Normal Behavior Rewarded as Extraordinary

I know we’ve discussed the unfortunate phenomenon of “nice guys” expecting a pat on the head for not behaving badly on this site, or perhaps on Feminism. I don’t think we’ve done a big meta entry on the subject, but over at Majikthise, there’s a great post describing pretty much what I highlight here. Notice I don’t say meta post. LOL, I don’t have it in me.

In a nutshell, it’s when a guy expects behaving in a way any human being really should to be considered a great accomplishment. I personally would like to call this Nice Guy Syndrome, but that’s already been taken…to describe how nice guys can’t win (primarily when scoring with women). That’s a whole ‘nother nasty subject.

It’s commercial time again. Remember when Klondike’s advertisements matched their catchphrase “What would you do for a Klondike Bar?”, with showing people doing crazy, crazy things and therefore proving just how fabulous that ice cream treat was? Gone are those days. Apparently now acting in a simply decent fashion is enough to earn a reward.

Take Klondike Bar’s latest commercial, in which a man and woman are at a sidewalk cafe. The man is telling the woman a story or is talking about his day, when a beautiful woman walks by. The woman at the table tracks the other woman carefully, but the man keeps talking. The tagline: Dave Howell kept his eyes on his wife. Give that guy a Klondike Bar.

Or maybe this older one I found on YouTube while looking for the first demonstrates it better. In this one, we see a man reach for a drinking glass on a coffee table. He picks it up and carries it to the kitchen, where he puts it in the dishwasher. His wife looks on, appearing either impressed or shocked. The tagline: Pete Herman brought his glass into the kitchen…and put it in the dishwasher. Give that guy a Klondike Bar.

Oh, dear. I missed the memo on when a man not gawking at beautiful woman while in a committed relationship was meritorious behavior. I also missed in the “rulebook” where common household chores were on par with great feats of amazing amazingness when done by a man. How could I have overlooked such big items? Simple. They don’t exist.

And they’re not big items. These two examples are small items which pave the way for big items. We’re supposed to thank and reward guys for appropriate behavior. “Hey, thanks for not catcalling me on the street. You’re swell!” or “Thanks for not being a rapist. Gold star for you!” It’s absurd to dole out bonus points to those who behave appropriately, because doing so almost tacitly implies there needs to be the bad guys to make the good guys look so good for being ordinary.

Not that good guys don’t deserve some props, sometimes. I’m just not sure that doing things that are expected by other groups of people should be included as laudable behaviors. I probably didn’t make that very clear. Feel free to step in with better insights!

Comments

  1. says

    Oh, this topic gets my blood boiling. Grrrr.

    It’s like I read an article where this guy was actually “Oh, I’m a feminist. I don’t do any activism work, I don’t talk about feminist ideals, and I generally keep a low profile. But I don’t beat my wife and I don’t rape my daughter, so I’m a feminist! Go me!”

    Or the number of guys I know that seem to want a freakin’ cookie for not being a rapist. “Gosh,” they’ll say, “I had a female friend who was drunk and I totally didn’t take advantage of her!” Well, goodie for you. You’ve passed your humanity check for the day.

  2. sbg says

    I’m appalled these ads made it to air, honestly. I find it symptomatic of a much, much larger problem.

    Or the number of guys I know that seem to want a freakin’ cookie for not being a rapist. “Gosh,” they’ll say, “I had a female friend who was drunk and I totally didn’t take advantage of her!” Well, goodie for you. You’ve passed your humanity check for the day.

    I recently caught an airing of Sixteen Candles on TV. Ah, I thought, some good memory-lane walking! Until I came to the part where Jake Ryan hands off his drunk girlfriend to The Geek and tells him she wouldn’t know the difference, so go ahead and have a good time.

    WTF??!! This is the “good guy” we all root for Samantha to end up with?

    It made me feel so disgusted.

  3. SunlessNick says

    Jake Ryan hands off his drunk girlfriend to The Geek and tells him she wouldn’t know the difference, so go ahead and have a good time.

    Increduously stares.

  4. says

    About the commercials, it seems to me that they are selling an idea that it is normal male behavior to refuse to do chores or oggle insensitively as much as they are selling ice cream. Sigh.

    About the movie – are you kidding me?

  5. says

    because doing so almost tacitly implies there needs to be the bad guys to make the good guys look so good for being ordinary.

    I actually think that’s one of the primary purposes of patriarchy (do I get a Klondike bar for my alliteration?). Imagine a world where men are so used to being abused by women that a woman who merely refrains from psychotic behavior looks so good that lots of men overlook her tree trunk thighs or small breasts or unfashionable body hair to be with her. Imagine that, and you’ve just imagined something closer to this “equal world” most people seem to think we already have.

  6. sbg says

    About the movie – are you kidding me?

    Unfortunately, no. I really had no memory of that scene, or various other truly awful scene in that flick.

  7. sbg says

    I actually think that’s one of the primary purposes of patriarchy (do I get a Klondike bar for my alliteration?).

    If you were a guy, you’d get one for being witty there. Since you’re not, sorry. No go. ;) Besides, wouldn’t ice cream ruin the diet you as a woman must surely be on?

    Imagine a world where men are so used to being abused by women that a woman who merely refrains from psychotic behavior looks so good that lots of men overlook her tree trunk thighs or small breasts or unfashionable body hair to be with her. Imagine that, and you’ve just imagined something closer to this “equal world” most people seem to think we already have.

    What’s disturbing is how true that all is. *sigh* Some of this stuff is so ingrained in our daily lives, people don’t even blink at it.

  8. Rich B. says

    From a male pov:

    So, after softball yesterday, the wife and I are dividing up night-time activities. She says, “How about if you take the kids home and get them ready for bed, and I’ll go to the store to buy stuff for dinner?”

    Okay, fine. I have no objection. So I’m herding the three kids (like cats) toward the car, when one of the softball moms comes up to me and says, “Wow! You’ve got all three of them? I can never get my husband to take all three of them at once!”

    My choices for response are:

    a) I’m sorry that your husband completely sucks and is shirking even his absolute minimum child care duties.

    b) Yes. I just finished coaching them in softball. And now I will drive them home, bathe them, read them bedtime stories, and tuck them all in, and if — when I am done — my wife has not completed cooking dinner, I will assist her in completing her tasks as well! Behold three whole consecutive hours of child care in a 24 hour day! I am truly Superdad! Please lower your eyes in awe!

    c) Yeah, well. Three is a handful. (<—Lame thing I actually said, because I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it, and I was distracted because one of the girls was about the whack another one with a baseball bat.)

    I think the ad campaign actually gives me a better response to the (not infrequent) declarations of amazement by mothers who see me doing parental things that really should not be seen as that impressive.

    d) Yes. I deserve a Klondike bar now.

  9. says

    o.O

    I think anyone willing to take on three kids deserves a Klondike bar.

    Cross-commenting from tekanji’s place, because I am bad and don’t always think to follow links:

    … there just really aren’t words for this.

    On the one hand – I think it’s problematic to assume that looking automatically constitutes a problem. I understand that it’s one of those cultural tropes, that men have roving eyes and jealous partners, but the way the commercial plays into it and the way that you accepted that premise I find just as problematic. The wife looks, for crying out loud. (Who’s to say she’s not interested? I get that it’s normative to assume that she’s “keeping an eye on” the “other woman,” but it’s just as possible that she’s also checking her out. Heterocentrism for the win!)

    So it raises a lot of questions for me. Why shouldn’t he look? Why is it assumed that the “terms of their relationship” include not-looking? Why is it assumed that any time a man looks at a woman, it is with some kind of sexual intent? (Because I don’t know about everyone else, but I tend to look at people as they pass me – regardless of gender, regardless of relative hotness.) These things, they keep me up at night :p

    Also, as a recently-married practicing polyamorist – the assumption of monogamy really bugs me. Married people like to have fun too! Grr.

    On the other hand, I get that it’s really stupid to “reward” men for behaving like decent human beings, because it reinforces whole bits of other nastiness around masculinity etc. Cookies indeed. I get that part. (I feel the need to reiterate that I get it because I feel like I’m dissenting too much from what everyone else has said. How’s that for a gendered need to please? :p)

    I also kinda wonder whether guys get offended over crap like this. “Look honey, I know you’re naturally a lazy slob who can’t help but fantasize about every woman in his path, so tell you what – every time you complete a chore, or keep your eyes to yourself, I’ll give you a treat!” It’s like training a dog for crying out loud – although come to think of it, I don’t come home and give my dog treats for not peeing on the carpet.

    …Now I want a new commercial. “Bob urinated into the bowl without getting any on the seat! Give that man a Klondike bar!” w00t!

  10. says

    Besides, wouldn’t ice cream ruin the diet you as a woman must surely be on?

    My doctors, Ben and Jerry, say it’s okay. :D

    @Rich B., it’s also interesting that I typically hear women say they can’t “get” their husband to do anything like his half. I never hear men say “I can’t get my wife to cook me dinner every night”. “Get” implies that you don’t have the right to what you’re asking, but you’re trying to get it anyway. Which is, of course, the situation given our cultural norms.

    @Sara no H. I don’t think SBG was accepting the heteronormativity (or the stereotype that wives get jealous over “just looking”). I think she was just dealing with one isolated aspect of the commercial rather than trying to provide a review that covered every problem with it. I mean, to be comprehensive, we could also talk about the fact that everyone in it is white, both women are blonds, the wife wears glasses while the hottie doesn’t, the man is chubby but neither of the women are, etc. I don’t think SBG was endorsing any of that just because she didn’t bring it up. LOTS of legitimate issues with this commercial, all of which we can discuss here in the comments.

  11. says

    (Heh, crossposting commentary again because it’s relevant.)

    Sorry, I should have been clearer – I didn’t mean that you accept that men have wandering eyes and wondering wives, just that you accepted that stereotype as the basis of the commercial. I’m talking about totally reinterpreting the commercial in a non-normative fashion, which is where the questions I asked are coming from. Because to me, it’s only “obvious” that it’s part of their relationship agreement, that looking is a Bad Thing, and that she’s eyeing the other woman as a rival if you also accept that reading of the commercial.

    I don’t.

    Or rather, I accept that’s exactly what they intended it to mean, but the commercial serves more use as a means of analysing heteromonogamity and the presumed male/female roles that comprise that normativity.

    Does that make more sense?

    On top of that though, I do get that it’s impossible to cover everything in a blog post. That’s what big long theoretical papers are for :p And, well, the comments I guess – which is mostly why I brought it up, because while I think it’s worthwhile to talk about the commercial as it’s presented, I also think it’s worthwhile to use the commercial as its own method of analysis – turning all its own assumptions on their heads and taking a look where the sun don’t shine, yanno?

  12. says

    Yeah, I agree it’s worth discussing all that, and I did understand what you meant. I just saw SBG as “accepting” the norms only for the purposes of discussing the main message of the commercial, which in my mind is different from accepting them flat-out. And of all the problems I could raise with the commercial, the double standard between the genders is actually more on-topic for us than the problem of heteronormative assumption. I mean, we could bring up that issue in 99% of the reviews we do, but it seems better suited for topical posts or for reviews on shows that actually did attempt to deal with that issues (or make a particularly fine mess of it, like moreso than 99% of everything out there).

    On another blog, I could write a swarm of posts about the irony of both heteronormative people and those who see past heteronormativity generally failing to object to the fact that the vast majority of stories rely on the reader assuming sex is important to everyone except weirdos and people who are “too old” (there is no such thing) to have sexual feelings. This has boggled my mind since childhood, when I first realized I knew people who didn’t really enjoy sex (some had been sexually assaulted at a young age, others just focused their energy in other directions), and some had sex lives anyway because they felt the need to conform while others were quite happy living lives without sex. But this isn’t a blog about celibates and how neither hets nor queers seem to take their perspective into account even as often as white, affluent feminists have remembered they’re not the only types of women on earth. ;)

    Heteronormativity does affect women and is relevant in that sense, but just because we don’t bring it up every time we could doesn’t mean we’re not aware or not concerned. So talk about it all you want – just please don’t characterize a post author or commenter as being unaware just because they don’t mention it. :)

  13. sbg says

    On the one hand – I think it’s problematic to assume that looking automatically constitutes a problem. I understand that it’s one of those cultural tropes, that men have roving eyes and jealous partners, but the way the commercial plays into it and the way that you accepted that premise I find just as problematic. The wife looks, for crying out loud. (Who’s to say she’s not interested? I get that it’s normative to assume that she’s “keeping an eye on” the “other woman,” but it’s just as possible that she’s also checking her out. Heterocentrism for the win!)

    So it raises a lot of questions for me. Why shouldn’t he look? Why is it assumed that the “terms of their relationship” include not-looking? Why is it assumed that any time a man looks at a woman, it is with some kind of sexual intent? (Because I don’t know about everyone else, but I tend to look at people as they pass me – regardless of gender, regardless of relative hotness.) These things, they keep me up at night :p

    It’s not that I don’t see things outside the heteronormative bias, it simply is not something I was trying to tackle. You think the wife could be checking out the other woman. Sure. That is a valid way to look at it, but is not the issue I was trying to highlight. I acknowledge that for this particular commercial in this particular post, I accepted the heteronormativity of it all. ;)

  14. Izzy says

    Re: looking, yeah. I think that part of being in an adult relationship is accepting that whoever you’re with–male or female–is going to occasionally look at other people and fantasize about them, even if he or she does nothing about it.

    But I *also* think that part of being in an adult relationship is being tactful about your own activities in that regard: regardless of whether or not you’re in a committed, monogamous relationship, blatantly checking out other people in front of your current *date* seems tacky to me. It’s sort of saying “I’d rather be with this person than with you,” even if you don’t actually mean that.

  15. says

    I just realized Sara no H posted exactly the same comments at Tekanji’s blog as she posted here, as if she was saying to Tekanji and then SBG the exact same thing.

    So if Sara’s going to cut and paste from one blog to another without customizing your replies to be relevant, I’ll just c/p what Tekanji said to her, which is right on the money:

    I was in class and I didn’t have the time or energy to analyze the commercial, but I wanted to link it and the analysis that sbg already did. I didn’t “accept that premise”, I merely acknowledged that it was what they were using.

    The main reason why he shouldn’t look is that it’s obvious that it’s part of their relationship agreement — which is most likely the unspoken one that’s seen as the “normal” one for heterosexual monogamous couples. Beyond the simple fact that most commercials like this one rely on the stereotype of the Generic Heterosexual Monogamous Couple, the simple fact that the tagline is that the man should be rewarded for not looking is a clear that looking is seen as a Bad Thing. The fact that the wife looks, and we’re supposed to see that as her sizing up a potential rival/threat, also implies the “normal” relationship agreement. The assumption of sexual intent is tied up in issues of the male gaze and objectification and, like the entirety of the trope, has less to do with reality and more to do with idealized masculinity and femininity.

    Ditto.

    Okay, now onto the commenters who actually found the time to type up something especially for the folks here:

    blatantly checking out other people in front of your current *date* seems tacky to me.

    Me, too. For me it wouldn’t be that he’s showing sexual interest in someone else – I don’t believe in monogamy, so I wouldn’t care. But it would annoy me for the same reason I’d be annoyed if he unapologetically took a cell phone call that clearly wasn’t very important while on a date with me. I would feel I’d carved precious time from my hectic schedule to give him my undivided attention for a while, and if he can’t reciprocate then I should’ve stayed home and done something more rewarding.

    It’s also a trick that’s very popular with really subtle emotional abusers. They make sure their partner catches them checking out the other person so that his/her confidence in his/her attractiveness to the abuser will be undermined and he/she will work harder to “earn” the abuser’s love. Not saying that’s at all implied in this commercial – just mentioning it.

  16. sbg says

    Re: looking, yeah. I think that part of being in an adult relationship is accepting that whoever you’re with–male or female–is going to occasionally look at other people and fantasize about them, even if he or she does nothing about it.

    Within the context of the commercial and the tagline, it seemed implicit to me that this 30 second relationship had rules about wandering eyes. I’m fairly sure this was the intent even if there are other ways to view it and that was, of course, what I was responding to. :)

    But I *also* think that part of being in an adult relationship is being tactful about your own activities in that regard: regardless of whether or not you’re in a committed, monogamous relationship, blatantly checking out other people in front of your current *date* seems tacky to me. It’s sort of saying “I’d rather be with this person than with you,” even if you don’t actually mean that.

    There is a difference, too, between noticing someone’s attractive and ogling. I dated a man once who would literally turn around and watch another woman for as long as he could, all the while holding my hand. I never had a problem with him finding others attractive, but that? That crossed the line into inappropriate behavior to me. He didn’t stop this, though I expressed to him my feelings on the matter.

    Yeah, we didn’t last.

  17. says

    …I feel a bit scolded here. And a bit stung, especially by lines like

    now onto the commenters who actually found the time to type up something especially for the folks here

    I felt very small reading that, and I wish that the criticism could have been made without the insult. I’m sorry for cross-commenting; I don’t know what blog etiquette is on that, and I apologize for having violated it. It’s just that I felt the point was just as relevant here as it was at tekanji’s, and I didn’t see the point in attempting to retool what I’d said, except to expand on it a bit.

    And then of course, since both tekanji and you voiced practically the same response to the point I’d brought up, I felt it appropriate to share the clarification because I realised my original point had not come across the way I had intended. I did add a couple lines that made it fit better into the conversation here, because it seemed that the conversation was going in a slightly different direction – i.e., the right of the post author to discuss the issues she finds personally important, without necessarily addressing all the other issues that are also important. Which I get, and is perfectly valid.

    But that’s what comments are for, right? To bring new perspectives and ways of looking to a post? I think it’s important to also discuss the why of how this commercial works from a slightly queerer perspective – to question the very premises on which it operates, namely that marriage = heterosexual monogamy = not looking.

    If that’s not the way the conversation ends up going, that’s all right too. I just wanted to bring it up because it seemed at least as appropriate as talking about the essentialist assumptions it makes about men and women in relationships.

    A final thought:

    But I *also* think that part of being in an adult relationship is being tactful about your own activities in that regard: regardless of whether or not you’re in a committed, monogamous relationship, blatantly checking out other people in front of your current *date* seems tacky to me. It’s sort of saying “I’d rather be with this person than with you,” even if you don’t actually mean that.

    I can’t really agree with that – the bit about whether it’s tactful, and what it means to do x, that is. It’s one thing to say “Whether or not I’m in a monogamous relationship, I find it tacky to blatantly check out other people in front of your current date, and I read it as saying ‘I’d rather be with this person than you’ ” but it’s another to read that into someone else’s relationship. I agree that part of being in an adult relationship is being tactful, but so is clearly communicating expectations of standards of behaviour, and ensuring that each partner understands those expectations. For example, neither my partner nor I find it terribly tacky to check out others when we’re out together; we’ve been known on occasion to accidentally lose track of our own conversations because we’re busy checking out the same person, which always gives us a laugh. (Great minds, they think alike :) ) I know for a fact (parents, as it happens, are very vocal creatures) that other people find this to be some kind of anathema to the very concept of a relationship – but frankly, it offends me more that they’d presume to impose their standards of a relationship onto mine than all the looking in the world.

  18. Scarlett says

    Ugh, reminds me of a mate I had who would monopoloise the conversation about his latest crush everytime we went out just the two of us. When I pointed out it was RUDE to devote so much of teh conversation on someone you’d clearly rather be with, he said I was jealous and that I wasn’t his girlfriend, he was entitled to talk about other women. That may have been true, but as a human being I deserved a bit more consideration than having to listen to conversation about someone my date would rather be with.

  19. says

    Sara, the problem was how you phrased it. You didn’t suggest heteronormativity as an additional interesting point to discuss (which would’ve been fine). You said flat out that it was “problematic” that SBG “accepted” the context the commercial clearly implied. As if she was betraying the interests of queer people in order to discuss this other issue (which, it would seem, you don’t consider important).

    I think both issues are important. I don’t see the discussion as either/or, but your phrasing clearly frames it that way – you objected to her talking about her issue without first addressing yours. That’s how it came across.

  20. says

    I’ve been thinking for a long time I need to to a post about heteronormativity in general.

    As I see it – and I may be missing something – heteronormativity is ingrained into the landscape even deeper than sexism is. You’ve got the motives behind sexism (whatever they are), and then you’ve got the tools (heteronormativity being one) that normalize it, and then you’ve got the manifestations of it (commercials like this one). Because we usually look at the manifestations of sexism in order to get to the motives behind it, the tools rarely crop up as a relevant part of the discussion. It’s like having a discussion about a stabbing murder and introducing a lot of chatter about knives and their history in human development.

    This frustrates me because I actually do want to talk about heteronormativity, because it IS part of the whole patriarchal bedrock. I do always try to phrase my posts so that at least I’m acknowledging that a particular show/film/whatever is relying on heteronormative assumptions despite my awareness of other valid forms of relationships – which I feel Tekanji and SBG did too. I’m so far out of the social norms that when someone says “I’m getting married” I don’t feel certain I should say “congratulations” because despite TV and culture telling me that’s the appropriate response, my observations (and the divorce rate would seem to back this up) tell me a lot of people get married because they think they have to, not because it’s really what they want. I feel like the kid pointing out the Emperor has no clothes, because everyone around me seems to understand that Marriage Is Joyous Even Though It Fails More Often Than Not in More Ways Than Divorce and I just didn’t get that memo.

    So maybe I should write a topical post on heteronormativity, expressing that I think it’s an important norm to break down in pursuit of a more equal world even though it doesn’t come up in our analysis very often. I do consider it a part of the whole patriarchal system that polarizes the genders, even though it’s more a tool than a direct cause.

  21. sbg says

    Ah, the problems with faceless, internets communication. It’s always tricky.

    But that’s what comments are for, right? To bring new perspectives and ways of looking to a post? I think it’s important to also discuss the why of how this commercial works from a slightly queerer perspective – to question the very premises on which it operates, namely that marriage = heterosexual monogamy = not looking.

    This is very true. The way your first comment came off, though, it seemed to me as if I were being lectured for failing to see it the way you saw it rather than as an invitation to talk about things another way. I know that wasn’t your intention, but it still made me a bit confused and on the defensive.

    I’m still not entirely convinced this thread is the place for deep, meta discussion about heteronormativity. Honestly, it’s a subject due its own post. If I’d written the original post in that vein, then no problem. Any offshoots I tend to bring up are, I think, not too far off the main premise.

    I’m probably repeating what BetaCandy said.

  22. Izzy says

    Scarlett: Ugh, yes. I’ve had that happen with my female friends, too. Sure, you’re infatuated, I’m fine with some gushing, I’ve done it too–but for the love of God, not half an hour straight. And not changing the subject back to Him or Her like you’re yanking an unruly horse onto a bridle path.

    BetaCandy: Good analogy. Another one I like is the TV: if I’m in a sports bar with a friend and she glances up at the TV to check the Red Sox score for a second, that’s okay. If, however,s he gets absorbed in the game-day highlights and totally loses track of the conversation, I’m gonna get annoyed. Likewise, if a guy briefly glances at another girl as she’s passing–enh, he’s human, whatever. But lingering glances and obvious distraction are not okay.

    Sarah: I get that, and that’s cool within the context of your relationship. *However*, it’s a little unreasonable to expect people’s judgments about what’s obnoxious behavior in a date to take into account all possible special arrangements. Violating certain standards of etiquette, while totally fine in the context of an intimate relationship where you’ve worked all these things out, is still going to look insensitive and prickish to outsiders.

    It’s like how I *can* slap my roommate on the back and say “Dave, you stupid bastard, what the fuck have you been doing with yourself all day?” and it’s all affectionate between us–but I wouldn’t find it terribly surprising if an outsider, unaware of context, thought I was a total jerk.

  23. says

    Ooooooooh – I’m sorry! I know intention isn’t necessarily what’s important here, but I honestly hadn’t considered that using “problematic” could be so – er – problematic. Although now I see what you mean about it coming off as lecturing … it probably doesn’t help that I had just come home from lecturing, so I was probably still in a very teachy headspace. My apologies for that. ^^;

    I’ll bow out on that topic now, since it seems like that’s not where the thread is heading anyway. If you’d like to start a new topic, BetaCandy, I’d love to hear your thoughts though!

    Izzy:

    *However*, it’s a little unreasonable to expect people’s judgments about what’s obnoxious behavior in a date to take into account all possible special arrangements. Violating certain standards of etiquette, while totally fine in the context of an intimate relationship where you’ve worked all these things out, is still going to look insensitive and prickish to outsiders.

    …this is difficult for me, because on the surface I agree: it’s impossible to expect people not to project their own experiences/emotions/expectations onto others, particularly when we’re talking about strangers. What strangers think, doesn’t bother me personally so much, because they don’t know me or my situation and frankly I’m probably nothing more than a passing thought.

    But there’s still a line for me between the subjective statement “I find this obnoxious behaviour in a date” and the pseudo-objective statement “this is obnoxious behaviour in a date” – which is again, projecting based on one’s own experiences and whatnot. I just don’t think it’s authentic to say that there is specific behaviour that is good/bad etc. because all of our behaviours, particularly in relationships, are defined by the contexts in which they’re operating. … although this is starting to sound like lecturing psychobabble again so I’ll just move on to my next point, which is –

    So, strangers, meh. Can’t do much about ‘em. It’s more the judgments of people who know me, and know that I’m in an alternative relationship agreement, who still find it necessary to tell me that what I’m doing is bad/wrong/obnoxious/offensive/inconsiderate etc. Because what they mean is that it’d be wrong for them, and that’s perfectly fine to express – I get a lot of “I could never do that but more power to you”s and that’s all right – but what they actually say is more of an attack on my character than a reflection of their own feelings. And I don’t see why I should tolerate that.

  24. says

    Sara, thanks. I think the communication issue is now behind us. :)

    Because what they mean is that it’d be wrong for them, and that’s perfectly fine to express – I get a lot of “I could never do that but more power to you”s and that’s all right – but what they actually say is more of an attack on my character than a reflection of their own feelings.

    I’m a confirmed misanthrope, so don’t be too shocked at my cynicism here, but I actually think deep down what they really mean is that it’s not okay for you OR them, because they need you to reaffirm their lifestyle choice by mimicking it. I’m not saying they’re bad people or they don’t really care about you… I think it’s a basic human flaw that we build cultures that depend on everyone conforming, and then a lot of people who conform find themselves feeling very insecure when confronted with people who didn’t: conforming hasn’t worked out the way they’d hoped, or maybe the choice it required was wrong for them, and you end up serving as a reminder that they could opt out of all that… if they had the courage.

    That’s based on my perception of my experiences as someone who’s mostly always been celibate by choice. When I was in my teens and 20’s and everyone else was learning to date and have relationships and I was perfectly happy not to bother, people would actually get ANGRY with me and act as if I’d attacked them by simply minding my own business and only reluctantly answering their nosy questions about why I wasn’t begging to blow some cute guy who’d just shown the slightest interest in me (the answer was that I just didn’t care in 99.9% of cases).

    As people get older, they tend to modify that behavior so it seems more reasonable but I think the motive is still the same. They’re not secure in the choice they made (to do what everyone else is doing) and someone who follows her own path makes them feel more uncertain than ever. To this day, I know the warning signs that a friend is going to suddenly pull away from me for fear she’ll be led astray by my example of non-conformity.

    And WOW I hope that didn’t sound superior. There’s usually a connotation of “I’m so much smarter than the pack” when one talks about not being a conformist, but I don’t see it that way. Conformists can be smart people who see the advantage to conforming and are willing to make some compromises in that area, and non-conformists can be fools who are making unusual choices just to rebel rather than because those choices are right for them. The only thing I wish people would do is own their choices, whatever they are, and not care what choices other people make.

  25. scarlett says

    A friend of mine is gay and a furry and even just intellectually, I had difficulty grasping that just because it’s something that doesn’t appeal to me doesn’t make it any less right for him. I think there’s this massive culture that het monogamy is the ‘right’ sexuality and anything outside that is deviant so people try to fit themselves into a sexuality that isn’t right for them.

  26. Izzy says

    I just don’t think it’s authentic to say that there is specific behaviour that is good/bad etc. because all of our behaviours, particularly in relationships, are defined by the contexts in which they’re operating

    I don’t agree, but I think the specifics of our disagreements get into more philosophy than I have the training to describe or the time to take on. ;) Because about eighty percent of the time, I *do* agree; there’s just this twenty percent of behavior, mostly in what I consider the “physical or emotional abuse” category, that I don’t think is okay even if the other person or people in the relationship are willing to put up with it. (e.g. Goreans, Prairie Muffins, people who threaten suicide when their girlfriends aren’t paying enough attention to them…)

    And as far as the debateably obnoxious rather than actually abusive stuff goes…well, a lot of manners depend on saying “okay, the majority of people find this obnoxious, so, unless you know someone very well and have discussed it with them, don’t do it,” (leaving the door open when you’re in the bathroom seems like a good neutral example), which I’m fine with, as a general rule. It does get abbreviated, especially when you’re in reaction-mode rather than teaching-mode, to “Oh my God what is wrong with you? People don’t DO that!”

    And most of the time, teaching-mode is best, but I’m of the school of thought that there’s a place for reaction-mode: it gets across the fact that no, most people really *don’t* like this way of operating, guy who leaves the door open, it is *too* a big deal, and so forth.

    It’s more the judgments of people who know me, and know that I’m in an alternative relationship agreement, who still find it necessary to tell me that what I’m doing is bad/wrong/obnoxious/offensive/inconsiderate etc.

    But here I totally agree, yeah. If you know someone has a consensual alternate arrangement going on, and they seem happy…well, you back off, IMO, and keep your opinions to yourself. It’s a bit like religion or other hot-button issues that way: you can assume I’ve heard of Christianity, or monogamy, or veganism, because I’m an adult with an Internet connection, you can likewise assume that I will look into it more if I WANT TO, and, until I do, you can assume that you’re only going to annoy me, not convert me.

    And I realize that, on the other hand, there’s a place for having valid concerns about a friend’s relationship, and expressing those concerns: I’ve done the “So, your SO’s a manipulative little jerk and you could do better,” song-and-dance routine a time or two myself, and the “Um, your job is sucky, and you have the credentials to get a way better one,” routine was one of the best things my friends did for me. But I think that:

    a) That has to come from a real place of concern for the friend, and a real belief that he or she doesn’t know part of the score–whether that’s behavior on the third party’s part or a sincere belief that the person deserves better. If you *know* that most jobs don’t make you work until ten, or that there are monogamous people out there, then you’ve made an informed choice based on what you value, and there’s no need for us to bug you.

    b) You really do have to give up after a certain point. I *tried* three or four months of “Dude, we both know your current partner is a horrible manipulative asshat, WHY are you still with them?” back in college. Didn’t work; caused a fair amount of bad feeling, especially as I’m, um, not known for my diplomacy. ;)

    Okay. I ramble. I stop rambling now.

  27. says

    FYI – I saw this via my emailed WaPo headlines this am and thought it might be something you all would be interested in posting about: In an Emperor Has No Spiffy Duds moment, a film critic calls BS on the notion that torturing women is “hip” and “edgy” and above derision, proudly proclaims self uncool if this is what cool consists of.

    (I was particularly taken with the brief description of the Self-Othering process at the beginning, having Been There/Done That/Got the Literal Scars on my arms from it all.)

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