one more time to explain why I think “Jim’s” screening method is “nuts.” He didn’t reject me because of ME. He rejected me because of my cat. He doesn’t know my cat, he didn’t ask about my cat, he didn’t bother to find out if I will always have a cat. That may indicate a larger problem. What other very particular dating requirements does he have? That’s why I think he’s single: because his dating requirements are so restrictive.

    Now, I’m sure there’s some good explanation for my single-ness and it’s no doubt due to my bad qualities. However, it’s not because I screen on things that aren’t the actual characteristics of the people I date.

    I also really like how you minimize my reaction, “i would be wondering…whether you would respond unexpectedly [sic] intensely and uncomfortably again to something that didn't warrant it.” That wouldn't have anything to do with me being a woman, would it? A crazy cat-lady perhaps?

    Mostly, I was astonished by the cat-hater. And I wrote about it, in a humorous way, on my blog.

    Last thing, try this thought experiment. Jim writes to me, "Jamy, you are super interesting and cute and we like all the same books. I'd love to hear from you!"

    And I wrote, "Jim, you seem like a great guy, but I don't date guys who have cats. I've tried it before, but when a guy has a cat, it just doesn't work for me. Good luck!"

    Does that make a difference?

  5. Sorry, I'm anon11, but there's been a new commenting sys on your blog for the last week or two and I don't have a google account, live journal, etc., so I've just chosen plain anon the last couple times. Before your commenting sys used to know I was anon11 and that left it in there. I'm not really a computer person, so I don't know how to get anon11 to reappear (feel free to delete this, but since I know you'll read it, maybe tell us how to readd our name) (also, I know I'm using an old internet browser, like I said, not a computer person) (and when I click name, I don't know what to put for url) (last parenthetical, I now have to click post comment twice (after two error msgs, then I get a word to retype, then it posts). Anyway, I was anon 10:29 yesterday -- husband who loves animals, me who's allergic (and also doesn't want pets). I definitely love animals (so much so that I'd never even consider eating one, vegetarian for ages), but don't like the idea of keeping them as pets. And I do think dry food has a smell, maybe inoffensive, but a smell nonetheless and I don't like it. But I think you were lucky that this guy screened himself out of your pool. I agree with you that his response didn't make sense and think a bit more engagement would have been appropriate. I think when I was single the allergy would have caused me to avoid anyone with pets, but without the allergy, despite my dislike of pets, I don't think I would have used that as a reason to rule someone out who otherwise looked like he had decent dating potential.

  6. How about we try this: Philip writes to you "Jamy, you are a super interesting and cute and... I'd like to hear from you!". And you write back rejecting me because of my cat. My first month of internet dating, I react the same way you did. What??? But I'm so much more than my cat!!! Even I'm conflicted about having a cat! She's a jerk for not giving me a chance! A few months later I find myself with multiple email conversations going, a series of dates where the women are nothing like the impression I had of them going in (not necessarily different in a bad way, though) and I find myself making similar decisions based on fairly arbitrary criteria because (a) i've been burned spending a lot of time trying to be more considered and found my decisions in hindsight were poor for a variety of reasons not least of which is the limited insight a dating profile gives, and (b) nothing else seems to work better. I really don't think switching the gender roles int he scenario has an impact on my view (which is not to say that my view is not from a male perspective). Back to the scenario: so now, with a few months of experience under my belt, my reaction is: ok, she's lukewarm on me, first impression. she doesn't like cats. i'm not really that into cats either, and i can try and make that point. By why bother? It's not like we're sitting on a plane flight together, I tried to start a convo, and she refuses to speak to me (although that's a reasonable choice too). We're at a cocktail party with many people standing in the same circle, I crack a joke about cats while some other guy is talking about, I don't know, knitting (see, I read your blog on occasion), and she decides to shift and start having a conversation with him. I catch her later and say hey, I really wanted to talk to you, why did you shift away, and she says i just didn't want to talk about cats. it's probably not just the cats thing, but on the other hand nothing else stood out as an issue - and if i had made a first impression concerning knitting or whatever she would have talked to me. So it was partly about the cats. Did she do anything wrong? Should she have gotten to know me first before deciding to ignore me and move into another conversation? I don't think so. btw, i've read your blog on and off for a while, like you from it, appreciate your honesty, and realize if i posted my own thoughts on some topic anyone looking would have all kinds of things to say. always easy to comment from the outside on someone else's situation. but i do think i am not making a pointless point.

  7. Hello Anon11, glad you're still here. This is how you post a comment with your name: In the little "comment as" drop down box, choose "name/url". Fill in "name" and leave "url" blank. I'll go ahead and explain that in the header text, because it's not clear that "url" isn't required.

    Philip: I have been internet dating, off and on, for about 6 years (with at least one or two year-long breaks). I don't engage with people as much as I used to and I'm more likely than not to simply NOT RESPOND to messages from guys I don't care for (or who write creepy messages). And, what do you care if I chose to engage with this guy? He engaged with me too! He answered two out of four emails because he chose to.

    Also, I think your cocktail party analogy is false. Not wanting to talk about cats isn't equivalent to rejecting someone who has a cat. During the cat conversation, one could learn all relevant cat-related feelings of the person and then make a decision based on that person's actual feelings/attitudes about cats, rather than what you assume them to be.

  8. Totally off topic in the comment thread, but since when did "feminist" become synonymous with "man hater"? They are most definitely not the same.

  9. Menderz: huh? Are you saying I'm a man-hater? Hmm...maybe THAT's why I'm single. THANKS. Sigh.

  10. i don't think this is really about cats. it seems to me this guy's comment about women with cats is a "neg," basically a compliment wrapped in an insult. "you're great but you have a cat." it's a power play designed to make you feel insecure and go to him for validation (not that you felt insecure, and you seemed to have gone to him purely out of amused curiosity).

    why did he do this? who knows. maybe that's his way of coming onto women, or because you wrote to him first. neither a good reason.

    but what if what he says is true? then yes it's an arbitrary preconception and a retarded way of weeding people out. you could argue that it's no less arbitrary than saying "no smokers" or "no guys with pictures of themselves doing yoga" - the former which i argue is a gross habit that affects those around you, and the latter is indicative of a type of personality - but unless the woman's profile pic is of herself and her cat dressed up in matching outfits, i think it's pretty stupid to dismiss someone because of their pet choice.

  11. Angela: I think I love you. I would also say that, while I'm probably more willing to date a smoker than a guy with a yoga pic, both of those things are tell you something directly about the person. And, I guess, yes, if you own a cat, you are a person who is willing to live with a cat. And that are willing to be responsible for the care and feeding of another creature. (I will now remove the pictures of me and my cat in matching outfits from my profile--that probably is giving the wrong impression. :)

  12. PS re: Angela's comment. I also agree it wasn't really about cats, though I don't know if it was "negging". Certainly, it's not about cats anymore on this blog. ;)

  13. I would like to apologize for any discomfort my comment may have caused you yesterday. It was not meant to be interpreted as negative.

    I really enjoy reading blogs, including yours, where people have a different way of looking at things than I do. It's very cool to have the opportunity to discover how other people might have arrived at their various points of view. It was very inconsiderate for me to not realize that my sort of halfway joking comment about all of the reasons an otherwise perfectly nice person might not care for cats would be offensive to you on some level.

    It has been interesting to read about your travel and dating experiences. I always try to put myself in the place of whoever I am reading about and I have certainly asked myself the question "What if I were single?" while reading your blog. It's got to be tough out there dealing with that whole internet dating scene although it seems like it's pretty easy to screen out the people who obviously don't have good potential. I expect these days I'd be fairly content as a single person and definitely happier if I wasn't specifically looking for a mate or a boyfriend, but that's just me and I know I'm a little different. But that's all hypothetical anyway.

    I wasn't particularly looking for a husband back when I was dating but somehow I ended up marrying one of the few who were not personally offended by my lack of interest in having children. And then he tricked me into having cats instead! Damn him! But it's my turn now and for the next twenty years we're either going to have no pets, or maybe I'll just go out and get a dog one of these years if I feel like it after I'm finished traveling.

    As far as that "manplaination" thing goes, I don't think that kind of arrogance and stupidity is limited strictly to males - it may be more common in them (heehee) but did you hear the bitterness in some of those comments by the women who identified themselves themselves as feminists? Whew! I guess I don't take myself seriously enough to call myself one of those, but I'm certainly not a shrinking violet girly-girl either. I do all kinds of "manly" things in my day to day life and I have definitely experienced sexism. It sucks. But I will always give a person the benefit of the doubt when he/she exhibits questionable behavior - at first. I hate to immediately label someone sexist/racist/cat hater/baby hater/man hater because to do so is dismissive of their humanity and no one really deserves that even if it turns out that they really are a jerk.

    I will go away now and not bother you again. I hope that you are successful in your dating adventures and that you eventually find the person who is perfect for you.

  14. Cyndy: you are welcome here. I didn't mean to make YOU uncomfortable. I'm flattered that you are reading and you are welcome to stick around and comment all you like.

    I'll have to disagree that comments by the feminists were bitter. My read is that they were frustrated--they were being subjected to the very phenomenon the thread was describing! And then being told that their real, lived experiences weren't valid.

    The reason that "mansplanation" is a real thing is because of the privilege men hold in this (or any other) patriarchal society. Not only are their words taken more seriously (by men and women), they are allowed to impose their views and diminish women's views with (relative) impunity.

    Of course not ALL men do this. And some men may do it very rarely. And of course, women can be pompous and overbearing--but they don't have the full weight of social privilege backing them up the way men (particularly white men) do. That's why it's more of a problem when a man "explains" something to a woman--when she didn't ask for it and has superior knowledge.

    I was feeling the brunt of this kind of patronizing attitude in some of the comments--the one that turned out to be made by a man was the most troubling. Your comment, well, I was impressed at the time you took to write it. And while you disagreed with my interpretation of the email exchange, you were respectful. You gave straightforward explanation of where you thought he was coming from. But you didn't question the accuracy of my story, tell me my reaction was unreasonable. I think you probably took the post in spirit in which it was intended. (Though I am well aware of all the cat-objections, I hold most of them myself!)

    So, up to you, but I won't delete your comments and I'll be gentle if I ever call you out again. :)


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