Too Much Information?

2 Dec

I was going to write a different blog post. For some time now, I had a text in mind that, in the wake of Jacquelyn Friedman’s new book on ‘feminist’ (obviously, broadly spoken…) dating and sex, concerned itself with the question many people who are attracted to men™ have asked and discussed and never answered: feminist men interested in heterosexual relationships – anyone? Anywhere?

Obviously, this has been debated a lot (e.g., on Feministe when Jill posed the question how people “date while feminist”) and is a complex issue; for me, due to personal reasons, especially regarding heterosexual relationships and all the negotiations and potential deal breakers they can entail. Thankfully, I have not yet had to deal with super special misogynistic snow flakes (…and being fat helps when it comes to weeding out the people who do not deserve to get laid in the first place…), and since my private environment is either in support of feminism or at least somewhat aware of my political base line (albeit due to my snarky comments or raised voice or the combination of the two… *ahem*), I can be quite happy to report that overt, unchallenged sexism is something I seldom have to deal with in my immediate (male) surroundings now (…it used to be different).  And having any sort of (intimate) relationship with someone who does not share key features of this basic value system, i.e., “leftist” or “progressive” policies or whatever you want to name it, is a clear “deal breaker” and dude would neither get a second glance nor open ear.

Notwithstanding, as “Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street” has just recently shown yet again, defining yourself as a progressive or even explicitly feminist man does not mean that you actually are one. I think this is a problem due to a lack of individual reflection and comprehension (and here is a fantastic piece about the horrors of “faux feminists”), but also a structural complexity: of course, overcoming socially engraved beliefs and practices is hard, especially when you are living within the culture and society that reproduces and reinforces said beliefs and practices every single day, and belittles or threatens you if you refuse to play along. I expect you to try damned hard, however – it is your responsibility if you claim to support gender equality (that should be an integral part of your “progressive” stance).

I was now going to start dissecting the question as to how feminist exactly a man has to be (and in which regards), so one can “work with” that – clearly, certain issues that I would deem feminist in principle are somewhat relational negotiations in practice, and although the slogan “the personal is political” holds true, intimate relationships tend to not function satisfactory for either person/people if handled as party conventions where the goal is to push your political wing’s programme to the fullest extend (…although I’ve heard that works for some people – and I’ve once tried… hard… ;)).

Yet, right in the middle of the classic thought about how much (anti?-)feminist compromise is justifiable and how to write about that, something else happened, and kind of caught me off guard.

As said above, feminism does not come as a surprise to virtually every man I know on a more personal level, is somewhat common in the professional/humanities/academia surrounding I am working, and I am far from ‘hiding’ it in daily interactions (although, apparently, simply stating a differing opinion is still considered radically feminist, even totally akin to the SCUM manifesto… :: eye roll ::), although I do not roam the streets yelling about it (yet) or wear batches (anymore). This blog is written under a pseudonym, nonetheless, because I actually like to not be identified for once, would find it a bit too revealing to share things like these under my real name with the internet, and think that words can carry without names (although most of my friends and some of my colleague actually know who occupies this virtual space :)). As I had to experience, however: in times of googling people, privacy is just shot to shit anyway.

Due to student/political/academic activism that also included/includes talking to certain media outlets and/or having your work documented digitally, a google search with my name comes up with a very specific type of results. It does not bother me – this is who I am and what I do, and fortunately, I have not yet had to encounter any negative feedback in a job interview or anything the like, which is clearly due to having the privilege of working at a university. I have also googled people, and was surprised or even shocked at some results, and felt a little guilty at the same time, because one is virtually invading their privacy without their consent, since google (or every other search engine and interwebs in general) is clearly not asking for permission, and neither are many of the originators of the information about you that is shared online and will be accessible virtually indefinitely.

So: recently, I have met this guy and thought he was cute and funny and smart and surprisingly (self-proclaimed) feminist. We had a good conversation over coffee and continued it the next day via a social media network’s chat (…yes, talk about privacy…). What I did not know was that, apparently, I was dealing with a compulsive “googler”, because ten minutes into the virtual conversation, he started asking me about things I had not shared yet, and finally decided to paste links to articles I had been quoted in and deemed it a good idea to “confront” me with “copy & paste” of certain google information, asking me to acknowledge it or comment on it.

Um… well – I was rather bemused. I know the information is out there, and I know the likelihood of being able to get to know someone without virtually stalking them at some point is near zero. Yet, I found this to be intrusive, annoying and curious at the same time. Was he at least honest about it and trying, in a really bad way, to include me into the first virtual stalking? Was that just an asshole move or the new dating present – exchanging virtual data before you actually talk to each other? The question was answered rather quickly, when, after trying to politely respond to his first question about a quote, I asked him why he kept doing that when we had not even ‘officially’ exchanged last names yet? Why was he using my information (about where I work and what I do) to find out my last name and extended contact information, then google it, then confront me with the results and implicitly ask for justifications? He then actually answered that he would not like it if I googled him because he is such a private person.

Great, dude, thanks! After thinking about it for a while, I told him that I’d prefer to just stop communicating with each other, but I am still not sure how to evaluate this experience. As I said: it is neither about the information on political activism, about 8-year-old quotes that seem a little murky today at best (thank goodness, apparently I am still learning things :)!) nor about the fact that one will find out quickly that I am rather serious about gender and race issues – that would have happened anyway… It is not even solely about personal privacy and ruining the actual excitement of getting to know a new person you find interesting or attractive or intriguing – what pissed me off was the “testing” moment, the necessity for him to use the information he got to confront me with it, whilst at the same time being quite serious about protecting his privacy.

He did not comment on his “findings” in a negative way, but still: it was irritating. At the risk of taking myself way too seriously here, to me, his behaviour was a kind of faux feminism too: trying to get as much information about a person you just met without actually asking her personally; multiply that information; maybe intend to use it as an ill-advised conversation starter; then relentlessly confront the other person with that information to provoke some sort of reaction; all whilst keeping yourself as covered as possible so your conversation “partner” is never your equal, if only (or: for starters?) not information-wise, and you’re the one in control. This is not how getting to know each other works, I believe, when you’re out for an egalitarian friendship or relationship. This is not what you do when you try to get to know someone you actually like. So – people will keep googling me; and I will be on the lookout for those who do not need me to explain and are actually interested in what I do, have to say and feel right now.

11 Responses to “Too Much Information?”

  1. kiturak December 2, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    ooh, so now I’m caught in between immediately leaving an enthousiastic comment because all of this is so great!!1!, or letting it sink in for a couple of days to do it justice in any way, and then forgetting about it ;)

    Anyway, emphatically YES on everything especially in the last paragraph. I can’t even tell what it is exactly that, to me, gives off this extra-creepy vibe in this subtle intrusive, male-dominant way – and it is not the googling per se, because I could imagine that in a non-creepy way. (I think I, personally, would even have found it *less* upsetting if someone had googled me in private and would tell me about it all ashamed of it, what with the *completely* transgressive Finding Out Of Last Names And Job Information – being kind of up front but still aware of my boundaries). I think it might be the subtext that I should be available and accountable at all times, in all facets of my life and personality, completely, to the understanding and interpretation of some guy FROM THE MOMENT WE MEET. *Naturally* he doesn’t want that for himself. Yeah, I have my own issues with stuff about me on Google, and I don’t mind talking to people I trust about this kind of thing, but that’s kind of the exact opposite of trustworthy behaviour.

    (btw, I love your blog ever since you showed up on the Lamp Incident thread on Mädchenmannschaft! I’m only kind of shy commenting because of the language, it still takes me some time to find the right words, and also finding my peace with the huge probability of a lot of language mistakes and weird Denglish … Also, thanks for the link! Makes me want to finally dust off my antique blogroll.)

  2. Sarah W December 2, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    Ugh! I think you’re absolutely right on this one. Of course if you contribute thoughts and ideas to the public sphere, they *are* public and you have to accept all the consequences of that. BUT, I find this guy’s decision to just splash your quotes about (unintentionally?) very aggressive. And gender equality aside for a second, I just can’t help but feel his actions are incredibly rude– and everyone knows that in courtship, it’s not only fairness but STYLE that counts.
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. accalmie December 2, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

    Thanks very much to both of you for your very helpful thoughts – I really did not know what to make of it at first, something just felt.. off – I’m glad you know what I mean and can express the actual problem more clearly than me ;)… Also, sorry that you landed in the “moderated” queue – no idea why that happened (again).

    @kiturak: ooooh, bitte schreib doch auf deutsch oder wie auch immer du willst, wenn dir das ewige übersetzen zu blöd ist – keine notwendigkeit, hier alles auf englisch zu haben, nur weil ich so ‘nen anglophilen spleen habe… ;) außerdem: dito zu deinem blog!

    • kiturak December 2, 2011 at 9:58 pm #

      heh, aber ich mag doch den anglophilen spleen! Finde das sehr cool und entspannend, in meiner gewohnten online-Feminismus-Sprache (und -Stil, incl. schicke Kommentarmoderation!) auch mal was aus und über Deutschland zu lesen. Um ehrlich zu sein, ich wäre garnicht auf die Idee gekommen, auf deutsch zu kommentieren. So kann’s gehn! I guess I thought it would be impolite as probably at least some of your readers wouldn’t understand my comments. … Dann kommentier ich jetzt immer je nach Laune.

      Also, thanks for reminding me of A(n)nals of Online Dating! Can’t believe I forgot about that. And I hope you’ll still be writing your original post, because I think it’s really interesting – the different kinds of *ism-dealbreakers people have in romantic relationships, I mean. … The concept of *consciously* weeding out guys I wouldn’t want, anyway, entered my life the day I first dyed my hair green, way back in my pre-feminist days. In the elevator of my student’s residence I met the creepiest openly sexist guy of ALL the student’s residences taken together, who looked at me and asked if I was “trying to repulse guys”? I didn’t answer anything clever, but on the way to my room it dawned on me, this whole new world of possibilities. I kept dyeing my hair green and blue for *years*. It was really liberating, in a way – before, I’d never felt attractive and feminine enough, what with the tomboyish nerdy weirdo thing I had going on (genderqueer – not that I knew about that concept). Afterwards, I felt happy and beautiful. :)

  4. kiturak December 2, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

    oh, and to add: I don’t mind being on moderation queues at all. On my blog, *all* of the comments stay in moderation, because that’s the least stressful for me to handle them (the longest I took was a couple of weeks, due to my irregular blogging schedule – I don’t feel bad, though, it was Christian – Alles Evolution :D), so I just thought you handle it the same way.

  5. Angelika December 3, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    … > structural complexity: of course, overcoming socially engraved beliefs and practices is hard, especially when you are living within the culture and society that reproduces and reinforces said beliefs and practices every single day, and belittles or threatens you if you refuse to play along. I expect you to try damned hard < …

    also this esp. and what you mention about *that guy reverberated with me as well. imho *that guy (and anybody behaving that way) automatically disqualifies cirself. and i found it a good exercise for myself to test this e.g. online and thus better enabling me to detect such unwanted-bs-behaviour both online and IRL – and weed out immediately. imo the only way with people like this is the soc. no-contact-rule. also this has helped me to finally find and have *healthy boundaries for myself.

    yes, imo *an/nals of online dating is posting "the worst rectal-haberdashery" for some ironic-lolz. and i like the fauxminist-link for re-reading as well.
    btw, to be aware/to beware of soc. nice guy TM i found this helpful
    and for *quikkies :

  6. Marieke December 4, 2011 at 11:59 pm #

    Oh, tut mir Leid, das zu lesen. Was fürn komischer Typ. Gibts denn keine netten, feministischen Männer (die dann auch noch sexy sind)?
    Als ich das gelesen habe, hat mich auch gleich was gestört. Eine Sache, die du geschrieben hast, fand ich spannend: dass dieses Konfrontieren mit Zitaten und das googeln überhaupt das Kennenlernen entzaubert. Gerade am Anfang hat doch so viel damit zu tun, wie man sich dem_der anderen darstellen möchte, wie man sein möchte, was man jetzt schon erzählen möchte, und was später, und was in welchem Moment…
    Wenn er sich jetzt einfach alles Mögliche über dich “aneignet”, und zwar nicht durch Fragen, sondern via Internet, dann übergeht er diese Selbstbestimmung einfach. Ich finde, beim Kennenlernen ist es sehr wichtig, selbst bestimmen zu können, wie es geht, wie schnell, in welche Richtung usw. ICH sollte diejenige sein, die steuert, was von mir entdeckt werden darf.
    Und er setzt sich einfach über all das hinweg und nimmt dir deine Selbstbestimmung.
    Das wird dann noch verschlimmert indem er sich dieses “Recht” alleine rausnimmt und dir sagt, dass du auf keinen Fall dasselbe tun darfst.
    Er nimmt dir dein Recht auf Selbstbestimmung und beharrt gleichzeitig auf seinem. Und obendrein erzählt er dir, was du zu tun und zu lassen hast.

    • accalmie December 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

      danke, honey. auf jeden fall – what the hell is happening… und hey, fingers crossed für weniger creepy typen – preferably alexander skarsgard look- and be-alikes… stockholm, here i come! ;)

  7. Daisy Deadhead December 5, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    I have a radio show on a small southern station, and when certain conservative listeners get pissed, they google me and call and ask, did I really write such and so? They quote me on odd things, but particularly the military and gay marriage. DID YOU SAY THAT? They think they have busted me, but I always cop to it. Yeah, I said it.

    But that IS such a weird feeling. Can’t imagine how it would feel if it came from a man I was interested in! Yeesh!

    • accalmie December 6, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

      Thank you for your thoughts! I’ll be back in SC next year so I’ll definitely tune in :). Good on you for not letting yourself be bullied into silence! And the guy I was talking about has since apologized, actually – I still don’t want to see him again, though; it was just too annoying to go down that road any further.

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