Thursday, December 23, 2010

“She’s fabulous. But she’s evil.”


It’s been quite some time since we posted. I guess I haven’t had much to say. I’m not going to waste time and space musing over why that is. Instead, I’m going to jump right in with something that isn’t an essay, but is an idea that needs some thinking through. Hopefully we can think through it together.

I haven’t actually watched Mean Girls. I may well get around to it. The fact that my day of reckoning has not yet come is not a judgment upon the film; in fact, I only mention the film because it so totally fucked up what I thought would be a simple yet telling experiment. But, Mean Girls not excepted, I still find the results of my experiment worth noting. So I’m going to share. Ten minutes ago I typed some choice phrases into Google. (Hey, I’m not claiming any scientific validity here. I’m just saying I found this interesting. Bear with me.) The phrase “mean boys” returns approximately 244,000 results. The phrase “mean girls” pulls up about 3, 200,000 results. Sure, the film matters in this context. But let me assure you that even after a casual bit of browsing the results indicate that the film doesn’t account for the roughly 2,956,000 extra hits. It would seem that the concept of the mean girl is much more prevalent than that of the mean boy. (Admittedly, the term “bully” pulls up far more hits than “mean girls,” but that's a subject for a later post.)

Here’s why I bothered with the silly Google experiment: I recently had a conversation with a male friend about being increasingly troubled by porn and porn culture. My decidedly ambivalent relationship to all aspects of the sex-work industry isn’t really the point here. (Some weeks I favor legalization of prostitution in the hopes of better protections for the people involved, some weeks I feel like the tacit acceptance by government of abuses against (primarily) women, simulated or not, is pretty gross and socially problematic. I know it doesn’t boil down to anything near this simple on either end, but I’ve already mentioned this isn’t the point and I’m just not going to get embroiled in my own messy thoughts on this complex question here and now.) The actual point is this—he said something that really got me thinking. In response to a point I was trying to make about a strange notion that seems to permeate much of our culture—namely, that women exist primarily, if not solely, to provide sexual pleasure to men—he mentioned the paranoia some men feel regarding women.

Quick bit of backstory: I raised an example I often return to in my thinking about the issue—the shooting that took place in a Pittsburgh health club. You know, the one where George Sodini killed three women and injured nine others for reasons that I’m sure none of us will ever totally understand, but that seemed, even to the most conservative of journalists, to have an awful lot to do with a deep and abiding bitterness toward women, which was evidenced on his online journal. I mentioned this by way of a discussion of my own emerging bitterness regarding the way that gender gets discussed in the comments sections of online magazines like Salon and Slate. (At the time you could find a fair number of Sodini sympathizers in the comments on articles regarding his crime on both sites.) And this was only noteworthy because it seconds so much of what I’ve heard from actual, flesh-and-blood men, who are frustrated with dating, and women, generally.

Back to paranoia. My friend basically tried to lay out the mind-set of these kinds of men more clearly. He mentioned that your average guy in a gym might—and everyone’s qualifying here, because this is just so messy and awful that we’re all bound to hurt each other’s feelings, and there’s no help for it—just might, see a cute girl dressed in somewhat provocative gym-wear who is also ignoring his (obvious?) desire and decide that she’s deliberately provoking, teasing, him, just to be mean. Who knows, maybe we up the ante if she’s at a night club in something skimpy and she dances with him. Maybe we don’t. I don’t fucking know. None of us really do, I imagine. And nobody seems to be talking about it, which seems to me to be the real problem.

I’ve got to admit, I’m often one of those women dressed in somewhat provocative clothing. But it hadn’t really ever occurred to me that anyone would interpret my choice in dress as a deliberate meanness launched against them personally. I guess that’s because, like everybody else, I’ve got my own fucking problems. I’m still not sure if I buy my friend’s theory. But that, combined with my (totally unscientific) wanderings on the internet, have started me wondering. I wonder what you think.