The Context Of Equality

Equality is a pretty word, but for a thing that everyone agrees upon is desirable, nobody seems to agree on what it looks like.

I want to divide equality into two concepts – context and contextless.


Contextual Equality
is equality that tries to equalize the outcome while taking into account all the associations of the situation – history, culture, demographic, etc. – or “contextual body.”

For example: Joe and Marsha go to high school. Joe has a hard life – abused by his parents, a learning disability, not a morning person. Marsha has a pretty good life – loving parents, intelligent, eats vegetables.

Joe and Marsha both fail a test and come to the teacher begging for a retake. Should they be treated equally? Maybe – but contextual equality would take into consideration the fact that Joe’s failure of the test is more understandable, and that allowing him to retake the test would be more helpful to him. Marsha has no good excuse for her failure – she has everything going for her already – a good ‘contextual body’ – and refusing her a retake might be the best option.

Contextual equality is behind ideas like power structures, privilege, and affirmative action. It does not view human interactions as happening in isolation, but rather more like two huge contextual bodies summarized in a small point of contact. Calling a black person a racial slur is worse than calling a white person a racial slur, because black people (in the US) were enslaved and white people weren’t. Contextual equality is less for equal treatment and more for equal outcome – if the treatment does not result in similar outcomes, then we must modify the treatment to get everybody in the same position by the end.

Contextless Equality is the exact opposite. It doesn’t care about the surrounding history and culture, it cares about a process that works independently from the personal stories of the people going through it.
Contextless equality would say that Joe and Marsha should both be denied or approved the text retake. Sure, maybe Joe would benefit more, but that’s not the point. The point is to give the children an escape from the weight of their contextual bodies, an environment where it doesn’t matter. It encourages solidarity and community between children by treating them the same, and to promote the feeling of fairness. So many aspects of the world are blind to your personal stories, so getting used to it now will help later on.

Contextless equality is behind ideas like blinded hiring practices – hiding the names on resumes to prevent bias in hiring for jobs. It’s behind standardized testing, behind tolerance of all religious clothing regardless of the oppression it might symbolize. It is more for equal treatment, not equal outcome. It cares about the interaction itself, and whether that interaction is consistent with all interactions. It views the contextual body as irrelevant.

I think the solidarity that comes out of contextless equality is underappreciated by the more liberally minded. Have you ever entered a system where your past didn’t matter, where the standards for you were the same as they were for everyone around you? Various forms of ritual does this – religious ceremonies and military training, for example. Cutting off your contextual body can be incredibly freeing and allow strong bonding with those around you.

I also think the empathy and recognition that comes from contextual equality is underappreciated by the more conservatively minded. Privilege and discussions of power aren’t always an attempt to shame, they’re attempts to recognize and comfort those who feel unheard. It’s how people with ‘worse’ contextual bodies voice their hurt at the difficulty of being around people with ‘better’ contextual bodies.

I personally suspect that intimate interactions are better done with contextual equality, and large systemic interactions are better done with contextless equality. The strength of contextual equality is that it is warm, personal, and it’s very difficult to maintain that effectively on a larger scale. The strength of contextless equality is that it promotes a sense of systemic unification, which can seem very cold when seen close up.
This is why I like the idea of blind hiring practices (contextless and systemic) but not affirmative action hiring practices (contextual and systemic). It’s why I like using trigger warnings with my friends (contextual and intimate) but not telling my friends they should just deal with it like everyone else (contextless and intimate).

I think usually those who look like they’re against equality are really just for a different sort of equality than we are. Most humans want good shit, in the end.

Facts vs. Truth

Years ago, a very liberal media source interviewed my very fundamentalist Christian father about his very fundamentalist Christian views on homosexuality. The outcome was a well-edited mash of audio-visual tricks that made my father look like a buffoon, saying and responding in uncharacteristic ways that highlighted the stupidity of what he was saying.

I did not feel sympathy. Even if the interviewers were not directly and literally honest, they communicated the “truth” behind his words – that of judgement, of intolerance, of irrationality – which I knew, from living with him, that he actually did feel – calling gay people ‘fags’ and ranting about the ‘gay agenda’ in private. In a way, I thought the interviewers sacrificed literal facts in order to reveal a greater truth. After all – my dad presented ‘literally’ would have showed him selecting his words carefully, making use of persuasive rhetoric, making his position look reasonable – and I believed that his position was obviously not reasonable. So really the interviewers, through their artistic use of interpretation, were actually doing good work with their alternative use of facts.

Several months ago I was stalked and chased down some deserted alleys in Istanbul. When the man charged at me, I screamed, and he stopped and fled, without touching me. When I told the story to my neighbors (who were going to help me translate to the authorities) they insisted that I lie and say the man had grabbed me – because if he hadn’t touched me, no crime had been committed and he couldn’t be prosecuted. And since we knew he was bad, and that he should be prosecuted, we should be dishonest about the literal facts in order to truthfully illuminate his badness.

My point is that we have an idea that sometimes facts aren’t the same as truth. That even if you say things correctly, you might give a false idea, and that sometimes saying things incorrectly is necessary in order to creatively reveal the true nature of reality. We sometimes forgive dishonest portrayals as necessary, particularly if we feel strongly or morally about the outcome.

It’s why we tolerate/love mockery and satire, or impassioned and exaggerated speech. It’s why we’re okay setting aside the ‘rational fact checking’ parts of our brain when ‘badness’ is happening – because deep down, we feel the facts no longer matter. Facts, even if true, can be misleading, can slow us down, can catch us in petty arguments over statistics or history, can distract us from things like protecting gay people or prosecuting would-be rapists. They can be used as weapons against us – if you’ve ever had a debate with an obviously-wrong person who is more technically informed than you, you know this frustration. Facts do not equal truth, at least not deep down in our gut.

And I don’t mean to say that this is bad or good. Was it a bad or good thing that I agreed to lie to the police about my stalker in Istanbul? I don’t care about whether or not this was moral – this is not the question I am trying to answer. Shutting down “caring about facts” has its benefits and drawbacks. All I am trying to say is that we do this. All the time. And to pretend that facts are facts are facts and that we only care about facts is an outright lie. Facts are useful when we can wield them for good, and misleading or distracting when others wield them for bad. We frequently care more about the feeling of truthiness, not the feeling of factuality, because truthiness always feels morally right, and sometimes facts feel morally wrong.

And so when I see outrage and disbelief about how people can support Trump after he repeatedly lies, contradicts himself, or displays a general disinterest in factuality, I feel like those outraged fail to understand this key concept. People supporting Trump are sacrificing facts in order to illuminate their ‘deeper truth’ in the same way I was sacrificing facts when I supported the pro-gay interviewers, when I lied that my stalker had touched me. They genuinely feel that the liberal agenda is ruining the country, and that sacrificing literal accuracy is a minor detour on the path to saving themselves and America. They are doing exactly the same thing that we do, except against us.

It is not a war of fact against fact, but rather truthiness against truthiness, with facts being used as weapons against each side.

If we want to step away from this, we have to be consistent. If I want to condemn Trump supporters for being tolerant of his lies, then I have to stop sympathizing with the pro-gay interviewers and I have to defend my father’s presentation of his views as he gave them. I have to tell the police the truth, even if it means a would-be rapist goes free. If Trump supporters do not get to pick and choose their own truth, then I don’t get to pick mine either.

Onwapathy

“Privilege” is a word that makes me feel a little icky, and every time someone brings it up in a conversation I get a bit defensive and skeptical. The concept feels too much like a scapegoat for responsibility, or a guilt inducer for the fortunate. And if you send me any mail after this telling me I’m a SJW who is shaming those with privilege, I will shoot you in the face.

But I want to try to understand it as sympathetically as possible, and I wasn’t able to until I noticed a specific feeling in myself in regards to my friend Josh.

Josh is extremely handsome (cis white male). He’s charismatic, friendly, confident, a world traveler, and gets laid. A lot. I feel happy for him. He’s got a great lot in life and is doing well.

But I noticed a funny response I had sometimes when he told me about his adventures, particularly when he said things like “You can just go talk to strangers, it’s easy!” or “And then I shook his hand and he offered me his basement to stay in for a week.” It was kind of a negative feeling, but I brushed it off.

I made friends with this (white cis) girl named Brittany. She had easily 9/10 looks – pouty red lips, huge blue eyes, blonde hair, button nose. People begged to photograph her. She worked for an agency and did product promotions. She exuded sexuality. Every time I was out in public with her it was like I was invisible – men swarmed to her and paid attention to me only to be polite.

And that funny response in my brain happened again when she said things like “Oh I’m sorry you hate your nose – I really hate my crooked tooth!” or “Haha I got invited up to his penthouse but I said no, you know how it is”.

In conversations with them I found myself trying to point out exactly how lucky they were. I said things like “You know, other people can’t just talk to strangers like that with the same results,” or “Nobody actually notices your crooked tooth, and my nose is super obvious.” I had the sensation that they weren’t fully aware of their extreme fortune, and over time I realized that this semi-frustrated feeling I was having towards Josh and Brittany was probably the same thing people felt when they talked about privilege. What I had been trying to do in conversations was get them to check their privilege.

And why did it feel so bad? What was the source of that discomfort and frustration when I sat there listening to Brittany talk flippantly about being hit on by a smalltime celebrity for the third time? Definitely some of it was jealousy (and I suspected for a time that people upset about privilege were just jealous), but that didn’t explain the entire picture. With time, empathy, and security my jealousy reduced, but that funny discomfort didn’t.

And I realized that my discomfort came from a specific phenomenon I wish we had a word for – “when someone feels as though they understand you but you feel as though they don’t understand you.”

I’m gonna call it One-Way Sympathy for now, and shorten it into this horrible conglomeration “onwapathy” and I’m going to use it and you’re going to deal with it.

My displeasure didn’t come from Josh having a great life, it came from Josh having a great life and assuming that I could too if I just did what he did. In his expression of this idea came a fundamental lack of understanding of what it was like to be me. In implying that he understood me, he was assuming that there was no further understanding to have, and by doing so he shut down the exploration of avenues I felt were unexplored – and that hurt. When I expressed insecurity with my physical body and Brittany tried to empathize by comparing her tiny flaw to my huge one, I felt bad. I felt unable to tell her that she didn’t understand. I felt onwapathy. And it’s not their fault – they were trying hard to be sympathetic. They just didn’t know.

I think when people express outrage about privilege they’re usually just trying to communicate onwapathy. They just want to feel understood.

Now I’m still skeptical of the word ‘privilege’ because it’s used in an accusing way, a way that implies wrongdoing or obligated atonement on the part of the privilege. I don’t believe in being ashamed of fortune or doing anything to counteract privilege, but I do believe in communicating the way you feel, especially if you feel misunderstood. All I really wanted from Josh and Brittany was an acknowledgement that things were harder for me than for them – that introverts have a harder time talking to strangers, that a crooked nose is a lot worse than a crooked tooth. That was it.

So I vote for eschewing the concept of ‘privilege’ for the concept of ‘onwapathy.’ It’s gentler, less accusatory, more communicative of feelings rather than aggressive moral principles, and I think brings us closer to the thing we all want the most deeply – to be understood.

Why I Can’t Say Yes To Sex

I am visiting South Africa. I’m staying in a beautiful apartment overlooking the ocean, and I am all alone.

I’ve been stupid horny. Like, masturbate-twice-a-day-with-various-household-objects horny.

I figured it would be nice to go on a date with a guy from Okcupid, maybe have some casual sex, and never see him again. I searched, found many possibly eligible men, but none who I really liked.

And so I spent nights alone, drinking wine on an empty pussy.

Why couldn’t I get laid? Why wasn’t I letting myself get laid? Why did I have these impossible standards about who I fucked when it didn’t really matter in the long run? I would obviously enjoy it while it was happening. I was cockblocking myself and I hated it.

It got me thinking, and I came up with a theory. I want to make clear that my following explanations for my behavior are not describing a conscious decision, but rather an idea of what must be happening behind the scenes.

For me, saying no to sex is a form of power. A lot of men want to sleep with me, and saying ‘no’ to them all is kind of primal, because it means A: Men want me, and B: I’m too “hot” for them – for all of them. I am sexually superior to them. I only say ‘yes’ to men I find sexually superior to myself. If a popular, handsome, and charming movie star – say a generic Chad McMuscles – came around and paid attention to me, I would probably at least start out with sexual interest, because he would be the most sexually superior mate. I assume I must be very motivated to have superior mate in my pussy, because I assume I’m programmed to try to produce the best baby, and settling for an inferior mate is just not great for my line of DNA.

This means that when I say yes to Chad McMuscles, I’m essentially telling him that he is the hottest/smartest/most intriguing man who’s paid attention to me – but more importantly, I am admitting he’s the best I can get. I’m submitting my sexual power, in a way, and it’s a very vulnerable position to be in.

This might be fine, because fancy moviestar Chad McMuscles is pretty high hanging fruit – but the problem is my subconscious brain doesn’t think so. My subconscious brain is an asshole.

“Are you sure you can’t do better?” it whispers to me (usually on the first date when he asks if I want to go back to his place). “Are you really going to let him know he’s the best you can possibly get? Your power is in saying no. You’re about to say yes. Are you sure you should be saying yes? Is this a good choice?  You know you lost all your superpowers, right? Is this worth it? Is it?!?

Of course this is very silly. I frequently just ignore this stupid voice because I am an adult and I like sex. I also frequently ignore it because the kind of people I like and respect as individuals are people who aren’t generally very good at triggering the primal side of me, and if I want to be intimate with them, I have to shut myself up, usually with copious amounts of alcohol.

But I do think this has had an effect on what I like in bed.

I like forced sex exclusively (and consensually, of course). Forceful sex is the only way I can get out of my head and feel the way that other people talk about feeling in sex – passionate, involved, ecstatic. It’s almost the only way I can orgasm. In relationships I typically have an agreement that they must never ask me for sex, because I will always say no. If they want sex, they have to take it from me. Before you feel offended by this, lots of men really like this sort of arrangement.

And I think it feels so freeing because I no longer have to worry about whether or not I’m giving up power.. Feeling a hand yanking on my hair and a smack on my ass is a weird soothing message into my subconscious that I did not say yes to this. I am not giving up power. There is nothing wrong with my sexual value because I neither asked for it nor allowed it. Really, it just reaffirms my ideal view of the world – of course a man would want to have sex with me so bad that he would ignore my ‘no’.

I trick my primal brain into believing this, and then it allows me to enjoy sex.

Now, I’ve been followed and chased twice before – one involved chestkicking a man out of my apartment door when he tried to shove in after me, and the other involved a man trying to grab me in a dark alley in the middle of the night. Both were absolutely terrifying and horrible and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.

But… I masturbated to it later. I felt fucked up because it turned me on, like it shouldn’t, like I was betraying some sort of moral code, or admitting a victory to those horrible men, by allowing myself to fantasize about it.

At some point I just have to throw my hands up. I’m not going to judge myself for the things that get me going. I engage in safe, consensual play. I in no way condone actually forcing anybody into a sexual experience against their will.

I don’t know how many other women experience this sort of mindset. Part of me wants to think it’s widespread, because a lot of women like rough sex, and the idea of a woman having sexual value by being approached by men and then saying no to men is a
huge
part
of
our
culture.

Men don’t really get the same message. Generally you don’t hear them bragging about how they said no to all the women. Men get the message of sexual value by getting lots of women to say yes (cue every single music video of rappers coated in a writhing blanket of womanflesh). When men do brag about being “too sexy for you” it’s almost always done for comedy.

(disclaimer: this seems to be the case regarding initial dating or flirtations with the opposite sex, or pure sexual desire. Messages about love and relationships are a whole different category.)

It doesn’t seem like too big a leap to hypothesize that maybe this emphasis on a woman’s sexual value in rejecting leads to anxiety about accepting. And in a world where rejecting sex is celebrated as a status symbol of value, this may be what leads to slut shaming – where those who accept too much are viewed as having given up their status symbol.

So… maybe we should stop celebrating women who say no?