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Tag: feminism

Excuse me, sir

I wrote She Might Know as a personal challenge after hearing myself say “I can’t imagine a man finding me attractive.” It was fun and I can’t say can’t anymore. But the story is a fraud. Like many feminists, I believed I could have it both ways. I could attract a male without risk. I could move through the world as an ugly, sexless, mannish woman, incognito, invisible to men, and yet still be seen, as if via a magical inner light, by one man only, by the right man, by the only man who could survive the circular reasoning — he sees because he’s the right man, he’s the right man because he sees.

I’m seen when I wear a dress. I walked half a block to the park, sat at a picnic table. I wasn’t looking up. I rarely look up. I started reading a friend’s blog post. I wasn’t at the table for more than a minute when a man on a bicycle pulled up. He said something that may have had the word “mercy” in it.* He sat down. He played an R&B song on his phone. It was comical. I got up and walked away.

Why would I not want male attention?

Ambivalence is built into the female psyche. We’re ambivalent about sex, reproduction, motherhood. Contrary to what I learned as a young feminist, women and men are not fundamentally the same. We are in fact vastly different. We’re different because our investment in offspring is dramatically unequal, and thus our reproductive strategies are dramatically different.

Male strategies are simple: find ’em, fuck ’em, and forget ’em. Straightforward, uncomplicated, easy to understand. They spread their seed like junk mail: even if only one percent provides a return, it’s a jackpot with zero effort.

Female strategies are complex. Devious, conniving, manipulative. Those who survived the rigors of the ancient world were those who made calculated decisions about how much to invest in which offspring, how best to monopolize the resources of males, and how and when to provide access to their fertility.

When it comes to reproduction, males value quantity and paternity. Females value quality and security.

Thirty years ago I was studying for finals in a college library. A young man walked up and told me I’d be prettier if I smiled. I was confused at first, processing the interruption. Ironically, I may have smiled, that primate signal of appeasement and submission. The young man walked away. I went back to my books. But my concentration had been broken. I was annoyed. What right did a stranger have to interrupt me? Because I was female I should have no expectation of being left in peace, to negotiate courtship on my own terms? This young man’s need to make his presence known — to “shoot his shot” as my best friend would put it three decades later — took precedence over my pursuit of academic excellence and a degree, what I saw then as my future security?

Or is that the issue? Males provide resources to females in exchange for reproductive opportunity. Females play along with the game, securing resources both on their own and through manipulation of males. We are primates after all, always looking to fuck or eat.

Feminism told me I could opt-out of that system, an idea that appealed to my ambivalent female brain. But feminism was wrong. It was like trying to opt out of a wasp hovering around my face. I never could escape it. The system just kept on moving around me. I was playing the game whether I recognized it or not, whether I wanted to play or not, whether I knew how to play or not.

And I didn’t.

I was raised by a timid woman who never learned how to play the game, though she excelled at being devious, conniving, and manipulative. Feminism was the only alternative. I embraced it. I thought living life on my own terms meant picking and choosing the rules that suited me and ignoring the rest. But that wasn’t living. That was suspended animation. 

“Excuse me, sir.”

I hear it every day, working retail in a men’s shirt with a buzz-cut and a baseball cap. I move through the world largely invisible as a woman. The disguise allows me to focus on what I need to do to survive instead of being a target, instead of being prey. It fools the unconscious brains of the animals around me. They misinterpret what they see, the signals my body gives away about my fertility — my sex, my age, my physical condition. Maybe that’s why I’ve always wanted gray hair. Maybe that’s why I’ve never spoken much. Body shape, limbs, motion, eye contact, nuances of facial expression, breath, scent, a voice that drops when I’m confident and rises when I feel vulnerable. I can’t stop it. I can’t control it.

It scares the hell out of me.

We’re social primates. We’ll negotiate, compromise, sacrifice, manipulate, say or do almost anything to avoid being alone, outside the group, unsheltered by familial bonds, especially children, especially females. It’s never been safe. We don’t have ancestors whose skulls were pierced by the teeth of megafauna. When we grow up alone, insecure, without guidance, some of us withdraw, hide, sell out the present day for a possible future. It’s human nature. It’s the nature of woman.

She Might Know was a daydream. I held onto it like I held onto so many other fantasies, something to get me through the day until the day came when nothing could get me through. I negotiated those compromises moment by moment.

I still do.

But I don’t lie to myself anymore. I don’t pretend we’re anything other than upright walking animals. Even our cynical post-utopian cyber-culture is rooted in natural selection, in whatever gave our flea-bitten ancestors a reproductive advantage over their flea-bitten neighbors.  I can’t say can’t anymore. But, as with so many other great mythologies of feminism, I’ve moved on.

I’ve let it go.

Further reading: Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy (1999)

* I’m unattractive but men will say anything to get pussy.

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