This blog post talks a lot about a newsletter, which it is taken from. You can subscribe to it because, as of writing this, I’m still doing it

Part 1: A Thought Experiment

Programming note: you might have noticed that this newsletter is now coming to you from a different place. Worry not! It is still the same person behind it, your pal James “Jimmy” Foreman. I decided to switch to this platform some time ago, and I will explain further:

The Hazlett Histories

I was gonna make a series of newsletters about Pittsburgh-area history from the margins, and tell stories people don’t really hear. I really was gonna! I only published one of them because my process for it suddenly became impossible.

I didn’t just click through Wikipedia for my information, I used actual books in the Pittsburgh collection at the Carnegie Main Library. I used to sit in my little spot and drink coffee and look up cool stuff to write about.

I am a creature of process. I react well to schedules and structures. I also respond well to location-based stimulus control, like people who suddenly have to move their bowels when they go to a book store (this is a real thing, called the Mariko Aoki phenomenon, which I submit is caused by the association many people make between reading and pooping). I tried to write more Hazlett Histories without being in the Library, and it just didn’t want to come out of me. Rather than fight it, I let it win, and stopped.

Having tried Substack, this new platform, I found myself preferring it to TinyLetter, which is what I used before. Substack’s only game is newsletters, while TinyLetter is owned by MailChimp, which is much larger company with their newsletter as a smaller, less developed product. It was really hard to, for example embed a video.

 

This is a video of Werner Herzog hearing Paul F. Tompkins do his impression of him, which is a combination of two of my favorite people. Embedding that video was easy and simple, and Substack is interested in continuing to create features and iterate in its mission.

Anyway, that’s why this newsletter is coming at you from a new email address. Because this is the only thing I reliably write anymore (writing fiction is done in coffee shops and I’m trying to do it at home but it’s hard, okay?), I’ve decided that the energy put into this newsletter is worth examining.

Having examined it, I decided to improve it in ways that will become obvious over the next few issues, whenever I decide to send them, which is still an unanswered question. I would very much like for you to share this newsletter with people who you think might like to read it. I know I have possibly reached the apex of my readership for this nonsense, and I’m okay with that. As I’ve said before, this isn’t about you.

Anyway, I have a whole thing I wrote about some other subject, but today I’m going to talk about bathing suits.


“He was said to have the body of a twenty-five year old, although no-one knew where he kept it.” — Terry Pratchett


I was chatting with a pal who said she had bought a bathing suit online and I imagined myself being a woman and trying to buy a bathing suit and was laid low by the feelings that rushed over me.

It felt weighty and important, like picking your favorite color when you’re a kid, which is an important decision that one can never take lightly, except titanically more important than even that.

It made me think of having a body, specifically a body unlike the one I have, and it got me thinking about how unprepared I would be to engage with the world in a woman’s body.

Note that I am very much aware that not all women have typically female bodies. I am not trying to be exclusionary. I am not equipped to address those matters that I find also extremely important and interesting, and I feel like I am constantly learning. The human experience is a beautiful, transcendent prism with new colors I am discovering daily.

For the purposes of this thought experiment, I am talking specifically about the body of a person born as a female.

Puberty. The man

That’s a joke about the band and the weird way they spell their name which I find annoyingly obtuse, which is completely unrelated to the topic.

We reach middle age but we hit puberty. This phrasing is apt.

Though humanity is delightfully complex, we tend to be born as one sex or the other. There is a good evolutionary reason for sexual reproduction.

Why is sex?

Sexual reproduction happens when two creatures collaborate on the creation of a new creature, rather than simply popping off a clone once in a while, which is what life used to do (and some do still).

The benefit of sex is that a being created from the combination of DNA between two individuals is potentially more fit for survival than an unchanged copy of one. Our DNA mutates and diverges, and some of those mutations make us more likely to survive, and so those are passed on to the next generation while the less desirable traits tend to get weeded out. They die off.

While the methods of sexual reproduction are diverse, the way humans do it is what concerns me, because I am a human. Also, it’s fun.

Or so I’ve heard

I was born with a man’s body and I enjoy it, most of the time. While my body has betrayed me in one notable instance, and will probably do so again in the future, I have spent 43 years in it and we get along well enough.

Part of being a heterosexual cisgendered man is that I present to the world as a heterosexual man. This means that I am attracted to women. This is a complicated proposition. The sight of a body I find attractive triggers a physical response, and that physical response, though somewhat muted by my age, makes me want to behave in specific ways. This behavior was not always productive.

The reason for that attraction is not my fault. If sex weren’t fun, nobody would do it. It’s disgusting!

This is not easy to write

I’m struggling with my words here because I want to address something very specific and I’m taking great pains to get at it in a way that is respectful, because I have made enough mistakes because of my attractions to various people and the bodies they inhabit, and I am highly averse to making more! If I mess this up, it’s out of clumsiness, not malice.

Imagine suddenly having a body you didn’t have before

You’re a kid, minding your own business, doing kid stuff, when you hit puberty. It isn’t much fun for anybody. It is a biological marking of time. Within a few years, you suddenly have the traditional features of an adult, and you have within you the capacity to trigger the response I referenced above.

If you went through puberty as a female, then you already know what I’m going to say, so please bear with me as I say it for the men in the room: girls have a rough time.

Men don’t know when they become men, which is to say, there’s no clear demarcation between boyhood and manhood. Various societies have created different ways to communicate this. Traditional Judaism has the bar mitzvah. The great Joseph Campbell, hero to screenwriters everywhere, wrote about how when he was a kid, the passage into adulthood was in the trousers. No, literally — boys wear shorts, men wear pants. Men don’t wear shorts anymore.

The Maasai of Kenya have an elaborate ritual that is better experienced by reading about it rather than having me tell you what it is. Spoiler: it ends with a circumcision.

Campbell also posited that the lack of rituals for boys becoming men was a detriment to our society. This same concern does not occur for women, because their transition to womanhood is right in front of them, and suddenly extremely noticed by everybody else, too.

The Male Gaze

I don’t think I can add much to the male gaze discourse, because a lot has been written about it already by people who know much more about it than me, but just in case you don’t know what it is, the male gaze is exactly what it sounds like: a leer.

The leering is implied but I can’t think of anything but a leering man when I think of the male gaze and how many problems it makes for everybody.

Within a few years of reaching puberty, biological females begin to display this femininity to the world simply by growing up. Every single woman you know, and I mean every single one, has a story about when men started treating her differently. If there was not one singular moment, it was a constellation, and it probably never ended. Has never ended. As long as a woman displays her feminine traits, she has men all in her business. Catcalling is a common feature of any woman’s interaction with the public. That men feel entitled to women’s bodies is a matter of grave importance that, with the #metoo movement, perhaps we have begun to address.

But perhaps not.

I can’t say whether men examining their own attitudes about female bodies and how they interact with the people who have them is changing, because I’m part of the problem. Oh, I’m trying to be better. I’ve taken certain steps that might seem unfathomably ascetic to some, but I see it as my solemn responsibility.

How to Stop Being a Creep

Believe it or not, simply deciding to treat women as equals is considered a betrayal by a small but vocal subset of pill-color-obsessed men. I won’t treat them with any measure of respect by pretending that they’re anything more than a splinter group of coddled, entitled children playing at performative manhood.

Aside from this one big, secret trick of treating women as equals, there are other small things one can do, that I have done, that I think will go toward making myself a better friend.

  1. Don’t talk about anybody’s body. I find that my thoughts follow what I say, in that the more I speak about a certain thing or in a certain way, the more that kind of thinking takes place in my brain. When I write more positive things, I tend to think in more positive terms. When I’m less critical of things, I tend to feel less judgmental. I didn’t do it a lot before, but I am doubly sure to not make comments, either in person or in social media, about what another person’s body. This cuts across all genders and is not specifically about women, but it certainly started there.

  2. Stop thinking about sexual compatibility. This is often the first stop on our mental trains of thought, as men, especially when regarding women. This is easy and it follows naturally from the first one. If you stop commenting about bodies, you find that you’re no longer seeing other human beings primarily as sexual objects, or at least less often. It’s natural to consider these kinds of things, but a good goal is to have it be the fourth or fifth thing you think about someone.

  3. Start treating everybody the same. The phenomenon of catcalling is alien to me, and it has often been dismissed as a cultural feature of certain populations. It’s often through this catcalling that women become aware of how men expect them to engage with the world, and with them. I have never catcalled but that does not mean I’m immune to this — I have jokingly talked about “crushes” I’ve had on people who didn’t want that kind of attention and who were too kind or too scared to tell me to buzz off. Had I known the pain I was causing by jokingly crushing on someone who was not amused by it, I would have stopped immediately. As any woman can tell you, my reaction is not the one they usually get.

  4. Stop feeling entitled to anybody’s attention. Nobody owes you anything, least of all their focus. Lots of men react very badly to this news, and a man’s most common method of interacting with things they react badly to is to commit violence on it. No wonder, then, that women are reluctant to tell a man that she is not responsible for his feelings.

These aren’t ironclad ways to be a better man, but they’re steps in the right direction.

This all started with a bathing suit.

I started down this path by considering how paralyzed I am at the thought of picking out a bathing suit for a woman’s body. If that body were mine, I wouldn’t know what to do. Knowing what I do about how men are constantly, inevitably, pushing their penises against everything a woman does, I don’t think I could do it.

I don’t think I would ever show my body to anyone.


Thanks for reading! Like I said, tell your friends. I’m not always this serious, but hopefully I am always this entertaining.

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