For the asexually curious and the curiously asexual

The white rhinoceros

Ok, I have an actual asexual post in the middle of being written (which will probably lead to another one of my annoying double-posts). This is an idea which is mostly a feminist idea, which I’ve really wanted to blog for the last day or so, but I’ve been avoiding it because it’s not an asexual thing. The idea ended up being central to a crucial point in the ace-related post I was writing, and I decided I couldn’t do it justice in that space, so I’d have to do this as groundwork. Also, given what I’ve just said on Siggy’s blog, it’s hypocritical of me not to include some feminism on here. That way, feminists might learn a little about asexuality and asexuals might learn a little about feminism.

It’s an idea I’ve been trying to express for a while. It came to me when I was reading the lastest post from The 1585, a hit-and-miss essay site which has lately been mostly miss:

(on men dividing women into ‘innocent’ and ‘dirty’) Honestly, even if you are a guy who thinks this is true, do me a favor: go outside and walk around the block, then come back and pick up from right here.  Okay.  Did you categorize every woman you passed on the street as “innocent” or “bad?”  Did you even categorize one of the women you passed on the street that way?  Then why the hell are you under the impression that not only you, but every other guy on earth, does this in 100% of cases?

It’s a thought experiment that we don’t shout often enough, considering that this is where sexism often comes from. ‘Men are this’ ‘Women are that’. I was going to go with some examples, but fill in with whatever makes your blood boil. The answer is usually ‘Think about it for 30 seconds. Think about your (if it was male stereotyping) brother, your father, your friend from college, the campest man you’ve ever met, any queer men you’ve ever met, your sixth form english teacher, that guy at the coffee place, the President of the United States of America (who will one day be a woman, but hopefully that day will not be soon enough for the woman to be Palin), your bank manager, your boyfriend, your ex-boyfriends, your friend’s boyfriends, your pastor, EVERY MAN IN THE WORLD.’ And, presto, you’re wrong.

I’ve decided to call these ‘white rhinoceros’ problems. The game as I understand it is that most people think of a white rhinoceros when someone says ‘don’t think of a white rhinoceros’ (most versions I’ve heard have been ‘white cat’, but rhino is the Pratchett version, and makes a much better name for a phenomenon). When someone says ‘men are like this’, people (and I think patriarchal thinking has a lot to do with this) automatically and unconciously select evidence, filtering out the men who don’t fit the bill, and thinking of a couple of examples of men who definately do. It doesn’t help that these examples could be from media and sexist jokes, where the stereotypes originally proliferate, or that people tend to re-assemble actions and motivations to fit their stereotypes.

It works similarly to the No True Scotsman fallacy, but with a slightly different premise. The point is that it’s a crucial element in society’s ability to make people believe things which fundamentally are not true. It’s crucial to that act of double-think which permeates sexism. On the one hand, there are ‘the men I know’, and on the other ‘ men’ as a construct, the men that ‘everybody’ knows about.

And, yes, I’ve used ‘men’ throughout this post, when it would have been more immediately obvious that this theory has applications in feminism if I was using ‘women’ as my example (the idea that ‘women are bad at maths’, for example, which Figleaf covers in the link above). Tough. My feminism has personhood for all, and recognises damaging gender stereotypes for what they are, regardless. (Also, the particular stereotype I was thinking of throughout was the vexatious ‘men think about sex every 7 seconds’, even though it has the far more elegant comeback: *looks around* ‘Hey, look, human civilisation. Pretty neat, huh?’)

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Comments on: "The white rhinoceros" (4)

  1. […] I expect sexual attraction to feel different for everyone, but that strikes me as one of those self-reinforcing lies.” Sexual attraction is pretty nebulous. And it’s one of the cruellest ironies that […]

  2. […] something that no-one who isn’t asexual can live without. This is just another example of that self-creating denial of reality I mentioned. It ignores the fact that large swathes of the human population wait until marriage […]

  3. Shiyiya said:

    I thought it was a pink rhinoceros that Granny didn’t think of because she didn’t know what a rhinoceros looked like. (I could be wrong, it’s been several months since I reread Pratchett.)

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