Schroedinger’s Twat: Are you ‘one of the good ones’?

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

I almost didn’t publish this blog post, because I wondered if it was a bit too harsh. It’s sat in my drafts for a while, getting edited and tweaked in an attempt to soften some of the blows. But this morning I read an article in Metro about men refusing to believe the evidence of women’s experience, and I figured ‘fuck it: why not?’ Let’s talk about Schroedinger’s Twat.

I got an email recently from a man who wanted me to put him over my knee and spank him. It wasn’t a polite email – it was incredibly direct, very demanding and had been addressed not to me but to ‘girls.’ How many girls did he send that to? And from how many of us was he expecting a reply?

I mentioned this to a friend, because although I found the email a bit disturbing in its demands, I figured the plural ‘girls’ warranted a giggle. But instead of giggling, this friend – who is a straight dude, which is very very relevant – said this:

“Why do men send messages like that, do you think? Could he genuinely believe that he’s offering you something you want?”

I should make it really clear here that we were expressly talking about emails which are aggressively sexual, entitled and presumptive. I don’t think a politely-worded email enquiring as to whether I’d be open to approaches falls into quite the same category. I explained that the entitled emails are usually sent for one of two reasons:

1. They are horny i.e. they are hoping that I will reply to say ‘yes please!’, even though I’ve expressly said on my FAQs page that I won’t.

2. They want to provoke a reaction of any kind. Maybe I’ll reply to say ‘fuck you’ or explain consent to them. Maybe they’ll get me to screengrab their email and publicly humiliate them, pressing a few specific kink buttons along the way.

Either way: they want a reaction from me, and I – a woman – am there primarily for the purpose of giving them what they want.

My pal suggested a possible 3:

3. They are truly lonely and unhappy, and have never done this sort of thing before, but coming across my website has led them to believe that I will be incredibly receptive to these messages, and they are in fact doing me a favour by sending them.

If this really is the case, then by ignoring his message or responding in a way that isn’t polite and gentle I may actually be doing him unfair harm. I don’t want to do unfair harm to anyone, so let’s explore this possibility.

What if he’s a good man doing bad things?

Although I present as a fairly cold-hearted bitch online, I am in real life quite a squishy person who tries to see the good in other humans. So in principle, I can accept that 3 is a possibility. There’s also a possible 4 – this guy has a particular kind of emotional difficulty that makes empathy tricky.

When my friend explained it, his reasoning essentially boiled down to ‘what if he’s a nice guy all the rest of the time, and he just doesn’t realise that this particular bit of reasoning is bad? Wouldn’t it be mean to act as if he is doing this bad thing, when in fact he may be making a legitimate mistake?’

Let me introduce you to Scroedinger’s Twat.

When a guy first contacts me online, he is Schroedinger’s Twat. He might be a perfectly nice dude, but he may also be a massive twat. I will not know whether he is a twat or not until I open the metaphorical box in which he resides – i.e. until I interact with him. Unfortunately, by the time I interact with him, it will likely be too late: I have already exposed myself to the twattery contained therein. I’ve expended energy composing a polite response, and when he replies to that I am already more open to whatever it is he says, because I can see from the way the subject and email displays that I have chatted to him before. If he then says something cruel, mean, threatening or otherwise horrible, it hurts more because I’ve opened myself up to it.

Therefore ideally I have to work out what his twat status is, using inductive reasoning, before he does something that is harmful.

The very first email I ever received that fell into the ‘wanna fuck?’ category received a reasonably polite reply:

“No thank you, but I’m flattered that you asked!”

And the second, and the third, and the fourth. One guy, I actually went on a date with, and it did not go well. So I returned to the polite replies. In fact, it took me a long time to start ignoring these emails. I think I used to send this reply to almost all the men who asked, no matter how aggressive or entitled the asking. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve either ignored (my most common response) or sent a shirty reply back (rare). And as I say, I still usually send polite messages to guys who are nice and not pushy.

After replying to a few, it didn’t take long to realise that most of these men were twats. Some would reply to my emails to call me a slut (aw, shucks – thanks!), others would reply to tell me I was frigid. Still more would speculate that I must secretly be a man pretending to be a woman, the implication being that if I were a real woman I would hop onto their cock quicker than you can say ‘how do you not recognise the danger I’m putting myself in?’ Some would continue to be kind with their words but frightening in their actions: lots of ‘I’m not a murderer, I promise!’ combined with a steadfast refusal to accept that I didn’t want to meet up with them.

Scroedinger’s Twat

At the moment the email hits my inbox, this person is Shroedinger’s Twat. While I would sincerely like to say that the very act of sending a ‘wanna fuck?’ mail like the one bcc:d to loads of bloggers demanding a spanking proves that the sender is an entitled twat, I am forced to accept that life contains nuance, and there may be a small possibility that they know not what they do. It is possible that any individual guy is merely misguided, but until I open the box – replying to him, asking questions, engaging – I cannot truly know.

If I were to act as if he might be a nice dude, I would be repeatedly throwing myself in harm’s way. This is something I’d probably be OK with doing, if 80% of the people were nice and I would only get hurt about 20% of the time. Adjust percentages accordingly depending on how low my self-esteem is that week, or how much other stuff has been going on that makes me want to curl up under my desk and weep.

But even with those percentages, many would say I was a fool. I would, I suspect, get an ‘asking for it’ response if I were to complain about the 20% of twats who were horrible to me: ‘well, why did you message them back in the first place?! Surely you could have known he’d be a twat after that first email!’

And obviously – OBVIOUSLY – it’s not only 20%. In Schroedinger’s original thought experiment (which – thanks pedants! – I realise is far more complicated and sciency than I’m making it out to be here), there was a 50% chance the cat would turn out to be dead. In my example, the evidence gathered over years and years of my life tells me the chances are much closer to 99% that Schroediner’s Twat will turn out, in fact, to be a twat.

Presumably until this point you thought that Shroedinger’s Twat referred to the man in my inbox. So did I. But then I went outside for a cigarette and a sigh of unfathomable sadness and realised that maybe Schroedinger’s Twat was in the pub with me all along.

Why doesn’t my experience matter?

If I can accept that my friend’s hypothesis is possible, and some of the men who send emails asking if I wanna fuck are nice, misguided, dudes who merely need education on what is and isn’t OK… how is it not possible for him to accept that my years of experience tell a more accurate story?

I’d be foolish to ignore the evidence of my own experience. If every time you ordered a coffee, the barista spat in it, and you’d been ordering coffee for 8 years, presumably the next time you ordered a coffee you’d expect to get a little saliva with your flat white, right? You would instantly dismiss people who said ‘but this time might be different!’ because even if they’re right that it might be, living your life that way leads to you drinking a hell of a lot of spit. I’m being asked to act as if every possible interaction may turn out to be a miracle outlier, just because my mate would like me to consider the feelings of the one-in-a-million baristas who wouldn’t dream of gobbing into my latte.

In postulating that some baristas don’t spit, he’s right. I’m willing to accept that he’s right. But he’s asking me, in this example, to do more than just admit the possibility: he’s asking me to act as if his scenario is far more likely than my years of experience tell me it is.

Why won’t he accept the evidence of my own experience? Why are my eight years of sex blogging not proof enough that when I say ‘haha this guy’s such a twat’, I am not indulging in gleefully cruel hyperbole: I am giving him information backed up by extensive evidence. I am not sharing an opinion, but an insight into my life. Telling him ‘this is what the world is like for me, and here is how I deal with it.’

Every person I encounter has the potential to be a twat: whether big twats like the one in my inbox or disheartening twats like the ones who dismiss my experience. But until I engage with him, I will not know which category he falls into. Even if I do engage with him by, say, establishing a friendship with him that lasts for years and years, I still have to wonder if and when I’ll discover he’s spat in my coffee. Whether one day, instead of trusting my extensive experience, he’ll choose to give the benefit of the doubt to a total stranger. Asking me to waste my time, deny my experience, and treat this stranger like an angel: even though I know he’s probably a twat.

As I mentioned at the top, I almost didn’t publish this at all, but fuck it I’m feeling cheeky today. Please don’t assume I dislike this dude: I love him very much, and I guarantee I fuck things like this up too, which is why I am grateful to my friends who are happy to tell me when I make similar mistakes. This conversation was frustrating and sad, but not uncommon – why, here’s another example of men I love not believing my experience! The older I get the more I realise just how many dudes struggle to take me as seriously as they’d take a man in my shoes. Which is odd, because with my age comes experience, and that experience doesn’t make me less credible, just less likely to behave. 

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