Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Not everyone follows traditional dating roles, and I say thank goodness for that! But even some very liberal and socially progressive individuals adhere strictly to the idea that a man should pursue a woman, and not the other way around. She can reciprocate the interest, the argument goes, but she shouldn't take over the chase because she deserves a man who's willing to chase her. My thoughts on mixing hunting metaphors with dating descriptions aside, this view is surprisingly prevalent in mainstream television, film, etc. (Just look at the book and film He's Just Not That Into You). But how do these prescriptive roles influence the way men and women communicate about their feelings, motivations, and intentions?
Here's how I see it: These roles make dating a more straightforward experience for men than for women. If a man who adheres to these roles is interested in a woman, he asks her out on a date. He instantly knows whether that first date will happen, because she tells him "yes" or "no" right away. If he is still interested after a first date, he asks her out again. And so on. There's always a chance the woman is accepting the dates without interest, or a chance that she'll accept a date only to cancel later, but in general a man can tell whether there will be another date very soon after inviting the woman on another one. In a storybook world this would never be a problem. A man would ask a woman out, she would accept or not accept, and couples would figure out how they felt one date at a time, until that crucial moment when they would both reveal their love.
But what happens when a man doesn't initiate another date right away, and the woman isn't sure why? Whatever gender stereotypes tell us about female intuition, most people can't read minds, so this is a plausible scenario. It could be the man is busy, or that he feels broke at the moment. It could be that he isn't sure whether he's interested and needs some time to sort things out. But then again maybe he's lost interest, and he simply won't call. This scenario could happen whether he said "I'll call you" or not. To a man in this predicament, the situation is clear. If he's interested he'll ask her out again, even if it takes a week or two before he calls. But the woman must wait before she learns his intentions. I attend school in a conservative environment, and I frequently hear men complain about women who make up excuses to avoid dates instead of admitting they've lost interest. Yet how many of those same men let women know that they will not be calling for another date? I would guess almost none. It would probably feel rude and presumptuous. Besides, the man knows that he's lost interest and will not initiate another date, so he doesn't need that information communicated the way that the woman will if she's interested in him.
So, if a woman is confused about a man's intentions, or if she wants to change the pace at which they're dating, or if she isn't interested but a man keeps asking her out despite all the hints she drops, what are her options? She could try to initiate a date with him, but that would be straying from traditional dating patterns. Some women will do this, but many who adhere to traditional gender roles will not. So, short of exiting traditional roles, she has only a few options:
1. Drop hints/ play games and hope she can subtly get (or share) the information she needs
2. Accept her confusion / annoyance, and just grin and bear it
3. Initiate a serious discussion
The problem with the first option is that subtlety often falls flat. And the second option can be extremely unpleasant. This leaves the third option: verbal communication. Many people avoid this option simply because they want dating to feel casual and natural, and it can't feel that way if everything is vocalized in explicit detail. In traditional heterosexual dating, a man would have more reason to avoid it, though, because he already has the information he needs: If he likes the woman he'll ask her out again, and if not he won't. If he wants to go out more, he'll ask her out more, and if he wants to go out less often, he'll ask her out less often. But if a woman is placed in the position of only saying ,"yes," "no," or "how about later," she may in fact need to discuss the relationship in a way her traditional male counterpart doesn't understand, and that need would make her much more likely to risk the awkward elements a discussion may bring.
Personally, I think the behavior patterns you start when you're dating carry over into longterm relationships and marriages. If a man and woman do develop serious difficulties communicating while they're dating, then a couple rings, a cake, and some vows probably won't make that go away. So maybe we can all be a little more open, honest, and direct, regardless of what dating patterns we prefer.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Today's topic- community, gender socialization, and psychology- is significantly more complicated than these tags suggest, and indeed there are several tags missing. Personal preferences, cultural standards, pressures, and immediate community (as opposed to ideological community) all influence and affect the things I've been rolling around in my brain these past couple of days, and I think they'll all be acknowledged here. The question is, how do I start to talk about something so enormous?
The whole need to discuss community, I suppose, is the best place to begin. I've spent most of my life in close-knit groups of people- small towns, or school groups- that support, tend to, celebrate with, and comfort each other. For me, a community does all these things. A community, in my mind, is a metaphysical "safe space." Since leaving behind both the communities I've lived in, 11 months ago, I've made friends, but had a hell of a time finding anything that truly constitutes a "community." This lack of a community, of a cohesive social network, has been devastating to me.
This is the part that bothers me the most. Why is the need for that- the "cohesive social network"- so significant in spite of all the positive social relationships I've managed to form in the past 11 months? A few things have come to mind as I've worried this subject the way my cat worries her nip-filled toys. Here they are, in list form:
-I'm from a small town
-My family is large and strongly interconnected
-I'm a cisgendered woman
I'll take these one at a time, for simplicity's sake.
I'm from a small town
Being from a small town is probably self-explanatory to anyone who's grown up in one or who's familiar with North American stereotypes about small town interconnectedness. Small town = small number of people = sense of knowing everyone = sense of connection and community is how the basic formula goes, I believe. I think this one applies fairly well. Growing up in an area where people watch out for each other- where family friends call you and take care of you when you're 11 years old and your mother's been rushed to the emergency room at 10 PM- makes it difficult to imagine the world any other way. The support network is undeniable. Living in my first city hardly changed my worldview; I was there in the context of a community where again members were there for each other at the drop of a hat- even when they didn't want to be. Membership in that community happened naturally, though not immediately, and so the urban environment did little to change my belief that community is vital.
My family is large and strongly interconnected
This one, again, is relatively easy to illuminate. My family is Irish-American Catholic, on one side, and white and Asian (predominately Chinese and Philippina) on the other. My immediate family consists of four people, but my extended family on both sides consists of almost fifty. We're spread out across the country, and thus don't get to see each other very often, but the social connection remains incredibly strong. If I make a trip to Los Angeles, there are easily five different relatives I can stay with; if I merely pass through the city, ten different people offer me a chance to have lunch, visit, or offer me a ride. Holidays were never small affairs, and when I moved into my first apartment, I found myself overwhelmed by a plethora of pots, pans, toaster ovens, and other paraphernalia that the relatives thought I might need.
Simply put, the family is close-knit and takes care of its own.
I am a cisgendered woman.
Since this post is already becoming ridiculously long, I'll try to keep this brief. Essentially, the current feminist and sociological literature (and some of the past) explores the relational nature of "women"- meaning here, the group of people who are assigned the sex "female" and the gender "girl" or "woman" at birth and who never conclude that they are anything else. What these arguments claim is that women are socialized, through the way they are treated by parents and caregivers and later by teachers and peers, to view the world in terms of relationships. Most of these arguments go on to apply this relational view of women to Western notions of traditional women's work- women as caregivers, women as relationship-builders, women as selfless nurturers, etc. Obviously, these are all generalizations that can't be expected to apply to everyone who identifies themselves as a woman.
I'm interested in the question of whether I've become so invested in this idea of a community in part because of my sex/gender identity: cisgendered woman. Obviously, as I've already discussed, other reasons apply as well. But the question remains: does my craving for stable, interconnected relationships have something to do with the fact that I've been socialized to see the world in those terms?
Maybe a more appropriate question, instead of "does," would be "how": how does my gender identity shape my desire for a community? A lack of community appals me and leaves me feeling vulnerable, unsafe, and insecure. This could be due to the fact that, without those networked relationships and that safe space, my gendered mind has very little material with which to engage in the world around it. While the other facets of my brain work overtime in other capacities, the emotional, relational aspect of it remains lost, at least to a certain extent. It doesn't have the full complement of social relationships to interact with in this new setting; instead, it deals in the simpler terms of individual friends.
It's entirely possible that I'm over-reading the situation, and that my gendered psyche has little to do with my desire for community. The literature hardly suggests that; in fact, the notion of community as embodied in a "society," with rules, standards of care, and specified members and non-members, is often attributed to men (here, I'm thinking of Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke, and Engels). Furthermore, sociological "gendering" is incredibly difficult to pin down and isolate from other aspects of personality development as an individual grows up. It's entirely possible that being from a small town had more to do with my community-seeking than my gender socialization did. Moreover, it's just as likely that my psychological profile, my unique personality that no one can source, is simply community-oriented.
Which brings me to the topic I'm most likely to explore in my next post: psychology in terms of brain development, individualization, and intimate partner abuse.
P.S. These posts are, in case you can't tell, rough drafts. This blog is about the exploration of ideas and not their formalization.
Traditionally, in feminist literature, these posts and discussions would begin with an identification of my various subject positions- am I a woman, man, transfolk, or somewhere beyond the categories? Am I Latina, African-American, Chinese-American, Cherokee, or something else? How able is my body? To what extent have I been indoctrinated by the formal education system?
Rather than answer these (and other) questions in the first post, I'd rather bring them into this blog as they become immediately relevant. I write with my particular identity in mind, and with intent to make it clear to the reader, but in my own time (and in the time of others who start contributing). I believe that identity politics are important- who we are shapes our worldviews- but they don't determine everything. Knowing the categories in which I place myself risks having readers decide beforehand how to interpret me- without ever hearing what I have to say. Therefore, this will be an experiment in both reader interpretation and self-identification.
And yes, you will find out more.
Monday, June 8, 2009
Next post: community, socialization, gendering, and the psyche.