Thursday, December 14, 2017

A man's take on Cat Person

Have you read it? Everyone seems to have done. I'm going to spoil it below if you haven't read it yet.

It's one of those stories that gets praised for being disturbing rather than entertaining. I think people read stuff like this because they convince themselves that no matter how uncomfortable and dirty reading it made them feel, they've at least read something "honest" or "true".

Much of the discussion is about who to blame or who to blame most. Some are offended that people are doing that. I can sort of see that but why else would you read a story like this? For pleasure?

Forget making judgments for a moment and consider point of view. The entire story is told from the woman's point of view.  There is free indirect speech giving us access to only one character's thoughts. There is only one character we can really judge and that is Margot. We can reasonably conclude that the guy, Robert is socially inept guy who comes across as creep but it's not a story about him and we only have access to him through the eyes of a deeply flawed person so we can't trust what we're told.

Here is the key moment in the story. It describes the thoughts of a woman about to have sex she doesn't want to have. Remind yourself before you read it that "having sex you don't want to have" is one way of defining rape. But this is not rape.
Margot recoiled. But the thought of what it would take to stop what she had set in motion was overwhelming; it would require an amount of tact and gentleness that she felt was impossible to summon. It wasn’t that she was scared he would try to force her to do something against her will but that insisting that they stop now, after everything she’d done to push this forward, would make her seem spoiled and capricious, as if she’d ordered something at a restaurant and then, once the food arrived, had changed her mind and sent it back.
That is, in a sense, pretty damning. Margot has set this in motion and she fails to stop it because she is unable to summon the "tact and gentleness" it would take to stop it. Why not? The implicit accusation is that men have fragile little egos but step back and you'll see that the most obviously fragile ego here is Margot's. Why did she let things get this far in the first place?

We should know the answer to that last question. Margot is responsible for what happened to her. Her neediness, her pathetic pursuit of affirmation from a guy whom she should have realized was incapable of giving her what she wanted is what drives the events. She walks into it step by step but she is in control every step of the way.That so many people have read this and yet hesitate to hold her fully responsible says a lot about how messed up our attitudes about women are. (If only there was some movement that promoted treating women equally, as adults responsible for themselves.)

The story ends with the guy being really creepy—stalking her and then calling her nasty things. She, on the other hand, ends up surrounded by supportive friends on campus, all of whom seem to have been told all about her sordid experience. I don't find that part credible. I don't believe someone who is as socially inept and who understands herself as poorly as Margot does could share the details she does. I think she'd veer between two extremes: 1. hiding everything and 2. making false accusations against the guy; she'd do both to try to protect herself from feelings of shame because people who need affirmation as desperately as Margot does can't handle shame.

Is there anything at all in this for men? Not in the story itself but there is something in the reaction. There are men who've responded by seeing themselves in the story. Here's the lesson; DON'T DO THAT! You are not seeing yourself. What you are doing is reporting that Margot is real: there are women like her in this world. There are a lot of them.

Okay, I'll stop shouting. But it's a story about Margot not Robert. Men need to stop thinking that we need a woman's perspective to understand ourselves. Women are not pure, truth-telling children who can see that the emperor has not clothes. Women are just like you and just as likely to act in manipulative ways to try and hide their vulnerability. Know thyself so you aren't at their mercy.

Second lesson: don't have sex with women like Margot. Not ever. You want sex but you don't need sex and sex with someone like Margot is never worth it.

Sex is a social skill. The mistake is to treat it as if the mystery, as if the magic is something incredibly private, intimate. All the meaning you need to understand sex is on the surface. The point is to get good enough at understanding what you can see and stop foolishly pursuing some imagined mystical truth about women and sex. You can figure out everything you need to know about what a woman is going to be like in bed by attentively observing her outside of bed. If you can't relate to her well outside of sex you won't be able to relate well through sex. Sorry, but that's the way it is and it's not going to change.

(You could have sex with someone not so much as a human being but as a human-sex-toy and that could be satisfactory I suppose, so long as you don't think about what that says about you.)

Final question, knowing what you know about Margot, how do you think the story would have worked out if she'd interacted with a normal, well-adjusted guy her own age instead of a creepy loser like Robert? Imagine further that this well-adjusted guy somehow misses the warning signs and actually has sex with her. Would it be good sex? You're probably holding back because you don't want to be harsh but having sex isn't a human right. It's not enough that you want it and a woman is available. Margot's problems aren't going to be fixed by having sex and it's not your job to fix her. It's her job to fix herself and the things that need fixing can only be fixed outside of bed.

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