Something I Want Men To Know Before Flirting With Women
There’s been an important shift in several different communities and scenes lately. In the kink world, in atheism circles, among feminist folks and their allies, in pagan communities, I’ve been seeing more people than ever before talking about the effects of sexual coercion, assault, harassment, unwanted attention, and other related topics. Of course, none of this is particularly new and women have been talking about it for years. But what’s different is the nature of the dialogue. More men who want to be allies to women are speaking up, and thanks to the potential of the internet and social networking, more people are seeing the patterns than ever before. There are plenty of folks with lots of great stuff to say, and I don’t feel the need to repeat their words here. Instead, I want to address something that I wish I’d understood much earlier than I did.
Many of the reactions to this growing awareness that I’ve seen from men is some form of resentment that they don’t get to flirt with, cruise, or attempt to pick up women whenever they happen to see someone attractive. Leaving aside the underlying assumption that men should be able to express their sexual desire any time we want, I want to talk about the general cluelessness of most men around the incessant sexual intrusion that most women experience and the effects that has on flirting.
I’m writing this specifically for the men who want to flirt with women, whether the hope is for a one-night stand, a relationship, a conversation, a date, or simply to pass the time. What happens when the intention is to harass, stalk, annoy, or get any other reaction from women is a different thing. But right there, that is the root of the problem. A lot of the time, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to tell the difference. That sucks for the guys who genuinely want to connect with someone. And you know what? As much as it sucks for you and me, it’s many, many times worse for women. We can decide to deal with this situation or not, but women don’t get that choice because they get harassed all the time. So the first thing we need to wrap our brains around is that expecting women to have sympathy for how we feel when this is unpleasant for us is like expecting someone with a broken leg to have sympathy for someone who’s got a sprained finger. If they have the bandwidth and interest, that’s great! But resenting them when they don’t isn’t helpful. We need to stop expecting women to coddle our feelings and take care of them for ourselves.
More important, though, is that getting upset when someone assumes ill intentions on your part doesn’t help. Yes, I know that it hurts. And I understand that it’s easy to take it personally unless you really understand the effects of widespread, ongoing, and relentless sexual intrusion. That’s the thing that we need to get- most women are dealing with the emotional, mental, and physical pain of moving through the world as targets. It’s not fair or reasonable to expect them to assume good intentions every time a guy flirts or makes a move. I would love to live in a world in which that wasn’t the case, and we don’t live there. Deal with it and work to change it, but don’t expect women to act as if it’s safe for them to assume good intentions. Their experience says otherwise. When men lash out online or in person with violent speech and threats of rape or murder, that lets women know that they’re smart to be defensive. If you’re doing that, you’re contributing to the problem. Stop. Now.
There’s a lesson to be learned from marketing. When companies sell a product, part of how they develop a successful promotion is by figuring out how different approaches will be received by potential customers. It doesn’t matter if a campaign would be effective at convincing the marketing department, the admin staff, or the IT folks. The only relevant metrics are how it’s perceived by the target audience and how they respond to it. Similarly, if your flirting doesn’t have the effects you hope for, that’s not the fault of the woman you’re trying to approach. It means that there’s something about your approach that doesn’t work for that person at that time. Take a lesson from marketing and assess how and when you’re flirting, rather than blaming or attacking someone.
That means being aware of how other people perceive you. You might be an awesome guy who would never hurt anyone. But if you’re physically big, or if you take up a lot of space (physically or energetically), if you’re in a setting in which she can’t get away (like an elevator or on a plane), you’ll do better if you’re more gentle in your approach. Even if none of those things are true, try being more gentle and see how that works for you. While it goes against “traditional” gender roles, that’s what makes it work. The usual gender roles are exactly what got us into this mess in the first place.
Given that I’m a cat person, I think of it as making my lap inviting so that the cat will want to come sit with me, rather than dragging it out from under the bed and getting angry when it bites me and runs away. Sure, there are some cats who like it when random people pick them up. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the many other cats who hate it. That’s one of the things that makes being inviting so effective- it works on more cat s than an aggressive approach and the ones who don’t want your attention at all can go their own way without anyone getting hurt. Chasing a cat is not going to convince it that it’s safe with you.
Making yourself inviting means letting go of your attachment to the outcome of your desire. When you can engage with someone without expecting any particular result, you can receive any reply without taking it personally. No matter how a specific woman responds, you won’t jump to conclusions about what that implies about you. There are a lot of reasons someone might not want to accept your invitation, and many of them really have nothing to do with you.
Making yourself inviting means enjoying the conversation, in and of itself. Even if that’s the only interaction you have with someone, that doesn’t mean that it didn’t go anywhere. Let go of the notion that success means anything other than a good connection. If that leads to something else, have fun! But if you only think of the flirting as a means to an end, rather than something fun on its own, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and resentment.
Making yourself inviting means investing your energy and time in a future payoff. If someone’s not available or interested right now, you can leave room for a future connection. Offer your contact info without asking for or expecting hers. Maybe she’ll reply, or maybe you’ll run into her at another party. If she’s someone you already know, you’ll see her again. Take the pressure off her and you’re much more likely to get the response you want.
Making yourself inviting means knowing how to offer an invitation that makes it clear that you value her consent and honor her autonomy. Start off with “if you’re interested…” and follow up with what you’re offering. Demonstrate that her interest is a requirement for you. In a world that actively shames women for their desires and that tells them that their consent is irrelevant, that can be a powerful thing and it’ll make you memorable.
Making yourself inviting means being able to have a conversation with someone and not letting your attraction distract you too much. As an exercise, try walking down the street without assessing women’s attractiveness. There’s nothing wrong with looking at pretty people, but it’s a problem when all you can see about someone is whether you’d have sex with them or not. A lot of guys get so used to scanning a crowd for a pretty face or a hot body that they lose the ability to see past that. It’s good to practice not doing that and it’ll make it much easier to let go of your attachment to the outcome of your desire. Just to be clear- I’m not saying it’s a problem to look. It’s a problem when you can’t maintain eye contact without checking out someone’s cleavage or when all you care about is whether you think someone is hot. If you’re not interested in someone as a person, don’t be surprised if she’s not responsive to your advances.
Making yourself inviting means learning how to manage your sexual energy instead of letting it take over. It means accepting that it can feel intrusive, even when that’s not what you meant. It means being able to apologize for hurting someone, even when it wasn’t your intention. It means understanding that someone’s lack of interest or unavailability isn’t necessarily a rejection of you. Making yourself inviting means learning emotional and energetic self-regulation, which is part of emotional intelligence.
Will this sort of flirting work all the time? Of course not. For a lot of different reasons, there are plenty of women who will misunderstand what you’re doing and think that your less aggressive approach signals a lack of interest or that you’re not macho enough for them. But in my experience, the tradeoff is worth it and you’ll get far fewer defensive, angry reactions. And you really are more likely to get what you want when it’s based on a foundation of respect.
Even more important that that, though, is that it starts to shift the ways in which gender roles and sexual communication work. It’s time to stop feeding the cycle of war between genders. And yes, I have lots to say to women about what they can do about that, too. But I’m not willing to expect women to make the first move on this one. Besides, it’s much more effective to model what you want other people to do than to demand they take the first step.
Ultimately, I want you (yes, you!) to be able to create the sexual and loving relationships you want. Adapting your flirting and cruising methods to take int account the history of sexual intrusion and assault that most women have experienced and the deeply ingrained and dysfunctional gender roles modern society holds will make them much more effective.
This is a great article with some points that are important not just for male-female relationships, but important in life in general.
I have a comment regarding these two sentences:
I´m not sure that ¨harrass, stalk, annoy¨ is ever an intention. It certainly isn´t always the intention, even when it is the result. Some men are socially awkward and don´t realize that what they are doing is harassing or stalking. Many men are absolutely convinced that all women love being catcalled and whistled to (I´ve argued with quite a few of them.) For many, many others… the harassing or stalking is a reaction (that they think is completely normal and acceptable) to the woman´s lack of interest.
While I truly appreciate you directing this article to men who want to be allies, and I realize that this is very important… I think it can be dangerous to try to make the distinction between men whose intentions are to flirt, talk to, date or possible form relationship with the women they are trying to pick up and men who intentionally harass women.
Christina B, you’re right that there’s more complexity there than I unpacked. Though I have to wonder- among the men who think that catcalling is an effective technique, have any of them ever said that it worked? None of the women I’ve ever talked with about it have said that it’s appealing.
There is, of course, the long-running message that men need to be persistent/pushy because women say no when they mean yes. Personally, I’d rather not give my time to someone who plays those kinds of games. I have much more fun with folks who say yes when they mean it and no when they mean it.
I’ll have to think more about what you said. Thanks!
At my most charitable, I think the notion that [treat people as if they’re people] somehow interferes with the ability to flirt speaks most poorly of one’s alleged ability to flirt.
For this sort of behavior, however, I think the time to be charitable has passed.
I can’t take seriously any claims involving a sudden lack of ability to flirt. I just can’t. At the moment, and from my experience, these are NOT people who simply don’t know how to flirt* or don’t understand “what works on the hot chicks these days,” these are people who have been rebuffed for being jerks and are complaining about it in the same way a ship will fire aft torpedoes as they are escaping an attack. They KNOW the difference between flirting on one hand and predatory, pushy, unacceptable behavior on the other. They don’t misunderstand what “no” means — they simply push harder for a “yes.”
Trying to “teach” them flirting wastes time and effort, which is the only reasonable goal such complaints may hope to produce.
I think the simplest response to someone complaining about being unable to flirt is to tell them that their complaint is specious, their motives transparent, and their objections infantile. Adding a note to the effect that they are being watched by other men, judged by other men, and will be stopped by other men is just icing on the cake.
One’s mileage may, of course, vary.
* Sure, it’s possible, but honestly, if they’re at the point where they need to be told pushy predatory behavior isn’t “flirting,” then they need professional help anyway.
Christina B. writes “I´m not sure that ¨harrass, stalk, annoy¨ is ever an intention. It certainly isn´t always the intention, even when it is the result. Some men are socially awkward and don´t realize that what they are doing is harassing or stalking.”
It is possible, I think, for someone to completely over-react to an innocent flirt (thus escalating mischief), but rare.
It is much more likely (based on what I’ve seen) that the behavior is exactly MEANT to push someone from a “no” to a “yes.”
Men are allowed to be socially awkward up until about the age of five or six. After that, no excuse. Catcalling, wolf-whistling, and a wide variety of other behaviors are deliberate actions with a specific intention in mind. They are rarely* the signs of someone who is simply socially clueless.
We need to knock it off.
“I think it can be dangerous to try to make the distinction between men whose intentions are to flirt, talk to, date or possible form relationship with the women they are trying to pick up and men who intentionally harass women.”
I think it is a distraction. On a practical level, there are two kinds of men** under discussion:
1. Those who view women*** as people. They are usually a pleasure to be around. They find partners that are also a pleasure to be around and their lives are generally happy.
2. Those who don’t view women*** as people. They try angles, push where they see weakness, and use every trick possible, including cajoling, intimidation, emotional manipulation, etc. They troll around looking for the latest and greatest techniques, hoping to find ways of cracking the nut that is woman. It’s just a game.
Naturally, one’s mileage may vary, but I have a feeling that when we stop excusing crappy behavior, the excuses for crappy behavior may just dry up.
* I DO mean rarely. We learn how to interact with people by watching how people interact with people. We are socially smart and clever, and we observe reward/punishment cycles very clearly. Consider this: the social punishment for harassing a woman can be ameliorated or even eliminated by claiming one is “clueless.” <— This is an AWESOME excuse! Who WOULDN’T use it?!
** and women, but that’s too complicated to hit yet.
*** or potential partners.
Edward Martin III, one thing I think worth mentioning is that people with Asperger’s Syndrome and other differences in cognition do have difficulty reading emotional cues. Without disagreeing with you about how some men will use that sort of thing as an excuse for their lack of willingness to pay attention to non-verbal communication, I do think we need to not overstate the case.
“…one thing I think worth mentioning is that people with Asperger’s Syndrome and other differences in cognition do have difficulty reading emotional cues.”
I understand what you’re saying, I think it’s a valid point, and recognize that there might exist such a situation where AD was a confounding factor — I just think (based on my experiences and the experiences I’ve heard of or read of) that the odds are so low as to make the case extraordinary.
Consider, though, the notion of changing the title of the essay to “Something I Want Men with Asperger’s Syndrome and other Cognitive Difficulties To Know Before Flirting With Women”* instead of what it is now. If the title specifies that this is FOR men with such conditions, then your reminder is extremely on the dot (and I would defer my responses accordingly, of course).
But men, as a rule, know the difference.
* not suggesting you change the name — just a thought experiment.
Thanks Charlie for posting this.
I agree with Edward Martin III in saying that men who engage in predatory/pushy behavior and make unacceptable advances intentionally “KNOW the difference between flirting on one hand and predatory, pushy, unacceptable behavior on the other.”
I think the ones who don’t know how to flirt come across and nerdy, awkward, or (worse case scenario) creepy.
I just wanted to add one tid-bit of information that a lot of the modern version of this is learned behavior. and men are paying good money to learn this.
There are numerous “Dating Coaches” and “Pick up Role Models” who make a good living teaching the exact opposite of what you tried to accomplish in this post.
I am talking about the so called “Seduction Community” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seduction_community
Here is a very small example of what they teach to men who want to learn how to flirt properly: http://attraction-chronicles.blogspot.com/2006/03/power-of-cocky-and-funny-negs.html
The audience to this range from self proclaimed Raging Sex Addicts who want to increase number of their daily “lays” from 3 to 5, to the Nice Nerdy Guys with self esteem issues who never learned how to make proper eye contact and smile.
We are talking about very few role model ass holes teaching an entire generation of men how to become better assholes by the aid of modern technology.
Lesson #1 they teach is: After you fail an approach, try again, and again. and again. If you got angry, that is good, use your anger to try harder. Success comes only in numbers.
Lesson #2 is: Nice Guys Finish Last! If you keep failing, you are not aggressive enough and not a big enough “ass hole”. Women are not attracted to girly men, they want strong, confident, etc…. etc…. but don’t worry, keep trying and in time the rejections will turn you into a genuine ass hole.
I totally agree that what they teach is making the situation and the whole society worse for everybody! But this is a business which is not going away anytime soon.
And such dating coaches did not simply come up with this material out of thin air. They did their homework. The more Happy/Attractive/Successful Guys are generally the most successful with women. It is hard to teach people to be more Happy and more Successful, and there is little which can be done in regards to changing one’s physical attractiveness.
The second most successful group of men are the more aggressive/ass hole guys who prey on insecurities of women.
It is still hard to teach one how to become an ass hole if they are not, but it is easier than teaching someone to become more Happy/Attractive/Successful. So they adopted such negative teaching methods.
The early versions were identified quickly and backfired on them, so they evolved it and made it harder to detect.
Of course I am saying all of this in very general terms, summarizing what they teach etc… just to give you the big picture of what is going on. Actual life is much more complicated than the few things I mentioned above.
It takes a good Evolutionary Psychologist to study this. I am just an ordinary man.
Thank you for this excellent article! I really like the section on being inviting, and I want to add to it. I’m speaking as a man who mostly dates women.
Successful flirting (which I’ve only gotten good at relatively recently) seems to be a dance where the people involved switch who is leading. One person makes an initial, very subtle, move of some sort. Then they wait until the other person responds with a slightly less subtle move of their own. Then the first person makes a still more obvious move. And so on. The moves are mostly verbal, things like: talking about what you’re looking for in dating, or a compliment on their outfit, or what have you.
The series of moves usually span multiple events for me – I tend to only hook up with or date someone after having seen them a number of times.
In this way, I *know* when women are interested in me, which it should be noted does not happen very often. If I make a very subtle move and I get no response, she’s not interested. If there have been a whole series of back-and-forth escalating flirtatious comments before we even touch, then she’s definitely interested in me. This helps me get out of the gender-poisoned initial confusion over whether this person likes me or not, and means that I never overstep someone’s comfort level or boundaries.
I can’t recommend this slow dance of words enough. I have peace of mind around how I’m treating women and I get a lot more dates since figuring out how to do this.
Edward Martin III, I’m going to disagree with you. I work with men in non-monogamous communities around relationships and flirting, and they often do not know many of the things presented in this essay, including how to flirt, why women are defensive, and so on.
I agree with you that there are some subset of men who in fact feel it is their right to act towards women however they want. Perhaps it is just the communities I am in, but these are a small subset of the guys I talk to. Most guys I talk to are in fact socially awkward, or do not have this level of understanding, or both. Education goes a long ways with these guys, which is why I do it. While I think it is important to not excuse malicious or entitled actions, I think it is a serious mistake to assume that maliciousness or entitlement is the only thing going on here. We live in a culture that sets men up to act shitty towards women, and so many well-meaning guys do exactly that without realizing it.
If you flirt with me and I flirt back, it’s flirtation.
If you flirt with me and I tell you I’m not interested in a clear verbal way, and you pout, complain, argue, yell, accuse or threaten, that’s not flirting.
“I’m not interested int talking to you, please go away” is not unclear, and doing anything other than turning/looking or walking away is harassment.
I seriously don’t care what the intention behind either is, ’cause let be honest, a lot of men don’t seem to realize that what they are doing is causing discomfort, or might be felt as harassment. They don’t think they are bothering, they think they are flirting, and that the problem is that the woman in front of them isn’t being a good little accommodating timid 1950’s co-ed.
It speaks to an entitlement that is incredible unappealing. If somebody sees me on a subway car at 1am, dressed plainly, covered up and with my head in a book, that’s NOT the universe cutting you a break by trapping a fish in a barrel for you.
I don’t care what men <i>intend</i>, I want them to <b>take direction</b>. “Go away, silently” is clear.
When I say no, I mean “No”. There won’t be another no. There will be a pull of the emergency alarm, combined by me screaming at the top of my voice that this person is harassing me and that I need people to call security.
People who don’t hear the first ‘no’ rarely hear the second.
I really think that the only solution is for single mothers like me to raise their sons well, and for married women with sons to hopefully have chosen good men as an example.
Pepper writes “One person makes an initial, very subtle, move of some sort. Then they wait until the other person responds with a slightly less subtle move of their own. Then the first person makes a still more obvious move. And so on.”
Sure, that’s great flirting.
But the kind of people who do the kind of things that are causing problems? That’s not flirting. That’s basically tapping on the glass of an aquarium. Tap, tap, tap. One’s self-worth is driven by how many fish one can startle. If the fish* doesn’t respond, then tap harder. Keep tapping until a response happens. These kinds of people think they deserve a response.
What you’re talking about is flirting. Flirting’s awesome. Flirting isn’t the problem.
Although I could be wrong, given caveats above.
* or woman or whatever. It doesn’t matter. Woman, kid, animal, whatever. As long as it jerks in response, it fills the need, and if it doesn’t, one can flame out at it.
Pepper writes “Edward Martin III, I’m going to disagree with you. I work with men in non-monogamous communities around relationships and flirting, and they often do not know many of the things presented in this essay, including how to flirt, why women are defensive, and so on.”
You may disagree with me.
I AM a man in non-monogamous communities, and know tons, as well as people in sci-fi communitites, BDSM communities, and a few others. I absolutely KNOW the difference between flirting on one hand and demanding a response to my attention on the other. If I claimed “Oh, I’m just socially clueless,” I can absolutely guarantee I’m lying my ass off. I missed the occasional social cue when I was a kid. And maybe once or twice as an adult — and it was mortifying. But I learned IMMEDIATELY, and didn’t make THOSE mistakes again.
As I’ve mentioned, though, these are my own experiences and the experiences of people I’ve known, or read about or heard about.
Also, there’s some research to suggest that we DO understand “no” signals — we just plain don’t care to follow them:
“Perhaps it is just the communities I am in, but these are a small subset of the guys I talk to.”
Perhaps it is the communities I’m in — I absolutely do not believe someone who is an adult claiming to be “socially awkward” when what they are doing is personally pushing into other people’s situation. It’s like a get-out-of-groping-free card. I do not permit it as an excuse at events I host.
“Most guys I talk to are in fact socially awkward, or do not have this level of understanding, or both.”
One’s mileage may vary. Every single person — without exception — I’ve known of who claimed to be “socially awkward” was involved in multiple instances across multiple social environments of causing trouble.
“Education goes a long ways with these guys, which is why I do it.”
Be it so. I am a little more sanguinary about such activity. Other folks with more patience can spend all the time they like educating, my primary goal in such situations is to stop the behavior at once. Education consists of “And that’s what happens when you’re an asshole.”
“While I think it is important to not excuse malicious or entitled actions, I think it is a serious mistake to assume that maliciousness or entitlement is the only thing going on here. We live in a culture that sets men up to act shitty towards women, and so many well-meaning guys do exactly that without realizing it.”
I used to care about their reasons, until they all started sounding the same. Now, I think the only solution is to stop the behavior.
I cannot accept that a man who pushes for a “yes” when being told “no” or who pushes personal sexual boundaries in any way, shape, or form is “well-meaning.” A man who doesn’t understand that acting “shitty toward women” doesn’t need education — he needs his ass kicked to the curb.
Blaze writes “If you flirt with me and I tell you I’m not interested in a clear verbal way, and you pout, complain, argue, yell, accuse or threaten, that’s not flirting.”
“…a lot of men don’t seem to realize that what they are doing is causing discomfort, or might be felt as harassment.”
I think they just don’t CARE.
“I really think that the only solution is for single mothers like me to raise their sons well, and for married women with sons to hopefully have chosen good men as an example.”
We gotta be the change we want to see. What behavior we excuse we make acceptable.
There is an element to underlying this discussion that is hinted at in the post and in some comments, but only explicitly mentioned in Blaze´s comment. There are times that it doesn´t matter how your approach me, I´m not interested in flirting or being hit on. If I´m walking at a fast past, if I have headphones on, if I´m reading a book or the newspaper or a magazine… don´t try to strike up a conversation with me. I´m probably not going to be very receptive, and it´s not because I misunderstand your intentions.
Edward Martin III, I agree that most men who are pushy know that they are being pushy. Still, I think most of them don´t do it with the explicit intention of harassing the woman. I think most of them do it because they think that is perfectly acceptable means to their end, their end being anywhere from getting her attention to having sex with her (consensual or not) or a relationship with her. In which case, I agree. Teaching them ways to flirt respectfully won´t make any difference. However, I agree with Pepper. I think it´s a small subset.
Charlie, I live in Panama and when I first got here, I noticed a behavior that seemed strange to me. Men passing in cars would beep at me insistently… not just once as they drove by… and if, by chance, I turned to look, they would have a huge, almost dorky smile on their face and wave to me. Getting beeped at drives me up a wall, but this waving, dorky smile made me laugh and honestly wonder what kind of response they expected. Then, one day, I saw this happen with a group of young Panamenian girls of a certain social class and the girls waved back giggling (I mention the social class because this society is very segregated based on socio-economic class and this behavior would NEVER get a positive response from women of a different class). Sometimes these behaviors do actually work.
Christina B writes “Still, I think most of them don´t do it with the explicit intention of harassing the woman. I think most of them do it because they think that is perfectly acceptable means to their end, their end being anywhere from getting her attention to having sex with her (consensual or not) or a relationship with her.”
That makes sense, too. That’s what I was thinking of earlier when I used the phrase “tapping on the glass.” it’s from an essay I wrote: http://www.petting-zoo.org/2012/05/18/tapping-the-glass/
“However, I agree with Pepper. I think it´s a small subset.”
I truly hope it always moves toward smaller and smaller.
“Sometimes these behaviors do actually work.”
I think this illustrates that it is important for each person to understand their own environment and what its signals and language might be. I get… itchy… when I read how someone SHOULD respond when it makes more sense to me to think “Well, shouldn’t someone feel as if they can respond however they wished, given their understanding of the environment?”
That can be tricky, though, because it nudges close to somewhat dangerous semantic territory.
Inferno writes “Asperger’s does not have anything to do with this topic unless you wish to discus how the same sorts of assholes who get pissy with women and turn hostile also like to pick on anyone different like those with Asperger disorder.”
Oh dear, please don’t hang that one on Charlie — I used that phrase ONLY as a thought experiment*. I apologize if it seems at all as if it came from him.
“…many learn better communication skills when it comes to dating than the average guy simply because they take the time to memorize body language and gestural communication.”
The people I know who identify as having AD have not EVER been the sort of folks I would associate with the troubles mentioned in this thread. That’s what I meant when I wrote “I just think (based on my experiences and the experiences I’ve heard of or read of) that the odds are so low as to make the case extraordinary.”
I apologize if it came across any way other than intended.
* to illustrate, in fact, that there’s probably NOT an overlap with the AD world.
I have only a little experience with people with AS, but my exposure so far is that there is an obvious difference between the genuinely “clueless” like people who have trouble with social cues, and the jerks who respond to “guys, it makes women uncomfortable to be hit on in an elevator, just don’t do that” with “YOU JUST WANT TO KEEP ANYONE FROM EVER GETTING LAID AGAIN!”
The people I’ve met so far with AS seem to be painfully aware that they have difficulty navigating social complexities and often ask for help. In fact, that’s one of the things that might signal someone who has AS – it’s not usually “polite” to just blurt out “I don’t understand what you all are doing here, can you give me a checklist of what not to do?”, and so being not polite, is something a person with AS might just do because he or she has trouble with that very thing that would have told the rest of us that it’s not polite.
That was awkward and ungainly, I apologize.
My point is that the really “clueless” people out there are often distinguishable from the jerks by their desire to learn the “proper” way. Someone can be both clueless AND an entitled jerk, and, if that’s the case, my experience suggests that giving him the cheatsheet doesn’t fix the entitled-jerk part.
All that being said, however, I am still posting this article with a “YES! What he said!” for 2 reasons: 1) There are guys who are not “clueless”, but who where specifically taught to do the sorts of things that is pissing women off. They’re not unaware & making mistakes, they were TOLD that this is how you play the game. So, for those who just haven’t seen yet that the other players (the women being harassed) don’t like this game and the “no-no-no” isn’t playing along, I want to hand them a playbook for the game we WANT to be playing;
2) Most of the people I’m engaging with at the moment are people who are just like I was roughly a year ago and more – people who thought we won the gender wars & reached full equality, and all this harassment stuff was a thing of the past. I’m seeing a lot of people finally raise their voices in support simply because they didn’t know this shit was still happening and thought everything was OK now. In all our years of fighting sexism & harassment, a lot of women learned only 1 lesson – that nobody cares and if we’re having a problem, it must be our fault because we “won”, so there shouldn’t be anything else to complain about.
So if all the women are keeping shut because we know that no one will listen to us anyway & only blame us if they do hear, it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that a lot of people are just completely unaware that this is still a widespread, systemic problem.
So what I want to do is make this problem visible. I want to bombard people with stories of women being harassed and of men who are standing up for women. I want to make it so that no one can ignore a woman’s complaints anymore and I want to make it so that those problem men can’t ignore the rest of the men withdrawing their support for poor behaviour and the silent men can find courage in numbers to end their silence.
This may not actually stop harassers from harassing since, as has been pointed out, many of these guys know exactly what a rejection is, they just choose to ignore it. It may not stop them, but my hope is that women can take heart to learn that there are still men on our side and other men will start to feel the pressure to join the vocal ranks to stop the jerks. For me, reposting this is less about actually teaching flirting skills (although I hope it will), and more about adding one more voice of support so that it becomes MORE socially acceptable to speak out than keep silent – the reverse of what it is now – simply because the numbers of people making noise is now more than those keeping silent.
Edward Martin III, I love the tapping the glass analogy. I agree %100 percent that there are people who wreak havoc (emotionally and otherwise) in other people´s lives because they are only thinking about getting their own needs met. In my personal experience, women do this just as much as men, but the tactics are different. Men tend, more than women, to be physically violent, intimidating, coercive in getting their own needs met.
We are social creatures and everyone to some extent (some more than others) needs to feel that other people respond to us in a positive way. We need emotional support and we need to feel connected with someone.
We also need to admit and be responsible for our own needs. Furthermore, as adults, we need to accept that no one obligated to fulfill them. (I personally think that parents are obligated to fulfill their children´s needs to a certain age because they choose to have children, but that is a different conversation.) If I may interpret the post, I think this ¨Making yourself inviting means letting go of your attachment to the outcome of your desire¨ is essentially referring to taking responsibility for your own needs and accepting if the other person don´t feel like fulfilling them.
Social problems are complex. I think that we need to attack them from different sides. Personally, I´m with you. I don´t have much patience for people whose only concern is fulfilling their own immediate needs. On the other hand, I think that it is important that other people, who have the patience and the energy to do so, work with them. Alienating them will minimize the behavior, but it won´t change attitudes or emotional responses. It only represses it. It´s difficult to be congruent. Its difficult to act congruently with what you think for two reasons. 1. We learn social behavior in social contexts and sometimes we don´t realize that our behavior is incongruent with what we say and we need someone to point it out. Most times, we need to leave that context in order to learn it. 2. We react emotionally before we react intellectually. Depending on the context, the emotion that is provoked and the capacity of each person to understand and manage their emotions, it can take 5 seconds, 5 minutes or 5 years to overcome that emotional response and learn from what has happened. Then, it can take another 5 years to learn to react emotionally in a different way.
I know that if a man comes up to me and I say to him calmly ¨I just want to be alone. I really don´t feel like talking to anyone right now,¨ the probability that he leave me alone without further complication is higher. However, I don´t always have the peace of mind to do that.
I enjoyed your post. One thing worth mentioning is that most of us are not taught how to flirt. Your post is very helpful in giving men (and women) some guidance on the approach and how to accept a response (whatever that response may be). Unfortunately, most of us learn our sexual communication skills from our parents (oh my), trial and error or from TV, movies, magazines or other people. Most of these are not the best of teachers. Thus, we end up where we are… but hopefully, willing to learn different and more effective approaches.
Joreth, I agree. Honestly, I thought twice about re-posting this article, but I have a lot of friends, male and female, who would learn a lot from reading it.
Blah blah blah.
I’ve been – I won’t say following this advice, because that implies a choice – I’ve been behaving the way you advocate all my life because it’s my nature.
And you know what? This:
“there are plenty of women who will misunderstand what you’re doing and think that your less aggressive approach signals a lack of interest or that you’re not macho enough for them”
has only gotten more common, not less. And I’m at the stage where being smug about my moral superiority is no longer any consolation. So what am I supposed to do?
Face facts: the only people reading articles like this already ARE the change they want to see in the world. The guys you’re actually aiming for are too busy having power-struggly, point-scoring, barely-consensual sex to give a shit.
Christina B writes ” If I may interpret the post, I think this ¨Making yourself inviting means letting go of your attachment to the outcome of your desire¨ is essentially referring to taking responsibility for your own needs and accepting if the other person don´t feel like fulfilling them.”
Yeah, I liked that part, too, and saw it similarly. The asking is less of an issue than the not-willing-to-accept-the-no.
“On the other hand, I think that it is important that other people, who have the patience and the energy to do so, work with them.”
I used to think that until I realized that this was a honeypot.
Consider this, as a thought experiment: The prize is getting to fondle someone, or possibly have sex with them. The cost is to publicly claim you’re “socially clueless” and suffer through a few lectures. It’s a small price to pay!
“Alienating them will minimize the behavior, but it won´t change attitudes or emotional responses. It only represses it.”
I’m okay with social shaming, mostly because this is shameful behavior. I WANT to repress it. I cannot make someone start treating women as if they are people, but I can make it absolutely clear that until they can wrap their brains around that, then THEY are part of the problem.
“Depending on the context, the emotion that is provoked and the capacity of each person to understand and manage their emotions, it can take 5 seconds, 5 minutes or 5 years to overcome that emotional response and learn from what has happened.”
As long as they change the behavior immediately, then can process all they like and in any way that makes sense to them.
Udall writes “One thing worth mentioning is that most of us are not taught how to flirt.”
and then writes
“…most of us learn our sexual communication skills from our parents (oh my), trial and error or from TV, movies, magazines or other people.”
That IS where we’re taught how to flirt.
Bill writes “And I’m at the stage where being smug about my moral superiority is no longer any consolation. So what am I supposed to do?”
Reassess your goals.
More specifically, complete the sentence you started: “So what am I supposed to do to ________________.”
Being smug, being morally superior, wanting consolation as a reward… these are all… dodgy means to an unspoken end.
“the only people reading articles like this already ARE the change they want to see in the world.”
Not all of them.
“The guys you’re actually aiming for are too busy having power-struggly, point-scoring, barely-consensual sex to give a shit.”
This is one of the reasons lists such as this don’t work very well (http://www.petting-zoo.org/2012/06/05/cops/).
The target is not to figure out the trick to understanding women. The target is to stop people from preying on other people.
Let me be clear, Ed.
I’m lonely. I have an active social life, plenty of friends of both sexes and one or two in between, I get on well with most people and have never even been called creepy as far as I know. I have heard that I’m “too nice”, though. And I get that. Understanding women is not the issue. Attaining the sustained physical and emotional intimacy I desperately crave, without compromising my basic values and “preying on other people” to do so, is.
You say I should reassess that goal and abandon it in favour of …what? The article you linked to talks about policing one’s own social group: should I be auditing my friends’ relationships to make sure there’s nothing remotely exploitative going on? Thanks, but if I’d wanted to spend my life as a celibate censor of other people’s chosen lifestyles I’d have trained for the priesthood when I was given the chance.
Meanwhile, the world outside my social group gets more exploitative every day, despite the efforts of better and more influential people than me. So please don’t patronise me.
Edward Martin III writes:
“That IS where we’re taught how to flirt.”
And I should note that that the “flirting” we are taught via culture involves, among many other problems, guys being way too pushy with women. Check out your average romantic comedy for great examples of coercion and quasi-abusive behavior. This “flirting” is not how one actually flirts well, and is in fact damaging. But yet it is all that many guys have to work with as an example.
I’m all on board with telling guys to halt their bad behavior, and taking action against them if they don’t. Often that is what it takes to break them out of a culture-supported reverie of entitlement.
But doing so works a lot better if you give them positive examples of how to do it: “don’t flirt like that, flirt like this instead”. I feel like that is what Charlie is doing in this post, and I wholeheartedly support it. Sure, there are some guys who will use “I’m learning how” as an excuse to throw up roadblocks and continue shitty behavior, but the vast majority of men will quickly change what they do when presented with a better option.
I feel like we’re talking about two different sorts of guys (with overlap, of course) on this comment thread. I hold sex parties and dance parties, and I see both. There are the guys who are in fact manipulative and entitled – I throw a handful of them out of every party. But there aren’t a lot of them – maybe 5 or 6 at a party with 200 people, and I’ll usually manage to throw out 2-3 of those. On the other hand, there are a significant number of well-meaning guys who just never learned how to flirt in a way that doesn’t create pressure. I might have 20 of those at my 200-person party. Instead of throwing them out, I have party hosts try to educate them, either by intervening, by setting up rules, or by creating certain sorts of expectations or a particular environment. This education takes well, and that’s how the party moves forward with the majority of folks being on board with decent behavior.
Focusing on disciplining the 6-ish serious problem people, while important, does not address the larger group of folks who are creating an issue through ignorance rather than maliciousness, a group whose habits are incidentally creating cover for the incorrigible types. We have to address both groups.
I’m not trying to set up “good guys” versus “bad guys” here. I understand that most guys have been at most points on this scale at some point, and I’m not trying to excuse bad behavior as “just clueless”. Rather, I’m saying that we need well-tailored strategies if we are going to actually change culture.
Bill writes “I’m lonely.”
Your earlier responses suggested as much. If that is the driving force behind your interactions, then your results do not surprise me.
“I have heard that I’m “too nice”, though.”
Well, I wouldn’t worry about that. I don’t know you personally, but I’ve never known ANYONE to offer “you’re too [a good quality]” with any sort of sincerity. It’s one of those things someone says when they don’t want to say what it is that they want to say.
“Understanding women is not the issue.”
If you think “you’re too nice” is sincere, then perhaps it IS the issue.
Although “understanding women” as a goal is pretty heinous, too. It’s not as if they’re a strange alien species. They’re human beings.
“Attaining the sustained physical and emotional intimacy I desperately crave, without compromising my basic values and “preying on other people” to do so, is.”
This is a false dichotomy and I suspect — based on your responses here — that it’s driving you a little crazy, and almost certainly coloring your interactions with people. It sounds like they notice, too, and are either unwilling or unable to say so. But at least you recognize that this is a desperation for intimacy, which is a good thing, and can maybe help you.
“You say I should reassess that goal and abandon it in favour of …what?”
I understand that we all enjoy intimacy and closeness with a loved one, but honestly, no one wants to be the stopper that plugs a DESPERATION for it. Well, no one that’s emotionally healthy.
If your goal (whether stated or tacit) is to alleviate your loneliness, then — and I mean this as kindly as I can, peer-to-peer — find a hobby. DO something else. Go hiking, learn to dive, start a book or gaming group, just do something that occupies the part of your brain that is otherwise spending its time being desperate to alleviate loneliness. Naturally, I recommend SOCIAL things, but the Internet’s a big place and even stamp collectors have social lives.
The goal is to alleviate your loneliness, but it’s probable that you will never achieve that with another PERSON. It’s something that you work through yourself. You make YOURSELF a whole person.
That would be your own, personal goal with yourself.
As far as social interactions, I’d recommend entirely ditching the goal of getting someone to help you not feel lonely. Being lonely sucks, I know, and I get that, but this is not how you alleviate it. Consider a goal such as “have a good time out with some friends,” as an example. It’s only one example, of course.
“The article you linked to talks about policing one’s own social group: should I be auditing my friends’ relationships to make sure there’s nothing remotely exploitative going on?”
That would be a very silly interpretation of the article. The article describes one of the reasons why such lists as described above aren’t terribly successful.
“…if I’d wanted to spend my life as a celibate censor of other people’s chosen lifestyles I’d have trained for the priesthood when I was given the chance.”
Interestingly enough, that’s pretty much exactly what you’re doing here, with the exception of an additional expectation that by being “nice enough,” you’ll win the way toward your goal: alleviating your loneliness.
“Meanwhile, the world outside my social group gets more exploitative every day…”
I had a friend in college. One of my roomies. He kept trying to get a girlfriend by being nice. He wasn’t ACTUALLY a nice guy, but he was convinced that’s how it worked — you put “nice” in one end and legs spread open on the other. He often complained that he wasn’t “getting any” and that the only people he saw “getting any” were people who were being assholes. I often managed to convince him that “being an asshole” won them nothing of value (and would have won him nothing of value), but every once in a while, I didn’t get through to him and there would be mischief.
I had another friend. An acquaintance, really. He was the sort of person who was exactly that kind of exploiting jerk. He would even brag about the phrases that convinced women he was trustworthy. Twenty-one years later, I’m catching up on various social news and through a completely different source, I learn that he is STILL this way. After twenty-one years, he’s still a complete asshole. He’s never had a relationship last longer than a month or three, and the social group he “cruised” pretty much ousted him after victim #3. But it didn’t phase him — in a big wide world, there’s always someone who can fall for his tricks. For a while.
So don’t be too quick to judge those guys who are “too busy having power-struggly, point-scoring, barely-consensual sex” as winning anything in particular. I doubt it allevates their loneliness very much.
“So please don’t patronise me.”
On the contrary.
Pepper writes “I feel like that is what Charlie is doing in this post, and I wholeheartedly support it.”
I support good behaviors.
“I feel like we’re talking about two different sorts of guys (with overlap, of course) on this comment thread.”
I hope so. I truly do.
“This education takes well, and that’s how the party moves forward with the majority of folks being on board with decent behavior.”
“I’m saying that we need well-tailored strategies if we are going to actually change culture.”
Charlie Glickman, Lots to unpack here, but I just wanted to point out that catcalling seems to be mostly about homosociality, not about actually getting a date. I’m pretty sure you know this, but I wanted to make it explicit!
Thanks for a great article…
jeffliveshere, for sure. In fact, my post The Performance of Masculinity discusses that. 🙂
I *knew* you had, but I had trouble finding it just now!
At this point, invoking Aspberger’s is practically a dogwhistle to harassment apologists — and many Aspberger folks and their advocates consider it a terrible misrepresentation of their capabilities and limitations, too. Just FYI.
Ed, you’re deliberately misunderstanding me.
I’m a pretty well-rounded person. I HAVE hobbies. I HAVE good times with friends. Heck, once in a while I even have sex – good, uplifting, asked-for sex with women I like and respect as the human beings they are. I’m not the one holding up “understanding women” as some great mystery here. They’re just people.
What I’m saying is that the approach Charlie describes and which I’ve always used – of being gentle, unaggressive and respectful in my sexual dealings – has made me lonely, because the number of women who actually appreciate it is vanishingly small and shrinking year on year as social attitudes change. The egalitarian good consent I learned about growing up in the feminist 80s/90s is considered old-fashioned and boring now, and women have told me to my face that I’m not macho, aggressive or controlling enough to keep their interest as anything other than an “honorary girl”. Why do you assume either they or I are being insincere?
Lori S., fair enough. And to respond to some earlier comments, I know that lots of guys make excuses for themselves when they really can’t be bothered to learn better social skills or don’t care. All I was trying to point out is that, like any skill or way of interpreting information, the ability to recognize and process emotional cues and non-verbal communication exists on a spectrum. Some of us have an easier time of it than others, and for some, it only comes with a lot of work and patience. Amy Marsh has some really good resources on the topic and they’re worth checking out.
But yeah, you’re right and it’s not fair for people who actually have Asperger’s when other folks use it as a smokescreen.
Bill writes “Ed, you’re deliberately misunderstanding me.”
It’s entirely possible I’m misunderstanding you. I’m not so sure you’re qualified to claim it’s deliberate, however. 😉
“What I’m saying is that the approach Charlie describes and which I’ve always used – of being gentle, unaggressive and respectful in my sexual dealings – has made me lonely, because the number of women who actually appreciate it is vanishingly small and shrinking year on year as social attitudes change.”
I understand what you’re saying.
I don’t think THAT is what has produced your situation, however.
The notion that you think of it as “an approach,” however, is telling.
“The egalitarian good consent I learned about growing up in the feminist 80s/90s is considered old-fashioned and boring now…”
I think if your social circles consider treating each other as equals and being sure of consent is “old fashioned and boring,” then maybe it’s time to reconsider your social circle.
“…women have told me to my face that I’m not macho, aggressive or controlling enough to keep their interest as anything other than an “honorary girl”.”
What a peculiar thing to say.
Are these the kinds of people you want in your life?
“Why do you assume either they or I are being insincere?”
As I mentioned earlier, whenever I run across “you’re too [a good thing],” it almost always appears to be a soft-pedal for news that might otherwise have been considered poorly. It’s just one of the many forms of “it’s not you, it’s me,” which is funny, because we all KNOW the latter is feel-good horseshit (usually), yet the former somehow gets a free pass.
I don’t think you are being insincere (nor did I suggest that). I think you sincerely DO think that this is a matter of how to approach women such that they can alleviate your loneliness.
That’s the problem, I suspect.
Loneliness and desperation are a huge turn-off, in general.
If I get into a relationship with someone, its because he has some qualities that make the butterflies in my stomach flutter. Nice, respectful and unaggressive are prerequisites, but they are not the qualities that make me fall in love with someone. Furthermore, to keep me interested, I want to know and feel that I have certain qualities that give him butterflies in the stomach and I don´t want those qualities to be ¨nice, respectful and unaggressive¨. They should be prerequisites for him as well.
Also, if your egalitarianism, feminism and non-aggressiveness are your values, why are asking advice from someone who would tell you that you´re ¨not macho, aggressive or controlling enough to keep their interest as anything other than an “honorary girl”. The person who told you this obviously does not share your values. Perhaps that is part of the problem. Perhaps you need to surround yourself with more people who share your values and date people who share your values.
I think if your social circles consider treating each other as equals and being sure of consent is “old fashioned and boring,” then maybe it’s time to reconsider your social circle.
Well, that part is less about my existing friends than the new people I meet out and about.
“…women have told me to my face that I’m not macho, aggressive or controlling enough to keep their interest as anything other than an “honorary girl”.”
What a peculiar thing to say. Are these the kinds of people you want in your life?
You might not think so once she’s said something like that, and certainly it’s a bit of a turnoff for me 🙂 But it’s not my place to tell someone their sexual preferences are wrong, and if we’re at the point of having that discussion the chances are I also like her on other levels.
I don’t think you are being insincere (nor did I suggest that).
You’ve repeatedly assumed I’m faking “being nice” as some sort of cynical tactic to get laid (which is clearly not the case or I’d have given it up years ago!), and compared me to old acquaintances of yours who operated at either end of the whiny-fake-nice-guy/callous-user spectrum. So maybe you can see where I got that impression.
And as for alleviating my loneliness – well, I know Charlie has some kind of Zen letting-go-of-attachment philosophy whereby the transcendent man is a universe unto himself, and certainly if I was free from sexual desire I’d be a lot happier; but it’s easy to say money doesn’t matter when you have a million dollars in the bank. That’s just a metaphor, by the way…
Bill, well, actually, I don’t see myself as a universe unto myself. I am deeply invested in many different relationships, including my partner, my family, my friends, and my lovers.
I’ve actually had some of the same experiences you have. I’ve had women tell me (or I’ve heard through the grapevine) that I was “too nice” for them to be attracted to me. I know there are a lot of different reasons for that, but whatever.
The women who are interested in connecting with me tend to enjoy, appreciate, support, and honor my physical and emotional sensitivity. They generally also enjoy it when I express my more masculine side/yang energy/insert whatever metaphor you like. We generally have a back-and-forth with that, but then, I like women with a lot of that blend, too. So that works. It probably also helps that I’m queer and I like queer women.
If you’re not drawn to the women who will appreciate you, that’s one thing. If you’re looking for and not meeting the women who will appreciate you, that’s a different thing. And if you’re not looking for the women who will appreciate you, that’s yet another thing. (I’m not sure that’s an exhaustive list of the possibilities, but that’s what’s coming to me now.)
I hear you- it sounds like a really frustrating situation to be in. I’m not sure what else to say. I’d like to believe that there is someone out there who wants what you offer and offers what you want. And I’d like to believe that you will find each other.
Bill writes “Well, that part is less about my existing friends than the new people I meet out and about.”
It doesn’t matter. Treating each other as equals and being sure of consent should NEVER get “old fashioned and boring.”
“But it’s not my place to tell someone their sexual preferences are wrong…”
Not suggesting you DO, just asking if these are the kinds of people you want in your life. That is a question you are ALWAYS allowed to ask.
“…if we’re at the point of having that discussion the chances are I also like her on other levels.”
If the group you’re choosing to associate with values macho, aggressive, and controlling behavior, and thinks treating each other as equals and consent are “old fashioned and boring,” then it seems like a small price to pay to just put on the team jacket as per the social group you want to be a part of.
I hadn’t realized from the beginning that this WAS the kind of people you wanted to hang out with.
In that case, then, this might help:
In the case you’re describing, you appear to more-or-less have #1 nailed (you want to alleviate your loneliness), you’re dodgy on #2, and you’ve completely failed at #3 and #4.
Given that this is the kind of people you want to associate with, I think it makes sense that following the above advice regarding treating women may not be the advice needed for your preferred social circle.
“You’ve repeatedly assumed I’m faking “being nice” as some sort of cynical tactic to get laid…”
Oh sure, you’re referring to “loneliness,” but yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what you say you’re doing. In your very first post, you ask “So what am I supposed to do?” because you’re “at the stage where being smug about my moral superiority is no longer any consolation.”
Whether or not you’re faking the being nice part seems obvious because of your frustration with “being nice” not producing the desired goals you claim you want: someone to alleviate your loneliness.
Women aren’t machines that you put kindness coins into until they “alleviate your loneliness.”
My advice now is EXACTLY what it was then — reassess your goals.
(with an addendum to focus on the social group you WANT to be a part of and behave with them the way they ask you to behave, although personally, I’d be REALLY leery of joining such a social group for any number of reasons)
Although again, if the people you want to hang out with and associate with are the kinds of people who ARE, well, users, then complaining about the being-nice-fails-to-alleviate-my-loneliness mechanism is a bit off the mark.
My other advice — to fix the loneliness hole yourself — is also still valid. If your model of a relationship is someone who can fix a hole in yourself, it’s probable that you will find yourself only attracting people who think of themselves as fixers. Those situations don’t tend to last very long, because they CAN’T fix the hole of loneliness — that’s something only YOU can do.
“…either end of the whiny-fake-nice-guy/callous-user spectrum.”
Actually, both of them are at the shitty-treating-women-as-objects end of the spectrum.
Ah, Charlie this is so….refreshing. I am reading The Game by Neil Struass and it’s all about gaming chicks so you can make ’em insecure, hence seeking your approval. And it’s all so completely bleak and depressing. So Thanks for this.
Interesting and I agree with the general approach. It’s far better to be inviting rather than persistent and pushy. But it’s still too surface level for me. There’s a whole understanding behind it besides ‘doing what works’ or using a marketing strategy. Then again, I can say this because it’s my personal style and it’s what I feel comfortable doing. A lot of other men might not feel the same way. It may not be their personal style or who they are socially.
However, it seems like instead of doing away with the gender roles, you’re simply reversing them from what you’re guessing they are currently. Rather than women taking responsibility for their (sometimes hostile) behavior towards men when they’re hit on, you’re saying men should be the ones taking responsibility for becoming defensive when they’re attacked in such a way. All of this based on the quantitative calculation that women’s problems are more pervasive and devastating than mens. A kind of “my issues are worse than yours” or “victim prick-waving”.
As you said:
<q cite="So the first thing we need to wrap our brains around is that expecting women to have sympathy for how we feel when this is unpleasant for us is like expecting someone with a broken leg to have sympathy for someone who’s got a sprained finger.
I'm not sure I would minimize anyone whose been verbally or emotionally abused for flirting. Most rapists and/or serial offenders admit to being previously humiliated and abused by women. (Ward et al., “Cognitive Distortions in Sex Offenders.”) The “revenge” tactics of the rapist seeking to humiliate and degrade women doesn’t just occur in a vacuum. This isn’t to suggest rapists are the victims, or that women do it to themselves, or any of that black and white non-sense. What it does suggest is that there’s a lot more interpersonal complexity to these issues than gender-peddlling, blame games, ‘gender wars’, or any ‘sweat-pants’ solution can address.
Drawing on this, I don’t think the positive correlation between men being abused and future rape offenses is something we can brush away lightly. Suggesting that they should “be men” and “tough it out” just suppresses the reality of female on male abuse and a very important element underlying the issue of rape. Notably, the sociological and psychological influences of rape. (I mean the real sociological influences of rape and not the pseudo-science of subliminal messages). By failing to also hold women accountable for their behavior towards men, perhaps we’re not “peeling away another layer of the onion” with regards to how rape culture is enabled in society?
<q=”It’s not fair or reasonable to expect them to assume good intentions every time a guy flirts or makes a move. I would love to live in a world in which that wasn’t the case, and we don’t live there. Deal with it and work to change it, but don’t expect women to act as if it’s safe for them to assume good intentions. Their experience says otherwise. When men lash out online or in person with violent speech and threats of rape or murder, that lets women know that they’re smart to be defensive.”>
Most counselors and psychotherapists I’ve read suggest that suspicious schemas contribute to self-fulfilling prophecies, which are then often used to justify violent and abusive behavior (in both sexes)… but I’d really like to know where you’re hearing men say this in public? I’ve seen it online from people who were obviously going through serious psychological problems, but I’ve NEVER seen this in public. I grew up in a town with a heavy parolee population where rape and murder were common occurrences and I’ve NEVER seen a guy publicly declare he was going to rape and murder a woman. Then again, there’s a good reason for this: Most rapists don’t tend to think what they’re doing is rape and sincerely believe that women are enjoying themselves. Beck, Aaron. (1999), Prisoners of Hate: The Cognitive Basis of Anger, Hostility, and Violence. New York: Harper Collins.
<q cite=”There’s a lesson to be learned from marketing.”>
I disagree. No reason, I just disagree.
squirrel writes “Rather than women taking responsibility for their (sometimes hostile) behavior towards men when they’re hit on, you’re saying men should be the ones taking responsibility for becoming defensive when they’re attacked in such a way.”
I can’t speak for the base note, but I think that these are not mutually exclusive.
Me, personally, yes, absolutely men should take responsibility for their actions.
As far as women are concerned, it doesn’t matter if they say “no thank you, I’d rather not talk” or “Fuck off, you scumbag,” it’s STILL the responsibility of the man to remain responsible for his reactions. Whether her response is hostile or not is irrelevant, and if a guy can’t handle it, then he needs to leave the room until he can get the help he needs to figure out his issues.
“All of this based on the quantitative calculation that women’s problems are more pervasive and devastating than mens.”
I’m perfectly willing to operate with that as a hypothesis, considering the existing social structure.
“What it does suggest is that there’s a lot more interpersonal complexity to these issues than gender-peddlling, blame games, ‘gender wars’, or any ‘sweat-pants’ solution can address.”
Surely social situations can be complex. But the low-hanging fruit is violence against women. That’s just got to stop.
“I don’t think the positive correlation between men being abused and future rape offenses is something we can brush away lightly.”
Yep, it’s somewhat well-documented that abusers often have abuse in their past. Stopping abuse NOW is a great way to prevent future issues. Getting good help for abuse victims is also a great way to approach that.
Of course, none of this should even be remotely considered in lieu of stopping violence against women.
“By failing to also hold women accountable for their behavior towards men, perhaps we’re not “peeling away another layer of the onion” with regards to how rape culture is enabled in society?”
A good start would be for men to stop harassing women. There’s just no excuse for that.
After that, we can deal with the other stuff.
I have no problem with women rejecting the advances of men. I don’t even care if they’re… a little overboard about it. It’s no skin off my nose.
Whether or not a rejection is kind or loud and shouty, it’s still a rejection. Women do not OWE men a certain KIND of rejection in order for it to be valid. The only kind of guy who doesn’t take a hike after being rejected is the kind of a guy who can’t take rejection, and that guy is a problem. The problem is NOT how he was rejected or whether or not she was dressed a certain way or whether or not it was after midnight or whether or not she had been drinking. The problem is that he can’t handle rejection.
“Most counselors and psychotherapists I’ve read suggest that suspicious schemas contribute to self-fulfilling prophecies…”
Sure, sometimes. Sometimes not. Of the women I know personally, there is some incident of violence or threat roughly once a week. I’ve been around a few of them, but because I’m a big tall muscular guy, that shit happens a lot less often when I’m around.
“I’d really like to know where you’re hearing men say this in public? I’ve seen it online from people who were obviously going through serious psychological problems, but I’ve NEVER seen this in public. I grew up in a town with a heavy parolee population where rape and murder were common occurrences and I’ve NEVER seen a guy publicly declare he was going to rape and murder a woman.”
Wow, I’ve heard such things in public before many times. Guy comes on to a gal, she shuts him down, and then he tries a progressively sleazier approach until it’s clear she’s not responding, and then suddenly the tenor changes right to one o more variations of “Fuck you, you whore!” and other things less seemly. That happens quite often. There are blogs and stories being passed around even as we speak.
So, it’s not phantoms out there, it’s actual people doing actual things, and other people having things done at them repeatedly. I’m perfectly willing to forgive a little defensiveness — ain’t no skin off my nose.
“Most rapists don’t tend to think what they’re doing is rape and sincerely believe that women are enjoying themselves.”
Is that a fact?
Edward, I think the overall context of the post was lost along the way. The blog (insofar as I gathered) wasn’t so much about actual harassment and violence against women as it was a springboard for understanding “why” women can be defensive when guys flirt with them. Given this, what I was addressing was not the issue of harassment or violence against women per se, but how far this line of reasoning goes when it’s used to understand the defensive behavior (which can sometimes be abusive) of women towards men and the wider implications of such an approach. Gllickman and I both have different solutions. His seems more sociological and top-down, whereas I don’t even want to leave room for the “guess whose got it worse” game. Who has it worse in a sociological sense is usually unrelated to the plurality of the situation.
Besides, men have been trying to find ways to “explain” why women get angry or pissed off for centuries and women tend to follow their suggestions. Ten years ago it was just “that time of the month” and before that it was “just because women are women”. My Grandmother used to say it was “her nerves.” Now we’ve evolved so far that we’ve given women an enemy on the outside of their body rather than the inside, yet we still haven’t even considered the possibility that we might want to look at the individuals perspective as a person without imposing the notion of gender before they themselves mention it. I don’t know. Maybe a new less divisive approach would come in handy? One that doesn’t have to pick and choose, encourages ambiguity, nuance and all the little gray areas without the broadly colored brush strokes of those old-time meta-narratives.
“Most rapists don’t tend to think what they’re doing is rape and sincerely believe that women are enjoying themselves.”
“Is that a fact?”
See source. One of the most qualified and highly reputable psychiatrists of the last century and this century, Aaron Beck, states “Experiential studies, in fact, have demonstrated a cognitive deficit in rapists: they do not read women’s cues accurately… they think that the women sincerely believe the opposite of what they say.” I think we’re all heard the “no really means yes” rule and other variations of it. They even show severe cognitive dissonance when they sense they may be doing unjustified harm to the other person. “The usual inhibitions against harming others are lifted by the notion that the aggression is somehow justified, that the victim either “deserves it,” or that she will enjoy it (being raped).”
“Women do not OWE men a certain KIND of rejection in order for it to be valid.”
No, but they do owe themselves the peace of mind that comes from learning how to appropriately address these situations. Sure. If the guy doesn’t get the hint the first time and is being overbearing, then I say tell’em to fuck off all you want. But being psychologically abusive right off the bat does nothing but create rifts and more issues. Unless someone’s trying to bolster their pride by burying their guilt and shame with righteous indignation, I don’t see why someone would even want to justify treating a well-intended person badly.
Edward Martin III,
Treating each other as equals and being sure of consent should NEVER get “old fashioned and boring.”
That’s what I keep saying. In fact I’ve been known to argue that even the word “consent” implies too much of a power relationship and the real test ought to be something like “freely expressed enthusiasm”. That’s my position and I have no intention of budging from it. We don’t all have the luxury of being able to live in an echo chamber, but I’d rather stay lonely-in-the-crowd till my dying day than “put on the team jacket” for Team Asshole. If I can make that any clearer for you, tell me how.*
It doesn’t change the fact that despite all my, your, Charlie’s or whoever else’s protestations, all the ACTUAL social change I’ve seen on the ground in the past fifteen years has been going in that direction. My original point was simply that I find that depressing and it makes me wonder what these discussions actually achieve. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.
*On second thoughts, since you’ve already decided I’m the enemy, don’t waste your breath. I’m out of here. Give my regards to your high horse.
“[T]he number of women who actually appreciate it is vanishingly small and shrinking year on year as social attitudes change. The egalitarian good consent I learned about growing up in the feminist 80s/90s is considered old-fashioned and boring now”
Why do I get a funny feeling Bill’s gradually been hitting on younger and younger women? I mean, why else would there be a relative culture shift like that between him and them, not to mention the diminishing numbers? (I mean, women Bill’s age are presumably not at the point of dying in droves.) Most people keep to the same kind of interaction style they learned early on. And that being the case, well, there could be another explanation for that vibe he’s getting from them of something being “old-fashioned and boring.”
squirrel writes “I think the overall context of the post was lost along the way.”
Could be. Depends.
“Now we’ve evolved so far that we’ve given women an enemy on the outside of their body rather than the inside…”
Maybe more like it’s becoming easier for women to SAY what’s ACTUALLY wrong.
“Maybe a new less divisive approach would come in handy?”
Stopping violence seems like it’s not really a divisive approach.
“No, but they do owe themselves the peace of mind that comes from learning how to appropriately address these situations.”
Not everyone wants to take the time to be the Idiot Whisperer. Spending effort trying to fend off people is a choice. Some take it, some get tired of it. I think the small number of guys who are offended that they don’t believe they’ve been told “no” the right way isn’t as critical as the larger number of guys who treat “no” as a challenge and who rage out once they understand they’re not able to interact with anyone they like.
That small number of guys are going to have to realize that (probably) it’s not them personally, and they’re just going to have to back off.
“But being psychologically abusive right off the bat does nothing but create rifts and more issues.”
You say “right off the bat” as if there’s women out there just being jerks randomly. I doubt that’s ANYWHERE near the truth.
With rare exception, I’d posit that by the time a woman is screaming at a guy, he HAS done something to deserve it. For example, “Get your hands off me, you fucking creep!” is kinda step #2 of the process, step #1 being the laying upon of unwelcome hands.
“Unless someone’s trying to bolster their pride by burying their guilt and shame with righteous indignation, I don’t see why someone would even want to justify treating a well-intended person badly.”
It’s not complicated — no matter what the intent, if the action is unwanted, unwarranted, invasive, etc., then the person really isn’t in a position to complain when someone tells them to back the hell off.
It has nothing to do with namecalling the person saying “back the hell off,” and everything to do with the person pushing past a boundary.
Bill writes “That’s what I keep saying.”
Then maybe you need to pick a different social group.
“I’d rather stay lonely-in-the-crowd till my dying day than “put on the team jacket” for Team Asshole.”
This is a false dichotomy, pretty much the same one you used earlier.
Why not choose a different social group? There’s plenty of ’em out there.
“It doesn’t change the fact that despite all my, your, Charlie’s or whoever else’s protestations, all the ACTUAL social change I’ve seen on the ground in the past fifteen years has been going in that direction.”
Remember, you’re looking at a social crowd that doesn’t value consent and thinks such things are old-fashioned. I assure you there’s more and more changes happening.
Some of the trouble is that it’s been a lot of passive indirect stuff, which doesn’t work because of a variety of reasons, such as the people it’s aimed at not being told directly that THEY are the problem.
“My original point was simply that I find that depressing and it makes me wonder what these discussions actually achieve.”
I think the indirect ones fail on the three important points listed here: http://www.petting-zoo.org/2012/06/05/cops/
That’s how this evolved: http://www.petting-zoo.org/2012/08/20/agreement/
The difference is the dynamic — instead of hoping some unspecified person reads it and concludes it matters, each individual takes that power into their OWN hands.
But it’s not a ticket to getting people to alleviate one’s loneliness. That’s not other people’s job.
Irene writes “Why do I get a funny feeling Bill’s gradually been hitting on younger and younger women?”
I’ve been trying to not guess too much in this exchange, mostly focusing on what he actually writes.
“And that being the case, well, there could be another explanation for that vibe he’s getting from them of something being “old-fashioned and boring.””
Well, it would add to the desperate and lonely part, making a sort of trifecta of sufficient complexity. That would explain the potentially euphemistic use of the “You’re just too nice” blowoff, too.
I was assuming stuff, true. But even if I’m wrong and maligning him, he was giving off that impression, and that too might not be a bad thing for him to realize.
Edward, you’re engaging in an imaginary discussion. You may as well take over Clint Eastwood’s schtick.
“I was assuming stuff, true. But even if I’m wrong and maligning him, he was giving off that impression, and that too might not be a bad thing for him to realize.”
It’s been an example case of why I normally don’t try. It wastes my time and the other person gets defensive and annoyed instead of suddenly realizing something new.
I can totally understand why people use the “You’re too [good thing],” line. It’s much less confrontive than running one’s head into a wall.
squirrel writes “Edward, you’re engaging in an imaginary discussion.”
If you think so, then it makes it easy to ignore me. That is your right, of course, and your call. I’m responding to what you’ve written.
Some of your points I agreed with, such as the idea that abusers often have abuse in their background. But the notion that aggressively pushing back is “abuse” is something I disagree with strongly. It’s a legitimate reaction to a legitimate threat.
But let’s not pretend I’m playing a game of imagination if I’m the one using my real name, okay “squirrel”? 😉
“You may as well take over Clint Eastwood’s schtick.”
Like I said, if you want to ignore me, that’s your call. I’m not willing to pretend that this shit doesn’t exist, nor am I of the mind to want to distract from it by spending a lot of time on worrying about the feelings of people who are being told to shove off if they push boundaries,* or to stop and analyze the notion that rapists don’t know what they’re doing,** or people like Bill, who doesn’t get it when he’s being told that he’s the problem.***
* They should feel as if they’ve done something WRONG, because they have. They can work that out with a therapist later, not the person they’ve wronged.
** Again, that’s something they get to work out with their therapists, or perhaps their cellmates. For now, I’d be happy just seeing them stopped and punished.
*** I can totally understand people using the euphemistic blowoffs.
Ew, cable guy stalker. This is why I don’t use my real name on the Internet.
The harassment issues discussed here are currently getting a lot of attention in the science fiction/fantasy community, due to various recent incidents. http://faerye.net/post/the-puzzle-box is an awesome response, I think. The linked discussions she recommends are also good.
Irene writes “The harassment issues discussed here are currently getting a lot of attention in the science fiction/fantasy community, due to various recent incidents. http://faerye.net/post/the-puzzle-box is an awesome response, I think. The linked discussions she recommends are also good.”
The atheist community is also struggling with this too, which Dawkins kinda exacerbated in a real dick move. Same with various pagan and poly communities.
Aggressive self-policing seems like it has the best potential of succeeding at least in some degree.
Clueless people don’t think clues apply to them and predators don’t care.
Squirrel writes “Ew, cable guy stalker.”
That… that doesn’t even make sense.
“This is why I don’t use my real name on the Internet.”
Your reasons are your own, and honestly why you do it is completely irrelevant to anything substantive in this thread.
It just undermines any claim to veracity you try to make when your best insult is to suggest I’m talking to an imaginary person.
Although, seeing as how you’re in the part where you’re insulting me, I doubt much of usefulness is forthcoming.
But it’s been instructive to me – I’ve only heard of these arguments being used to distract from harassment issues. Now I’ve seen the two most popular ones in the same thread.
I thought the “imaginary” bit was related to Bill not having posted again, and possibly not reading any more. Re “cable guy stalker” — that would be about an episode of Cable Guy featuring a stalker, I presume. Stalking is nasty; I don’t blame anyone for being anonymous to avoid it (Irene’s not my real name, either).
Irene writes “I thought the “imaginary” bit was related to Bill not having posted again, and possibly not reading any more.”
Well, it all started seeming like it was getting personal and kinda surreal.
The imaginary part is right here:
Squirrel – Maybe a new less divisive approach would come in handy?
Edward – Stopping violence seems like it’s not really a divisive approach.
That’s a straw man argument. Suirrel was not referring to violence against women. In general you did not respond to his arguments.
James L. Writes “Squirrel was not referring to violence against women. [in writing “Maybe a new less divisive approach would come in handy?”]”
Please clarify, then: Less divisive approach to what?
“That’s a straw man argument.”
If deliberate, sure. If the argument isn’t clear, though, then it’s not. I can be mistaken in interpreting an argument (thus my question above) but I won’t address a claim to divining my intent – particularly if it is ill intent.
“In general you did not respond to his arguments.”
Was there a significant one other than “Rather than women taking responsibility for their (sometimes hostile) behavior towards men when they’re hit on*, you’re saying men should be the ones taking responsibility for becoming defensive when they’re attacked** in such a way”***
…which was the initial premise fueling his arguments. Please correct me if I’m misunderstanding.
* where has someone claimed that women should not be responsible for their behavior such that this claim requires refuting.****
** where has there been established above that men are under “attack,” such that a defensive response is justified?****
*** I did assert that men are and should be ALWAYS responsible for their actions. This seems axiomatic.
**** You mentioned straw man arguments. I submit these as examples.
Here is a very interesting post by Stoya:
Thank you so much for this article ! I admire your understanding of women and I hope some men will understand the point youre making. Also as a woman I would like to know what you have to say about what women can change while flirting.
That’s why many MRAs (or PUAs, whatever) make it a point not to flirt with the woman at the beginning of the interaction. They start with simply being interested and being interesting. Much like actual women do, they allow the other person to earn (or not earn) the right to be flirted with.
Despite all the flaws of the pick-up artist community, they may actually have hit on something here.
Enter the great equalizer: the modern male chastity device.
This is a great article! This is something mothers should be sharing with boys when they are growing into young men….
“More important, though, is that getting upset when someone assumes ill intentions on your part doesn’t help.”
Unless, of course, you are a a woman. Then you can infer anything you want and guys will rush to support you no matter how trite your complaints
As usual, Charlie, very insightful, cogent and wise. Lots of things to learn here. Thanks for a great post.
Male primates compete for sex. Female primates go looking for sex. (Frans deWall, Bonobo and the Athiest) What if cat-calling has nothing to do with desire for sex with the woman and everything to do with males status within peers? Is this kind of behaviour culture specific or does it appear in all cultures? It certainly appears in other species of primates! How does this information change our understanding of the behaviour?
I reread this article, and many of the comments, last night. It made me think about things that I haven’t in a little while. I wanted to write this, both to add my perspective to the conversation, but also towards those men out there who feel hurt or rejected when reading articles like this.
My background is a divorced man who is looking to begin dating again once I move (sometime in the next 6 months, hopefully). I was a “nice guy” in college who was, and is, a generally nice guy as well. By that, I mean that I consider myself to be kind hearted, empathic, and considerate. The “nice guy” refers to not being able to navigate social connections well at times and feeling that, if I were a “nice” person, then I “should” have been able to date and connect with women successfully. I wasn’t aware of that at the time.
I was, and still am, pretty good at establishing and maintaining friendships. When it came to dating, I would get rejection after rejection. It hurt. A lot. After a series of rejections, I met a woman who was friendly, attractive, and deeply interested in me. I felt the same way, and we got married after a prolonged long distance relationship. Things had started to deteriorate the more we were together, but I was certain that if I cared enough about her and if I was willing to be the best husband I could be, that things would go back to where they used to be – best friends and lovers and partners.
That never happened. My marriage spiraled downwards into an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship despite my going to therapy to “fix myself.” Things deteriorated rapidly when she became pregnant, and she got angrier and more abusive towards me. 2 years after our marriage, she looked at me and told me “I don’t love you, I don’t trust you, and I’d rather be raped again that have you touch me.” Repeated couples counseling failed when my wife wouldn’t stop attacking me in therapy sessions and wouldn’t look at her own behavior. She was physically abusive once – I didn’t feel threatened, since I am taller than her and I wasn’t hurt, but I left the house to avoid being hit and called her on the phone. I told her that it was unacceptable for either of us to hit each other (I thought that would be less confrontational than “It’s unacceptable for you to hit me”). She told me that she was glad that things had happened this way because it “improved communication.”
I’m now divorced, separated for several years, and have gone through years of therapy.
I brought the above details up to show what can happen when you’re trying to connect emotionally and romantically with a partner (in my case, a woman) when you have issues that need to be worked on and you aren’t aware of them. My issues – profound inexperience in romantic relationships, lack of self esteem, being desperate enough to connect that I was willing to persistently overlook abusive behaviors and warning flags that were there early in the relationship, and others.
“Loneliness and desperation are a huge turn-off, in general.
If I get into a relationship with someone, its because he has some qualities that make the butterflies in my stomach flutter. Nice, respectful and unaggressive are prerequisites, but they are not the qualities that make me fall in love with someone. Furthermore, to keep me interested, I want to know and feel that I have certain qualities that give him butterflies in the stomach and I don´t want those qualities to be ¨nice, respectful and unaggressive¨. They should be prerequisites for him as well. ”
I find this quote painfully accurate. I agree with it completely, but for someone who feels lonely and desperate it feels like a Catch-22. It feels like a Catch-22 that you have to be emotionally healthy and complete before you can have a healthy relationship with a partner (because you want a partner to help heal the loneliness and hurt inside). I can easily empathize with anyone feeling this. It hurts to be alone. It hurts to want to connect and to not be able to precisely because you want to connect. The key, I think, isn’t the wanting in and of itself. It’s how you handle the emotions of it.
I have found that being aware of my own neediness/insecurity/loneliness/desperation, that I had a “nice guy’s” perspective of entitlement and self-centeredness, being kind to myself as I am aware of these feelings and patterns and not beating myself up (but not deny how I feel or think inside), and gently refocusing on being as kind and truthful as I can has been healing to myself and has helped me to have more satisfying relationships (friendships).
I haven’t gone out “into the world” looking for love. I have no idea if there is someone out there for me (I hope so, although I frequently get discouraged), but I like to think that if I am mindful, kind, and honest, that that will give me as good of a chance to connect as I can. There are, however, no guarantees. I wish that there were.
In short – if you’re a guy who hates to be told that you have to “be happy” in order to connect but can’t be happy without that connection (I have certainly been there more times than I can count), being mindful of and taking responsibility for the healing of your wounds, being kind and honest with yourself, being kind and honest to others, being “mindful”, and trying to let go of your expectations and entitlements is something I would try. It’s given me some measure of peace.
I would like to add that a prospective partner should act similarly – had I applied the above definition to my now-ex, I would never have married her. Unfortunately, I needed to go through a hellish marriage to get to the point where I won’t tolerate a partner treating me with anything less than kindness, insight, and honesty.
Basically, be the kind of partner you are looking for.