Mouse rant blog vent mouse.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Well, now I'm disappointed

In Cary Tennis, who regresses or something today and actually pulls what I like to call the "Stand By Your Man" manuever. It's a rhetorical device that's sole purpose is to let a man off the hook for appalling and most likely sexist behavior by flattering the angry woman by telling her that men can't help it, they just aren't as civilized as women. I call it this, of course, after the famous Tammy Wynette song that employs this rhetorical trick.

Sometimes its hard to be a woman
Giving all your love to just one man
You'll have bad times
And he'll have good times
Doing things that you don't understand
But if you love him you'll forgive him
Even though he's hard to understand
And if you love him
Oh be proud of him
'Cause after all he's just a man

The question today is from a woman who is concerned because her sister is with a man who is an asshole who berates her for really tiny things. The example she has is that this man yelled at her sister because her sister didn't know who Colonel Tom Parker was. Frankly, who cares? Well, I care, but if you don't, I'm not going to yell at you. But after all, I'm not a man.

Tennis all but asks the writer to understand that men have special needs, you know, and a little more understanding would be useful.

And as to the Colonel, well, perhaps it seems sad that men attach such importance to these things. And he certainly could have been kinder about it. But while the importance he places on knowing who Elvis Presley's manager was may seem a little sad and small-minded, it is also part of the greatness in the human soul, part of why Michelangelo did his thing, part of why men buy guitars and learn how to play: because ordinary life is just not good enough. Going to work and going to school, getting married and raising kids, having a girlfriend and acting right and playing by the rules until your status on your insurance forms changes to deceased is so unutterably bleak a prospect that some of us must seek at all costs to find something more beautiful and more true, and if that means cutting a single and getting a manager who's a cunning, manipulative son of a bitch, why, that's what you've got to do, even if it ruins you in the end.

And then before he offers his advice, he sums up his excuse-making:

So I do not find it surprising that a man might want to acquaint the woman in his life with the story of Sun Records and Colonel Tom Parker. Granted, he's not being very smooth about it. But smoothness isn't everything. Passion counts too. Passion can be rough and uncouth. It can seem rude and unkind. It would be nice if he could sit down with your sister and say, Baby, I'm sorry I was rude and flew off the handle, I love you a lot, but this stuff matters to me more than life itself! After all, that's what Elvis would do. In fact, come to think of it, he's acting more like the Colonel than like Elvis. Maybe if she told him that, he'd get the message.

I have better advice. I learned the hard way a long time ago that when men try to shame you with your own ignorance, defend yourself immediately. If you blow it off or even let them shame you, they will lose respect for you and it will just get worse. I would suggest that instead of trying to appeal to him by sweetly showing that she has been shamed into learning about Elvis's life story, she instead say, "Look motherfucker! Is this an episode of 'Jeopardy' or a relationship?" If it were me, I would also point out that if it's a trivia contest, I will win. Not that I'm against learning about your partner's interests--of course you should. But shaming someone like this is wretched behavior.

But what I'm really annoyed at is Tennis defending this by saying that essentially men have all these passions, and women may not understand them but they would do best to tolerate them. As a woman who is so passionate about things she loves that she has startled all sorts of people, I can assure you that these sort of passions are not a result of gender. No, the story is much sadder than that--passion isn't gendered, but ability to follow one's passions is.

Men don't pick up and play the guitar or even become avid record collectors because they can see the stars, the world beyond the mundane, that women can't see. They are more likely to pick up that guitar because they know that there's a chance they can reach those stars, and historically often because they've had a woman's shoulders to stand on. Elvis Presley and Colonel Parker are famous, famous men who surely had someone dealing with the mundane details of their lives so that they could have more time and energy to look beyond the mundane. (At least Elvis had the sense to be grateful to his momma for everything she did for him.)

It's tempting to think we live in a time when women's lives aren't subsumed by men's passions, that we are free to have our own passions or at least to refuse to be the one taking care of the details while our men go out and have passions and meaning beyond the mundane. But apparently not. Cary Tennis often expresses sympathy to feminism in his columns and often makes judgements that are clearly rooted in feminist understanding, but today his knee-jerk reaction was, "Her man has some kind of passion so she is automatically obliged to take his shit so he feels supported." No, she's not. And anyway, there's no evidence that he's passionate about music. It's not like Colonel Parker is an obscure figure that only a real record geek would know about. He's probably just an asshole looking for any "weakness" to jump all over her about.

But even if he is passionate about music, she's not obliged to take his shit. The line between being supportive of a passionate man and taking crap is not so thin, believe me. First of all, passionate men don't necessarily give out crap--that's a sexist myth that has been a disservice to women for a long time. And being supportive and giving up your rights are way different things. I'm pretty supportive of my boyfriend's playing--I listen to his music, offer mild opinions and praise, put on my sneakers to help him lift his cabinet into the truck. I've even gone so far as to embarrass myself by running the drum machine while he practices. But if he ever tried to tell me that I'm dumb because I'm not his exact photocopy, he's getting a mouthful.

Badgering a woman into acting like you're some sort of amazing creature while she's dumb as a rock is not what makes the man. Truly strong, passionate men who really want to reach beyond the mundane are more than happy to look to the women in their lives as friends who also want to reach beyond and learn from them. Why would you want to cut yourself off from half the species as people to learn from?

29 Comments:

Blogger Ross A Lincoln said...

Word. You nailed it. I was amazed when I read this.

I'm tired of excuses for male behavior that assume we're all animalistic little children, without the capacity to fucking check ourselves. And that women are supposed to be our mommies. I'm a grown man, dammit, and I'm capable of being held accountable for my wrong actions. I want to date a woman, not my mom.

So yeah, and word to that other stuff you said too.

9/29/2004

 
Blogger Anne said...

You should write Cary; I think this is a bullshit answer.

9/29/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like what this guy needed was an encounter with a genuine female equivalent of an opera queen. The sort that can give you details of 20 year old Met broadcasts, dish on Kathy Battle, and quiz you on why Peter Pears was more influential than others of his job description.
("Queen" here is generally taken in the gay sense - would that make me a "king", a word in the gay sense meaning a male impersonator, a hard thing to be since women wear pants all the time now?)

"And who, pray, is this Colonel Parker?"

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