Jerk-Shaming

It’s totally unfair that women get slut-shamed but men don’t unless there’s some counterpart shaming for men.

I think there can be – jerk-shaming which I’m glad I’ve dreaded lifelong.

If slut-shaming is the threat that a woman will come across like a slut, jerk-shaming is the threat that a man will come across like a jerk. Jerk may be too soft a term to counterbalance slut. Still, it catches something missing from pred-shaming or perv-shaming. There are many more ways to be a jerk to a woman than a predator or a perv. If you have a better suggestion than “Jerk,” I’m all ears.

In healthy balance, slut-shaming and jerk-shaming keep women from being overly inviting and men from feeling overly invited.

Now, some argue that shaming is never appropriate. It never works, it’s too hard on people’s self-esteem. It should be avoided at all costs.

Certainly, some shaming is unwarranted and counter-productive. Still, I wouldn’t want to do without shame. I’m grateful for my inner-whips, I suppose in part because they’re not overactive, active enough to keep me in line. I don’t think we could or should do without shame. Shame, like judgment, blaming and name-calling is inescapable in human behavior and often useful.

People still say, “one shouldn’t be judgmental,” which is hypocritical, since “shouldn’t” is a judgment. Likewise, Shame all shamers, blame all blamers, and don’t be a name-caller are hypocritical. My rule is if a supposed principle is hypocritical it’s not a principle but a dilemma – deciding in context whether to judge, blame, shame and name-call.

I’m glad that some men are being called sexual predators these days and I’m even glad that we’re ignoring for the time being the potential for women to beckon, tease, send ambiguous signals and then cry foul. It’s all part of ongoing co-evolutionary calibration between slut- and jerk-shaming, and apparently, a pendulum swing toward men’s failings is long overdue.

Men who have a healthy fear of jerk-shaming can’t imagine engaging in the kind of sexual predation making the headlines these days. Really, guys do that?! Sure they’re rich and may be used to a lot more openings with women than the rest of us, but no, we’d just not cross such lines, we’re pretty sure.

I’m old enough to forget how overwhelmingly compelling women could be when I was most excitable, but still, I doubt I would have crossed such lines. I think this bodes well for the #me too movement. Just a little reliable public jerk-shaming could bring a whole lot of men into line very quickly.

I, like other men, might fantasize about the kind of predation these men got away with, but there’s nothing in me and I’m guessing in many men that would ever consider acting on it. Sure, men are beasts, but many of us are civilized beasts. We have our beasts on a tight leash. Fear of jerk-shaming keeps us from thinking that there’s room for any of that in the real world. For us, hell hath no fury like a woman disgusted.

My fear of jerk shaming originated in my relationship with my mother. Disappointing her made my skin crawl and therefore motivated me to be decent. Lucky for me, she had a convincing face with compassionate eyes and I appreciate her standards to this day.

That could just mean I was a mama’s boy, at 61 still agreeing with my revered and deceased mother’s standards. By my culture’s standards, she demanded nothing outlandish. She had no weird ax to grind. From what I understand mothers like mine aren’t standard issue. Some set standards harder and less healthy to meet.

And then there were those middle and high school years in a girl’s world, all of us boys craving attention. Jerk-shaming was a trip wire we didn’t dare trip. We tried to be nice, entertaining, likable.

My fear of jerk-shaming made me shy, awkward and anxious with women.  It took years to relax into a calibration that freed me to reach out comfortably to women –figuratively, never ever just grabbing their figures.

I lucked out. I lived in cultures where if I did cross a line, word would spread, I’d be scorned, and I’d never score. Further reinforcement of my fear of jerk-shaming.

In my 20’s I lived for seven years on The Farm, a matriarchal commune in many ways. No free love – I was celibate for my first three years there. You weren’t supposed to have sex until you were engaged to be married. One day staying home from my barn-raising job with a mild flue I visited a single woman next door, just to sit and talk. That evening an elder of the community came to visit, telling me gently but firmly that it was inappropriate.

Perhaps it’s my nature, my mothering or my peculiar choice of later-life cultures, I fear jerk shaming enough that I know its excesses, perhaps as some women know the excesses of slut shaming.

I have, at times invested and stayed in partnerships longer than was healthy for me fearful of disappointing my partner. I did that often enough that I’m now back to celibacy. I don’t trust myself not to get too involved too quickly, not because my heart gets all aflutter, but because in relationship I try to delight and every delight turns into an expectation until I’m in deeper that suits me these days.

I go on “dates” with women but we don’t touch. Friends without benefits, since in my experience, as soon as you cross into benefits you enter romantic obligation to meet standards that I don’t choose to meet at this point. My “dates” are more like a ritual tribute to the romantic religion to which I no longer subscribe. I’m like a fallen Catholic who still likes to go to mass sometimes because the ritual, now stripped of its original meaning still means something to me.

And because I love women’s company, that special radiance. Nice to be near, never ever to pounce upon. 

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