This post is going to be more navel-gazey than is normal for this blog. That’s not a disclaimer of apology, just a ‘heads up’. This piece is also very much rooted in gender binary language, and that is a disclaimer of apology. I am speaking most often from my own experience. As a mono cis hetero guy, my romantic experience falls along a gender binary with a single partner. This is not to elevate or normalize mono cishet relationships above others, but I don’t want to speak too far out of my own depth. I am sure that relationships between queer and poly people have dimensions that I simply cannot address, and I don’t want to do it hamfistedly. I am very interested to hear what parts of this post do and don’t resonate with your own experiences, particularly if they are different from my own.
I am sure that I’ve made oblique reference to this before, perhaps even on this blog, but my sexual and dating history are perhaps a bit atypical. I say ‘perhaps’ because a pretty decent argument can be made that everyone’s dating history is atypical. However, from the standpoint that the average age at which people in Canada have their first sexual encounter is some time in their teens, my history is slightly to noticably atypical. This has a lot of explanations, some of which I am capable of explaining in some detail; others that I am still puzzled over. I’ve talked a bit about this process in a post I wrote a couple of years ago:
After a year spent in a different doomed-to-fail relationship in my first year of undergraduate (this time I ended things, and for what at the time seemed like noble reasons), I embarked on a long journey into my own bruised psyche to try and figure out what it was about me that made me so undesirable while everyone else had girlfriends (author’s note: most of my friends at the time were single). It was an endless pattern: I’d meet someone, we’d hit it off, I’d eventually work up the courage to ask her out, and then I’d get rejected. In my feelings of dejected misery and frustration and need for self-affirmation, and because there was a whole intellectual institution created around it, I embraced the “nice guys don’t get laid” myth wholeheartedly.
So, I didn’t get laid a lot. That “endless pattern” lasted, for the most part, for around 8 years. After I broke up with Jane (not her real name) in fall of 2004, I didn’t enter into another committed relationship until spring of 2012. During that intervening period, I had a small handful of flings with women, but nothing that lasted longer than 6 weeks or so. None of this did anything to disabuse me of the notion that I was, at some deep, fundamental level, incapable of being loved or having a lasting, meaningful relationship. It wasn’t all bad, as I’ll discuss further down the page, but there were a lot of pretty despondent nights.
Why was I single?
In discussions of male entitlement, the “Friend Zone”, and topics related to Forever Alone guys, there will invariably be someone who quips “the reason women don’t like you is that you’re an asshole” or some variant thereof. Sometimes it is directed at an individual who is, at that moment, acting like an asshole. Often, though, it’s directed at any guy who believes that the Friend Zone is a real thing (or some other belief that is indicative of entitlement), and in some cases it’s directed at single guys in general who complain about being single. “Guys, if you want to get a girlfriend, stop complaining about women, clean yourself up, and stop being an entitled little shit”.
To be clear off the top here, I’m definitely not writing a piece about being nicer to the poor sensitive lads who just don’t know any better. I was one of those lads. I was an asshole, or at least, I had some pretty assholish tendencies. I got better about those things. I learned how to recognize my own entitlement for what it was. I learned to foster my relationships with women in a way that wasn’t filtered through the lens of gender essentialism. I learned to communicate my feelings. I learned to interrogate my own loneliness without blaming “women” for it. I had work to do, and it wasn’t anyone else’s responsibility to hold my hand while I was doing it.
But do you know what happened as I did that work? I became a better person (in my estimation). That’s it. That’s all.
My problem with the “women aren’t dating you because you’re an asshole” argument isn’t that it’s mean; it’s that it’s not accurate. Not only is it inaccurate, but in some ways it reinforces the very kind of thinking it’s supposed to be combatting.
Solving the equation
One of the more insightful criticisms of “Pickup Artist” (a term that has always made me think of “Sandwich Artist“) culture is that it reduces women to a general case, devoid of any individuality or agency. Women, to PUAs, are a solveable algorithm. If you complete the ‘steps’ accurately and in the right order, you will reach the ‘success condition’ of female approval and affection. Any failure to reach that condition is then explained as “lack of game” or “being a beta” or “bitch shields” or blaming the steps for being a “scam”. Never is it the case that the woman you approached doesn’t respond to the ‘steps’ because she’s a human being with a variety of likes and dislikes. Never is it the case that the woman you approached might have been receptive under other circumstances, but she was just having a bad day. Or she was busy. Or she just wanted to be alone at that particular moment. Or she was any number of other totally normal human experiences that could easily explain why your approach, no matter how adroitly executed, was doomed to fail.
This selective explanation ties into the throbbing vein of misogyny that runs through the entirety of PUA subculture: women are assumed not to have their own lives, their own inner dialogue, their own individual humanity. They are instead agents lacking agency – humans in fact but not in substance, whose existence has no dimension other than their physical appeal. Empty canvases upon which ‘game’ can be practiced. If a man’s ‘game’ is unsuccessful, it’s because of something he did, something he is, or something he lacks. It isn’t because of anything that she does, is, or lacks (except insofar as she suddenly becomes an ugly stuck-up bitch for not responding).
Part of this, to be sure, is ordinary asymmetric information bias – you are more or less completely aware of your own inner dialogue, and considerably less aware of the subjective lives of others. However, this bias takes on a very ugly form when combined with the effect of depersonalization, which is a core component of misogyny (or any bigotry, really). When the inability to understand others collides with a a cluster of beliefs that essentially preclude even the possibility of those others having anything like a typical human experience, the result is usually to blame and punish.
If you buy a widget, and you push the button and the widget doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, then it’s a shitty widget. The widget doesn’t have an internally subjective experience of the world. The widget doesn’t have personal circumstances that might explain why it works some times but not others. It’s programmed to perform a certain action when you push the button. If it doesn’t perform that action, then you deserve your money back, or a replacement widget that does work at the very least.
But people aren’t widgets.
Plug and Play Relationships
So we say to a guy complaining about “the Friend Zone” that people aren’t widgets. We tell him that women have a variety of explanations for why they do things. We explain that each woman is her own person, and expecting all women to respond the same way to a given circumstance is as mistaken as it is misogynistic.
And then we say “besides, she’s probably not fucking you because you’re a creep”.
Which seems to me to be completely defeating its own argument: women are simultaneously individuals with their own likes and dislikes, and they are all disinclined to sleep with you for the exact same reason.
So back to my own single life for a brief second. As I said, when I learned to move away from some of the more ‘assholish’ beliefs and practices I had picked up, the only measurable consequence was that I was a better person. I didn’t suddenly find myself irresistible to women; in fact, I didn’t get more or less affection than I did before. I didn’t have an easier time getting dates. Nothing about that aspect of my life changed. The advice to “not be an asshole” didn’t solve the ‘problem’ of my solitude, and the reason it didn’t work is the exact same reason that PUA techniques don’t work.
Because relationships aren’t widgets.
There are (at least) two people in a romantic relationship. In order for a relationship to work, the expectations and desires of all people involved need to be met. And, because each person has their own expectations and desires, there is no algorithm to solve. There is no trait, or collection of traits, that can be manipulated to yield a favourable result, except on a case-by-case basis. If I like everything about Gina except the fact that she pronounces it “supposebly”, then if she changes that one behaviour, we become more compatible. But one cannot say with any certainty that Gina’s overall chances of finding the person she’s compatible with are in any way affected by a change in her pronunciation. Maybe there’s a bunch of shit that Gina doesn’t like about me. Maybe we’re not compatible at all. Maybe we’re looking for different things. Maybe I would be a good fit for her, but I’m about to change jobs and move to a different city, so I don’t want to get involved with anyone.
There’s a lot of reasons why “if you want to get laid, change X and Y and Z about yourself” is problematic advice for any and all values of X, Y and Z.
A special case
The only time I think this argument can be used non-problematically is if it were phrased in this way: “a lot of women have had negative experiences with guys who do X, Y, and Z, so you might want to see if those are worth changing”. We’re now moving away from categorical statements about what “women” do and don’t like, and toward an understanding that reflects human diversity.
But even then, I’m not satisfied. I am, by my nature, not a jealous person in romantic relationships. While I usually prefer my partner to be sexually exclusive, sexual exclusivity is not, to me, the sine qua non of a committed relationship. And because I am a guy who has a lot of female friends with whom I have intimate emotional connections, I am strongly disinclined to tell my partner that she’s ‘not allowed’ to hang out with other men. I am, in fact, unlikely to bat an eyelash if my partner devotes attention to a person that isn’t me, irrespective of that person’s gender. This isn’t because I’m “stronger” or “more secure” than other people, it’s that I just happen not to be wired that way.
Once, back in the throes of one of my six-week-or-so flings, the person I was seeing was annoyed with me at a Kardinal Offishall concert. I honestly don’t remember why. The way she decided to manifest her displeasure was by dancing with a guy who was standing a few feet away from me. Far enough that he wouldn’t see me (and know that he was dancing with ‘my girl’), but close enough I that could plainly see what she was doing. She would later explain that I was supposed to get jealous, go over there, and cut in. Thus demonstrating that I cared. We can put aside the judgement about whether or not that was the most appropriate or mature way of handling the situation – she needed me to show that she was important to me, and that’s how she wanted me to do it.
Of course, to her great consternation, I stood back and watched the concert. Not in a “I’ll show you” sort of way, but because she wanted to dance, I didn’t want to dance, and I was totally satisfied with the way she had found to solve that problem. She got to dance, I got to lean back and watch the stage, and I was pretty reasonably sure she wasn’t going to ditch me for some random dude. When we had the (inevitable) fight about this later, I realized that my lack of jealousy was a problem between us. She took my lack of reaction as a sign of indifference about her. If she hadn’t raised it specifically, it’s entirely likely that I would have stood by on many subsequent occasions, blithely unaware that there was some expectation of me to demonstrate my fidelity.
And if someone had said to me “Ian, the reason you’re not getting more dates is because you’re not controlling and possessive enough”, I’d have laughed in their face. So would you, probably. Being controlling and possessive is something that a lot of women (including the one in this anecdote) have had really bad experiences with. My nonchalance, problematic in that particular relationship, would serve me very well in subsequent relationships with people who had different histories and needs.
The null hypothesis
My understanding of feminism is rooted in my understanding of scientific research methodology. That is, I assume that (beyond some basic issues to do with plumbing – and even then not necessarily) men and women are fundamentally the same. In a given situation, I assume that a man and a woman will respond in the same average way, when controlling for the effect of socialization. Any time I see a difference in the average response to something, I therefore look to socialization to explain that difference before I look to biology. That’s not always the correct answer, but more often than not I’ve found it saves me from making erroneous conclusions based on gender stereotypes.
As a result of this stance, I make the following assertion: on average, and controlling for the effect of socialization, men and women are looking for the same sorts of things in relationships. Put a better way, there are as many reasons why a given woman will date a given man as there are for the reverse case. Some men are incredibly superficial, and want a woman who adheres to a physical ideal – some women are just as superficial. Some women won’t date a guy who doesn’t make her laugh – some men (myself included) are the same. Some men date complete jerks who dominate and control them – some women do too.
It seems fundamentally at odds with this view for anyone to say “women won’t date guys who are entitled jerks”. Some probably will. Some probably are. Some probably married those entitled jerks, and had shitty, entitled kids with them, and are looking forward to growing old with them. I wish them well, even though I wouldn’t like to trade places with them. Those women would probably find someone with my personality traits and beliefs to be quite unattractive. I have met at least one such a woman. She’s no dummy, nor is she well described by the word ‘passive’. She just likes stereotypical masculinity, and I have no patience for it. We weren’t a good fit.
The splash damage
Now, if you’ve been following me up to this point, you’re probably saying “yeah, but some behaviours are inherently harmful and should be countered”. And I agree. I completely agree. Possessiveness, jealousy, manipulative entitlement, all of these are really toxic. And when I see them being a necessary component of a relationship – as they were, for example, with Belinda (not her real name) at the Kardinal show – I am not willing to simply chalk them up as “different strokes for different folks”. They are pathological, and it would never occur to me to say “be as big an entitled, misogynistic shithead as you want, and then go out and find a doormat who wants you to walk all over her forever” (Shoobie11 points out why my formulation here is problematic). There seems to be something really wrong with that type of relationship, regardless of the fact that the two people involved are getting their needs met.
But at the same time, saying “don’t be an asshole because then women won’t want to fuck you” doesn’t in any way make the argument that there’s a problem inherent in asshole behaviour. It instead makes the argument that the point (or at least the upshot) of not being an asshole is to get sex. Which isn’t in any way a given result. It certainly wasn’t in my case, anyway. I wrote about this before:
Given the number of cishet women who decry feminism or prefer relationships where gender roles are strictly and consistently defined, the idea that paying lip-service to feminism opens up whole new worlds of coitus is… let’s just say the argument assumes facts not in evidence.
Another thing I want to make sure is as clear as possible: I didn’t become a feminist as a ploy to get laid. I didn’t start to become introspective about my male privilege because someone told me that this was the reason I wasn’t getting any action. That’s the reason I tried to become a PUA. The reason I became a feminist is largely the same reason I became an atheist – because certain things I was being told didn’t comport with the evidence, and the harder I looked the more difficult it became to accept gender stereotypes as being true. This process was largely unconnected to my desire for companionship.
But if we’re going to make the argument that belief in the Friend Zone is based on problematic attitudes and is, itself, a facet of misogyny, then let’s make that argument. Let’s talk about why bad things are bad – not because people won’t find you desirable if you do them, but because they’re bad.
Why? Why not just tell assholes that their own assholishness is likely defeating their stated goal of finding affection? Why not point out that it’s entirely likely that the fact that a guy entertains the cluster of beliefs required to accept “Nice Guy™” framing may be the exact reason for his downfall*?
Because relationships aren’t widgets. Because there are lots of other people out there who are single, many of whom aren’t assholes. Many of whom have, however, been told that “all they need to do is” make some adjustment to their personality/interests/activity/appearance/whatever and then affection will surely follow. Many of whom are hearing “nobody wants to date an asshole”, think “nobody wants to date me“, and then make the resultant logical leap. And when they hear, again and again, that the reason women don’t lavish attention on a given man is that he is fundamentally wrong in some way, they listen. I definitely did. Even well after the point at which I probably would no longer have been considered “an asshole” by most people reading this.
Turning this around for a second, there are quite a number of women who are ‘stuck in the Friend Zone’, to borrow the framing. There are lots of single women out there who are otherwise wonderful people, but who can’t seem to elicit the desired response from a person they’re close to. What do they hear when they’re told that people are single because they’re fundamentally wrong in some way? That the reason that a person lands in the Friend Zone is because they’re an entitled prick? Women are socialized to blame themselves already when things go awry in romantic relationships – is that something you want to add to?
A better message
Getting back to my own story as a convenient coda for this piece, I am no longer single. I met someone in the spring of 2012 (as I mentioned earlier). We dated for 15 months before ending the relationship. A few months thereafter I met and began dating someone else. She and I are still together and things are going well, as far as I can know. A lot of the reasons why my previous relationship worked is because of the work I did to become a more aware and less entitled person. By the same token, a lot of it was due to totally random circumstances: enough time had lapsed since her divorce that she was willing to entertain a relationship with someone new, I had become more willing to let someone in than I had been before, we ended up running into each other outside of the office, we attended the same conference where we first got together – a whole laundry list of things that were entirely circumstantial. In the absence of any of those things, we wouldn’t have got together and I’d (likely) have stayed single.
My current relationship definitely wouldn’t be working out if I hadn’t learned a lot of the lessons I learned from my ex. I figured out the kind of relationship I want. I figured out what my boundaries and needs and expectations are. I learned about which things I had to learn to compromise on, and some things I wasn’t willing to change. I learned how to communicate those needs. I learned how I process my own anger. I learned about a lot of my personal failings that had gone unaddressed because I had been single for 8 years. For her part, she had made a decision to stay in Vancouver rather than her old habit of moving from place to place. We met online – she was apparently only days away from deleting her profile when I messaged her, and she decided to take a chance.
With both my girlfriend and my ex-girlfriend, the specific physical and personality traits that we talk about when we discuss desirability could have easily been completely trumped by the circumstances. If Irene (not her real name) had waited longer to divorce, had not marched at SlutWalk, had not attended the conference, we probably wouldn’t have had the amazing 15 months we did. If Marjorie (not her real name) had deleted her account a few days earlier than she planned, if she had gotten a job out of the city, if she wasn’t a fan of the band I happened to mention in my online profile, we wouldn’t be together now. And added to all of those circumstancial variables are the ones that I bring to the table myself, including my 8 years of single life and the way that shaped my personality, not the least of which were the things that changed as a result of my relationship with Irene. I even wrote a song about it.
Relationships and attraction aren’t equations to be solved by adding, deleting, or modifying personal characteristics. People aren’t necessarily single because there’s something wrong with them, or because there’s something wrong with other people. Human interactions are as multifaceted as the human beings involved in them. The things that we tell other people should reflect that reality.
Work on being the best version of yourself for your happiness, not that of a hypothetical person who, even if you did meet them, might not be available for whatever reason. If one was in a particularly charitable mood, one could see this idea reflected in the PUA tenet of “inner game” (although there are differences that re not worth discussing because PUAs). Regardless of the terminology, the fact remains that you can’t will the right person into existence, but there are things you can do in the meantime that will make your life better, even if you never get partnered up.
Learn what kind of relationship style meets your needs – are you looking for someone who is more like a helpful team-mate or a full-blown partner? How much affection do you need – how much is too much? What kinds of personalities do you match up with well? What traits do your platonic friends have that make those relationships work? As you develop those things, you don’t necessarily “make yourself more attractive to the right person”, but you do increase your chance of spotting that “right person” when they come along, and knowing when things are and aren’t working.
But believing that being single is the consequence of some personality flaw doesn’t help anyone, and has a pretty good chance of hurting even those people who don’t deserve it.
*As much as I am trying to get away from relying on footnotes, this one couldn’t be helped. There is a totally acceptable argument that goes like this: “you call yourself a Nice Guy, but you believe all this horrible shit about women. Therefore you’re not as nice a guy as you think.” That’s different from “you’re single because you’re an asshole” – that’s saying “you lack self-awareness”.
The other Post-Script is that a lot of this post owes a great deal to discussions I had/eavesdropped on with Lucia Lorenzi, who is definitely worth a follow on Twitter.
“Which seems to me to be completely defeating its own argument: women are simultaneously individuals with their own likes and dislikes, and they are all disinclined to sleep with you for the exact same reason.”
I don’t think that those things are mutually exclusive.
To take a really extreme example: All women reject Martin because the last time he showered and brushed his teeth was in 2004.
If Martin showered and brushed his teeth 90%-100% of women would still reject him for very individual reasons.
Right. But that’s doesn’t seem to be well conveyed in the formulation “people won’t sleep with you because you’re an asshole”. It seems like the being an asshole isn’t a necessary or sufficient cause, if it’s the same as Martin The Unwashed.
I really appreciate the emphasis here on what actually works. I think people have the right to call people assholes and express how they feel when treated badly, but when you’re trying to go beyond self expression and actually stimulate change, “you’re an asshole” definitely doesn’t cut it. I think the biggest problem is that it’s not specific enough, and I think that’s part of why it’s usually met with a defensive and/or hostile attitude. It implies “you are inherently a bad person and unlovable,” and makes it seem like there’s nothing the person can do about – which kind of naturally stimulates a defensive response. If there’s nothing you can do to change it, the only thing your psyche can do but defend the existing self. Even just reframing the same statement as “you’re acting like an asshole right now” is generally much more effective. I try to frame things in the context of what is healthy and how to create and maintain functional relationship dynamics; you can still get angry and talk about how shitty something is that way, but when you emphasize why it’s shitty and contrast it with the healthier and functional alternative, the person at least gets some information out of it.
I’d like to mention, calling women who date misogynistic shitheads “doormats” is rather unhelpful and reads in a victim-blamey kind of way, similar to the negative things people say about people who stay in abusive relationships. Most of the women I’ve known who’ve been described as “doormats” (never heard a guy called that before, so can’t speak on that angle) were either attempting to ‘work the system’ because they felt helpless in the face of patriarchy and ‘playing along’ feels like the only way to survive, or were extremely vulnerable because they’d been emotionally abused and were not well enough to defend themselves any longer (or both).
I get that you were specifically saying that would NOT be a good thing to say, but I wanted to emphasize why “doormat” in particular is problematic because it seems like most people don’t understand why those people are that way.
Also – LOLed so hard at “Some probably married those entitled jerks, and had shitty, entitled kids with them, and are looking forward to growing old with them.” YUP. And that footnote was fantastic.
I’m not trying to make an argument about effectiveness, I don’t think. What I was hoping to point out is that “women won’t fuck you because you’re an asshole” accedes the argument that relationships are something wherein you can just substitute in and out different values and expect a positive result. That understanding seems, to me at least, to remove the other person (and hir preferences/needs) from consideration altogether. It creates this generic ‘other’ person and says that you should change to fit the hypothetical expectations of the ‘other’, which reads to me exactly like “women want guys who are financially stable and handsome”. Neither of those things hurts your chances, but you won’t “get” a woman if you fulfil those conditions.
Your point about the use of “doormats” is well-taken. I didn’t mean to imply that women who date misogynistic shitheads are, by definition, doormats, but I can see how it could read that way. I was thinking more along the lines of “someone who wants to dominate others will match up well with someone who wants to be dominated”. I can certainly see though that even in that formulation, I’m leaning pretty heavily toward victim blaming. Thanks for the feedback.
There’s something else that bugs me about this whole conversation about “guys can’t get laid”: Human women aren’t exactly rare butterflies. To be precise we’re a bit more than half the global population. I know quite a lot of women who are single, hetero and very interested in romantic relationships and/or sex. But since they’re not conventiontly attractive they simply vanish from the face of the earth in these discussions.
I’m not saying that jock + cheerleader are the natural order of things and that not conventionally attactive guys should never dream about conventionally attractive women. I’m saying that the actual potential pool is much bigger than what many guys think it is and the reasons for that have ALL to do with how women are viewed as pretty objects and status symbols.
In my life I’ve gone from “unattractive” to “attractive” back to “unattractive”. I know how differently guys reacted to that. I as a person was never that important in this whole calculation. When I was fat as a teen I was as good as dead. When I was skinny in my twenties suddenly the same guys who ignored me back then were interested in me, because now I was an object worth of pursuit.
The idea that guys should see women as people only partly tackles this problem. Because the unwritten words in that sentence are still “cool” and “attractive” . If 90% of guys only consider 10% of women as “datable” or “friend material” based solely on their looks, they are creating huge amounts of frustration for themselves.
As for the “people won’t sleep with you because you’re an asshole”, maybe it’s more of a “people aren’t even interested in finding out if they want to sleepwith you because you’re an asshole”. I think whom we consider a potential (sex)partner material is a process with many filters, which are mostly very indidvidual, but certain characteristics and behaviours will get almost all people rejected by the overwhelming majority. Like “you need to wash regularly before people will talk to you long enough to find out if they like you”. And once you’ve gotten to the stage of “are willing to interact with you” there are a million other, individual points. For example, I wouldn’t date a smoker. He might be the nicest guy in the world but the smell makes me sick. If he’s an asshole I won’t even be interested in finding that out. Does that make it any clearer?
This gets me into another thing about PUA stuff that makes me really upset: the reductionist definition of “woman”. It seems like the “women” being sought after are the types of “women” we see portrayed in shitty movies: completely interchangeable, having no traits that aren’t geared toward the male gaze, etc. Not actual women with lives and hobbies and farts and whatever else, but a highly fictionalized entity that occupies a certain type of human-looking body. Such a woman either is a (comparatively) rare butterfly, or has never actually existed. Guys buying into this formulation won’t necessarily see or consider actual women if they fail to resemble that ideal. The easiest way to discriminate is on body shape or other physical features, but women who are into sports and drinking become “one of the guys” (to use a shopworn cliche), and a romantic relationship with them just doesn’t make sense because they’re not considered “a woman” in that sense.
So yeah, basically the same thing you’re saying – it’s the “datable” ones that are being discussed when we’re talking about “women” from that crowd.
The impression that I’m getting from yours and other comments is that maybe my argument isn’t as well-thought-out as I considered it to be. I don’t have a ready refutation to say “no, what I’m saying is this“. I’ll give it some more thought.
Big yes to this. 🙂
This is another example of how the objectification of women burns men too.
It burns men less than it burns women (of course). But it also screws us over in significant ways.
Sexual relationships need to have at least some basis of sexual attraction. Thing is, sexual attraction doesn’t necessarily follow the narrow beauty standards normalized in our society.
When men internalize those beauty standards as the goal in and of itself we screw ourselves over in at least two ways:
1) We may cut ourselves off from women to whom we are sexually attracted because they don’t fit the beauty standard, or;
2) We may warp our own sexuality in such a way that we can only feel sexual attraction to women who fit the beauty standard
#1 happened with myself in my early twenties. I turned down a relationship that probably would have been emotionally and sexually very fulfilling because I believed that, given she was not within a narrow beauty standard, that I would be looked down on for dating her. This is despite the fact that not only was she sweet, interesting and fun, but she also triggered my libido in a very significant way.
I really regret missing out on that opportunity for such a stupid reason.
mmmmm…. I got two feelings with this post.
1) I would think it is obvious that you can not reduce the reason someone is single to “because you have this one personality flaw”….. because well, any personality flaw you can ever mention, you can probably find a person who has a partner, yet has the same flaw. As such, such a statement is trivially false, and anyone can see it. So, I don’t even see the need to write an extensive piece to why this is reasoning is bad.
In fact, that rational is so trivially false, that I think it is kind of insulting, that you assume, in the context of responding to a misogynist hate rants about women, that people responding to such a rant with “there is a reason women might not like you, and it is because something is wrong with you” collapses into the trivially false statement you rail against above. When in reality, I think, that the statement is more akin to saying the more reasonable statement that you put into your end-notes, which is a call for self-awareness and self realization – which you admit does help in relationships in the long run.
In the end, my first sentiments as I read this would be… people saying this probably do not mean the trivially false interpretation that you collapse it into. I mean, it is so obviously false… that you have good reason to think that, good feminist thinkers who say this line probably do not mean such a flagrantly false interpretation. Instead, within the context of a response to misogynist hate speech about women coming from men who think they deserve one like a trophy, they more likely mean what you are alluding to below, which is a call to look at ones own flaws instead of writing a hate filled rant about women.
2) Point 1 leads me into point 2… which I say with the almost respect I have for all your writings…. this entire piece feels like a sophisticated version of “man-splaining” combined with “making it about you.” I just cant get sentiment 2 out of my head, because, it seems to me, on reflection of point 1… that this is what this piece collapses into especially because of the timing of the piece. I am not saying that, making this about you is a bad thing, I mean this is your blog, so it kind of has to be about you… but I am saying that the timing and context of the piece, bothers me.
My interpretation is this… and I hope you are not insulted by it, but I have to say it.
You heard this phrase said over and over again “the reason they won’t date you is because you are a jerk”… and it seems like you took it personally because you have had questions of your own about your personal issues with not being able to find a partner. So, instead of concentrating and perhaps explaining a more reasonable interpretation of this response, the one you put in the notes at the end, you spend a lot of time concentrating on a different interpretation of the response, illustrating why you hate this response and take it personally. Which, to me…. really really feels like undermining the more appropriate interpretation of the response.
An analogy would be: Whenever I talk about Latin American issues, a white american takes issue with what I said, and collapses what I said into a trivially false statement in order to express his/her distaste for what I have written. When the reality is that, in the context of what I have written in, as a victim of US aggression, the statement also has another more important interpretation that leads to a better and more rational understanding of my position, as someone a part of the oppressed class. This happens all the time – where instead of looking at the more nuanced version of what I am saying, they collapse what I am saying to a trivially false statement because, the reality is, they don’t want to listen in the first place.
Now I don’t think this can be said of you… that you are not willing to listen. However, I think that the actions here really reassemble a common mistake the privileged make when engaging in a conversation. They interpret things in a simple way in order to undercut a perhaps more important and truer interpretation, and they do this because they took what was said very personally. Usually when this error is pointed out, they then say…”well then you should have phrased it better”… or some such thing. I get a feeling that what you wrote here strongly resembles that response, even if this is not what you meant to do. As such I have a hard time agreeing with what was written… and instead want to talk about perhaps the better interpretation of that response that sheds light on why misogynistic speech about “society owing you a woman” is wrong.
Sorry this is long, but that is what I was thinking when I read this.
I’m not sure if that’s a fair restatement of my position. My point is more that the refutation implicitly accepts the framing that attraction is about an individual’s personal characteristics – things that can be swapped in and out, improved or discarded – and ascribing a person’s unattractiveness to that thing. “The reason you are single is X”. And if the refutation is trivial, it’s not obviously trivial to a lot of people (feminist and otherwise) who I see making this claim on a fairly regular basis.
This is probably true.
I tried to point in that direction when I said “talk about why bad things are bad”, but perhaps that moves me into the territory of “well then you should have phrased it better”, which I agree is problematic. I’m going to think about the extent to which this piece may simply be a long-winded version of that.
I saved this one for last, because I am not really sure how to respond to it. I think it would be unfair to say that I’m not taking it ‘personally’, insofar as I say that being single and hearing stuff like this affected my self-concept. At the same time, I’m not sure it’s fair to say that I wrote this out of some feeling of personal hurt. By the time I started listening and learning and trying to practice feminism, I had more or less come to terms with being a single guy. It was in the context of those conversations that I heard the phrase I’m objecting to, and I don’t remember taking them personally. Maybe I did, and I am engaging in some self-flattering nostalgia.
At the time I remember taking my singleness personally, I was getting into PUA stuff, and I remember that the basic formulation of the advice was “you can get ‘women’ if you change X and Y and Z, because women like X and Y and Z”. It’s that ‘relationships as widgets’ thing. It wasn’t until I actually stopped being single that I began to recognize the fact that while ‘women’ may (or may not) like X, Y, and Z, that doesn’t necessarily move me toward the kind of relationship I want to have, because there’s another person involved – a person with her own likes and dislikes and baggage and virtues and all that. If I think X and Y and Z are good things, then I should do them because they’re good.
And I am concerned about the fact that our messages to single people don’t spend much time exploring that. Rather, being single is seen as evidence that a person is flawed in some way (I have a similar problem with the phrase “basement dwellers”, or writing off asshole guys as “desperate virgins”). I think this isn’t trivial, and I don’t see a lot of people making the argument in these terms.
I am very happy to have your feedback, and you’ve given me some things to think about and explore.
sorry left a reply as a new post… my mistake, but it is below.
I mean…. attraction is, I would think, about an individual’s personal characteristics. You find someone attractive based on personality traits and or physical traits. So, I am not sure what you mean here. I think what you are referring to, best I can make out, is the fact that relationships are based on a complex variety of factors that can not be pinned down to mere catch all statements of why it does not work out. I think everyone can trivially agree that relationships are complex and there may be a plethora of reasons why someone is currently single that have nothing to do with generalized undesirable traits. Which, leads me to believe, again, in the context of feminist rejection of hostile woman hating rants, that the framework you are attributing them to, is probably not what they mean. However, if you have heard this sentiment repeated in other contexts, than this sort of explanation would be apt – but, personally, I have only seen this phrasing in response to the hate speech about women.
As for societies general disdain for being single… I very much agree. There is a clear social force trying to force people into long term relationships, and if they currently are having trouble, society sets out to irrationally criticize single people as if there is something wrong with them. As I get older, I definitely sense that people look at me oddly when I inform them that I am still single… as if I am doing something wrong by not having a partner at this moment. That general distaste and looking down upon the single life, is very much there. If this is what this post was targeting than it is great, but I feel like it was concentrating on a wrong point of intersection here. Now, there may be these latent sentiments in the response of “this is why you are single” when responding to misogynistic men, however, I would think the more pressing thing to talk about instead would be the feminist part of that statement. If I wanted to engage in a conversation about demonizing single people, I would have chosen a different starting point.
What I think feminist mean when they reply to such hate speech is that… this person writing this screed again women is ugly. Bigotry is an ugly character trait, and most people who are the target of bigotry do not want to be around a person who dehumanizes them. In this context,a good response to a misogynist, blaming women for being single… is telling them that women in general, like most oppressed groups, don’t like hanging around someone who treats them as a subhuman, and this may be the reason many women do not want to be around this person – since they usually say they have trouble with women themselves. It stands to reason as well that, if they lessen their misogyny women in general might find them more tolerable, and this may improve, but not guarantee, their chances in finding a partner. I mean one can make the point that some women don’t mind the sexism and they should find one of them… but I would not want to make that point. Why would one tell an abuser a way to get someone who likes to be abused? I see no rational for making that point.
I would think that is a valid interpretation to the phrase .”this is why you are single…” and I would excuse the people who say this to a misogynist and not explain themselves further because.. well who wants to talk to such a foul bigoted creature for long, when a pithy catch phrase is better?
Yes and no. It’s also about whether or not you’re in the right frame of mind to be looking for someone, if you’re in a position to notice… it’s a whole lot of stuff aside from a list of characteristics. You could have someone who has the right combination of traits and reject them for a bunch of reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not they’re “good enough”, but the PUA framing doesn’t allow for that (except to blame the other person for being a stuck up bitch). I would, and do, argue that the “because you’re an asshole” framing makes this same omission.
Right, but even in that context it can be problematic. Even when it’s meant as a “fuck off, asshole”, it is based on an underlying framework that I see as being based on inaccurate assumptions. What’s more, it propagates a message that might be hurtful to those who are not meant to fuck off. It’s the difference between “well I wouldn’t fuck you, because you’re an asshole” vs. “nobody wants to fuck you, and here’s why”. Both of which are different from “you’re not a gentleman, you’re an asshole”, which as I say in the footnote is a statement I have absolutely no issue with.
And for be it from me to say “you shouldn’t say X”, or even “here’s a better way of saying X”. What I’m suggesting is that there’s more going on in X than might be readily apparent. But maybe that’s already factored into the response, in which case my admonishment isn’t helpful.
I think I get what you are saying now… and now I definitely think you may be in the area of “say it better” and discussing semantics. I don’t think the phrase “No one wants to be your partner because you are a jerk” eliminates the possibility that there may be other reasons as well. I don’t even think this phrase requires the framework you are pinning to it. Just because other factors besides character traits can contribute to “single status” when not desired, does not mean that pointing to a likely factor, that just so happens to be a particular ugly character trait on display, ignores the other factors at play.
Further,I don’t think you can object to someone pointing out to misogyny in this context as something that needs to be considered as a cause for “singleness,” because they failed to mention other more sympathetic factors that leads to one being single. I mean, that would fall into the territory of telling feminist that they are not being “nice enough” to misogynist hate speech and instead of concentrating on a topical observation about the ugliness of misogyny itself, you would be begging them to cover the other factors that, in that moment are, I would argue, a lot less important than discussing sexism.
If anything, you can interpret the phrase as saying “One of the reasons that you are single is probably cause women don’t like being around a misogynistic fool.” Saying misogynistic ideas may be the cause of ones single status does not eliminate or undercut that there may be other factors, like the ones you list there, that can lead to single status – when they are desperately trying not to be single. Identifying one cause, does not alienate other reasonable ones, especially if the cause you are pointing to, I would argue, is one worth pointing out as a possibility. Arguing they should look at other causes, when answering hate speech… really does seem like mansplaining and in particular taking away from the issue that is very important to look at.
I think your view on “singleness” is worth exploring….. and I would read more of what you had to say about it… but the timing in the context you are bringing it up in has the effect, I would say, of doing things that privileged people tend to do when they enter a conversation that is not about them, or issues they care about, rather than issues that feminist care about… and that is undercutting a more important issue. I would say your timing is inappropriate, and has the effects I was saying in my first post. I think you would be better served exploring this issue with a different starting point, because the point you chose, to me, is undercutting an important topic in feminism. (That is not to say you have not taken the time to talk about that issue.. you did, just in this post… personally I can’t shake off the reaction I had that this really resembles a typical and distasteful privileged response to an issue.) Anyway, I won’t waste anymore of your time, I think I understand your position more, and will think about it more… but my feelings about why I can’t support it remain the same.
one last thing, the way I read this is like this….
Man makes hate speech about women and complains he is still single
Woman says that this misogyny is the reason he is single
Another man comes in, in that moment when she is fighting back sexism, and says there are so many factors to being single and that it is unfair to say it is just cause he is a misogynist, and man uses his single status as an example of the reasons why he does not like her objections.
The reaction by the third guy, even if he is right about the “other factors” undercuts the actual issue at hand – it man-splains, makes it about them, takes away from the woman’s objections…. etc… To me, this is not an acceptable reaction. Especially not when people just got murdered because of such misogynistic hate speech. To me, you reassemble that third guy. The reaction reassembles a white persons reactions to something I am saying when I am objecting to a racist… and they make massive attempts to “correct me” even while “being on my side.”….. they don’t realize that, even if they are right about whatever point they wish to argue, a better use of their time would be.. say devoting just as much time they spent in their objections, to say, developing a better way to argue against the racist and presenting that argument, instead of trying to point out corrections on mine and exhausting me.
Now, you have not done that.. I think. I have not seen you exhausting any feminists or whatever… but these writing comes very close to that general behavior. That is all I have to say – if this was written in a different time, I would agree with it, but the timing makes me reject this and instead yearn to defend the more important point of objecting to misogyny and violence.
” and now I definitely think you may be in the area of “say it better” and discussing semantics.”
I think you made a very important point here.
“say it better” is kind of a nicely worded version of “how can I learn if you don’t teach me???”
Actually, I’m totally NOT interested in taking this fictional dudebro aside and teaching him not to be a misogynist anymore so he can get laid.
Right, which, I think is one of my feelings on this issue. While Crommunist is undoubtedly right and, I think very insightful about how society looks down upon single people, the context in which the phrase he is objecting to is said, IMO, is not worth objecting to for a few reasons.
1) The phrase has one interpretation that makes rational sense.
2) The context in which the phrase is said usually indicates someones impatience with hate speech. It is a good catchy reply that has really good insights if you explore it the right way.
3) The other interpretation of the phrase is almost obviously wrong – although Crom made me think that there are underlying assumption that are worth exploring – that this is probably not what many mean by it.
4) Finally, as you point out, when women in particular use this phrase as a reply… you can’t blame them for not “further explaining themselves” to someone actively dehumanizing them so that one reaches the right interpretation of the phrase.