Thursday, May 10, 2012

Manly Thor's Day Special: Under a court of law it wouldn't look like an accident

But it's not.

Does Vincent Kartheiser flub these lines? Logically, it would make more sense if he'd said, "Under a court of law it would look like an accident. But it's not." Maybe it doesn't matter. You know what he means. Women are allowed to say and do things that sound and look like invitations to you to get involved with them without committing themselves.

Oh yeah, this is all from an episode of Mad Men by the way. You don't have to have seen the episode to get the point though.

And I know, as everyone who did see the episode will say, it's Pete. But we have to care about these characters even though they are fictional characters. Obviously we don't treat them the same as real people. We don't get up and call 9-1-1 when a fictional character falls off a bridge but we should feel bad. Pete for all his failings is supposed to be a human being and we deprive ourselves of a proper enjoyment and understanding of fiction if we forget to respond to characters as human beings deserving our love and concern.

And have you never had the thoughts that Pete has here? These are thoughts we are all trained to keep to ourselves but all men have them. Maybe it was years ago so we don't remember or maybe we just don't have the courage to vent the angry thoughts that Pete does:
Work it over in their minds, turn it off and on when they feel like it. We're just there, waiting at attention.
Maybe you've never been there but I don't mind admitting that I have. I know from many years experience that you shouldn't express such feelings out loud. Best case scenario, people will laugh at you. Worst case scenario, you'll be branded as an unenlightened pig.

But women will do that to you. And it's not about sex or, to be more precise, it's not only about sex.

Let's go back to the dialogue (with the error I noted at the top noted):
Pete: Why do they give you a glimmer of hope in the midst of rejection. A little thread to hang on to. A misplaced word. Suggestion of the future.

Under a  court of law it wouldn't look like an accident. But it's not.

Harry: So we're not talking about Megan and we're not talking about Trudy?

Pete: Why do they decide what's going to happen?

Harry: They just do.
There is a lot more wisdom in Harry's response than we might give him credit for. That is the answer. Women just are the gatekeepers when it comes to love and sex. And the irony is that that is the result of the sexual revolution and feminism. In a society where women are repressed, their latitude for sexual expression is extremely limited by their being veiled or cloistered and some man, either her father or husband, is "supposed" to control her sexuality. In order to free women to say yes they also had to gain more power to say no.

Let's have a look at another of Pete's questions again:
Why do they give you a glimmer of hope in the midst of rejection. A little thread to hang on to. A misplaced word. Suggestion of the future.
The two choices aren't "yes" and "no" but "yes" and "maybe". Why? Part of it may be a cynical exploitation of power. Part of it may be the fear of having to acknowledge to herself that she is cutting you off after leading you on. Part of it may be the fear that you'll show up outside her room  screaming and shouting in the middle of the night or that you may kill yourself or something.

Most likely, though, she does it because that is the way she likes it. She was attracted enough to you to flirt with you and even if she decides, for whatever reasons, not to allow anything else to happen she doesn't want to close the door and lock it.  It suits her vanity to think it might be possible even though she won't. She is still denying herself but she is the one doing the denying and there is a certain power that goes with that. (That's why "negging" her and walking away instead of giving her a chance to reject you often works as a seduction technique. It leaves her feeling powerless and a lot of women will go to surprising lengths to regain that power.)

In the case of Pete, the internal logic of the show works against the interaction with Beth ever being convincing. On Mad Men people end up having sex too quickly. In real life, the relationship between Beth and Pete would have been more protracted. They would have known one another longer before anything happened. And a lot less would have happened. They might have just kissed and then stopped and then things would have built up until they had sex. And then Beth would have thought, "I can't do this," and pulled out.

As Gaius noted in the comments, the moment when Beth makes the heart on the fogged window in the carpark next to Pete was the most unbelievable moment in the episode. I agree but I think that is largely because they left out all the emotional stage-setting that would have had to take place around that affair. For the show, love is sex but for most of the rest of us, sex is a kind of love. But if they had taken the time to build up the story a bit, then the heart would have made perfect sense.

There is a woman I was in love with many years ago whom I occasionally run into. We're both married now but every time we talk she says or does something that suggests that, for her, the door is still open. I wouldn't pursue her in any case but even if I did I would be crazy to take those hints as assurance of her acceptance. For whatever reason of her own, she won't close that door and she can't help letting it show when she is with me.

She feels entitled to do this and society backs her up. If I let any similar hints drop in her direction, it would be tantamount to asking her for sex and it would seem that way in a court of law. This is not just a metaphor. We never can be sure her acts are intentional enough to condemn her. We'd unhesitatingly condemn the man who did the same thing.

And that, as Harry says, is just the way it is.

And the unspoken assumption behind this is that men will always be there waiting, as Pete says, "at attention". And yes, that does mean everything it seems to mean.

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