Some people just expect respect.
Let me rephrase that:
I sometimes find myself in situations where a person, having just met me usually in a social context that walks up to the line of my own privacy, expects to assume authority over me.
This leads to some very bad stuff in relationships with me, as I don’t care how old you are, what relative of yours I’m sleeping with or how much money you have. I do not fear being hated. It loosens up the lines on where and when I abandon courtesy.
If you try to assume an authoritative role with me rather than an adult-to-adult communication, I’m going to be very consciously and deliberately frustrating to you because as far as I’m concerned, you’re in the wrong for trying to be authoritative with me.
I was not a rebel in high school at all. I turned in my homework. I showed up for class. I only ditched once, on senior ditch day, and even then I was on the “random” call and check list. I went to an institutional prison and I lived in one, and I behaved like the model prisoner.
When I turned 18, I knew which rules were there for a reason, and which ones were only about “telling ’em whose boss.”
That was the age I had decided I was not going to tolerate any of that crap from anyone anymore. I paid my dues. You can accept me and treat me as an intelligent adult and form a relationship of mutual respect with me, or I will blog about you.
I’m on the bottom of Gen X . I had time to observe the changes of attitude and assumption between my elder cousins, and how the Baby Boomer and Generational parents adapted their assumptions about experience on down the line. No one around me treated me like a thinking person, and my extended family often conversed in front of me as though I had the significance and sentience of a family pet.
I had an opportunity to observe how all this respect stuff works, and is continuing to work.
I live my life along lines: ethnic lines, generational lines, consciousness lines. I get to experience more and observe more than most, because I always have some sort of cultural conflict going on. I don’t feel the least bit sorry for myself in any of the cards I’ve been dealt – I cherish my unusual nature, and the difficulties they bring me. I see so much more of the world than most people, just because I SEE it with different filters.
Here’s what I’ve observed when it comes to respect. There’s some “bleed” between generations; the experience may be different, but most people start with the tools they learn from the generation before. The results never produce the results for the next generation that it did for the one before it.
In the Generationals:
Men were granted respect just by virtue of having a penis and being presumed straight. Women pretty much had to game the system. Women were essentially property, and the only acceptable avocation was wife, which had all sorts of propaganda poured into it to con women into believing they weren’t being screwed over when they very much were. Since respect between women was not even a concept, most were left to a sort of baboon-dominance approach using status symbols like lipstick, white gloves, trophy husbands and pretty children in place of flinging feces. That’s right. Their kids were their feces to fling; god knows I felt like my mother was flinging shit whenever she discussed my collegiate non-marital status.
This meant that men were just assumed authorities, and women were expected to keep silence.
There are times for silence, really – but when it comes to family relationships, silence = imprisonment. NOT the time for silence.
Men were still “granted” respect, although now they were given respect but could only claim authority in specific, defined relationships. This started with the “going steady” thing, with final authority conferred upon engagement or marriage. At the same time, women began a push-back, demanding more equal marriages, and slowly but surely found their ways into the workplace after the Generations proved definitively during World War II that a uterus was in fact not a disability when it came to physical or intellectual labor. Part of this was economic: the American lifestyle is increasingly expensive, and working parent households became more and more the norm. Also, if men stuck to their authoritative demands, they often wound up divorced or abandoned. While the Generational marital divorce rate is comparatively low, the rate of marital failure has remained the same throughout history in the Western world. Making divorce illegal did nothing to prevent a marriage ending, and legalizing it has saved the lives of thousands – possibly millions – of women and children, and yes for you “what about the mens???” a few men, too.
In civilized, educated society men and women are presumed to be equal as an almost-but-not-quite foregone conclusion. Most misogyny is presumed to be a “redneck” or “blue collar” problem and the “educated” are almost unaware that they still practice it themselves. It is also still attributed only to men, despite more and more reporting of women offering up siblings and even friends for sexual violence and abuse, going so far as to create situations intended to harm their peers.
This means that the assumption of male authority has all but evaporated; the men who convince women to confer authority to them do so in ways immediately recognizable as physically and/or emotionally abusive. Most of their behaviors come out of a false beliefs that have developed, an idea that they must “game the system” for sex.Withholding sex was a strategy of Baby Boomers and Generationals; Generation X women of healthy self-esteem only withhold when the person targeting them is genuinely disrespectful. Gaming the system only really works on the women that already have self-esteem low enough to accept the miestreatment as their due, thus reinforcing the idea from the “system gamers” that their view of women is correct.
Most can see the “I’m a nice guy, I should get sex!” complaint as the misogynistic complaint of entitlement it is is. When these same misogynist men are asked to point out a woman they genuinely respect, they almost never want to sleep with her, too.
While a social tendency to grant men respect while women have to prove themselves lingers, it’s weaker: a woman can command immediate attention and respect through conscious use of body language and verbal cues. Mean girl culture has its noticeable start here, although it’s always existed in one form or another. It comes as a shadow-reaction to women being treated as relative equals; girls raised by women who found ways to benefit from the old system of female competition instill those skills into their daughters, who play it out in ways that result in Tina Fey movies and years of therapy for millions of men and women.
There is a cultural divide between women who want better relationships with other women and who want to enjoy sexual and purely social relationships with men, and women who deem “feminism not sexy” and who employ men as status symbols.
While white men in particular still hold most of the power, a real problem is the specter of women who feel they gain power and respect by finding ways to oppress other women. The excuse is a strange system that sidesteps accountability, by insisting on “pure emotional” communication (taking advantage of the myth of females not using logic/not having control over hormone-prompted emotions) and “polite society” rituals wherein the strategies of selective non-communication and outright lying keep people just misinformed enough to act out patterns of persecution while fully believing they are doing the right thing. Again, silence is a weapon of destruction and abuse – if people are prevented from speaking to each other, and are discouraged from speaking honestly, the truth – and the true manipulators – can’t be revealed.
The end result is that while men are still at least initially taken at their word – as long as they have the sense to save the less socially acceptable comments for intimate circles – women are so suspicious of each other that, once they clear the “male approval” phase of sexuality they still go through life suspicious of each other.
My experience with Generation Y comes from observation, not from being in it. All I can say from what I’ve seen is this, and I know damn well I could be wrong :
Cliques are fading as each year of the generation progresses. More people are assuming multiple identities, rather than assuming the stereotypes developed by Generation X and the Breakfast Club. Even gender and sexual orientation are evolving as specific labels and prescribed behaviors slip away.
There is still a sense of sexual entitlement from men, although they are more fully aware they are doing something wrong when they commit acts of violence. This is both worse – and better. They know that their privilege is not justified. They have not yet come to realize collectively that an attitude of equanimity and a total acceptance of shared responsibility (less pleasure for some pleasure being an acceptable risk) will in fact get them the sex they crave. More men are finding the courage to admit it’s not all about sex to them.
Platonic friendships are more common, and more commonly remain platonic.
Male authority absolutism is often reserved for private kink play, a sort of cultural joke and fetish. Except in specific circles, it is only a vague concept in daily life, and for men to have authority often requires a demonstration of skills and behavior that merits that respect. Authority is conferred based upon other ways a person proves him or herself, either through academic achievement, social skill or public demonstration. This conferral happens with both men and women, although women still have to work harder to ensure equal representation and judgement. Not all men think this is good – some long for the days when authority was just handed over based on genital accomplishment, not realizing that it would increase their workload, hold them to much more rigid standards, and significantly decrease their sex lives.
There is, however, a pocket of extreme behaviors and sexual violence as the generational bleed through passes down trauma.
While people still give in to their evil baboon feces-flinging tendencies, more people recognize those for exactly what they are, and the behaviors are not simply accepted as a form of social convention or as personality quirks.
What does this all mean for me and respect?
When I try to treat people with respect, I go to the basic rules of courtesy and traffic law that I have learned over the years. Not all apply to every situation, but anything that looks like a shared social convention, I’ll at least try once.
However, given my unique experiential mix, any attempt to establish authority over me based on nothing more than physical presence is taken as an offense. I usually draw from the Baby Boomer toolbox and simply cut that person off; if I’m unable to do that (such as in the case of mothers-in-law) I draw from the Generation X toolbox and try to minimize conflict, or if pushed too far, screw with that person usually through an act of outright defiance in the form of a prank or humor.
I am almost never intentionally disrespectful to anyone, and on the rare occasions I am, I can always cite a specific act of provocation. Except in extreme circumstances, I can even usually use a non or low-conflict strategy to ease out of a situation when someone is being overtly authoritarian/disrespectful with me.
That taking an authoritarian role IS an act of disrespect is a new, largely unverbalized concept to the people I’ve encountered in my life. As to how to address it in each case, that depends on the person. I have my strategies, and as life changes, they will have to change.
My mantra for myself on this is “don’t assume.”
- Don’t assume because you’re older that your experience is more valid. (I am getting older, so this is for me, too.)
- Never assume your experience is the same as another person’s.
- Don’t assume that this person shares your social or cultural context.
- Don’t assume that this person agrees with you.
- There’s no such thing as “everybody loves,” or “everybody hates…”
- Men are individuals. Women are individuals. No one really has a say in the gender or orientation they enter the world in, and to take that gender or orientation and make a whole list of assumptions is just crappy.
- Don’t assume what you see in front of you tells you anything about what’s inside. People are not book covers.
As to conveying my personal outlook on authority and authoritarianism by those who bank on assuming authority, that’s a whole other challenge. Right now I’m leaving it at “resist the urge to tell Grandma to check behind the couch the next time she asks me if I’ve found Jesus.”