"I Like Your Tits!" is Not a Compliment: A Guide For Men

My raging feminism combined with almost-daily experience of street harassment leads me to think about the problem perhaps more frequently and more in-depth than most people would care to, but my interest lately is not so much in the harassment itself, but in the way we think about and discuss it. You'd be hard-pressed to find a woman in the United States who has never experienced catcalls, leers, and the occasional outright hostility of entitled men who believe it is their right to evaluate women's bodies and then demand attention from them. When you speak about street harassment to a group of women, there is always disgusted eye-rolling, groans of recognition, and a general understanding that being harassed on the street is both unpleasant and scary. Women who have experienced it have respect and sympathy for the horror stories of female friends, because even those of us who haven't experienced the more extreme forms of harassment can still imagine the more benign encounters escalating to that level.

Men, on the other hand, are a different story. Perhaps it's that they don't experience it themselves, or that it almost never happens to their female friends when they are along, but men rarely seem to recognize the seriousness or the ubiquity of street harassment. If you speak about street harassment to a group of men, while most of them will shake their heads in disapproval, it's not at all unusual to get somebody asking what you were wearing, or suggesting that you don't know how to take a "compliment." They honestly don't understand what's so upsetting about a few little catcalls, and it's a hard thing to explain to someone who hasn't experienced it.

The old "put yourself in another person's position" mental exercise is usually a good one for triggering empathy and compassion in another, but when you suggest men imagine what it would be like for them to be sexually harassed on the street, many of them respond with, "I'd love it if women were hitting on me all the time!" I couldn't figure out why so many men would see it as a positive thing when it's generally such a negative experience for women, until one day it hit me: men are imagining being catcalled by women, and the sexual politics of our culture dictate that such an encounter is going to be experienced differently by the harassee depending on the gender of the harasser. So, men, let's try this a different way:

Imagine you are on your way to work, dressed as you always dress for work, minding your own business. As you wait at the bus stop, another man says to you with a vaguely malicious tone, "Nice ass!" You are startled and look at him in shock; he is clearly larger and stronger than you are, so you don't feel safe to express the rage that is beginning to boil inside your sternum. You keep quiet all the way to work, where you finally tell your coworker Joe about your experience. Joe shrugs and says, "Well, you do have a nice ass; if you're going to wear pants that flatter it you're just going to have to expect some comments. I'm sure he was just trying to compliment you anyway." In just two sentences, he has dismissed your experience, invalidated your feelings, and suggested that you were asking for it by dressing the way you dressed.

Okay, I realize that the odds of the above scenario actually happening to a heterosexual man in this country are about eleventy-bajillion to one, but that's sort of the point. The mental exercise doesn't work if you're imagining being ogled by a woman, because women are not accorded the same social status as men, and also are not usually physically threatening. So while it's possible to imagine a strange woman making a sexual comment to you, the element of physical danger will almost certainly be absent, because how many women are bigger or stronger than the average man? Also, some cultural ideas of masculinity are tied to aggressiveness and dominance, and this is something that can escalate harassment when the person being harassed does not respond in the manner desired by the harasser. If a woman commented on your ass and you got mad at her, she probably won't feel like you just threatened her femininity, while a man who comments on a woman's ass may fly into a rage when his comments are not received well, because he feels that the woman has emasculated him by rebuffing his advances. Men, you may not personally harass women, but let me assure you, a lot of other men do, and a lot of them also take it personally when we don't enthusiastically give them our numbers after they have loudly shouted their approval of our tits.

A good portion of the confusion of the decent dudes stems from the fact that many of them don't seem to understand the difference between a compliment and harassment. It may seem like a fine line, but honestly, this stuff isn't that hard to figure out if you follow three simple guidelines.

First: complimenting a stranger is almost always creepy. You have to be very friendly and benign to pull it off, and frequently it's still going to come off creepy because underlying a compliment is the implication that the complimented person ought to care what you think. The true power of a compliment lies not in the words themselves, but in the relationship between the two people. This is why a comment like "Wow, those jeans make your ass look fantastic!" will please me when it comes from my husband, but disgust me when uttered by a stranger. I care what my husband thinks of me; I couldn't give a shit less about whether a stranger approves of my jeans and would frankly rather not think about the fact that a stranger is noticing my ass in the first place.

Second: be appropriate. If you're trying to ingratiate yourself to someone in whom you are romantically interested, limit the compliments to non-sexual things like her eyes or her smile. Do NOT, unless you are already in a sexual relationship with her and know her comfort level with such comments, compliment her tits, ass, or any other culturally sexualized physical feature. If you're complimenting someone in whom you're not romantically interested, it's best not to comment on any physical features at all.

Third: own your words. If she expresses discomfort with what you've said, apologize immediately and sincerely. Don't get angry if your compliment is not received in the manner you expected. You cannot dictate a person's reaction and a compliment in many ways is a verbal step inside someone's personal space, so if she requests that you step the fuck back, you must accept that you have violated her comfort zone and this is your fault, not hers.

I hope that someday street harassment will be a thing of the past, but I'm not holding my breath. We women can only repeat our stories so many times before we start to get tired of being second guessed and dismissed and blamed for the actions of men who are convinced they've done nothing wrong by perpetrating what feels to us like a mental and emotional violation (which sometimes turns into physical violence too). I think one of the best things individual men can do is stop tolerating such behavior from their friends. It's not good enough that you don't do it yourself; you need to speak up when your friends treat strangers poorly, and begin to untangle the web of dominance that has become so closely tied to male/female relationships.

I know it's a cliche, but come on: if we'd all just treat each other with respect and see each other as people, we wouldn't be having this problem!

Posted byMJ at 12:55 PM 5 comments  


It sucks to take the dog out every 20 minutes when he has the shits; it sucks more to leave him alone in the computer room for 10 minutes immediately after a trip outside so I can take a shower, and emerge to find a rank shitpuddle on the carpet behind my chair. What sucks most, though, is waking up at 4:30 a.m. and realizing the dog is sick again, and this might be the last time.

Posted byMJ at 11:20 AM 1 comments  

The hype over the Harry Potter books

I just don't get it.

I tried a few times to get into the first book, but children's fiction just doesn't do it for me; I found it unbearably dull. Am I the only one? It sure seems like it.

Posted byMJ at 8:01 AM 2 comments  

Excuses and Explanations

I have a hard time updating this blog regularly. I didn't set out to write an exclusively feminist blog, but somehow it turned into that since feminist issues are usually the ones that get me fired up enough to write. Now that the blog has become that, I am sometimes reluctant to post things that don't fit into the whole feminist blog paradigm-- silly little stories, random quotes, offhand observations that have nothing to do with patriarchy or misogyny or women's place in a world that is ever-changing. Although I know it's my blog and I can do anything I damn well please with it, I feel like I should have some kind of unifying theme to my writing here, something bigger than "all things Molly."

I suppose I should just say "fuck it" and write whatever I want.

This blog has, in many ways, become the space in which I grapple with my identity as a woman, a wife, a twentysomething college graduate with murky ambitions and potential limited only by the glass ceilings against which I fear breaking my lovely and delicate nose. I am finally, at almost-26, coming to grips with the fact that I'm an adult now, that I am married and might potentially become a parent within the next few years, and struggling with the implications of these choices on my economic prospects. I'm trying to find a job, and I've met with the frustrating reality that despite my newly-minted diploma from Oregon State University, I am qualified only for the exact same jobs I was doing before I went back to school-- jobs that rarely pay more than about $12 an hour. I've set my sights on a Master of Library Science degree program, which means another three years of school and who knows how many thousands of dollars in new student loans, and the end result-- being employable as a librarian-- sounds like something out of a gorgeous dream, but how will this economic goal affect my personal life? What if, in three years, there is no job market in this area for librarians? Can I expect my husband to pick up and move if I find a job elsewhere? What if it doesn't pay well but offers significant opportunity for advancement? Where are the lines in these potential conflicts? Obviously, this is a take-it-as-it-comes situation, yet another scenario in which I drive myself crazy pondering the what-ifs, but the fates of women who have come before me have made me wary of being too willing to sacrifice my personal goals for marital peace, and I worry sometimes that that caution will lead me to be too inflexible, too stubbornly determined to achieve my own goals, and then I wonder if there really is such a thing for a woman.

Concepts of body image and health-consciousness are also a constant roiling mess in my head as I fight to define for myself what constitutes "health" and "attractiveness" and how hard I should strive to achieve each of them. Two of my close female relatives had plastic surgery this year (two boob jobs, a tummy tuck, and some liposuction), and my own reaction to the news really threw me for a loop. I've always known that my body cannot fit the ideal of "hotness" and it never will; no matter how hard I work out or diet or how much makeup I wear, I will always have round hips and a 32A chest, and I will not look proportionate in tight clothing. I have a pretty face and a reasonably trim figure, but I am not "HAWT" and I never will be.

It was always a great comfort to me to see those older female relatives with bodies like mine living successful and happy lives, and it gave me hope that someday I might be able to accept myself as I am. Then two of my role models had surgery to change their bodies. It seems like the right thing to do is to say I respect their decisions, and while I do understand perfectly why they both did it, it has nonetheless been dismaying to me to recognize that women in their 40's and 50's who are shaped like me have come no closer to accepting their bodies than I have. I don't respect their decisions. In fact, I sort of hate them for those decisions. Of course they have no obligation to leave their bodies unaltered just so I can feel better about my own predicament, but it really is disheartening to see older women struggling with the same feelings of inferiority that I face, and it depresses me to know that it doesn't necessarily get easier with age. I truly hope that I will never grow so dissatisfied with the way I look that I'm willing to have surgery to change it, but who can say how I'll feel in 20 years? It infuriates me to think that I might still be striving for "fuckability" as a (happy and successful, I hope) fortysomething who cannot possibly hope to compete with the fetishized 18-year-olds who have become the gold standard for female attractiveness in this country. Is that what I have to look forward to? Is there really so slim a chance of me accepting and feeling comfortable in the body I have?

All of these conflicts and issues are knocking around in my brain on a daily basis, but I have no idea how to turn them into a coherent blog post. I don't want to abandon this endeavor, but it doesn't feel fresh and full of promise anymore. So I guess what I'm trying to say is this: I don't know what my goals are here anymore. Bear with me. I'll muddle through.

Posted byMJ at 1:06 PM 1 comments  

A rant against "Nice Guy Rants," and some advice for Nice Guys

On Monday, I read a "Nice Guy Rant" on the myspace page of a friend. It was one of those charming missives that are posted and reposted by bitter young men, ending with the instructions, "If you agree with this, repost it as 'I'm Sorry.'"

To paraphrase the entry (which was unfortunately very long and rendered in clumsy verse):

"I'm sorry I've always been there for you, always been a good friend to you, stood quietly by while you dated assholes who weren't me. Since you can't see what a diamond in the rough I am, which would necessarily result in your immediate giving up of the pussy, I am no longer going to be your friend."

Of course it was more delicately worded than that; although I am about to lay into them with a vengeance, I do think that most Nice Guys honestly believe they are being wronged and taken advantage of by the women they fancy. They see themselves as the Duckie character in a real-life "Pretty in Pink," the lovesick best friend whose devotion and uniqueness are ignored or dismissed by the object of his affection, who would rather date the bland (but much better-looking) popular guy who doesn't worship the ground she walks on the way her best friend does. His bitterness at this implicit rejection-- because rarely do Nice Guys make their true feelings explicit-- grows and grows until, in a fit of impotent rage, he channels his pent-up emotions into a passive-aggressive rant casting her as the one with the problem. This passive-aggression is at the heart of what most women find so distasteful about Nice Guys: despite their persistent "niceness," they are fundamentally dishonest about their intentions.

For the record, Nice Guys, if you are only being nice to a woman because you want to get into her pants, you aren't actually nice. If you are uncomfortable with being just friends, then don't be friends at all; pretending to be a woman's friend is lying, and insinuating yourself into her life under false pretenses makes you no better than the asshole boyfriends whom you decry for hurting her over and over. Being a good friend to a woman does not entitle you to her romantic affection.

Let's repeat that one, because it might be the most important:
Being a good friend to a woman does not entitle you to her romantic affection.

This is where the Nice Guy logic gets all screwy. Everyone knows what it's like to have a bad friend; we've all had relationships with people who take more than they give, and nothing sucks more than being the one who's always putting forth the effort. For most people, the impulse to continue making an effort switches off at some point and we recognize that the friend is not worth it. Nice Guys, however, often add the extra expectation of sexual interest to the list of Good Friend criteria, and even women who are good platonic friends get cast as Bad Friends for not giving it up. This is patently unfair. You cannot expect things of a person who has not agreed to the ruleset by which you'd like to be playing.

Again, for the record, Nice Guys, you need to recognize your own responsibility for your situation. If she is not a good friend to you, you are free at any time to end the friendship. If, on the other hand, she is a good friend but you want more from the relationship, you don't get to hold that against her. If you make your wishes known and she rejects you, you can either get over it and continue to be a friend, or you can move on and end the friendship entirely; what you should NEVER do is fake being her friend, hoping she'll change her mind, while silently nursing a grudge over the fact that she doesn't share your attraction. That is passive-aggressive, dishonest, and perhaps most importantly (to the Nice Guys) unattractive.

Contrary to popular belief, women don't actually like dating assholes.

Now, before you go throwing all your anecdotal evidence at me, let me elaborate.

People (not just women, but people) are attracted to confidence. It's no fun spending time with a person who needs constant reassurance-- ask any guy who's dated a woman who constantly demands, "Do I look fat in this?" Assholes of the variety that has great success picking up women in bars are not attractive for the fact that they are assholes, but because their cockiness comes across to many women as self-assurance. We are social animals, and it pleases us on a very base level to be chosen by a popular and charismatic peer, so those assholes who stand us up and treat us disrespectfully are sometimes attractive because the assholish behavior can be mistaken for desirable traits. We like people who have lives of their own and interests outside our immediate relationship; it can be difficult to distinguish between the returned phone call that was late because a person was geniunely busy and the one that was late because the person was playing head games and being rude. While some women have learned to tell the difference between the genuinely well-rounded, socially active man and the carefully-crafted act of an asshole, younger women especially often lack this social savvy and can fall prey to men whose seemingly busy lives are an illusion specifically crafted to lure in a potential easy lay.

Nice Guys, women don't date assholes just to spite you!

The constructive response to this is not, as many Nice Guys posit, to become an asshole yourself. Unless your goal is only to have meaningless sex, becoming one of the bad guys is not going to help your case with the ladies. If you really want that girl to notice you as more than a friend, you have to actually get a life. I mean it. Get yourself some interests that don't revolve around her, some other friends, hobbies to occupy your time. You have to be an actual person with an actual life of his own; don't just "play" hard to get, cultivate a life in which your time is really filled with activities and people you enjoy, and your resulting fulfillment will make you infinitely more attractive than any worshipful sniveling ever could. She shouldn't be the center of your life unless you are also the center of hers, and to put her in that position without her consent is an unfair burden. Should you make that mistake, your resulting misery is your fault, not hers.

I'm not sure why Nice Guys are so intent on blaming others for the awkward positions they've created for themselves, but one thing is for sure: they will never get out of those one-sided relationships as long as they keep avoiding reality. Nice Guys of the world, I challenge you to examine the roots of your "niceness" and honestly assess whether it is as genuine as you would have us believe. If you have fallen into the trap of worshipping an unwilling goddess, then step up and own your actions, and move forward with the resolution to be more forthright in your future dealings with women. Every person wants to be appreciated; no healthy person will expect your worship. It's a long fall from the pedestal, and most women would prefer not to be boosted up there in the first place.

Posted byMJ at 1:04 PM 5 comments  

Another Reason to Hate Cheesecake

Mark loves cheesecake. On Tuesday, I walked up to the grocery store to get him a six-pack of beer (Springboard Ale, in case you wondered) as a birthday present, and I stumbled across a very pretty strawberry-topped cheesecake that I picked up despite the fact that he told me he didn't want a cake. His friend was taking us to dinner that evening and I knew there was a good chance he'd be coming over afterward and thought it might be nice to have a dessert to offer, so I figured what the hell?

I don't like cheesecake. Never have. I like my sweets properly sweet, thank you very much, with none of the sharp tang of cheese tacked onto the finish to ruin my savoring of the sugary goodness. Cheesecake is filed away in the category which also houses cream cheese frosting, which grosses me out in similar fashion, and I rarely eat it unless I'm trying to be polite. Tuesday evening, however, after nine days of faithfully eating well and limiting my intake of sweets and exercising almost every day, I was fiending for some dessert, and that cheesecake was the only sweet thing in the house.

So I had a little slice.

Oh. My. God.

I don't know if it's a really good cheesecake or if my sugar deprivation amplified the flavor, but jeezum crow, that shit was tasty. Every slice since the first has had me eating with an OCD precision, forking up thin slivers with careful proportions of creamy cheesecake, sweet strawberry sauce, and gently spicy graham cracker crust, savoring each bite slowly and dreading the end of the helping. There's half a cake still left in the fridge and I'm scared I'm going to wind up eating the damn thing myself. My mouth waters just to think of it, and I find myself wishing I could make a meal consisting entirely of that delectable dessert and just skip the troublesome vegetables and shit that I usually force myself to consume before I get to the good part.

Cheesecake, one of the very few dessert foods that I have consistently disliked throughout my life, is ruining my healthy diet. Asshole.

Posted byMJ at 3:38 PM 1 comments  

birthday eve

This morning as Mark was on his way out the door for work, I called, "Happy birthday eve!"

"Happy birthday eve," he snorted. "That's the silliest shit I ever heard."

Then, later, when he was trying to rationalize not going to the gym on his lunch hour, he grinned and said: "It's my birthday eve. I don't have to go!"

Posted byMJ at 5:31 PM 1 comments  

Please Donate

If you can spare even a little cash, please head on over to Liz's blog and make a donation. She survived non-Hodgkin's lymphoma without health insurance, the medical bills have decimated her savings, and now she can't sell her house until it's rewired and reroofed. After much cajoling by loyal readers, she has finally put a paypal button on her page. Please help if you're able.

Posted byMJ at 12:56 PM 1 comments  

Strip Clubs are Bad. Here's Why.

Every year around this time, the issue of strip clubs comes up at my house. My husband's birthday is May 23rd, and his friend J.'s birthday is the day before, so it's become something of a tradition to go out for a shared birthday celebration with a bunch of other friends; the celebration often starts at a restaurant or bar, but almost always winds up migrating to one of the strip clubs J. frequents. I don't like it, and the hubby is no fan, but he wants to spend time with his friends so he goes along for the ride despite his misgivings. My distaste for strip clubs is deep-seated and difficult to articulate, so I've given a lot of thought to the issue over the past few days in an attempt to come up with a coherent explanation of what it is that makes strip clubs in general Bad Places.

Our society, which is patriarchal whether we want to admit it or not, commodifies sex. In essence, we think of "sex" as something a woman has and a man wants (think sex="pussy," as in, "I need to get some pussy," or "Bitch needs to give up the pussy."), and like all commodities, it is limited in supply. Because a woman's body is equated with sex, we think of her as somehow diminished personally when she "gives it up." This is where many of the negative connotations to slurs like "slut" and "whore" come from-- a woman who is promiscuous is essentially giving away pieces of herself to every person with whom she has sex, and if sex is finite she will eventually run out and be "used up." From this arises the classic virgin/whore dichotomy, and within this framework all women are the "sex class" no matter which category they fall into.

Sex workers-- from exotic dancers to prostitutes-- operate within this framework, and this is what makes the "but she wants to do this job" argument invalid. A woman's personal choice, even if it is miraculously made entirely free of social or economic coercion, is irrelevant to the argument: even if she chooses to participate in her own oppression and objectification, a woman is still being oppressed and objectified in such a sexist system, and it is the system to which I object, not the women's personal choices. In other words, a strip club does not hurt only the women who are inside dancing, it hurts all women because it perpetuates our standing as the sex class and reinforces behavior that demeans and objectifies women and robs us of our personhood.

In a strip club the women are ornamental. It doesn't matter that you can't have sex with them or even touch them; their purpose in that context is to exhibit their naked bodies for the titillation of men, most of whom have no hope of ever attaining the affections of a woman as stereotypically attractive as the dancers.

In an ideal world, a woman could choose to be a sex worker as if it were any other job, but our society's value judgments preclude such a neutral choice. (I don't believe strip clubs would exist in an ideal world, but that's another post entirely.) Because we view sex work as inherently diminishing to the individual who engages in it, the choice to become a sex worker is fraught with negative social value that may often outweigh the economic value of such a choice. I don't have any statistics, but I would bet that the majority of sex workers do it for the money rather than because it's an occupation they enjoy, and I submit that a person of any gender in any occupation should not have to suffer socially for economically-necessary choices. In other words, if a woman is in a position where she has to choose between a minimum-wage job and a higher-paying position as a sex worker, she should not be penalized with the social label of "whore" simply for making an economic decision. She is being punished for choosing the best option available to her within a sexist system.

So, my friends, please remember: when you support a strip club, you are supporting the subjugation of women as a class. And that's not cool.

Posted byMJ at 11:40 AM 8 comments  

The Gender Experience Project, episode 1

The profiles I made have been up for six days, and the results of the experiment at this juncture are interesting, if unsurprising. So far the female profile has received 30 messages (two of them from one guy who apparently doesn't take being ignored well), while the male profile has received only 9 messages.

Responses to the male profile are generally innocuous, along the lines of, "Hi! You're cute!" and sometimes "I'd like to get to know you better." The women responding almost never suggest meeting; only one suggested going out for drinks or coffee. The men who responded to the profile with my picture on it, however, are a different story entirely. Here's the numerical breakdown, in non-exclusive categories I devised off the top of my head:
16 of the 30 messages were in the "normal" category, generally along the lines of the responses to the other profile.
6 of the messages suggested we meet in person.
11 of the messages I filed under "weird"-- these ranged from the message whose subject line said "HEY THERE" and whose body consisted solely of a dirty joke, to the guy whose message said only "write me back," to the guy who wrote a second message attempting to convince our fictional subject that she was wrong to ignore the message he'd sent only the day before.
10 of the messages made some reference to appearance, ranging from the benign compliment of "you're cute," to the breathless and unconvincing, "my jaw literally dropped when I saw your photo!"

Only one message was explicitly sexual in nature, and it was so poorly written that I actually laughed out loud when I read it. The subject line was "lets enjoy hot and good and nice" and the message read:

i'm near disneyland
i'm Totally safe in every way, not a player, I love being sensual and i really love giving oral till u cum over and over and over , i just love that. I especially love foreplay and touching and being tender and experimenting what we like together to be pleased
I'm ,, 6'1 , 190 dark hair,slim build,, fit,, single , live alone ,very kind nice guy very safe and clean I'm well hung, very open minded and easy going and very discreet

[phone number redacted to protect the guilty]

Yes, friends, he included his phone number.

While the crudity of that message was a little shocking, it was more funny than creepy. The only message that truly rose to the level of "creepy" was the aforementioned second message from the guy who didn't like being ignored. His first message, sent Tuesday the 15th at 10:27 a.m., read:

Hi there...

Wow, you're cute!

Wanna go out & laugh a lot?

-[name redacted]

He did not receive a response, of course, because the woman at whom he directed his message doesn't actually exist. He doesn't know this, however, and the very next day at 4:29 p.m. he sent a second message with the subject "C'mon, it'll be fun!" It read:

Hello again....

Here's the thing...

I'm a nice guy, I'm very funny, I'm an expert people-watcher, and I think you're really cute!

How bad could it be?

Let's go have some fun.

[name redacted]
Now, this guy probably thinks he's being persistent and charming, but I'll hazard a guess that most women would agree with me when I say he's got NICE GUY written all over him, and contrary to how that might sound, it ain't a good thing. (Right about now, the dudes have their testes in a twist because they think I just affirmed the stereotype that women only like men who treat them poorly. Not true. Read this to understand just what's wrong with being a "nice guy.") In addition to coming on too strong, he's offering a tiny glimpse of the entitlement to female attention that so many men seem to feel: he thinks I am cute, therefore he is entitled to my attention. This attitude is frequently exhibited by street harassers, who at their most benign will command a strange woman to "smile" for them, and at worst call her a bitch or physically assault her when she doesn't respond favorably to their unwelcome advances. I'm certainly not suggesting that this guy's two messages on an online personals site constitute harassment or a proclivity to violence, or even that he's aware of how subtly demanding he's being; I want merely to point out the assumptions which underlie his statements and actions. He took a 24 hour silence, which on such a site is essentially equivalent to "I'd rather not date you," as a cue to talk his target out of her position. I hate to speak in cliches, guys, but no means no even when it's unspoken, and desperation isn't attractive.

I originally planned to leave the profiles up only for a week or two, but the messages (and the issues they raise) have been so entertaining that I may leave them up longer. If nothing else, they will yield the occasional comically bad missive, which I will of course pass along to be ridiculed by all of you.

I don't think there's any real conclusion to be drawn from this tiny slice of online dating life, but I think even this dinky data sample shows that men's and women's experience of social interactions, both online and in the real world, are sometimes starkly different.

Posted byMJ at 1:53 PM 3 comments  

In Which I Dabble at Science!

About a month ago I read a blog post about the recent Kathy Sierra online harrassment issue in which the author (a man) suggested that his male readers log into a chat room using an identifiably female handle in order to experience the type of sexualized comments directed at women as a matter of course. It was heralded by many commenters as a great idea, but I suspect few men would actually be willing to try it out because a) who goes to chat rooms anymore?, and b) it's just too much effort. This idea inspired me to come up with a little experiment of my own.

I wanted to find a way to highlight the differences in male and female experience of the internet, specifically the frequency with which users are harrassed or insulted in gendered terms. I'm definitely not interested in spending any time in a chat room, so I decided to make a couple of profiles on a free online personals site. The profiles are identical in every aspect but gender-- attached to the female one is an old picture of me, and attached to the male one is an old photo of my brother. The fictional ad-placers live in L.A., in order to maximize diversity of potential views and responses. The description of each profile reads:

I'm looking for people who live like it's no joke, but don't take anything too seriously. I love the outdoors; if it involves playing outside, count me in! I enjoy quiet, low-key evenings as well as nights out on the town, but I'm no fan of recreational drunkenness. A few drinks among friends is no big deal, but if you make a habit of going out and getting sloppy every weekend, we probably won't get along. Art, theater, live music: any kind of cultural event will pique my interest and lead me out in search of adventure and new experiences.
Bland and boring, nothing sexual, and listed as looking for people to "hang out." The goal here is to see what kind of responses each profile garners with no further encouragement. I will not respond to any messages or change the profiles at any point. I plan on leaving the ads up for a week or two and tabulating some kind of informal statistics of things like number of views vs. number of responses, number of harrassing messages vs. "friendly" messages, and number of multiple messages from single users. Any particularly vicious/vulgar/funny/creepy messages will of course be posted here for your reading enjoyment, and I hope you (all 3 of you who read my blog) will join me at the end of the experiment in speculating as to the meaning of the results.

Let's get our science on!

Posted byMJ at 11:40 AM 1 comments  

Operation Body Image

Last month's doctor visit brought me the news that I am carrying around about 15 pounds more than I should be. (No, the doctor didn't say this to me; the nurse weighed me and I went, "Gee, that's a little high.") Mostly out of deference to past body-image and food issues, I do not weigh myself with any regularity and although I had been feeling a bit bloated lately, I was surprised to discover that I'd put on that much. It got me to thinking.

I am a small person: I'm 5'3" and when I'm healthy I usually weigh between 115 and 120 pounds, depending on factors like recent salt intake and time of the month. I avoid "dieting" and anything resembling a "weight loss strategy" because those ideas are hideously tangled up in my head with body image. When I heard my weight at the doctor's office, I immediately started the negative self-talk, thinking, "I can't believe how fat I've gotten!" and "I've got to lose this weight-- I look disgusting!" It startled me how quickly my brain seized on the idea and how easily I slipped into that mode of hating my body. I didn't (and don't) feel any less sexy in the ways that count; my husband still finds me attractive and I can still feel good about myself when I avoid things like watching television and looking at magazines at the grocery store. It is very clearly an outside influence that makes me feel inferior, and I decided last month that it's time for me to change my life.

No more television. No more celebrity gossip blogs. No magazines at the store. No looking at weight loss ads.

There is nothing wrong with my physical appearance. I will always have hips, no matter how skinny I get, and I need to accept that my body will never ever EVER conform to the societal ideal and that's okay. I will not think of myself as "fat," even when I feel that way, and I will not refer to myself as such, even if I happen to think it.

I don't want to be skinny; I want to be healthy.

Since making these resolutions, I have been exercising at least five, and often seven, days a week and making conscientious decisions about food; I don't deny myself anything, but I am careful to be moderate in my consumption. Non-water drinks are junk food and should be consumed only as occasional treats rather than as a default beverage. Carrots and other crunchy veggies make a good snack, but if I really feel like I need something junky, a bite of ice cream when the craving strikes is infinitely better than denying myself and then eating the whole pint when I break down later. It's okay to eat a candy bar once in a while. Although eating in the morning makes me feel a little icky, I have more energy and eat less for lunch when I'm not ravenous and pawing through the cupboards for something tasty, so I'm trying to eat breakfast every day, even if it's just a carton of yogurt.

I want to start lifting weights. I'm physically weak, especially in my upper body, and I want to change that. Big muscles are not the goal, but if I start to get bulky I will not worry that I look "too masculine." If looking "feminine" means being weak, then fuck it-- I'd rather look like a dude.

I've always thought the most appealing attribute a person can have is confidence and comfort in his or her own body. Why so many of our strategies focus on changing our bodies rather than changing the way we think about them, I will never understand, but it is my mission to break free of the artificial notions of how my body should look and accept it for what it is, as long as it's healthy. This project of mine will probably last the rest of my life, but the ultimate goal is to accept myself as I am; A-cup chest, round hips, and all; and to feel comfortable and confident no matter what the scale reads. Not that I'll be reading it.

Posted byMJ at 11:29 AM 1 comments  

I Married a Nut, Volume I

Last night as we were leaving the grocery store, my husband said to me:

"Sometimes when we're in the grocery store, I want to say mean things to people. They're so inconsiderate! I mean, I know I should probably learn patience and stuff, but... I don't have the patience for that shit."

You know it's bad when you don't have the patience to learn to be patient.

Posted byMJ at 11:14 AM 2 comments  

A blockage unreal but effective

I want to write, but things stop me.

Distractions make my writing bad. I read good fiction and the words flow out of me, but then there are news articles and blogs to read, e-mails and fantasy novels that taint the rhythm of my own words, and I don't know how I can write except alone in a dim room, and when do I have that except on cloudy weekdays when the laundry's all done? The cat needs fed, the dog has to pee, chicken must be thawed for dinner, I need some excercise but I'm so tired, I'm so tired.

There is such joy and pain and guilt and absurdity in our lives; I want to write about it. The characters who live in my head are based on us, though, on people we know and love and hate and miss and wish we could forget, and I have this terrible fear that someone I know will recognize herself in a story and hate me for it. Like that will happen. Like my stories are being published all over the place. Like I finish stories.

So I don't write. I will regret, later, not having written, but I don't write. And my stories are dying. I wonder sometimes if I am squandering my only chance to set them down.

Posted byMJ at 2:02 PM 1 comments  

He was only thinking of my health, of course.

When my throat started feeling a bit sore almost two weeks ago I ignored it, figuring it would either go away quickly or turn into a cold. After more than a week with no improvement I became concerned that I was spreading strep to everyone I met, so I made an appointment to see my doctor. The quick strep test she performed in the office was negative, but since the test was not foolproof and my symptoms were consistent with strep, she gave me a prescription for antibiotics just to be sure-- and damned if those antibiotics aren't the biggest pills I've ever swallowed in my life. It seems like some kind of mean joke, giving horse pills to a person complaining of a sore throat.

My sweetheart darling dear husband, he of the neverending dick jokes, responded to my lament with, "They'll fit, ask me how I know."

Then, later: "If you need me to I can push them down for you."

Earlier in the week, when I mentioned my sore throat, he offered to "swab it out" for me, and when I laughed and told him I would not be giving any blowjobs while my throat hurt, he accused me of being too good to accept his gesture of kindness.

"I'm just trying to do something nice for you!"

Posted byMJ at 3:34 PM 0 comments  

A Pleasant Surprise

About 6 years ago I fell in love with an Australian pop band called Taxiride. I had "Imaginate," their first (only?) US release, and I listened to it constantly for months. Their music at the time fell somewhere between "boy band" and Crosby Stills & Nash, unapologetically poppy and singable and inexplicably earthy in a way that the US boy bands weren't. It was the soundtrack to my summer, and there wasn't a single track on "Imaginate" that I skipped over once the CD was in my player. Eventually, when I started dating a music snob, I put the album away and lost track of it-- and until this morning, I'd completely forgotten the band existed. Something triggered my memory and I decided to search for them on YouTube, where I watched several music videos and rediscovered some songs that kept me buoyant and singing for hours the summer after my first year of college. It's like I found an old friend, and it seems the band has only gotten better with time.

Posted byMJ at 1:11 PM 0 comments  

At least it's easy to tell he's still breathing, right?

I'm writing a blog post at 4:30 in the ding-danged morning, because my night has been ten kinds of all-wrong.

First, I decided it would be a good idea to go to bed at 10:30 last night. I was sleepy; it seemed like a good idea to go to bed, even if it was a smidge early. I woke up a couple of times before Mark came to bed-- the last time I looked at the clock, it was 1:30 and he was still up. I don't know when he finally came to bed, but I awakened at 3:oo to the music of his snoring (which I can still hear from down the hall and behind our closed bedroom door). I shook him a little and asked him to roll over, and he sat up and smiled dreamily at me and told me he loved me. He rolled over and I had peace and quiet for about 20 minutes, just long enough for me to get almost back to sleep, and then he rolled onto his back and commenced the low rumbling in the back of his throat that eventually progressed to the full-on lusty manly-man snore that finally drove me out of the bed. (To be fair, he doesn't usually snore-- the glorious advent of spring is giving us both sinus problems, and his have manifested as a maddening snore-fest.)

Now that I'm up, thanks to having gone to bed so early, I have no hope of getting back to sleep, and since I'll be feeding the animals in an hour and a half anyway it hardly seems worth it to go lie awake in bed listening to Mark's voluble snot-gargling. But what the heck is there to do at 4:30 in the morning? I guess I could study for my Geographic Information Science final-- that should put me right to sleep.

Posted byMJ at 4:34 AM 0 comments  

Clinton does seem totally fabulous, though

I have a love/hate realtionship with TLC's What Not to Wear.

For those who are unfamiliar with the show's premise, it goes like this: a friend or family member nominates someone (usually a woman) whose fashion sense could use a little fine-tuning. The show arranges to film the nominee for two weeks, cataloging her crimes against fashion. At the end of the two weeks, the unsuspecting victim is ambushed in a public place by Stacy London and Clinton Kelly, the stylist-hosts, who inform her that they will give her $5,000 for a whole new wardrobe if she spends a week at the WNTW studio in New York learning new fashion rules. Oh, and she has to bring her entire current wardrobe for them to pick through, make fun of, and throw away. The nominees usually express their shock by a) laughing nervously, b) getting angry at the people who did the nominating, or c) crying. Once a nominee accepts, the typical reality TV humliations ensue, including a viewing of the secret footage with each victim's friends/family/coworkers, an unflattering modeling session in a 360 degree mirror, and a sarcastic (sometimes downright mean) critique of her clothing by Clinton and Stacy.

Now, I'm no fan of reality TV, and in addition to all the sins of that particular genre, WNTW commits a few additional crimes against women that get my feminist knickers in a twist. Predictably, the show works hard at reinforcing gender roles, encouraging women who dress in shapeless, baggy clothes to dress "more feminine" and incorporate such fashion staples as skirts and high heels into their ensembles. The final segment of the fashion makeover includes a new haircut by brilliant hairstylist Nick Arrojo and a lesson in makeup from makeup artist Carmindy.

I'm embarrassed that I didn't even have to look up their names.

So let's start with the obvious: I find it offensive that the entire show exists solely to help women be prettier. (Granted, they have given fashion makeovers to men, too, but they represent only a tiny fraction of a fraction of the total number of shows. This, as all women know, is due in large part to the fact that our worth as people is very often judged solely by our hotness, whereas men can be both ugly and poorly-dressed without anyone concluding that they must be deranged/incompetent/negligent.) They harp on the ideas of "lengthening the line of the leg" and "creating an hourglass shape," carefully showing self-conscious women how to create the illusion of a silhouette they don't actually have. Clinton and Stacy blatantly work to reinforce this idea that there is a "right" shape is for a woman's body.

They also advance the notion that there are right and wrong ways of dressing-- some women dress in styles that are "too young," some dress "too old," and some are just plain "trashy." While I can respect the idea of work-appropriate wear, sometimes the descriptions of the offending wardrobes-- "trashy," "slutty," etc.-- grate on my nerves.

But they don't get everything wrong: Stacy and Clinton are very good about emphasizing that each woman should dress the body she has, take care of herself now instead of beating herself up for not fitting into the right size jeans. They help women realize that they can look beatiful in flattering clothes that fit, no matter what their measurements, and that's the thing that I love most about the show. Just the other night, I watched an episode in which a lovely young mother wept at the end of her makeover, saying, "I never thought of myself as an attractive person before this show." Those episodes always make me cry; I can't help but be moved by the sight of a woman who has realized she is beautiful even though her body doesn't fit into a size 2.

I guess my ambivalence about the show stems from the fact that it encapsulates the contradictions inherent in our social concept of what it means to be a woman. We are encouraged to "accept" our bodies and ourselves, but if our looks really don't matter, why should we care about whether the rise in our jeans is too low or high, or whether our structured jackets create a nice narrow waist? There is this strange emphasis on makeup looking "natural," keeping the colors soft and believable, but if "natural" is so good, why do we have to paint our faces in the first place? The average woman in our society is a walking contradiction. We've been socialized to believe that we don't look good enough without makeup, but also that vanity is unbecoming; as a result, we obsess over our faces and paint them meticulously, but we cannot allow ourselves to be seen doing this lest someone think we're too self-absorbed.

These things make me angry because, although I can recognize and criticize the things I find wrong with the system, I still exist inside it. I think the whole idea of makeup is absurd, but I still wear it when I want to look nice. I think high heels are ridiculous, but you can rest assured that I'll wear them to my next job interview. I'm irritated by fashion, but I know I won't be taken seriously if I don't look "put-together." It's a maddening circle, and it's the reason that a show like What Not to Wear both entertains and infuriates me.

Posted byMJ at 1:22 PM 2 comments  

Academic Guidance

"I have to stop procrastinating! Tell me to do my homework."

"Do your homework."

"Don't tell me what to do."

Posted byMJ at 11:59 AM 0 comments  

Late, as usual.

Did you know that yesterday was International Women's Day? I didn't find out until late last night, when I was too tired (lazy) to write something in honor of it.

In the spirit of "better late than never," I am now going to continue with my laziness by linking to a very interesting list rather than writing anything thought-provoking myself. With that, I give you Andrea Rubenstein's "'Check my what?' On privilege and what we can do about it."

Posted byMJ at 11:30 AM 0 comments  

The pleasure, I'm sure, is all yours.

Hi! I'm Molly, and I have a blog!

I've been blogging someplace or another since 1999, and every now and then I get a hankerin' to start fresh someplace new. This would be the newest of my new leaves.

When my husband saw the title of this blog, he said, "You do not spend that much time in the kitchen."

Posted byMJ at 7:09 PM 0 comments