Archive | March, 2012

“I believe, ma’am, I may safely promise you never to dance with him.” – Lizzie, Pride and Prejudice

27 Mar

I know I haven’t written in ages, and I apologise. I am particularly sad to have missed out on posts I had planned for Mother’s Day and International Women’s Day, but also such gems as Steak & BJ Day [on March 14th, so we can all be prepared for next year!]. To make up for this lack of dedication I will now present you with an anecdote from my weekend.

The backstory: I should state from the off that I’m not the usual target for male club predators; I’m not in the habit of showing off my underwear as an outfit, and any attempt in chatting me up usually ends in a) telling them to fuck off [if they are obnoxious], b) slapping them [I’ve only resorted to this once, the guy in question was seriously invading my personal space], c) running away [in my experience the most effective method when they are too drunk to reason with] or d) informing them with much faux regret [if they are not obnoxious twats] that I have a super amazing boyfriend already, so thanks, but no thanks.

So: we are in a club, on a Saturday night, and I am wearing a playsuit with no tights. This could be an important and relevant point to the story as these two things rarely happen, and I was, as my companions Maths Geek, Clev, Dr. Love and K-3 Informed me, looking rather leggy. It first began as we took a breather from the various opportunities offered for merriment at this establishment, namely a ball-pit, bouncy castle, and an air hockey table that Dr. Love and I competed at with probably quite unseemly enthusiasm. A couple of feet away at another seating area a company of young men sat, occasionally looking our way, as we hit each other over the head with inflatable dolphins, changed our flats for heels, and generally giggled away.

One young chap in particular kept giving us the eye. Little was thought of it, until, having been to the dancefloor and come back to rest again [Dr. Love was suffering a little], the gentleman in question persisted in what can only be termed as “staring”, and began a surreptitious progress towards my end of the sofa, until we were in a state of such physical intimacy that I could barely move without bumping into some part of him. Dr. Love then discovered to her great amusement that the cunning fellow had a phone number written on his arm – Maths Geek later remorselessly questioned him on this, demanding to know whether it was his own – he claimed it was a friend’s, and quickly rubbed it off before we could dial it to find out…

Now, despite the fact we were sitting as close as two bosom bodies, and the fact that probably at least two or three hours had passed, and even despite Maths Geek spontaneously reaching over and undoing his top button, the man remained mute. He did not say hello, or hi, or anything remotely akin to a greeting – he sat, occasionally caught my eye and smiled with a suggestive eyebrow wiggle, but never said a word. This was quite the opposite to the scenarios I was used to encountering at clubs, where getting an unwelcome acquaintence to shut up and leave you alone is more frequently the problem. I actually felt uncomfortable because nothing had been said, but the longer he left it, the more difficult it was to start a plausible or casual conversation, and I felt strangely determined that I shouldn’t encourage him by saying hello for him – after all, I was out with my “girlies” [an excellent Chem phraseology] and his internal anguish was not really my problem.

His friends then demanded it was time to leave. Evidently this brought the matter to a crisis, as, after some protests that he would stay [awkwardly made right next to me, with no one else but Dr. Love and I in the vicinity], he was persuaded to depart. But not for long – we watched him walk down to the dancefloor and exit, then come back up the stairs to where we were seated, only to walk past and take his perambulation once over – back down to the dancefloor, back up the stairs and – “do you want to dance?”

Oh. That’s it then, he finally plucked up the courage, crap, what do I say!? “I admire your persistence..” I begin, but he can’t hear me over the exorbitant bass emitting from the speakers. I resign myself to play the cruel heart-crusher, and simply say “I have a boyfriend, I’m sorry,” trying to look as genuinely apologetic as I can, which was relatively easy, as the only really obnoxious thing he had done was to uninvitedly help himself to my glass of tap water.

He walked off, probably never to be seen again.

Now, I haven’t told you this story to highlight my status as some kind of sex goddess who brings misery on hapless chaps. The real nugget of interest, for me, is the reaction of my friends.

Dr. Love thought he was a weirdo. [probably accurate]

K-3 was primarily preoccupied with her own conquests on the dancefloor.

Maths Geek told me off.

According to Maths Geek, I had committed a terrible sin – I had cruelly and unnecessarily crushed the heart and self-confidence of a man who would now be too terrified ever to approach a girl again, and it was all my fault. I had acted foolishly in refusing to dance – what harm could it have done?

I do see her point. I should really have said hello, made some polite conversation, and made the poor boy aware of Chem’s existence before he wasted an entire evening. The trouble is, I’m a bit crap at small talk, and there never seems to be a good moment to drop in your unavailability without feeling like you’ve poked someone unexpectedly and unnecessarily hard with a pointy stick, right in the eye. If you say it too late, you’re leading them on, but say it too early, and you’re jumping the gun – what if they have no romantic designs upon you at all?  Then you will come across as over-defensive and probably a little bit weird.

The thing is, though, I would have felt ten times worse than I did [and I really did feel bad for ages, wondering if I was too harsh] if I had said yes, gone and danced, and waited until his hands went exploring to say “hold up there old boy: actually I’m not interested at all.” I would have felt like I was leading him on, which I would have been, as there was no chance it was going anywhere remotely amorous, and it was all too painfully clear from the previous few hours that this was more than just a casual request from him– it had a lot riding on it.

I know many girls will think that my refusal was silly, over-thought or old fashioned, but if I flipped it round the other way, I know I would probably be unhappy if Chem was off dancing with other girls who didn’t know about me. Maths Geek may disagree, but that’s allowed. Perhaps my dislike of dancing with other men is irrational, based on previous experiences in which men have taken too many liberties [dancerape, anyone?] and I should be more laid back about the whole thing.

I do of course see the funny side of it – and this was only increased when I told Chem about the incident, whose advice to me was “seems like I should lend you some sort of stick to keep them off you,” only to be topped by my mother’s solution – “I’m going to buy you and your sister fake engagement rings!”



“Goody! A Man At Last!”

1 Mar

February the 29th is almost over for another four years, and here I am tapping away madly at my keyboard to finish this post while it is still relevant. Before anyone starts excitedly hat shopping, no, I did not take the opportunity to act all feminist and propose. Even though Chem was in a suit today, which, in his opinion, was a strong deciding factor in my thinking that jumping in his lap was a good idea in the first place, but that’s another story…

Let’s start with some history – after all I’m a history student, and the popular appeal of this tradition is, well, its traditional-ness. It’s a day in which the tradition is to go against tradition, but interestingly, it’s not British – how untraditional! According to this brief podcast by Katherine Parkin of Monmouth University, the custom originated in America as “a safety valve for women’s frustration at being dependent on men and deciding their marital destiny,” but was really only “a form of false empowerment” as it only happens once every four years. In waiting for the day of socially-acceptable female proposals to come around, we are in fact, still waiting. Choosing not to wait makes you both impatient and desperate – perhaps the reason no-one has proposed to you yet, dear, is because you are too fat, old, and ugly?

We can see such viewpoints in the, what I find rather charming, custom from the early 20th century of sending leap day postcards. [credit to this post for finding these]

In this first example we see two rather coarse and dowdy women exclaiming over their prize catch – a tamed leap year husband. The suggestion is that the husband has been emasculated [he is after all silent in this exchange], and has been “caught” as if prey to a predator. From Chrétien de Troyes to Mills & Boons, we all know that the man is meant to be the hunter, and the wife, his trophy. Traditional gender and sexual roles have been reversed, and the artist signals a clear warning to the unattached man – run, before you, too, gets caught!

This message is found in many guises in the postcards, but if this isn’t caution enough, here is an example that reminds men of the companion they can expect if they are caught.

Another pokes fun at the idea of female desperation.

I particularly enjoy this one, which depicts an unsuspecting gentleman about to be overrun by “ladies in waiting,” and which reminds me somewhat of the moment when a male specimen steps out of the love lift in Take Me Out.

Many of the post cards are light hearted, and even, to my eyes, encouraging and sympathetic in tone. I like the following examples which seem to celebrate the act of stepping outside of gender roles, each in different ways.

The custom of sending postcards does not seem to have survived, but the attitudes which they reflect evidently do. I am advised by Cadet that there is a thorough discussion on the topic in Grazia, but since I have Cosmo to hand, their input will have to do. In an article from the March 2012 issue, entitled “Proposing – His Job or Yours?” two women speak out with opposite views on the matter.

Anabelle Allan leads with the tale of her meticulously planned proposal, which sees her position herself firmly in control of the situation – “I like to be sure of my decisions. If Greg has asked me, I might have had to say “I’ll come back to you” – not because I didn’t love him, but because I like to think things through.” She further remarks that “I’ve known women who have waited years for their boyfriend to get their act together. Some are still waiting. In all other ways, they’re modern, progressive women, but when it comes to marriage, they think only the man can decide when the time is right […] Marriage is a partnership and you should be able to tell him what you want long before you say “I do”.”

Anabelle’s attitude to the modern proposal clearly reflects attitudes to modern marriage – why should we follow a tradition whose merit is to perpetuate the gender and power roles which, for most people, are undesirable and unacceptable. Greg was apparently “bowled over by the idea that his “hot woman” wanted to marry him. He jokes I stole his thunder, but it made him feel like a real catch, so he loved it really.” Here, Greg doesn’t seem to mind much that he has been “caught.”

In contrast, Lucy Ball regales us with a grim cautionary tale: she proposed to her man after six weeks. He said no – but proposed himself, two years later. The major difference between Lucy and Anabelle’s proposal is that Lucy’s was spontaneous – “I hadn’t thought of it until that moment, and was crestfallen when he didn’t immediately say yes.” This seems self-evidently unsurprising, but Lucy goes on to argue that the “first time around, I hadn’t stopped to think how Ronnie would feel about not asking me. He’d been brought up to believe that the man proposes, and I hadn’t known him well enough after six weeks to understand that. If he hadn’t had the chance, he would’ve felt he’d missed out.” For Lucy, proposal is clearly a male prerogative, a right to which she foolishly and in a highly irrational [ironically feminine?] way made claim. She continues: “Also, he asked my dad first, which I realised was a big moment for both of them […] It worked for me too. It was exciting that it was out of my control – after all, what woman doesn’t love being pursued? […] If he hadn’t done it, I never would’ve experienced that head-spinning feeling of being asked to marry the man I love.” The very feeling of being out of control of the situation fulfils Lucy’s fantasies, as agency is given to her father in the very traditional, patriarchal way.

But, the emphasis of this fantasy is on the act of being asked – and, although Lucy was clearly desperate to say yes, it is still the act of being asked to make a decision which she finds so powerful and seductive. In Anabelle’s case, her feeling of order and control would doubtless have been majorly undermined if Greg had refused her.

I think what comes out of these two tales – and I have to make a judgement myself, as Cosmo does not provide one – is that in any proposal scenario, neither party is entirely in a total position of power. This has been enabled by the fact that women are not dependent on marriage for economic livelihoods or social acceptability, and marriage itself is an equal partnership. No matter what historical gender ideology is at play within the act of proposing itself, the question is, more often than not, simply one of love – and I don’t think any woman can admit to not enjoying a bit of good old fashioned gender roles now and then, when we have the freedom to enjoy them as traditions, not fetters.

I’m equally sure that all women [well, at least the ones in my house] are “guilty” [but why should we feel guilty??] of speculatively imagining the moment in which we will become “the future Mrs so and so.” I won’t embarrass anyone by discussing myself directly here, but I will indulge you all with an anecdote. We were discussing [as you do] the order in which we would all get married. Nurse Bliss assured me most vehemently that it would be me: and furthermore, I was to eschew a traditional horse and carriage and travel to my wedding in a life-size replica Tardis. I’m confident that advertising my proposal with this suggestion will ensure no man can resist me next leap year, and I’ll accrue at least twenty Doctor-Who enthusiast fiancés.

As you may have noticed, I have cunningly overcome my lack of proposal and engagement life-experience by discussing other peoples. For my final example, let me introduce my mother. Feminism is definitely in my blood, as she proposed to my dad – and it wasn’t even a leap year!

I rang her up to ask for a reflection on the matter. Her first response was that it was yonks ago and she could hardly remember it. Her second: “to all those ladies out there with men who won’t, come up quick and pop the question before it’s too late!

She then prevaricated, denying that she’d proposed at all – it was more of a roundabout, hinting remark [at this point I can hear Cadet in the background, sounding indignant at mother’s lack of romance and/or memory]. She tells me the tradition of male proposals is “old fashioned,” “a bit ridiculous really” – “why does it matter who asks?”

Gran and Gramps were pleased, Dad was nearly thirty by then, they wanted him to get on with it!” [Dad had actually already been engaged once, but that’s another story.] “And then it was all off then! Meet the parents…” At this point Cadet interrupts in outrage that they hadn’t already met, and mother defers the phone to my father, a less reluctant story-teller.

They were staying in mum’s flat in Beckenham, when an Argentinian business associate of my father, whose name was Philip [my scribbled handwriting has unfortunately made his last name illegible], invited them to dinner in London. It transpired he had recently gotten married, and was bringing his Mexican wife over for their honeymoon.

They ate dinner at a restaurant which my father called the “Citada” or “Cicada” [mother was no hope at verifying this], and later that evening, were sat abed talking. My mother mentioned something about getting married. “I said what do you mean, and she looked at me and said, well, shall we get married then!? And well, the rest is history.”