Sunday, September 23, 2012

"The Moral Logic of Assholism"

Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg has a new book called Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years.

On Slate's recently re-booted, or returned from hiatus, Lexicon Valley podcast, hosts Mike Vuolo and Bob Garfield examine the A-Word with help from the author. Among other things, they discuss the curiosity that is the gendered use of "asshole." We almost always use it to refer to men. I won't go into the (rather provocative and interesting) analysis here, but this quote stuck with me:

"We will know who women have achieved some measure of gender equity when asshole women can be called assholes right along with asshole men."


When S. and I were careening toward break up, we had a few near-fights. By near-fights, I mean to clarify that we never really argued like I imagined other couples argued. There was no throwing objects and screaming, no dramatic Hollywood wailing and implications of violence or simmering tensions just about to bubble over. No. We didn't argue all that much. But twice, twice, I called her an asshole. I honestly don't recall what she had said to me to provoke me, but I remember feeling as if she was being mean, not being fair, and I told her to stop being an asshole.

That was maybe our biggest "fight" because I had never called her a name before. And she didn't forget it. A few weeks or months later, right before the split--or maybe it was months after--we had another very different argument during which S told me that I didn't love our child. I wish I remembered the details.

Visibly shaken, I sat down. Trembling, I sat down. Nobody, up until that point in my 37 years on the planet, had ever said anything to me that hurt that much. I don't remember if I spoke then or if I just walked out. But it came up again and I said "you told me I didn't love my daughter. You deliberately hurt me." She countered that I had been hurtful to her and cited the time, months earlier when I had called her an asshole.

And I then understood that she either didn't understand or didn't care. That was nearly three years ago and I don't blame her for reacting rashly. I am still puzzled though by the response. I answered her. I told her that the world is full of assholes. Lots of people can act like assholes. I've been an asshole plenty of times and I'm sure I will be an asshole in the future. I can live with that. I can live with being an asshole. And sure, there are a lot of people who probably don't care for their children, even people who don't love them.

"What would you rather be, S?" I asked. "An asshole or someone who doesn't love your little girl?"


I'm probably an asshole for posting this. That's all right. This was all what now seems like a long time ago. I've still got a long way to go.

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