The blog where I rant about things that should be obvious to everyone

As a man with a 4 year degree in computer science, and a mediocre job doing web development I'm not really qualified to comment on politics, religion, or anything else, but I'll be damned if that stops me.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Teasing and masculinity


Dogs look at us and think, "You pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, you must be God." Cats look at us and think, "You pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, I must be God."

For the most part, I've always found these types of jokes more interesting than funny. It's not that they are not clever, it's more that for a joke like this to be funny it has to have a kernel of truth to it, and in my experience with my cat, it doesn't. This had me wondering if the reason that cats are perceived this way is because for the most part cats are a woman's pet and dogs are a man's pet. In my experience women's pets tend to be worse behaved and more entitled due to the woman's only interactions with her pet being to talk to it in a baby voice and try and hold it (an action that the pet contemptuously struggles against). This results in both cats and dogs being stuck up, and often violent.

So because cats and toy sized dogs are very often owned by women, or in a house with men and women but where the man just puts up with the animal, these animals tend to be viewed as being stuck up brats. It was somewhat surprising to me when my friend, Ismael, started renting a house with some other people who owned a pomeranian. At first the dog was a pain in the ass. He would nip at you if you got too close, try and stake out territory such as the seat you currently wanted, and wait for you turn your back so he could dart out and bite at your ankles. But Ishmael, who is good with animals, got that pomeranian turned around. Instead of being worthless and annoying, which I thought was just how pomeranians are, he started to act like any other dog. He was friendly, even affectionate, funny, and bloomed into having his own unique personality, as most dogs do if treated right.

There are two things that Ismael did to result in this transformation. First, any time the dog would act out of line by biting Ishmael or anything like that, Ishmael would chase him down and pin him to the ground until the dog stopped struggling and submitted. Secondly he would mess with the dog. One thing Ismael would do would be to hold that dog upside down balanced on one hand. At first the pomeranian would be nervous in that position, but after a while he'd just sack out with all his limbs and head hanging loosely in every direction. It did take a bit, but eventually the dog was better behaved, and viewed itself as belonging to Ishmael.

To bring things back to cats, after I last read the cat thinking “I must be God” joke, I looked over at my cat, Wilson, and said “Do you think your God, Wilson?” The answer could not have been clearer as he stared back at me with his crazy eyes, as if to say “What are you up to Booch?”

For Wilson to feel like God would not be possible because in addition to feeding, sheltering, and petting him, I regularly go out of my way to tease him and mess with him. The needy little bastard tends to follow me around from room to room, so when I move from one room into another, I'll hide around the corner and wait for him. When I hear him coming I jump out and see how high I can make him jump (my record is 4 feet). Sometimes when he is just lounging somewhere, minding his own business, I'll go and put my hand on his hindquarters and see how long he'll let me keep it there before getting up or trying to bat it away. Or if he's walking around I might play the game where I put my hand on his tail and laugh while he furiously spins round and round jumping after my hand trying to get me off.

The end results? Far from squashing his personality or making him live in fear, this has brought Wilson's personality out. Now it's not uncommon for me to be walking along and feel something hit the back of my calf, which of course was Wilson pouncing. When I turn around he walks backwards a bit while arching his back as if to say “Yeah I did that. What are you going to do about it? Chase me? I bet your going to chase me (please)”. I, of course, am willing to oblige and at least feint like I'm going to chase him until he runs away into the next room. I never get sick of seeing those spindly, out turned back legs tearing ass away from me.

This also has not resulted in any lack of affection that my cat has for me. Every morning he crouches by my bed waiting for any sign of life from me which he takes as a cue to jump up and scamper next to my head, where he flops down and uses his legs to press against my face, purring loud enough to be heard in the next room. Whenever I put my shoes on to leave, he starts standing by the door meowing, in effect begging me to stay. And if I'm at my computer too long, ignoring him, Wilson will come over and stand up on his hind legs with his front paws in my lap, and smash his face against the arm I hold my mouse with (he is a very tall cat).

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that this type of teasing, and the positive end result is not just limited to men and their pets. It is something that is done between men and their children as well. To some extent it happens between a man and all types of relationships he has.

I remember that when I was a child, my grandpa was the number one man in my life that would do these kinds of things to me. When my family was visiting my grandparents, if I ventured too close to the couch, where my grandpa was sitting, he'd grab me and with one of his hands hold both of my hands together and with the other tickle me till I was able squirm away (or perhaps till he let me go while letting me think that I got away). And although I have no memory of it, one of the better pictures of my childhood that exemplifies the relationship I had with my grandpa, is of me as a small child, in my underwear (I assume that's what I thought fighters wore because of pro wrestling) with my hands up and shoulders forward, wearing a pair of cheap boxing gloves and taking a swing at my grandpa who was standing in front of me with a big grin on his face, holding his hands up for me to hit like a boxing trainer.

The reason that this kind of teasing/tickling/messing with/boxing/wrestling behaviour is so powerful is because it sends two messages much more definitively than words ever could. First says that I (the teaser) am bigger, better, smarter, and stronger than you. This does not leave tons of room for the child or animal or whatever to feel very entitled and special. It destroys the unearned kind of self esteem or self worth that is so prevalent among kids raised in broken homes and by single mothers. But the other thing that it says is that I (again the teaser) both like and love you. This has the effect of destroying insecurity and self doubt.

Ultimately, one of the lessons taken from the book of the Song of Solomon is that the best way to develop a person is not to use the stick when they are bad and the carrot when then are good, but instead is to delight in them. And one of the ways that men delight in those around them is by teasing. With kids it might be seeing how outrageous a lie you can get them to believe. With cat's it might be seeing how high you can make them jump by startling them. With dogs it may be hanging on to the ball when you make the throwing motion. With your girlfriend/wife it might be dumping green goo on them. For you step mom it might be (as my friend Gordy did) pretending to be your wife on instant messenger and saying that “Mom, I don't know what to do. Gordy came home and peed on the floor and then looked himself in the bathroom and won't come out”. As long as these are done in love, they are greatly beneficial to both the person teasing and being teased, and they are a mark of a good man acting as God designed him to.

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