I’ve noticed a thing recently and I’m going to ramble about it for a bit. It is this: My relationship with cute is a little bit broken.
I mean specifically with cute as applied to me more than the more general cuteness – having a broken relationship with cute things in the world at large is normal enough for misanthropic people like me as to be cliche. I’m thinking more specifically about my response when somebody calls me cute. This is a thing that happens, and it throws me off a bit every time, even when it’s from somebody I’ve known for a long time.
When it’s a stranger, say somebody messaging me on OKC, my immediate response is to judge the person harshly. Very harshly. If the first comment-worthy thing you notice about me is my alleged cuteness, you’re paying attention to the wrong things on such a fundamental level I really, really have no interest in continuing to interact with you. You’ve functionally ceased to be a worthwhile person to me. Depending on circumstances, I might notify you that you’ve failed.
“You’re cute. Want to get drinks some time?”
I might also just wrap up the conversation, walk away, and forget about you completely. You’ll never know I stopped thinking of you as human because, hey, lots of things aren’t human. I don’t regularly tell my desk lamp it’s just an object to me, either.
But I don’t react well when it’s from friends or people I’ve known for a long time, either. It’s a compliment, sure, and they mean well, (or they’re teasing me like the malicious bastards my friends tend to be. It’s my fault for loving malicious bastards) but I still have to go through the, “They said a nice thing to you, you should respond in a gracious and accepting way, no really, stop staring blankly at them like they stopped speaking English.”
The problem, I’ve figure out, is this: Cute is not on my mental list of personal features/qualities. I’m smart, sure. Literate. Efficient. Prone to unapologetic assholery. Helpful. Sarcastic. Occasionally witty. Hilarious at karaoke. And when we get around to listing physical features, I’ve got big tits, a waist, nice fingernails, okay hair, decent facial features, am visibly healthy, and look morbidly obese when on the west coast. There is no overall assessment of that feature set filed away on in my mental checklist because I don’t care. It hasn’t occurred to my mental inventory that I should tag that feature set with an evaluation. So when somebody does apply a tag to it, it triggers a “The field you’re trying to fill in doesn’t exist,” warning. You’ve caused my mental processes to throw an error.
Realizing this helped me suss out my discomfort with something else, i.e. a couple mentions I’ve seen in places listing me as a “female writer to note” or something similar. When they’ve popped up my response has been remarkably similar to when friends call me cute, namely, “Hey, that’s a good thing, don’t nit-pick the packaging. If you aren’t going to be gracious then Shut. Up.” Making lists of notable female anything is problematic (promotes ghettoization of females, preventing them from becoming unmarked re the thing), but reliably less problematic than the alternative (outright obscurity for the females). So, sure, I could go off on a tear about how I don’t want to be shoved in a ghetto with the wimmenz, but that’s not actually what’s bugged me about it.
What bugs me as that while “female” does make the list of features in my mental representation of myself, it’s so far down the list, so far below writer, Realtor, geek, bird-lover, misanthrope…hell, it’s below home owner. I think being female is about as important to my identity as the fact that the first chapter book I ever read by myself was Cam Jansen: The Mystery at the Haunted House. It’s true. It has a massive influence on important factors in my life (I have a terrible soft spot for mysteries), I wouldn’t change it, but it’s not exactly relevant to most things, now is it?
I share this mostly because since figuring these things out, they’ve bothered me less. Instead of a nebulous “I’m having complicated, largely negative, largely inappropriate responses to this thing,” response I can just go, “Yup, you’ve tripped an error. This error is not one actually indicating a problem I care about. Move along.” It’s an improvement. And it’s saved me a whole lot of ranting that would have gotten complicated and nuanced and then fallen apart into a mess of pointing at things and being unhappy because they weren’t perfect, even though they were trying. Maybe I’m not the only one this sort of thing is happening to.