In gay fiction, the nerd/jock romance is a very common trope. In the standard take, the jock is an attractive closeted high school boy with homophobic friends. The jock archetype works well in these stories, because he’s an object of desire that comes with a source of conflict and character arc for free. The jock archetype is emphatically not the same as jocks in real life.
I recently had occasion to read a gay romance (see review) that was allegedly true and autobiographical. So while it might be described as a nerd/jock romance, he’s a real jock, not the fictional archetype that I’m accustomed to in this context. He is not in high school, he does not have homophobic friends, rather he just spends a lot of time working out and being concerned about his appearance.
I was shocked how disagreeable it was to me, and why. The sticking point was that jocks (in the novel) do not observe consent culture.
When I talk about consent culture, I’m not talking about sex. I’m referring to a broader set of values around respecting other people’s choices rather than making assumptions about what they want. Consent culture is not just about asking people’s permission, but also giving ample space for people to say no, giving them an out without negative social repercussions. It’s about not hitting on people while they are trapped with you on an elevator.
The opposite of consent culture, which I will call “pressure culture” for lack of a better term, is when people pressure each other to do things because they “know” they’ll like it in the end.
Consent culture is extremely important to me, not just as an ace, but also as a certified disliker of popular media. I’ve spoken before about my disidentification with geek culture, primarily because when I think about geek culture, I think about people relentlessly pressuring me to try their favorite sci-fi/fantasy franchise. The geeks I grew up with were observers of pressure culture, and that’s why I don’t like Star Wars. But that’s not to say that pressure culture is uniquely a geek problem, geeks are just the group I had personal experience with. Maybe it’s more of a White masculinity problem, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Do jocks follow pressure culture? I’m sure jocks are as diverse a group as any other. However, the book made a compelling case for a connection between working out and peer pressure. In the book, the characters spend a lot of time working out. When they work out, the pressure each other to go further and further, beyond their perceived limits. They openly complain about being pressured. But then, after the workout, they admit that it felt good. They are glad that they were pressured into a more intense workout.
And then, since their value system revolves around working out, they follow the same pattern of behavior in the rest of their lives too. They pressure each other into academic success, into wearing nicer clothes, getting up at earlier hours, and trying activities that they would normally stay well away from. (And yes, sex too.) I don’t like it.
But, I don’t want to be unduly prejudiced against people with different perspectives on life, so I naturally wonder, maybe there’s some sense to it? I mean, it at least makes sense for the workouts, right? I’ve heard plenty of people say that they struggle while working out, but afterwards they feel good about it. Maybe peer pressure helps some people get over the hump.
I can’t say that I have ever felt that way about a workout, and I find it very demotivational to hear that’s how it works for other people. Exercise is an unpleasant activity that people often say is worth it because of a supposed psychological reward. But that psychological reward has never been bestowed upon me, which naturally has me wondering why I should bother in the first place. Now these days, I do have a regular exercise routine, albeit one that’s more popular among women than men. What motivates me to exercise? Honestly, I’m just not a very pleasure-seeking person. I will just do things that I don’t particularly enjoy, if I believe in their end goals.
Between pressure culture, and whatever anti-pleasure philosophy I follow, one might fairly say that maybe pressure culture is the lesser of two evils. If that’s how you feel, I’m not trying to change your mind! I can’t tell anyone that my way of life is better, I can only say that pressuring people into sex is probably bad. Although I find pressure culture deeply disagreeable and occasionally problematic, I’m open to the idea that it at least has some merit.
What are your thoughts on consent vs pressure culture? If you exercise, what do you do to motivate yourself?