The plumbers coming at 7am tomorrow and I can’t sleep, so I’m gonna distract myself by trying to write a thinky post and see if I can get my thoughts straight.
I’m finally listening to the “Dirty John” podcast, which is fascinating and amazing. Mostly in how objective it is. We hear all these people talking, and we don’t hear any analysis of what they are saying, we just get to listen and think about it for ourselves. The framework is hidden, the realization that this is a story of toxic romance and fantasy, and the way women are raised to see men.
I did a post a while back about why I think fantasies are harmless. Which boils down to “they are harmless because we know they are fantasies”. It’s a healthy outlet, a way to play with emotions we feel without acting on them. You don’t really want an over the top jealous protective partner, but sometimes it is fun to watch a movie about a hero who beats up a guy for looking at you funny. You don’t really want someone who would die for you, but sometimes you want to watch a movie about insane love that it would kill you to lose. And you don’t really want to be a heartless powerful assassin, but sometimes it is fun to pretend you can heartlessly kill people.
Now I am thinking there is a second level to it. Fantasies can help us understand what is fantasy, and what is reality. If someone does something in real life that is “exactly like in the movies”, that means he isn’t a real person. He is a person pretending to be in a movie.
I don’t think it is the extreme fantasies that are a problem, it’s the subtle ones. When I watch Bhansali’s Devdas, I hate the movie, but I don’t really think it’s a dangerous fantasy. I mean, it’s ridiculous! You aren’t going to come out of that thinking “I should fall in love with my next door neighbor, light a lamp for him, dream about him, etc. etc. etc.”. If anything, you watch it, enjoy it, get that fantasy out of your system, and then call someone a “Devdas” in real life when you recognize that behavior.
Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, that is the dangerous fantasy. It’s not a fun escape for woman, to think about this guy dragging you down and making you feel bad. But it is showing us a fantastical version of the world where people fall in love forever and ever over one magical night, where you never get over that kind of love, and so on and so forth. It’s teaching a world where real life can be fantasy, where that line gets blurry.
Anyway, Dirty John! I’m about 5 years late to the party, but it’s amazing. What’s amazing is the way it digs into the way women are trained to be victimized, the way society sets it up. This guy was a terrible person, sure. But what allowed him to be terrible was the fact that women again and again ignored their guts, followed the fantasy instead of the logic.
What I find REALLY interesting is the way the women who have the gut sense are treated. That’s I think the bravest part of the podcast and the show, and what I am finding most interesting in the online discussions I am reading around it. Her younger daughter is weak, childish, living in a fantasy world, too emotional. Her older daughter is too mean, spoiled, demanding. Their words and reality aren’t softened or flattered. But the “childish” one knew something was off immediately and refused to be in the same room with him. And the “spoiled” one confronted her mother demanding that she be treated fairly, that her needs go before this new man.
It’s nothing new to say that women are punished for being aggressive. But what I finding interesting in this story, and the discussion around it, is that women are being punished for not being aggressive in the way we want them to be. It’s another fantasy, to be tough and scare someone off and do the magic thing that works right away. Reality is sometimes you come off as emotional, or spoiled, or mean. And it doesn’t work right away.
This is the fantasy I see all the time in online discussions, “Oh, I would never be so stupid as to fall for that!” or “If that was my sister/daughter/mother, I would have kicked his a– right from the start!” If someone doesn’t do the fantasy thing, it doesn’t fit the rules we have learned. You can fight back, but only in the particularly way you are allowed to fight back.
It’s not just the fantasy of the perfect romantic man that can be damaging, it’s the fantasy of the “Strong Woman” who would never fall for him along with the ideal of the “Forgiving Womanly Woman” who is saintly in her forgiveness. People are messy. Reality is messy. We need to look at these real messy unbelievable stories to remember that, to remember the difference from fantasy and reality.
Okay, that’s all I got! Now you be thinky back at me.