Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Public Displays of Affection

We began this hangout, as we often do, by exploring some terms. What counts as a public display of affection? We thought about hand-holding, kissing, or just walking side by side. Does it have to be romantic affection (not necessarily)? Yes, it's easy to think of kids making out int he halls at school, but there are a lot of ways to show affection, and a lot of relationships in which affection can be considered, such as family, friends, teachers and students, colleagues, etc. It's important to think about power dynamics, and how those can influence how shows of affection are understood.

Hugging teachers in the US used to be much more common, but then there was a change and greater concern about sexual abuse, and it became far rarer.

Kids are often expected to grow out of being physically affectionate. Which cultures does that change occur in? It doesn't occur in all of them.

Khaalidah remarked that a hypersexualized society discourages touch because it tends to overconstrue things in sexual ways - and maybe also because it's easier for touch to be understood as sexual by the people involved. She said she's a nurse, and mentioned therapeutic touch. Touch is very important to humans. People need to be able to read body language and tell who is open to it. She said if we spent more time learning to read each other, it would be helpful.

Across cultures, the conventions of touch differ. In America right now, hugging friends is very common. In France, kissing on both cheeks is common. If you tried to switch them, either gesture would seem very weird to someone in the other country.

Spencer noted that in the US, it's socially frowned on for a man to put his arm around another man, but that rough-housing is okay. In Victorian times, though, men could hold hands, kiss on the cheek, or put their arms around each other, and it was not stigmatized. Attitudes surrounding sex changed. Attitudes and expectations surrounding touch also changed. Platonic touch and sexual touch are neighbors, and the border shifts. In Victorian times it was cool to be spinsters together with great mutual affection.

Khaalidah remarked that she really liked the way the men in the Lord of the Rings were physically and emotionally affectionate with one another with no sexual judgment. There is plenty of hugging, and Frodo kisses Sam. Men are allowed to cry.

When you are creating a world, think through the different rules for different social categories. This can include men and women, or other genders, or different kinds of categories altogether. In our society women are allowed to "hug it out" but men are not.

Spencer talked briefly about boarding schools for Native Americans. This is a setting where people have been colonized, and can be very problematic. There are definitely differences in how people interpret eye contact. He says he has also noticed a "limp handshake," because soft grip is associated with kindness. This group also tends to be more respectful of the elderly - if an elder needs you, you drop everything. Spencer notes that native teens are not so embarrassed to have their grandmothers smother them in kisses.

Khaalidah told us she likes to "nom" her children, but the last of them stopped accepting this at about age ten. She says there were influences from Nigerian culture in her upbringing, like never kicking kids out of the bed. They went away when they were ready.

How much of touch habit is individual, and how much is culture?

What forms of affection exist? Are touches iconic? This means that they are codified gestures, like the French double-cheek-kiss, or the hug greeting, or the handshake.

We talked briefly about handshake combat. What does a handshake mean? What does a soft handshake mean? What does a firm one mean? What about a long one?

Personal distance is also relevant to this.

What kind of touch is expected?

Morgan pointed out that affection can be complicated by power dynamics.

Iconic gestures can have very specific social meanings. When I was in high school, hugging a friend meant nothing more than a greeting, but holding hands meant there was a romantic relationship.

What gets communicated to the person being touched? What gets communicated to bystanders?

Spencer said that handshakes in his experience were partly indicative of what you did for a living. Ranch hands would have very strong hands.

The handshake grew out of a gesture that allowed people to check one another for weapons.

We didn't talk about secret handshakes, but that topic was touched on by the show not long ago, when we spoke about In-group marking.

We talked about the interesting moment in The Force Awakens, when Rey tells Finn not to grab her hand when they have to run. It clearly has different meanings for each of them. Did he want it for his security? She clearly felt it as a power move, to grab her and move her.

Some people get hired to cuddle. Khaalidah wrote a story with a cuddle-robot based on this idea.

There are special contexts in which the rules of touch change. Dancing is a major one of these. Touch expectations are vastly different for dances like lambada, tango, waltz, and gavotte. There was a story in the news recently about actor John Boyega and touch expectations at Carnival, when the dance style is very intimate!

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie doesn't do a lot with touch rules per se, but does have very specific types of manners as relates to whether hands are covered in gloves or not.

There can also be social class touch differentials. What are the rules about touching or not touching servants? Employees?

Thank you to everyone who attended. This week, Dive into Worldbuilding meets tomorrow, October 4th at 10am Pacific to discuss Taboos. I hope you can join us!