Yes, sorry, my internet is going wonky right now. This should have been up on Tuesday. For future reference, this series isn’t so much intended to reform men as it is to give a name and a perspective on fucked-up male-socialized behaviors to those suffering from it… giving it a name makes your reactions valid. This is always the case with abuse, but especially emotional abuse.
Today’s topic is: Deliberate Misinterpretation
Scene: As with the previous editions, we’re going to continue using Marisa and Vince to illustrate this week’s points. Marisa is a white woman and Vince is a white man. They are platonic friends who mostly enjoy getting together and talking politics but, as with most men, there are some slight problems in behavior.
Let’s assume that they’ve been meeting in a bar for several weeks. Every time Vince comes, he brings one of his (female) sex friends—who Marisa did not invite. She doesn’t, however, know how to impress upon Vince that she’s not comfortable with him bringing his friends along to their get-togethers when he hasn’t bothered to get her permission. It gets uncomfortable—especially since, last week, this woman named Amber spent about forty minutes basically witnessing to Marisa about how eating coconut oil every day saved her life, including about ten minutes of graphic descriptions of her colon cleansing. Gotta stop.
So one day Marisa asks if Vince wants to meet up, just off-the-cuff, and he shows up alone. She says that she’s been uncomfortable with his habit of bringing his friends along, especially since the whole “having sex” thing between the two of them makes her feel like a third wheel. It’s uncomfortable, could he please ask, etc.
Vince shoots back with, “If you’re going to be so sex-negative and judgmental, then I’m not sure we can be friends.”
Effect: Disorientation, Speechlessness.
– Vince has taken Marisa’s complaint and request and twisted it into a horribly unflattering interpretation—something she definitely didn’t mean. He would have expected her to give him the benefit of the doubt were the situations reversed, however.
– Marisa now has what is essentially the argument version of whiplash—Vince’s assertion is so out of left field and so unconnected to what she meant that she’s left stunned and temporarily unable to formulate any kind of response.
– Vince has set up a dynamic where if Marisa continues insisting on having her comfort level respected in their friendship, she’ll be “sex negative” and “judgmental.” At the same time, it makes any future problems Marisa has with Vince’s behavior harder to navigate for her, because any discomfort, irritation, or frustration with him will be automatically categorized from now on.
– Marisa has received a pretty obvious message from Vince that she’s not allowed to be uncomfortable with his behavior—that any such discomfort indicates, instead, a flaw within Marisa. Thus Vince has made a mirror deflection of the situation so that reality is topsy-turvy—instead of how his behavior affects his companions being very obviously his responsibility, Vince’s behavior and its effects become Marisa’s problem and sole responsibility.
– Vince has delivered an extra emotional punch with his argument: because he and Marisa are friends, Marisa has a reasonable expectation that Vince will listen to her and not simply make up shit as he goes along in place of her actual words. He’s just betrayed that expectation and her.
Discussion: Vince probably knows that the motive he’s attributing to Marisa isn’t true, but ultimately, he’s completely willing to throw away Marisa’s sense of validity (of existing as a person, with the social solidity that requires) to preserve his own comfort zone. He’s repeatedly shown that with his behavior.
The problem isn’t just that his sense of entitlement justifies attacking Marisa when the most obvious response would be to actually start asking and to take “no” as an answer, it’s that he doesn’t really want to know the real reasons Marisa is put off by his behavior. Caring about Marisa, actually understanding that she is a person, would require Vince to pay attention to why and how he’s not showing her the respect she deserves, and as with every other privilege, Vince finds it easier and more pleasant to simply let Marisa take the brunt of patriarchy; he doesn’t actually have to exert himself, so it’s easy for him to see the privilege he’s always lived with as normal and a standard of treatment.
For her part, the only way Marisa can counter that is with some variation of “you know that’s not true,” especially if followed with shameless numbering of the people she’s had sex with before. But that’s another “male socialized” behavior: men rarely actually try to argue with one another—they disagree vehemently and then talk about some various status symbol to prove their point. Of course, that’s also because being a sexual predator—a hunter who feels pride at the number of heads mounted on his wall—is a pretty big part of patriarchal male-male relations. Arguments between men, according to Aslan, usually (but not always) circle around patriarchal manliness norms to decide a winner/loser.
And in fact, Aslan brought this privilege up to me—because zie’s done it. Zie’s been genderfucky all zeir life, but largely presented as male. At one point, zie was presenting as female relatively often and zeir girlfriend didn’t like it because zie dressed in very thin, revealing clothes—in zeir own words, “All I needed were some clear heels.” But when she brought up the problem to zem, pointing out that it’s different when a boi dresses “slutty” than a gurl—it’s perceived as reflecting only on the boi when he does it, but when a gurl does it the aura of patriarchal femininity takes over—and it made her, personally, feel unsafe around zem. So could zie please not do it?
Aslan’s response was basically the same as Vince’s: “If you’re going to be such a prude then I don’t think we should be together,” or something to that effect. So zeir girlfriend said, “Okay, we’re broken up, then.”
According to Aslan, the manly thing to do in that situation is go talk to your best friend and tell them you fucked up bad, think about it a lot, then get her favorite flowers/food/etc., dress in clothes that make her comfortable, and go cry and apologize and tell her how she was right—not just that she was. (It doesn’t work for most men for very long, apparently, since they don’t put in the effort to sustain that change.) I think that’s just generally the decent thing to do, though.
Anyway, Marisa really needs to lose Vince.
Subsets: Well If You’re Going To Be Like That; Your Reactions To My Inappropriate Behavior Are Not My Problem; Why Don’t You Try Saying That Nicer So I’ll Consider Maybe Eventually Listening?; Sorry, What? I Have Privilege Stuck In My Ears; If You Don’t Agree With Me You’re Just Defensive, Angry And Confused (AKA the Lierre Keith Defense).
What You Should Say So You Don’t Ask Me, “Well, What Do You Want Me To Say (You Unreasonable Bitch)?” Try, “What would you like me to do instead?”