Saturday, December 5, 2009

Return on the Investment of Not Being a (total) Jerk

The SEC Championship. Alabama vs. Florida. Glory, drama, tradition. A football gal's dream.

We have two young 'uns, a leftover gift certificate to Outback Steakhouse, and no desire to fix dinner during the game. I'll just go to Outback at halftime and presto! problem solved.

I arrive shortly into halftime, in my houndstooth check coat and crimson scarf, and there is no one at the take-out stand. Except an older couple studying the menu with an intensity that startles and alarms the gal behind them, who is determined to place her order and depart before the start of the third quarter.

Years and years ago, I waited tables at Outback. I know this couple. She is overweight and her ballet slipper style gold sequin shoes show stress at the seams. He is dressed in a fastidious but not expensive fashion. If they were seated in my section I would groan inwardly while fixing a bright smile on my face to greet them. It's not really their fault they don't know how to tip and it's not my prerogative to give them less than my best because of my prejudicial assessment of the likelihood that I'm about to get stiffed.

Safely behind them and invisible while they peruse the menu, I silently tap a foot and fix my best annoyed customer expression on my face. Not because I'm hoping they will notice- I'd feel pretty bad if they did- but because I'm hoping someone who works there might and please come tend the take-out stand. Let's speed this up, people.

Unfortunate shoe matron turns to see me behind her, smiles broadly, and says, "Mumble,mumble, mumble, good, mumble,mumble, reasonmumble?"

I don't hear well so I know some of my trouble is attributable to this undignified condition but I do hear well enough to know that something is off with her speech. She is foreign or has had a stroke. I've never had a stroke, but I've been foreign and that is challenging enough.

"Sorry?" I ask, with what I hope is an encouraging smile.

She communicates that she would like to know what articles on the menu are agreeable and affordable. They have a $25 gift certificate and do not want to exceed that amount.

"It's been a while since I've eaten here but everything is pretty good. I have a $50 gift certificate, though, and I don't think I'll spend more than $35, so if you go a little over I'll pick up the difference." I tell her. I've been there, looking through the window at goodies I can't quite afford. It sucks.

She is delighted and bends over the menu again. He opts for a chicken and ribs combo I've had and I assure him it is good, she chooses a chicken sandwich item I've never tried. The attendant finally manifests, looking harried, and takes their order. They come in just under the $25 limit.

I'm a bit disappointed but I think it's sweet they didn't try to take advantage.

The neatly dressed gentleman focuses attention on the television at the bar while I place my order. I don't need the menu since I checked it online and had already made my selection.

"I've got a connection to Alabama," he says. Cool. They're Alabama fans. "My brother-in-law and both my nephews played there."

I cease the recitation of my order, much to the server's confusion and ill-concealed irritation, and ask, "Who's your brother-in-law?"

"Did you ever hear of Jeremiah Castille?"

I proceed to mild hysteria and a borderline apoplectic seizure. Holy hell. Jeremiah Castille and his sons, Tim and Simeon, are Alabama legend. Jeremiah was the MVP during the Bear's last game in 1982. He went pro with Tampa Bay, I think.

After stuttering praise for the man's august relations and watching his proud grin grow wider and wider, I offer to buy them dessert. The wife is tickled pink. She orders cheesecake.

Damn if I didn't get home to find the people at Outback put Jeremiah Castille's brother-in-law's cheesecake in with my order instead of his. I hope something good happens to them sometime soon. They were nice folks, and exceedingly generous in their pride for the achievements of their family.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Gender Identity vs. Overt Misogyny

I wanted to post something funny but alas, alack, I lack the anecdote. Perhaps tonight's holiday office party will provide fodder for the next post. So instead, here's what's on my mind:

Is it misogynistic to have a male character who is bigger/better/faster/stronger than the female protagonist?

I keep reading book reviews by people I deem superior to me in literary taste, social consciousness, and basic coolness. They don't like the pop culture books that I enjoy and the reason that crops up with the most frequency is that the book is antifeminist in some way. And no, I am not talking about Twilight, although its popularity demonstrates a personal conviction of mine.

Evolution trumps social consciousness.

We are all descended from hunter-gatherer societies with division of labor based on biological necessities. Women bear children. Human children require a lot of time and attention, with one of the longest and most intensive juvenile periods in the animal kingdom. It might be possible, or even advisable, to be a single mother these days but for most of human history it would have been a very difficult prospect. I propose, therefore, that most women exhibit a genetic preference for a male who can provide and protect. This gives offspring the greatest chance at viability. It is a documented reproduction strategy called "sexual selection by female choice" and is most notable among species with concealed ovulation, or a fertile time that is not advertised to the male of the race.

Whether or not a gal wants children odds are good she will find her sex drive still dovetails with those traits her progenitors required.

Men who want the choicest females look for one who is likely to produce healthy offspring. i.e.: They like their ladies hot. While facial features and coloring vary by race, some indicators of "health," like figure, are nearly universal. An "ideal" female body shape, for example, demonstrates proportions that cross culture and race. The preferred ratio of a model's bust, hip, and thighs are the same on every continent. Except maybe Antarctica but there is no population to speak of there.

Then begins the demonstration of masculine desirability. This can be physical superiority but because we are social creatures other forms of power, such as wealth, can compensate. Hence, the "howcome men can get older and still be sexy" lament. Older men have amassed more wealth as a general rule. Nobody thinks the salt and pepper silver fox with food stamps is a catch. If he's driving a Mercedes, however, swoon.

I'm not saying this is universal or that we can't get off the reservation, just that it is already hardwired in a spectrum pattern with extremes at both ends. But it would go a long way towards explaining why we return, generation after generation, to stereotypes that most of us agree are outdated.

So, is it actually misogynistic to recognize these distinctions and stereotypes in our writing? I think no. Unoriginal, but not misogynistic. It crosses the line into anti-feminist when the characters are punished in some way for breaking out of traditional roles and I don't see that much in current fiction. Writing within a traditional role isn't the same thing as rejecting a non-traditional or even counter-culture one.

The biggest complaint about YA books is that most often the male character is the vampire, werewolf, supernatural whatever and the hapless damsel is either at his mercy or under his protection. In reality, the "supernatural" is just a crutch for "supermasculine." Most of the traits that come with the title are exaggerations of physical qualities we consider male: speed, strength, and sometimes aggression.

The uber masculine hero and the heroine who values strength and loyalty in her man are not going away because they lie at the center of the spectrum and appeal to the greatest number. Or lowest common denominator, if you want to look at it that way. As a value judgement, it seems harsh to hold it against society in general that we tend to look for our ideal mate in a romantic figure. We can stretch things a good bit- look at how many more of our heroines get to do a lot of thinking and even some saving (yay!) and how many emo vampires (boo!) are out there- but trying to reverse the role altogether and still produce a commodity that resonates is tricky business. No matter how much I tell myself I should, I really don't want to read the love story between the 98 pound weakling and She-Ra.

This is what the romance industry has known for years. It's also why they are growing while almost everyone else is not. The rare books that appeal to the mainstream without alienating the academics blend the lines but they don't completely erase them.