Monday, August 29, 2011

What I learned from my half-assed project

Not all that much, though I found all the interviews interesting. (Obviously, my tiny sample size limits real conclusions.) But anyway:
  • I was willing to entertain the possibility that men get harassed too. Seems like they do sometimes, but mostly by other men. In other words, men are kind of a threat to everybody. Of course this is a power thing. Situations in which women have more power than men are relatively rare.
  • My current social group, which consists overwhelmingly of writers, is overwhelmingly white. I definitely don't think only white men are attractive, but it was hard to think of non-white people that I knew well enough to ask. This was not true of my crowds in high school or college, which were more diverse both superficially (along lines of race, income, etc.) and in terms of interests.
  • I'm still trying to decide whether I should bother answering the questions myself. (Beyond "Duh, frequently," etc.) I didn't ask women in the first place because I already know the answers.
  • Perhaps the most eye-opening insight for me was this comment from Sarang, in response to my questioning why nerdy introverted guys (often the people in the room I'm most inclined to pursue friendship or conversation with) are as likely as not to avoid me (emphases mine):
    There are various reasons one might want to avoid having to deal with friendly attractive women at work: (1) They might be trying to mock you. (2) They might be of the kind that are _into nerds_ -- which, for any sufficiently self-loathing nerd, is a turn-off (qua confirmation of one's own nerdiness). (3) It is bad to get into situations where you end up embarrassing yourself, by mistaking politeness for friendliness or friendliness for attraction. (4) Attractive people are alien and often irritating in the way they interact with the world. On average they tend to be entitled and show-offy compared with others. To the extent that you have no real intention of trying to sleep with someone, attractiveness is arguably a mild net negative.
    This makes so much sense I can't believe it never occurred to me. I also think "Mild net negative!" is a good thing to shout out when someone attractive walks in the room.
  • We now return to our regular programming.


  1. i vote for more edgy boundary-pushing interview-based programming

    hey how about a series of interviews on "ripped women"? the possibilities here are endless

  2. What questions do you propose posing to ripped women?

  3. "Situations in which women have more power than men are relatively rare."

    "The history of women is the worst form of tyranny the world has ever known. The tyranny of the weak over the strong. It is the only tyranny that lasts."--Wilde

  4. Hey Elisa,

    All these posts about appearance & what is considered physically attractive have reminded me of this totally rad post by Tavi about beauty privilege ( Just thought I'd share. M

  5. Ooh, thanks for the link Michelle! Dan Boehl has sent me some interesting links recently on the same topic, e.g.:


    Interesting excerpt from the latter:

    "Ms Hakim suggests that women have more erotic capital than men to start with, mainly because they have had to work at it for centuries. But women have the erotic upper hand for another reason: the male 'sexual deficit'. Despite the fact that both sexes are more sexually active than ever before, from the age of about 30 women’s libido tends to fall off while men’s does not. Because women have less interest in sex than men, it is, to put it crudely, a seller’s market. In the power dynamic of couples, controlling access to sex is more important than earning more money, says Ms Hakim. It is the woman’s main bargaining chip, as most still earn less than their partners. Feminists who want women to throw away their femininity are overlooking a powerful asset, Ms Hakim argues."

    I still find it interesting that some readers thought I was playing the "Wah it's so hard to be attractive" card here. I actually just wanted to illuminate the difference between how men and women experience the world. Part of the reason I chose to interview "attractive" men is because my assumption was, due to the aforementioned "sexual deficit," unattractive men are at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to being approached for sex.

  6. i dunno, like

    "do you find that men are intimidated my your 'guns'"

  7. Do you mean if I were 31 instead of 51 and twice as attractive to boot, I would still not get hit on by women?

    That's a comforting thought, in a way.

  8. @allenleetc: I'm glad you're nudging this conversation in the direction of gunts. At last, a topic I feel comfortable discussing!

  9. The Hakim paragraph seems to overlook, oddly, the point that couples don't automatically stay together.

    I had fun reading these interviews, Elisa. Perversely maybe, the relative non-insights seemed to illuminate a lot about the situation in question.

    To make a final point that's obvious to everyone, being hit on by someone feels entirely different when you also feel threatened by them. There are degrees and types of threat, of course, but in these kinds of moments, the potential physical threat is always the most dangerous one.

  10. Very true. Also worth noting, I think: there have been times where I've been the recipient of USA ("unwanted sexual attention" as I dubbed it) and felt that I had more power in the situation -- that is to say, I had more social capital, more power to hurt the person in question, and there was no threat of physical harm, etc. Even when there is no real threat, I still find these situations uncomfortable. I think it's the sudden realization that you have a body and other people are aware of it, when you've been going along as though you're merely a floating mind.

  11. I.e., USA vs. the Boltzmann brains?

    But I feel like situations where people want something of you that you do not want to give them are uncomfortable, period. The sexual angle might render them uncomfortable in a slightly creepier way but perhaps the basic dynamic is bad enough in most contexts.

  12. For me, such situations are variously annoying or infuriating (like if I'm expected to do something at work I hate doing, or expected to be "polite" in a conventional sense whether or not I'm feeling it, etc.) but the sexual option is uncomfortable in a very specific way. Maybe that just means I'm a fucking prude. But I mostly suppress the knowledge that when women (and sometimes men) go about in the world, men are right there, wanting to fuck them. It's like suspension of belief, rather than suspension of disbelief.

  13. Not related to the post, Elisa, but I've read some of your poems, including the collaborations with K.R. that Silliman linked to, and they're impressive, intelligent and very witty. And I don't say that to ingratiate you or because I want you to reciprocate in some way. It's just a fact.