You know where is not a good place to try to pick people up?

Okay, I know, there are many such places, among them the office, your class (if you're a teacher), and pretty much anywhere if you're a politician. But somewhere near the top of the list should be the waiting room at your medical clinic.

And if you're a men's rights activist, do you know who is even less likely than any other random female who was minding her own business and reading a book to want to get a drink with you after her doctor's appointment?

Okay, I know there are many such women. This is, after all, the waiting room for a doctor's appointment. Also, you are, after all, a men's rights activist, which means you're probably, though not certainly, an entitled, self-important douche with no sense of history, no understanding of your own privilege, and no notion that your advances might be unwelcome. But really, once someone tells you she's a radical feminist, you really should just cut your losses and pick up an outdated magazine.

Or did I miss a memo, and is Wednesday afternoon at the medical centre kind of like Wednesday Night at the Laundromat?

No, shit, there I was, sitting in one of the uncomfortable chairs, reading a book. I put the book down for a moment to straighten up and look around, smiled politely at the fellow next to me, a couple of empty chairs down, who happened to catch my gaze, and returned to my book.

"I like your colourful outfit," he said.

"Oh. Thanks," Said I, and went back to my book.

He proceeded to go on about how lovely the purple, green, orange and pink were (I was wearing the pink and black skull coat, with a purple scarf, underneath was my green cardie; I've no idea where he got the orange from—maybe my hair). I returned some inanity about liking some brightness in the dark of winter; he asked me what I did.

Sigh. I should have just changed seats, but I really needed to be in the waiting room, and I didn't want a fuss, because if there's anything less pleasant than the doctor's waiting room, it's a fuss in the doctor's waiting room. So I resigned myself to small talk. Told him I'm an editor. I make books. He wanted to know if I do "Shadow writing," like, if he had an idea for a novel, would I write it for him and we could spit the profits. I explained as how ghost writing doesn't really work that way, and in order for his ideas to be worth anything, he'd have to either already have a name, or be willing to pay his ghost-writer up front. He explained that his dad knew Arthur Halley, and Halley had used a ghost-writer in his later years. I explained as how, were that the case, it would likely be because Halley was already a Name known for good books, but I'd really no idea.

Awkward pause.

I asked him what he did. He's a salesman and a political activist. Oh, I said politely, "What kind?"

"I believe in equality between men and women."

"Oh," I said, "You're a men's rights activist."

So he told me about his gender-parity activism. He had been all for equality when he saw women's rights activists on the telly in the seventies. It only made sense. But Marxist feminists had taken it too far and now men were oppressed, and women didn't want anyone to know. So what did I think about that?

I asked for an example of how men were oppressed.

He has a son, and had not received custody when he and his wife divorced, and now the kid was being abused by his step dad, and when the fellow across from me reported this to the police, the police slapped handcuffs on him, the kid's father, because the stepdad was a fireman and therefore protected because society sees him as a hero.

(Why he hadn't gone to CAS, and why the doctor who diagnosed the signs of abuse hadn't gone to CAS, the MRA did not explain.)

So what did I think of that?

I didn't see that women were the problem in that scenario. If the abuse was happening, clearly the mother was a problem, as was the stepdad. If custody had indeed been "automatically" awarded to the mother, without any regard for the interests of the child, I see that as an outcome of patriarchal, gender-essentialist notions about women's roles and our natural capacity for nurturing, which a lot of women don't really have. If the step-dad is protected by the law-enforcement/emergency-services confraternity, that's another systemic problem and why child-welfare services need to be separate from law-enforcement.

His eyes were kind of crossing at this point. So where did I stand on gender-equality.

"Oh, I'm a feminist."

"So you probably want to kill me."

"Ummm ... no. I don't really want to kill anyone."

"So are you a Marxist-feminist?"

"I'm not sure what you mean by that. I think Marx had some interesting things to say about wealth and power, and the redistribution thereof. But generally I fall into the radical feminist camp."

"What does that mean?"

"It means that I think that legislating equality, while an important stepping stone, is only a step in the path to changing people's very ideas about women and men and the way relate. And until we dismantle some of the very strange ideas about gender, it's always going to be a struggle for any sort of equality."

So what sort of things did I think should be legislated?

"Oh, things like socialized child-care, so that more mothers and fathers can re-enter the workforce more easily ... " I was going to go on to reproductive freedom, but he cut me off. Wanted to know if I wanted to get a drink after our respective appointments. I said I had someone to meet (I did!), and had no idea when I'd be done (I didn't!). Then the nurse called my name, and I rushed off, thereby totally ignoring an opportunity to spend more time learning about this guy's personal life. When I came out clutching various lab requisitions,* he was nowhere to be seen, so I scuttled down to the lab to lose myself among the throngs waiting for the vampires.

That will teach me to ever look up from my book.

I'm fine, we're just keeping track of a few things.

 





 
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