We’re All Defensive And Don’t Know It

Clap your hands


There are a few conversations where I feel very impatient.

Some topics I just feel bored — like when my colleague wants to talk about shoes — and sometimes I feel turned off — like when my mom wants to gossip about her neighbor — and other times I feel mad or sad or disconnected.

But sometimes, I feel impatient. With these topics, I have this big ole Ryan Reynolds sigh…

…because I know the conversation will never go anywhere.

Like I’m just there along for the ride, being subjected to this like we all have to endure the first five seconds of YouTube ads, without room for real discourse or discussion.

I know this because I can already tell that the other person is too far pot-committed to their stance, already cares too much, has invested too many emotions and waaaay too much of their identity and ego in what they’re saying, leaving me with only one option: tune it out, ignore them, and wait for it to die down.

One such conversation is what I call “the gender conversation.” This whole “men, women” thing that’s discussed.

(A good many of you, I know, have already bristled. I only say the words and spark an emotional, physiological response. I haven’t even laid out an argument yet, and we’ve already taking up arms, braced for an onslaught, riddled with feelings tied directly backed to our own identity but packaged in a way that looks to us, always, “logical.”)

Here’s the newest: chips.

Fucking chips. We’re mad about chips now.

Here’s how some people see it: Pepsi (slash maybe Doritos depending on the way you want to spin it, but definitely one of The Big Food Brands We All Know) is a sonofabish and had the audacity to go and make “lady chips” that “don’t crunch” and this is a direct and clear sexist affront. Unnecessary gendering. Pointlessly gendered products. Social constructs. There are #hashtags for this for a reason! It’s all gotten so out of hand!

Is that close enough? I think I’ve done that side justice, but if not, feel free to correct me and/or add more in the comments. Assuming that’s enough to suffice, however, perhaps I might sneak in another perspective:

Here’s another way to see it:

  • Let’s just use the term “people” for a second…
  • Some people eat chips by licking their fingers and pouring the last crumbs from the bag directly into their mouths. Some other people don’t.
  • The difference between these two groups of people was an observation, not a prescription.
  • Nobody* was ever stopping anybody from the second group from eating like the first group.
  • This would mean that the second group, so far as we know, didn’t even want to do what the first group was doing until it was pointed out to them that only the first group was doing it. Like a child who shows no interest in a toy until someone else points out that they never play with it.
  • People in the first group happened to be men. People in the second group happened to women. Saying this part out loud was, in my mind, the real mis-step Pepsi/Doritos/society made. Had they just stuck to “people,” I don’t think we’d be here. And that’s what’s interesting to me…

Here’s the thing:

  1. People in the first group also happened to lack manners. (Is “maleness” synonymous with “poor-mannered?”)
  2. People in the second group, rather than absorbing this implied slight against the first group, chose to interpret their own group (and identity) as the one being criticized and/or insulted.

So not only are they like a child who shows no interest in a toy until someone else points out that they never play with it — but they choose to interpret this observation (and/or being offered another toy) as an insult. Even when the first toy in question is objectively and widely regarded as “undesirable.”

Just to be clear:

  • If you want to crunch chips, lick your fingers, or pour crumbs into your mouth — nobody* is stopping you! Go on with your bad self.
  • If you want to hate all gendered products on principle, regardless of potential merit, go on with your bad self
  • But if you want to admit that you — being a human person, regardless of gender— enjoy eating chips in a way that is made more enjoyable by a certain product — regardless of “gendering,” necessary or otherwise — then you, also, may go on with your bad self — and spend your money accordingly, without interpreting your own gender as “insult”

Personally I’d love some chips that crunch less and don’t get my fingers gross or end up 90% crumbs in the bottom of the bag. Whether that’s “because I’m a woman” or not, I don’t really care. But I sure as hell wouldn’t automatically interpret it as an insult.

The conversation of a product’s merits are of far greater interest than its “gendering.”

And just to wrap it up by simplifying the logic here:

  • All insults are insults
  • Some gendered things are gendered unnecessarily (and most unnecessarily gendered things are insulting)
  • But not everything that’s “gendered” is an insult

*Nobody is directly stopping anyone from eating chips rudely. Maybe “they” (“the patriarchy” or “society” or “someone”) indirectly prevent(s) women from noisily eating chips, but if their problem is really with the patriarchy (women in fact wanted to do so and felt they “couldn’t”), then perhaps the best resolution here is to eat chips however the hell we really want instead of fighting observations on how we actually do.

I am sure people are going to @ me angrily over this, because “I just don’t understand” or I don’t yet see it their way. I understand this, of course, and it’s okay.

But I also wonder why we can’t do so without automatically assuming a position of “defense” against some perceived “affront.” Over chips?

If they “shouldn’t matter that much,” then why do they? Are our egos really this fragile?

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