Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On Weddings #1 : The Heeby-Jeebies

A wooden bench against a white wall with
a shadow of a two people embracing across
both wall and bench.
Having complained at some length about the bombardment of wedding-related advice, suggestions and miscellaneous pressure Stephen and I received within the first seventy-two hours of becoming engaged, I asked my friend Vic, "What is a dragee anyway?"

She answered, "Somebody who doesn't want to be at the wedding?"

(Apparently, dragee is a bit of confectionery, like a sugared almond but not.  I was later reminded that at my sister's wedding, they had some chocolate ones covered in gold plate.  Or possibly gold-leaf.  Either way, they tasted kind of metallic.)

For many years, I had recurring nightmares about being the bride in a traditional straight wedding, which are only partly explained by my subconscious imploring me to leave that relationship. Whilst I deeply regret getting married the first time, I don't regret the way the marriage bit was administered; in secret without romance or ceremony (except as much as is legally necessary). Weddings frightened me.

Five years ago, I wrote:
The traditional wedding is a fantastic manifestation of the traditional inequalities in marriage. Women do all the work; the bride must organise everything, the venue, the decoration, the itinerary, she must appease family members when the political conflicts arise over the seating plan. In many cases, the bride even chooses what the groom is going to wear. And all this for her big day, the happiest day of her life etc., etc.. Meanwhile, the groom is obliged to make a big show of reluctance, stag parties and so on, and turn up to perform his brief role in proceedings somewhat hungover. He gets to speak, of course; whilst the women did all the work, it is the men who get to make the speeches.  
It's a horrible caricature, but you have attended this wedding, haven't you? You bought them the hideous vase with the turquoise flowers on, remember?
It is a horrible caricature and now I don't think it's fair.  I have been to straight weddings a lot like that which nevertheless celebrated basically egalitarian relationships. These events are all about symbol and ceremony, and it is fairly common for people to play a symbolic role that may be a world away from their usual role, just as it is common to dress up in clothes than you'd never normally wear. I have known some formidable matriarchs who originally vowed, "to honour and obey."

Stephen's engagement ring: a silver ring with the
texture of a leaf skeleton.
There was never any danger of anything like that when Stephen and I got engaged, but as we began to talk about things - especially when we began talking to other people - I became subject to a touch of the heeby-jeebies. This wasn't exactly helped by a particularly lengthy conversation with my parents which began
"It's your wedding and you can do exactly what you like - we'll support you and help in any way, whatever you decide to do.  But..."
Among their many suggestions and concerns was the worry that Stephen's parents might be heartbroken if we didn't get married in a Church.  There are lots of personal and practical reasons for not doing so, even though Stephen and his family are Christian.  We'd talked this through and were sure Stephen's parents would be happy with our plans. My entirely non-religious parents weren't. We listened to and humoured them up to the point where my Dad stated that he knew a Canon who owed him a favour. Seriously. And no, I didn't dare ask.

Then there's noticing things written about weddings and the process of getting married. My rage against groups who think marriage belongs to them has only increased.  I notice articles or blog posts extolling the virtues of keeping names or taking someone else's name or combining the two surnames into a new one (our options there would be Welly or Kitehead - we should run an internet poll), all of which strongly imply that there's only one right way. At the time of writing, I think I know what I'll do, but I'm not completely sure.  I know, from experience, that whatever I do I will be judged for it.

I also notice products aimed at me, a woman about to get married.  Most of these are just excessive and silly, but some, such as Bridal Betty (via Vagenda), are utterly baffling; blue dye for your pubic hair (or down there as the website puts it - it's one thing to sell pubic hair dye, it's quite another to use the word pubic) raises many pressing questions, such as
  • Attempts to dye my walnut-coloured (head) hair purple have always failed because I couldn't bring myself to bleach it beforehand. Wouldn't this be an issue given that most of the world's short and curlies are nearly black? 
  • I understand Bridal Underwear is also a thing. It's very expensive and almost always white. Are these products compatible?  Even on a warm day?
  • Does it include a warning for couples who have never seen one another naked before their wedding night? 
  • Surely, celebrity influence on what women do with our pubic hair has gone far enough without Marge Simpson muscling in on the action?
  • Why?  As in, why oh why oh why?
You get the picture.  About weddings, I mean.  I got a little distracted by the thought of blue pubes... 

Thing is, I think weddings are a fundamentally great thing.  It is a public ritual - something we rarely do in this culture - which celebrates love.  Not only romantic love, but familial love, friendship, love among a community and sometimes spiritual love (whether expressed in a religious building or not). All these people come together.  Families are joined together.  There's music, special food, poetry and speeches.  Two people declare their love and commitment to each other in front of the other people they love and who love them.

My engagement ring: a silver swirly sea-inspired
ring with a round sapphire in it.
(Getting it reduced to fit my finger.)
It's a wonderful thing.  It isn't necessary for lasting love and it isn't sufficient for lasting love - some people marry who are not in love at all, while many others live happily together for a lifetime without marriage. But in general, I'm all for weddings.

Stephen and I want to celebrate our love in a public way. We have become part of one another's families and have befriended one another's friends. We want to bring the principle players together and celebrate that. We also want the legal and social advantages of being married.  Stephen looks really hot in a suit. So we both want a wedding.

But I need to do some working out.  And this is where blogging comes in handy!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Some Things We Could Actually Do To Prevent Rape

This post discusses rape as well as what we can do about it. Be warned.

There are only two prominent messages we hear about how to prevent rape; don't get raped and don't commit rape. Police campaigns as well as horrendously clumsy statements by police and politions regularly attract controversy for their implicit and occasionally explict victim-blaming; the suggestion that if women took steps to avoid rape, it wouldn't happen. This is a problem. I don't need to explain why.

But telling men "Don't rape!" is also fairly futile, for three very siginificant reasons.
  1. The vast majority of men are neither rapists nor potential rapists. As someone who has never downloaded an illegal film, bought or borrowed a pirate, I feel mildly insulted having to sit through the rowdy anti-piracy warnings at the beginning of rented DVDs. I imagine being told not to rape is a bit like that, only you know, about rape.
  2. Men who commit rape are extremely unlikely to call it rape. If you want to identify rapists among survey respondents, you phrase it differently. Rapists generally regard real rape as something a notch or two worse than the rapes they have committed.
  3. Some men are the victims of rape and not all rapists are men. This isn't merely important in terms of But what about men?! but (a) these victims matter (b) the model of rape as an inevitable consequence of straight men's sexuality and something women have to protect themselves against is at the heart of our problem with rape. 
So, what can we do to actually tackle rape as ordinary folk?  My attempt to answer this question is edging toward epic, but only because I feel very strongly about this.  It would make me very very happy if others came up with better ideas.

1. Look after your friends and don't mind your own business. 

While women are in much more danger of sexual violence, men are more likely to be injured or killed in other forms of street violence. So where late nights and drink is involved, everyone needs taking care of. When out at night, pay attention to where your friends are, who they are with and how they are doing. If any friend is
  • extremely drunk, unwell or otherwise vulnerable 
  • receiving unwelcome sexual attention 
  • receiving sexual attention from someone with an evil moustache or something else that gives you the willies 
  • paying sexual attention to someone who seems uncomfortable, or is themselves very drunk, very young etc. 
then simply stay with them or make sure another trusted and vaguely sober person stays with them. 

There is a limit to that, of course; if your friend actually tells you to go away, then you need to do so, but by that stage you'll have at least dropped the hint that you feel something is not right. There's no need to get all white-knighty and tell your friends how to behave, but exchanging our instincts about new people and situations, “I just don't like what's happening here.” is perfectly reasonable and one of the main advantages of being social animals.

 If you're wrong, the very worst that can happen is someone tells you to bugger off.  If you're right, you could save your friends an awful lot of trouble.

2. Encourage others to trust their instincts when it comes to creepy and inappropriate behaviour.

To the greatest extent, our culture teaches us not to trust ourselves when it comes to unwanted sexual attention. Then, having convinced ourselves we have a legitimate concern, we talk to other people about our feelings and are often told to question them further; Are you sure it was meant that way? Are you sure they weren't just being friendly? Are you quite sure they meant to touch you? You should take it as a compliment. You shouldn't read too much into it. And so on.

This is a disaster.

Nobody is entitled to anybody else's time, energy, attention, company, friendship or anything else. No matter how drunk, lonely or socially inept a person may be - no matter how funny, popular or decent they may be regarded by others - it is perfectly okay to say, "This thing you're doing makes me uncomfortable. Please stop it." and "You're making me uncomfortable. Please leave." and it's okay to respectfully remove yourself from their presence and have nothing more to do with them, with or without explanation.

Encourage your friends. Support their decisions to avoid people who make them feel uncomfortable. When they question themselves (and they often do - my mother thought she was being unkind to change the time she went swimming to avoid a regular at the pool who made sexually explicit remarks about her*), reassure them that it is more important that they feel comfortable than anyone else - even another trusted person - has access to them. Even if they are completely over-reacting to some poor hapless person's clumsy advances, acting on their intuition this time is excellent practice for the time when it's not an over-reaction.

I had written this bit when the wonderful Captain Awkward and the Awkward Community covered this issue better and more thoroughly than I ever could. Part of this obviously has to be

3. Exercise zero tolerance towards sexually aggressive people.  

Sometimes, people make genuine mistakes with flirtation and other times, innocent behaviour happens to press someone's buttons.  But there are limitations to this, which really ought to be obvious to everyone. Obvious examples include unwanted touching, spiking a drink, making sexually explicit remarks out of context, joking about sexual coercion (see below) and anything if it is repeated after someone made it clear they felt uncomfortable.

When a man oversteps this mark with a woman, other women are often nervous of cutting him off because they don't want to seem over-sensitive, uptight or hostile to male attention**.  Other men are nervous of going against the brotherhood, of failing to laugh off or empathise with their comrade's actions. When a woman is creeping out a man, both victim and perpetrator become a joke; my family laughed about the drunk woman who'd repeatedly tried to kiss my reluctant cousin because women aren't supposed to be sexually assertive and men are supposed to be up for whatever comes their way.  In my limited experience, gay and lesbian creeps are treated with less tolerance, except within scenes where - like the kink community - the defensiveness of the community as a safe, tolerant and funky place can silence members who have a problem.

Not only are people who violate other's boundaries in small ways very likely to violate them in much bigger ways, but people who cross these moral lines are unlikely to restrict themselves to this particular kind of bad. Often people tolerate creeps in their social circle because they themselves are immune to their attentions. But someone who doesn't care about not intimidating someone they find sexually attractive is unlikely to care all that much about not being an arsehole, in myriad other ways, to someone who considers them a friend.

4. Give all young people the same information about personal safety.  Don't tell boys or girls that their sexuality makes them dangerous.

As a girl, I learnt that I needed to be afraid of rape. Girls start receiving sexual harassment on the street very early on, and by the time a few of us had been shouted at, groped, followed home etc., we began to exchange ideas about how to defend ourselves if we were actually attacked. This now amuses me really; a can of hairspray and a lighter will make a rudimentary flamethrower but you need both hands and about thirty seconds longer than you probably have to fend off an attack. But we understood that we faced this threat. Anyone who thinks that women don't know the danger they are in is quite wrong.

At the same time, entering into adolescence, we understood that there was a demand on us to be sexy which we had to balance up with this risk of rape – dress too modestly and you're not sexy, dress too sexily and you might be raped. Even in the twenty-first century, a lot of the discussions around the sexualisation of young girls hinges on the idea of children being in danger of giving off sexual messages to men, as opposed to kids adopting a value system which is going to make them unhappy. When I was a teenager, bridging tomboy to hippy, I thought I received a lot of sexual harassment because I was tall and I had big breasts. In fact, I was told that men must think I was older than I really was. So it was all about me, and things I couldn't help about myself.

Nonsense. I was in my primary school uniform when I received my first sexual harassment from adult men. Mature looking or sexily-dressed children don't confuse men. Sexual harassment is an abnormal behaviour, and the people who do it operate abnormally; children are vulnerable and the kind of men who shout lewd remarks or molest women in the street and on public transport look for vulnerable-looking women, including children, whether they are wearing high-heels or trainers.

So girls should not receive dynamically different messages from boys about safety on the streets.
All young people need to be taught basic self-defence and to be given basic advice about travelling in groups, not drinking to a point of incapacity, avoiding certain places late at night, trusting and sharing their instincts about people and situations, only using registered cabs and so on. There is no evidence that anyone's clothing effects their likelihood of being sexually assaulted, so nobody should receive any advice about that.

Girls are much more likely to be subject to sexual harassment, but as it can happen to boys too (as well as other forms of harassment, e.g. racist, homophobic and disablist abuse) and strategies for dealing with this are much the same whoever you are. A culture which endlessly lectures girls on how dangerous there lives and bodies are but implicitly assures boys that no harm can come to them and there's never any need for them to run away, fails everybody.

5. Encourage a culture where everyone gets to say "No" without negative social consequences and respect a "No" whenever you hear one. 

At primary school, a teacher I didn't know accosted me in the corridor and asked me to run an errand. I didn't fully understand what was being asked of me – it was something to do with putting a dinner tray somewhere where it would be washed up, but I didn't know where she meant and I was anxious about getting in trouble with my own teacher for being late. So I said that I didn't want to. I had no idea how rude that was; apparently, it was the most shocking insubordination this teacher had ever encountered and what followed was the single worst telling-off I received in my entire school career.

During an early experience of sexual abuse, I actually said, with a forced laugh, “What about consent?”. This says a lot about my socialisation. I was desperately trying to work out the code that would make it stop. I had tried, “I don't think I want this.” and “I really don't think I want this.” Even when I was in great pain and crying, I still reached for, “Please can we stop this now?”

I don't believe that this happened because I didn't know how to say “No!” in a firm and forceful manner - I've never met anyone who had such problems with nuance that they confuse, “I don't think I want this.” with “Yes!” or even “I'm not bothered either way so do as you feel.”  But “No!” may well have been useful and I simply didn't have it. I don't even have it now. I probably have it for a stranger jumping out of the bushes, but for anyone I know well, like or respect on any level? Probably not.

This is partly about gender, although I know men who don't have “No!” and women who do. Rebelling against authority, to some extent, is part of our cultural narratives about how boys become men. They get to say “No!” to parents, teachers, maybe even the law, at least for a short time, in order to assert their masculine individuality. Culturally, teenager girl's rebellion is almost always framed as defying one's parents by accommodating the needs of one's male peers, putting out, rather than asserting one's own sexuality or non-sexual aspects of identity. The adult version of that telling-off I received as a child is being called a selfish bitch, a cock tease, a frigid dyke and so on.

However, it's worth saying how tricky it can be for boys and men to say “No!” in a sexual context, because of the idea that a real man, whether straight or queer, is preoccupied with and available for sex with any marginally attractive person. This idea feeds into the idea both that all men are potential rapists struggling to control themselves, as well as the idea that, immune from the possibility of unwanted sexual attention, men cannot be raped. One of the disturbing aspects of the otherwise hilarious Cosmo's 44 Most Ridiculous Sex Tips (this remains one of the funniest things I have read this year) and other “sex tips” from women's magazines is the number which don't involve even looking for basic clues as to whether a male partner might, at that moment, enjoy being groped, ravished or even physically assaulted as part of an experiment.

Which brings me onto

6. Practice, Discuss and Teach Your Kids About Enthusiastic Consent

Enthusiastic consent is the principle that great sex means ongoing positive communication between parties; you check with your partner and express your own enthusiasm (with words, noises, touch, gestures, eyebrow code etc.) at every stage. You don't have sex with someone just because they want to, you feel obliged to, because they've nagged you or sulked about it or because it gives you something to do with your hands while you work on that difficult formula. You don't have sex with someone who you suspect doesn't feel like it or seems uncertain about how they feel, or is very tired or drunk or otherwise vulnerable. You don't assume that the other person's willingness to be with you in one context (e.g their presence in your bed, their kissing you, their performing certain sexual acts on you) means that the other party is up for anything else that crosses your mind. You ask. You respect their answer. You expect the same from them.

Practicing enthusiastic consent isn't merely about being a considerate lover or avoiding doing something sexual that wasn't entirely welcome. You're likely to be in a much better position for managing your reproductive choices and, outside a lifelong monogamous relationship, it also helps protect your partners and their future partners by setting a precedent.

This does warrant discussion because (a) this isn't yet a dominant model of how sex should be in our culture – it certainly isn't what we see in the films, in Men's or Women's Magazines, let alone porn - and (b) some of us struggle with how to practice this, because of programming and personal issues around sex. What if talking out loud is a turn-off for a partner? What if you're doing something that renders eye-contact impossible? What about times you do something sexual for someone because you love them even though it's not really your thing? All this stuff is resolvable, but the principle matters and quite obviously, one's chances of having better, more mutually-fulfilling sex rocket compared to the model where one person (usually a man) initiates, everything just happens and both parties hope for the best.

My top tip: Being British means talking out loud about sex is almost impossible without giggling - just now I'm recovering from the effect of having put the words sex and rocket next to each other in the same sentence. Reading and participating in written discussions, both public and private, is much easier than sitting around with friends and saying, “So, you know when you really fancy the thing with the bubble wrap and the hedgehog costume, but your partner's busy reading Ovid...?”

7. Use The Word Rape To Describe Rape

One of the big problems we have even talking about rape is that our culture has an ideal model for the crime which (roughly) features a virtuous young single woman walking along in daylight when an armed stranger leaps out from nowhere and drags her into the bushes. We consider a rape a crime which necessarily
  • results in significant physical injury 
  • results in long-term trauma with immediate effect 
  • results in a very specific mix of rational behaviours (e.g. reporting the incident to the police immediately) and irrational behaviours (e.g. being very upset all the time, refusing to leave the house and taking a vow of chastity). 
There are few other crimes when we question whether wrong-doing has taken place on the grounds of the victim's reaction to events - “All the evidence suggests your husband was brutally murdered, but you're now eating normally and you're able to tuck your children in bed at night without breaking down in tears, so this 'murder' can't have been as bad as you make out.”

Some rapes are much worse than others, involving more violence, greater fear of death, more than one assailant and so forth. This doesn't mean that other rapes are not serious or not actual rapes. Often, victims struggle to use the word rape because they don't feel what happened was quite bad enough and because they are deeply invested in avoiding any drama. Dissociation is a common reaction to the shock of an assault, which can mean that, on auto-pilot, the victim is sociable and friendly with the rapist in the immediate aftermath. Together with domestic violence – of which rape is often a feature – victims often see a choice between carrying on with things as they were and getting back to normal as soon as possible, or else identifying as a victim, condemning their friend/ lover/ spouse/ family or community member as a rapist and disrupting every aspect of both their lives.

So often accounts of rape begin, “I wasn't raped, but this thing happened to me once where I was forced to have sex against my will...”

This isn't victims' fault, and nobody should be pressed into using language about their own experiences which they don't feel comfortable about.  However, the rest of us need to get this right.

We generally struggle to use the word rape or even sexual assault when it is appropriate. The term “had sex” is overused in reporting of sexual crimes, even when discussing the abuse of young children. Julian Assange is currently suspected of rape, but the word is rarely used when discussing his case, regardless of anyone's stance on his as-yet-uncertain guilt.  In the coverage of an upcoming film about Mike Tyson, I've heard reference of “his time in prison” but not the fact that he was put in prison for rape (which in most minds, is towards one end of the huge spectrum of things a person can be imprisoned for). I've even seen film reviews that refer to "rough sex" when the only sexual content is an unambiguous rape.

I don't believe that this is because people don't know what rape is.  I just think we're massively squeamish about the word, like we are about some anatomical words - rape is perhaps a word we wouldn't use in front of our grandmothers. But this is part of the reason why people can commit rape and frame what they do in the language of say, men's magazines. If we consistently used the word rape to describe any time someone has sex forced upon them, it would make it far more difficult for rapists to rationalise their future crimes.

8. Avoid humour around rape and sexual aggression.

Many jokes about rape and sexual aggression muddy the water about the acceptability of these behaviours.  Sure, people laugh because these things are shocking to say and hear, but they are rendered less shocking by the saying, hearing and laughing. Jokes don't make people rape, any more than racist jokes make white people go out and beat up black and Asian people.  However, I guarantee that rapists, like violent racists, are much more comfortable in an environment where the joke is on the victims of their violence.

Meanwhile, I think this saga, which continues into the comments, demonstrates how shocking it can be to people who consider themselves harmless and decent to realise the hurt, distaste and profound mistrust that this kind of humour can elicit from people who have experienced, or are at higher risk of experiencing, sexual violence. You may be free to joke about whatever you like, but you will be judged for your humour and you will help create environments which make some people feel safe and others feel alienated. It's worth considering what kind of people you want to reassure and what kind of people you want to push to the edges.

I'd include in this, don't use the verb rape to mean kick ass, thrash, wipe the floor with etc., in a competitive context, e.g "Chelsea are going to rape Man U this weekend."  Stephen recently reported reading the phrase "raped by the postage" to refer to someone being charged high postage. I mean, just no!

* This really shocked me, because Mum is in her late fifties, is made of very stern stuff and would probably respond to the same story coming from another woman with a cunning plot to bring about the creep's humiliating comeuppance. But when it was her own case, she reverted to a young girl second-guessing herself about leaving a party to avoid a boy who just groped her - except that among her machinations, she argued that because of her age, the man couldn't really mean anything sexual or pose any kind of threat.

** Not all women have any interest in male attention, but many women are socialised not to rock that particular boat, regardless of sexuality.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

What I might have learnt from Reality TV

For many years, I didn't watch television and it was during this period that Reality TV became ubiquitous.  Friends sometimes sent me videos of comedies and Dr Who and when BBC iPlayer came along, I got to see a lot more telly, but it never occurred to me to watch any of this reality trash.  Then I began living around people who'll watch whatever's on - you know, what is actually being broadcast at this very moment - and with Stephen, who is an extremely intelligent, cultured and widely-read classicist who enjoys Come Dine With Me and other programmes of that ilk. Usually, but not always, programmes that involve some cooking and some bickering.

Reluctant at first, I gradually realised how very useful Reality TV would have been, had I only been exposed to more of it in my youth. I have generally been very lucky with people; I've always had a few good friends and a considerable number of very lovely people to speak to.  But like everyone, I have been stung and I think Reality TV could have helped me avoid some of these stingings.

The first and greatest lesson illustrated so extensively by Reality TV is that decent people, with all the basic virtues in place, rarely need to protest their decency. This realisation could have saved me a great deal of heartache and confusion, had it only come earlier. I'm now able to recognise a particular vice whenever TV contestants or new acquaintances say a little about themselves and include statements like
"I pride myself on being honest." (I am not at all honest.)
"I'm not interested in playing games." (I have a cunning plan.)
"What you see is what you get." (I am manipulative and I judge by appearances.)
More than once, I've met someone who has mentioned, repeatedly, how very important honesty was for them; how above all else, at whatever cost, they aimed to be honest. Then later on, I realised they weren't. I'm not talking massive swindles here, but petty dishonesty, exaggeration, making impossible promises and giving different accounts of the facts to different people. I have had friends like this, and how much damage it has done depended on whether I ever actually had to rely on them for anything.

It doesn't occur to ordinarily honest people to say that they're honest, because honesty is fairly normal.  Describing oneself as particularly honest is a little like boasting, “I don't steal from anyone.”

Then there's the use of honesty as a pre-emptive justification for bullying behaviour;
“I say it how it is.” (I go out of my way to be offensive) 
“If people don't like to hear the truth, it's not my problem.” (I like to tell people things they don't want to hear). 
“I can't stand people who can't take a joke.” (I will hide behind humour should anyone call me out on my behaviour.)
Honesty isn't about saying whatever passes through your head. Lots of things pass through my head. Apple crumble! See? A lot of those things - like that next thing I thought of just now - would cause me a great deal of embarrassment and shame if I said them out loud, as they occurred. But most of the time, that's not a problem for me or the people around me. I sometimes do express some of my strange or foolish thoughts, but on the rare occasions that other people are upset by them, I don't respond with, “What's the problem? I'm just saying it how it is. That is an ugly dress and you do look a little like Yoda in high heels.”

Adult bullies frequently use honesty as an excuse to verbally abuse those around them, as if the possession of an honest opinion is like a having a gestating alien in our chest, something that's going to burst out during dinner whether we like it or not.  It's really not.

Incidentally, there's a world of difference between not saying cruel or offensive things and avoiding important subjects for fear of offending people. Vigorous honesty and openness is probably as often used as a mask for bullying and manipulation as social etiquette and familial obligation ever were.

Meanwhile, there's

“People either love me or hate me.” (My mother loves me, grudgingly, on a good day, when she remembers me as a baby and forgets the monster I grew up to be.)
The only people who truly divide opinion between extreme camps of adoration or disgust are very famous people, who we know by their persona or politics rather than personality. Socially, nobody is the human Marmite. Mind you, even Marmite isn't the Marmite Marmite, given that I quite like it once in a blue moon and my sister isn't especially keen but doesn't mind it. So it seems very unlikely that, even if a Reality TV contestant were to smear himself with Marmite - and that's probably happened on Big Brother before now - that people would either love him or hate him. Probably nobody would want to invite him into the hot tub.

However, if someone behaves badly and is mean to other people, he may be universally disliked. I have known ordinarily awful people who divide others between those who can tolerate them and those who can't tolerate them, but that's hardly love or hate.

Regardless, if you suspected that you were regularly eliciting an extreme negative reaction from people, even if other people thought you were great, you'd probably think to work on the negative bit, work out what was going on and, if you could, sort it out. None of us can please all the people all the time, but most of us can manage to avoid acquiring enemies within five minutes acquaintance.

Finally, there's
 "I am a real eccentric." (My hobbies are gardening and sudoku, which I do fully-clothed.)
 "I've always been a bit of an outsider." (I've had a very privileged life, of which I am ashamed.)
"I'm always making people laugh." (I have this one joke about a man with paper trousers.*)
There are all number of traits which it is so unwise to attribute to yourself.  True eccentrics are all but oblivious to their eccentricity - that's part of what makes them eccentric. Almost everyone feels like a bit of an outsider, until they don't, but only people on the inside have the privilege to talk about being on the outside like it's a good thing. And comedians, even truly hilarious intelligent comedians, make their job ten times harder by telling people that they're going to be funny. All this stuff is like saying that you're drop dead gorgeous on a dating site. It's stuff you have to leave for others to judge.

Of course, as well as being better able to identify vices and flaws in others, Reality TV has taught me how to describe myself:
This is me. I am what I am. I am all about keeping it real. Some people may like me, some may not, but most are likely to react with something just the positive side of indifference. Some of those opinions may change after they've come to know me better.

* What do you call a man with paper trousers?  Russell!