Unlearning Shitty Cultural Tropes

One of my memorable moments from Skepticon this year was sitting at a table that was about half-full of women talking about getting laid. It was memorable because in spite of the fact that I know, intellectually, that the, “Men like sex, women like love and cuddles and puppies”, trope is nonsense, there’s a part of my brain that still buys into it. There’s a part of my brain that is still surprised when I’m privy to conversations like that. It’s the reason I love being around for those conversations: it helps me learn. It helps me say, “See that, Anthropomorphized Subconscious? They do like sex!”

For all that I can read and talk about women liking sex, too, it takes moments like that to really get it into my head. It takes a group of women talking about getting laid, a female partner talking about wanting to fuck me, a female friend talking about how she wants to “defile” a particular boy. I am convinced, with useless tropes like “women don’t like sex”, that the repeated direct experience of the subversion of the tropes is the single best way to unlearn them. If a picture is worth a thousand words, an experience is worth a million.

I think direct exposure is a brilliant way to learn new ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. One of the best ways I know to be more comfortable with being poly is to spend time around people who are comfortable being poly. I find that, often, that helps me be more comfortable with it even when I’m not around the comfortable poly people. Voices are habit-forming. By the same token, I find that, if I want to have good relationships, it helps to spend time around people who are mature about their relationships. Learning by osmosis: it really works. You just can’t help but pick up the rhythm of the things around you. Conversely, of course, spending time around destructive ideas will tend to ingrain destructive ideas.

I think one of the absolute best ways to learn to be a certain way or think a certain way is to spend time around people who are that way, and I think it’s an important thing to be mindful of when making life decisions. You want to be comfortable being who you are? Find other people who are comfortable with the way they are and the way you are. Seek them out, deliberately, as much as possible. Even if you aren’t actively trying to model yourself after them, you’ll end up, at least to an extent, doing it anyway.

I’m glad I have a lot of female friends who are comfortable enough with their sexuality and comfortable enough with me that we get to talk about sex openly. Each successive conversation helps me a little more to unlearn all the ludicrous tropes I’ve been taught by rom-coms and shitty magazines all my life.

I also think the “experiencing trope subversion helps unlearn tropes” phenomenon suggests useful broader strategies for making yourself and others comfortable in the world at large. In particular, it suggests the value of being out about the ways in which you are outside the norm and producing media that model an attitude and environment of acceptance about things that are outside the norm. I’m going to cover those in separate posts, though, or this will become absurdly long.


10 comments on “Unlearning Shitty Cultural Tropes

  1. Pingback: Our Activism Needs More Stories | Research to be Done

  2. The belief won’t disappear all of your/our reasons for holding onto it are undermined, not just a few of them. I believe the situation is more complicated than this post lets on. By virtue of gender roles, the average woman my age will reject 10x more opportunities for casual sex in a year than I could hope to accumulate in a lifetime. I know I will only one or two overt approaches for dates or intimate meetups from new women I meet in my day to day interactions per year if I’m lucky whereas if we wanted sex equally I would expect that number to be a bit higher. I could be that I’m dramatically less attractive than most men, but that’s my least preferred explanation for obvious reasons. Other reasons could be given but this is one of them.

    Now I believe the real explanation for the behavioral disparity is this. Women want sex as much as we do but are more selective than we are, both out of necessity and ability. If women were less selective then they would behave more like us.

  3. “You just can’t help but pick up the rhythm of the things around you. Conversely, of course, spending time around destructive ideas will tend to ingrain destructive ideas.”

    Yes, yes, yes.

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