The Face Underneath

  • Reading time:4 mins read

A thing that always encourages me is to see a familiar cis woman with a clean face and to realize again how androgynous most people look when not performing Gender.

Our notions of femininity and masculinity are cartoons that we lean into, exaggerating the slightest of differences. People, the Big Two sexes, really don’t look that different. Any distinction is subtle and mostly superficial—which requires us to blow what slight nuances there are out of proportion, so as to prevent confusion.

Cis people often are just as scared as trans people of being misgendered. There are consequences—and it’s easy to do! Just fail to perform correctly. Wear your hair the wrong way, demonstrate the wrong body language, and everyone will let you know.

So for me to see the actual face underneath the gender costume, it’s like—oh, right. she and I really don’t look that different at all, huh. Most of this is just about how you declare and assert yourself, more than anything intrinsic. Gender is a verb. And one can always work on that.

Once you realize gender is 90% performance and that sex is only a hair short of arbitrary—there’s no good reason we classify things as we do, our system is broken as hell, and it’s literally all the same hardware, just with some late developmental tweaks—sexuality becomes absurd. Like, it just doesn’t make that much sense to me to prioritize attraction to one person over another except on an individual basis, based on who they are and what it is specifically about them. If you’re gonna be attracted to people, why be an exclusionist dork? What difference does it make. or are you one of those “I like all music except rap and country” people.

I mean, I’m aroace, so I don’t… actually get the two main kinds of attraction that stop people’s brains from working. Maybe if I were more insane I’d get this thinking.

Our whole system of relating to ourselves and each other is based this weird lattice of fiction and generalization and hyper exaggeration that upsets us so deeply when it fails to match the reality. The dismay when we’re faced with the idea that people are just people—I’m sure you’ve seen the cishet bros who express dismay after seeing a girl take off her makeup, like they’ve been lied to. The fact that she just looks like a person; that a moment ago they were attracted to someone who could just as well have been a dude if she’d performed differently, it freaks them out.

It’s all internalized power structures. That’s the script we’re playing out and reinforcing and policing every time we get dressed, every time we interact with another person in this stupid culture we’ve made for ourselves. We’re playing someone else’s game for their benefit. It’s the last thing we’re meant to realize, that behind all this branding and spin we’re all basically the same—because, what then? Why are we doing all this to each other? Why aren’t we all cool and supporting the people we meet like they’re another part of ourselves?

What’s the point of this garbage we’ve been filtering? Well, it’s to keep us busy, lest we address the, like, twelve people in the world who are taking everything from us. All these rules are there so we don’t take apart these fucking systems that do us no good, that drain us of our basic humanity, to elevate the most inhuman of us all. of whom there are scant few.

I’m not saying, don’t do gender, kids. I’m not saying, do away with makeup or gendered dress or behaviors or this that or whatever. I love being feminine. It just makes me so happy with myself. It makes life worth living. I’m just saying, it’s all dress-up. None of it is real beyond the meaning that we individually give it.

And just seeing that baseline of androgyny, seeing just how close the prettiest woman in the world can look to just, I dunno, a soft boy, feels to me like such a weight off. It’s this reminder of commonality—that it’s all cool. Just, be you. Everyone is an individual. Everyone has these choices.

Reserved Spaces

  • Reading time:2 mins read

There’s this thought jig that a certain kind of person will perform: “Oh, I know this thing is wrong, so it’s okay if I do it.” Like, the fact they’re consciously choosing to do a thing that’s wrong gets them out of culpability somehow. It doesn’t count if it’s deliberate!

“I’m not one of those people who does bad things just randomly by accident, because they don’t know any better. I’m a person who just selectively does bad things so that they benefit me. I’m making a free decision, you see, and what’s wrong with that.”

Rules exist to hold their space in case they want to do the thing—like a handicapped parking sign, but for people who are Just Better.

“Oh no, no, this is fine. This isn’t a thing I do all the time. I know I shouldn’t do it. I’m just making a conscious decision right now, because I want to. I know enough not to do this if I don’t want do; I’m not some animal, ha ha. The rules aren’t meant for someone like me.”

It also recalls the way that I get when I bring home a flat-pack cabinet—”Right,” I think; “I’m fine; I don’t need the instructions.”—except, in regard to safeguards that protect more vulnerable people and preserve what little equanimity exists in our fucking society. They don’t need the training wheels anymore, so they’re free to peel out at will.

(I used to know someone who performed this jig on a daily basis. I knew them for a decade.)

(Yes, they were a libertarian. And rich. Why do you ask?)

A New Contract

  • Reading time:3 mins read

See, my understanding of intimate relationships—not necessarily romantic or sexual, though those fall under the umbrella—has always been, this is a person I really like, whom I want to understand more than anyone. I want to watch how they do things, follow the way that they think. To see the way that they function gives me joy. To know them and to learn to see through their perspective makes me a greater person.

It has taken me many years to see that this is… not the perspective other people take. For other people, relationships—including and perhaps especially intimate ones—are transactional. There’s this built-in power dynamic, based on service and cost and reward and punishment. For other people, it seems that maintaining a relationship is like running an AirBnB.

A thing that’s stuck with me; my ex-spouse would assert that unless two people were having sex constantly they were no different from roommates. I used to wonder what they imagined a roommate was. Now I realize I got that backwards. It’s that in this model, every relationship is a cynical transaction. There’s no personal element. It’s an agreement based on goods and services, and all that distinguishes one relationship from the next is the wallpaper. So a roommate relationship is based on an exchange of personal privacy for lowered rent. Okay, fine. Then you do a round of Mad Libs, and say, oh, this other relationship is defined by an exchange of sex—and this one by an exchange of food, or cleaning services. It’s all the same! This is how we use people, you dummy. We’re all out to get what’s ours.

And now that I’ve identified the logic, it’s not just them. I see this in popular media, in the way other people talk about their relationships. If anything, the more intimate and vulnerable the relationship, the more meaningful that I would expect it to be, the more transactional they seem to be about it. And it’s just bewildering to me. What are you all doing? Is this really the way you want someone else to treat you? What kind of a life is this?

I just want to know a bunch of sincere weirdos who have no interest in power games—to make my own society where people can be vulnerable and honest and feel like they belong; where people will appreciate them as they are, all the more for their strangeness and the closer it brings us all to the truth. And, maybe I can make that kind of a world. It’s all just mutual agreement, right? I don’t know how I’d begin to go about it, but you have to start with an idea.

Army Badgers

  • Reading time:6 mins read

Details aside, TERfs are basically gender-swapped incels. Or perhaps more to the point, I’m surprised I haven’t seen much comparison between TERfs and Gators.

They both base so much of their rage in this concept of, “How dare you fakers take away these things that make us feel special and different; get out of our reserved space.” It’s not even a matter of appropriation; it’s of disgust and shame, filled with strawmen:

  • What if someone thinks I’m one of you?
  • What if I am forced to like penises?
  • What if someone takes our panty shots away!

It’s this need to feel individually special, basing it in these external factors and declaring they’re endemic, and freaking out more than anything at the threat of their identities being eroded by letting too many of the impure past the gates. (Ergo, the route to Nazism for all these groups.)

It’s complicated, as whereas Gamers are clearly not a marginalized, vulnerable, or protected group, fully half of our society is still considered slightly less human than the other half. But there’s a difference between looking for equity and human rights, and making a clubhouse—and TERf ideology is entirely like Gator culture. It’s about how we have our own things; we’ve made our culture where we can pretend no one else exists but us, and we’re the powerful ones; now you go away—which is, like, that’s a mockery of what feminism is and stands for. It’s exactly like the Games-Are-Art-but-Keep-your-Politics-Out-of-Games business. What are you doing? Not what you profess you’re doing. You’re not actually trying to make things better. You’re just feuding. But, that’s also where the MRA/incel ideology comes in—this toxic feudalism, where instead of addressing the problems you’re facing, you stake camp, build up an echo chamber, and make everyone outside the walls a bogeyman.

It’s all so fucking middle class. It’s so barfy. It’s just like these MAGAs demanding they get their pedicures and food service. It’s not about the feet or the food; it’s a power thing. They base their identities on a unique superiority over another group based on various signifiers of an in-group or social success or whatever. It’s this mode of thought that interprets respect as obedience, rather than as compassion.

We perceive (correctly, in the case of women; LOL in the case of Gamers) that society does not afford us our due respect, so we will make our own club tailored to our whims where we get to pull all the strings—as opposed to, you know, working to make the real world kinder.

Kindness is for rubes. This world, it’s all about who wins. (Ergo in part why Gamers go fucking ballistic about difficulty levels and things, i guess.) if you win on your own terms, that takes away from our indicators of power and value. Don’t you fucking dare sell your Bitcoin.

All these groups, they’re microcosms of this capitalist nightmare we’re caught up in where we’re pitted against each other for power and resources and our precious bodily fluids; encouraged to factionalize while the gentry sucks the last juice from the husk of society. This is what the ruling class wants from us; it’s what it’s always wanted. Just so long as we keep thinking we could be one of them if we play the game right, and that the only thing stopping us is everyone else in our way—then none of us will think to look up.

And if you happen to not give a shit about winning, and just want to live your life without suffering and as compassionately as you can within the limits of your current understanding, then you’re not playing the game. You’re breaking the rules. You’re negating all their hard work. Time to doxx you, and rid the world of this dangerous anarchist element.

These groups are all the same. All that distinguishes them is the signifiers; the purity badges they wear. Fourteen words, and all. We’re the pure ones. Society is war, they all say, and we’re gonna win, y’all.

And this is how we lose each other. This is how we lose ourselves. This is how we lose the world that we live in. All out of fear someone else has a better bike.

A notable element of the dynamic is the mechanism of picking a demographic who is more vulnerable than the group and labeling them a danger to the group’s identity and way of life; an infiltrating power representative of all the group stands against. Doesn’t matter who; it’s all Mad Libs:

  • For Gators, women and queers and racial minorities are everyone oppressing them by suggesting different angles to the medium than a cishet white male power fantasy.
  • For incels, women unfairly control the bedroom
  • For TERfs, trans women are men trying to, uh, colonize femininity.

Never mind that one for one, each of these outside groups is substantially more vulnerable in society at large. It’s just that when you live in a (gamer) gated community, you’re not a part of society. Society is the danger. And oh no, here it comes. Fetch your rifle.

Note also the way that these groups conflate power and pleasure: identity is self-actualization, is power. Consent and autonomy for others are the antithesis to joy for the self. The thing that your existence threatens to diminish or take away from me, make a mockery of, it’s the thing that gives me carnal joy: pedicures, sex, a certain kind of boring videogame, sex without a potential for penis. This is what freedom means; never checking with someone else first.

Capitalism, baby. The middle class. The power to do what we want, with no questions. You’re not my dad.

Under capitalism, kindness is weakness; it’s submission to someone else’s power. I’m no wimp; I won’t bow to you; how fucking dare you ask me to be kind.

And yeah, for all these groups predation goes right along with the ideology—so of course they project and expect it in others, so as to distract from or justify their own behavior.

It’s what winners do.

The Means of Narration

  • Reading time:1 mins read

We need more stories, because stories are power.

Stories change norms just by existing, and centering a perspective as real and heroic. Authoritarians have always understood this. This is how they keep dragging public opinion over the line of absurdity over and over.

Yet for all that, look how quickly opinions shifted once the protests started, and people got a new story, with new heroes.

Stories outlive civilization. They’re all we’ve got of what came before, and who knows what they leave out.

They’re the most powerful weapons and the most powerful shields, because they’re a statement of value. Every story serves to set terms for what we hold normal and right. They shape reality more than stones, because our reality is us. It’s just people.

The very nature of stories is people over property. Stories themselves are made to be comrades. Intellectual property is a sinister concept, that could only exist under capitalism. It’s a form of servitude of the human spirit.

Control the means of narration. Assert your stories. Make them real in the telling.

The Phantom Carrot

  • Reading time:3 mins read

I think what makes life hard for me in a neurotypical world is that I don’t respond well to coercion or ultimatums. It’s not that I’m proud or defiant. It’s that I don’t get what’s happening. Someone declares something, expecting it to activate my self-interest—kick-start a negotiation or an argument or a plan or some kind of active response—and I say, “Oh.” They say, “This is going to happen!” And I think, “Well, that’s unfortunate, but I’m not going to interfere with your decision. Surely you know your mind better than I do. I guess I’m going to have to live with it.” It doesn’t enter my mind that I’m expected to do something—and if so, what exactly.

I get the sense people see this as willful, or that I don’t care what happens, or like I’m calling their bluffs all over the place—when the issue is that I don’t fully grasp the nature of the threat, and have little sense of self-preservation. You tell me a thing, and I incorporate it into my understanding: this is how things are. My own desires don’t really factor in.

Even on a flat plane, it’s hard to make that leap that I am able to act in my own interest, or what that might entail. It’s such a stretch of the imagination to just… do a thing. That if I realize I’m hungry, I have the agency to just make a sandwich. I feel clever every time I figure this shit out.

This has always been a problem with me. That last decade was another level, of course. Every interaction was a threat of some sort, expecting to coerce something that I didn’t understand. I still spend so much time puzzling over what they were trying to make me do (and failing). But this extends to, you know, just basic engagement with the systems that frame our society. Capitalism. The legal system as it stands. Cultural norms. All of this stuff we lean on, it relies on this tapestry of implied threat, expecting that of course people will sense what’s good for them and act accordingly.

And I, like. I can’t work with this dynamic. It doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t know what it’s trying to tell me. And I don’t have any strong impulses that guide my behavior. You tell me I have to die now because of some mistake I made, I nod and I say, “Oh.”

We need a new way of doing things in our society, that doesn’t rely on coercion and punishment.

Bogey Town

  • Reading time:6 mins read

So much of my abuse experience has been guilt over thinking about it, labeling it, bringing it up at all—comparing it to worst-case scenarios and thinking it wasn’t as bad as that, beating myself up for being so weak as to be affected like this, point to anyone other than myself. Then I actually recount what happened, and I see how alarmed people become, and I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. And I read others’ accounts, and I read long articles and manuals about abuse, and they’re like a glossary of my experience. I’m told it’s a textbook case. Then I look for any little crack. Surely I must be exaggerating. There must be an extenuating factor. It has to be my fault somehow. I know I didn’t always act perfectly either. Sometimes things just happen and they’re messy. Then I look at the damage I’m still working through.

It’s, like. The self-doubt. This is what keeps people down. This is why people don’t speak out. The mind games. Abusers seek out people with low confidence, and they write the story. They make it clear that any contradiction is a betrayal, and in fact an attack on them.

It’s so hard to resolve the imbalance. The mind, it keeps dancing to make things equal. Yes, they did this, but… either it’s not as heavy as it looks or it must offset something on my end. One is so trained toward fairness. A sense of reason. I must have deserved it somehow. Approached as a closed system, you keep adjusting the scale, trying to make it even out. It has to make sense. The person you rely on for everything, that you invest everything in, you adore so deeply, it must have taken something huge on your end for them to treat you like this.

I have breathing problems. It’s not a physical thing; it’s that I keep forgetting to breathe. Even when I remember, stress constricts my airways. For close to a decade I had this mysterious chronic cough and lightheadedness, that went away as soon as I was on my own again.

I used to be a singer, technically. I at least had years of singing lessons. The thing that came hardest to me was breath control. The slightest anxiety, and my body cinched up. My lung capacity shriveled. I didn’t have the tools to work against it, or even communicate my trouble.

My voice lesson the other day, I brought this up. They suggested a few ways to break the tension—applying some outside pressure, some other frame of reference. Pressing on the diaphragm with the heel of one’s hand, for instance. And it’s tough, but it sort of works. So far.

And that’s why they isolate you. That’s why they try to strip you of your friends, your tools, your resources. Why they insist that talking about even neutral internal business is considered a betrayal of trust. Because their control is predicated entirely on a closed system. The moment you start to talk about what’s been happening, the moment people can give you feedback, that you can start to compare notes, the system begins to break down. They no longer control the scale. And that’s the moment they live in terror of. Because, what comes next?

This is the moment that it feels like we are entering as a society. Hundreds of years of abuse, it’s all starting to come out. Everyone the world over, to an extent regardless of ideology, is starting to recognize it for what it is—while the powerful scramble, and scream. In the way that they will.

  • There’s a reason we don’t have healthcare.
  • There’s a reason we don’t have food.
  • There’s a reason we don’t have guaranteed housing.
  • There’s a reason we’re poor.
  • There’s a reason we’re punished so heavily, for minor offenses.
  • There’s a reason we’re triangulated against each other.

None of this is natural. None of it has to be like this. We deserve better. We deserve to have our own lives. To be allowed to care about each other. This is all done to us. And just the littlest resistance, it scares them this much.

Their hold is so tenuous. It’s all a story. It’s the story written in these statues that we’re tearing down. It’s a story that weaves and wraps through every unnatural system we’re taught to rely on for our basic survival. Wall Street. Banks. Corporations. This notion of a 9-to-5 job. Productivity. Real estate. Copyright. It’s all just a story.

We can write a new one. A just one. We have everything we need to take care of each other. What if we just… did it?

To every oppressor, and to those who benefit from abuse, the abused are internalized as the bogeyman. They have to keep up the abuse, because what if one day the victims activate and turn against them? If the victims are ostensibly freed, then what if they come back for revenge?

This is in particular the white narrative in this country, and in every other colonial society. It’s the basis for every horror story we tell. There’s a reason zombies are based on Haitian culture. Haiti, the free Black nation that famously overthrew white rule, that we have punished ever since out of fear the ideas might spread. What if They turned on us? What if They came back, and we were called to pay for our sins?

This is the fear on an individual level. This is the fear on a structural level. It’s the fear the in-some-way privileged are coached to repeat to ourselves in our deepest metaphors. It becomes justification for every abuse. It’s necessary, because it’s too late now.

To which my brain responds with… say, for instance, CHAZ. Weeks of police violence; then out of terror of retribution, they left the station to the masses… who occupied that fraught space, and started a farmer’s market.

I’m not talking forgiveness, because what good is that and what does it even mean, really. I just mean, like. Who gives a shit about them. All their power is illusory. We don’t have to grant it. What if we just ignored them, and checked on each other instead. That whole thing where you see someone in danger—a woman, BIPOC, Muslim, queer—and you step between them. You ignore the attacker and you just check in with your old friend whom you’ve never met before. Demonstrate solidarity in the face of irrelevance. Often that’s all it takes.

What they fear more than anything is a loss of power, of irrelevance. Of our realizing we don’t need them, we don’t have to fear them. That we can take care of each other. That against every story we’re told, kindness and compassion and support are what make a functioning world.

I am still very ill, and fraught, and stretched too thin to clearly see, and I don’t know what I have to give at the moment, either materially or emotionally. It’s all theoretical. But. Maybe it’s time to trust a bit in compassion, and a recognition that we are in this together.

Obedientia Fortuna

  • Reading time:3 mins read

There’s this sense among the privileged that those who do not share their privilege are just going out of their way to get attention. As if the fuss they cause about accommodations or safety is all in fun. Any experience other than their own is some kind of Hollywood myth. If somehow the disadvantaged are not faking it for the lulz, then the Lutheran devil kicks in and, clearly they’re just not trying hard enough or otherwise are of poor moral character, because why else would they be in such an absurd condition?

“Well,” grunts Joe America, “obviously you brought it on yourself, or else the universe in its wisdom has judged against you, so why should I respond with anything other than contempt? (But clearly you must be pretending. For reasons that I can’t articulate at the moment. It’s got to be a scheme. And I’ll show you.)”

I feel like “I Won’t Let You Win” should be the national motto.

This mentality also more or less defines hard Internet culture. The worst thing a person can do, by Internet Law, is suggest they have something different or remarkable to contribute.

We could double up by printing “You Think You’re Better Than Me?!” on back of the dollar bill.

And that’s the thing. A disability, or a marginalized identity, sets people apart, therefore drawing attention, therefore making the less privileged seem in some small way remarkable, which draws suspicion and anger from those who feel a regular need to demonstrate a worth that they’re paranoid they can’t perform.

We’ve got these strong markers as to what makes a person a success. What makes a real man, a proper woman. A true adult. You gotta win, gotta earn more, do better. Gotta collect all the pieces on the board and earn the praise. Maybe get famous? A winner deserves fame, after all.

Our whole culture is competition—and a competition has standard rules. So what are these people doing on the margins, if not cheating by setting themselves apart? That’s not even a real lane! How does this fit into the game I’ve been taught? Well, got to police that. Just because I don’t understand the grift doesn’t mean I can’t see when someone is playing by different rules. And in the unlikely event they’re not faking it… well. They lost. That’s how a game works. Why are we wasting time here?

In sum, ha, ha, the driving myth of our society is garbage.

Horatio Alger can go hang himself with his bootlaces.

Galaxy Mind

  • Reading time:6 mins read

People who feel very certain about the world feel very uncomfortable about nuance. And whatever they feel uncomfortable about quickly becomes the enemy.

One of the main things that Steven Universe serves to talk about is toxic behavior: where it comes from on an individual and structural level, and what to do about it. Every character on the show is carrying some grief or trauma, that affects their behavior. The show threads the needle of sympathy for the person and confronting the behavior, over and over. It’s delicate. So of course, people looking for black-and white, either-or answers to the questions that they specifically ask are going to have difficulty.

Take “Cry for Help,” the episode that first drew me in. This whole discussion that opens up here, and lasts for a while, it’s heavy as all hell. Consent is a constant theme with the show, and here Pearl coerced Garnet into fusion. It’s, you know—there are no good or bad people. There are good and bad actions. And, there’s trust. Most violence and abuse comes not from some evil bogeyman but from people close to you, who you generally trust—which is what this episodes serves to dive into.

Another way to put it is that Steven Universe focuses in on systemic violence and the way that it manifests in behavior, placing culpability for one’s actions as a part of that system rather than a value judgment on the individual—which we’re still having a bunch of trouble talking about as a society, and which seems to confuse the fuck out of people when you bring it up.) You want real change, the show argues, vilifying the individual won’t get you there. Hold them to account, but to truly fix anything you need to trace back and smash the system that led to the behavior in the first place.

A mind-blowing topic for a kids’ show, right? Even adult-targeted TV would prefer to avoid this discussion. So of course, the response from the Discourse Web more or less amounts to accusations that Rebecca Sugar somehow condones rape. Because discussing a subject in any shape or form means that you’re encouraging it, apparently.

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6v7eyj

The character of Stevonnie—a non-binary, intersex character formed from the (basically) platonic relationship between two teenagers—is one of the most nuanced and radical elements of the show, representing puberty, first loves, gender discovery, consent—so of course they’re the target of a million bad-faith hot takes, that make them an example of everything depraved going on in our society today.

Of particular focus is how every character in Stevonnie’s debut episode episode objectifies them, as if this is evidence of the show’s awfulness rather than part of the actual point of the episode, that it serves to talk about. Part of the whole deal here, that the show continues to talk about long-term, is the dark turn the story takes halfway through, when what had been an innocent exploration of self and new love and so on gets weird when they realize the new way other people are responding to them. (In real life, find a girl who hasn’t had to deal with this shit starting around… roughly the age that Connie actually is at this point in the story.) This leads them into an anxiety attack—a moment of weakness that in turn a skeevy douchebag uses as an invitation to intrude on their space, making them even more uncomfortable. The episode demonstrates this as a Bad Thing; a violation. An example of What Not To Do, Ever. And, what can happen.

“Alone Together” is a thematically dense, complicated piece of television. It fits so much into eleven minutes, covers so many important topics so effortlessly, all at the same time, it’s hard to know where to begin. Of course some people feel weird; this is revolutionary storytelling. It’s bold and confident in saying things that nobody else is saying, that dearly need to be said. Revolutions make people uncomfortable.

It’s frankly astonishing how well Steven Universe handles the uncomfortable topics it raises, and it’s so important for doing so. Thematically and structurally it works more like literature than typical television. But, people who are eager to react don’t have that patience.

“It’s not helpful to pin all evil on some external bogeyman,” the show says. “Anyone can be hurtful, and we all are responsible for our own behavior.”

The reactionary seethes in reply. “Only a bogeyman would say such a monstrous thing!”

When you ask people to look at their own behavior, a divide will open up and half of the audience will flip its shit. People who assume bad faith will erupt in their own geysers of bad faith and intone like a banshee, rejecting the idea that maybe they missed a beat somewhere. It’s this bottled reactionary impulse, just waiting for the right excuse. This is the highway that people use to accuse the show, and by extension its creators, of all manner of bizarre, extreme things, not limited to but including actual fascism.

(This is in response to a queer Jewish woman and majority non-white cast and crew. One… suspects there may be other, unspoken motives at play here.)

Some of the most galaxy-brain takes on the show involve expressions of rage that its story takes the angle of trying to carefully dismantle a complex, violent system from its roots rather than barging in and selectively killing people, expecting that will solve all the problems. That, combined with the notion that no one is good or bad—people do good things, bad things, bad things for good reasons, good things for bad reasons, and none of this needs to be morally gray—so that you can’t point to any one person and say, “they’re the villain,” causes great Online Anger.

People don’t like to hear that they’re asking the wrong question, that they’re looking at the world all wrong, and that’s the only answer the show has to give. About pretty much everything. As I say, its whole attitude is revolutionary. Which is why it freaks people out so much.

The Drapers

  • Reading time:3 mins read
There is a recent article in The Atlantic that I have neglected to read, that questions why viewers tend to dislike Betty Draper while they approve of Don, and whether there is a double standard at work. They’re both flawed characters shaped by their environment, so what could explain the different reactions?

This sort of article irritates me, so I’ve skipped it. The answer seems clear enough that I wonder why the question need be asked. Maybe for some people there is a double standard at work, but I can’t really be concerned with them. For me the it’s all about the kids. I’m not too fond of either senior Draper, but whereas Don is distant and neglectful toward everyone, his kids included, Betty is selectively violent toward them — particularly Sally.

Early on, I felt great sympathy toward Betty. Don was passively abusive and oblivious to her needs; she was increasingly unhappy but in denial about it. Then she reached a certain epiphany, where she realized how unhealthy she was in her current situation.

For a while it looked as if she was going to pull herself up and become a strong character. Yet instead of becoming an active agent in her own life, she simply began to leach hostility — particularly toward those weaker than her. At that point her children, especially her daughter, became a scapegoat for all of her anger and anxieties.

I understand the reasons why Betty is as she is; it’s too late for her. She was broken way too early, and the wound was reinforced for way too long. She doesn’t know how to be a whole person. Still, she should have the self-awareness or control to avoid actively abusing her daughter in much the way that she was abused herself. Reasons aren’t excuses, you know.

Don isn’t Dad of the Decade either (except in a historically representative sense). He seems to forget that his kids exist, even when they’re right in front of him. I’m sure if he were granted sole or major custody he would find his own pattern of bad behavior toward the kids. As it is, he’s more of a non entity. That’s its own problem, but… that’s pretty much all there is to it. It’s harder to hate a lack of action than to hate clear negative action.

I suppose there may also be an element of annoyance at having invested such sympathy in a character who later flaunted it all — and who now, from her later behavior, seems worthy of very little concern.

Either way, I see no reason to root for either character. They’re not even real people in the context of the drama; they’re the biggest allegorical foils in a show that’s one big allegorical foil. The only thing to do is sit back and observe their behaviors in context, and to muse about what their actions say about the evolution of society over the past fifty years. Still, yeah. Some behaviors annoy me more than others.