Thursday, November 6, 2014

Cat Called Part 3: Melting Pot Edition

I did write a Part 2, but for now I've decided against publishing it.

I've been watching the latest and greatest catcalling controversy unfold, and it's turned into an argument about race. Or:
I’m finding this anti-catcalling movement especially fascinating because it’s slowly beginning to dawn on its Social Justice-warrior supporters that a movement against catcalling is inherently “classist”*—as a rule, upper & middle class men don’t engage in this; it’s an annoying but essentially harmless custom of lower class men.
As the video shows, the average catcall isn’t terribly offensive in and of itself (“Smile”, “God bless you”, “What’s up, beautiful”); catcalling begins to feel like harassment when it happens incessantly (the point of the video, one supposes).
I doubt that the video makers intended for the takeaway to be, “lower class behavior is kinda gross”, but that’s what it boils down to. We’re left with the amusing spectacle of Oppressed Women oppressing the Oppressed Proletariat for their oppressive behavior. Get out the popcorn!
I read The Hairpin, Slate, Salon, The Cut, etc., because being a conservative Catholic among liberals is my comfort zone and because I'm addicted to the cognitive dissonance of "Yes, misogyny exists, but not like that," and 'Yes, racism is real, but you're the actual racist here." Hanna Rosin thinking her readers are stupid enough to believe a bunch of white guys got edited out of the video made me wonder if liberal, white intellectual types ever leave their brownstones and talk to people who look different from them.

So. I like being catcalled, and I now realize that's because I'm half Italian and yelling is an important part of our culture. After two years living in the Midwest, I'm starting to suspect that most of the people I meet consider me to be not quite white. If only they knew I was 1/8 Norwegian, they'd accept me as one of their own. My sister and I were visiting Chicago a few weeks ago and a black man called out to us, "You look really nice tonight!" We freaked out and then yelled thank you. No harm, no foul. Life in the big city, and much less annoying than being drooled on by a small-town drunk from Freedom, WI.

This is the US. There's a lot of different kinds of people here, including high-strung, highly educated people who think it's unsophisticated to strike up a conversation with a stranger. What other country has such an angry, confusing mix of cool, superior Scandinavian introverts, work-ethic-inclined New Englanders and hot-blooded, outspoken others, and the many who are mix of some or all--and, Hanna Rosin, most are not nearly as dumb as you think, you insufferable snob. A woman from a background where men don't yell compliments, in which someone using a harsh tone is as terrifying as being hit over the head, has a right to her feelings and boundaries. Being called on in public by a physically stronger man who has the potential to be anything he's physically capable of being, day after day, can be, and is for many women, exhausting.

There's no tidy solution, except maybe cultivating a bitchy resting face. I make sure to look slightly pissed off all the time, which is why catcalling in my life has only featured as an amusing sideshow and not an ongoing energy-drain. It also works great when sneaking into a hotel lobby to use the bathroom. Speed up your pace a little, slap on a irritated expression, and no one will think you're not a guest.

That won't stop the "Smile!" comments, of course. We need a stronger substance to fill in the missing link of public manners here: something that will make everyone happy. It's time to return to women the power to tell a man off. In our white bread, washed-out way of life (God bless them/us), the worst crime a woman can commit is to get mad or use the wrong tone, regardless of race or "class." Let's take note of how it's done among more effusive cultures, where a woman can show outrage over a man's behavior without being told to "just ignore it." Now, this doesn't mean that quiet, tired women should start yelling at men in the street, which would be a ridiculous expectation of someone without the temperament to support it, not to mention potentially dangerous, but simply that existing in a  culture that expected women to stand up for themselves (which American culture does not) would even out the power balance a little. I suspect that much of what bothers women about street harassment is the unspoken sense of powerlessness it brings, a direct result of the tyranny of niceness.

The best of all our histories supports this. So sit back, and kindly refrain from the intimacy of whispering.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Cat Called

I've never understood the "you're pretty, let's go out" thing. If you think I'm pretty, that doesn't mean I think you're pretty or that you smell good or have a nice set of arms. Compliments are not legal tender, and my internal response to them from men in the dating pool is usually a cool "Yes. What do you want?" even though externally I convey demure compliance, which is something I'm working on with my therapist.

That's why I like the freebie in-the-street compliments from men. It's the one area of life where as a woman I'm not expected to respond; where the man can expect no payoff. He must mean it because he couldn't possibly think he's going to get anything in return.

This isn't to minimize the experiences of women who find it threatening when strange men yell compliments at them. Like a lot of the fun, harmless ways that men and women find to relate to each other in a civilized society, it's been ruined by a societal acceptance of sexual aggressiveness and immorality. The problem isn't that women are being too sensitive. The problem is that women end up having to watch their back and, by extension, that men are suspect just for being men because the bad ones look just like the good ones.

But I personally find it threatening when strange men are rude, angry and dismissive, and I find it delightful when they yell "Hey pretty white girl" from across a Berkeley street or "All right darling? You look lovely tonight" when running for a Glaswegian bus. I can smile, or I can not acknowledge it, and then I move on. It's considerably less tiring than carrying on a conversation with a date who can't find anything to talk to me about except my appearance.

And if a man wanted to yell at me in a bar that I'm smart, that would be okay, too. It just hasn't happened yet.

And the thing is, it's a hell of a lot better than being negged.

PS. It isn't only men who compulsively make conversation about externals. An older acquaintance--a trad, by the way--told me at my grandmother's funeral that I'm pale. I am pale. I was also wearing a sleeveless but perfectly appropriate blouse and, shockingly, not thinking about how I looked. And yet the cat lady (she is!!) felt the need to comment "You need to get some of this California sun" which was annoying but fine and then insisted "You're just SO pale" which is when I started wondering if she was hinting that I should put my sweater on and cover my shoulders. Either way, it was my grandmother's funeral. Don't be that person.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Today in Catholic News

You read The Hairpin, right? The three of you who still check in here once a while. And yes, I have frozen to death, thanks for asking, which is why I haven't answer your email(s).

First I noticed the Madonna of the Street picture in the background of Katie-on-the-left's screen during Super Bowl Face Paint.

And here now is the Infant of Prague:

Even if you don't care about Catholic art, this video is worth watching for its anti-camping bent, a topic which is very dear to my heart.

By the way, listening to ambient rain and thunder at work instead of Pandora and/or my coworkers gossiping about their live-in boyfriends and/or parties that I'm not being invited to and/or paranoidly assume I'm not being invited to has CHANGED MY LIFE.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

I Think I Like Him

I don't really know much about this situation or how accurate this article is or anything substantive about, really, any of it.

"Francis has called Benedict's 2007 decree allowing wider use of the Latin Mass "prudent," but has warned that it risks being exploited on ideological grounds by factions in the church; Francis has made clear his disdain for traditionalist Catholics, saying they are self-absorbed retrogrades who aren't helping the church's mission to evangelize."

But here's what I do know: this is SPOT ON.

There's a tiny minority of traditionalists who see themselves as only one part of a whole, and whose aim is grow in charity with their fellow Catholics. The rest are simply trying in whatever way available to them to bend others to their will. When people don't comply, they cry persecution. I used to be this way.

I have nothing against the older liturgy, and clearly neither does Pope Francis, but I'm not sorry to see a crackdown on the rabble-raising and pseudo-intellectual whining.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Books Aren't Everything, But...

I can't decide if I like this or not. I guess I like more than I don't like it. Also, it's a poem. Those more literate might have figured that out earlier in the video than I did. Also, Waterstone's 3 for 2 offer!

Edited to add: I first saw an actual enactment of the poem, found here:

It must have been the acting that bothered me on some level, or maybe the girl sitting around looking all pretty and made-up and stared at while wearing dresses, because the author just sitting and reciting the poem (above) seems much more genuine. I prefer the pared-down version by quite a bit. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

I Had a Honey

I was getting snow tires put on my car and as I sat down to wait an older man in one of the other chairs asked me if I was the girl with the book yesterday. I did have a book in my bag but I said I wasn't there yesterday, and he said, "I thought you were her because she was slender like you and had the same looking bag, and she sat there reading a book the whole time."

"Maybe I have a twin and I don't know about it," I said. We had the requisite long conversation about the cold, and he said the winters are milder now. He remembered one year when it was -31 on January 31. He had a cup of coffee from the vending machine and I considered getting one, because I hadn't had breakfast and was heading towards a caffeine headache. I wondered why he had been to the mechanic shop two days in a row.

I fiddled with my phone, but felt a wave of disgust for staring at small screens and put it away. My friend hadn't seemed to notice and asked me about my snow tires, saying his car had year-round tires that worked well in snow. I explained that I was from California.

That started the conversation about the weather over again, and we talked about where I worked ("That's a great company. I think they started here, a little shop down on Main Street.") and where in California I had lived.

"I know where that is. I lived right near there, in Alameda, when I was in the service. We had boot camp there. There was a place we would go to get beer and the drinking age was 21 but they let all us Boots in even though we were only 18. That's a great place to live; San Francisco, the Playland. Did you ever go to Playland?"

"No, but I've heard the name." I think Playland was torn down before I was born.

"The Cliff House?"

"Yes, I've been there."

"They gave us beer even though we were only 18. Drinking age, you know, but they served us Boots. I really liked San Francisco and that whole area. And boot camp. We had fun. It was a very nice boot camp."

He had lived for while in Boston. "Have you been to New England? It's beautiful. Of course, we went all over; Greenland. Bermuda. It was fun. I was in for three years and three days; when I got into Boston I said, 'Will I be getting out?' and they said, 'Only if we arrive before midnight. We don't discharge anyone on the weekend.' So we arrived at 12:05 and I had to wait till Monday morning to get out."

"Why did you leave?"

"I had a honey," he said.

Another old man came in and got coffee from the machine. He had red-rimmed blue eyes and looked like a Vermeer. They knew each other and exchanged banter.

"I tried to hold her hand but she slapped me."

"It's about time someone did that."

"I try to be bad but no one lets me."

The conversation started over. The weather. Where I worked. "That's a great company," said Vermeer.

"Didn't they start here? I think they had a little shop down on Main Street."

My tires were ready, I told them goodbye. As I paid my bill I heard, "She moved here from California...."

A honey.

I wondered how many times those same stories have been told in that waiting room. He told me to go back on January 31st and he would show me where in the paper it said that the record low was -31. Maybe I will.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Statements That Changed My Life

1. "She can't wear pants to ride a horse?"

Spoken by the dad of the homeschooling family I tutored in college, when I was still entrenched deep in the morass of traditional extremism. I was being asked to join a horse-riding expedition and I said no. "Because she doesn't want to wear pants," said the wife, who was subsequently embarrassed by his remark. I'll be forever grateful for his bluntness. Because, I mean, how stupid. And so it began.

2. "Everything takes practice."

Spoken by a gay hairdresser a few weeks before I left California. I had forgotten this fact and had been living my life as though I was just bad at everything I tried. Going through a traumatic phase of life can cause amnesia about basic life skills such as the above. He was talking about blow-drying your own hair straight, but it applies to a lot of situations.

3. "You can't just get rid of people."

Spoken by the raw-meat-eating manly man mentioned here. I was justified in getting rid of him, because he pulled the "let's be friends" card, and the "I've never been in a serious relationship" card, and the "I guess I meant it at the time and changed my mind rather than lied" card, but I kept him around anyway because he fixes my car for free. And when he said it, I realized there was a difference between setting boundaries by removing unhealthy relationships on the one hand and not expecting other people to be perfect on the other. You can't just get rid of everyone who doesn't do what you're expecting them to do. I had to be told this by a guy who says he "has never been comfortable with emotions."

I don't make this stuff up, I swear.