On Cats and Consent

How do you teach young children about consent? How do they learn what is and is not appropriate touch? How do we teach them to accept and respect the boundaries other people have set for their bodies and personal space?

These are difficult and confusing questions. The issues are complex and nuanced. It’s not as easy as “keep your hands to yourself” and “no means no.” It gets even more difficult when we say no one can touch you with out your permission but then we force them to let creepy Aunt Agnes to kiss them. If you delve into the layers of different relationships and social cues that vary from one society to the other and one family to another it becomes impossible to comprehensively impart this type of understanding to a child.

My suggestion is to give each child a cat. Why? Well, for starters our culture doesn’t expect as much in terms of tolerance and behavior from cats. Mans best friend is not permitted to bite or growl no matter what forms of torture and fear you subject it to. If Jr. pulls his tail and pokes him in the eye, Rover is just supposed to endure. Not so much for Fluffy. If you torture the cat there will be retribution and every adult will tell you it is your own fault. Therefore, I suggest that cats are the ultimate tool for teaching consent.

The alien dog has three cats who are his minions. These are not my cats. They make me aware that they are fully developed individuals who have chosen to live with the alien dog and tolerate me. They permit the alien dog to sleep with them, touch them, and play with them all on a regular basis. I am only allowed intermittent contact. Sometimes they want to sit on me but I can’t touch them. Sometimes they want to be pet or brushed. It’s all on their terms.

One of the cats is very large and has this incredibly fluffy pooch of a belly. It hangs down when he walks and he is very often lying on his back showing it off to the world. It is the softest fur I have ever touched. I love his belly fluff. He does not like me to touch his belly. Some days he will permit me to give it a quick rub. Most of the time he tells me no with a dirty look. If I attempt to touch the belly after the dirty look he will swat me away. If I persist there will be blood drawn. The cat gets to decide when and if I can pet his belly. And he can change his mind at any time.

The cats have also taught me that touch is not always reciprocal. Sometimes one of the minions likes to reach up and gently pat my face. One of them likes to reach out and barely touch my foot while I sleep. This does not mean that either of them like it when I touch their paws or face. I have the scars to prove it!

Ever try to pickup a cat that didn’t want to be held? Ever try to get one in a carrier? Ever try to get the cat off the bed so you can change the sheets? Yeah, good luck to you. Because a cat doesn’t change its behavior for you. It doesn’t allow your desire to determine its movements. If it wants to sit in the sun then you can just wait. There is no amount of begging, pleading, bribing, manipulating, or whining that will change a cats mind. Force them to your will at your own peril.

Now what about all this blood? Cats are notorious for scratching the hell out of you when you have crossed the line. We accept this as a natural behavior from an animal defending its right to personal space and the sovereignty to be felt the hell alone. Why do we permit this in a cat, but not in a human being? Perhaps it is the illusion of control. For some reason we have, as a culture, accepted that cats will never be fully domesticated. As such, we have entered into a contract where the humans  and the cat will respect each others limits. Sometimes we will forget or cross a line. This will result in a gentle reminder, be it getting pushed off the bed when they attack you toes or being swatted at when you pet an off-limits area of the feline body. If it goes beyond that we agree that claws will be employed.

Give each child a cat and let them learn about consent through trial and error.  Think of how valuable those lessons are. I summarized them for those in the back:

Point #1- Each individual gets to choose who is permitted to touch them

Point#2- Each individual can change their mind and owe you no explanation

Point #3- Just because you let them touch you that doesn’t mean they owe you a damn thing

Point #4- Your desire does not supersede any other individuals autonomy

Point #5- Individuals have the right to defend themselves if you don’t respect their boundaries.

 

VWW-Unclubbable

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Unclubbable

having or showing a disinclination for social activity : unsociable

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And this pretty much sums me up. It is spotlighted during the holiday season with all the parties and mad rush to celebrate. I have no interest in any of it.

Yes, Christmas is great. So is Chanukah, and Yule, and Festivus, and probably Kwanza (I’m woefully ignorant about Kwanza). But it’s getting cold and it’s dark at three in the afternoon. My circadian rhythms are flooding my body with signals to hibernate, not celebrate. I want to crawl under a warm, fuzzy blanket and whisper words of devotion to my pillow.

Lets not even start with the New Years parties. I get it. Out with the old, in with the new. But why? I mean, it’s just some arbitrary date on a calendar. It’s not really a good starting point. I mean, it’s not really mid winter since winter only started on the solstice a few weeks ago. That marked the shortest day of the year. There would be a good place to start over. When the days begin to get longer and the sun returns. I could have a party for the return of the light.

But I probably still wouldn’t go. I hate small talk. I really don’t like socializing. I loathe having to repress my thoughts, opinions, and expression in favor of a socially acceptable mask. Standing in a room full of people I hardly know, holding something I most likely won’t consume, and attempting to be mildly pleasant so no one is offended is exhausting, not entertaining. On the flip side, drunken revelry isn’t appealing either. Who wants to drag themselves out of the house only to be surrounded by strangers with no impulse control? That doesn’t seem fun anymore.

So I am unclubbable.  And I think I am alright with that. You go have fun for me.

Expiration Date Approaching!

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I feel like I am approaching my expiration date as a woman. Sure, we tell each other woman are attractive at all ages, but who are we kidding? In this declining civilization with its emphasis on the perfunctory aesthetic the desire for superficial expressions of worth have gained significance in the social strata. Whether the fault of changing values, the sound bites media sensationalize, or the internet and social media removing our human interaction the result remains that there is an increasing amount of value placed upon outward appearance. This is true for both men and women. Though, as usual, women bear the heavier burden as historically they were nothing more than property and an extension of a man’s wealth and status. To have an attractive spouse and /or daughters was a symbol of prosperity. Much the way we view cars today. Think that has changed? Just look at fashion or gossip magazines. It’s still all about the outer package. We may propound ourselves to be more enlightened about such things but the truth is we still judge women more harshly than men in regards to physical attractiveness. Agree or disagree, my point is that I am approaching my expiration date. How do I know this? The amount of young men who approach me for the Cougar Experience.

Young men, vital and alive, exploding with the promise of the unknown future. These men approach me with all the bravado and pomposity that their egos and some alcohol can produce. They come up to my table, they interrupt my conversation, and they think that I will be impressed by their rudeness. They know that I am older than the girls they normally approach. I am some mythic beast, a gauntlet thrown down before them, K2 that needs to be conquered. I am an “older woman.” I’m not sure what bawdy stories get passed around among the post college young adult males about the sexual prowess of older woman but I can gather from their demeanor the tales have grown to epic proportions. This is not an attraction borne out of biochemistry and pheromones. It’s not a vestigial evolutionary instinct. No, this is an entirely socially constructed bucket list challenge and I am their target. They are going to bed this cougar and live to tell the tale complete with embellishments and photographic evidence of flesh wounds endured at her hands.

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It makes no difference to these young men that I have no interest in their quest. I just want to enjoy my meal, my show, the book, my coffee. But alas, I am confronted with a fine specimen of masculinity at the height of its potential, complete with the confidence that only comes with either youth or the privilege of white male mediocrity. I am inundated with flattery and blatant lies, they pretend to fall at my feet and adore me with false worship thinking, incorrectly, that is what I want. They know my youth is fading, to their eyes it is already gone, they believe the honeyed words with make me delusional enough to believe that they have an actual interest in me. They cannot comprehend why someone teetering on the edge of obscurity and staring into the abyss of middle age and looking down the barrel of the loaded gun that is menopause would deny myself a night of adventure with an exuberant creature such as themselves.

But they know little of women. They are cavorting with what are still girls. Young women who are still playing games, who have time on their side, who haven’t yet settled into their own skin. These girls have not blossomed into women. They have they physical presence of a woman, but not the internal fortitude. The cougar hunter hasn’t developed they skills of honesty and vulnerability, they can’t balance guarding themselves with being genuine. They can only replay the schema that has generated results for them in the past. They know not what a woman wants from a man. And not a man of media construct, but a man who can vanquish his own demons as well as the demons hiding under the toddlers bed at 3 am. A man who knows how precious time is and that to waste a moment of someone’s time is a crime too heinous to consider. A man who understands that being inebriated is not having fun, who understands that enthusiasm is the best gauge of consent, who respects the space and decisions of another person. A man who is discreet.

No, the cougar hunter will get nowhere with me. The posturing, the genuflecting, the capitulation to prescribed gender norms is usually diverting. But not enough to waste an evening. Not enough to try to get them to leave, because the youth never understand when they have overstayed their invitation. Not enough to revisit the unskilled encounter that all women remember too well from their own youth. Nor do they understand how unflattering it is to be singled out as approaching antiquity from the perspective of the youth obsessed culture. I enjoy watching them try though.

Small Talk

i-hate-small-talk-1-638You know you have gained weight when someone you haven’t seen in a while comments. It’s always the same comment casually dropped into the polite small talk.

“Lost some weight, I see.”

You know that isn’t what they mean because when you actually have lost weight its the opening statement and always exclaimed with gusto.

“You’ve lost a ton of weight! You look so good!

 
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OK, what did I look like before? And really, a ton? Sigh.

My size has been my albatross my entire life. Sisyphus had his boulder. I have my scale.

 

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The struggle is real!

 Several years ago I eliminated scales and mirrors from my house. All I have is the mirrors in the bathroom and one to see the back of my hair. They are all shoulder height and up.

 I did this so I would stop the unhealthy obsession with size and appearance. It worked. I focus more on the nutrition and source of my food than I do the fat and calories. It’s reflected in my blood work if not my BMI.

The most surprising result of not having mirrors is how much happier I have been. I worry less about what I look like and how other may perceive me. Removing that vanity focused my attentions on my character. The kind of person I am and my behavior became something I processed as opposed to who found me acceptable to look at. I gained confidence. I grew comfortable with the traits that made my who I am. My body was a conveyance that I maintained. It didn’t happen right away, but it did happen.

Not that insecurities didn’t wiggle their way back in, because of course they did. I would see my reflection in glass walking past a store, or in addressing room mirror and think, “Crap! Less fro-yo and more kale!” Or a photo of me would appear and I would wonder if I really looked like that. But those moments were fleeting.

Then someone tries to slip that backhanded compliment into the conversation and all of the B.S. comes rushing back. The insecurities, the self loathing, the feelings of not being good enough. And you spend the night balancing on the edge of the tub looking at different parts of your body. Analyzing them. Scrutinizing each part and finding it wanting. When will we stop doing this to ourselves?

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Indoctrination

I have never been a fan of romance novels. It always seemed like granny porn, something older women read to fantasize. At one time I would buy used romances based on the absurdity of the cover at a thrift store, read them with a group of my friends, and make fun of the passages. Nothing like hot, moist, loins ignited with the flames of desire to get us all into a good belly laugh. If we ventured beyond that we would poke fun at the horribly simplistic depictions of interactions between the genders. The men were always in a position of power, often some sort of misunderstood outlaw or unjustly vilified criminal and the women were always some sort of victim, either a hostage or a forced marriage or some sort of dilemma that implies subservience. At some point the female protagonist always attempts some show of defiance or independence in an attempt to remove herself from the situation at hand only to find that she is really in love with the man and thus succumbs to her fate proving that love makes everything better. Apparently, even Stockholm Syndrome.

Tell me this doesn't send a message!

Tell me this doesn’t send a message!

So why do so many women read these things? I think the bodice ripping romance has become the modern parable in that it reinforces for women the lessons we are taught as small girls about accepting rape culture. That’s a bold statement, I know, but hear me out. Remember being very young on a playground and a boy teases you, pulls your hair, pinches or hits you? Remember crying because either your feelings or actual body were hurt? Remember being told by an adult that the boy did that because he liked you? Remember thinking that made no sense at all? I’m pretty sure we all remember that.

This is probably our first indoctrination into rape culture. Being told to accept physical and emotional abuse from a peer as a sign of affection is ludicrous. If an adult woman said a man was hitting and belittling her we wouldn’t say it was because he loved her. We would tell her she deserves better and to get away from him. But little girls are taught to accept that kind of behavior and encouraged to do so with as little objection as possible. Not only does this encourage girls to internalize that boys will cause them pain if they are admired, but also that boys are not capable of processing emotions. Has anyone ever stepped back and thought about how insane this is?

This is just one big self-fulfilling prophecy. Boys will be boys is a permissive encouragement to young boys to continue to be more physical and less verbal in their expression. Not only does it give boys license to be more physical, it also discourages them from verbal expression. Additionally, it enforces a sense of male privilege in allowing boys to solve their problems by corporeal means. Girls are taught to accept this as not only a matter of course, but a compliment. They shouldn’t cry or make a fuss when they are hurt or bullied by boys. That’s just what boys do. It’s how boys express themselves. Girls need to learn how to change their instinct to protect themselves from assault, be it verbal or physical, because the nature of boys can’t be overcome. And that’s just the way it is.

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This belief is so pervasive in our culture that it is perpetuated without thought. Sure, we say things like “Use your words” and “Don’t hit girls” but we don’t really back that up. “Use your words” is for situations when being combative is frowned upon. Like the classroom or the grocery store, places even children know they have to fall in line. But once they are let loose on a playground, the natural habitat if you will, those rules no longer apply. “Don’t hit girls” is generally given to mean don’t hit them in anger. You can indeed use physical force to express your superiority, because boys will be boys after all. And children understand this, even if they can’t articulate it. They hear what we say and see what we do. They learn the lesson by witnessing who gets rewarded for what specific behavior regardless of what the rules are explained to be. They learn very early that the game is rigged.

Sooner or later people become more self-aware and gain critical thinking skills and the ability to question. Here is where the romance novel comes into play. It’s not alone and I don’t mean to get down on a single genre of writing. There are several cousins that assist romances in reinforcing the cultural code of male privilege and rape culture. Romantic comedies, fashion magazines, television, music, and on and on. There is always a subset that works towards sustaining the status quo. But the general form of the romance novel as stated earlier is simply that men are in positions of power, they take what they want, women will grow to like it, and it’s sold to us wrapped up as a love story. So how is that different from telling a five-year old he punched your arm and ripped the head off your doll because he likes you?