Every status update since the dawn of Thomas


Monday, 24 January 2011

Like Getting Angry at a Copy of "Jackie".

It’s funny what Facebook will bring out in people. People who are quite intelligent and independent-minded in the flesh sometimes show an altogether different side on the ‘book. One acquaintance springs to mind whose status updates, quite unexpectedly, revealed her to be like something out of a Jane Austin novel: All how wonderful her boyfriend was, how many babies she planned to have, how her wedding would be, what dresses and shoes she’d bought and – I kid you not – kittens. I mean, I knew she was a bit of girly-girl, but Jesus wept, it was relentless, y’know? “Feminism was obviously lost on you, luv.” I’d think, in an offensive Bernard Manning voice. (In my head. Not out loud.)

Others all too easily fall into the habit of posting up alarmingly intimate status updates: Needy, passive-aggressive, “me, me, me!” statuses about their alarming private lives. I’m often tempted to comment with some kind of cautionary response: “You do know that you just told ME that? I hardly know you, y’know, I feel a little awkward here.” My advice: Click on your Friends-list and take a long hard look at who’s there – do you really want all those work colleagues, old school acquaintances, friends-of-the-family and people you met on holiday/down the pub listening to your latest drunken snipe at your loved one? You do? Really? Mmn, well. Go ahead then.

But even some of those who have managed to control themselves and maintain an intelligent and independent-minded status update will still pop up on your News Feed “like”-ing all manner of needy, passive-aggressive bullshit. Well, alright, strokes for folks and all that, people will like what they like; but one strand in particular annoys the hell out of me – and that’s the “guys are like this/girls are like this” gender-stereotyping tosh.

Some people, like the ‘kittens, babies and boyfriend’ girl, really are genuinely like that, and all power to them. It’s no different to blokes who only ever post about football, beer and cars, and I know plenty of them too. It’s kind of comforting to know that the gender stereotypes do happily exist somewhere; but it really annoys me when people presume that those stereotypes apply to everyone, across the board – and all at once, a) perpetuate a bunch of bullshit myths, b) peer-pressure folks into thinking that’s how people should behave and c) simultaneously judge everyone with one massive sweep of that tarring-brush.

So, hey kids! Let’s have a look at some gender-stereotyping “like”-page favourites:

“hi. i'm a boy. here's how it goes. i'm gonna flirt with you, then diss you. i'll send you mixed messages, hit on your friends, lie to you. then i will lead you on so you fall for me. i'll make you happy for a night, but tomorrow i'll completely ignore you. you'll be the one i turn to when i need for a friend or a confidence boost. know what the best part is? you can't do anything about it because you love me. and you don't want to lose me. ha.”

My initial response to that was “Oh really? Strange, ‘cos that’s what I thought girls did to guys.” Aw, I didn’t mean that though, I’m just talkin’ out of hurt. The point remains: The gender is interchangeable in that one. Have I met guys who have acted like that? Yes. Have I met girls who have acted like that? Yes. That’s not girls or guys, that’s just people. Some people are simply selfish, manipulative emotional black-holes who have an empathy deficiency. They probably didn’t even realise they were doing it.

On the converse, I’ll see the above and raise you:

“Hi, I'm A Guy, I Ignore Decent Girls, And Only Date Cheating Hoes ...”

– again, gender is interchangeable. Blokes get a lot of stick for having a weakness for dumb, fickle, glammed-up bimbos; but then plenty of nice, intelligent women have a weakness for nasty, swaggering, bad-boy alpha-male cocks, so, y’know, its pot/kettle/black on that front. Both sexes are perfectly capable of being equally shallow and superficial, and equally dysfunctional in their romantic choices.

"If a girl looks sad....the best thing you can do no matter what is hug her."

No matter what. Following this advice could get a guy in serious trouble, say, in the workplace or, as a friend of mine japed (I hope), using public transport. I assure you, "... but she looked a bit sad," is not going to carry much weight in that ensuing sexual harassment case.

Seriously though, this is obviously written by a girl angling for a bit more observant and hands-on attention from her emotionally-stunted boyfriend. He will have seen her “like” this on his News Feed, and you can be sure next time they meet up she’ll be doing the big watery cow-eyes at him and, dammit, expecting that hug.

Because, of course, women are all such fragile, childlike things: Constantly in danger of complete emotional collapse that only the safe, paternal, bear-like embrace can head off. If they don’t get that hug when they are “sad”, they might just crumble into a jellied mess and spend the rest of their days rocking back and forth in knee-hugging catatonia. I think that’s pretty much what Germaine Greer said. Sometimes the comfort blanket and thumb sucking just don’t cut it (they, after all, don’t involve the flattering attention of a “fit guy” – unless he hands her his blanket and offers his thumb for slobbering over).

Guys on the other hand are fine. They don’t ever want or need hugs. When a guy looks “sad”, the best thing you can do no matter what is slap him in the face and tell him to stop bawwwwing like a baby, and if it really matters to him then he should sort it out, maybe by getting steely vengeance with his fists on some other dude. Either that or just do a comedy fart to lighten the mood, and he’ll forget about being “sad” because blokes don’t really have much in the way of deep emotions anyway.

“50 things every guy should know about a girl.”

There are infinite variations on this “like”-page favourite, and endless spin-offs and responses. The “...girl should know about a guy” responses tend towards the tounge-in-cheek comedy-sexism slant (which is, of course, a very “male” way of dealing with things), though there are at least a couple of “sensitive guy” versions which, like what they’re responding to, have a couple of fair points but are mainly sweeping personal statements from some wilting wallflower.

One of the most prevalent originals is the “50 things every guy should know.” which ranges from the ludicrously obvious: 14. When a particular guy flirts with a girl very often, a girl would start thinking the guy likes her (well, yes – that’s the point of flirting); 22. Keep a calendar. Remember her birthday and your anniversary; 23. If you love her, tell her once in a while; 38. Appreciate her (what kind of cold, half-arsed relationship does this NOT happen in?)

...to the ludicrously specific: 4. Girls love it when a guy she likes come up behind her, put his arms around her, squeezes her tightly against his chest, and whisper softly in her ear; 40. When girls go to the restroom together, they're gossiping about you (HOW DO YOU KNOW THIS?)

...from the infantile: 43. When you play games always let her win (like you do when playing games with a child - because all girls are rubbish at games); 2. When a girl says she's sad, but she isn't crying, it means she's crying in her heart (This “sad” business again – Oh, is THAT what the word means?! Because, of course, girls get sadder than blokes do, NO MATTER WHAT.)

...to the flagrant bullshit: 3. A girl can't find anything to hate about the guy she loves (Pfff. Huh. Mmn. Give it time.)

...and finally, the frankly unreasonable: 8. Keep in mind to be happy in front of her. She'll think you're not having fun. 31. Smile a lot (Your feelings do not matter – you don’t have any, you’re a bloke, so fix that forced smile on your face and dance, clown-monkey-man!); 20. Take her everywhere you go with your friends. If she can't come, say you will miss her. Don't invite anyone else (EVERYWHERE. Nothing scary and insecure about this. I'm sure she'll do the same with her friends. I'm sure.); 41. Be first and last to wish her a happy birthday (One assumes this assumes you live together – otherwise how the hell would you know? What happens if someone texts her before you wake up – IT’S OVER!).

The document is stated with such absolute certainty, it's like it's the 10 f***ing commandments: 18. Thou shalt always give her a peck on the cheek when you depart from each other, even when friends are watching. 37. Thou shalt hold her during a movie. 42. Thou shalt never tell a girl she's useless in any way.

Aside from the obvious fact that really, these are sweeping generalisations and in reality everyone is different, the majority of "things" mentioned could – with very slight gender-specific alterations – apply both ways, from guy to girl or girl to guy. But what’s depressing is that, well, you just kind of think... can’t couples work this shit out for themselves? I mean really, we’re all human beings, we all have feelings and we all occupy space in the same world – do we really need lists like this to understand each other? Is this list a revelation to anyone? Who isn’t autistic, that is?

Well, the answer is no. It was clearly written as a list of “how I feel about that guy I like and what I want him to do/be like towards me.” Which really is sad, if he has to be told these things... I mean, she has to explain what the word "sad" means, instruct him on how to show affection, and offer guidance on appropriate facial expressions - this isn't a guy she's after, it's a robot - it's "every girl's guide to programming a man-automaton". My advice to the author: Ditch that insensitive plank and stop being all “Hi, I'm A Girl, I Ignore Decent Guys, And Only Date Pricks Who Take Me For Granted And Treat Me Like Shit ...”

Thomas’s Final Thought

Ok, I know it’s not really fair for a jaded, embittered 30-something to be passing judgement on what are obviously the whimsies of over-emotional teenagers: I’m evidently not the target audience for this guff. It is, as a friend of mine said, “a bit like getting angry at a copy of Jackie.” Yes it is, but I’ve been known to do that kind of thing also... I once threw a copy of Heat magazine clean across the room to stop the rising revulsion it elicited within.

But moving swiftly on – since these things are continually brought to my attention via the delight that is Facebook (often by mature adults who really should know better), it’s worth noting why I find it so depressing and annoying – because what it shows is just how utterly ingrained such gender stereotypes are in society, still. You can see them being blatantly and blindly perpetuated by the next generation without so much as a second thought; and are still very much in evidence in a hell of a lot of people my own age. There are differences in how men and women respond to the world and what’s important to them, though much of it is conditioned rather than biological – studies suggest there is more variation within each gender than there is between them, meaning you can’t just presume “men are like this” and “women are like this”, though there are general trends. We are vastly more alike than we are different, and it does no-one any favours to characterise men and women as two different species, unknowable to each other.

Whatever, the important differences in behaviour and preferences are emphatically not about the need to be loved, noticed, appreciated, valued, understood and supported – that’s just universal human stuff. The real issue here is not so much gender – it’s romantic relationships in general. Love is cruel, and frequently sets up situations that most people simply have no idea how to sensitively deal with. Sometimes no amount of sensitivity will make it ok – how do you “make it ok” that you don’t really love someone, who still loves you, anymore? Or that you just don’t find someone, who is crazy about you, attractive in the first place? That’s one hell of a bowl of shit for even the most kind, thoughtful soul to serve up, let alone your average clumsy, semi-articulate punter.

Most heterosexual people’s close friends will be predominantly of the same sex as them, and their focus on the opposite sex will be pre-occupied with the idea of love-interest - not to disregard my female friends, whom I really do value like gold-dust for... well, not being boring blokes... but still... You don’t think much about the fact that members of your own sex are just as frequently horrendous, thoughtless, needy, manipulative, ham-fisted, unfeeling, spiteful, desire-led shits when it comes romance, because you’ve never had to deal with them in that way (I’m quite sure the gay perspective on gender stereotypes is very different). Sure, no one likes their same-sex friends to take them for granted, ignore them, or put them down – but even with your closest friends you simply don’t have that kind of intense hair-trigger emotional attachment, the same need for reassurance and affirmation and exclusivity – friendships are not quite as directly and critically tied to your sense of self-worth and emotional wholeness. And, with the fondest of regards to my house-mate, you don’t hang all your dreams of settling down, starting a family and growing old side-by-side on your friends.

At the end of the day it’s all about the empathy. I just don’t see that there’s any great mystery to how the opposite sex works – if you’re ever frustrated by what she/he wants or why she/he is acting in such a way, forget the gender-stereotyping bullshit and just think – I mean, properly, think: Why might I act like that? What would I feel/think/want in her/his shoes – and, whether you like the answer of not, you’ll probably get one.