Showing posts with label adolescence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label adolescence. Show all posts

Friday, February 28, 2014

"Barren" vs. "Child-Free"

Several of my colleagues are dealing with the travails of parenting adolescent children, and whenever I overhear them complaining, I can't help but think, "There but for the Grace of God..."  For some of them, the workplace is a refuge from the incessant demands of the ungrateful, surly rebels in their care.  How fortunate I feel to go home and have only to tend to loving pets and a kind, supportive human companion.

Yet the New Misogynists darkly warn young women to avoid the fate of spinsters like me, who wind up alone and unloved.  Having failed to fulfill our biological destiny, we are almost worse than useless.  I have even recently been described, without irony, as "barren", one of those portentous biblical terms (like "fornicate") the manosphereans like to fling about in a futile attempt at gravitas.  It never fails to amuse me. 

Like most women of my generation, I vaguely assumed that some day I would have a biological family -- when I was good and ready, that is.  Unfortunately, by the time I was psychologically and financially prepared to take such a momentous leap of faith, I had developed a medical condition that prevented conception.  That was sad.  It took me several years to make peace with the loss of that dream.  Yet however wistfully I have viewed my childless state, I have never regretted not becoming a mother in my twenties: That would have been an unmitigated disaster for everyone involved!  Nor have I ever thought human evolution has suffered from my failure to reproduce, since it has always been evident to me that what the world needs is greater investment in fewer people.

Not having one's own biological children is just that: the loss of a dream.  Because it strikes me that the longing to become a parent is based on a kind of fantasy.  In my dream, of course, my children would be healthy, attractive, intelligent, and moral.  They would be perfected versions of myself.  In my dream, I would be an exemplary mother: nurturing, stimulating, endlessly patient.  Of course, with the hindsight of age, I can see that I would probably have been a well-meaning but highly imperfect parent.  There is no guarantee that any child I might have had would have turned out to be either happy or successful.  Furthermore, there is no guarantee that we would even have liked each other.  Few of us are always grateful to our parents for conceiving us, the "gift of life" being the very mixed bag that it is.  In fact, parents are fortunate if their children finally come to understand and appreciate the efforts that they made on their behalf.*

One colleague worries that her teenager is a "narcissist" who is "full of rage". We hasten to assure her that these unpleasant traits are part and parcel of normal adolescent development, and that he is bound to "grow out of it".  Then, of course, I wonder, "But what if he doesn't?"

What if I had had a son who had turned out like Roosh, or Matt Forney, or any of the men who admire them?  I have no reason to believe that their parents were any worse or better than most.  While it is clear to me that these young men have been failed in some terrible ways, I do not assume the failure is their parents', or at least not exclusively their parents'.

Although these men are now adults, I imagine their families must be deeply disappointed and aggrieved to see their only sons, who started out in life so bright, shiny and full of promise, take such wrong turns.   

I have given suck, and know
How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.
--Lady Macbeth

*  Does the curious fact that the following poem by Philip Larkin was one of my mother's favorites hold some kind of key here?

They fuck you up, your mum and dad,
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were sloppy stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have have any kids yourself. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Giving Matt Forney a Break

I'm feeling remorseful about my treatment of Matt Forney after an exchange with a gal on "Jezebel" who knew him in high school.

This guy went to my high school. It actually makes me laugh when I read this stuff because the image he creates for himself is SO HILARIOUSLY FAR from reality. I remember him as an overweight, pants up to his boobs, trombone player who ran to class like a duck and couldn't look any attractive girl in the eye. 

and also this:

It is pretty sad when I think about it. I'm not sure he was ever categorically bullied but he was certainly socially excluded in school. I'd be surprised to learn he had any friends. If he actually believes any of what he writes, it will be because for years he recognized what other people saw him as, a band geek that looked 12 when he was 17. A weirdo who could never get a girl's attention, an outsider. Even calling himself "the most hated man on the internet" is telling, everything he writes is a cry for acknowledgment. He doesn't care if you hate him as long as you see him! It's a way for him to collect some personal power that he hasn't owned his whole life. I'd be curious to know what his family life was like...

My heart cracks a little to know that at seventeen, he looked twelve.  And now at 25, he looks forty.  Has this guy ever caught a break in the looks department?  The only compensation for premature balding is that when he actually is forty, he probably won't look much different.

Of course, I wouldn't have seen her comments if he hadn't linked to them on his own twitter feed.  But that's the perverse rationale of these would-be provocateurs:  there's no such thing as "bad" attention.  Indeed, they seem to find it highly stimulating.

Her words threw into sharp relief the pain that drives guys like Matt Forney.  Not for the first time, I feel remorse for mocking him.  You see, I can empathize with the high school reject he was.  I hated high school too.  I wasn't bullied, or a social pariah, but I was a perennial outsider who attended four schools in three years.  Somehow, despite skipping as much class as I attended, I managed to graduate, most likely because I had made myself so "invisible" that my teachers never noticed I was missing.  I would be amazed if any of my graduating class could even recall my name or face.  What sustained me, as I drifted through late adolescence in a kind of fugue state, was the conviction that everything would change once I got to college and my "real" life began.  (Yes, I had my own "It Gets Better" campaign running through my head long before Dan Savage dreamed that mantra up.)

Do any of us completely recover from the trauma of early social rejection?  It certainly shapes our personalities, for better or worse (and, unfortunately, as Forney demonstrates, usually worse).  Forney himself once described me as someone suffering from "narcissistic injury" and I thought, Yeah, well, right back at ya, kid!  I'm honestly not sure what that bit of psychoanalytical jargon even means, but maybe he was right.  I don't know; I don't care.  I am older than guys like Matt, and I ought to be wiser.  And more compassionate.

I think again of the epiphany Lindy West experienced when she saw Forney's former "vlog" on Youtube (now removed).  Although she doesn't refer to him by name, it is obvious she is referring to this particular "troll" when she explains how she realized, while watching it, that there was nothing he could say that could hurt her worse than the hurt he himself lives every day.  And of course she is absolutely right.

Only losers obsess over the past. Fuck what you were like as a teenager; what are you doing NOW? THAT is what defines who you are.

True enough, but when what you are doing now is widely viewed as destructive, people are apt to scrutinize your formative years in an effort to identify the source of your pathology.  And what Matt seems to be doing now is playing out a script that was written in his own troubled and not-so-distant adolescence.

Damn, life is sad, isn't it?  And complicated too.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Feminist English Teachers!

Over at the Men's Rights Subreddit this morning, a high school student is plaintively soliciting help in dealing with his English teacher who is "very feminist."  Of course, because I am an English teacher (who also happens to be "very feminist"), this catches my attention.

The poster makes a number of claims I find quite improbable unusual:  first, that the boys are "often served detentions for being too quiet during class."  While I can imagine disciplining students for being disruptive, I've never heard of a teacher forcefully requiring students to speak in class -- although I have (gently) reprimanded students for sleeping in class.

He goes on to complain that "she started reading us articles about how men are rape creatures and are useless other than to the extent of conception [sic]."   When he complained, he was treated to another unjust detention.

BTW, in my world, spending time outside of class with students is more punitive for me than it is for them.  And another BTW, why is the teacher "reading" to her students?  Even in high school, aren't the students capable of reading for themselves?  But I digress...

What's becoming apparent to me is that this English teacher has her work cut out for her.

His third complaint is that "Every single paper that is submitted by the guys are usually barely passing [sic]."   That the male students have previously enjoyed extremely high GPAs clearly proves her anti-male gender bias.

The subsequent commentators have been predictably sympathetic ("the bitch!").  Helpful suggestions include telling the poster to record classes on his cell phone in order to provide "evidence" against the teacher.  That may or may not be permitted by school policy, but it makes sense.  I myself would love to hear what the instructor actually said, and in what context she conveyed the idea men were only sources of genetic material.  Did he abruptly wake up while she was quoting the author of some dystopian or radical feminist fantasy?  Or was he still dreaming when he "heard" her say that?  Of course, the third alternative, that she actually said and meant what he attributes to her, is possible too (possible, but not very damn likely).  In which case, and it can be proven, her head will roll...

Another commentator warned that, if the student approached administration, he not attribute the conflict to the instructor's being "a feminist... who hates men." Good advice.

That I have a liberal bias is manifest, and I freely cop to it in class.  When students ask me what I think about a current event, for example, I will tell them (and always with the proviso, "This is my opinion").  As a teacher, I do consider the extent my personal biases affect my students, especially in choosing topics to read and write about.  Sometimes, I frankly enjoy the authority to require students to think about and discuss topics I am interested in.  On the other hand, I use caution with material that might be interpreted as "male bashing" or derogatory about non-western cultures (my own culture I can freely disparage).  I try very hard to avoid writing prompts that are likely to elicit views that will upset me, too, because (1) I really, really don't want to dislike my students (after all, we're stuck with each for a whole quarter), and (2) marking papers is disagreeable enough a task without getting angry or sad about the content of those papers.  As you can imagine, just identifying "appropriate" topics can be a big part of my planning process.  Then add to that the chore of finding topics that are sufficiently "interesting" to inspire an "emerging adult" to write AND a mid-life adult to read and you can see why it is an ongoing challenge.

Anyway, next week I'm going to show them the recent documentary "Seeking Asian Female," and have them write about the mail order bride industry.  Because many of my students are from countries that are the source of many "mail order brides" (China, Vietnam, Ukraine), this could be a highly sensitive topic.

Getting back to class participation:  I have to constantly curb myself from calling on male students more than female students.  If there is a bias in that regard, it is toward the boys, mainly because they tend to be more assertive and fearless in expressing opinions.  It's rare for me to have a female student who challenges me directly or who "hogs" class attention.  What is more problematical for me are students that want to express their opinions without having done the relevant reading...

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Smotherin' Mothers

Over at ROK there is a review ("How to Build a Beta Male") of a short 2007 Danish film called "Dennis" (link to the film here).  It depicts an evening in the life of a stolid, hypertrophied body builder who lives with his clingy, emotionally incestuous single mother.  He asks a girl from his fitness club out for pizza.  The evening doesn't end well, as the girl's friends make fun of him and he runs back to his mama's bed (literally).  A little disturbing, a little sad, but I like to think that this was only Dennis' first attempts to strike out on his own(In fact, the director Mads Mathiesen took Dennis on an extended and more upbeat adventure to Thailand in a feature length 2012 film called "Teddy Bear").

The character Dennis, and his enmeshed relationship with his tiny terrifying mother, seems to have struck a chord even with Roosh, and the discussion on ROK focuses on "beta/omega" males and how women create them.  The whole concept of alpha vs. beta men is rubbish, of course, which is why the manosphere spends huge amounts of time just trying to define what these distinctions are.  However, that there are a lot of lonely single men out there with undeveloped social skills is self-evident by the very existence of a PUA/game industry.   

I hate to admit I recognize the Evil Mother in this film, but sadly I do.  I know a few mothers, both married and single, who have turned their sons into their proxy "boyfriends," and it ain't pretty.  Very close to home is my partner's ex, who has been undergoing a kind of emotional meltdown as their son (now nineteen) begins to flex his wings.  The youth, whom I'll call Kirk, is still living at home, still cooking and cleaning for mom, still accompanying her on holidays, still tucking her in to bed when she's polished off the nightly bottle of wine

I see hope on the horizon though.  Unlike "Dennis," Kirk has great social skills.  As a result, he has a lot of close friends, both male and female.  In fact, he has recently acquired a girlfriend whom he texts constantly, much to his mom's dismay.  He has a part time customer service job that he is good at and he goes to school part time.  

Kirk and his dad (my partner) spend regular time together, sailing, attending musicals, cooking, building stuff, flirting outrageously with everyone they meetBoth are the gregarious sort for whom the expression "He never met a stranger" was coined.  Kirk also seems to have inherited his dad's sunny resilience and unflappable self-confidence.   From his father (a M2F transsexual), he has developed a spirit of tolerance and all-embracing compassion.  It seems a bit ironic that it is his transgender parent's qualities that already make Kirk his own man. 

I'm not really worried about Kirk even though I am sympathetic with the prolonged and often painful separation process he is undergoing.  I stay on the sidelines, of course.  We encourage his growing autonomy, but never disparage the attachment with his mom.  He's going to be fine (and eventually, I hope his mother will be too).