Stuff that I think about. Mostly books.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Online Dating, Controlvees, and Street Harassment: A Musing

For better or for worse, and possibly against my better judgment, I've recently re-entered the fray of online dating. I make no defense, except to say that I meet people almost exclusively through book publishing these days, and straight single dudes are somewhat hard to find in that context. It's lost its stigma, ok? Digital Age! Social Media! Leave Me Alone!

Anyway, if you're a straight single woman of moderate attractiveness who has ever tried online dating, you know that you basically get two types of messages. The first type is from a guy who has read (or at least skimmed) what you've posted in your profile, found something interesting, and struck up a conversation about it. They might not do it very well, and their motives might not always be sincere, but they're at least trying to engage you and learn about you and get you talking.

The second type is from a different kind of man altogether, whom I like to call the Controlvee, based on his method of message-composing: Ctrl+C + Ctrl+V. The Controlvee sends exactly the same message, perhaps with some small variations, to every woman he thinks is likely to give him a boner. The Controlvees can themselves be broken into two separate categories. The Clueless Controlvee is probably a perfectly nice man in real life, but simply doesn't get it. His message usually goes something like this:

"Hey! I had a look at your profile and you seem like a really cool girl. I'm a confident 25-year-old who loves to get outside and enjoy everything this city has to offer! I'm looking for someone I can take out for romantic dinners, spend weekends on camping trips, and just relax and enjoy life. Write me back if you like what you see!"
While the Clueless Controlvee isn't trying to be offensive, he still is. Because nothing in that message translates into "I am interested in you as a human being, and would like to talk to you about things that you are passionate about, because we share common interests." It just translates into "I'm bored and lonely and I saw your photo and you appear not to be disfigured so I'm going to shotgun this form letter out to you in the hopes that you'll care enough to reply in a way that I didn't." Or, in other words: "I want you to make all the effort, because I'm lazy."

The other kind of Controlvee is a different breed altogether, and I have termed him Controlvee McDouche. Controlvee McDouche is, not to put too fine a point on it, an asshole. Like the Clueless Controlvee, he copies-and-pastes the exact same message to every woman within a 100-mile radius who doesn't look like she lives in a swamp. If you're lucky, his message will look like this:

"wow what a beatuful smile!!! do u have msn? check out my profile n let me know if u want 2 chat ;) xo mike"

It's always Mike.

If you're not lucky, it looks like this:

"dayaaam girl u gotta nice pair!!! lol jus playin' whut u doin this weekend? hit me up"

I'm not sure what Controlvee McDouche is thinking, but I can be sure of this: Controlvee McDouche is not at all interested in me. He's interested in what he can get out of me. To Controlvee McDouche, I am not a human being with experiences, interests, and values, some of which do not involve his penis. I am something he can use to accomplish what he wants. To put it another way, I am an object.

I've been reading The Sexist a lot recently, and Amanda Hess strikes up a lot interesting discussions about street harassment. What's been fascinating to me, as I navigate this nebulous world, is how similar the Controlvee is to a street harasser. His approach is the same as those guys who honk their car horn at you when you're walking down the street, or the guy you pass by who demands that you stop and chat with him for a while. The street harasser doesn't care about you; he cares about what you can provide him.

And just like the street harasser, Controlvees really, really hate being called out on their obvious misogyny and objectification. Some men get pretty peeved when they're told that telling a woman they don't know to "give us a smile" is offensive; they think us wimminz, being immediately wooed by compliments, ought to be flattered. Similarly, Controlvees see nothing wrong with their approach, and think that you're the one at fault because you didn't respond. What, you don't like hearing that you have a beautiful smile? What's wrong with you? Don't you like flattery? Everyone likes being told that they're cute! You're just stuck-up! Your standards are way too high!

I don't think my standards are too high, really. I just would like my opinions, activities, and interests to be acknowledged, even in a small way. I have a whole big list right there on my profile of things I like to do, stuff I like to listen to, what I do for a living, opinions I have. None of that matters to Controlvees. Because the only thing that matters to a Controlvee is the Controlvee.

Sigh. I wish I could go back to college. Life was much simpler back then.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Obesity Crisis Media Hypery

Via my good friend Katie - who is a rarity amongst health writers, in that she actually employs critical thinking skills on a regular basis - comes this article from Reuters about an impressive study on weight gain and age. Researchers followed the exercise and eating habits of 34,000 American women over the course of 15 years. When I say "impressive," I mean in terms of the sample size and length of the study, because the results were decidedly unimpressive: The average woman can expect to gain 5.7 pounds over 15 years.

I don't know about you, but the fact that I will be slightly heavier when I'm 38 than I am now is far less concerning to me than the fact that this apparently qualifies as news. I'm no scientist, but isn't it pretty much common sense that metabolism decreases with age, which leads to weight gain? Or maybe it's that people, especially women, tend to take on more responsibilities as they age (children, housework, increased career responsibility, finances), which translates into less time for exercise and dieting? Well, whatever the reason, I and, I would hope, most reasonable thinking people are decidedly "meh" about these findings.

But of course, this is the media, where any excuse to rant about teh fatties is a good one. So let's count all the ways in which this article corresponds exactly to Obesity Crisis Media Hypery, shall we?

Obesity Crisis Media Hypery Method #1: Combine relatively unremarkable data with ridiculously hyperbolic reporting.

As I've already mentioned, the fact that 40-year-olds tend to weigh more than 25-year-olds is neither breaking nor news. But according to Reuters, a 5.7-pound weight gain is incentive to war. No, I'm not exaggerating:

Winning that war will require individuals to make changes in their daily routines -- like walking or biking to work -- but it may also take a shift in policy to make it easier for people in fit exercise into their lives, researchers said. (emphasis mine)

You heard it here first, folks. Those six pounds are the enemy; your (necessarily female) body is the battleground. Which makes you a soldier, and a patriot. You're not just trying to stay skinny enough for your skinny jeans; you're serving your country. (The fact that the United States is currently at war - an actual war, in which people are getting killed - is apparently lost on Reuters.)

Obesity Crisis Media Hypery Method #2: Accompany article with unflattering photo of morbidly obese woman or women, with face(s) obscured in some way.

It is apparently the law that any article that mentions weight in any way must be accompanied by a Headless Fatty photo. To Reuters' credit, they seem to have removed the photo that originally headed the article, but rest assured that they stayed well within the parameters of that unbreakable law. The photo was of two very large women in bathing suits at the pool, their backs turned.

Not only is the Headless Fatty photo dehumanizing and offensive - click the link for more on that - but it's also total bullshit. The ubiquitous Headless Fatty, first of all, is a human being, who in all likelihood did not ask or intend to represent a public health crisis, and who, without her consent, now finds herself the subject of disgust and ridicule in international news. That's the important thing. But also? Most overweight and obese people do not look like the Headless Fatty. The Headless Fatty is much, much fatter than the vast majority of overweight and obese Americans, which makes the use of her photo to accompany these types of news stories completely inaccurate and misleading. It's like if you wrote an article about how it's been raining a little more this year than it did last year, and then you illustrated it with a picture of a hurricane. (I struggled for a while with that analogy, and I'm still not happy with it, because it seems to imply that hurricanes and morbidly obese people have similarly devastating effects. If you have a better suggestion, feel free to leave it below.)

Obesity Crisis Media Hypery Method #3: Dole out completely unrealistic "advice" that will solve this public health crisis.

Still worried about being slightly fatter in 15 years than you are now? Don't worry; there's a solution. Just spend seven hours a week exercising.

Ok, on its face, I guess that doesn't seem like that much. An hour a day? Ok. But let's break this down. Compared to a lot of people, I am really not that busy. I work, but only about 44 hours a week; I go to school, but only part-time; I don't have kids; and my social calendar is relatively sparse on account of my being a prematurely elderly lady who doesn't like to go to bed past 11. But even I would have trouble meeting this goal. Why? Partly it's because I'm as lazy as a housecat, but mostly, it's because I have other shit I like to do.

Here's what the researchers suggest:

"I think the easiest thing is actually commuting," she said, suggesting people walk or bike to work, and if they drive, to park farther away from the office.
It takes an astonishing amount of privilege to say this kind of thing with a straight face. First of all, ok, there's the assumption that everyone everywhere works in an office. Second, walking to work is really not an option if you work long hours and live far away, because, see, it gets dark out. And while women are told that we have to walk around all the time because otherwise we'll be fat, we're also told that walking around all the time will get us raped and we should never do it. See how that's confusing? And I would imagine that, for people who don't live in biker-friendly cities, "biking to work" is actually not the easiest thing because it could get you killed. Way quicker and probably more painfully than the deathfats.

But sure. Commuting to your plushy 9-to-5 office job is the easiest thing. Obvs. Can't do it? Too bad. BOOTSTRAPS!
If seven hours a week are just too hard to fit in, Lee said people might want to consider vigorous exercise such as jogging, which can cut the weekly time requirement in half.
Consider this, Lee: To jog, you either need a gym membership, which most people can't afford, or you need access to safe pathways, which most people don't live close to. You also need running shoes and appropriate clothes, and you need to not have joint problems. But ok. Thanks, tips! Apparently exercise is good for you, and this I never knew.


Two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses, and adding about $150 billion a year to U.S. healthcare costs.

[citation needed]

Full disclosure: If I fulfill my genetic destiny and gain 5.7 pounds by the time I'm 38, I will have officially crossed the threshold from cushy, privileged, unremarkable "normal" into the public health crisis zone that is "overweight." The fact that a gain of six pounds will suddenly mean I'm costing everybody billions of dollars in health care costs is total unmitigated bullshit. I'm too tired and angry to get into exactly why right now, but check out this post and the rest of the excellent Obesity Paradox series.

Listen up, guys: bodies change as they age. The hard facts of living mean that you will sag in some places and wrinkle in others. Your hair might get grey, your back might get sore whenever it's humid. And yes, you might gain a little bit of weight. But frankly, by the time I'm 38, I'll be way too busy editing the next Joseph Boyden novel and planning my wedding to Sam Worthington (on whom I will, of course, be cheating with Joseph Boyden) to give even one tiny rat's ass about the fact that when I was 23, I weighed six pounds less. It just isn't worth going to war.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Subway Sexual Har(ass)ment: Or, Why I Should Flush My Metropass Down the Toilet

A few minutes ago, I posted this as my Facebook status:

Jessie Hale Reason #3,423 to hate the subway: unable to tell difference between lack of personal space due to overcrowding, and legitimate sexual harassment.

But I feel that this story really requires further explanation, or at least, vigorous use of slant text, which Facebook cannot at this time accommodate. I need italics to deal with this situation, people. It is italic worthy.

So this morning I got down to Eglinton Station at my usual start time of 8:30, which incidentally is the same time that every single person in the entire city gets there too. It's always busy, and today was no exception, but it was compounded today by the fact that the TTC seemed to be running even less efficiently than usual. So, while more and more people kept showing up, the appearance of subway cars was less frequent. I think the scientific term is "clusterfuck."

A side story: I've been working more or less 9-5 in Toronto for about ten months. Accounting for a two-month period where my schedule essentially consisted of me showing up at the Tightrope office whenever the hell I felt like it and leaving two hours later, along with the usual holidays and weekends, I estimate that I have boarded the subway at 8:30 a.m. at Eglinton Station about 180 times. Now, on very busy mornings, the TTC will occasionally shake itself awake for long enough to send an empty car to high-profile stations, rather than just letting everybody board at Finch and hoping for the best. I was once waiting at Eglinton Station when one such empty subway car ambled along. And stopped. I got a seat on the subway, y'all. It was probably one of the best moments of my entire life (which is a sad situation that might require another, less entertaining blog post). It happened AN single time (HT, out of 180 times, giving it an experiential probability of 0.006, and yet, every single morning, I hope that it will happen again.

Needless to say, it didn't. An empty car actually did amble along, but it just hooted in a surly sort of manner and kept going towards Bloor or wherever the hell the important people were waiting. So, when a subway car finally did allow us to board, it was, of course, packed. I didn't so much get on voluntarily as I was carried along on a sea of sleepy bank-worker people, but I did actually manage to get a spot away from the door and close to a communal pole. I think my gym bag was wedged between someone else's knees, but nonetheless, I was fairly satisfied with the hand (ha) fate had dealt me.


Ok. Now, I understand that when the subway is crowded, you really don't have much of a choice about where your body goes or which of its parts touch which of other passengers' parts. It's not like I'm going to ask anybody to respect my bubble on the TTC at 8:30 a.m. And I also understand that my ass, being not exactly diminutive, is fairly difficult to avoid even at the best of times. In polite circles, you might refer to it as a round thing in yo' face. But let's just say that whatever was touching my ass this morning felt an awful lot like a hand, with five separate and very active fingers. And let's also just say that that hand felt like it was moving with purpose. I was willing to give the pervert behind me the benefit of the doubt while we were actually moving - maybe s/he was just succumbing to the normal inertia experienced by all physical matter, and certainly the two very short women in front of me who were unlucky enough not to be able to reach the overhead pole were having no small trouble keeping themselves out of other people's bizz - but when we were stopped for a few moments at St. Clair, the damn thing was still moving very actively and very much with purpose.

Trouble is, not only could I not move away from The Thing (appropriate, no?), I also couldn't turn my body around to a sufficient degree to determine whether or not what I suspected was happening was actually happening. I couldn't even see who was behind me! It could have been a completely normal nine-to-fiver like myself whose purse was comprised of unfortunate dangling zippers and knobs that just happened to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or it could have been a sketchy weirdo who gets off on the idea of fondling innocent women who convince themselves that it's probably just somebody's purse! I'll never know. And that terrifies me, you guys. It was a traumatizing incident made all the more traumatizing by the fact that I don't even know if it was traumatizing or not!

So, yanno. If you're in the market for a Metropass, let me know.