One of the side-effects of writing dating advice for men is that I hear a lot of complaints about women – specifically about how women are “doing it all wrong” and not “making it easier” on guys.
Every time I answer a woman’s question about dealing with somebody who’s being creepy, there are the inevitable apologists. Case in point: at my Kotaku column, a woman wrote in about a Nice Guy who wouldn’t leave her alone at a party. Naturally, as soon as the post went up, the apologists where there with their favorite questions and complaints. “Why didn’t she just tell him to fuck off?” “How was he being creepy?” “He clearly wasn’t a threat, he was just socially awkward.”
Of course, when people explained that she might have concerns for her physical safety, we got the second most common response:
Right, how like a woman to exaggerate. Those drama queens will say anything right bro? Women being assaulted for turning down dates only happens in movies with names like Mother, May I Go To Second Base With Peril. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen in the real world…
The Real-World Dangers of Dating
On April 25th, Chris Plaskon, a junior at Jonathan Law High-School in Milford Connecticut, asked Meran Sanchez to go to the prom with him. She turned him down.
So he grabbed her by the throat, pushed her down a flight of stairs and then stabbed her repeatedly in the face, chest and throat. By 7:43 that morning, she was pronounced dead at the hospital. Because she didn’t want to go to the prom with somebody who was by all accounts a popular and well-liked student at her high-school.
It’s a horrifying scenario, one that seems more like a horror movie than real life; one moment they’re two teenagers having a conversation, the next minute a brutal murderous attack that comes out of nowhere. But it’s also the most recent example of men getting violently angry . In Columbia, South Carolina, an apparently intoxicated off-duty sheriff’s deputy handcuffed a woman and then slammed her head into a table after she rejected his attempts to hit on her. Another woman in New York was brutally attacked in a bar’s bathroom because she rebuffed her assailant’s repeated attempts to dance with her.
In less extreme – but no less threatening or disturbing – examples, women will tell you about the times they’ve been followed, yelled at, grabbed or even spit on because they didn’t want to talk to somebody. Because she didn’t want to give him her phone number. Because she didn’t want to dance with him. Because she didn’t want to go home with him, to be touched, fondled, kissed or otherwise just did not want to accede to that individual’s demands of the moment.
And yet, mentioning these stories will bring out the apologists, the Not-All-Men, the dismissers and the derailers, and the ones who will continue to complain that women aren’t saying “no” clearly enough.
Except… they are.
It’s just that men don’t like the answer.
An Offer You Better Not Refuse
Women are socialized over and over again to be deferential to men; it’s “polite” for women to use indirect language, especially when dealing with men. Being direct – especially when that directness might hurt a man’s feelings – is the height of impropriety. The need to avoid giving offense is so deeply ingrained in our social fabric that women will do things that actively harm themselves rather than risk giving offense. Over and over again, women are socialized to not trust their instincts and ignore red flags… because it’d be rude to do so. A friend of mine has given far too much head-space towards trying to understand her personal creeper’s side of things because she’s been taught it’s better to ignore her gut and give him the benefit of the doubt over and over again. I’ve had letters from women who feel obliged to do things a guy asked for that they not only don’t want to do but are actively afraid of… because they’re even more afraid of disappointing him.
It’s become an ingrained part of the culture. Women are continually pressured to “give the guy a chance” and to understand that “he’s just a little awkward” or that “he’s a nice guy” and she had to be mistaken.
This is why women will often give what’s known as a “soft no” rather than a direct refusal for something they would rather not do. Soft no’s are a way of refusing without looking like they’re refusing. An “I’d love to, but I’m busy that day”, for example, is a soft no. So is a “Maybe some other time.” So is pretending to misunderstand an offer, ignoring it entirely or even just not responding. It’s a socially acceptable excuse to not do something without the stigma of actually saying the words, because not only are women taught that it’s rude to say no, but there are many, many examples of men taking it badly.
But this puts women in a catch-22; they’re taught that they shouldn’t refuse someone directly, but then get criticized for not doing so. I’ve lost track of the number of men who complain that women aren’t clear enough when they reject them – complaining about ambiguous “no’s”, flakes and fade-outs. Except more often not, guys know what’s going on – they just don’t like the answer.
For a lot of guys – especially ones who ignore soft no’s – holding on to those ambiguities gives them the opportunity to try again and again. In fact, this is the basis of the techniques pick-up artists teach to overcome “last minute resistance” – applying social pressure to coerce a woman into sleeping with the PUA even when she doesn’t want to. After all, if she didn’t say “no” directly – so the theory goes – there’s still some wiggle room to get her to give in. To quote one of the more notorious PUA gurus1 ,”you’ve got to make the ho say no.”
Crouching Nice Guy, Hidden Douchecanoe
When you bring up this topic, you inevitably have to deal with the Not-All-Men, who are offended to be lumped in with the violent scum. After all: they’re not like that! They don’t deserve to be treated this way. They’re the ones who deserve to be given a chance, not to be punished for the actions of a few bad actors, right?
Except it’s all well and good for those guys to insist that they’re Not That Guy… women have literally no way of knowing one way or another. We make jokes-but-not-really about frat boys all being date-rape-y Broheims with popped collars and artfully disheveled baseball caps, and the “creepy” loner with the patchy beard and the long, black trench coat who clearly has a rape-dungeon in the basement of his house. But in real life, it’s almost always impossible to know who actually poses a legitimate threat until it’s too late.
To go back to the prom-date stabbing I mentioned earlier: Chris Plaskon doesn’t fit with our mental image of what a psychotic killer looks like. He was popular and outgoing, known for his infectious sense of humor. He was known as a class-clown as well as being a successful athlete; he was wide receiver on the high-school football team in the fall, playing baseball and running track and field in the spring. By all reports, he was the very model of a typical, middle-class teenager in the suburbs. A nice kid.
And when a girl turned him down for a date, he murdered her.
Even those guys who seem nice (but not a Nice GuyTM) can prove to go from “nice” to “pissed” at the drop of a hat.
It’s easy for guys to dismiss women’s fears. After all, we men simply don’t experience the same risks, so we dismiss them. One of the invisible benefits of being a man is that we don’t have to worry about whether the people we’re interested in are hiding a steroidal rage-monster who comes out when we turn them down. We simply don’t face the same dangers in dating that women do. Even the guys who will (inevitably) pull the false equivalence argument about women getting angry or turning into stalkers ignore the fact that the average woman is simply not a physical threat to the average man. The average man is five inches taller and thirty pounds heavier than the average woman; the underlying fact of every interaction is that it’s almost trivially easy for men to overpower and harm a woman if they felt like it.
“Men Are Afraid Women Will Laugh At Them. Women Are Afraid Men Will Kill Them.”
Louis CK’s routine is funny, but it’s the sort of uncomfortable comedy that’s based in truth. According to the World Health Organization, over a third of women have experienced intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence over the course of their lifetime. Nearly 40% of the murders of women are committed by intimate partners. This is the world we live in. And as men, we need to be aware of this.
To address the obvious question: no, women aren’t hiding in their homes, afraid to step out into the street for fear that roving packs of men are going to descend upon them like hyenas on a particularly slow and succulent wildebeest. But if you don’t think that just about every woman is weighing the risks of interacting with the men in their lives, then you’re fooling yourself. That perception of physical safety informs everything that women do – including who they go on dates with and who they have sex with. We may talk about women loving “bad boys” and the appeal of fictional men who are capable of furious violence yet hold the beast in their nature at bay, but the reality is that women are hyper-aware of the threat men pose – and that affects everything about how they interact with us.
This is why it’s so important to understand issues like enthusiastic consent and male privilege – to understand what women go through. To build empathy and awareness at the very least and ideally to helping make things better. Even if you want to be completely selfish about it, acknowledging the risks women take benefits everyone in the long run. After all, I’m a firm believer in the concept of enlightened self interest. The more you can understand the dangers of dating that women face, the more you’re able to make them feel safe in your presence, the better you will do in your own romantic life.
- Alan “Gunwitch” Reyes – who shot a girl in the face, BTW [↩]