A straight flush of stable-pair-bonding qualities
November 9, 2019 4:44 PM   Subscribe

The Feminist. From n+1 Issue 35, fiction by Tony Tulathimutte. "Now that he’s self-conscious, he realizes he can’t compete along conventional standards of height, weight, grip strength, whatever. How can he hope to attract anyone with his narrow shoulders?" via Carmen Maria Machado, who tweets: I want to teach this story in a horror class.
posted by jokeefe (103 comments total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
 
wow thats the worst ad ive ever read for private school

Seriously, amazing!
posted by lalochezia at 5:11 PM on November 9


Jesus, this nearly gave me a panic attack. Really well done, but I pretty much had to read it through my fingers.
posted by merriment at 5:34 PM on November 9 [3 favorites]


Holy shit that ending! This is so well written but Machado always delivers.
posted by kimberussell at 6:02 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


JESUS CHRIST
posted by schroedinger at 6:05 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


Really well done, but I pretty much had to read it through my fingers.

I kept thinking things couldn't get any worse, and then they would.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:08 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]


Terrifying.

I sometimes wondered whose side the author was asking us to be on. But it became apparent that the protagonist was a total black hole, devoid of qualities except eagerness to please, expectation of reward, and self-loathing for both of these.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:14 PM on November 9 [19 favorites]


This is so well written but Machado always delivers.

Machado praised it, but did not write it.
posted by schroedinger at 6:18 PM on November 9 [10 favorites]


That was a journey I didn't entirely want to finish but couldn't look away from. Horror fiction all the way.
posted by Flannery Culp at 6:24 PM on November 9


That was something else. "Horror" is definitely an appropriate genre description. I can see some of my teenage self in the POV character's teenage years, and I can imagine a twisted alternate-reality version of myself in him as an adult. That strong identification with the idea of being rejected, in so many forms but especially romantically and sexually... It's tremendously unsettling. All the more so because I'm not sure that I can explain why my life didn't take that path.

Really unsettling. Thank you for sharing it.
posted by biogeo at 6:30 PM on November 9 [24 favorites]


Somehow this story explains why I’m creeped out by all the “woke” dudes who flipped out about Cat Person.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:44 PM on November 9 [15 favorites]


I want to tell you about the reality of having lived four decades of silent virtuous pain and never asking to have your humanity and desirability recognized.

Welcome to my world. I have lived my entire life alone and apart because I understand that no one wants an ugly freak for a friend. I finally acquired some self-awareness and, at last some peace, because I understand how hard life is for most people. Be kind, because for most people, life is a hard battle.
posted by SPrintF at 6:47 PM on November 9 [22 favorites]


I liked most of it but I think it would have been better without the ending.
posted by Cezar Golescu at 6:52 PM on November 9 [4 favorites]


Machado praised it, but did not write it.

Oh god. Sorry. Apologies to Tony Tulathimutte.
posted by kimberussell at 6:59 PM on November 9 [3 favorites]


The ending was kind of where I expected it to go, which was disappointing (it's not a particularly interesting ending). But the trip was worth it nonetheless.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:01 PM on November 9 [8 favorites]


holy shit. this made me want to crawl into a hole and die. it's not me, but so much of that pain and confusion and resentment reminds me of a me that used to exist, one that might have lingered under other circumstances. the writing is so good, so particular, and so chilling.
posted by Kybard at 8:12 PM on November 9 [10 favorites]


I wish this story were better. There are really good things about it. I read the whole thing! But putting in the long passage of dialogue from "unnamed QPOC friend" and "young voice on the Internet" which read transparently as the Voice Of Authorial Truth Telling You How It Is (feel free to disagree about what these passages are doing, I'm listening) feels like a real mistake to me. The ending is wrong too.

Tulathimutte is often talked about as being related to David Foster Wallace and DFW's "The Depressed Person" is surely an influence here -- this story sometimes hits the painful kind of recognition note that one does, which is what makes it good. But too often it lapses into saying what you expect it to say.
posted by escabeche at 8:28 PM on November 9 [19 favorites]


interesting story but i couldn't finish it. if you had met the protagonist when he was 16, what would you have said or done to him, so that he wouldn't become what he did?
posted by catbird at 8:44 PM on November 9 [5 favorites]


I dunno if I agree with your interpretation of the Authorial Voice, escabeche. Like, everyone in this story fails at honest, caring communication (taking a show of hands vote at a party on whether the narrator is an asshole! My god) and all of those failures contribute to the sense of horror, for me. Like, I’ve said things that were certainly true but maybe rather cruel or a blow-off, and the fear of communicating like that to someone who is supposedly my friend, the fear of keeping someone around who I maybe think is kinda a dick but *shrug* is...very real, while also having the same horrible sense of inevitability that the narrator claims about himself. He fails his relationships, absolutely, a failure to really hear what’s going on, but everyone in this piece is kinda a mess too in their own ways. They don’t go on to perform an enormous cruelty and that’s important. There is still a totality of relationship-breakdown throughout—not a true belief vs the abhorrent one, but a variety of human failures vs the worst, final one.
posted by zinful at 8:54 PM on November 9 [31 favorites]


I second your interpretation, zinful. Everyone in this story seems to run up against the limitations of their way of understanding the world as a tool for empathy. Which, yeah, seems pretty real to me.
posted by biogeo at 9:21 PM on November 9 [10 favorites]


It kind of just read like a straw man given short story form to me. If there had been something surprising, or some interesting twist, or some moral complexity, that would be one thing, but it is just a straight up detached biography of a kind of caricature person that hews directly to stereotype. As if you wrote a short story about a nerd and first he plays Dungeons and Dragons, and then he gets beat up, and then he is awkward around a girl, and then he watches Star Trek, and then he majors in physics, and so on.
posted by value of information at 9:22 PM on November 9 [15 favorites]


Words were only ever meant to underscore acts; they have no substance.
That's the part where it really hit me. Not the ending as a the horrifying act he presumably commits after all of the events of the story--that isn't really the last scene. The last scene is the thing he does before that. The moment where he's courteous to a woman much younger than he is, and implied by his behavior to be someone he finds attractive, and he tells himself that this decent act is his true self.

He never examines his own behavior, though. He examines his narrow shoulders, but he doesn't examine, say, what happened on the date with the girl who left while he was in the bathroom. I don't think the central question here is why he winds up alone or whether anybody else failed. The mystery to me is more like: What narrative exists in all the story he doesn't tell? Where are all the women in his life that he didn't find attractive? I don't think he becomes this horrible person at the end; he always is, he's just lying to everybody all the time, so his friends don't pick up on it.

I wonder, honestly, how many men reading this don't pick up on the fact that he finds only a very narrow subset of women attractive--"curvaceous" as a teenager is unacceptable and he never seems to adjust those standards, since in his thirties he only finds the same woman attractive with an eating disorder. And all the women in this story aside from her are the female friends he picked because he wanted to have sex with them. He said the right words and never gave them substance. It's his own damn fault, and the thing I find painful is how close he comes to figuring it out? But I don't think anybody he related to could possibly have helped, because he wasn't honest enough to let them.
posted by Sequence at 9:22 PM on November 9 [71 favorites]


I think the idea that he ends up alone because of some moral failing is just the usual desire to turn dating into some fucked-up morality play. The two things are orthagonal. Good behavior doesn't inherently make you desirable, and bad behavior doesn't inherently make you undesirable.
posted by Bobicus at 10:31 PM on November 9 [30 favorites]


if you had met the protagonist when he was 16, what would you have said or done to him, so that he wouldn't become what he did?

Contrapoints - Incels
posted by windbox at 11:33 PM on November 9 [8 favorites]


It was a good story, although his turn (if it is a turn) is engineered... A few clever touches, like the "1488" in the username of someone on his message board (a standard Nazi call-out). I'm not used to reading literary fiction that gets our times so well.

I disagree with Sequence though. His problem may be more the opposite. He's not fully honest with himself, and the use of "curvaceous" when he may mean "overweight" or even "fat" as a kind of euphemism, is covering up to seem what he's not. His preferences don't fit his too-tidy ideology and he can't own up to that because of his distancing vocabulary. He can't say he's not a perfect feminist, which would let him grow.

He does go for the woman when she's thin, and eating disorders are bad. In a way that's parallel to his use of shoulder pads, though obviously that's not self-harm, and that leads to some of the little intimacy he has. But oddly he doesn't link her "instability" to anything in the larger society and his own preference against "curvaceous" women.

Look at the name of the message board he oversees, Narrow Shoulders / Open Minds. Does he have an open mind? One element of the character that makes his intentions appear good is that he does appear to re-evaluate things, although he has no awareness of his growing blind spots. (That he could re-read a screed calling women Yeast Monsters and be satisfied!) But he seems to think having mastered the vocabulary and written classics of feminism, that he is a feminist. But it's like the Zen koan--he sees only the finger pointing to the Moon. He isn't willing to accept that an "other" is other, that there are intangibles he might not understand that are keeping him from women and women from him, and he thinks that the things he's named and measured exhaust what's of importance in human interactions.
posted by Schmucko at 12:00 AM on November 10 [20 favorites]


This story could have been written by a neo-nazi recruiter, which is pretty damning.
posted by Yowser at 3:01 AM on November 10 [5 favorites]


I think the idea that he ends up alone because of some moral failing is just the usual desire to turn dating into some fucked-up morality play. The two things are orthagonal. Good behavior doesn't inherently make you desirable, and bad behavior doesn't inherently make you undesirable.

That's a very good point, but I think the moral failing is not so much seen in ending up alone, but in letting that lack of romance warp you so completely that you're unable to form any other sort of authentic connection with anyone or find any other joy in life, and becoming so hateful you end up committing mass murder.

I've rarely had anyone I was attracted to reciprocate that attraction either (basically never, unless you count at short holiday flirtation at sixteen that didn't really go anywhere), but I couldn't imagine making that such an integral part of my identity to the point that it poisons all other relationhips I do have.

I mean, all his friendships seem so empty. It's not quite true that he's shown befriending only people he wants to date - there are male friends, and his QPOC friends - but is ever shown actually enjoying their company? All he's looking for his a stamp of approval, some form of validation. And it's very fair to want validation form your friends, I would never say we should all learn to live without any sort of external validiation, I think it's only human to want and need that - but he's so obsessed with the ideal of sexual validation, he can't accept any other form. Also, it should be a two-way street and he's not seen actually appreciating anything about his non-potential-date friends.

And that thing about how friendship ultimately really are just consolation prices, because eventually everyone will couple up and have no time for you any more, sorry, I just can't relate at all. It's true, that once people have kids, they're less available and can't make you a priority, etc., but that period in their life doesn't last forever. When I look at my mum and her friends, sure, they didn't see each other all that frequently when everyone was busy with young kids, but now they're retired, and the friendship picks up again.

My own friends are mostly a bit late about the whole kid things, so it only has been starting fairly recently, but right now, I still don't see it getting much of a problem. Because I also have a couple of older friends who are already more or less done with the kid-raising thing and I have other single childless friends who are in no hurry to change that and might never get round to it either. It's just no longer true that everyone else couples up eventually, I don't buy that you couldn't impossibly find someone in a similiar situation. (Maybe if you're in a very remote area with bad infrastructure, but that doesn't seem to be the case in this short story).

Of course it's easier for me, because I don't have that much of a libido, no burning desire for kids, and probably wouldn't be much of a couples person even if I had more luck in the romance department. (And people can probably sense that, so I can't blame it all on my lack of conventional attractiveness either). And I'm also lucky that I get on my well with my family of origin/extended family, so I never had to rely on my friendship skills alone for a sense of connection. But my outlook wasn't always that sunny either, and I had my own dark nights of the soul, I can still remember periods of crushing loneliness - I do have a lot of good things going for me not everyone has, but I had to learn to appreciate them first, and that took me some effort.

I'm not really seeing any of these efforts in this case study (the proclamation that friendship is no consolation price is clearly just lip service), and I think that's where people see the moral failing.
posted by sohalt at 3:38 AM on November 10 [9 favorites]


'Narrow shoulders' is obviously meant to stand for something else, and that something is racial, right? If you read it with 'Asian' substituted for 'narrow-shouldered' and 'white' for 'broad-shouldered', it becomes a story about white privilege and unconscious racism. Or am I missing something?
posted by verstegan at 3:52 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]


I think the idea that he ends up alone because of some moral failing is just the usual desire to turn dating into some fucked-up morality play.

He’s not alone because he’s a bad person, he’s alone because he has no actual sense of self. There’s nothing to attach to. Can you imagine having fun with him? A moment of even a little joy? Does he seem capable of connection, regardless of how desperately he wants it? He’s an empty collection of beliefs about what he has to do to have the things he thinks wants, the things that will validate him as good and right. He would have collapsed just as readily if he ever actually got those things, because then he’d have to confront the fact that A Woman still didn’t make him happy or fill that emptiness, and then he would blame that particular woman for it, rather than all women.

What makes him a monster is that he externalizes his pain. He is lonely, and he has problems, and he has pain, but what differentiates him is that he believes that is only ever other people’s fault and thus other people will fix it. He believes it so deeply that it doesn’t rise to consciousness. This isn’t just present in the final moments. It’s present from the beginning.

There are plenty of people who feel empty and alienated and alone. It’s common with people who experienced developmental trauma. Traumatic interpersonal relationships during childhood literally interrupt the normal development of the self, and this emptiness that needs other people bc you never had a chance to develop normal self-regulation skills is often the result. The difference is whether or not you internalize that suffering or externalize it.

You don’t have to like it, but this portrait is accurate as fuck. I also think dismissing the drunken cruelty of the “QPOC friend” as “authorial” is kind of missing the point.
posted by schadenfrau at 3:56 AM on November 10 [71 favorites]


it really does seem to me as if the end message is meant to be that at heart, singleness is actually representative of inner sickness, and that's actually good discourse to be having. Which is a lot.

What broke this for me, unfortunately, and it almost had me sucked in, is that his engagement with his own flaws never goes beyond the superficial. Is anyone this aware of all the ways they can be doing harm and simultaneously 100% confident that they've never even so much as committed a microaggression? How is his insecurity entirely about his narrow shoulders?
posted by Acid Communist at 4:29 AM on November 10 [1 favorite]


It seemed to me that "narrow shoulders" was not meant to explicitly be about narrow-shoulders but refer to the general physical expectations we place on men. Perhaps the character becomes obsessed with narrow shoulders in the way someone might chalk up all their problems to their nose or their weight or whatever they perceive as a flaw in lieu of examining the personality or psychology issues that might be leading to their singleness.

it really does seem to me as if the end message is meant to be that at heart, singleness is actually representative of inner sickness, and that's actually good discourse to be having.

I did not get that at all. It felt to me that his singleness was representative of his inner issues, but not that a commentary that singleness in general is a flaw.
posted by schroedinger at 5:02 AM on November 10 [15 favorites]


I’ve read Sanger and Friedan and MacKinnon and Dworkin and Firestone and Faludi and Winterson and Butler and Solanas and Schulman and hooks and Greer. I understand them, and they understand the viewpoint of the patriarchy—but what have they read to understand us?
Everything else there is, pretty much. If he's read those, he should understand that the majority of our culture and media is about understanding cis men's thoughts and feelings. Men's perspectives aren't being censored out of existence, they're just occasionally and in some spaces not being prioritised.

his awareness that rejection, loneliness, and sexual frustration are nothing compared with institutional and historical oppression. He knows sadness is a symptom of his entitlement.
This seems a lot like the thread about talking about whiteness and therapy. It's noticeable that he never goes to therapy either. He hasn't accepted this and ends up walking further away from it.

I have never ONCE catcalled, gaslit, interrupted, microaggressed, or mansplained
Never once! I don't think we define these things the same way.

everyone else, including chauvinists, liars, abusers, rapists, and low-IQ men,
seemingly other, different categories of men, which he of course does and could not fall into. Plus at the end"low-IQ" does add to the fall into ever-fashier politics effectively.

I’d be the last to demand any special treatment for my still impeccable feminism, and to be sure, no specific woman is required to be attracted to us
This whole story is about how he does exactly that.

androcide
men aren't being killed off, just his idea of what a man is.
posted by Acid Communist at 5:03 AM on November 10 [3 favorites]




What makes him a monster is that he externalizes his pain. He is lonely, and he has problems, and he has pain, but what differentiates him is that he believes that is only ever other people’s fault and thus other people will fix it. He believes it so deeply that it doesn’t rise to consciousness. This isn’t just present in the final moments. It’s present from the beginning.

There are plenty of people who feel empty and alienated and alone.


This.

And yeah. There are plenty of people who are single and repeatedly rejected and feel, for whatever reason, that they fall irrevocably outside of some narrow definition of attractive. A shockingly high number of us are women (raises hand). I don't feel like I'm dying slowly and painfully because I'm my forties and single and haven't had a real deal long-term relationship in, well, ever. I don't think it's anybody's fault. Some things happen for people. Some things don't. But I have a generally awesome life and awesome friends and I travel and I make things and I host fantastic dinner parties. I mean, do I have the occasional pang. Sure. I'm a human being. But I don't think my experience of being alive has been fundamentally compromised by not having dude sharing my bed at night.

I don't know if there's any way to convey this to guys on the path to being angry incels, that there's a lot more to being in the world, that there are a lot more people in the world than you're noticing, and that romantic relationships, even good ones, are only one small piece of the puzzle. Things like this story terrify me and make me sad all at the same time.

All of which is to say, this is a good story.
posted by thivaia at 6:18 AM on November 10 [55 favorites]


Narrow shoulders' is obviously meant to stand for something else, and that something is racial, right?

I saw it as parallel to Incels weird and fucked obsession about their skulls and facial bone structure, and how they pin all of their rejection and loneliness on what they see as this very unfair genetic failing. They're so smart and so nice and have such a high IQ but all women really want at the end of the day is a strong Chad with good facial bone structure you see, so the idea is they're personally totally screwed and destined to die alone. I think in this story you can replace "bone structure" with "narrow shoulders" and "nice guy with high IQ" with "male feminist ally". The internet forum for "narrow shoulder men" as an identity and the final escalation to violence was the tell for me on the clear Incel angle and the path one can go even from "woke feminist male ally" to violent incel, especially if the woke feminism is solely a performative intellectual exercise for validation and expectation of reward.

It's the new Nice Guy™ of the 21st century, he's a total feminist ally but his shitty entitled beliefs are still there underpinning everything and the toxicity runs much deeper than just intellectually being a feminism-understander.
posted by windbox at 6:24 AM on November 10 [27 favorites]


> The difference is whether or not you internalize that suffering or externalize it.

How do you imagine the story would be different if his suffering was internalized? Well, aside from the ending. Asking for a friend.
posted by STFUDonnie at 6:30 AM on November 10 [4 favorites]


Congratulations for... getting the point

I'm glad everything is always so easy and clear for you to understand, and I salute your commitment to demanding others don't lollygag about as we work out ways to understanding.

I did have a first comment which been deleted which might have granted context. I may even also come to understand why, although probably not fast enough for those as quick on the uptake as yourself.
posted by Acid Communist at 6:31 AM on November 10 [1 favorite]


Is anyone this aware of all the ways they can be doing harm and simultaneously 100% confident that they've never even so much as committed a microaggression?

Oh god yes. Lots of ostensibly progressive people will tell you they know they've done these things without actually believing it.
posted by howfar at 6:31 AM on November 10 [6 favorites]


[Just fyi, Acid Communist, no comments have been deleted from this thread; perhaps you previewed but didn't post, and then closed the page?]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:39 AM on November 10 [1 favorite]


While everyone is entitled to their own interpretation, etc etc don't feel attacked my dudes, BUT: what makes this extremely effective horror for some of us here is the underlying "banality of evil" angle here. Rather than a pathologizing "fatal flaw" that explains his descent into misogynist incel violence, it's just an accumulation of toxic social interactions to which ANYBODY could succumb. Part of the nausea-inducing terror of reading this (for me) is how I am lowkey implicated in nearly every messy character here.
posted by LMGM at 6:48 AM on November 10 [43 favorites]


Ok, I see that comment now, but I do not see what is going on. I'm just gonna nope out of this thread, I obviously really don't understand and can't engage with where y'all are coming from.
posted by Acid Communist at 6:48 AM on November 10 [1 favorite]


How do you imagine the story would be different if his suffering was internalized? Well, aside from the ending. Asking for a friend.

I don’t know about this story, since I think it’s fundamentally a story about this, but in life?

People who internalize it blame themselves, and IME are therefore a lot more likely to get help, because they think there’s something wrong with them, and maybe that can be fixed. Sometimes that help actually takes (or maybe the seventh try takes, or whatever) and they get better, but it never looks like what they thought it was going to look like when they decided to get help.

The weird thing about a lot of these fears — that there’s something fundamentally broken inside you, that there’s some deep, fatal flaw that keeps you from being loved — is that they are often lies wrapped around a little bit of truth, and that little bit of truth is sometimes too much to bear. The same traumatic experiences (and, often, lack of positive developmental experience) that leave you feeling empty and untethered and completely at the mercy of others also have effects that can make you a very hard person to attach to. Attachment disorders aren’t pretty; it’s still possible to hurt people without realizing it. None of this is your fault, and it’s all tremendously unfair, but it’s still often true.

The good news is that it’s not permanent. No one is inherently broken or flawed; we’re the products of our development. And our nervous systems are resilient and ever-adapting, so we can change. It requires enormous work and energy, and having access to those things is often a form of privilege, so it’s not like this is uncomplicated. But people can, and do, get better all the time. Sometimes it takes a really long time. But either way: you have to be willing to see the problem, and you have to be willing to work at it. People who insist their unhappiness is because of the failings of others aren’t willing to do that.

So. If the first step to recovery is acknowledging the problem and getting help, people who internalize their suffering seem to be a disoriented, slightly misguided step ahead of people who externalize.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:53 AM on November 10 [61 favorites]


Like I get it, if I can relate to the character at all and so on, if I think any of my experiences are at all similar in the slightest, it's evidence that the real reason I'm single is that I'm actually not a good enough person deep inside, and in fact it's fashy to think that there may well be no correlation between what people deserve and what they get. I just don't get how that's useful or why people love to read it.
posted by Acid Communist at 6:56 AM on November 10


I got halfway through and couldn’t take any more. Had to scroll all the way to the last paragraph to see if it ended in a hail of bullets. Did it just grind on depressingly all the way through the rest of it?
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:01 AM on November 10 [1 favorite]


Thanks for taking the time to write that, schadenfrau.
posted by STFUDonnie at 7:04 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]


"deserve" is terrible framing but that's my whole problem with the piece. There is no "deserve", and that includes if he'd actually been a saint.
posted by Acid Communist at 7:12 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]


> "I just don't get how that's useful or why people love to read it."

I don't think that's what the story is saying.

This is a story about a character who never, ever examines his own behavior, because he believes that it's already perfect, when it very much isn't. The point isn't, "only bad people are single and experience rejection." It is a story about someone who believes the world owes him something because he mouths the right words, and when mouthing the right words doesn't work, he mouths them louder and louder and gets angrier and angrier, because he refuses see that his behavior gives the lie to his words. He already starts out as the thing he claims to abhor, but because he cannot allow himself to acknowledge that, he becomes it more and more, until he is literally a monster who still thinks of himself as a saint. The story is neither saying that he is fated to be single because he is toxic or that he is fated to be toxic because he is single; he is toxic because he cannot believe in his own toxicity, and therefore thinks that any pain he experiences must be, has to be, someone else's fault.
posted by kyrademon at 7:15 AM on November 10 [58 favorites]


The most salient thing for me is that he never seems to see anyone around him as an actual person. He can speak the intellectual language of wokeness, but to him, everyone else falls into some sort of alien category, like "QBPOC friend." He never connects with anyone on a human level, and that's what's so off-putting about him.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 7:30 AM on November 10 [27 favorites]


Exactly. What is he like? What was his family like? What are his career interests, his passions; what makes him up as a person? You don't know. He's just hunger. Partly this is because the author is writing a short story and has to keep things moving. But in life, we do see this kind of entitlement in a lot of men who identify as incels. They complain about what they haven't got, but what have they got? Even getting the traits they think they need--when they bulk up or get cosmetic surgery--doesn't make them happy.

As a woman, I was taught to blame myself alone if I couldn't find romantic happiness, and that isn't great. But thank God it at least means that I can never imagine raising my hand against another person because of it. I have been able to comfortably segue to blaming the indifference of the cosmos, plus myself, so there you are.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:43 AM on November 10 [28 favorites]


As far as narrow shoulders, I read that literally:
[H]e realizes he can’t compete along conventional standards of height, weight, grip strength, whatever. How can he hope to attract anyone with his narrow shoulders?
He gets shoved by a woman (whom the text has made no mention of being particularly physical) and he ends up on the deck.

He is literally short and skinny and doesn’t work out. He is physically unimposing. He’s built like Joaquin Phoenix in Joker.

It’s somewhat a trope in certain mens health/fitness circles that women interested in men tend to find broad, muscular shoulders and backs sexy (rather than pectorals and arms) because they indicate the ability to actually lift and carry things, as opposed to just looking good in the mirror.

I didn’t read it as racial at all, Verstegan.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:54 AM on November 10 [6 favorites]


I think this story had to have the long monologues in it -- the one from his QPOC 'friend' and the person on the message board. I think it's a mistake to see those as the author stepping in and giving us The Truth. Instead, I read it like this: those two monologues are the most obvious and straightforward expressions of everything our narrator needs to hear. It's right there. Shouted, right in his face. And he doesn't hear it. He can't hear it. He completely dismisses it -- I can feel him just waiting for his QPOC 'friend' to shut up so he can provide his logically sound, devastating response.

Those monologues show that it's not like no one has ever called him out. We're shown how he's been given the clearly expressed reasons that he claims he wants so badly... And we're shown how he just cannot hear it at all, how he is completely incapable of taking in what is being said.

I imagine this story without the monologues, and I can imagine people responding with, "See, but no one ever actually spelled out for him what his problem is! If only someone would take him aside and explain it all to him!" And the story is showing us that, no, no. That doesn't work.

The point of the story is not at all any of the reasoning. This isn't a story about ideas and philosophy and the heady debate of principled belief. This is a story about the emotional voids that make ideas and philosophy and the heady debate of principled belief hollow and meaningless. It's a story about how ideas and philosophy and the heady debate of principled belief can work as a shield against self-exploration and self-insight, how it can hide and even bolster up one's inner monsters.
posted by meese at 8:00 AM on November 10 [38 favorites]


He cannot see himself as successful unless he is the male half of a relationship, and he can't see anyone else as valuable unless they reflect back his sense of himself as totally worthy of a relationship with a woman.

I don't think anyone has said "narcissism" yet, and that's only one way to describe this galaxy of horror, but his whole reading of feminism (as someone mentioned above) isn't about understanding the oppression of women and their underlying humanity, it's about getting a ticket to coupledom by playing "good man". He's so invested in that, he actually *doesn't* want friendship with women, of course -- and only pretends he does on the chance that they will give him what he deserves.

I knew guys like this in college; in fact, the story made me wonder what one particular dude is doing now.

A lot of men who are tied to this vision of manhood do find girlfriends and wives (many of them aren't as invested as appearing feminist and so maybe aren't surrounded by women who are, you know, feminists)… and they continue to have affairs because affairs validate their sense of maledom.

That manly sense of being entitled to the respect and admiration of others, and of checking off all the boxes in order to remind yourself how great you are, is very familiar. There's a lot more to be said here, like his list of feminist writers includes such a varied crew who "hate men" but disagree about a lot else, it's clear that he has no substantive beliefs about anything except his entitlement and the wrong of a world that won't give him what he deserves.

The violence just seems like the logical end -- other people exist only to help me get what I want, and once I've decided I won't be getting what I want no matter what, other people are useless, worthless, and only instrumental to my expression of pain.

How can men avoid this end? Remember that every other person on this planet has a valuable inner life that you have no right to, but if you are very lucky, you can learn to let them into your inner life and become part of theirs?
posted by allthinky at 8:28 AM on November 10 [14 favorites]


This is not meant to be an easy story.
posted by argybarg at 8:33 AM on November 10 [17 favorites]


I like the horror because it’s realistic. People get trapped in loops, and the more anyone, themselves included, try to interrupt those loops the tighter they get.

That said, the ending was telegraphed a mile away. Perhaps that’s the point, but it was still the weakest part of the story.
posted by argybarg at 8:40 AM on November 10 [6 favorites]


This reads like it started out as a whimsical ridicule of a particular breed of Nice Men where the whimsy gradually got replaced by sadistic glee, until by the end the author was so repulsed by the monster of his own creation that he summarily dismissed it in the most disgusting manner.

Absolutely a fascinating piece, exceptionally well-written, but callous & mean-spirited, brimming with hatred and fear. The protagonist seems to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. His badness, his undesirableness, his impotence & disease all belong to him (and only him) as a kind of just deserts. The one thing that seems unfixably, unspeakably wrong in the world is the protagonist. It's an alienating & dehumanizing perspective. Horror indeed!
posted by dmh at 8:51 AM on November 10 [3 favorites]


Like I get it, if I can relate to the character at all and so on, if I think any of my experiences are at all similar in the slightest, it's evidence that the real reason I'm single is that I'm actually not a good enough person deep inside, and in fact it's fashy to think that there may well be no correlation between what people deserve and what they get. I just don't get how that's useful or why people love to read it.

Hello Acid Communist, I see your pain! Or at least, I mean that I think this is a way that Very Online narratives about who is a good person and deserves love can fail. I actually started therapy some years ago because I was reading all those tumblr "you can tell people suck if they [make personal or ideological errors that are actually incredibly common and generally not pathological] and now it is time for us to pile onto them" posts and it really sent me spiraling because I started to worry, basically, that I was actually a terrible person and that even if people didn't hate me yet, they ought to hate me and I was being deceptive and bad by not revealing how terrible I was, and gee, tumblr was so awesome in that regard.

And while a lot of that was about my own history of crummy stuff, it was definitely in response to really simplistic moralizing on the social media left. (It's all on the intellectual level of those posts where they'll put up a picture of some aged, ill-looking racist from some shitty background and a photo of a "woke" movie star of the same age and be all "see, you can tell that having bad beliefs makes you old and ugly".)

I don't think that's quite what this story is doing, but I think that while it's a strong evocation of a kind of mood and a set of experiences, it doesn't link the mood and experiences together over time in a way that gives you a realistic sense of the narrator - even a boring terrible person has more in thelr life and more that shapes them than this guy does. And that would work better in a story that didn't have such sharp realistic flashes. It's confusing, because it sort of moves between a very schematic-satiric mode and a very psychologically realistic mode and that is what makes it possible, IMO, to read the story plausibly as saying "you're single because you're awful and therefore you deserve what you get"

I do think that the moral of the story is that this guy doesn't flip the mental switch that allows him to change, that he really does allow himself to love his own victimization. It's horrible and sad when people get stuck that way, and it does exact a huge toll on people around them even though mostly they don't, like, SPOILER.

But I think that this is obscured a bit by the way that the woke friends are handled. I think the story's meaning would be clearer if there were more depth to the interactions with the woke friends - how did they become friends in the first place? Why did they hang around this guy at all? Because of that lack of depth, I think their technically correct but also kind of cold interactions with him don't match reality. Like, I've absolutely been in situations where someone is essentially told off for being awful, and it's almost always a pretty long series of interactions that are intense and fraught and sad and painful for the woke friends because there was a friendship. It's not just "we were friends with you even though you obviously brought nothing but instrumentalization to the friendship and now we are going to woke-ly friend dump you on twitter, lol you asshole". I have never seen the sort of humiliating-people-in-a-group-setting thing in real life, and I move in that kind of circle. The way it works in this story gives a feeling of...I dunno, mechanicalness that does reinforce that sort of "you are irretrievably broken you shitty protagonist and being single is just the world recognizing that you're awful."

I think that what this story does best is evoke fragments of a mood and a type of interaction - there's immediate ghastly recognition of each section of the story. But I think that it is subjet to a "you are single because you are intrinsically selfish and bad and this is why people are single" because of the failure to resolve the "is this psychologically realistic or is it fragments and satire" tension. It's a good story, definitely, and very very sharp. it's just not a flawless story.

(I mean, you don't seem like a terrible person here on metafilter; you seem like people I know who are not terrible. I've definitely had radical guy friends who were actually really lovely people who through a combination of personal insecurity/inexperience/trauma, bad luck and also being on the receiving end of how a lot of people make terrible relationship decisions in their twenties were single most of the time into their late twenties or early thirties* but it wasn't because they were awful, and things did get a lot better for them dating-wise in time.

*So okay, because of incels, etc, it's really difficult to have a fair discussion of how people can make lousy relationship decisions under patriarchy especially when they're young. Like, both when I was young and among the young people in my social circle, really horrible men sometimes have lots of relationships really easily. Now that I am an old, I meet them and go "ew you are an accident waiting to happen" but when everyone is, like, twenty-three, we often feel impressed by mean, contemptuous, selfish bullies of men because patriarchy. I was certainly very taken with mean, horrible men when I was younger, and I see right through that type now and would never waste even five seconds on them. And it's true that I look back and see that there were some men in my social circle who were kind and decent who did get overlooked - just as there were people of all genders who were kind and decent who got overlooked through being quiet, milder, less self-assured, etc. This did sort out eventually, many of the bumptious people grew up and became better, people learned to be less impressed with big-talking men, etc etc. This isn't the same as "women only like awful men so women are just stupid and you should be awful in order to Get Sex", but it gets twisted by the incel demographic into that and that means that it's difficult to say in public.
posted by Frowner at 8:53 AM on November 10 [69 favorites]


I'm happy that there's a lot of empathy in this thread. Thanks Frowner, you put into words a lot of feelings I've had.
posted by midmarch snowman at 9:01 AM on November 10 [10 favorites]


To me, ignoring the Very Online in 2019 bits of the framing, ultimately it is a story of what can happen when we see no path to an end that we (think we) need. It really hit home for me today for reasons entirely unrelated to the nominal, easy-to-mock subject matter.

What would a happy ending have looked like here? I think it’s too facile to say that it would have looked like him becoming Actually Woke or something and being redeemed by a girlfriend. To me, a much more plausible happy ending would have been for him to figure out how to live permanently without the thing he needs. (And I actually don’t think The Discourse makes it very easy to figure this out, when that need is sex.) I mean, ultimately we are all faced with a version of this problem: do we die at peace with our ultimate powerlessness, or still at war?
posted by eirias at 9:11 AM on November 10 [7 favorites]


Romance can't save you, but loneliness kills. There can be a lot of pain in that paradox.
posted by argybarg at 9:19 AM on November 10 [21 favorites]


There’s a wonderful sleight of hand in the story that invites some of the conflicting readings people have mentioned in this thread—specifically, where Tulathimutte’s sympathies lie and what the story might be saying—and I think it’s worth examining how the story pulls off multiple readings.

Some people are using the terms narrator and protagonist interchangeably. I think the story supports a reading in which narrator and protagonist are separate points-of-view, both of which spring from Tulathimutte. In other words, there’s a clear separation between author, narrator, and character, best explained by Frederick Reiken's essay "The Author-Narrator-Character Merge" in A Kite in the Wind.

There’s great economy in the way the main character is dramatized as brittle, status-obsessed, self-righteous, and boastful all in the first paragraph. But the story complicates that reading by modulating the psychic distance between the character and the narrator, weaving the reader in and out of their points-of-view from one sentence to the next.

I do think the story loads the dice pretty clearly from the first two sentences: the character's opening boast is a half-truth. The narrator fact-checks it. Two points-of-view. The third, Tulathimutte's, I can only guess at. But to me, the story suggests that the main character's unwillingness to reckon with himself and be truthful with others is what makes him into a monster.
posted by reclusive_thousandaire at 9:50 AM on November 10 [14 favorites]


But to me, the story suggests that the main character's unwillingness to reckon with himself and be truthful with others is what makes him into a monster.

See here’s the thing: I agree with you, I think the first paragraph does exactly what you say, and I love the way you put it; but I also think if we distance ourselves from him by declaring him a monster, we become the monster, too.
posted by eirias at 10:04 AM on November 10 [5 favorites]


but I also think if we distance ourselves from him by declaring him a monster, we become the monster, too.

This is not coherent. Calling someone who becomes a mass murdering terrorist because of a hatred of women a monster is monstrous, but the actual mass murdering terrorist isn't? perhaps we're using the word differently.

do you think people can be monsters? If not, again, I wonder at how you use the word. To me it doesn't mean "inhuman"; it is actually something only a human can be. Because it involves a choice. You don't give up your humanity by doing monstrous things, or making a commitment to being a monster in the future, you confirm it, and that is what makes it horrifying.

In fact, the whole point of monsters is that they're human. The human monsters are the only monsters who have ever really existed on this earth. They are why we have the word. That's why they're terrifying. Because behind each one is a person who made a choice, and kept making that choice, over and over again.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:49 AM on November 10 [11 favorites]


Like, both when I was young and among the young people in my social circle, really horrible men sometimes have lots of relationships really easily.

I thought one thing that was good about this is the way the main character perceives some things that are true - the distance between the way people might say a good person should act, and the way many people actually, internally, expect you to act - but is unable to integrate them non-catastrophically.
posted by atoxyl at 10:56 AM on November 10 [16 favorites]


Another thing that is sticking out to me is the criticism that people "saw the ending coming" but I huggggely agree with Sequences amazing comment above - the real "ending" is when he holds the door for the attractive young woman at the restaurant, the same restaurant where he had initially tried to force himself through the entrance amidst a parade of mothers with strollers and accidentally got his toe crushed.

What kind of asshole would see a parade of strollers coming through a small vestibule and not even *consider* holding the door? Someone who is not thinking about anyone around him, and helping anyone with anything is only a form of sexual currency. To him, these are a bunch of moms, so who even gives a shit - helping them doesn't even cross his mind, and in fact these yuppie jerks are really the ones who are in HIS way. He hurts himself in doing so, in trying to force himself through a situation where he is not actually being respectful or mindful of the humanity and the space of other people around him, even in a tiny way. And then actually gets BERATED for hurting himself, and his victim complex becomes so inflamed that he commits an egregious and cowardly violent outburst in response. What a metaphor.

So the real ending to me was how later at the same restaurant, he gladly holds the door and smiles for the young
attractive woman trying to get through...has he changed? Nah, she just conforms to his physical standards of who he is truly willing to recognize as a worthy fellow human.
posted by windbox at 10:59 AM on November 10 [20 favorites]


Yeah, I think we’re using the word differently. To me “monster” is what we say when we mean “thing different from me, which I could never be.” Which — I mean, I think the man’s conviction in his own virtue here is part of what makes him vulnerable.
posted by eirias at 11:00 AM on November 10 [4 favorites]


I think what I find fundamentally unpleasant about this story is that it doesn't persuade me that it has any real insight into the psychology of the "protagonist." A couple people have used the phrase "straw man" and while I'm not sure that is quite right a lot of the writing reminded me of the formulaic internal states of characters in something like a Tom Clancy novel. I don't know if that is the writers intent, it certainly works to distance the character and leave huge spaces to project into, I suppose, but it doesn't work for me the way something like The Talented Mr. Ripley did. As for an "examplification" of Incels or what not, it does not seem believable that you would get from a to b without a serious personality disorder which is not the same as being swept up in a childish self affirming/loathing online support group. I suppose though that is what is at the heart of the question of how radicalization happens.

I guess the stories unpleasantness could be a measure of success but it doesn't feel like the kind of unpleasantness that something like Miss Lonelyhearts or Day of the Locust must have had in their day in that, for me, there is no peeling back of obscuration to reveal some kind of horrible truth.

On the other hand I suppose I could understand it as less about getting from a to b than just what form that getting to might take, given this particular time and place. The basic idea of deep alienation leading to violence seems plausible but than again it just isn't interesting enough for me on its own and in its own way strikes me as sort of jingoistic. Still it seems like this is the time for this story as it clearly resonates with a fair number of people.
posted by Pembquist at 11:38 AM on November 10 [6 favorites]


What kind of asshole would see a parade of strollers coming through a small vestibule and not even *consider* holding the door?
The moms are coming out, to go continue being happy procreators.

So the real ending to me was how later at the same restaurant, he gladly holds the door and smiles for the young attractive woman trying to get through
The lightly pied pre-mom is coming in so that he can remove her happy pre-procreator status.

I liked a lot about this. I do have an issue with his choice of murderbag. I needed something more tactical and dire-sounding than "backpack," which caused me to misread "mask" and consider the whole last scene ambiguous, whereas it's pretty obvious upon re-reading that it's an actual mask, and he's planning to commit ultraviolence.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:49 AM on November 10 [5 favorites]


This feels more like a documentary than a story. It seems like that's possible because incel narratives are nearly identical from one to the next. Maybe something to do with the totalizing, cult-like effect of online communities?

Disturbing, one, because I recognize some of my own thought patterns (from when I was younger, at least) in there, because of the conflict I feel between wanting to ridicule and wanting to help, and because this exact story will play out again and again in real life.
posted by klanawa at 11:50 AM on November 10 [4 favorites]


On reflection I think what I find perhaps most jarring about the story is its grim determination. It reads like a warning. "Look out for these people. They may look, talk & act like us, but watch out! Their superficial humanity cloaks a low & deceitful nature. They may even deceive themselves into thinking they're on our side! But we know they never change. We know they can never be fully human, like us."

So I guess while I had fun reading & I'm sure it was fun to write, I find the cruelty palpable & a bit on the nose.
posted by dmh at 12:30 PM on November 10 [4 favorites]


It's tremendously unsettling. All the more so because I'm not sure that I can explain why my life didn't take that path.

Like you and some other folks in this thread I definitely found myself horrified by how much I could identify with the protagonist, especially my younger self. And I found myself thinking, too, about "why didn't I end up like this?" I think part of it is that the narrative is a little bit too pat and smoothes over a few rough edges to keep it a nice condensed short story; and another part (really!) is that instead of stumbling into some reddit den of incels, my home on the internet was already Metafilter. But for me, at least, I think the biggest difference - and it's a detail about this story that rings really true, to me - is that this dude has no sense of humor. He demonstrates absolutely no ability to laugh at other people when they're ridiculous to each other, or ridiculous to him, and certainly no ability to laugh at himself when he's being ridiculous. Every point in the narrative where he actually laughs or jokes it's made explicitly clear that he's doing it consciously performatively. Even at the end, when other reddit posters he (presumably) agrees with are posting dumb memes in reponse to the long reddit post, it still doesn't register enough amusement with him to shak him out of his rage-filled reply-fugue.

YMMV of course. But I think that's the biggest difference I see between him and twenty-something me is that I didn't (always, at least) take myself so damn seriously. I have too keen a sense of the absurd, I think. Of course that same sense of the absurd has noted how ridiculous it is that these so-frequently deadly-serious incels have somehow ended up with the Joker, of all the possible characters, as their mascot.
posted by mstokes650 at 1:35 PM on November 10 [8 favorites]


Pembquist, I guess the issue is whether you think someone needs to have a serious personality disorder to commit horrific violence. I think history would say not. There are many perfectly nice-seeming, normal people who do fucking horrible things in the right context (see: basically all genocides). This character developed the right context. There are contexts where this didn't happen--therapy, more compassionate "friends" (it didn't really seem that any of his friends were friends--he didn't connect with them, and they didn't connect with him), different online forums, a combination of all three. This is a story about how a lack of self awareness combined with no efforts on anyone's part to address it leads to isolation and radicalization.
posted by schroedinger at 2:01 PM on November 10 [11 favorites]


Like you and some other folks in this thread I definitely found myself horrified by how much I could identify with the protagonist, especially my younger self. And I found myself thinking, too, about "why didn't I end up like this?"

In my case, and I am being completely serious here, it was comic books. What would Superman think of me if I was mean or nasty? While I was absorbing stories about the Bottle City of Kandor, I was also learning that I could choose to be good, even if I lived out of the Fortress of Solitude. There are so many ways I could have gone wrong, but Superman and Supergirl always steered me right.
posted by SPrintF at 2:19 PM on November 10 [15 favorites]


Don Pepino: I do have an issue with his choice of murderbag. I needed something more tactical and dire-sounding than "backpack," which caused me to misread "mask" and consider the whole last scene ambiguous, whereas it's pretty obvious upon re-reading that it's an actual mask, and he's planning to commit ultraviolence.

I had the same issue! At first I thought it was a social "mask", how he attempts to hide his loathing and envy.
posted by JauntyFedora at 2:29 PM on November 10 [6 favorites]


He sounds like a supreme gentleman. I feel like if this was a film, only the choice of soundtrack would decide whether it was a horror or incel propaganda. Maybe not even that.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 2:36 PM on November 10 [4 favorites]


It seems like that's possible because incel narratives are nearly identical from one to the next.

I think in reality - from what I've seen - the "incel" and "fake male feminist" categories are adjacent more than overlapping. The latter tends to be the guy who decides to neatly resolve this issue:

the distance between the way people might say a good person should act, and the way many people actually, internally, expect you to act

by teaching himself to say one thing and do another and not even feel weird about it. And he'll frequently have some social and sexual success within a group this way, before getting called/caught out. Whereas I don't think many of the real incel types are people who would have a "QPOC friend" they engage with?

But "what if you did everything right but it still went terribly wrong" and "what if someone/something looked just right but something was terribly wrong with it/them" are both standard horror premises, of which I think one could view this story as a relative.
posted by atoxyl at 3:08 PM on November 10 [10 favorites]


A fair point. But both groups believe that there's a set of masculine behaviours that deterministically unlock access to women. The one believes that women throw themselves at Chads, therefore one must be a Chad. The other believes that the performance of respect, kindness and wokeness will accomplish the same. But both of those positions reduce to a man's entitlement do women's bodies and denial of the full humanity and complexity of women.
posted by klanawa at 3:32 PM on November 10 [19 favorites]


I like the internalizing/externalizing distinction schadenfrau brought up. I think that's part of why I keep coming back to the part of the story about the woman he rejected: it shows you what the same soup of rejection and poisonous body image baggage looks like in someone who internalized their pain instead of externalizing it. In the case of the narrator, there's also the idea of hiding shame with a false self, which I think is related to externalizing (and which makes me think the "mask" at the end was an intentional double meaning). I think there's something that rings really true about the way the two of them respond to the same pain: she develops an eating disorder, doing real violence to her body, but talks about it openly, as well as broadcasting her psychological pain in other ways; he doesn't seem to have made any changes to himself at that point, but wears shoulder pads, literally presenting a phony self to the world so that nobody can see what he's ashamed of. (His online profile is dishonest, too -- most blatantly, in his claiming that he finds all body types attractive.)

And then there's that sort of Hardy-esque near miss, because of course the thing that attracts the woman with the eating disorder to the narrator is his momentary, accidental vulnerability. For her, seeing through his shoulder armor actually makes him more attractive, because she sympathizes and feels closer to him as a result. On the flip side, however, the narrator is disgusted, not by her body or her eating disorder, but at the way she talks about it. And that's probably because coming into contact with someone else's vulnerability reminds him too much of his own core shame, which being a (covert) narcissist he can't bear to think about for a second -- he has to call her crazy and a sociopath instead.

Then that leads to this false epiphany: After this incident, he develops thoughts of self-harm, which are curbed by his awareness that rejection, loneliness, and sexual frustration are nothing compared with institutional and historical oppression. He knows sadness is a symptom of his entitlement. Ironically, I think this statement is really also a species of self-harm, as well as a rationalization. Not only does the narrator feel rejected and lonely and frustrated, but now he's berating himself because he shouldn't feel those things, which is of course counterproductive. Moreover, by displacing his attention onto these big global issues instead of his own private shame, he conveniently prevents himself from doing the thing he's really the most afraid of: confronting the fear that he is inadequate and will always be alone. Which is too bad, because had he brought that fear to therapy, the rest of the story could have gone differently.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:57 PM on November 10 [18 favorites]


Thank you for linking to this story. I've thought about it a lot over the last two days, and about the comments here.

I appreciated the way that this story updates, with contemporary technological and political-cultural reference points, the old tradition of bourgeois tragedy. When you read Madame Bovary, you can judge and criticize its characters, and you can also use it to diagnose the world in which they could be so miserable and cruel to each other. In contrast to older classical and Renaissance tragedy, you can also recognize its world as your own: this isn't about kings or gods, it's about some people who are desperately unhappy and who are like the people in your town. This story worked like that, in a very close to home way.
posted by sy at 6:26 AM on November 11 [7 favorites]


> What makes him a monster is that he externalizes his pain. He is lonely, and he has problems, and he has pain, but what differentiates him is that he believes that is only ever other people’s fault and thus other people will fix it... bc you never had a chance to develop normal self-regulation skills

> People who insist their unhappiness is because of the failings of others aren’t willing to do that.

> This is a story about a character who never, ever examines his own behavior, because he believes that it's already perfect, when it very much isn't.

huh, this is pretty much how yuval noah harari describes authoritarian regimes here. society of mind indeed.
posted by kliuless at 6:56 AM on November 11 [1 favorite]


"Feeling rejected" is not a substitute for a personality.

Weaponizing your loneliness only leads to further self-isolation.

Guys like the one in this story exist in a hellscape of their own design, and it's hard to feel bad for them when they just keep stepping on the same ideological rakes and smacking themselves in the face over and over again.
posted by tantrumthecat at 9:57 AM on November 11 [1 favorite]


I read this piece differently from some of the other MeFites here. The piece is titled The Feminist, and I think that's what it's about. A "feminist." I think this is the thesis statement:

Still, the school ingrained in him, if not feminist values per se, the value of feminist values.

This is a piece about a man being a "feminist" and an "ally," which is to say, it's about the incessant and exhausting self-justification of someone who isn't a feminist and isn't an ally but wants to believe he's both.

The reason this makes for such a good scary story to tell in the dark is that anyone who has tried to be an ally has sometimes failed and been an "ally;" you've walked this path before. Eventually, you realize the error of your ways and step off the path, or you give up entirely and stop being an ally even in name. But this piece depicts a man who walks the path of fake feminism all the way to its end. It is not inevitable that he does this—at any moment on any day, he could step off the path—but where the path leads is predetermined.

I think it is a mistake to read this piece as being about incels. The incel angle is timely and makes the story scarier and more skin-crawling for its intended audience, but I don't think the author is trying to write a just-so story about where incels come from. He's writing a story about fake feminism taken to its logical conclusion.
posted by Ptrin at 11:10 AM on November 11 [11 favorites]


The reason this makes for such a good scary story to tell in the dark is that anyone who has tried to be an ally has sometimes failed and been an "ally;" you've walked this path before [...] He's writing a story about fake feminism taken to its logical conclusion.

This was my take as well. It's disturbingly easy to say all the "right things" as an ally without actually believing them on a core level. And while I do think it's better to say the right things without believing them than to just say sexist/racist/etc things, intentions DO end up mattering. This was an uncomfortable read on many levels, but at least one of those levels is the fact that I do think many of us do perform allyship at least some of the time to be seen as a good person, and to have that virtue rewarded, whether it's with sex, friendship, or just high regard.

I feel like this story takes that human failing and makes it horrific, as any good horror story does. Yes, it's a bit rote, but that's because it's a morality tale. Could it have benefited from some more nuance, from a better understanding of the protagonist and his friends? Sure. But I think that flows from the fact that the protagonist doesn't understand himself or his friends. Even though he isn't technically the narrator, he's the person through whose eyes we see all the action.

I also thought the "QPOC friend"'s confrontation read a bit stiffly - but I think that's the point. I don't know if we're meant to believe that's how it was actually delivered, or if it's how the protagonist experienced it. I tend to think it's the latter. As others have pointed out, the protagonist seems to lack empathy, derived from the fact that he sees people in terms of the utility they can offer him. Because he lacks empathy and compassion himself, he can't see it in others.

We've all known that person where, if you say to them "hey, that thing you keep saying isn't cool, maybe it would help if you reframed it in your mind, but either way, I don't have the bandwidth to keep doing this emotional labor for you" and hear it as "you're a terrible garbage person and I hate you." Sometimes that's caused by narcissism, sometimes it's driven by depression or anxiety, but either way, they just don't have the ability to hear feedback as anything but a personal attack.
posted by the sockening at 6:33 PM on November 11 [7 favorites]


Enh, this story is so mean spirited, was it written by a man? It seems like it was written by a man seeking to "pwn" the "cucks." who is the audience for this?

It s a horror story for women and men of privilege, I think. Most of us are just tired of this stuff.

"The Joker" is the rich man's idea of a poor man s struggle, this story is a man s idea of a...woman s fear of rapists? Or Something.

If you're dwelling on this mindset, it will begin to take you. Staring into the void, for the Lulz, all that.

I m going to leave a link to the Contrapoints Incels video, which is much more loving, more comprehensive, while being more real in terms of "online culture" than a magazine article. Skip to 22:32, the conclusion is at 28 min "soon I realized it wasn t just research".

Feel free to link bell hooks "will to change" for those of us that read books.
posted by eustatic at 7:16 PM on November 11 [3 favorites]


I used to be close to a man who was pretty much this guy. He was ridiculously charming (and broad shouldered) but when we were besties he was super hung up on his ex girlfriend and couldn't understand why none of his efforts to get her back were working. I was the beleaguered QPOC friend - most of the time the conversations went fine, typical Woke Social Justice stuff, but when it came to his relationship hangups, it was pretty much word for word this story. He has the self-awareness of a teaspoon.

Then one day, out of the blue, he claimed that me dealing with racism & sexism (esp when it came from his other friends) was "too much drama" for him. This then led to a major spiral where he was revealed to be a predator, then proceeded to gaslight me and attempt to manipulate me for months as I tried to get him to hold himself accountable. It was one of the worst breakups of my life.

I cut off all contact with him almost two years ago, but I'm constantly, CONSTANTLY terrified that I'm going to read some kind of news article where he's commited some heinous crime and blames people like me for not supporting him when he was a "woke white boy". Just like the ending. He's moved back to my area recently and while I somehow haven't managed to run into him, I'm terrified that I will, and that I'll either be sucked into his charming bullshit again or that he will seriously harm me because now I've "wronged" him. Just like all the other people - mostly women - who've "wronged" him because they too tired to hold him accountable.

This story was very, very real. Every last bit.
posted by divabat at 2:49 AM on November 12 [16 favorites]


Thanks Frowner, your comment is invaluable.
I actually maybe think the story is rather good, or at least very effective, because it really scared me. I immediately wanted to pick apart where it might be unrealistic to try and quell my fear, but yeah, despite some possible flaws or stylistic choices, there's many who are able to attest to their real experiences with men who behave exactly like him, whatever their interior thoughts are.

As my fellow 23-year old in the story says, and even he's fairly scummy, it's a "fucked up cursed mirror" of sorts. Some bits feel they could have been lifted directly from my nightmares. I hope I talk more about how I am in practice a misogynist than I do about how I aspire to be a feminist, but the more I try and take various steps towards that goal, the more cognisant I am of the risk of becoming complacent. Of thinking that the fact that I have friends is a validation of sorts, of forming deeper relationships that might be extractive on my part. The ball is always in the air. I almost feel I have to treat any validation as a bad thing, because, well, people call it cookies.

On the flipside, it's easy to take the absence of certain forms of validation as a personal condemnation, even if I have no need for them. You don't even have to yearn for a relationship to feel like a failure for not having one, I'm realising.

Of course I don't consciously behave as absolutely abysmally as the narrator does, actively seek out excuses for my behaviour from my friends, treat them as disposable, ignore their criticism, blame them for their every misfortune, etc, or at least I hope so, but it's always the fear, that I'm deluded, that I'm actively harmful to both those closest to me and the causes I believe in or at very least exhausting and burdensome to deal with. The vote would be in various caucuses, not in my face at a pool, but it could happen and it's a consequence that needs to exist and actually be used on occasion.

After all, it seems there is reams of evidence of men behaving very badly indeed and seemingly being completely unaware of it, indeed thinking themselves paragons of virtue. It sometimes seems better to assume I am actually a lot like this man, that I am completely unaware of the mockery I make of what I claim to believe in and practice, because pride comes before the fall and all that.

I really hope I'm not on a path to being like this man, but it certainly scared me greatly because of the framing, that he had taken some steps towards being a better person in some ways but he was essentially a fraud, definitely actually hooked me, no matter what I said at first. It hits a lot of my anxieties right on the head.
posted by Acid Communist at 9:40 AM on November 12 [2 favorites]


Acid Communist, only the stuff the guy does toward the end of the story is even worth remarking on. The story is so creepy precisely because all the stuff that leads up to the end stuff is stuff we recognize in ourselves. If you have some of this guy's thoughts but you can avoid fomenting terrorism on the internet, kicking an occupied stroller, or blowing up/shooting up a restaurant, then you can count yourself an effectively socialized human person living reasonably well in the current world. If there's something you don't have that you want and you start to resent other people because of it, just stay vigilant and question it. Definitely check yourself if resentment starts to tip over into some observable behavior that might affect another person beyond just irritating them slightly. (Aziz Ansari-style, say. Definitely stop before you get there.) Beyond that, don't worry too much. Being a pain in the ass at parties and occasionally annoying people is not actionable. It's not ruining lives. It's just the patriarchy. You're soaking in it. We all are.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:10 AM on November 12 [5 favorites]


but it's always the fear, that I'm deluded, that I'm actively harmful to both those closest to me and the causes I believe in or at very least exhausting and burdensome to deal with

You know, therapy really helped me with a lot of this stuff, and if these thoughts are recurring anxieties that torment you, therapy might help you too. For me, it was mostly worries about being racist or able-ist, not gender, but I think the basic pattern is the same.

Therapy really helped me resolve a lot of the underlying insecurities that gave force to my fears. This gave me enough headspace to be able to put things in perspective - did I really do something wrong or am I just being weirdly anxious about a normal interaction? Did I do something seriously wrong or is it sufficient to just Not Do That In Future? What steps should I take in re apologies or amends if I did do or say something wrong? I no longer feel that I basically only deserve to exist if I get everything right every time, so I can confront my mistakes, both large and small, without feeling like I'm going to shatter.

Deepening friendships has also helped me, because one of my anxiety triggers is how bullshit activist scenes can be. Having a couple of deeper friendships helps me stay focused on things that are actually literally happening instead of being drawn into my own anxieties about rejection or being misunderstood. For me, weekly hang-outs that are actually on the schedule are what deepened these friendships - really taking time intentionally and prioritizing it. In the past, I had many surface friendships through different projects but fewer long-term committed friendships.

I think that if you're a clinically anxious person (and TBH what you're describing does sound like it rises to that threshhold) it can be difficult to balance recognizing your own privilege and flaws with managing your anxiety. It's easy to feel that if you aren't constantly anxious about your own behavior, you're not being self-critical enough, but then when you are trying to be really self-aware it can spiral out of control.

Also, a lot of activist truisms about how to be are not especially helpful if you are clinically anxious - many of them are very individualistic and seem to apply best to people who already have really strong senses of self, strong boundaries and strong relationships. "if it's not about you don't make it about you", for instance - like, how do I know it's not about me? What if I'm actually terrible but just don't realize it? And the whole subtext of "if you're a good person, you obviously won't be worried about how you act because you'll be acting right, and also you'll be self-actualized and won't worry over nothing, so probably if you're worried it's because you're terrible". Those things are broadly true - if you're not a mass of anxiety all the time!

I add that being a truly good person in small things and large is difficult because of the nature of our society, and very often pop culture/pop activist culture frames it as "but of course being a good person is simple and straightforward and if you were a good person you'd realize this".
posted by Frowner at 10:30 AM on November 12 [17 favorites]


This was a stunningly good story, and I think that the ways in which it was stunningly good are reflected by how many disagreements we're having over what it was even about. Either because the thing it's saying is so delicate as to be easily misinterpretable, or because its contents are so robust that five people can walk away with five different impressions of this piece and each be some degree of right.

Here's my take, which I'll freely admit is solely my own and one that you can and should disagree with howevermuch you'd like:

This piece is not about incels. And it's not about "fake" feminists. A friend just sent me this piece because we have a mutual friend, a guy, who is sincerely very lovely (and not as sadsack as this guy) but who seriously struggles with his ideals. It is extremely possible, I think, to understand feminism on a semi-deep level while simultaneously using it to further, rather than dismantle, your own repressedness. I'm not saying this guy doesn't have a lot of gross tendencies—BOY DOES HE—but concurrently there is a consistent and violent repression. Any good engagement with a system of ideas has to get a little gross and bloody: you have to delve into the contradictions, the ways in which your feelings and needs conflict with this greater ideal, and come to an understanding of the ways in which these things can be true and allow you a more honest understanding and expression of yourself. But it's possible to allow an ideology to let you grow scared of yourself, to try and wall off parts of you, to tell yourself that there's a path to fulfillment that avoids contending with the most difficult parts of who you are, and then you curdle and foul and the deeper you go, the harder you find it to ever get back out.

As a cishet male with fairly heteronormative tastes where dating and women are concerned, I struggled with this a lot. It can suck to be a would-be young feminist. Natalie "Contrapoints" Wynn talks about this on her Chapo Trap House appearance: when you're male or male-presenting and attracted to women, your choices are either a blatantly toxic representation of masculinity or a system of thinking that spends far more time critiquing men than providing positive examples of them. And oftentimes, the positive examples are of specific kinds of men, or depict certain aspects of being a man but not others. There's a serious void there, and one that's a struggle even if you manage to climb your way out of it.

One of the things that really resonated with me, honestly, was the lens through which the "QPOC friend" is cruel to Our Narrator. Because it's not a baseless cruelty, and it's not that anything they say is wrong, and it's not that they owe this man anything, and on one level it's entirely in their rights to act and do and say exactly what they do. And on another level, there's a tremendous amount of pain there, and the things the friend says are entirely devoid of compassion. They reinforce, and even encourage, his self-repression. The thing the man is saying, in a sense, is: "I think there's something wrong with me." And the message he receives is: "Yes, there is, and you ought to be ashamed of it." That's one that I received a lot, especially in my late teens, and it fucked me up. I knew there was something wrong with me. But knowing that didn't help me deal with it. And the people who set me straight weren't necessarily the ones who poured emotional labor into me, they were the people who went, "Listen, it's okay to be yourself. Just work on being yourself in the least sucky ways possible." The first half of that made the second half a whole lot less miserable and painful.

That's not denying the reading that many people are making here, which is that his feminism is performative and he does treat women/non-men in gross, oblivious ways. And obviously (IMO) the brilliance of this story is how much of it lies in what's not said and not confronted. But I think that I see, in some of the commentary here, precisely the kind of unseeing take that makes "becoming non-shit" such a slippery, treacherous process. And I don't mean that in a judgmental way—I find it really compelling and intriguing in its own right, because I don't think the takes are exactly wrong. Just that they all belong to the same system that gives rise to this monster, this pained, miserable piece of shit.

I'm thinking about my friend as I write this, and about how much he struggles. A lot of his problems, honestly, come down to his fear that the things he wants—Straight Boy Things, you know how it is—are fundamentally toxic and evil and bad. So he works hard not to express his attractions, he works hard not to express his opinions if he thinks they might upset somebody else, he hedges every expression of emotion with about fifteen subclauses to make sure he's assuaged every possible offense or upset that he might make, and he feels (what he thinks is) properly guilty about the fact that he wishes he did get praised for being decent, or that good men did occasionally get a little thanks, or that his dating life wasn't so wretchedly hard. And I'm in a place where... I dunno, I tell attractive women they're attractive in ways that lead to kisses, and I talk about feminism being tricky without too much fear, and generally being a cishet man feels a lot less difficult than it felt five years ago. I'll even say that it felt really hard and not feel the need to inject that of course I, the CHWM, am playing life on easy mode—and if somebody gets annoyed at me talking about my hardships, I say "Of course! You're totally right" and don't dwell on it too hard. But I see myself in him, just as I saw myself in the guy in this story. And I'm just totally moved and swept up in how real this felt, and in how much I wish I could say that I reject this guy, and in how, honestly, I came away loving him a little. In that good old Christian "love the sinner, despise the sin" kind of way, mind. But still. I want to give him a hug and take him out for brewskis and maybe let him practice admitting that he finds cute people cute a little.

Maybe that's the thing that's missing here: a network of positive masculinity, a series of men who aren't hostile or competitive towards him but also help him find a better way. Or a series of confused, hurt men who, rather than feed into each other's outrage, resolve to work together towards this better thing. Our Narrator spends an awful lot of time talking to non-men about his problems, but only experiences other men as judging him in gross, sexist ways or as actively physically threatening him. And that's an experience for a lot of guys! The ones who walk that narrow line are rarer, but they're utterly necessary. And I know I have my own circle of muddled men who've gradually moved up towards the light, and I know that we'd be nothing without each other.

So, I dunno, I think my takeaway here is that I get why most of the people who read this came away despising this guy. And I don't want to defend him. I don't think he needs defending. I don't think he's defensible. But I, personally, come away feeling really compassionate towards him, because my mixture of sufferings and privileges mean I get to feel that way. And I find myself feeling like, as much as anyone, it's the men in society who've fucked up, because it shouldn't be the "QPOC friend" who this sad miserable guy goes to. The QPOC friends have their own shit going on. What we need are more men who give a shit about other men. Men who can teach each other to be good. Men who can help each other stop from hurting. A positive ideology, feminist but rooted in the male experience, that understands and empathizes with the unique, peculiar trickiness of being this particular kind of male. An alternative to the Jordan Petersons of the world, preaching to the same crowd but with a healthier, better message. The people I wish I'd been able to go to when I was 18, and found only Roissy and Tucker Max. Because men are suffering, and men do deserve a hand. But that hand has to—has to—come from other men.

Fucking great piece. Goddamn.
posted by rorgy at 10:42 AM on November 12 [27 favorites]


What we need are more men who give a shit about other men. Men who can teach each other to be good. Men who can help each other stop from hurting. A positive ideology, feminist but rooted in the male experience, that understands and empathizes with the unique, peculiar trickiness of being this particular kind of male.

So, like, Robert Bly with less Essentialism and minus the Freud? We definitely do need an Anti-Peterson.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:08 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


rorgy, I think you'll like Mark Greene's stuff:

http://remakingmanhood.com/

He has a book and he also tweets as @RemakingManhood
posted by kandinski at 3:57 AM on November 13 [1 favorite]


Compassion for a guy whom we’re pretty sure is about to become a mass murderer is… not what I came away with.

Maybe if we didn’t live in a world where a guy like this can easily get heavy firepower at a gun show just over the state line.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:56 AM on November 13 [3 favorites]


schadenfrau: He’s not alone because he’s a bad person, he’s alone because he has no actual sense of self. There’s nothing to attach to. Can you imagine having fun with him? A moment of even a little joy?

Coming to this thread a bit late, but yeah, this is the fundamental thing about the story. He's constructed his whole identity and sense of self around dating and his lack of experience thereof. I think that's why the character feels shallow and straw-man-ish to some people, but doesn't to me. He doesn't seem like he has an internal life or passions or interest outside of women and dating because he doesn't. It consumes him thoroughly in a way that I found very realistic. His hobby obviously isn't reading Judith Butler or whoever, because he only reads feminist writing because he thinks it will get him dates. (As though dates are a thing that one can "get"! I think this is a common and real mentality! It's much like people who talk about "getting" sex rather than having sex with someone, a two-person activity.)

I think the advice I'd give to the 16-year-old, or the 26-year-old, or hell, even the 36-year-old who is entertaining thoughts of mass violence, is: find stuff that makes you happy. Not the stuff that you think will "get" you a relationship which in turn would theoretically make you happy or the stuff that you think is supposed to make you happy in order to be the kind of person who Women like. (The character definitely sees women as a monolith, even the ones he's "friends" with, in a way that also felt very realistic to me). Find the stuff that makes you grin like a goofball or makes you tear up or makes you feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, even if you think it is "dumb" or "not sexy". And I do agree that if you realize that nothing in the world makes you happy, that's where doing the actual work in therapy comes in.

I say "doing the actual work" because I am 100% confident that it is possible to spend your whole life using therapy to convince yourself that your thought patterns are not the problem, no, it's your circumstances or it's your looks or it's other people. Or no: my thought patterns are me, you're telling me I'm the problem and it's not okay to be who I am, haha, what hypocrisy I have spotted! It has to be a process of internalizing first (yes, my thought patterns are the problem) and then externalizing (but actually, my diseased thought patterns aren't me).
posted by capricorn at 9:06 AM on November 13 [6 favorites]


He doesn't think women are people. He thinks women are aliens who are withholding access to a resource he believes he has earned for doing The Woke Stuff. He keeps looking for the keys to the puzzle box.

He's read feminist authors, and he's grabbed a whole bunch of phrases about how CHWM are privileged, and has turned that into self-loathing, and he has no friends because everyone around him can see that his core personality trait is "I am lonely because I am evil." Once they figure out that this is not, "I want help becoming less lonely," they drop away from him. He doesn't want to become less lonely; he wants non-loneliness handed to him like a trophy he's won for reading feminist books.

He thinks companionship is something you receive, not something you create. Something that happens to people (and by people, he means "men"; he knows women talk about being lonely, but he certainly never notices the ones who stay that way), not something that requires active participation.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:29 AM on November 13 [9 favorites]


Agreed, ErisLordFreedom. You know, something that makes me really sad when I'm reading advice columns or similar corners of the internet is when there's a question from a guy that boils down to "How do I get women to be attracted to me?" and when people follow up with questions about what kind of relationships he's looking for he will say "I'd be happy with any woman being interested in me." (Although I like that the story called out the unspoken "oh but not if she's fat lol" that always goes along with it, but I digress.) It's like, what do you think a relationship is? It's not an object you attain all at once! It's a companionship between two people. What kind of values do you want to share? What kind of (non-sex) activities do you want to do together? What future do you want?
posted by capricorn at 9:36 AM on November 13 [1 favorite]


If I knew this guy I'd get him on a solid deltoid/traps routine at least one day a week
posted by Greg Nog at 11:04 AM on November 13 [4 favorites]


The ending, for me, felt tacked-on and narratively inevitable. Its tacked on nature seems designed to ensure that we can't have compassion for the character that we get to know over the first two-thirds of the story, because why the hell should we feel any compassion for a murderer. So no, I don't have any compassion for the character.

But the description of the character of the first two-thirds of the story reminds me so much of men I've known, especially in lefty circles, who've taken the wrong messages from feminism--have decided that what's required of them is to wall off the parts of themselves that feel masculine in the hope that they'll be accepted as "not bad," or "one of the good ones." It's a specific and gendered form of codependency and the desperate need to get external validation without ever directly asking for it (definitely a toxic offshoot of guess culture). It doesn't serve these men, and it doesn't serve those around them. It is these men--who have not been and are unlikely to become violent--for whom I feel compassion.

And I think rorgy absolutely hits the nail on the head by locating the societal failure in other men, and in the lack of positive visions of masculinities. (And it doesn't help many men simply to call for "deconstructing" traditional masculinity and not replacing it with anything, or to ask why can't men just be satisfied with "personhood"). I never would have left the terrible, lonely place I inhabited without coming upon a group of men who met together for the purpose of making a space where it was safe for men to get vulnerable in front of other men, and to talk about masculinity in general and about the pain and the contradictions and the ridiculousness of dating in particular. The closest thing I've seen online is the subreddit menslib, which I highly recommend for anyone interested in this stuff.
posted by mabelstreet at 11:16 AM on November 13 [3 favorites]




Interesting. I hadn't read Cat Person before. In her interview with the New Yorker, Roupenian wrote of the man in Cat Person,
Well, at the end of the story, Robert calls Margot a “whore,” so I hope that most people lose sympathy for him then. But, for most of the story, I wanted to leave a lot of space for people to sympathize with Robert, or at least, like Margot, to be able to imagine a version of him—clueless, but well-meaning—that they can sympathize with.
Which feels quite similar to how The Feminist felt to me--a story with an ending designed to remove ambiguity and sympathy.
posted by mabelstreet at 3:56 PM on November 15 [1 favorite]


I really like rorgy's comment. I agree, the story is about not dealing with your shadow side. Fundamentally, the main character just isn't honest with himself about his desires and feelings - he can't be. He's trapped in an ideology.

I can really relate to his frustrations with society's hypocrisy, the way people say one thing and do another. What I can't relate to is his failure to really look at himself and what he wants and how to get it, and that's ultimately his downfall.

There are a couple really good essays on this topic on Slate Star Codex:

https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/01/01/untitled/


https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/08/31/radicalizing-the-romanceless/


I think a lot of men are in a situation where they have trouble dating, and the lack of compassion and understanding is really sad to me. Everyone deserves love.

There are a couple parts to the story that this thread hasn't discussed much, but that stand out to me, and I'm curious on people's takes.

One is the scene where his friend goes home with a guy and he jacks off on her leg, and she laughs about it later. This incident is well-constructed as an example of something that a lot of feminist discourse and ideology would see as on the spectrum of sexual assault and an example of rape culture, but in the real world, it's something that people laugh about and it isn't a big deal, especially when the "victim" wasn't really bothered by it. It's an example of society's hypocrisy.

And what interesting is that the guy seems to have some genuine concern and compassion for her. I know cynics will just see this as him exploiting the situation to try to get laid by trying to be a feminist ally, but I think there's more to it than that. And he's troubled by the conflict, because he wants to make moves on girls, and his ideology won't let him realize that and look at how to do it in the real world.

The other part that really stood out was the progression of his illness, which is symbolic of his inner conflict as far as how he treats it. It's obviously a pretty serious health problem deep inside, related to his sexuality, but he only addresses the symptoms of it and he's only concerned with the superficial parts of it (how far he can shoot) and spends months taking supplements to address that, rather than actually have specialists look at the underlying problem, until it's too late. And the exact same thing is true about his mental health - rather than trying to look deeply at what's wrong, he's focused on the superficial.

The lack of sensation that he experiences when he does have sex, perhaps due to his death grip from masturbating, is also interesting though I'm not sure what to make of it. Any thoughts?

There are also a couple quotes of his thought processes that I'd really like some analysis of:

Maintaining friendships costs his female and agender friends nothing, but it costs him a daily toll of endless triggering, which they’ve never once acknowledged. They liked having him around to benefit from his insight and generosity, but the moment he had genuine feelings for them as equals, it’s like his attraction was some morsel of filth he’d tried to trick them into swallowing.

It does seem like his "friends" don't really care about or acknowledge his pain or their triggering - on the other hand, he also probably triggers them in many ways, so he's blind to the costs he imposes on them.

women in aggregate are just—wrong. That either they have failed feminism, or feminism has failed them. Yes, it’s complicated, and no, no woman in particular is to blame, but it’s irrefutable that in general, a preponderance of women harbor the very double standards feminism sought to eliminate and a narcissistic victim complex by which they tolerate and even solicit aggro misogyny in romantic partners, while relying on men of conscience to handle the emotional scut work.

It's hard to find fault with this - it is true that everyone harbors internalized misogyny, and there is a dilemma where the qualities that make for a good feminist ally are opposed to the qualities that attract romantic partners. The links to Slate Star Codex discuss this.

I'd really like to know people's thoughts.
posted by aurochs at 5:21 PM on November 16


The lack of sensation that he experiences when he does have sex, perhaps due to his death grip from masturbating, is also interesting though I'm not sure what to make of it. Any thoughts?

Almost certainly not from masturbating. He's built up "sex" in his mind as this tremendous, ultimate fulfillment of I Am Doing Relationships Right, and in reality... even terrific sex can have awkward moments, and what he had was not terrific sex.

He didn't want sex; he wanted Success With Women, and he thought that was a one-time achievement that would bless his entire life with happiness and contentment.

It does seem like his "friends" don't really care about or acknowledge his pain or their triggering

It is also quite possible that they don't consider him a friend, but someone they put up with because it's more hassle to make him go away than to have him around sometimes. He's entirely oblivious to anyone else's motives or feelings, so we know nothing at all about the lives or beliefs of his "friends."

there is a dilemma where the qualities that make for a good feminist ally are opposed to the qualities that attract romantic partners.

This is bullshit. There is a dilemma that being any kind of outspoken, busy activist reduces time, energy, and focus on being a one-on-one partner. This is true in many fields of activism - being focused on "make the world better" often means you fail to focus on "make conditions better for the two of us."

However, there is no conflict between "caring deeply about improving conditions for women in general" and "caring deeply about a connection with one particular woman." The conflict comes from time and resource allocation, not whether one is a good ally.

There are plenty of people who think that rattling off feminist creeds and painstakingly learning a set of behaviors that mostly avoid triggering the people around them, makes them a good ally, and should make women want to fall into bed with them.

They wind up sounding like, "I have done many things to make the world better for women - I hired a woman instead of a man last month - I am totally not a creep - why aren't you grateful?"
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:49 PM on November 19 [5 favorites]


For a man, according to many feminist communities, being a good ally is about listening and putting your own needs and feelings aside. Not making it about you.

This is toxic in the context of a relationship and makes it difficult to start one. Starting one generally requires taking risks, having confidence, asserting yourself, and having your own boundaries. Making it about you.

That's the conflict I'm referring to.

I think the "jacking off on the leg" scene illustrates this perfectly.
posted by aurochs at 1:47 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]


but in the real world, it's something that people laugh about and it isn't a big deal, especially when the "victim" wasn't really bothered by it. It's an example of society's hypocrisy.

No. In the real world, people’s responses to being sexually violated vary greatly, including but not limited to not being able to face it or process immediately after it’s happened, because trauma is fucking complex, and because you have to feel safe to acknowledge it. Does the narrator seem like someone women feel safe with?

What disturbs me most about this take is the underlying assumption that women don’t have complex inner lives of their own. That they don’t react to things with their own baggage and their own neuroses and weaknesses. That if they don’t perform, for you, the way you think a victim should perform, they are an example of hypocrisy.

Fuck that rapey bullshit all the way to the fucking moon.
posted by schadenfrau at 2:06 PM on November 20 [7 favorites]


but in the real world, it's something that people laugh about and it isn't a big deal, especially when the "victim" wasn't really bothered by it. It's an example of society's hypocrisy.

I look back on my twenties and I didn't say anything about a lot of stuff that really bothered me. In fact, I generally thought that it "didn't" bother me because I had learned to ignore feeling angry or disgusted or used, because feeling that way was a sign that I was not a cool girl. Do you think that any woman/AFAB person feels good about having a guy jerk off on her leg after she has said she's not comfortable with sex? It's not an adorable peccadillo; it's creepy and gross and violating and intended to humiliate. At best, I know people who are very hard-bitten for whom it would be a "what are you gonna do" anecdote rather than a big trauma. I have never met anybody who would be all "oh, this guy jerked off on my leg when I didn't want to have sex, that's so funny, we're going for drinks on Friday, he's a great guy".

I think that if anything folks are kind of underestimating the amount of crummy behavior that young women especially experience in dating - if people do write off creepy gross behavior, it's because they've seen a lot worse.
posted by Frowner at 2:14 PM on November 20 [8 favorites]


There is a lot of pressure to dismiss one's own feelings in that situation and, like Frowner said, be the "cool girl" and play it off as something that was just so funny and whatever and it's no big deal, no big deal at all! Because the alternative is "I feel dirty and gross and so stupid because it's my fault for putting myself in this position, and I was asking for it and weak for not saying something when it happened."
posted by schroedinger at 2:36 PM on November 20 [7 favorites]


For a man, according to many feminist communities, being a good ally is about listening and putting your own needs and feelings aside. Not making it about you.

This is toxic in the context of a relationship and makes it difficult to start one. Starting one generally requires taking risks, having confidence, asserting yourself, and having your own boundaries. Making it about you.


Starting a relationship with another person may involve risks, confidence, and boundary-setting, but if it's "about you," then it's not a relationship; it's a business deal. Being an ally is having a relationship with a community.

The only reason there appears to be a conflict is that, in a personal relationship, the "what I get out of it" part is fairly clear; in allyship, the personal rewards are more abstract and removed: what you get you get out of being an ally is a better community, a healthier, more diverse, more supportive world around you.

Our creepy protagonist has never figured out that "be an ally" is not a punishment he's supposed to bear for the crime of having been born playing on easy mode. It has never once occurred to him that feminism is supposed to make life better for him, nor has he noticed how it has.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:28 AM on November 21 [3 favorites]


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