Friday, November 06, 2009

Strange Mental Phenomenon

There's this Conservative Christian Dude at work. We're more apt to run into conservative Christian dudes where I work than if I worked in a comic book store in Boston, it's true, but this guy stands out a bit even in the military community. When he first got to the shop and we all went out to lunch together, he changed seats when I sat down. This preyed on my childhood lunchroom anxieties, so I tried to joke it off.

"What? Do I smell or something?"

"Oh, it's not you. I just don't sit next to women."

"What's wrong with women?"

"Nothing. It's just a thing to avoid temptation."

"You find ME a temptation?" This incredulity was not an indication of low self-esteem. I was wearing the baggy camouflage work uniform, not a touch of makeup, and my hair is a dull brown color with flyaway strands in every direction. I do not really present an attractive appearance at work, nor do I bother with it. I do confess enjoying how nervous the question made him.

"Well, it's not like a thing with you. Just all women who aren't my wife."

"Or your daughter."

"Yeah, I'll sit next to my daughter too. It's a perception thing. I don't sit next to women who aren't my wife, so that no one perceives wrongdoing."

The rest of the shop thought it was a strange habit, but we shrugged it off as Conservative Christian Dude's personal weirdness. We're a fairly tolerant and accepting shop, led by an ex-recruiter with impressive social skills. (Our boss has the playful humor of Guy Gardner, including the willingness and ability to escalate or defuse any conflict at will.) Fortunately, Conservative Christian Dude was not the sort to shake a Bible in your face and tell you you're going to Hell even if you have just told him you can't attend that Church potluck he invited you to because it's the night of the Full Moon Ritual and you promised to bring the cake. As he tolerated our strangeness, we got used to the occasional oddity like not saying cursewords and a shockingly puritan attitude towards sex.

Today was notable, though.

Two seconds after I walked in the door for my shift Conservative Christian Dude turns to me and asks if I see anything wrong with the image on his computer. He's been doing a computerized lesson and there's an image of a woman in a pink blouse leaning forward to point at her monitor. The two men on either side are in suits and ties. I examine the image for any indication she's using the computer wrong. I look at the expressions. I look for obvious photoshoppery.

After about 3 minutes of intense inspection while Conservative Christian Dude stood smugly behind me, I realize what he thought constituted a problem.

"Is this because you can see cleavage?"

The pink blouse is unbuttoned and the woman is wearing a tank top underneath. There is a sliver of view of her breast. (I wish I had a copy of the image to show you how innocuous it is.)

"Yeah? Do you think that's appropriate?"

The ensuing discussion in the office was about whether the tank top is a tank top, a bra, or a tank top with a piece of bra showing. I've considering buying these outfits, so I'm absolutely certain it was just a normal tank top or a low v-cut shirt. Nothing a woman wouldn't wear normally. And I have the entire history of this blog analyzing comic book artwork to support me when I say I don't believe for a second the photographer or the model intended anything sexual about the image.

"She probably didn't see it at all when she dressed, and they told her to act natural for the pictures so she leaned forward and her top slipped down and molded to her chest. It's barely noticeable. Hell, it took me three minutes LOOKING for something to see it so you'd have to be a pervert to notice in the first place."

The whole office burst out laughing. Conservative Christian Dude paled a bit.

What was most amusing is how many time he'll think I'll side with him on stuff like this, because I go after the rest of the office over casual sexism. Sometimes I get the impression he thinks that because he follows so many rules about how men should treat women that he actually treats women better than the rest of the office. He doesn't realize that those old-fashioned attitudes are in many ways worse than the usual macho maintenance mindset.

See, out of that entire office of juvenile military manly men that get into discussions about actresses and download dirty movies and curse and joke about cheating on their wives, only one person saw cleavage on that slide when they took that lesson.

It was the guy who refuses to sit next to a woman, use swear words, or even discuss dirty movies. The old-fashioned gentleman white knight.

Not only that, as the discussion about proper workplace attire went on (kept smooth and casual by Guy Gardner-Type Boss--who at one point rolled up his sleeve to expose the upper arm, took a handful of armflab and told Conservative Christian Dude "This is basically what you're offended by here"), there was only one person in the office who didn't understand the concept of being responsible for your own thoughts and eyes. Only one guy who had trouble understanding that women don't dress for the sole purpose of provocation, and that it is not their responsibility to dress like nuns in order to avoid causing impure thoughts in the guy.

He also didn't know the word "misogynist" (which surprises me, because I could swear I use it several times a week) and understand why it applied when he suggested that women in offices only wear long skirts and tights. We didn't so much get this point across as simply give up on Conservative Christian Dude and start listening to Guy Gardner-Type Boss's old recruiter stories.

Now Conservative Christian Dude has never given me any indication in how he treats me that he thinks women are inferior in any way. I've never felt the slightest bit threatened by him (but that may be because he is approximately half my size). I'd say I actually get along with him better than many of the men in office do. But there's the occasional weirdness like this. Weirdness that passes the point where with anyone else in the office, I know they're just messing with me. He's serious the whole way through, and caught off guard when successfully challenged on it. It strikes me more as naivete than malice. A bit like those people who mistake chivalry for respect. Just another person out there following his step-by-step directions to the letter without realizing that they lead him away from where everyone needs to be.


  1. I know a friend of a friend who reminds me of your coworker. We only see each other at our mutual friend's birthdays and such but twice a year is usually enough. He's a crazily devout Christian who thinks it's sad that I'm such a ethically challenged Buddhist-y Pagan who has made sinful life choices. He's a virgin at 30 who is saving himself for marriage. He's even told others that he feels like he should have tried harder to "save" me and guide me down the right path when we were younger. I never tell him that I've always felt the same way about him. If I were part of a religion that proselytized, I'd bug the poor guy to rethink the mental straitjacket he's chosen to live in, poor soul.

    I'm just glad that I don't have to work with him, unlike your situation. Even if he isn't aggressive about things, that still must be awkward. Some people have such wildly divergent approaches to the world it's almost like trying to speak to someone who can't understand your language.

    On a cheerier note, the aforementioned mutual friend ended up with a hilarious story to tell about Christian Guy and I's differing descriptions of Las Vegas. Apparently, we said almost the exact same things . . . but in completely opposite tones of voice. :D

  2. Fascinating post. I saw many similarities with our experience here in Malaysia. For example, during a talk about common misconceptions about Islam, the speaker explained that the reason why women aren't allowed in the front of the mosque isn't because they are inferior in the realm of the religion, but because the men wouldn't be able to concentrate on their prayers if they were actually able to see the female form in front of them. Tthis idea that men can't control themselves, and thus have to be coddled to, is quite insulting.

  3. Interesting. It seems that the people who are the most obsessed about sex, are the ones that are afraid of it. Or see it everywhere. Or something.

    However, your Guy Gardner-like boss fascinates me.

  4. Is it truly Misogyny if he holds both men and women up to the same standards of appropriate dress? Prudishness does not automatically equate to Misogyny

  5. @anonymous, if the man refuses to sit next to any woman that is not his wife because shes a "temptation" then i highly doubt he's holding them to any similar standard. the statement would be dealing with a shared temptation, and not one sided. he sounds like the type that will wear a tank top and shorts to the gym, but feels women need to wear sweats.

  6. It suddenly hit me--this is exactly how Edward behaves towards Bella at the beginning of the "Twilight" series, right down to changing seats whenever she sits down to avoid temptation.

    That series is so steeped in deep conservative weirdness that it practically oozes it through its pores. :)

  7. I have to admit that I respect the guy for trying to do what is right. His behavior is what is usually taught to guys in some Christian circles that are fighting porn addictions.

    Like any kind of addiction, there can be triggers and the addict has to learn to avoid the triggers. Sitting next to a woman, while it may not be a direct trigger, it could lead to an ongoing casualness that would eventually lead to a trigger.

    As long as he is not forcing this belief system on other folks, I think folks ought to respect what he does. He's trying to honor his wedding vows and who knows what other problems he is trying to overcome or avoid.

    I also don't see his behavior as misogynist. He isn't holding women to a different standard by berating how they dress. In the case of the slideshow presentation, I think that he was making sure that there is no offense to women nor a temptation presented to other men. Of course, in this sue-happy society that we have become, where almost anybody can be offended by the littlest remark, he just might have been covering his butt.

  8. Dwayne -- Except that--as I noted--when the discussion turned to workplace attire, holding women to a different standard by berating how they dress is what he WAS doing.

    See, where I work we all wear bulky uniforms. It hadn't come up in the workplace because all the women in the building are dressed exactly like the men. That day for the first time we discussed business attire, particularly the people in the slideshow. This guy was arguing that the women's attire in the slideshow was the slideshow makers purposefully using sex to get men's attention. He felt that women who dress in anything but long skirts and long-sleeved shirts that reach over the collarbone were emphasizing their sexual characteristics. This was not a case of "this is my problem" it was a case of "this is a problem with modern women." So yeah, it was misogynistic.

  9. Wow.
    John Seavey, you are totally right.
    I only read the books for the angst, but you are totally right.

  10. I was this guy once. Picture being raised in a world where a passionate hug before marriage is a sin, and by sin, I mean a poison in your soul that eats it alive, and destroys everyone you know. It leads to a horror show where the worst pain they will ever experience never ends.

    Fear of that sin, fear of how you will hurt others if you fail, makes you alert for even the slightest sign of that sin.

    Even a thought is too much.

    It's been years since I gave up that lifestyle.

    I still freak out a little inside when I need to sit near a woman.