Tropes: A Woman's Right To Be Selfish

[Content Note: Murder, Apocalypse, Suicide]

Last week I opened the door to have a very nice salesman say to me, "Good evening! Are you Mom or Big Sister?"

I knew what he meant, of course. As a salesman, he was hoping to sell things to someone at my address, so he was really asking, "Are you empowered to make financial decisions at this address?" But that wasn't quite what he actually asked, and the question left me momentarily confused. I'm not now and unfortunately never will be anyone's "mom" -- I'm infertile and while I am a step-mother, I like to joke that I'm only a step-mother by marriage. Nor am I anyone's big sister -- I do have some (much) older half-siblings with whom I have a good relationship, but I've always been "the baby" or the only child at pretty much every family gathering ever.

So even though I knew the "correct" answer to the nice salesman was that I was "Mom", I stumbled a bit and said "neither", but we got past it. (I considered saying that I was Husband's love slave and couldn't stay to talk because I had to finish heating up eight pounds of baby oil before he got home, but you never know when people will realize you're joking. And even if he did, I used to be in a service job and I feel guilty making nice service personnel laugh at my admittedly poor jokes.)

But the question got me thinking, and the thinking got worse when Husband brought home The Road for us to watch with our evening dinner.

Now, if you haven't seen The Road, you haven't looked into the face of apocalyptic despair. I'm usually a big fan of apocalyptic despair, but I wasn't in the mood that night and ended up leaving halfway through the movie after eyeballing TV Tropes to get the ending in advance. (I'll probably still buy the book though, and read it at some point when I want to get good and depressed.) I thought the movie was well-done, but it reminded me too much of Blindness: by which I mean, if an author wants to make a deep statement about humanity but has to box humanity into a series of remarkable coincidences in order to get the result the author wants, I'm not sure that result says anything about humanity since it hinges on such an artificial situation.

The Road is about the end of the world and its effects on a man and his son. A world wide apocalypse -- probably human-engineered through war -- has destroyed most of humanity, and has taken with it all the animals, insects, fish, and plants. We're well after the 5-year expiration date on canned foods, so with no animals to eat, no insects to scarf, no fish to catch, and no plants to grow, humans have two choices: starve to death or become cannibals and starve to death slightly more slowly. You see what I mean about extracting meaningful results from an artificial starting point -- it's kind of hard to make cannibalism into a meaningful moral choice when it's the only choice available outside of suicide. (Of course, I'm pretty sure I'd pick suicide, but as I point out to Husband, that's my solution to almost every apocalypse movie. It's worth noting that I score very poorly in the Would You Survive The Zombie Apocalypse quiz.)

The point of view character for The Road is the aforementioned Man and Child, and it's worth noting in a post on identities and related crises that no one in this movie has a name. There's a man and a woman and a child that happens to be their biological child, or at least, it's the woman's biological child and the man is called the child's "father", so yeah. What do we call these people? Since the movie is at least partly told through the eyes of the child, it would be tempting to name them Father-Mother-Son, but is it right to characterize people as existing only in relationship to others? I finally settled on Man-Woman-Child, although then we're characterizing people by apparent external gender, but I suppose one must start somewhere in the absence of names.

The most compelling moments in the movie for me are the flashbacks involving Woman. Woman is not thrilled with the prospect of eking out a miserable existence in the cold apocalyptic world in which they live: they have no real future to look forward to except a choice between a slow, painful death (starvation) or a quick, violent death (murder). More than anything, it's clear that she just wants to die and end the fearful anticipation in which she lives. Man is at odds with this plan; he doesn't want to die just yet and he most especially can't bring himself to either kill Child or leave Child alone in this dangerous world.

Woman explains the situation patiently to Man: they have two bullets left in their gun, not nearly enough to hold off the gangs of brutal cannibals scouring the countryside. They have very little food, and as the winters are becoming more and more cold, they will have to leave their home and go on foot farther south if they want to survive. It is only a matter of time before they starve to death, freeze to death, die from an illness and lack of proper medicine, or -- worst case scenario -- before they are all raped, murdered, and eaten. The best thing to do, she argues, is to take the easiest death on hand and kill themselves first. Man is horrified; "You sound like a crazy person!" he pleads. Eventually, a particularly bad snowstorm picks up and Woman walks out into the night, fully intending to freeze to death. Man begs her not to go, "Not tonight! What will I tell [Child] in the morning?", but she ignores him and slips out into the darkness.

What are we to make of this act? I was surprised to see on TV Tropes that Woman has been assigned the "It's All About Me" trope, thereby labeling her as unpleasantly self-absorbed in her own pain and unable to see the pain of those around her. Husband was kind enough to explain to me why someone might think that: "It's because they don't think she should have left the kid alone." This caused me a moment's confusion before a solution presented itself to me: "Oh! You mean they think she should have killed the kid over the dad's objections?" Husband was a little shocked. No, he explained, it wouldn't be right to kill the kid over the dad's objections. But it wasn't right to leave the kid with dad to go off to die, either. She should have stayed alive to fight for the kid's chance to live a quality life, like the dad did.

And this got me thinking back to my afternoon: "Are you Mom or Big Sister?" "I'm neither."

Now, as I pointed out, I'm nobody's mom. Never have been, never will. I'd like to be, and goodness knows Husband and I spent a lot of money trying to be, but it didn't happen and I've come to terms with that. But it's possible that my lack of Mom-ed-ness means that I can't or won't or don't have a good handle on this topic. But. I don't think Woman is selfish. Or rather, I think she displays a level of selfishness that can be seen as healthy and appropriate. By which I mean: I think she's taking care of herself in a world where no one else will or can.

I can't imagine what Woman's life has been like over the years after the apocalypse. I can try to imagine with words, but I can't really understand the effect of those words. The pressure as you catalog your dwindling food supplies and try to come up with ways to find more. The pain when illness (and giving birth! and nursing! and god knows what else!) wracks your body and there's nothing to do for it except hope it will pass. The loneliness of having everyone on earth suddenly cut off from you except your most immediate neighbors. The constant boredom of having no new material to read or watch, and the isolation of realizing that there are events going on all over the world -- events that may very well affect you strongly -- about which you have no information or insight.

And that's just the immediate physical needs for food and shelter and information and stimulation. Beyond that, there's the emotional pain and torment. The haunting realization that everything you've ever known and loved is gone forever, and that the world is fundamentally changed from what you knew and understood and expected to something dark and dangerous and terrifying. The awareness that you have no future, no purpose, and no driving goal beyond existing as long as possible. The horror after killing your first invader, and the fear that never lets you rest -- the fear that at any moment looters will invade your home, rape you, murder you, and eat you... and possibly not in that order.

Now I understand that -- in general -- when you give birth to another human being, you become responsible for more than just yourself. There's another person on this earth that is directly related to you and is additionally almost completely helpless, so the decent thing to do is to care for the new person as best you can until which point they can take over and care for themselves. But, at the same time, as much as a parent has -- in general -- a responsibility to care for their child, I do not think that the birth of a child magically removes the responsibility that every person has to take care of their own self.

In the movie, Woman says "My life ended the day [Child] was born," and I find this a very interesting statement. The movie doesn't linger or dwell over the sentiment, so we're left to find our own meaning in it. Does Woman feel her life ended as a person, as an individual, when Child was born? Or does Woman feel that her last hope was extinguished when Child was born? Caring for another human being is an incredibly exhausting task. Caring for another human being in a world without help or hope or the slightest possibility for a future other than bleak starvation or violent death would, I think, be almost torture.

I don't feel like Woman is selfish for essentially saying I can't keep doing this. I don't feel like Woman is selfish for leaving Man and Child to make the decision for themselves whether or not they want to keep fighting while she gives up for good. I don't feel like Woman is selfish for deciding that she can't live with the constant fear that she will be gang-raped, that Child will be eaten, that Man will be murdered. I don't feel like Woman is good to make the decision she makes, but I don't feel like she's bad either. I feel like she's just taking care of herself the only way she feels she can. And I don't feel like the fact that she's a mother makes her a worse person for making her decision.

The Road follows the journey of Man as he tries to find a better life for Child. Man is good and kind and courageous as he constantly struggles to give Child a semblance of a future. It's a heart-warming tale (wrapped, again, in bleak apocalyptic horror) of the rare soul who is willing to lay down their life for another. All these things are good and admirable.

But having said that, I don't think that the opposite -- that not fighting a hard and impossible fight -- yields the opposite results. Man is good to be selfless and sacrifice himself for Child. But I do not think Woman is bad for being "selfish" enough to take care of her own needs when they became more than she could bear. At the end of The Road, I won't pass judgment on Woman for being Woman first and Mom second.


Maartje said...

It's a tricky issue for me. I've recently come to the conclusion that my unconscious standards for parents are inhumanly high. While I may talk the talk that of course parents are people first and parents second, of course they have the right and even the obligation to take care of themselves and pursue their own happiness, of course they should have lives of their own and not give up everything for the children ...

... whenever I come across a situation in which a child has been abandoned or abused or cast off, my first reaction is always "YOU PROMISED! If you didn't want to take care of this child YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE BECOME A PARENT." Rage capslock and all. You don't need to 'stay together for the children' but I hate it when people leave their children at the same time they leave their partners.

Of course, this only works if there WAS a choice to become a parent or not, and my standards get more flexible if there is no choice. (My heart still bleeds for the kids, though.) I only watched The Road with half an eye, so I can't remember if there was reliable birth control around.

In The Road, the only 'good' solution for me would've been family suicide OR carrying on as a family. But I do also think that if that's not going to happen voluntarily - and when the chips are down like that, it makes sense for people to stick to their opinions - Woman walking out was the second-best choice; much better than Woman killing Child over Man's objections or Woman going along with Man and Child even though she couldn't deal any longer.

Kit Whitfield said...

I don't know. I really don't. But there is such a thing as knowing your own parental limits. One of the things that's kept our family healthy is the agreement Husband and I both have that the phrase, 'I'm about to lose my temper; please take over looking after the baby,' must always be respected. Sometimes mothering means knowing when to hand over.

And after all, if she takes on the painful death, she leaves them with two options: they can find a better life, or if not, well, they've got the bullets and can die a cleaner death that she had. Ideally she might have left a message for the kid, but nobody's ideal and sometimes you don't have the energy to think of something to say.


Of course, this only works if there WAS a choice to become a parent or not, and my standards get more flexible if there is no choice.

I have to say, I find this attitude ... well, it makes me mad. It strikes me as a variant of 'You should have thought of that before you had sex, missy.'

The thing is, planning to have a child is all very well, but it's not a magic spell. The child is wanted and loved, yes, but a wanted and loved child is just as helpless and nocturnal and screamy as an unwanted one. Human endurance is not designed to cope with a child in a two-parent family; babies are simply so needy that if you don't have an extended family around you and a lot of support, you are coping with too much. It's easy to judge parents, but when you're there at four in the morning and the baby's been crying for two hours and it's been like this for the past two weeks and you know that no matter when you get it settled it'll wake again at six-thirty... well, whether or not you planned the baby isn't relevant. That was then, this is now, and now what you have on your hands is a situation that strains you to your last nerve.

A person who's supported properly can usually pull through. But how the child was conceived is, to my mind, not at all the point. Children need the same level of care whether they were wanted or not, and they feel its absence to the same degree.

I wanted my son, and I love him very much. But after a year of motherhood, I have developed a deep aversion to judging other mothers. I don't abuse my son, but I know that moment where you have to take a firm grip on yourself and leave the room if you're not going to lose your temper. I know what it's like in those moments where you're so tired that leaving him to cry seems desperately tempting. I know what it's like to think, 'I'm not strong enough to do another seventeen years of this.' The fact that I don't give in to those moments, that I remember how I love my son and that he can't help being helpless and that actually he's a good boy ... well, that's because I'm all right. I have enough money to live on, I have a home, I have a husband, I have a family, I have the experience of a reasonably secure childhood, I have access to medical care (faulty though it sometimes is), I have toys to distract him with, I have privilege. If a woman with less support and more emotional damage gets to that same point - well, you mustn't abuse children. There's no excuse. And not all abuse comes from parents who get overwhelmed and can't cope; some abusers are just bullies who hurt people because they feel entitled to. But being a good parent isn't about whose decision it was to have the child. It's about what you're capable of at that moment in time.

I judge people who abuse their children because they feel entitled to have control of them rather than because they snap. But I judge them equally whether the children were planned or not. And beyond that, I try not to judge them at all.

The fact that a baby was chosen doesn't automatically make you able to cope. And if you can't, you need support, and so does the baby.

Ana Mardoll said...

I think my Husband was sort of coming from where Maartje is: that there's a mental disconnect between what many of us logically believe and what many of us emotionally feel. At least in my household, we had to agree to disagree on what was the "right" thing for Woman to do (and it didn't help matters that Husband feels that any kind of living is worthwhile. He's not really as pro-suicide as I am during the Zombie Apocalypse movies). So I definitely get where you are, Maartje.

There are so many problems with the "choice" issue, though, as Kit says. For "The Road", it really didn't matter if Child was wanted, because no one honestly expects the apocalypse to happen in their lifetime -- if we did, no one would have kids because oh-my-god, why would you put your kid through that?? So the fact that Child was wanted or not doesn't really matter because what Woman planned (normalcy) is not what Woman was left actually facing (apocalypse cannibal world).

Then, too, is the deeper problem that I'm not sure anyone really knows what they're getting into with a child. Even if you have children already, each child is unique, and you really can't predict what the future will hold or what your emotional state will be, or really any number of other things. I don't condone child abuse, but -- to bring the topic to a more relevant place than The Road -- I am in favor of the "leave a child at a safe place like a hospital and the state will take charge of it and not track you down and punish you and make you take the child back" laws. I feel like if a parent can't cope with being a parent anymore, they have the right to say that and society has the responsibility to listen and provide the necessary support to make the situation better for everyone involved.

Redwood Rhiadra said...

Suicide is my solution to apocalypse scenarios too. I'm well aware that I cannot survive without the support of a modern industrial society (I'm an ostomy patient - no bags = death, and they're not something you can safely jerry-rig).

As for the movie itself (as described above - I haven't seen it and don't intend to), well this quote: She should have stayed alive to fight for the kid's chance to live a quality life, like the dad did.

WHAT BLOODY CHANCE!?!?!? There *is* no chance for a quality life for that kid, or for *anyone* in that scenario. Period. There's nothing to fight *for*.

Carrie said...

I really love this analysis- very thought-provoking.

However, I do have to wonder what it says about me, that- despite the fact that casual description of suicidal people as 'selfish' is a huge hot button issue for me- my first reaction was to assume that Woman was 'selfish' because when she did kill herself, she did so in a manner that presumably made it difficult for anyone to harvest her corpse. That's an incredibly valuable non-renewable resource, you know.

:) I suspect the moral here is that I've been playing too many rpgs.

Carrie said...

Also, with regard to the "are you Mom or Big Sister" question- surely the polite thing to ask people would be "are you the home-owner of this address?" Or the tenant, or whatever. Maybe he felt that was overly formal or something.

Personal Failure said...

Really, was Man staring down the barrel of repeated gang rapes at the hands of cannibal gangs? No, he wasn't. His situation was different.

depizan said...

Wait, what? Not having ostomy bags would be really gross and inconvenient, but fatal? Though I've got to agree that jury-rigging them would be somewhere between highly difficult and impossible. Let's hope we never have to find out. For any reason, much less cannibal apocalypse world.

Speaking of which, yeah, how does the kid have a chance for a quality life?

Redwood Rhiadra said...

Fatal - a stoma is effectively an open wound, and without the protection of the bag, is fairly certain to become infected in short order.

depizan said...

I suppose it is. Never really thought of it that way.

Redwood Rhiadra said...

It was one of the first things I was told when I got mine - "This is an open wound you will need to protect and keep clean for the rest of your life."

depizan said...

I may have been told that as well. I don't know. (I was busy being deathly ill at the time. Doesn't do much for one's mental powers or memory.) It doesn't really match my idea of an open wound, more like an unplanned exit from one's body. (I keep it clean and protected anyway.)

And now that we've thoroughly grossed out everyone else...

Please, return to your cheery discussion of post apocalyptic suicide. :)


Jillheather said...

I haven't actually seen the movie, but I read the wikipedia summary so that makes me an expert in the story. But that summary made it sound a great deal like the woman killed herself shortly after childbirth, which sounds an awful lot like postpartum depression made worse by living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where the only way to survive was to become a cannibal.

(I don't see how it's particularly controversial that choosing to kill yourself -- in essence, ending your pain while causing pain to someone else -- is selfish. So is, of course, insisting that someone not kill themself. I do wonder who all these entirely selfless people are, where committing a selfish act is the worst thing ever, as they do not seem to reside on the same planet as I do.)

Will Wildman said...

In the movie, Woman says "My life ended the day [Child] was born," and I find this a very interesting statement.

Depending on how much we're told about the backstory, my first (probably overly literal) thought would be to assume that this is a way of stating that the apocalyptic disasters happened around the same time as she gave birth. It would help explain how they got to this point - if not, did they choose to have a child post-apocalypse? Was it unintentional but they couldn't find a way of ending the pregnancy that was acceptable to the woman? (Staying healthy enough to survive pregnancy, deliver, and raise an apparently healthy child seems a fairly astonishing achievement all on its own, in these circumstances.)

I end up the same place as Ana in trying to determine the moral rating of the woman and man: good for him, but that doesn't mean she deserves scorn. (I'm not the type to think that suicide is a personally great plan in case of apocalypse, but it's more out of stubbornness and probability gambles than anything else.)

I would even go so far as to argue that by choosing to die, she removed a complication/tension from the man and child's lives and removed herself as a resource consideration. She effectively increased their relative food supplies by 50%. That's no small feat, whiny-Viggo. (Am I wrong in suspecting that if the movie had presented her making exactly the same decision, but explicitly in the form of 'You'll get further if you don't have to worry about me', she would have been viewed as a sympathetic self-sacrificing character?)

Rakka said...

Selfish? No, I don't see that. Who has the right to say how other people are to live or end their lives? The situation is not something that can be un-snarled by anyone, there's no hope their lives will be better as long as they stay there. I got the impression that Woman was blind - when the big fires start and Man stares at them, she's asking "what?" like she's sensins he's shocked, but she's not looking at the fires or saying anything that would hint that she sees them... haven't read the book, so I can't really say. But if that is true, it'd have been hard - quite likely too hard - for her and the family to start moving south. The roads were in horrible state, they have to be alert all the time...

One thing that really bugged me in The Road was that up until the end, there are no "good guys" who team up with more than one person. Hello? The first thing to do is to find a like-minded group to watch your back.

Makabit said...

Well, he might well be. Cannibal gangs aren't known for being especially picky about who they gang-rape.

Maartje said...

I'm not saying I'm proud of my issues. ;) And I do agree that it shouldn't matter whether a child is wanted or not - once it's there, you make the best of it. Abuse is bad, no matter what.

There's definitely a disconnect between rational and emotional for me. I just realised the extent of that last week: a father left his children and he didn't want to and it wasn't safe to stay. And even though I know that, and I feel terrible for him, there's this part of me still muttering that there should've been a way to NOT abandon his kids. There isn't. Sometimes life gives you much, much worse than lemons. But that part of me won't shut up. On the bright side, the realisation only came to me a week ago and now I have something to work with.

The only reason why I said my standards were lower in situations where there's no birth control or abortion is that even this irrational part of me can't possibly blame people who were never in a situation to be able to cope for succumbing to stress. But that's a distinction without a difference, because like Ana said, even if a child was wanted, nobody chooses the apocalypse.

(Full disclosure: I'm a wanted kid. My mother wanted children since she was 11 years old, but couldn't cope and emotionally abused me and my brother. She kept trying. My father ran away, and even though he was in our lives he was never THERE for us. He gave up. I'm more pissed off at him for giving up and being happy with that than I am at her for not managing.)

I'm not saying parents should be perfect, and always happy, and never overwhelmed. And I agree it's impossibe to do it all by yourself, or even with two people. If someone has to leave to cope, I hope they leave, or do what they need to to feel better and get some resilience back. All I'm saying is that if you have to leave, do what you can to get the strength to come back. (And the emotional part would add: Even if that takes forever. )

chris the cynic said...

This is not something I will ever watch or read, I have a question for those who have both watched the movie and read the book.

Basically all that I've done was looked at what TV tropes has to say about the endings of the two, and that has left me with this impression:

It seems to me that the book was a question about how you choose to die, and how you choose for others to die. The man chooses to draw out his and the child's death for as long as possible, the woman takes a different path. They're all absolutely going to die horrible deaths, the only question is the exact nature of those deaths.

The movie, based on second hand spoilers I'm about to pass along so stop reading now if you don't want to know, is about making choices on incomplete information. It ends with, apparently, a live beetle, a healthy dog, and the sounds of birds and animals. The implication is that the woman was wrong about everything. There is in fact hope in abundance (enough plant life to support birds and animals, not to mention the birds and animals themselves, and a place where the post apocalyptic humans have such an over abundance of food that they can keep a dog alive.) If she'd just waited she would have found that it wasn't actually a choice about how to die. It was about whether or not to hang on long enough to live.

Or, you know, it could be about sending a child to live with cannibals who are not content to merely kill people to eat for themselves, they also decided to kill enough people that they'd have sufficient left over dead people to also preserve the species canis lupus familiaris, but given the birds and animals, I'm guessing they've just been living in a place with enough food to go around instead of killing strangers in order to feed them to the dog.

Anyway, the question I have is, is that in any way correct? Is the movie really that different from the book? Is it really the case that the book is a place where no new food will ever be created and the movie is a place where there's a surviving ecosystem and a healthy dog?

Anthony Rosa said...

"Who has the right to say how other people are to live or end their lives?"

...the people who are trying really hard to prevent their family members and friends from committing suicide? Those who see their relatives and friends in pain, and see them try to end their lives, and work really hard to prevent it and help them feel better? The people who work at suicide hotlines and try to talk people through those moments? The people who, when a friend of mine intentionally OD'd, took him to the hospital over his objections?

Or do they all not have a right? Should they all just let them kill themselves, even when there are better options? Please go and say such things to those grieving at the funerals of their friends and family who committed suicide. Go on, I dare you.

Ana Mardoll said...


(I don't see how it's particularly controversial that choosing to kill yourself -- in essence, ending your pain while causing pain to someone else -- is selfish.

Part of the problem that I have with the "Suicide = Selfish" crowd is that the word is very loaded. Technically speaking, my eating food is a selfish act -- I'm taking care of myself while someone else goes hungry -- but we don't describe it that way because feeding oneself is generally considered a morally neutral act. Suicide is generally speaking not considered a morally neutral act, and therein is the disagreement.

I do not consider suicide selfish. Suicide is complicated. Once when a doctor put me on anti-depressants incorrectly (I was in a lot of pain and sad about it, ergo clearly I needed anti-depressants), I quite literally had a portion of my brain telling me that I *had* to kill myself. I distinctly remember calling my mother crying, because I didn't want to kill myself, but obviously I had to. Thankfully, my mother recognized the seriousness of the situation, got me off the pills that were not right for my particular body chemistry, and harm was averted.

Not all suicides follow this pattern, of course, but I would not assume that all suicides are an attempt to ease personal pain at the cost of others. Indeed, I would not assume that MOST suicides are such -- my experience with suicidal people tends to be that they genuinely believe everyone else will be benefited by their act. :(

WRT to the storyline:

In the movie, the woman was very pregnant on Day 0 of the disaster -- I'd say maybe 6 or 7 months. It looked like Child was at least 3-4 years old when she killed herself.

Am I wrong in suspecting that if the movie had presented her making exactly the same decision, but explicitly in the form of 'You'll get further if you don't have to worry about me', she would have been viewed as a sympathetic self-sacrificing character?

I agree. As a culture, we value self-sacrifice if it's to ease someone else's pain. People commit suicide in movies all the time, it's just that usually they're blowing other people up with them. Clearly she should have waited for a cannibal-rape-gang and then held them off with a grenade while Man and Child fled. /sarcasm

Rakka, I hadn't thought about blindness -- I thought she said "what?" because he was filling up the bathtub (he'd obviously read his Zombie Apocalypse Survival Manual) -- but that would be an interesting twist. They *did* mention that the neighborhood had worked together for awhile, but when the food supplies started dwindling, the suicides began.

Chris, I liked the TV Tropes suggestion that the ending (with the dog) was a hallucination. I would have seen it that way, instead of in a Standard Hollywood Happy Ending way. Then again, I thought the end of Chicago was a hallucination / dream fantasy, too, so I clearly don't allow my characters happy endings.

Ana Mardoll said...

Anthony, I don't think anyone on here is saying "Yay, suicide!" (correct me if I'm wrong), but rather is saying that judging people's actions as selfish when there's more going on than other people realize is probably not helpful.

Certainly I would not want anything I say to be taken as saying that suicide is great and wonderful or that the grieving survivors don't have the right to be upset and emotional in the wake of a suicide.

This is probably my fault for using a hard case (Zombie Apocalypse Scenario) to talk about a real life problem that affects many people.

Ana Mardoll said...

Well, he might well be. Cannibal gangs aren't known for being especially picky about who they gang-rape.

This is true. It irked me when Woman made a point of saying that she and Child would be raped. I get that she wasn't really trying to make a philosophical point about all of them being potentially raped, but I was like, APOCALYPSE FAIL. Why didn't the script just have her say, "They'll rape, kill, and eat us." instead of enumerating out who will get raped and who (implicitly) won't? I have to assume she was singling out herself and Child as emotional leverage.

I really like Rakka's belief that Woman was blind. I did think she didn't really look long and hard at the colorful war clouds outside, and when Man brings her a bowl of soup and her water breaks, the scene works even better if she's blind. And when she talks about the bullets they have left, her fingers are going over them very viscerally. I wish I'd thought of this earlier -- unfortunately, unless a movie telegraphs Milky White Eyes to me, I often don't realize that a character is blind.


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Will Wildman said...

(Ana, without meaning to nitpick overmuch, rot13 works best as spoiler protection when there's some indication of what source material is being obscured, otherwise people can't make an informed decision about whether they care. I had already heard the twist of the movie in question, so no harm done here.)


I'm confused on the whole rape-gang thing to begin with. Is there real-world precedent for a logical progression whereby killing people for food means you're also totally in favour of raping them? Even without assuming any morality, it seems like it would be a much more effective solution to just ensure that your gang includes people of whatever one's preferred partner type is. Sure, it's at least one more person to feed, but it's also drastically more sex, and potentially with someone who actually wants to participate. I would rationally conclude that this is part of what Ana's talking about with 'boxing humanity into artificial circumstances to get the desired result', but it seems equally likely that the end of the world was caused by the arrival of Reavers.

Rape in reality is a power thing, and I can sort of see how it could apply in a power dynamic here ('The world may be ending and I may be doomed but today I have power over you') but would it be so common as to become a given? Hm - or maybe it's a selection bias and rapists are the most likely people to resort to murder and cannibalism?

chris the cynic said...

(Ana, without meaning to nitpick overmuch, rot13 works best as spoiler protection when there's some indication of what source material is being obscured, otherwise people can't make an informed decision about whether they care. I had already heard the twist of the movie in question, so no harm done here.)

I don't disagree, but given the context I don't think there would be a way to indicate what movie she was talking about without spoiling it in the process. I'm not sure there's a good solution.

Ana Mardoll said...

I don't disagree, but given the context I don't think there would be a way to indicate what movie she was talking about without spoiling it in the process. I'm not sure there's a good solution.

Yeah, I couldn't figure out a way to reference the movie without the movie, the subject of the post, and the spoiler tag itself making the actual spoiler obvious. :(

I figured I'd just have to leave it in the hands of fate.

hapax said...

Y'know, I don't believe it.

Haven't read the book, haven't seen the movie, I don't like post-apocalyptic or dystopian scenarios.

But I don't believe it.

Yes, there have been real life circumstances where prospects for survival looked so grim, that people killed themselves. Yes, there have been some where parents killed their children mercifully rather than let them die horribly. Yes, there have been a few where all normal moral restraints have broken down (Rwandan genocide leaps to mind) or when circumstances were so extreme that humans resorted to cannibalism (reportedly the Great Leap Forward and the Siege of Leningrad, although some dispute those accounts.)


In even the most extreme cases, rape / murder had a *motivation*. Cannibalism was reserved for those who were *already dead* (or, in a few cases, those who were thought not likely to survive.) People simply do NOT turn into Reaver-like frothing mindless beasts.

Nor do I believe that there is a disaster so horrible that the only choice is to Reave or be Reaved that human beings could survive. Let's face it, humans are pretty high-maintenance organisms. Does anybody honestly think that there is any possible apocalypse that would leave humans still standing, but would take out all the rats? All the cockroaches? All the dandelions*? None of those would be my first choices for dinner, but I'd sure turn to them before I started eyeing the neighbors.

*cause if you know of something, I want it for my lawn.

Ana Mardoll said...

It's the exact opposite of a neutron bomb! It kills buildings (and trees and rats and dandelions) but leaves the humans still standing!

Facetiousness aside, I also question the assumption that 5 minutes after the apocalypse we'll all be eating one another. I suppose it's possible, given the VERY boxed-in parameters the author has given us to work with, but it's just very hard for me to imagine.

And, as you say, it'd have to be a very weird weapon indeed to kill EVERYTHING ELSE (including all fish, natch), but not the humans.

jill heather said...

Let me just preface this by saying that I have been seriously suicidal, and that I am not judging people who are or have been suicidal. I do not think they are bad people because they are suicidal.

Part of the problem that I have with the "Suicide = Selfish" crowd is that the word is very loaded. Technically speaking, my eating food is a selfish act -- I'm taking care of myself while someone else goes hungry -- but we don't describe it that way because feeding oneself is generally considered a morally neutral act. Suicide is generally speaking not considered a morally neutral act, and therein is the disagreement.

I grant this. But I think the problem is that we have defined selfish oddly, as a moral decision. And I really think that those people who want their loved ones to continue living on in pain are also selfish. Also not bad people, but I think it's a very important point in discussions of suicide: yes, killing yourself without regard for how it will hurt others is selfish, but expecting someone else to be in pain so you do not have to is also selfish.

I do not consider suicide selfish. Suicide is complicated.

The two are not mutually exclusive.

Not all suicides follow this pattern, of course, but I would not assume that all suicides are an attempt to ease personal pain at the cost of others. Indeed, I would not assume that MOST suicides are such -- my experience with suicidal people tends to be that they genuinely believe everyone else will be benefited by their act. :(

I worded it badly. I don't think that people are planning to commit suicide in order to make everyone else unhappy. But they are certainly told "don't commit suicide, your loved ones will be so unhappy, it's so selfish" (whether or not they believe this, they are told it, and even if they think the world is better off overall without them, my experience was that they understood that this would upset people also). I contend that worrying about your own pain more than other people's is totally normal, and also exactly what the people who go around saying "it's okay if you are miserable, so long as you just don't kill yourself and make me miserable, because maybe eventually one day you won't be miserable" are doing. In some cases, of course, it is true: the postpartum depression I mentioned, for instance. In other cases, it is not so true: I have tried all sorts of things and though I am not suicidal, nothing has ever worked to end my depression.

Ana Mardoll said...

I agree that we should not construe "selfish" as a moral act. (Which is kind of why I used the word in the post title, I think.) I actually think selfishness can be a very good thing. Probably it comes down to defining terms and clearly outlining where a speaker is coming from -- so it seems like we have a lot in agreement. :)

Although I *have* met suicidal people who seemed to genuinely believe that their loved ones would be happy afterward and that all protests to the contrary were just so much politeness, so I do try to shy away from calling all suicides X, whether X be "selfish" or some other, less loaded word. (Self-care-taking???)

jill heather said...

Well, no, not all people who are suicidal are anything, but if I had put in sufficient disclaimers my comment would have been twice as long or more.

chris the cynic said...

The fish have to die.

[removed off topic tangent about a proposed MMO in which World War I like thing didn't end until the apocalyptic herbicide attacks of the 1950s, which my high school friends and I, not being video game developers, never made]

There are few things that would enjoy the breakdown of civilization so much as fish, the oceans would be teaming if humanity collapsed and that would provide a wonderful food source for any of the survivors. The only way fish wouldn't be plentiful is if some semblance of civilization managed to stay around for long enough to massively over fish the oceans and rivers, but even then some fish would survive the collapse of that and they could be used as a food source when all civilization died and people had to fend for themselves.

If you want the end of the world in the form described, the fish have to go.


I propose a religious solution.

God ordered the angels to kill everything, but the angels in charge didn't count on the whole forged in the image of God thing, and it mucked up their plans. (Or it was a result of the residual effects of the appley thing that the progenitors ate before being cast from the garden, ancestors of the cats and rats and elephants had never tasted of the fruit, and thus were not protected in the same way.) Or they just said, "To hell with it, they'll die soon enough. We'll just kill everything with photosynthesis or the ability to convert heat/thingy/whatever into food and everything else will die off in due time.."

Amarie said...

To start, I have to say that I haven’t read/seen the book/movie…and I’m afraid that I have no intentions to do so. Apocalyptic worlds aren’t really my cup of tea, haha. Apologies in advance. : )
That being said, I kind of see a gender based discrimination in regards to the ‘mother is selfish for leaving’. In TV tropes, (and, I would even go as far to say as societies around the world) it’s kind of alright for *Daddy* to leave. Daddy works/worked a lot. Daddy found another woman. Daddy couldn’t cope with being a parent. Daddy didn’t want to give up drinking. And, when we hear one character telling another of their ‘Daddy left us when I was small story’…nine times out of ten, you’re not really going to get a vibe of outrage, much less an overwhelming sense of pain and loss. You may hear an ‘Oh, I’m so sorry’ coupled with a scene or two of shared sadness and sympath, but that’s usually the most that you’ll get.
Now…what happens when *Mommy* leaves? I would argue that it’s much the same thing that happened in “The Road”; she’s immediately categorized as selfish. Or, Mommy is lazy. Mommy is a whore. Mommy just doesn’t give a damn. Mommy wouldn’t be a real woman that would properly settle down with a husband and children. From there, you’ll hear outrage, and/or controversy. In the audience’s minds, there’s a churning and boiling that demands to know what kind of sane woman could leave her child that way…
And honestly, I think it all has to do with the *connotations* rather than the *denotations* associated with the words. I would argue that the denotations of Mommy and Daddy are relatively the same; a sex cell donor that brings forth a life, and cares for that life for as long as is needed.
But the connotations…vastly different ball park, in my view. With Mommy, we think of hugs and kisses and bedtime stories and filling dinners and chocolate chip cookies and fun baths. With Daddy? We think of business transactions (nee, marriages in some countries) and sports and the occasional pat on the back and the breadwinner and maybe a barbeque. My point is that the connotations of Mommy kind of tend to revolve around a *hands-on caregiver*. The connotations of Daddy sadly revolve around little more than an *overseer and someone who fulfills his job simply by being there*.
Just look at how we usually say “Mommy and Daddy” rather than “Daddy and Mommy”. Mommy always comes first because Mommy is considered the true, sole, and primary caregiver; Daddy *can* be a caregiver…but that’s not really where the associations lie in our minds.
So, honestly I think that if the Father had left in “The Road”…we probably wouldn’t even be having this discussion. And, I’m *certainly* not saying that Ana wouldn’t have picked up something to discuss (internet huuuuugs); I’m saying that the movie and general audience *most likely* would not have made such a big deal out of it. Again, because we’re just not all that surprised if/when it happens. But, we *don’t* usually expect Mommy to leave…apocalyptic world or not.

Ana Mardoll said...

Hugs back at ya, Amarie! :D

I agree that... hmm, how to say? If it was the man abandoning the family, I think it would be considered less noteworthy and therefore less likely to earn the ire of the (somewhat socially conservative) TV Tropers, in which case we probably wouldn't have had this post after all. :P

And I say "less noteworthy" not because men abandon their kids all the time in Real Life, but rather than men abandon their kids all the time in Fiction. I know the "Luke, I am your father" twist is something that writers can't get enough of, but yeesh, it seems like having a kid in fiction is a sure-fire way to get yourself kidnapped, killed, turned to the Dark Side, or otherwise missing. (Mothers get this too, but it usually seems less voluntary. I can't think of a "Luke, I am your mother" situation where the Mom had a choice to leave. Can anyone throw one out?)

Case in point, I just saw Priest (the vampire movie) and there's a man-who-abandoned-his-baby-to-answer-The-Call plot point in there, and while it's not the same thing -- it's presented that the man had very little choice in the matter and probably considered himself protecting his family in the process -- there's not any kind of "how could you do that, no really?" or censure or anything. (Then again, this is not a particularly deep movie.)

Kit Whitfield said...

I can't think of a "Luke, I am your mother" situation where the Mom had a choice to leave.

Lady Windermere's Fan. East Lynne (of 'Dead! Dead! And never called me mother!' fame). Victorian melodrama and sensation made use of the trope.

The difference, it seems, is that the secret mother's job is to sacrifice herself for the child, often not even taking the credit for it. The disgrace of leaving your children is so severe that the only atonement is to renounce the status of motherhood while still taking on its obligations. Fathers, on the other hand, get to identify themselves.

The implication, to my mind, goes back to the medieval/Classical idea that a mother provides matter and a father provides form. There's an old medieval story, for instance, about a woman who marries a non-Christian and gives birth to a shapeless blob that becomes a beautiful boy when it's baptised. Women are flesh, men are spirit, and without the spirit, you have no identity.

Which means that a father's job is to provide you with an identity, and to do this, all he has to do is identify himself. 'I am your father' tells you who you are, and that's the father's job. The father sees, and acknowledges, and annoints. But motherhood is different: it's the mother's job to care for the child, and who she is really doesn't matter that much. She's there for the material stuff, not the spiritual. She has and needs no self beyond the identity of carer.

Hence, Darth Vader doesn't do a hand's turn raising his son but his fatherhood is still seen as sacred. He treats his son really pretty badly, yet his son is expected to make all the running repairing their relationship; the idea that Luke might say, 'You know what? Screw you, Dad. You weren't a father to me, so I don't have to be a son to you,' or even, 'Look, Dad, if circumstances were different we could give it a go, but right now there are more important things happening and I'm not about to prioritise you just because you're my biological father,' ... Well, you can't really see it, can you? *

Lady Windermere's mother, on the other hand, doesn't raise her daughter, so she doesn't get to be a mother in name. She has to nurture her daughter for as little acknowledgement as the mother of a newborn - or, indeed, less, since newborns generally do recognise their mothers.

In that model, the work of a parent-child relationship falls on the person lower in the patriarchical ranking. It falls on the mother, if she's there, and the child if she's not. Never the father.

It sounds like The Road has a more modern take and considers nurture something that fathers should do, but the reaction to it certainly sounds like the old saw still has currency.

*People have recommended 'Avatar: The Last AIrbender' to you before, and I think you'd like it a lot. Among other things, it has a refreshingly counter view of this attitude: it presents the son's duty to rescue his relationship with his father through heroic effort as an attitude you have to grow out of, an emotionally damaged and damaging attitude, rather than an ideal. The defining quality of fatherhood in this world is nurture: your father is the one who nurtures you and doesn't demand you prove your devotion. Whether he actually begot you or not isn't relevant: if he doesn't give you love, he's not your dad.

Cupcakedoll said...

In the book, which was dark and poetic and lovely, the woman was hardly mentioned and I don't think they ever covered her exact method of death. She just left, maybe taking with her a knife or some pills.

Also in the book I think the apocalypse happened while she was pregnant. Part of the story was that the boy had never seen a living world so his outlook was fundamentally different from that of his father who could remember the previous world.

Ditto here for the emotional judging of parents. Maybe that's hardwired in females by nature? Or maybe it's programmed into us by TV and romance novels and such. Fictional babies are usually quieter, sweeter, and allaround better than real ones so it's easy to not realize how hard real babies are to deal with.

Re: spoilers: Holy heck, the movie had a HOPEFUL ending?! The book was 100% the sun is gone, photosynthesis stopped, that's it for every critter who's not a tube worm living on a volcanic vent. And then on the last page it went a bit Gainax ending but that didn't seem to me like a hint of hopefulness. My brain boggles.

And do watch Airbender. It's really good.

Hyperio said...

I also recommend "Avatar: The Last Airbender" (the series, NOT the movie!).

Ana Mardoll said...

The more I hear about Avatar, the more I think I need to somehow cram it into my schedule. Because, Kit, that point you bring up would be very nice to see in a fictional setting -- I get frustrated at how often the biological connection is made to mean something by authors in situations where I really don't think it would.

@Cupcakedoll, thank you for bringing the actual book perspective! Now I'm annoyed that the Hollywood Happy Ending got shoved into the movie. :(

Will Wildman said...

I haven't read His Dark Materials, but in the much-scorned movie there was something like a "Luke, I am your mother" scene that I thought worked pretty well - I gather it played out differently in the book. Looking back, I recall it as one of the stronger scenes in a movie that otherwise seemed kind of slapdash. The child doesn't react well, but as I understand it the audience is meant to view her as an increasing sympathetic character over the course of the story.

Conversely, the fantasy parody Villains By Necessity has a scene in which the revelation of 'mortal foes turn out to be father and son' is met with the son saying "Oh, so you're the one to blame for all the suffering my mother and I went through?" and offing dad at thirty paces with a thrown sword. Which is maybe not the best form of conflict resolution? But it is part of the novel's theme that attitudes which get characterised as 'evil' are sometimes much more sympathetic and appropriate than the 'good' variant.

(It occurs to me yet again just how screwed up it is that Luke spends so much time and effort trying to redeem his father (whom he's never met before but is responsible for untold millions of deaths) while he's able to forget about the aunt and uncle who raised him within a couple of days of their horrible murder. Even Ben gets a moping/mourning scene; in the case of Beru and Owen he's too busy accusing Han Solo of overcharging them.)


Amarie: business transactions (nee, marriages in some countries)

I think I know what this means just from the context, but I haven't seen 'nee' used this way before and I'm curious if I'm missing subtleties. If it's not a bother I'd appreciate an elaboration.

Amarie said...

First of all…
Ana, watch Avatar: The Last Airbender and please, please, please, P.L.E.A.S.E ship Zuko and Katara with me!!!!!!! If you do, I’ll read “The Host” by Stephenie Meyer for you! I’ll even, err…whatever else you want!!
*ahem, cough* Pardon for the outburst…

And I agree with both Ana and Kit; it always seems as though a father’s job is to simply be a sperm donor. And, in some cultural ideals, we’re talking about an emotionally *distant* sperm donor at that. As far as Kit was saying about how a father is for identity, just look at how people would introduce themselves archaically: “I am Amarie, daughter of Steve”, for example. I wouldn’t say, “I am Amarie, daughter of Kerri.” Again, that’s because Mommy’s identity is all but moot. (Yet, if you look at Beowulf, one of the most peculiar aspects is how Grendel defines himself by his *Mommy*, and not his *Daddy*. Thus, he’s even more unorthodox and considered evil by the first Christian hero(es).)

To Will:
Oh, it’s quite alright! I personally first learned the word ‘nee’ when I was taking French in high school (it means born, give or take a few tweaks). Otherwise, it’s used as a reference to a woman’s maiden name. Here, I used it in a nuance of a concept’s true origin. For example, other countries call the joining of a man and woman a ‘marriage’…but in all honesty, it’s born out of little more than a business transaction. Thus, ‘nee’.
If I used it incorrectly (again, I’m just a young, nerdy college student), please let me know!

Will Wildman said...

Amarie: I don't speak French anything like fluently (I too haven't studied it since high school), but I am familiar with the 'maiden name' usage; a quick search confirms it's the feminine past-participle of naître ('born'). I haven't seen it used to denote concepts before, and while I think it could be a neat flourish of prose, I'm having some trouble with the grammatical implications of causation. Like... 'business transactions nee marriages' seems like it should indicate 'these things that started out being called marriages but have changed into business transactions', which I don't think is what you were saying? (I would normally expect 'a.k.a.' in that case, but more options are good.)

This is so completely off-topic from the actual important matters in this thread. I must endeavour to return to a germane subject!

On the 'Dude, son of Dude' thing, Iceland does have matronymics as an acceptable practice, but apparently the default and majority are male - being [mother's]son or [mother's]dottir is sometimes just stylistic, but traditionally was either to cut ties with the father or because the identity of the father was not known. Maybe it'll change over time, in the same way that women not taking their husbands' names became increasingly common over the last century. (In Québec it's not even an option; no one is allowed to change their name at all when they marry. My cousin appended her husband's name to the end of hers, but only informally - on legal documents it's not there.)

I have a feeling that there's a culture out there which has names pass down on gender lines, so it's always [father's]son and [mother's]dottir, but my research hasn't confirmed it so far.

Brin Bellway said...

I have a feeling that there's a culture out there which has names pass down on gender lines, so it's always [father's]son and [mother's]dottir, but my research hasn't confirmed it so far.

You would think. It'd make a decent solution to the problem of second-generation hyphenation: assuming the maternal half of the name comes before the paternal half (as it does in mine), mother X-Y and father A-B have child X-B.

Loquat said...

I'm not sure "nee" really does the work you want it to do in that sentence. In standard name usage, it's So-and-so Husband'sLastName, nee MaidenName; "nee" serves to indicate that this woman previously had a different name. And while I've heard of many cultures that historically considered marriage a subtype of business transaction, I've never heard of a culture that didn't consider marriage, at the very least, a special kind of business transaction that got its own name.

Also, are you redefining the term "marriage" to mean only people who chose to marry for love, or something? Because claiming it's not a real marriage when two families make their kids marry to establish an alliance, or when a man buys a wife, or any other such "business transaction", would disqualify a whole lotta historical couples.

chris the cynic said...

There's a neat line in Herodotus that seems mildly appropriate to the discussion on marriage:

ὁ Κανδαύλης ἠράσθη τῆς ἑωυτοῦ γυναικός
"Candaules fell in love with his own wife"

Love and marriage at the same time? (Ok, technically the marriage came first, but there was a period when the two coexisted.) How can this be? It doesn't work that way, does it?

At least that's how I read it. Just a nice little reminder about how someone living in the fifth century BCE thought about the marriages of someone living in the 8th.

(For the record, things go down hill for Candaules and his wife very, very fast. If you want a happy ending just stop reading at the end of the sentence that phrase was pulled from.)

Amarie said...

*makes a note never to use nee again and apologizes again* ^ ^

chris the cynic said...

I hope you didn't feel piled on. If you did, I'm sorry.

DavidCheatham said...

Ah, suicide. It's amazing that how so many post-apocalyptic movies confused 'hopelessness' with 'depression'. People shouldn't commit suicide because they are depressed. I think we can get behind that idea.

Hopelessness is something else. When the situation is actual hopeless, when the difference is between 'dying painfully and slowly' and 'dying painlessly and quickly', suicide is, in fact, a quite rational choice.

However, for quite some time, movies have attempted to pull a fast one. Where they set up premises where everything is utterly hopeless, but, somehow, everyone gets saved anyway, at least those who didn't give up hope. (This is part of the reason that people oppose assisted suicide, because they believe that somehow everyone could possibly get better.)

This is, obviously, nonsense. Sometimes the situation is really and truly hopeless. In fact, in most circumstances where things seem hopeless to a group of people (and not just one depressed person), things actually were hopeless, and they died. People are not generally stupid, and in fact often hold out hope long past when they when they actually give up hope in general, they're usually right. (1)

So in movie land, the woman was wrong, because there's always hope. Some guy, right over the next hill, has figured out how to grow a giant plantation of soybeans. Someone's figured out a cure to the zombies, someone's figured out how to blow up the asteroid, whatever. So if you live in movieland, if you, ahem, live on TV Tropes, it's quite idiotic to commit suicide. (Note I love TV Tropes, but the world it describes is not ours.)

In _real life_, thought, suicide is a quite reasonable choice in such circumstances.

1) Don't confuse those people with pessimists, who often _state_ that things are hopeless, yet inexplicable continue to do things that they think might help. If a bomb is about to go off, someone who's given up hope stands there, whereas a pessimist runs while complaining that he has no chance of escaping.

Rev said...

This was our summer reading book for my Senior AP English class. It was rather awful. I ended up watching the movie after I finished the book but before I wrote my essay because, despite covering most of the same events it felt slightly better. It was easier to absorb, I guess. The book, I felt, was absolutely awful. It's apparently critically acclaimed, but I disagree. I like post apocalyptic things, but the Road was very very hard for me to read.

I wouldn't exactly recommend it. Also, fair warning to anyone planning on reading it, gurer'f n irel oehgny fprar vaibyivat na vasnag,, which I had to put the book down for and leave the room for a while. It could quite possibly be as or more disturbing to others.

Supposedly, the book has a hopeful ending. There's a very great emphasis on the parts about 'carrying the fire', (which I think I heard once in the movie) and about the possible sainthood or godhood of the little boy, how he was supposed to carry humanity (not humankind, humanity) into the next generation. But it didn't come off hopeful to me.

Spoilers for book:

As for the book, the woman's exact quotes there were: "You talk about taking a stand but there is no stand to take. My heart was ripped out of me the night he was born, so don't ask for sorrow now. There is none.... The one thing I can tell you is that you won't survive for yourself. I know because I never would have come this far...As for me my only hope is for eternal nothingness, and I hope for it with all my heart."

She then refuses to say goodbye to her son, and kills herself with a piece of obsidian so that there's two bullets left in the gun, one for the boy and one for the father.

There's also a lot of talk comparing what she's doing and feeling to adultery. She calls death a new lover and tells her husband to think of her as a faithless slut if he likes. She also talks about being done with her 'own whoreish heart'.

Don't remember if it was in the movie, but that bit really added a dimension for me, one I didn't particularly like. 'Specially because I might well have been the one to choose suicide in that type of situation.


Also, as to discussion of what the end might have been, the two things brought up in my class were nuclear war (particularly a religious nuclear war, to tie in with 'there are no godspoke men...they have gone...and taken with them the world') and a volcanic eruption.

There is also a single named character in the book, Ely. Except that's not his real name.


Kit Whitfield said...

I was informed that this had been studied and I had it backward. Boys with close relationships with their fathers tend to be less hung up on being masculine than those with unaffectionate fathers.

If we're remembering the same discussion, that was me. But I wasn't talking about studies, just my own observation and what I've heard other people say. I'll quote the excellent book on male depression I Don't Want To Talk About It by Terence Real:

My work with depressed men has led me to turn the conventional thinking about sons and their fathers on its head. If we give credence to the research detailing the centrality of affection in father-son relations and the relative irrelevance of the father's "masculinity," it becomes clear that boys don't hunger for fathers who will model traditional mores of masculinity. They hunger for fathers who will rescue them from it. They need fathers who have themselves emerged from the gauntlet of their own socialization with some degree of emotional intactness. Sons don't want their fathers' "balls"; they want their hearts.

It's just my experience, but I find that men whose fathers weren't there for them tend to worry more about being "men"; they feel their fathers failed to teach it to them and so they have to work on it themselves. The men whose fathers were emotionally present, on the other hand, tend to worry about it less: what their fathers have given them is the sense that they can be themselves rather than having to be 'a man', because they'll be a man anyway - that manhood is something you can take for granted.

Terence Real argues that in most cultures, manhood is defined by the ability to endure pain, and hence that many people believe it's necessary to traumatise a boy to masculinise him. Which is nonsense, of course; boys become men because they're boys. (As I sometimes say about 'making a man' of your son: what else do you think he'll become, a giraffe?) The choice isn't between becoming a non-man or a man; it's between becoming a secure man or a traumatised one.


People shouldn't commit suicide because they are depressed. I think we can get behind that idea.

I'm not getting behind it. It's more complicated than that.

Depression is an illness, and often a treatable one. There is, however, such a thing as depression that doesn't respond to treatment. If a person has severe depression that doesn't respond to treatment, they are effectively in chronic pain. If they also have no dependents or close friends or family - and there are plenty of people like that, and being in that situation greatly increases your likelihood of coming down with depression - then basically you're talking about an isolated person undergoing constant suffering. If, in that situation, they take a decision that they see no hope of feeling better and they'd rather be out of it, I'm not going to judge them. I'm just sad they got to that point.

Man, I hate depression.

Loquat said...

Oh, I loved the bit about king Candaules and his wife, in no small part because it's such a typical example of how Herodotus collects all the different local stories about how Historical Event X came to pass and then tries to make sense of them for the reader. So one version holds that Candaules, last king of his dynasty, fell in love with his wife and decided she was the most beautiful woman in the world - and also decided that his retainer Gyges needed to agree that she was the most beautiful woman in the world, and that's where the trouble started, because Gyges did not agree, and eventually Candaules decided that if Gyges could see her *naked* he'd surely understand, so he dragged Gyges into a scheme to let him see her undressing one night - and unlike the Greeks, these people considered it shameful for even a man to be seen naked; a woman being seen naked by a man who wasn't her husband was massively shameful - and to tie this post back to the original subject of women putting their own needs first, the wife saw Gyges spying on her, so she called him in the next day and said, look, I'm not going to put up with the shame of letting a man who isn't my husband to see me naked and live, so your choices are (a) die, or (b) kill the jerk who created this situation and replace him as my husband. So he chose (b), and got the kingdom in addition to the wife.

And then there was a totally different story where Gyges was just some random dude who found a magic ring and used it to become king, as often happens when random dudes find magic items in fairy tales, and we get to read Herodotus offering his opinion that the former story is likelier to be true because in his experience magic rings are waaay less common than angry wives.

Man, I need to dig out my copy of Herodotus and read it again, that book has so much awesome.

chris the cynic said...

If we're remembering the same discussion, that was me.

It almost certainly was the same discussion. Some things I remember very well, others not so much. I try to give warnings about the second kind of thing, hence, " something I half remember".

Thank you for clearing things up.

Ana Mardoll said...

@Rev: Thank you so much for telling us about the book perspective! Only... now I'm not sure I want to read the book, so maybe you've saved me some time and money. ;)

I really sometimes want to be crowned Analogy Police, despite the fact that I like a good analogy and I use them a lot in casual conversation, but they're just so easy to misuse. A might be like B, but that doesn't mean that A is B. I especially hate "adultery" analogies because adultery in itself is extremely convoluted and complicated a concept, and comparing it to something else rarely clarifies the situation.

Plus, it seems like some authors get very weird hangups about what a spouse is and isn't supposed to do in order to not be analogically adulterous. I recall one author -- discussed on a feminist site -- who seemed to be insisting that breast-feeding was a form of adultery. And now we have suicide = adultery. That definitely would have been a problem for me as a reader.

@Loquat: I love that tale, I hadn't heard it before. How delightful!

I recall one history teacher describing Herodotus as a fisherman historian: it's possible that the fish did exist and did get away, but it probably wasn't as big as the fisherman claimed and it was also unlikely to have actually been Nessie the Loch Ness monster as well. :P

chris the cynic said...

We're translating Herodotus now. It resulted in an interesting thing when we missed and "ou". ou is a negation word, something that you're probably going to translate as not or no.* As you might imagine, it changes things a lot.

The story is basically, he falls in love with his wife, thinks she's the most beautiful of all by far. Tells this to his favorite bodyguard, and then, not a long time later, decides that the bodyguard doesn't believe him/doesn't agree.

We missed that "not", and thus were imagining this as happening when Gyges (which would be pronounced Goo-ges, and you would call him Goo-ge when addressing him directly. It's a great name is my point) finally got sick of hearing his boss rave about how awesome his wife was. It started out ok, but when Gyges started responding with, "Yes, I'm sure she's very beautiful," with a complete lack of enthusiasm and absolutely no effort to hide his boredom. Then the king suggests that Gyges needs to see the queen naked, and Gyges snaps out of it, "Wait, what!? No, no, no. I'm sure she's very beautiful so there's really no need. Bad Idea!" And things go wrong from there.

Then someone noticed the "ou" and that theory died. But it was fun while it lasted.


Herodotus is known as the father of history and the father of lies. So, you know, make of that what you will.


*Odysseus blinds the cyclops and says his name is Outis, a perfectly reasonable name. The Cyclops's friends and family hear the screaming and come running then ask what's up, is anyone hurting him. He screams out that Outis is hurting him, Outis is destroying him. The hear it as "ou tis". Ou is negation, tis is anyone/anything. If not anyone/not anything is hurting him then they figure its a false alarm and then go home.

Odysseus later says that he beat the cyclops with his metis. "me" is a word that means basically the same thing as ou but it's used in different constructions. So me-tis seems a lot like ou-tis (and indeed it can mean nothing/no one) because Odysseus loves to have some wordplay. But metis also means wisdom, cunning, craft, and/or skill. It also happens to be the name of the mother of Athena, who happens to be Odysseus's patron.

If you're like me then it made no sense when you were taught the story because no one bothered to explain any of this to you. The Cyclops just seemed like an idiot for accepting that whatever variation on "Nobody" was used could possibly be a name. (Though Nemo got away with being called nobody.)

I've heard it suggested that to make this work for a modern audience in my area Odysseus should say his name is Norman, which the cyclops repeats with a thick Maine accent, thus dropping the R.

DavidCheatham said...

@Kit Whitfield
There is, however, such a thing as depression that doesn't respond to treatment.

You can argue that if their situation truly is hopeless and they are going to suffer for the rest of their life, they have just as much right as someone with any other hopeless problem. And you are correct there.

The problem is that a depressed person is that part of being depressed is thinking things are hopeless when they are not. So depressed people are _exactly_ the people who can't make an objective determination of the right level of hope.

They're second only to teenagers, who also probably should not be allowed to suicide because they have determined that things are 'hopeless' and their life is 'ruined forever'.

Generally, humans overestimate the amount of hope, clinging to it long past the point of sanity, so if someone comes to the conclusion that things are hopeless, they're usually right, and I have no problem with suicide in such circumstances. Generally is the key word there.

There are specific classes of human are doing the exact opposite, and I think the idea that we should force them to have counseling or wait until they get out of school or whatever is entirely reasonable. If the problems persist, if other people cannot figure out how to make their situation tolerable for them, then, yeah, suicide is a possible answer.

Actually, it would be possible to make this a general rule: If people think things are hopeless, and have sought out and tried any solution that others have suggested, then suicide is a reasonable option. Otherwise, just in case the person is imagining hopelessness where it doesn't exist, society has the right to force them to actually try some of the obvious solutions to see if they work.

Ana Mardoll said...

They're second only to teenagers, who also probably should not be allowed to suicide because they have determined that things are 'hopeless' and their life is 'ruined forever'.

I'm thinking out loud so this may be a bit incoherent, but I don't really like how this is phrased. It sounds like first of all you're sort of dismissing teenagers as melodramatic drama queens, and with depressed people coming in a close second. I'm not comfortable with either of those ideas. Society tends to infantilize depression (particularly by linking them to those immature teenagers that Won't Get Off My Lawn), and this is not helpful for anyone, least of all the depressed.

I'd also be curious as to how the "level of hope" in someone's life is "correctly" estimated such that we can say that ~90% of suicides involve an underestimation of same. Is there a flow chart for hope? Can it be calculated in an Excel sheet? I'm astonished by this idea.

chris the cynic said...

Hopefully someone will correct me if I'm wrong here, but aren't clinically depressed people the only group that does not have unrealistically inflated beliefs about the chances of things working out well in the future?

I don't have a copy of Stumbling on Happiness to pull out, nor do I have a copy of the study cited, but I'm pretty sure I remember it being said that pretty much across all lines (gender, cultural, economic, age, whatnot, optimists, pessimists) everyone had unrealistically high opinions of the chances things would be good for them with the only group that had realistic expectations of the outcome of a given venture being the depressed. (A conclusion that is, itself, depressing.)

I'm certainly not going to say that depressed people make the best decisions. I know what it's like to suffer through depression convinced that the world would be a better place if you could just disappear trying to get treatment and finding that no, it doesn't work. Therapy doesn't help, this medication doesn't do anything, this medication doesn't do anything, this medication makes me twitch but doesn't do anything for my mood, this medication doesn't do anything, fuck it I give up. I've never been suicidal, but I certainly know what it's like to feel worthless and hopeless and I'd rather people not have to make decisions their life depends on in that state if it can be helped.

At the same time, depressed people are people, actual and whole if injured and less than fully functional, I don't think it helps anyone to treat them as incapable of making decisions for themselves. If that were the case I wouldn't have decided anything since middle school, if not sooner. If someone depressed does not respond to treatment then they have to make decisions in a state of depression and the only question is whether or not those decisions are respected.

Also, I think teenagers get underestimated as a group. Yes, there are idiot teenagers, but there are also idiots who are much much older. I trust Brin to be able to make good decisions.


For whatever it's worth, it hurts me to write this because I do not want depressed people killing themselves. I don't want anyone killing themselves. But if I had what I wanted then no one would have to choose between a life of abject suffering and suicide. And when someone is faced with that choice ... I don't know what to say, I don't know what the right course of action is, and I'm not going to judge.

Brin Bellway said...

Also, I think teenagers get underestimated as a group. Yes, there are idiot teenagers, but there are also idiots who are much much older. I trust Brin to be able to make good decisions.

Aww. That made me smile. Thank you.

Antigone10 said...

The funny thing about Stumbling on Happiness was how it basically says "You want to be happy? Be delusional".

DavidCheatham said...

It sounds like first of all you're sort of dismissing teenagers as melodramatic drama queens, and with depressed people coming in a close second.

Teenagers often _are_ melodramatic drama queens. Depressed people, however, are not. (In fact, I don't think someone could possibly be a melodramatic drama queen and clinically depressed at the same time, as one of the symptoms of depression would exclude melodrama.)

Just because I have meta-grouped two groups as 'People who cannot correct predict their level of hope' does not mean that I am saying the groups are the same, except in the fact that they're rubbish at predicting how the future will be.

I'd also be curious as to how the "level of hope" in someone's life is "correctly" estimated such that we can say that ~90% of suicides involve an underestimation of same.

Almost everyone who attempted suicide as a teenager and failed later on is not suicidal as an adult. It's pretty obvious, really.

And I don't know when 'hope' became some sort of subjective thing we talk about in quotes. Hope is merely an estimation of whether or not the bad situation that someone is in will get better. The way you figure out how estimation of the futures are correct is, duh, statistics, and logic, and probability. You know, how that normally works.

Now, how much crap people will put up with and how much better the future needs to be are subjective, of course. In a post-apocalyptic world, one person might have hope that humanity survives something and can live with that hope, and another person might not particularly care if things eventually get better if it means they will be struggling to stay alive their entire life. The first has hope, the second doesn't, or at least not enough. A better way of saying that is that the amount of hope needed by people can vary, but the actual amount of hope, the actual predicted future for that person, should be somewhat the same.

But that has nothing to do with the poor estimating skills I was talking about. Teenagers are ignorant of how much the world changes outside of school, so cannot predict the future. Depressed people have actual chemical imbalances that alter how they perceive the world and predict the future. They aren't making the same predictions everyone else is, but not willing to live with them....they're just making _wrong_ predictions.

Teenagers and people with messed up brain chemistry _already_ are often restricted from consenting to things in society, so I'm baffled at the idea they should be entrusted to consent single-handedly to the most permanent thing imaginable. Do we let 15 year-olds get piercings without an adult? Do we let people on Rohypnol go car shopping?

And now I will predict the future and assert someone is going to get upset at that last comparison. Look, people, depression is an actual illness. It's not some made-up thing for people who aren't feeling good. It's an actual imbalance in the brain. Hence, it causes people to make different choices than they normally would.

So, yes, it's pretty much exactly like being drugged. Someone on Rohypnol will agree to things, when they normally would not. And someone on 'depression' will decide the situation is utterly hopeless, when they normally would not. So we should be wary of accepting their conclusion that the situation is hopeless. .[(This is not to say their conclusion cannot be correct, as in the hypothetical case of incurable depression.)

DavidCheatham said...

@Brin Bellway

Ah, but the thing is, the teenagers who I trust to make good decisions are exactly the teenagers who don't think that school is how the world works, so are unlikely to try to commit suicide. It's only the teenagers who think 'My entire life is going to be like this' that aim for suicide. They're ignorant, and I don't mean that in a prejudicial start out ignorant.

If a teenager is in a horrible situation but know that's not how the world works, they are, instead, likely to drop out, or even run away, which is itself is not something I'm happy about, but isn't very relevant here.

And, yes, I think we overestimate teenagers also. I think they should have a lot more rights, privileges, and responsibility, phased in in a much more sane and gradual manner. Instead of dumping it all on them when they graduate.

But the right to end their own life? I think that probably should be kept from them until they spent some time out of the school system, because, frankly, the Lord of the Flies nonsense going on in those places is enough to make anyone try to kill themselves if they think that's how the world works.

Brin Bellway said...

But the right to end their own life? I think that probably should be kept from them until they spent some time out of the school system, because, frankly, the Lord of the Flies nonsense going on in those places is enough to make anyone try to kill themselves if they think that's how the world works.

Like a drinking age, but more morbid? Or maybe like how kids are supposed to restrict their tuna intake*, because toxins staying in your system for the rest of your life means more the more life you have left. (Only more so, of course.)

*I don't actually like tuna myself. Maybe that's part of the metaphor's point. I don't have experience with depression; hell, I don't even have experience of high school (though I suspect if not for homeschooling** I would be having a terrible time). Suicidal feelings are quite alien to me.

**Now in Jesus-free!

I think they should have a lot more rights, privileges, and responsibility, phased in in a much more sane and gradual manner. Instead of dumping it all on them when they graduate.

Would be nice. Canada's got some baby steps: I gained the right to obtain medical treatment without telling my parents at sixteen, and after I turned seventeen the bank started bugging Dad to turn over my trust-fund-type things to me.

Marc Mielke said...

Ahh. Getting it backwards isn't so bad. 2+2=5 is less wrong than 2+2=fish.

Rakka said...

Anthony, please don't assume I don't have any experience in the issue. I have had much reason to think about suicide and how it affects people close to the deceased. I'm lucky to not be personally affected, but for that we can thank throw-up reaction snsgre gur crefba gbbx n pbzovangvba bs crg'f urneg zrqvpvar naq nagv-qrcerffnagf, and there was another person awake and got help in time. (Just how logical that anti-depressants have suidical tendencies for side effects? Getting them changed now, this far the new ones appear to be working.) I have been temporarily suidical myself, back when I had severe self-esteem problems and I felt that things just couldn't work out between me and Dear, when all my acts seemed to hurt her and I couldn't find the place to start unravelling the mess. (I learned self confidence and we both learned mutual communication. In much better place now.)

Nobody can control how other people percieve the world. We can't even know what their world is like unless they choose to tell us, and allow us to help. We can only try to make things so that they feel they can rely on us and work out the underlying problems, and get necessary help for them. But if there really IS nothing that can help? Does anyone have the right to force someone to live with incurable condition that causes them pain, just to prevent the pain of losing them? Whose pain is more important? With all my important people it hasn't been a case of chronic, incurable depression, for which I'm very grateful. We can work things out, I believe. Not everyone has that option.

And the situation discussed in The Road, there really is no reason for Woman to assume things will somehow be better, other than her living in Movie Land, where there's always a rescue in the last five minutes.

Ana Mardoll said...

Baeraad, I think I agree with you everywhere except the definition of "selfish". I'm using "selfish" to mean, "taking care of oneself without worrying overly much about the effect on others", and I think that's a good and healthy thing in the right contexts. You're using it to mean "not caring about others", which I agree is not something to aspire to. So the good news is we agree on everything except the terminology -- and I'm the first to admit I don't own the rights to any word definitions. ;)

Good comment, thank you. :)

chris the cynic said...

I feel like the use of nee was backwards. I could be wrong but I think that what was trying to be said was something like "marriages, originally (thought of as) business transactions, [the point goes here]." In which case you'd want it to be "marriages (nee business transactions)" instead of the other way around.

That said, I do not even pretend to know what I'm talking about here. When I say "feel" above that's because "think" would be too strong a word.


This is based mostly on something I half remember from a thread at old Slacktivist, I think that emotionally distant fathers might be pushed as the proper means of fatherhood as a way to reinforce social norms regarding masculinity. (Though not in a way that necessarily involves any conscious awareness that that's going on.)

I remember we were discussing some fundamentalist's guide to child rearing and it commanded that fathers be painfully distant from their sons to make sure they're appropriately masculine. My first thought was that that would backfire because the father is an emotionally distant jerk then the mother would be the natural role model. I was informed that this had been studied and I had it backward. Boys with close relationships with their fathers tend to be less hung up on being masculine than those with unaffectionate fathers.

Which means that having fathers who are nurturing might lead to boys who don't feel the need to make an effort to be masculine, and that will lead to the downfall of our society healthy individuals being themselves.


In a story that I may eventually write I have the main character, after having to put up with an attitude of, "I'm the son of Zeus, you're nobody," trace a an unbroken matrilineal succession to Nyx as a way of having a badass comeback even jerkass son of Zeus could understand. I'm unsure of if I like the fact that, since by the time main character says this she is a she, it sets up a pattern of, "I am [male] son of X son of Y, son of Z," and, "I am [female] daughter of A, daughter of B, daughter of C." Which really truly isn't the point. Main character would have said the same thing if she were still male. Though I do plan to have one of main characters male distant cousins copy her thing and trace his ancestry back through his mother's mother's mother's mother, so maybe that lessens it somewhat.

Ana Mardoll said...

I don't know about Real Life cultures, but Patricia Wrede uses this in her fantasy novel Caught in Crystal.

It's a memorable scene: the two children who are addressed as Momdottir and Dadson are surprised (they're used to the Dad surname paradigm) and when the children say they're not sure how they feel about their new names, the matriarch addressing them approves, tells them names are important and not something to settle on frivolously, and advises them to think on it.

I sometimes wish we had more control over our names, but I realize that would wreck with genealogy records.

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