When Chauvinism Ruled My Life

Olivia Davis discusses her year long brush with modern chauvinism in the form of a boy she liked.

Back in the misty mists of time, I dated this long-haired viking of a computer science major, Allen. Allen and I had a lot in common. We were students at the same university. We both prized rationality, we both enjoyed media analysis and often spent hours talking about song lyrics. We played D&D and Magic: The Gathering and had sleep schedules that were broken all to hell. Despite our similarities and the fact that we dated for about a year and a half, there were always tensions between the two of us. I enjoy horror movies, while Allen is so pathologically averse to violence that some music videos give him nightmares. This caused other issues since I’m a masochist and Allen is morally opposed to BDSM. And, importantly, while I was and always have been a feminist, Allen explicitly identified as a male chauvinist. This chauvinism went on to warp the entirety of our relationship.

On more than one occasion, he explained it: he came from the “older school” of dating, the one our parents had likely come from. He’s a man, so he wants to be the provider. When he goes on a date with a girl, he wants to pick up the bill. In return, he’ll want sex from a casual date. Since he’s fulfilled his side of the bargain, it’s reasonable for him to have at least some expectation that she’ll put out. From a girlfriend, he wants to be able to dictate what’s going to happen, and have her generally go along with it. She gets veto power, but the fact that he’s going to pick up the bill means that he gets to choose the restaurant. He wants to be supported, but not interfered with.

From a girlfriend, he wants to be able to dictate what’s going to happen, and have her generally go along with it.

And, indeed, while we were together, we almost never split the bill when we went out. He tended to buy the groceries, he paid for utilities in our apartment and for internet, and he arranged the furniture to his liking. One month, he paid the rent for me when I couldn’t. He’s never asked for that money back. He gave small gifts freely, but downplayed his birthday and my part in Valentine’s Day and Christmas. He wouldn’t tell me his date of birth for months for fear that I’d do something with the information.

Sex was primarily about my pleasure, but was constrained to what he was comfortable with. When we first started sleeping together, I was pre-orgasmic. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that if I couldn’t learn to come within the next couple of weeks, it would be a problem for him and for our relationship. He didn’t respond well to having things requested, he didn’t like to know that I preferred oral to PIV. He dipped his toe into BDSM for me in the form of biting and occasional light choking, even though it’s the rougher stuff that I like the most. He wouldn’t even consider using toys. He wanted to please me on his schedule and in the ways he liked. By contrast, he wasn’t shy about making demands of me, physically shifting me into positions, or asking for anal, a thing enjoyed by one of us and suffered through by the other in an attempt to please.

I don’t know if Allen ever respected me. He often behaved in ways that made me feel as though he didn’t. He’s two years older than I am. He had lived in Europe for years and had slept with three times as many people as I had. He considered himself an adult, old before his time. By comparison, I was a child. He was fond of calling me an “impudent youth.” He policed my behavior and style of dress.

Fatherlike, he explained that punishments had never made sense to him, but he believed in consequences… I was free, always, to do whatever I wanted, but should bear the consequences in mind.

He told me I shouldn’t wear a blazer in casual situations because the formality would make others uncomfortable. My tendency to play Bejweled in class appalled him, even though he was similarly inclined to require something to occupy his hands during lectures. Fatherlike, he explained that punishments had never made sense to him, but he believed in consequences. These consequences, including his displeasure, automatically followed certain actions. I was free, always, to do whatever I wanted, but should bear the consequences in mind. I don’t think he ever told me not to do something. He’d just detail what would happen if I did.

When Allen and I broke up, an opinion spontaneously emerged from the woodwork: no one close to me had ever liked him. Even people he hadn’t met found his treatment of me uncomfortable, based on my reports. My mom told me that she felt he and I bickered constantly. He nitpicked at me, she said, he was unable to let my slighted mistake lie. He always put me down. She never saw me win a tiff with him and, indeed, I’m not sure if I ever did. The best I could do was pin him against information neither of us knew. These were the days just before everyone had smart phones, so arguments would be indefinitely paused until we could look something up, which we almost never got around to doing. That was my definition of winning. He rarely conceded a point, I was rarely right, but I could make him admit that the discussion hinged on facts we didn’t have immediate access to.

I’m also not sure Allen loved me like I loved him. His love was conditional. Once, he explained to me something that sounded an awful lot like a mathematical formula governing his affection. On one axis was “common interests,” and on the other was “similar sentiments.” Some of the problems that had driven him and his most recent ex apart had been the fact that their sentiments were very much in common, but they had few similar interests. I was roughly the opposite, so my position in his affection always seemed shockingly tenuous. It didn’t help that he was vocally attracted to almost every other girl we knew or encountered, that he had a storied history of cheating on his partners,  or that he was surprised to be attracted to someone with my body type.

I avoided going out with friends if what we’d be doing wasn’t something he was interested in. I shifted my style of dress for him and stopped wearing makeup or jewelry.

As such, to some extent, I designed my life around pleasing him. I tried to change for him. I downplayed the importance of my kinks, I stopped watching movies that would make him uncomfortable and tried to develop his views on them. I listened to his music, even though he never showed the slightest interest in mine. I avoided going out with friends if what we’d be doing wasn’t something he was interested in. I shifted my style of dress for him and stopped wearing makeup or jewelry. He hated jewelry, even though it was fairly important to me. In exchange for my not wearing a necklace, he wore his hair down, but he simply wouldn’t hold my hands if I was wearing rings. I started playing World of Warcraft for him.

♦◊♦

Why did I stay with a male chauvinist for a year and a half? Probably for the same reasons anyone stays in a sub par relationship longer than they ought to: I loved my boyfriend. There were a lot of times when we were really happy together. I thought that at least some of the things about him that I didn’t like would change, or I would change such that they didn’t bother me so much anymore. I wasn’t sure where I’d go next if he and I broke up and I’m a person who craves being in a relationship. Another reason why I stayed is that there are things about his style of relationship that appealed to me in theory, though without negotiation, conversation, or noticeable reward they mostly made life harder for me in practice. I’m a submissive person. Allen is a dominant person. He offered me a power dynamic, he offered me challenges, I sometimes felt like he offered me the ability to become perfect in someone else’s eyes, though I now realize that I ever could have achieved that goal with him.

I don’t know how I handled our political differences. I think I mostly just ignored them. Feminism and genderthoughts are a much bigger part of my life now than they were then, and so it wasn’t so hard to figure that we were just people with different opinions. And, anyway, I trusted and respected Allen. I figured that he held the opinions he held for good reasons and that so did I. The next time a man tries to persuade me out of taking a gender studies class, maybe it’ll strike me as a red flag. The first time, though, it was just evidence of the fact that we disagreed.

Some of the way that Allen treated me was chauvinistic. A lot of the way Allen treated me was a pretty bad way to treat a partner. These two things don’t always have to be the same, but where Allen is concerned, I can’t pick them apart. When I read accounts of pick-up artists shaming girls into their beds, I’m reminded of what happened to me with Allen.

I don’t know why Allen is a male chauvinist. I don’t know how he became one. I don’t know how the woman he left me for handles this fact about him—she identifies as a feminist, too. But I do know that male chauvinism was an important part of my life for quite a while, that it was inescapable in our relationship, and that it hurt me. It left me feeling ashamed of who I was and what I liked.

By the end of our relationship, I thought Allen was smarter than I was. I thought he knew better. If he told me that he wanted me to be a certain way, I’d be that way.

It made me feel stupid and bad, like I wasn’t good enough, and like I needed to improve. I’ve mostly recovered now, but I still dwell on the wounds from time to time. I realize now why the PUAs I’ve read about use the horrible tactics that they do. By the end of our relationship, I thought Allen was smarter than I was. I thought he knew better. If he told me that he wanted me to be a certain way, I’d be that way. He’d convinced me that it was right. Chauvinism works.

But, then again, it doesn’t. Allan never told me all of the reasons why he was breaking up with me and I never asked. The ending of our relationship was complex and protracted, someday it might get a post of its very own. But he did mention to me that he couldn’t depend on me. The woman he left me for is strong-willed, opinionated, and has a spine of steel. In the first place, I’m pretty submissive and pliable, but importantly, whatever spine I had, he beat out of me. I think that it was, in part, his influence that made me into a person he couldn’t be with. He didn’t break up with me. He broke up with the person he created. In the end, his chauvinism was bad for both of us. In the end, it’s what destroyed our relationship.

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Comments

  1. that was a really excellent post and fairly balanced. Chauvinism and patriarchy aren’t just bad for women. They’re bad for everyone. Kudos to you for being both personal and intellectual in your approach.

    • Olivia Davis says:

      I’m glad you liked it! This wasn’t the easiest post to write.

      I pretty much agree. Chauvinism and patriarchy are just bad. Across the board bad. I now wish I knew more about why he broke up with me. I think it was because I became spineless and horrible under his frankly draconian rule, but I’d like to be able to say that for sure.

  2. You were dating an abusive man, emotionally abusive, controlling etc. Glad to see you’re free from him.

    “It made me feel stupid and bad, like I wasn’t good enough, and like I needed to improve. I’ve mostly recovered now, but I still dwell on the wounds from time to time. I realize now why PUAs use the horrible tactics that they do. By the end of our relationship, I thought Allen was smarter than I was. I thought he knew better. If he told me that he wanted me to be a certain way, I’d be that way. He’d convinced me that it was right. Chauvinism works.”
    Did you mean all PUA’s or just some?

    • Olivia Davis says:

      I’m pretty glad to be free of him, too. My current relationship suits me much better, and I don’t have to play WoW anymore.

      I can see how there exists that confusion. I’ll quickly edit it, but to clarify: I do mean PUAs who use the tactics that I talk about. Specifically, PUAs who shame women and try to make them desperate and clutching for the guy’s affection. Initially this sentence: “When I read accounts of pick-up artists shaming girls into their beds, I’m reminded of what happened to me with Allen.” was right next to the one that you quoted, which I think would have clarified what I meant. But, like I said, I’ll go adjust it.

      • Ah, thank-you for clarifying. I’ve been tempted to learn some PUA tactics as a way to boost my confidence and try meet women, though I will be avoiding any negative tactics as I have no interest in making women feel like shit but simply to overcome my shyness. People shouldn’t be shamed into bed, they should both be making each other feel fantastic, happy, confident and want to be in each others arms because of those positive feelings.

        I’ve known a few women who’ve had ex’s who have abused them, said awful things, one actually hates her genitalia and feels they are ugly simply because of what the ex said, also hates her personality etc and was made to feel like she was worthless. Stuff like that boils my blood because she’s a great woman and I hate that her self-esteem was torn apart like that. No one deserves that kind of abuse and I regularly tell her of her qualities in an honest way to make her realize she is NOTHING like what her ex said she was.

        I hate that a few key people in a persons life can really harm them so much and it takes quite a lot to fix any damage done. Some of the most harmful abuse I’ve suffered was verbal and destroyed my self esteem. I hope your new partner lets you know of your qualities.

        It’s all about Guild Wars 2 now :P

        • Olivia Davis says:

          No problem. I don’t catch everything in editing.

          Have you read Clarisse Thorn’s “Confessions of a Pick-Up Artist Chaser”? I admit to not having done so myself, but I hear she outlines tactics and mindsets that made her uncomfortable, versus ones that she was pretty down with. I wish I could give you better advice on bein’ less shy around ladies! I just mostly find places where people I think I’d like congregate and try to be friendly. So far so good?

          Abuse and low self-esteem are tough. I’m a person with low self-esteem and, even though it’s always nice to hear that someone likes you and thinks you’re great, it’s pretty easy to feel like they’re mistaken about you. If they knew the real you, they wouldn’t like you anymore. The love and support of others is wonderful in my experience, but it can’t teach you to love yourself. It sounds like your friend needs to re/learn self love.

          My new partner is Charles, my co-blogger. He’s pretty much great in all the ways Allen wasn’t. I feel confident and comfortable with him. He does a great job, thanks for your concern. =)

          • QuantumInc says:

            I have read that and I highly recommedn it. She takes a rather sympathetic take on pick artists, and is welcoming deep into their circles, even speaking at a major event. However she does discuss some specific techniques that are utterlly indefensible, ethically, from a women-are-people POV. Unfortunately PUAs take a rather mechanical view of the female mind, and focus on solving that puzzle box.

  3. FlyingKal says:

    Very good, and excellent writing. Thank you.

  4. It sounds like you were in an abusive and controlling relationship, and I am glad that you are now free.

    He used chauvinism, and traditional gender roles as a tool to perpetrate the abuse. I think his abusiveness is at the root of the problem, rather than the patriarchy. Patriarchal views are bad, but they were the the tool, not the cause.

    If the patriarchy didn’t exist he would be using different psychological tools to abuse you.

    This site has articles covering different types of abuse, a section for female victims and a section for male victims. The best thing about this site is that the two sections are identical with the gender pronouns reversed. You may be very interested in how the patriarchy can be used by women to abuse men.

    The relationship between patriarchy and abuse is complicated, and not as simple as your article would suggest.

    http://www.heart-2-heart.ca/

    • Olivia Davis says:

      I’ve been thinking about your comment for a while, Mike, and I don’t think you’re right. I also think it’s pretty bold of you, with only the context given, to assert that you know something about this situation, or about Allan that I don’t. I lived with him for a year and I’ve had another to reflect on that year, so it’s surprising to hear you say that you think I’m misunderstanding or misconstruing my experience.

      But, anyway.

      What you’re saying here is that Allan is an abusive guy who always would have abused me, using whatever tools he had around. In this case, he had chauvinism, so he used that.

      I think Allan was a controlling guy. He admitted that. I think he had a lot of very specific things that he wanted. But I also think that my freedom to choose what I wanted to do—or the illusion of that freedom as it existed under his coercion—was important to him. He wasn’t shy about expressing his sexual needs. But he was shy about making demands, explicitly asserting his dominance, and communicating about his emotional needs. He wasn’t very good at figuring out what he wanted from me and working with me to get it. He was very roundabout, almost passive aggressive in his approach. If he wanted me to dress a certain way, he’d buy me clothes, but never tell me I should wear them.

      He wanted things that were in line with chauvinistic gender roles. But I could probably have given those things if he had been clearer about what he’d wanted, if he’d been more willing to talk to me and to ask things of me. If I’d have known exactly what he wanted and there had been a sense of reward for giving it to him, his chauvinism might have been something I could work with.

      Of course, we mustn’t forget that Allan is a guy with issues, too. I’d have also needed him to be more emotionally available to me. I’d have needed to feel safe and secure in my position as his partner. I’d have needed to feel like me and my intellect were respected, instead of having him tell me that he found our conversations thought-provoking, even though they tended to feel like intellectual devastation to me.

      You make it sound like Allan deliberately abused me and used the patriarchy to do that. I think that the patriarchy made Allan into a person likely to abuse me. It fortified him with ideas about gender roles, and how roles and relationships “should” be performed and it failed to give him, in his modern masculinity, a way to talk about his needs. I think that’s what made him hurt me. Not any kind of inborn evil.

      • I don’t know your ex personally, but I have known people that seem similar. Patriarchy encouraged them a bit to be controlling but there were other factors more at play, usually growing up in an abusive household where they saw it as normal. So maybe patriarchy encouraged him but also gave him the tools, the belief, the idea and if his dad was like that then maybe he thought a man should be head of the household, EXPECTED to do the decision making, protect his family etc. But some go way overboard and become controlling. Patriarchy itself can simply just mean the man wants to protect and provide for his family, want his wife to feel good, safe, loved, have a roof over their head and be able to focus on looking after kids without having to work (I know, no choice for either gender).

        So I’m not sure the patriarchy made him do the extremes of abuse, he is largely to blame though himself as patriarchy can mean “be protective, warm and loving” to some, and “be controlling” to others. But you knew him best so we can’t say for certain what he is, to me he sounds like a plain old abusive person using whatever tools he can to try get his partner in line.

        • Olivia Davis says:

          I don’t think Allan’s home was particularly like that, even though that’s a perfectly normal way to have the kind of chauvinism he had come about. His father was the breadwinner and his mother stayed at home, but I found his dad to be kind of sweet and affectionate, and his mother to be borderline overbearing. So, it’s atypical. Like I said, I actually don’t know quite where he got his chauvinism from. I just know that he had it.

          What troubles me about your assessment is that I think he wanted things that were explicitly patriarchal, so his treatment of me seems inescapably linked to his chauvinism. In general his desires were explicitly and specifically within certain stereotypical gender roles. It’s not that he wanted me to be a certain way, so he told me that men should rule women and, therefore, I should be the way he wanted. He said “Women are stereotypically this way. You should be this way, too, because you’re a woman and things will be best if you’re the woman and I’m the man.”

          Is that a distinction that makes sense? He didn’t merely mold me into the person he wanted me to be. The person he wanted to be was, in a lot of ways, a patriarchal image of a woman.

          • Ahh, it makes better sense I guess. It probably reminded me of other men and women I’ve known who were abusive and used gender roles as a weapon of control. Most of the people I know that think men should rule the roost tend to come from very traditional homes but even they allow quite a lot of freedom n won’t full on control someone. I take it Allan went further than that?

            I guess I find it strange myself, my father’s parents were traditional however he was quite open minded himself, mum and dad both worked fulltime (though she did the stay at home wife part) but there was a sense of freedom in the house and I think for a while mum actually earned more when dad was ill. She had a large amount of power, infact probably was more bossy than he was, I think she ruled the roost at least after I was born that I could see but on the most part they made decision together as a family unit, vs dad having the final say.

            It’s the type of relationship I believe in, I don’t want a submissive wife, I want one who I can firmly trust to help make decisions with me, especially someone to trust if I get incapacitated for a bit and need help, because making the decision alone is so damn hard as I really value the opinion of a partner and want them to be happy along with me. A strong, confident woman in my eyes is awesome although I have nothing against more timid women, if I do get a partner who is timid I hope I can help raise her confidence up both because it’s what she’d deserve but also to try ensure no one will walk over her. I had to learn to raise my confidence myself to stop people walking over me so it’s a very important attribute, one I’m currently trying to teach to a friend who has been through abuse herself to give her that extra bit of defense in the future.

            I truly wish we taught more about this in schools, we need to raise strong, healthy, confident adults who love themselves and others, do that and I think a huge amount of abuse would be avoided.

            • Olivia Davis says:

              The best guess I have is that Allen spend a lot of time during his early teens in Britain and he talked about very heavy gender segregation there.

              Allen really seemed to want a perfect partner and he was willing to change people for it, deliberately. He was willing to emotionally bully me into doing what he wanted me to do. He spoke with some pride about how his ex had worn pants when they got together but, by they time they’d broken up, she almost always wore skirts. He spoke of it as thought it was an inevitability. He had a lot of opinions about what should happen and wasn’t shy about letting them be known. And I wanted so much to please him and wanted so much for him to think I was good that I went along with it.

              As for my family, my mom’s always been the breadwinner. She’s a lawyer, very tough. I come by this business honestly. =)

              Confidence and partnership are very important to me. I’m still a submissive person, it’s still nice to have somebody make my decisions. Not because I like the freedom from decision-making that a lot of folks like, but because I really enjoy making the choice to obey. Most submissive people I know will tell you that it’s something that can be done with confidence and strength. It can be less to do with timidity–I’m not timid and have never been–and more to do with the desire to please and the power of self-mastery.

              I don’t know if you’re from the US, but our health classes her are a bit of a joke. I’d love it if they focused more on how to have a healthy relationship and less on anti-drug stuff and fluff. Cliff over at the Pervocracy has written some really great ideas about the kind of health class that she (and you and I, it seems) would like to see: http://pervocracy.blogspot.com/2011/08/relationship-ed.html

            • I’m from Australia, a rural area so there are a lot of traditional family setups, stay at home mother + working father though these days the SAHM only lasts till the kid hits preschool, then the mother usually works. A lot of parents both work too, cost of living has gone stupid high, it’s just more stress on families that they don’t need and probably contributes to a lot of arguments n abuse.

              A good article, I agree with Cliff, sex ed here was how to avoid std’s, put on a condom, and I think a piss poor effort to talk about consent.

            • As a preface, please excuse my use of “they” as a gender neutral pronoun, and some of the ambiguity that gender neutrality is causing here.

              While it was obviously your relationship and you knew this person best, you are describing really, really common traits of someone who is just generally abusive. I at least ask you to consider the idea that it wasn’t causally related to chauvinism—not everyone who spends time living in Britain ends up like that. Hell, there are men who grow up living in Saudi Arabia who don’t have attitudes like that towards women and don’t try to mold and control their partners.

              You said:
              “Allen really seemed to want a perfect partner and he was willing to change people for it, deliberately. He was willing to emotionally bully me into doing what he wanted me to do.”

              Someone who is willing to emotionally manipulate their partner so that they look more like the person’s ideal of who the partner should be would probably do so regardless of the social structures in place. I was listening to an interesting bit on NPR a while ago (tried to find it, but cannot) about why people who are abusive are often fine—fantastic, even—partners for the majority of the time, and then occasionally do controlling things. A lot of it had to do with the abuser having a perception of their partner as perfect, viewing them as an extension of their perception of themselves, and then getting upset when that partner deviates from that perception, so they use abuse or manipulation to bring their partner back to their idea of perfect.

              TL;DR someone manipulating their partner into their idea of perfection is a super common trait of abuse generally, and it doesn’t really matter what that idea of perfection is.

              I know you feel about it the way that you feel about it. I think the only important reason to make that distinction is because it’s really hard to avoid the patriarchy, but it is easier to recognize the traits of someone who has abusive tendencies. Failing to call out the trait for what it is—abusive, regardless of the cause—is dangerous. It is muddling something that is already problematically muddled.

              If I could sample again: “He [Allen]’s not a movie monster who sought out to hurt and control me, discovered that he could do so through traditional gender roles, and went about his business. He’s a person who had ideals and tried to carry them out.”

              Abusers are not movie monsters. They are people, and sometimes they are just fine, and sometimes they are wonderful, and very often, they never really meant to hurt their partners. They have complex motivations, and sometimes those actions resulted in hurt. But they are abusers. It’s a flaw, one among many, and everyone is flawed. Occasionally, with a lot of help, people who are abusive can change, as you could change any flaw. Abuse is not necessarily an immutable characteristic, and it doesn’t make them a monster.

              Take, for a moment, the idea that you are talking about someone who raped you. A lot of the difficulty surround rape in the law is because rapists aren’t movie monsters either. For a jury, and the general public, there’s the idea that rapists are these slavering beasts, always doing evil things. That’s why it’s so hard to believe when you hear that your friend or cousin or neighbor raped someone. “They can’t be a rapist. We had beers together on Friday.” No one can imagine this fictional red riding hood wolf who committed this terrible crime having beers with them. *Other* people commit rapes, evil people you don’t know, who are just obviously bad, evil people, motivated by no reason other than causing pain and badness. And that just isn’t the case.

              To quite Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

              I have been the victim of both crimes. Both were the same person. I am still friends with them on facebook too, even though some of the things they did to me were torture, and others were unforgivable. But they aren’t a monster. A monster didn’t make me a four course meal, introduce me to its cat, tell me its secrets, be my best friend for two years. A person did those things: a wonderful, and seriously damaged person. And it was a person who abused me. I acknowledge that to some extent, it is probably my weakness that is keeping me friends with them. I also know that acknowledging the fact that they *are* an abuser and being constantly vigilant for those traits in any future friends and romantic partners means that hopefully, I’ll never end up in a situation like that ever again.

            • Olivia Davis says:

              First of all, you’re absolutely right. It’s certainly not the case that everyone who spends time in Britain ends up like Allen did. I didn’t mean to suggest that. I just meant that I remember him talking about what he found to be the way that gender worked there, and I wonder if that’s how he got the ideas that made up his chauvinist world view. Thanks for calling me on that so that I could explain myself better.

              Your points are also fair. This conversation has definitely made me seriously reconsider my arguments. And, to some extent, I do think you’re right. It’s probable that at least some of Allan’s bad behavior was just Allan—patriarchy or no. I’m willing to concede that point.

              I still wanna stick to my guns at least a little, but change tact just slightly: I don’t think that Allen used chauvinism as tool to abuse me. I do, however, think that he was an uneasy abuser, a hesitant abuser. He was reluctant, as I’ve said, to explicitly control me, and stuck to more passive aggressive and vague tactics. I think that the fact that his views were patriarchal and chauvinistic—and what he wanted from me was chauvinistic—helped him justify his actions. He was able to cling to a tradition that supported him and that probably made him more able to do what he did. He was hesitant enough that I’m not sure he would have gotten there without that support.

              Does that make sense?

              I pretty much agree with the rest of what you’ve said and, to top it off, I think you’ve said it very elegantly. I don’t think abusers are movie monsters. I think they’re—as you’ve said—very flawed people who do bad things. I felt that Mike, who I was responding to with that bit you quoted from me, was making them out to be movie monsters, with some sort of inherent evil in them. That quote was an attempt to disabuse (if you’ll pardon the pun) him of that notion. You’ve said what I was trying to say to him with that quote much better and more clearly than I did.

      • I think you should read through page 1 of the women’s section of the site I linked to, called are you being abused?

        http://www.heart-2-heart.ca/women/page1.htm

        Your comment response is full of denial, and minimisation which is normal for abuse survivors. This is why it is important to talk to other people about our lives, so that we can get a reality check. As an abusive relationship forms, the abuser gradually ratchets up the abuse, and the victim develops coping strategies. After a while what seems completely normal to victim and abuser is shocking to the rest of society. A classic quote is “It’s not abuse, he didn’t mean to do it, it was the XXX” where XXX could be drugs, alochol, stress, PMT, depression, and apparently the patriarchy.

        A key question is why does it matter if the abuse was deliberate?

        • Olivia Davis says:

          It wasn’t my intent to call you on this, Mike, because this is often the kind of call-out that I think doesn’t do a lot of good. But, since you’ve come back questioning the way I view my experiences and accusing me of denial, I think it’s time for me to point this out: What you’re doing right now is mansplaining. I’d like it if you stopped.

          If you don’t know what mansplaining is, I define it in this article and invite you to check it out. http://goodmenproject.com/gender-fight/look-kitten-youre-being-a-sexist-part-1/

          Having said that:

          I’m not minimizing. I’m not normalizing. I’m not excusing. I’m not denying.

          I read your page and, yes. I pretty much agree. My relationship with Allen had a large number of those warning signs. I don’t know where in either the article or my original reply to you, you get the idea that I’m denying or minimizing what he did. I’m not saying Allen didn’t abuse me. I’m not saying that our relationship wasn’t harmful to me. He did abuse me. It was harmful.

          I’m also not saying that what he did wasn’t deliberate. Indeed, I think that, while it was not intended as abuse, his attempts to change the way I dressed and behaved were very much done on purpose.

          The point that I am making is that Allen might not have been an abuser if it weren’t for the patriarchy. The point that I’m making is that there is a causal relationship between the patriarchy and my abuse. The patriarchy made Allen into this person who had very specific ideas about masculinity, femininity, and the way that relationships between men and women should work. It is his impression of those ideas upon me (combined with a lack of communication, respect, and security) that is, in this case, abuse.

          He’s not a movie monster who sought out to hurt and control me, discovered that he could do so through traditional gender roles, and went about his business. He’s a person who had ideals and tried to carry them out. He is, of course, responsible for both the harm he caused by his actions, and for performing those actions in the first place. To a lesser extent, he’s also responsible for not changing his ways or seeing that they’re harmful. But he’s not some cackling beast. He’s just a flawed man with some fucked-up ideas.

          To answer your question: it matters very much if the abuse was deliberate. It doesn’t matter if the question you’re asking is “Was this abuse?” But it matters very much if the question being asked is “So, I’ve been abused. How do I deal with my abuser in the future.” I don’t want to be Facebook friends with someone who sat down and abused me on purpose. But I am Facebook friends with Allan.

          • Mansplaining is when I think I know more about a topic, because I am a man. Here I know about abuse, because I am a survivor who has spent 7 months in weekly abuse therapy. You have demonstrated that you know less about abuse by writing this article. Gender is not a factor here. You cry mansplaining because you don’t like what I am saying.

            My reason for writing this response, is that I want you, and people who read this, to recover, and often that means being challenged on beliefs that you hold that are unhelpful.

            1) You wrote an article about abuse, and the word abuse is only mentioned in the comments. Instead you refer to it as patriarchy and chauvinism. That is denial of abuse. However you have called abuse by it’s real name in the comments, so part of you believes it.

            2) Abuse is always the fault of the abuser. You excuse Allan.

            – “Of course, we mustn’t forget that Allan is a guy with issues, too.” (Implied that he his not responsible for what he does, it is all the patriarchy and he was vulnerable)
            – “I think that’s what made him hurt me. Not any kind of inborn evil.”

            It doesn’t matter why he did what he did. What matters is what he did, the affects that it had on you, and why you accepted this treatment. By focusing on the abuser you shift your focus away from yourself and your recovery.

            3) You would rather twist your own view of reality than un-friend someone on Facebook.

            “I don’t want to be Facebook friends with someone who sat down and abused me on purpose. But I am Facebook friends with Allan.” — Therefore I will define the abuse as not Allan’s fault so we can still be friends and I don’t have to face the fear of kicking up a fuss and un-friending an abusive ex boyfriend… Just think, are you capable of cutting off all contact with Allan? I am not asking you to do it, I am asking could you do it?

            You didn’t chose to leave the abusive relationship, you are still vulnerable to getting into another one, and I think that this focus on patriarchy and feminism (in relation to your abuse) is a massive distraction to avoid your issues.

            • Olivia Davis says:

              I think that you and I are using different definitions of the word—which is fine, it’s not a word with a set definition. The definition that I use, and that I linked you to, is that mansplaining is when a man explains something to a woman when she has more knowledge on the subject than he does.

              And, Mike, this subject is abuse, but it’s also me, my feelings, and my experiences. And no matter how much you know about abuse and how much of it you’ve survived, you don’t actually know more about me than I do. I definitely disagree with what you’re saying, but that’s not why I’ve called you out. I still think you’re mansplaining to me. If you’d like, we can remove gender from it. You’re ‘splaining to me by claiming that your ethos is greater than mine on the subject of my experiences. You’re telling me how I feel and how I should feel—which is actually something that Allen did, but I’ll let that lie.

              So.

              1) This is an article that is about chauvinism’s role in abuse. I could have talked more about the ways in which I don’t think Allen respected me, I could have talked more about insults, down-talk, and weird social control. I could have used the word “abuse.” But those things were not the point of the article. I wanted to talk specifically about chauvinism, and so I did. This is not an “unhelpful belief” it’s not denial. I know that what he did was abuse. I got that, I promise. Not just some part of me. The fact that this article is not called “When Abuse Ruled My Life,” is a deliberate rhetorical choice—I wanted to talk about the way that chauvinism affected me specifically and figured in my abuse. Not just abuse writ large.

              2) I don’t excuse Allen. I seek to explain him. You’re taking me out of context. I was saying that Allen isn’t a monster, he’s not evil. He’s a flawed person and an abuser. That’s not an excuse. Also, when I said that he’s “a guy with issues,” what I was actually saying was that even IF he didn’t have a chauvinistic view of what he wanted me to be and even IF he had communicated better, there still would have been hurdles. So, uh, this is the opposite of excusing him. This is me pointing out some serious, but non-chauvinistic flaws he had.

              Also, I still think it sure matters why people abuse. Knowing why is how these people end up getting fixed. As I said to you last time, it doesn’t matter when the question is “Is this abuse?” but it does matter for “what do I do now that I’ve been abused?”

              Lastly, I focused on my abuser, *because this is an article about my abuser and how he abused me*. It’s not an article about my recovery, it’s not an article about why I accepted his treatment. It could have been, but that’s not what I wanted to explore here.

              3) Twist my own view of reality! Goodness, no. Please, calm down. Allen is almost never on Facebook. Allen and I have almost no contact with one another. We see each other once every couple of months, even though we live in the same city. Cutting off all contact with him would be very easy—I’m barely in contact with him as it stands. I could do it there are reasons I don’t, including my friendship with his girlfriend.

              Also, I say in the article that our breakup was complex. I really meant that. The person who broke up the relationship once and for all was me. He broke up with me as girlfriend, I broke up with him as friend with benefits/fuckbuddy etc. I cut off our sexual contact completely and, with it, most of our contact at all. It was a choice I made all by myself. The version you get in the article is the simplified one, but there are very real ways in which I chose to leave.

              My focus on the patriarchy is not a distraction. It’s a focus. For an article that I wrote.

            • First off, I want to thank you for sharing this deeply personal and well crafted essay and for engaging in the conversations sparked by your words. I won’t pretend to know any more about your relationship than what you’ve presented, and my response is simply an interpretation of my own life experiences.

              I absolutely have to take issue with the term “mansplaining.” I’ve read “Men Explain Things to Me,” the Solnit piece, and I’ve also read most of the recent parade of response essays, none of which provide even the flimsiest correlation between gender and ‘splaining things. Yet Solnit is cited by many as though she is an expert—the last word on gender relations, though she literally has zero training in social science. When she writes, ”The out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered,” her opinion is repeated uncritically as gospel truth. And she sure does enjoy doing some ‘splaining herself. Purposely ignoring well-documented history—I say purposely because Solnit is intellectually curious and an astute follower of politics–even suggesting 9/11 could have been prevented if only those men would have listened to a woman. Of course, Condi Rice is conveniently forgotten in this passage—and the essay as a whole:

              “I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the trajectory of American politics since 2001 was shaped by, say, the inability to hear Coleen Rowley, the FBI woman who issued those early warnings about al-Qaeda, and it was certainly shaped by a Bush administration to which you couldn’t tell anything, including that Iraq had no links to al-Qaeda and no WMDs, or that the war was not going to be a “cakewalk.” (Even male experts couldn’t penetrate the fortress of their smugness.)”

              Should I thank Rebecca for the education? Should I call her out? Should I call out those who quote her verbatim? Is it okay for me to criticize what I read ass the snarky tone of her essay, the single flimsy anecdote supporting her claim, the feeling, upon completion, that I had just sat through a condescending lecture by one-who-knows-the-truth? Or would that be mansplaining?

              As the child of a female college professor who has never been short on opinions or advice, the word “mansplaining” offends me. To invoke words like nagging, sh(e)rewing, womanipulating, womansplaining as indicative of female behavior is also bad, bad form. How about we agree to eliminate all of these from our collective vocabulary?

              The other thing I need to say is citing an abstract and slippery concept like chauvinism or patriarchy as the primary factor in abusive behavior externalizes responsibility for actions that are the result of internal decisions. This does two things. 1) No matter how you cut it, ascribing even a small degree of blame to chauvinism—again, an abstract concept with no conscious and tangible core—takes some of that blame away from the perpetrator of the abuse. 2) In doing so, it robs the person of the agency so vital to embracing responsibility for his or her own healing process. There are few options for a human being who believes his life is controlled by others. As societal and policy issues, naming perpetrators of all forms of power abuse, seeking justice and eventually, reconciliation are crucial. For the individual human—at least in my experience—letting go and taking ownership of his words and actions is the only path toward a life filled with empathy, comassion, and healthy relationships.

              Oh-one more thing: Patriarchy, like matriarchy, is neither inherently good nor bad. The same can be said for capitalism and communism. Again, these are all abstract and malleable concepts whose manifestations are subject to the strange psychology of humans.

            • Olivia Davis says:

              Thank you! This conversation has sometimes been frustrating for me, but ultimately, I think conversation is very important and part of why I’m here is to foster and engage in it.

              I think “mansplaining” is a pretty seriously loaded term and I’m not totally comfortable with it, myself. So I’m glad we’re talking about it. You shouldn’t expect me to use it too often—this conversation was actually the first time I’ve done so and I was reluctant.

              Solnit doesn’t have to be an angel, or even right about anything, for a term she coined to be good and useful. Having said that, I think “mansplain” might not be good or useful. Something I do think is good and useful is the de-gendered version: ‘splain. I think it’s good to have a term that means, “Hey, you’re correcting me on stuff I already know, undermining my ethos or personal experiences, and possibly even trying to replace them with your own, please knock it off.” I think it’s especially important to have such a term when the subject at hand is personal experiences—it’s pretty galling to have someone make the claim that they know more about you than you do, so it’s nice to be able to point that out when it happens. Perhaps we agree on this?

              The thing that makes me wonder if “mansplain” is useful, even in the presence of “’splain,” is that when a man ‘splains to me, I feel differently than I do when someone else does. When a man ‘splains to me, a gendered dynamic spontaneously arises. These men are often patronizing, undermining, and assume my ignorance. There have been a tremendous number of times in my life where I’ve wondered if a man was explaining something to me just because I’m a woman—and there have been some times where I’ve known he was. I’ve also often wondered if the explanation I received would be less arrogant, less patronizing if I were a man, instead. It might be useful to have a term that specifically points to these sorts of dynamics, but I leave that idea to your review.

              “Chauvinism,” may be a slippery concept, but part of the point of the article was to give it something close to a definition (Allan’s “old school” dating) and to point to the non-slippery, very real ways it affected me.

              I don’t know if pointing at chauvinism as an important factor in the abuse necessarily takes blame away from Allen. Chauvinism isn’t some sort of force—as least, not as I think of it. It’s an ideology. Allen subscribed to that ideology. Anything that he did in the service of that ideology was entirely his fault. He made choices, clear-headed, rational choices. He might not have made those same choices had he not been a chauvinist, but saying that chauvinism is to blame for his actions is like saying that Islam is actively to blame for 9/11 and I don’t buy it. Chauvinism didn’t abuse me; my boyfriend did. I also don’t think it robs him of agency. He wasn’t controlled by chauvinism, he acted in accordance with it. I write about that because the point of this narrative is to point out how modern chauvinism influenced someone’s actions.

              Finally, yes. Terms like “patriarchy,” are morally neutral in the abstract. It is when they are enacted in the world that they take on a moral valence. Fortunately, I’m not interested in them qua abstract terms. I’m interested in them as concepts that mean things in the world I live in. I also happen to think that both “patriarchy” and “chauvinism” are terms with real-world manifestations that are pretty negative—like my relationship with Allen.

  5. He told you EXACTLY what kind of man he was, what kind of expectations he had for your relationship and the gender dynamic. You CHOSE to enter the relationship under those premises. He did not inflict upon you his chauvinism out of nowhere you willingly entered into it hawing been fully forewarned. The relationship did not just happen to you, HE did not just make things happen to you, YOU did. You also did this in spite of “strongly” held feminist views which should mean you would see this relationship dynamic as an unhealthy evil that should be fought against.

    It is also highly interesting that his next girlfriend also “strongly” identifies with feminism yet entered the relationship while presumably also having been informed of his views and expectations. Several activist feminists I know date very dominant “alpha” men who run the relationship much like your ex did. I find the inconsistency between their “strongly” held beliefs and their personal lives mind blowing. I Also read an article once by a lesbian feminist complaining how so many of her straight feminist friends chased after dominant alpha type men. My personal experience is also that feminists do not become less attracted to me after I left my old feminist beliefs and learnt a lot from PUAs, they are MORE attracted to me. They LIKE me less because of my beliefs but they want to date me more. Strange how people work. I´ve come to the conclusion that while there are many feminists there appears to be very few feminist vaginas. THe most attractive women go for the men with the highest testosterone levels and very high testosterone levels leads to dominant behavior, not just in general but in your relationships as well.

    If the chauvinism led women under patriarchy to be unhappy and have bad self esteem then why do women report being less happy today than they where before the advent of feminism and why do they have far more mental health problems today than they did then? Strangely, as I have given chauvinistic PUA advice to my friends about how to do relationships they have gotten happier relationships and far happier girlfriends.

    If patriarchy is the cause of male emotional and physical abuse in relationships how come women abuse men as much or probably more emotionally in relationships? If patriarchy is the cause of male abuse how come women are violent towards their men as much as men are violent towards women and why do women initiate the violence far more often when it is mutual? It becomes very hard to find the evil patriarchy in the abuse numbers:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_abuse

    http://elusivewapiti.blogspot.no/2012/06/some-facts-about-domestic-violence.html

    • Olivia Davis says:

      Hey, Chauvinist, thanks for coming here and expressing your opinion.

      Having said that, uh, you don’t actually know me, what I think, or know the circumstances under which my relationship emerged and under which we came to engage in the abusive dynamic we had. Allen didn’t tell me that he was a chauvinist and that he had certain expectations of me in advance. He let me know once I was already thick into the relationship. He told me once we were dating, once we had slept together, once he was my friend, and confidant, once I was attached, and once I was committed. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did the same to his new partner as well.

      Also, he told me that he wanted to be a provider, and wanted to embrace a more “traditional” model of dating. That tells me what he expects, but in terms so abstract that I still don’t actually know what he wanted me to do in my day-to-day life. It was very clear that he wanted things from me, but it was not at all clear exactly what he wanted or how I should go about giving it to him. He never asked. And, as I’ve said more than once in the comments, it’s partially this lack of communication that was the problem for me.

      Let me tell you about my feminist views: women should be able to do whatever they’d like. This includes being submissive. This includes having a power dynamic, so long as it is healthy, consensual, and negotiated. These things are not inherent evils. My vagina is perfectly feminist, thank you kindly.

      Patriarchy was the cause of abuse in my case. I’m not making statements about literally anyone else.

      I’ve also admitted that I made certain choices that made me complicit in my abuse. I’m a person whose desire to please assisted in abuse. I did make choices. But so did he and I am not to blame.

    • Chauvinist: correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you’re saying that it’s inconsistent for a romantically/sexually submissive woman (or, by association, a dominant man) to “strongly hold” feminist opinions. That seems to involve a pretty obvious mistake: equating the power dynamics of one relationship with the power dynamics of society as a whole. There’s nothing inconsistent about wanting to be beaten black and blue (consensually) by one’s man-friend, and generally have him take the lead socially and in decision-making, and also wanting women to have equal pay, ready access to contraceptives, better role models in the media, and a society that is less inclined to treat female victims of rape as damaged goods who were clearly asking for it anyway. The former involves making a decision for oneself, while the latter regards the freedom and safety of all women. To say the two are the same is like saying that a black guy who chooses not to vote must want to repeal the fourteenth amendment. That sounds like something Immanuel Kant would say, if he were a supervillain.

  6. Double standard? says:

    Didn’t one of the articles here go over something similar? Women shouldn’t settle, they should demand what they wanted, expect to get it and leave the relationship if they didn’t?

    But that wasn’t abuse, that was empowerment?

    So, Allen’s a man who’s doing the same thing and he’s an abuser?

    Not that it sounds like a great relationship. But, as men we’re supposed to put up with it from women, and god help us if we try to act the same way they’re encouraged to act.

    • Olivia Davis says:

      First, you raise an important point: The GMP is not a hive mind. I haven’t read the article that you’re referring to, and if I had, I might strongly disagree with it. I might even worry that the behavior it encouraged was abusive. The fact that two articles on this site contradict each other is, to my mind, kinda great. There are a lot of views represented here and I appreciate that.

      However, I think you’re missing some of my point. The abuse isn’t that Allen wanted things from me. The abuse isn’t that he liked skirts better than pants and would rather me be wearing skirts. The abuse was the fact that he wasn’t always explicit about what he wanted, but he was always ready to tell me that I hadn’t given it to him. The abuse is that he used guilt and shame. The abuse is that he bullied me, belittled me, and made me feel bad about myself, and dependent on him. The abuse is that, with him, I was barely my own person anymore. I was a weird outgrowth of him and his desires.

      I support the idea that people should tell their romantic partners what they need and be willing to leave if they’re not getting it. That’s not what Allen did. Allen needed a different person and tried to make me into that person, and when he either couldn’t change me all of the way, discovered that the person he’d made wasn’t what he wanted, or both, he left.

      tl;dr It’s great to know what you want. It’s not great to try to force what you want out of someone else. That’s abuse.

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