So Who Were You Speaking For?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“Naughty. Naughty. Naughty.”
The other day, a friend-of-a-friend was at a BDSM spanko party, where heavy-handed spankers meet up with willing spankees.  And the host cruised by, pointed at three girls, and pronounced them each to be naughty.
Problem was, one of the girls did not feel that she was naughty.  To her, “naughty” had a very specific context used among lovers – only someone with power over her could pronounce judgment on her – and so she hotly told the host in no uncertain terms that she was not a naughty girl.
The host replied that this wasn’t a big deal, and she shouldn’t get offended, and as such blew her off.  Publicly.
And I think the relevant question is, “Who was that ‘naughty’ intended for?”
Because the weird thing about language is that sometimes we say things to amuse other people – and that attempt fails.  In which case, we’re often a little hurt, but the response is going to include some regret, because you were just trying to lighten their day and instead you hurt them.
Which sucks.  And it’s hard apologizing when you were just being silly and someone bites your fucking head off.  But if what you said is not a big deal, then it’s not a big deal to apologize, either – and so the usual response here is a stiff “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” (Perhaps followed by a vow not to make jokes with that person again, jeez, they’re prickly.)
But the underlying feeling is regret.  You wanted to lighten their day, and instead you pissed them off.  Fuck.  Sorry.
On the other hand, that “naughty” can also be a form of claiming.  In other words, in my fantasies you’re a naughty girl who needs a spanking, and so I aim my finger at you and pow!  You are.
In those cases, people say it’s not a big deal… but really, what’s happening is that I’m forcing my desires upon you.  I think you should act this way, so I can live in the fantasy world that I long to be in.  When you tell me you’re not a naughty girl, you’re actually shattering this dreamlike state I am living in, one where any girl is pliable to my exact desires – and I am going to react extremely negatively to that, because you’ve just hauled your ugly reality into my unmarred dreamstate.
I built castles in the sky made of naughty girls who needed punishment, and you cast me down.
Those little commands – “Naughty,” “Smile, pretty girl,” and endless other microaggressions – are actually a way of marking territory, saying, “You exist to fulfill my desires, whether you want to or not.”  Which is in itself an insult, when properly parsed.  And when that territory asserts itself to say “No, I am not that,” it’s seen as umbrage – because the “naughty” girl isn’t just reacting poorly to a joke that fell flat, she’s actually telling him that the world he wants to live in does not exist.
In those cases, what often gets told is that the woman is being too angry.  If she’d just politely apologize, the argument goes, then she’d deserve an apology.  Yet she was too uppity.
But that, too, is a form of enforcing fantasy: In the dream-world these dudes live in, women exist to carry out their desires.  The women cultivate their favor sweetly, and if they are good enough – you know, not naughty – then he magnanimously grants them a favor.  A woman demanding something of him angrily is yet another unwelcome reminder that women are not extensions of his sexual fantasies.
Now, I’m not saying necessarily that’s what happened here.  The danger of pointing to any specific incident is the debate over whether this incident meets those criteria, which always gets muddied because “Hey, the dude who called her ‘naughty’ is a wonderful man, he does so many good things!” – which is undeniably true that dudes who do this can have good sides too, as no human being is so simple that you can flip a switch and go “ANGEL” or “DEMON.” (EDIT: Nor, in fact, do I know exactly how the woman responded here, which she claims is far less “haughty” and angry than the host claimed.  Again.  Wasn’t there.)
And the larger problem is that frankly, it could go either way.  Sometimes people make innocent mistakes, angering when they meant to charm.  They were, in some clumsy way, trying to lighten someone else’s day, and for whatever reason – miscommunication, bad tone, an overly-prickly person – they fuck it up.
But the other sort of shit looks exactly the same, and happens an awful lot: dudes, off-handedly commanding a woman to participate in their desires.  The women react poorly.  And the dudes are all like “Hey, this isn’t a big deal, why’s she getting so bent out of shape, I’m not going to apologize!”
And if it’s not a big deal, then it shouldn’t be a big deal for you to apologize.  Because is this about you, intending to make someone happy and falling short?
Or is this about you quietly enforcing control, and getting properly called out on bullshit?

1 Comment

  1. Reece Butler
    Feb 21, 2015

    Thank you for this blast of clarity. Now I understand better why men catcall women (and others) and get so upset when the objects of their insults reply back. Or when ‘walking with bored expression ignoring all comments’ leads to insults and threats.
    When we don’t respond as their fantasies say we should they see it as an attack. For when we speak up, talk back, or ignore them, it means we believe they are not worthy of us. Which is the truth. And they do not like reality.
    And isn’t ‘catcall’ a ridiculous word?

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