I disappoint men regularly. In real life I disappoint them by forgetting their birthdays or accidentally baking them cakes that turn out to be raw in the middle. Professionally I disappoint men (and non-men) by not replying to their emails quickly enough, or sending invoices dated ‘2016’ because I am forgetful and will probably keep doing that until at least July. I try to fix these little disappointments, at the same time as I try to remind myself that we’re all a bit disappointing sometimes.
But on this blog, there’s one way in which I disappoint men that I have no intention of fixing.
“I’m so disappointed in you.”
Occasionally I get comments – usually on one of my feminist blog posts – that go a little something like this:
“Hey GOTN! I like your blog and I’ve really enjoyed reading your dirty stories. I haven’t commented before but I today I really had to say something: I totally disagree with this post. I’m really disappointed that you’d think this, because normally I agree with you.”
Usually the comment will go into detail on the disagreements, and I can either chip in to discuss or ignore if there’s nothing I think I can add. We all go about our lives, and generally no harm is done.
But there’s something about this comment which nags away at the back of my mind: “I’m disappointed in you.”
Occasionally – very occasionally – people who know me well (either through having been blog readers/commenters for a long time, or through knowing me in real life) are disappointed in my views. Usually this gives me pause for thought. I have a good friend who is a better feminist than me – she reads more, recommends interesting things, and usually has a more considered intersectional approach to things. If she were disappointed in me, it’d stop me short and give me a reason to examine what I’m saying, then probably admit where I was wrong.
But when someone’s first ever blog comment expresses ‘disappointment’, usually there’s something else going on.
Disagreement vs disappointment
Being in disagreement isn’t the same as being disappointed. Disagreement can come from a position of respect. It often (though not always – obviously I’m ignoring extremes like trolling here) starts with the understanding that there are many reasons why the two of us have different viewpoints: we may have different grasp of the facts, different perspectives, different experiences. One or other of us may have read a really persuasive article on one side of the debate or the other. One of us may have considered the issue more than the other, and just generally be more knowledgeable. At its most basic level, respectful disagreement comes from an assumption that if you put forward a really good argument/useful facts, the other person may well change their mind. Sometimes in comments I’ll just apply the ‘reasonable bystander’ test – I’ll rebut something annoying someone’s written on the off-chance that someone else stumbles across it, because I want to present the other side.
But if I actually debate with someone in detail, I’m saying I think they’re probably a sensible person, whose mind I can change if my argument’s good enough. It’s unlikely that I’ll change their mind, of course – and unlikely that they’ll change mine. If we’re talking about something significant (feminism, politics, that kind of thing), chances are we’ve both already given it a bit of thought. We’re talking about strongly-held beliefs, here, not fighting over the tastiest flavour of Skittle. So the argument has to be a good one, and it has to begin with both of us respecting that the other person’s beliefs are held for good reasons.
Unfortunately, when a brand new commenter says they’re ‘disappointed’ in me, that respect feels absent. It feels, in fact, like they’re my Dad telling me off for doing a naughty thing. That I’ve been caught pushing crayons into the DVD player or feeding the cat with Coco Pops. That I’ve ‘made a mistake’ because I am too silly, rather than ‘come to a different conclusion’ because I have different convictions and facts. Disappointment from someone who knows me is usually a shorthand for ‘I thought you’d have heard these arguments/facts before’, or it’s an acknowledgement of the fact that they know our worldviews usually broadly match. Disappointment from a total stranger is usually a way of telling me to get back in my box.
If your first comment on my blog is ‘GOTN, I usually like your work but this is disappointing’, I’ll probably assume that:
- you think you have authority over me (I’m a naughty girl for disappointing you!) or
- you think that my blog traffic/income/self-worth will wither without your personal approval (I should at least pretend to agree with this person, for without this one person my blog will be ruined!)
The fantasy ‘Girl on the Net’
One of the reasons I suspect I get these comments – it’s no more than a theory though, feel free to disagree! – is that I blog a combination of politics and porn. There are lots of people who arrive at my blog looking to get turned on, then stay for a little longer to read about feminism in the post-wank afterglow. I like this very much, because it means I have a much broader audience than I’d have if all I wrote about was butt plugs.
But it also means that there are some readers who will be surprised when they’re confronted with my political views. Often people who’ve never really thought about feminism before, or who vehemently oppose it. They’ve been having a lovely wank to the dirty fantasies of this girl on the internet, picturing a submissive, horny woman who looks up at them with wet, blow-job eyes. When we idealise people like this, we often imagine them agreeing with us. My celebrity crushes, for instance, in my mind always share my politics as well as my porn tastes, and I’m often horrified to discover that’s not the case.
I wish celebrities I occasionally masturbate to would stop saying political things I disagree with.
— Girl on the Net (@girlonthenet) July 23, 2016
So when you’re disappointed in my politics, rest assured that I’ve felt the same emotions before. I just don’t tend to express them directly to the fantasy figures involved: that would be rude, and it would also make me look like a bit of a dick.
Because if you’re ‘disappointed’ or ‘surprised’ when I say something outside your worldview, you’re saying far more about yourself than you are about me. You’re telling me that you’ve happily built up a picture of me in your mind, and in that picture I am borderline perfect (THANKS!). I am not only a sexual fantasy figure but an intellectual one too.
And so we get to the point which I’m sure someone will raise in the comments here or on Twitter if they don’t read this far: is it just men who do this? Not entirely, but mostly. It is also, obviously, not all men. There are literally millions of men who have read my blog but not felt the need to leave comments like this. Hence my theory that it has something to do with fantasies: most of the people who read this blog are men, and I imagine most of the people who like the porn I write are straight (because most of the stuff I write is straight). So: I have a lot of enthusiastic readers who are straight men, who have built me up in their minds into some fantastical creature, ideal in body, sex drive, mind, and everything else. In their minds I not only want to fuck them, I also agree with them, and if we spent a night together we’d have a merry time nodding and smiling at each other’s beliefs before tumbling into bed for celebratory hand-jobs and bumming. Which sounds fun, of course. But not as fun as what actually happens when I meet and fuck guys I like.
What actually happens with guys I like is that we frequently disagree. We have interesting discussions about politics, feminism and – yes – occasionally bumming. Sometimes his views will help shape my views, other times things will happen the other way round. Sometimes I will be genuinely upset that someone I love so much could be SO ABHORRENTLY, CATASTROPHICALLY WRONG on an issue close to my heart. And sometimes he will be upset that I could be so passionate in arguing for something that he thinks is ABSURD AND IDEALIST AND OH MY GOD WHY NOT ADD MAGICAL UNICORNS TO YOUR POLITICAL UTOPIA.
We get angry. We get frustrated. We disagree. But although we might be surprised or disappointed to find that our loved ones don’t agree with us on fundamentally important things, very rarely do we tell them off like naughty children. Disagreement is all part of life. You can do it respectfully, badly, snarkily, angrily (and I definitely do all of these things at different times), but guys if you want me to change my mind, try not to turn me off straight away by berating me for being an intellectually naughty girl. For not living up to a fantasy version of GOTN who just happens to agree with you.
A principle I’d never have acknowledged when I was younger, but which I become more comfortable with as each year of my life goes by: I’d rather disappoint an infinite number of men than be compelled to behave so that they’ll like me.