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Empathy

April 2, 2009

I was an observant child.  I noticed very early on the social inequalities between female and male people, but it took me a little while longer to recognize that underlying the social injustice was a male refusal to acknowledge female humanity, in a psychoneurological way.  What I mean is that male people did not, could not perhaps, imagine themselves female in any real way.  Girls, women, were so foreign to male people that they didn’t even believe the non-sexual parts of our bodies functioned the same way.  They didn’t think of women’s hands and feet as doing the same things as men’s, didn’t think of our cuts and bruises as hurting the same way as men’s.

Anyway, it took me longer to understand that this was true of male people than it did for me to see the social results of that alienation of, and from, femaleness.  So, it wasn’t until one school day when I was about 9 years old that I started conceptualizing this.  I tried to verbalize it to my parents that same day, but I failed; they thought my fumblings were funny, again.  Now that I’m older, I can see that I wasn’t really failing to express these things to my parents so much as that I was so excellently succeeding that to hear my musings coming from the mouth of a small, mousy, completely somber and bespectacled girl-child was indeed a topsy-turvy, funny thing to see.  I *couldn’t* have been taken seriously, not in patriarchy, which is exactly why they set it up this way.

What had happened that day, though, was that a boy in my class asked me, between chugs of milk from one of the little half-pint cartons we were served in the cafeteria, what it felt like for girls to fart.  I cannot even begin to describe to you the level of my astonishment that anyone would even fathom to ask such a question.  It certainly never would have occurred to me to think one asshole was so different from another that it would produce a sensation entirely different from the one I got myself when passing gas.  And I most assuredly could not imagine why, even if different assholes did feel differently when one farted, the difference in sensation would line up along male/female lines, rather than just everybody having a different-feeling toot from everyone else.

And, so, I looked up at the boy across our tan plastic lunch trays and told him as much. He didn’t understand my rationale. He insisted girls were just different from boys, and that his question was perfectly reasonable. I knew, then, or at least I started to know, that boys and men not only didn’t have a natural neurological empathy with us; they *cultivated* this dissociation from girls and women. They justified it and nurtured it. They clung to it.

I saw this at 9 years old. A couple short years later I hit puberty and lost my rightful mind for a good while.

During those lost years, I had other experiences, not unlike the experience in my fourth grade cafeteria that day, which helped to set me back on the right path. I’m sorry, but they’re somewhat sexual in nature, as that is really the only way in which male and female people interact after childhood (and often even during childhood, unfortunately), so if you don’t want to continue reading, please don’t. I’ve made the point I wanted to make already and am simply providing another  of my original message.

When I was about 17, I began a 5-year, on-and-off, sometimes cohabitational relationship with a man my age. It was my final “romantic”/domestic relationship. In a sexual situation, I assumed that anything that might feel good to me had the potential to feel good to him. So, having gotten a little thrill one day when sucking a bit of melted chocolate off the tip of my finger, I decided to do the same to his fingertip. He liked it.

But do you know what he did to me in return? He parted my index and middle fingers, like a peace sign, and proceeded to lick the wedge of skin between them! I kid you not. Males assume even our fingers are different from theirs. I didn’t bother to explain to that one the folly of his ways. I just couldn’t get past how stupid and entirely unempathetic a person would have to be in order to maintain that mindset. It’s not just socialization, I don’t think. I mean, I was socialized under the same conditions, yet I never thought our bodies were *that* dimorphic.

Men’s inability to *get* this has and will continue to have very dire consequences for girls and women.

17 Comments
  1. atheistwoman permalink
    April 2, 2009 12:38 pm

    Very observant indeed! I remember being sixteen I think and being very surprised that I weighed more than a much thinner boy at about my same height (At the time I think I was 5/2). I was devastated because I weighed 140 pounds and he weighed 135. One was just not supposed to weigh more than a male. It went against the laws of the universe. AW rolls eyes. Of course that is an example of a female not noticing reality, but it just shows how prevalent the delusion of our extreme dimorphism is. Of course, dimorphism tends to increase as certain types of inequality increase. Height differences can shrink to as little as one inch across the population. You don’t see that as much anymore.

  2. April 2, 2009 1:55 pm

    Well, I do think size dimorphism exists. I think males and females are largely shaped differently (if not so exaggeratedly as they would like) and composed differently, so far as skin thickness, muscle/fat ratios and things like that go (also, if not so exaggeratedly as they would like). Like that behemoth of a man I was talking about in my last post? I don’t think a woman would ever grow to that size without having some sort of major health problems, as that woman in China does (did?).

    What I meant to talk about was the false notion of some kind of fundamentally different neurological wiring. There seems to be a notion that things that physically feel good to women don’t physically feel good to men; same thing with things that don’t feel good. Which is how you end up with men thinking women want to be fucked up the ass even though they themselves have no desire whatsoever to be fucked up the ass. Hell, it’s how you end up with men thinking women want to be fucked up the vagina. They don’t believe for a second that if they had vaginas they’d want to be fucked in them, but they absolutely do believe that about women.

    They really don’t think we’re human. We’re “wired” differently to them, which is different than the mere recognition that we’re shaped differently than them. Know what I mean?

  3. radfemlezzie permalink
    April 2, 2009 4:58 pm

    Which is how you end up with men thinking women want to be fucked up the ass even though they themselves have no desire whatsoever to be fucked up the ass.

    OMG, this is just what I was thinking! This guy I once ‘dated’ was working SOOOOO hard to convince me of how much I’d like anal sex, and finally I said to him, “Well, do you think YOU’D like it?” And he got the MOST puzzled expression; clearly he had never thought of himself as the fuck-ee, only the fuck-er. And I was all like, “Assholes are created equal, you dickhead.”

  4. atheistwoman permalink
    April 2, 2009 5:05 pm

    “Well, I do think size dimorphism exists. I think males and females are largely shaped differently (if not so exaggeratedly as they would like) and composed differently, so far as skin thickness, muscle/fat ratios and things like that go (also, if not so exaggeratedly as they would like). Like that behemoth of a man I was talking about in my last post? I don’t think a woman would ever grow to that size without having some sort of major health problems, as that woman in China does (did?).”

    I agree with this. I wasn’t making the statement you thought I was making, just about the exaggeratedness of it all!

  5. April 2, 2009 5:49 pm

    AW, I am so happy you keep coming back to read despite the fact that I misinterpret what you’re saying 6 times out of a dozen. :-/

    Glad to know you weren’t going where I thought you might have been.

    I have actually talked to women, though, who believe height difference is entirely socially engineered, through systematic malnutrition and physical restraint of girls and women. It has been suggested to me on numerous occasions that if women only dated men who were of the same height as they, male on female abuse would be impossible. But even when men are the same height as women, their physical composition is still quite different. I’m just over 5 feet tall myself, and I’m no skinny minnie, but that doesn’t put me in the same physical league as a man I once knew who was also about 5’1″ but weighed 205 pounds from weight lifting. He had a ridiculously low body-fat percentage too. I’m pretty sure I could never weigh 205 pounds from weight-lifting alone.

    Some women are willing to hold on to any and every delusion in order to maintain the dream of “equality” with men.

  6. April 2, 2009 5:50 pm

    ***And I was all like, “Assholes are created equal, you dickhead.”***

    Ha, Amy. The exact same argument I used with that kid in 4th grade when he was asking me about farts.

    Morons.

  7. atheistwoman permalink
    April 2, 2009 11:00 pm

    “…through systematic malnutrition and physical restraint of girls and women.”
    I’m actually a half and half person on this. Half is definitely “natural.”
    Through my own systematic malnutrition and physical restraint, I know that half is made through human behavior. Unfortunately we will never know what human femaleness could look like outside of the patriarchy. I think it would be quite different than the damaged bits of nightmares we see floating around now.

  8. radfemlezzie permalink
    April 2, 2009 11:55 pm

    Unfortunately we will never know what human femaleness could look like outside of the patriarchy.

    Again, exactly what I was thinking. I get confused about this sort of thing (male/female dimorphism) because of my physical freakishness. I’m not six foot nine, but I do have REALLY big bones and REALLY big muscles as well as weighing undoubtedly much more than that dickhead you were discussing the other day. I get mistaken for a man all the time because of my body type (although I think there are really obvious differences between men and women, like the size, shape, and distribution of arm muscles, for instance, which most of us notice if we pay attention). And I think that I could bulk up more than almost any woman and more than a lot of men. But I forget that I am pretty much an outlier when it comes to physicality. And it makes me uncomfortable to pathologize body sizes or types, because that’s such a part of patriarchy and, I think, so often just a mistaken assumption that if a person is really big or really tiny or really skinny she must be sick in some way.

    I also know that girls do get less food, worldwide; it happened to me, not because of poverty but in the guise of “you can’t eat like your brother because *you* have a weight problem!” My brother would have had to weigh a lot more than I did before his intake would have been restricted. So, like you say, AW, it’s hard to know how relative sizes would even out, or if they would, with the effects of patriarchy removed. I tend to think that most people of both sexes would be in the middle of the bell curve, with some really big women like myself and some really skinny short men. And I think social structures would be really important in evening out any remaining differences, like the organizing and skulking around in groups that we talked about before.

  9. atheistwoman permalink
    April 3, 2009 12:49 am

    Yes exactly Amy. In her amazing work, literally, it kept me sane in high school, Carol Gilligan talks about that same bell-curve you are referring to completely debunk that “men are from mars, women are from venus, and menz, they have bigger brainz!” idiocy that still keeps popping up these days, even. She deftly pointed out that there is more difference within the sexes (at least when referring to things like math ability) than between them. Anyway, I just think that would probably be true of physical dimorphism, like you said, in a non-patriarchal state of being.

  10. atheistwoman permalink
    April 3, 2009 12:50 am

    And I am all in for organizing and skulking :-).

  11. April 3, 2009 1:08 am

    So, having gotten a little thrill one day when sucking a bit of melted chocolate off the tip of my finger, I decided to do the same to his fingertip. He liked it.

    But do you know what he did to me in return? He parted my index and middle fingers, like a peace sign, and proceeded to lick the wedge of skin between them!

    Oh, this guy is a complete dumbass and obvious as hell that he is equating the finger-sucking he got from you as a blow job; therefore, he must find a way to treat your fingers/hand as a crotch to perform cunnilingus.

    Which is how you end up with men thinking women want to be fucked up the ass even though they themselves have no desire whatsoever to be fucked up the ass.

    Hmm, I dunno about that one. I’ve run across numerous statements to the effect that all men are to some degree homosexual, which I find intriguing. And someone once said that since men have prostates, it’s possible that bowel movements are more pleasurable to them than to women, that it’s like being fucked from the inside and they just assume that women feel the same way.

    I dunno how I feel about that, but I’m certainly intrigued by those ideas.

  12. radfemlezzie permalink
    April 3, 2009 4:22 am

    Carol Gilligan talks about that same bell-curve you are referring to completely debunk that “men are from mars, women are from venus, and menz, they have bigger brainz!” idiocy that still keeps popping up these days, even.

    Yeah, I think Anne Fausto Sterling says in “Myths of Gender” that there’s more variation within the sexes than between them. I’m not sure how one goes about documenting such a thing, but in some ways it makes sense to me. (I always tell this story about me and my [male] cousin who look exactly alike from the back. And actually, even from the front, since he has a pretty pair of saggy man-boobs and I have such a great beard.) This is a conundrum, because I do think there ARE real differences that might never go away; but nuanced discussions about it, like this one, are so rare, that I feel it’s often hard to talk about because some nutter will take it as support for the sexist reasons men use to tell us we can’t do things.

    Oh, this guy is a complete dumbass and obvious as hell that he is equating the finger-sucking he got from you as a blow job; therefore, he must find a way to treat your fingers/hand as a crotch to perform cunnilingus.

    OMG, I totally missed this! I couldn’t figure out why he did that. What a dork.

  13. atheistwoman permalink
    April 3, 2009 4:45 am

    “This is a conundrum, because I do think there ARE real differences that might never go away; but nuanced discussions about it, like this one, are so rare, that I feel it’s often hard to talk about because some nutter will take it as support for the sexist reasons men use to tell us we can’t do things.”

    Yep.

    “Oh, this guy is a complete dumbass and obvious as hell that he is equating the finger-sucking he got from you as a blow job; therefore, he must find a way to treat your fingers/hand as a crotch to perform cunnilingus.”

    I thought it might have something to do with legs, but I wasn’t quite sure what…lol!

  14. naginata1 permalink
    April 3, 2009 6:53 am

    No surprises here. I believe men have no empathy for women or their true feelings whatsoever. Never has a group been so out of touch with other human beings. Men lack the imagination to even identify with women, or assume that women would have the same feelings that they have.

  15. kamododragon permalink
    April 3, 2009 7:10 pm

    That and I think that men do have size issue in the same way as women do. Though being born intersex it’s pretty hard to tell because I live in either side of the gender spectrum and that due to the genetics and the body make up, it’s pretty hard to understand both boys and girls.

  16. April 4, 2009 7:25 am

    …and finally I said to him, “Well, do you think YOU’D like it?” And he got the MOST puzzled expression.

    radfemlezzie, I know the ‘puzzled expression’ you are talking about. I went to the fridge for a large carrot and talked him through a visualisation of himself being penetrated by it. He didn’t speak and looked at me as if he were lost.

  17. naginata1 permalink
    April 5, 2009 9:54 pm

    Off topic but I just gotta say it!

    P.S. There is so much good stuff on this blog that I simply can’t keep up with it all! What’s a radical feminist to do these days? First there was the starvation in the desert of malestream land, then there was the awful election, then the market crashed thanks to creepo banko men, and suddenly, off in the distance, I see the palm trees, I hear the whoosh of a stream… but is it a mirage???

    NO it is real to goddessness radical feminism… can it get any better than this?

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