Living while introverted

I am an introvert. Surprise, I know, being part of that half of the population. It’s like being a woman. Flip a coin, and you could probably guess my gender and particular social inclination. The most common reactions to being an introvert are “You’re not shy!” or “But you go out a lot!” Well, yes, but here’s the thing: I require ridiculous amounts of me time. I need large chunks of space and time to myself to be creative and to just think. I’m not a ‘group work’ person. It’s not because I don’t like other people, but it’s usually because, if I work in a group or with a group, I still need swaths of time to go off and work on my own. Introversion has little to do with being shy and all to do with enjoying silence and a sense of open space in the world.

And this is why I hate “how to fix your life, you shy introvert!” type help articles. I read them because I’m a masochist. This is the latest piece I came across. The article should have been about ways to make sure you get out of your house more because it’s about how to get out of your house in the age of extreme creature comforts. It’s more about being lazy than about being introverted.

I hear you! I’m a total introvert and the creature comforts of home are usually a lot more enticing than a social outing. The amount of awesome that you can stuff into a small house makes it incredibly hard to get out and leave. The fact most people have a big flat screen TV, can stream just about any movie or TV show on demand, and can automate the delivery of pretty much everything makes it easier than ever to stay cooped up inside. Still, social interaction is good for you, so let’s take a look at some ways you can motivate yourself to get out of the house every now and again.

There’s the assumption introversion never means leaving your house. Wrong and wrong. I go outside a lot, work a job, go for walks, travel, and all kinds of other things, but I’m still an introvert. I can do a lot of these things without interacting closely with other people. I guess the reason I like my little apartment is because I crave my own space. Even when growing up, I craved my own spaces, little places where I could go, think as long as I needed, and feel completely comfortable. It’s about me time, not about vegging in front of the couch. There are out door places, places away from my apartment, that qualify as ‘me’ spaces. I had this seat in the library I always tried to sit in because I loved its location. I felt completely comfortable in that corner, tucked away from loud groups of people, and I did a lot of solid work there. At home, I loved my swing set. I had my swing, which was different from my sister’s swing, and I would go out there and swing for hours. Seriously, I was obsessed with swing sets. If my sister came out, we would play, but I liked to get out there alone and just swing.

This is introversion. This is not being shy but an in your bones need for solitude.

That being said, being an introvert doesn’t make you better. It really doesn’t. Being a women doesn’t give me magical estrogen powers. It’s a 50:50 population split. Flip a coin, it’s just like that. As a society, we put a lot of value on extroversion because it’s essential for community building. In case you were wondering, as social animals, humans are all about community building, so this is why we do prize extroverts, but once again, flip the coin. You’re not better, just different.

That being said, what if you’re an introvert who wants to interact better with people? What if you want to learn how to socialize in a way that makes sense for you? “Must I fake it?” on the ‘Since You Asked’ blog by Cary Tennis is the best advice I’ve ever read about how to be an introvert in a world that values extroversion. Here is the question and the best part of the answer, but read the entire thing.

Question :

I was wondering if you could give me some meta-advice. See, I’m quite shy and introverted socially, so I have difficulty in making friends or moving beyond a superficial level of acquaintance. I read self-help books and the like — I’ve even had a little counseling — for advice in how to amend this, but I’m seeing this apparent dichotomy in such advice that I don’t know how to resolve. On the one hand, they say that to make connections with people you should turn your attention to the other person, ask them questions about themselves and their lives, and so on. On the other hand, they say you should always try to “be yourself,” don’t try too hard, act as comes naturally to you. But with my personality, I have to “try hard” to generate conversation, to think of questions to ask people, and to not revert to going on about my own inane opinions if nothing immediately springs to mind (to say nothing of ignoring the feeling of artificiality produced by this strategy). If I acted as came naturally to me I would not be talking much (except to people I already know).

Answer:

The uneasiness of the introvert in a social situation has to do with the signals you are getting from the rest of the people that you do not exist. So assert your existence. You needn’t do this in any obvious way. Just feel your toes. Feel your hips. As you stand in a circle of people, feel your breath. Look at the other people. Allow yourself to look at them and think about them. Notice how their mouths move, how their eyes change, what kind of hair they have, what their skin is like, what they are wearing and where it came from. Regard them. Hold your space. Do not worry that you will be called upon, or that you must be ready with shallow patter. Just calm down and observe. Be a million miles away.

This holding of your own space is a form of quiet aggression that can redress the imbalance between the extroverts and the introverts. Yes, the extroverts command airspace. They say phrases. Their faces move. But you have the right to your own thoughts. If what they are saying is ludicrous, you do not have to laugh and pretend. If you make them uncomfortable, they will find some other guacamole.

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Evolution is culture

Evolutionary strategies are fighting battles in our culture right now. That is how evolution has transitioned to functioning in our big-brained animal world. We’re social animals, and our culture is an outstretched, warped version of biology. I’ve been struggling with how to digest a variety of news that has hit me over the break. I keep coming back to biology, evolution, and ultimately how survival of the fittest is going on in our culture. Humans have designed our culture, but at the same time, we’re still mammals. Our brains give us the ability to imagine scenarios, extending reality into this meta-simulation in our heads. We can take the basic struggles of biology and change them, theorize about them, and then create new ways in which to fight them out. We take the basic struggles of the African savanna and imagine new ways to fight these battles.

P.Z. Meyers wrote a piece about why women menstruate. It’s a question that you don’t think about all the time. I know how the biology of menstruation works. During the second half of the menstrual cycle, in the Luteal phase, the uterine wall thickens to get ready for a fertilized egg to implant. Menstruation happens when, at the end of the Luteal cycle (about 14 days), no egg implants, and the wall is shed in preparation for next months. The biology of how menstruation happens, however, is different from why it happens. It’s a wasteful process and not all mammals menstruate. When you think of the why in terms of evolutionary strategy, here is the anthropomorphized reasoning of why menstruation might occur.

So the question is, why do humans have spontaneous decidualization?

The answer that Emera suggests is entirely evolutionary, and involves maternal-fetal conflict. The mother and fetus have an adversarial relationship: mom’s best interest is to survive pregnancy to bear children again, and so her body tries to conserve resources for the long haul. The fetus, on the other hand, benefits from wresting as much from mom as it can, sometimes to the mother’s detriment. The fetus, for instance, manipulates the mother’s hormones to weaken the insulin response, so less sugar is taken up by mom’s cells, making more available for the fetus.

The larger aspect of this struggle is the male-female strategies of reproduction. Males want to spread their seed and come away with a pregnancy from every sexual encounter. Females want to get pregnant when they’re the healthiest, can carry the fetus to term, and then can live to reproduce again. These strategies are in competition, and I don’t think there is a winner. These strategies exist to propel human evolution forward, and they’ve created the species we have now. This female-fetal struggle is only one example of a evolutionary struggle in culture.

I don’t think it ends here. We’ve used technology to extend our animal abilities to extremes. We can now kill millions of people that we don’t like, for arbitrary reasons like skin color and ethnicity. There is nothing stopping rapid attacks against people considered to be outside of our group. It’s a psychology principle called in group bias, and it’s well documented. Most of the time, this bias is created by arbitrary standards, but it’s based in biology. We are conditioned not to trust people on the outside of our social groups. It’s a primal instinct, and with our frontal cortex, we’ve out-sized this in-group bias into every area of our culture. Politics is fueled by in-group, out-group bias. We’re conditioned to attack those who don’t think like we think, who don’t fall in line with our ideals.

This is why, when people ask, ‘why isn’t there more diversity in our group?’ I have to look at how they define themselves. Who is your in group? You have one, I promise you that it exists. Every movement, every culture has an in group. This brings me to the flood of news pieces I’ve read this week. There’s the rabid Ron Paul followers, the on-going atheist misogyny, the constant culture wars, and the countless spats that occur in the celebrity tabloids. What do these things have in common? We’re trying to fight what we consider the out group. No one is immune to it. In group bias is the antithesis of diversity. It’s us shutting ourselves down to others, creating barriers, and imposing a dominant culture on others. When you wonder where the diversity it, look at the in group. Understand what they’re doing, and understand evolution is driving us onward.

Female friends: the untapped resource for fixing ‘Mary Sues’ in fiction

I just read this piece on why Comic Book Girl considers Mary Sue sexist. Here, a Mary Sue is defined, explained, and the controversy is outlined:

Wish fulfillment characters have been around since the beginning of time. The good guys tend to win, get the girl and have everything fall into place for them. It’s only when women started doing it that it became a problem.

TV Tropes on the origin of Mary Sue:

The prototypical Mary Sue is an original female character in a fanfic who obviously serves as an idealized version of the author mainly for the purpose of Wish Fulfillment.

Notice the strange emphasis on female here. TV Tropes goes on to say that is took a long time for the male counterpart “Marty Stu” to be used. “Most fanfic writers are girls” is given as the reason. So when women dominate a genre, that means people are on close watch, ready to scorn any wish fulfillment they may engage in. This term could only originate if the default was female.

In fact, one of the CONTROVERSIES listed on the TV Tropes page is if a male sue is even possible. That’s right, it’s impossible to have an idealizied male character. Men are already the ideal.

As woman who writes fiction, I’ve come across this term. The Mary Sue term is why I refer to Stephanie Meyer as ‘the richest fanfic author in the world.’ Her character, Bella, is Meyer’s wish fulfillment writ-large. I think, though, female wish fulfillment is worth talking about in fantasy and sci-fi. What do women really want? Even in good fantasy, women’s wants are often seen through a male lens.

Usually, women are described as wanting love or wanting to settle down. There is nothing at all wrong with a women being in a relationship or being a love interest, but the problem is women are usually reduced to this single trait. It’s over looked that male characters also want a lover, but they’re allowed to pursue other interests and be more than the Love Interest. Women, however, usually have to take the one dimensional role. The problem is, women are also humans who have multiple identities as they go through life. Women can’t relate to just being one thing. Yes, women want love, but so do men because they just keep getting in relationships with women! Women who want love also want other things, and to keep them as Love Interests just makes for a boring story.

In the interest to move away from women only being portrayed as a love interest, authors tend to make her a ‘modern woman’ who is independent and wants a career over anything else. The 180 swing away from the love interest is also problematic for a whole host of reasons. Usually, the woman wants lots of unattached sex instead of a relationship. She embodies a lot of masculine traits, and she often has no female friends because she’s described as being ‘better’ than other women. Do you see the problem yet? This version of a woman character is still a male wish fulfillment, but just a different type. Men want ‘exceptional’ women, so she can’t just be any woman. While this version of a character is typically cooler than a woman who is strictly a love interest, she’s off putting to women readers because women cannot relate to her.

What would ultimate female wish fulfillment look like? I would say it looks nothing like the hyper-modern woman or the love interest. These are just examples of male wish fulfillment for what they want women to be like. I would say that female wish fulfillment is embracing some level of femininity. I don’t mean you should have your action hero sitting around and applying nail polish before a battle, but I do think she should have female friends. Women liking women is one of the under rated ways women characters become real and fully realized in fiction. One of the greatest ways to strengthen female characters and your credibility with writing for women is to have your female characters be genuine friends with other women. Don’t have them competing all the time with other women and don’t have them focus on men all the time. Women who like women may be the greatest way to break down the Mary Sue stereotype. No one is too perfect or too flawed to have friends. Hell, even Avatar’s crazy princess Azula had two female friends, and part of the reason she went crazy was because she lost her friends. One of the reasons I adored Azula’s character is that it shouldn’t have worked. The pretty, super villain princess has been done so many times. It’s the worst form of the hyper-modern women, but give her some female companions, and she doesn’t seem like such an exception, even if Azula is still the most powerful of her companions.

Is Mary Sue a sexist concept? Is there a heroine version of Azula that exists? I think the idea of Mary Sue isn’t going away, but we should take it out of the wish fulfillment realm and have it mean “an idealized version of the author or an unrealistic character.” I think men can be Mary Sues, but we accept that version of male characters in our culture. (Should we? That’s another post all together.) I think there are many super heroines who already exist that could be even more epic if they had friends. Wonder Woman can still be the most powerful woman around, make love to super sexy heroes, and defeat the bad guys. But she’d be a better character if she worked with some other women to get the job done.