One of the ongoing themes here at Paging Dr. NerdLove is that one of the keys of dating success is understanding women – especially what women want.
Of course, it’s hard to actually relate to women when we’re acculturated into an antagonistic relationship with women, where men and women may as well be separate species entirely, eternally in conflict. Men are simple creatures, wanting food and fucking while women are inscrutable and sphinx-like. Men will never understand what women want because they’re just too different, yo. Even when the supposed conflict is in a joking manner, there’s still that undercurrent of “…no but seriously, it’s impossible.”
The idea that men and women are in conflict makes relationships almost impossible because it presumes the antagonistic, commodity model of sex; men are taught to enter into relationships under the assumption that we’re having to bribe, bargain or cajole women for what we want1 because everyone knows women don’t want sex, bra. We can’t work together because men are intellectual while women are emotional. Men wanna do things while women want to talk about their feelings.
Of course part of what maintains this “conflict” is how much of it relies on the shared wisdom of “everybody knows”. Of course “everybody knows” women don’t want sex. “Everybody knows” women only want slab-jawed alpha-male dudebros with six-packs and seven figure bank accounts. “Everybody knows” women are never going to tell you what they really like in a man.
These are all examples I hear from guys all the damn time. Hell, I’ve heard some of these over the last couple of days.
If we want to have more success in dating, if we want to understand women better, then we have to untangle all of these mistaken ideas about what women want.
Women Are Not A Hivemind
As I’ve said before: when you’re trying to figure out what women want, you’re asking the wrong question because women aren’t one monolithic entity. The question of what women want is inevitably phrased as though all women are exactly the same. The common stereotypes about women are trotted out as being universal to the gender as though all women were a gestalt intelligence, individual drones being ruled by some queen bee pulling strings from her central hive.
The thing is: what a woman wants – at any level – is a product of a multitude of individual factors. The culture and society a woman grows up and lives in will directly affect her outlook on the world and the way she interacts with it. The needs and wants of, say, a Masai woman are going to be radically different from a woman born and raised in Osaka. The experiences of a businesswoman of color in Chicago are going to be different from a white woman in Boise who works in the service industry.
But when we talk about “what women want”, we tend to assume that the stereotypes are universal – and usually based on upper-middle class WASPs2. Even when breaking it down tends to aggregate all women into the broad stereotypes of their segment; all white women are X, all black women are Y, all Asian women are Z, all lesbians and queer women are W, all trans women are J, etc. The assumptions about any one group whether in the macro (all women) or the micro (bisexual Five Nations women) erase the existence of an individual who doesn’t conform to that strict definition of womanhood; at best she becomes “the exception that proves the rule”3
Yes, there will be certain commonalities. There are always going to be experiences that will be more widespread, especially among people who have a shared cultural upbringing. But this doesn’t translate to “all women are X”; even amongst seemingly homogeneous groups (bisexual and lesbian women, say) there is going to be a wide variety of differences. The first key to understanding what women want is to quit assuming that there’s a universal law.
(To pre-empt the inevitable argument in the comments: this doesn’t somehow invalidate the #yesallwomen hashtag. #yesallwomen is about women’s experiences, not about traits that are universal to the gender.)
Yes, Women Want Casual Sex Too.
As insane as it seems in the 21st century, the idea that women want casual, no-strings-attached sex too – just as much as men do, in fact – continues to be a matter of controversy. Oh sure, it’s fine if they’re in a relationship – everyone knows on the rare occasions that women want sex, it’s in the context of a relationship. It’s a cornerstone of the commodity model of sex – men want sex more than women, therefore they have to reach the “market price” women set in order to get the hoo-hah. After all, how else are you going to get a man into a relationship if you don’t bribe him into it? Why is he going to buy the milk if he can just fuck the cow for free?
Women want to have sex, even casual sex… but the consequences tend to mean that they’re more likely to take a pass. Beyond the physical perils – such as pregnancy and a greater risk of contracting STIs – the potential social fallout often means women don’t see it as being worth taking the chance. Why risk slut shaming and social opprobrium for what’s likely to be mediocre sex? After all, women having casual sex is inherently a bad thing because a woman’s value is intrinsically tied to the “THIS MANY SERVED” sign hovering on the outside of her vagina. Since women are the “gatekeepers” for sex – because any man would fuck in a heartbeat, amirite? – it stands to reason that a woman who lets too many people through the gate is a lousy gatekeeper. It’s like the oft-cited-incredibly-tired comparison of the key and the lock. A key that can open any lock is a master key while a lock that can be opened by any key is shitty lock.
Sure, it’s a pithy sounding quote that seems clever, but like most glib quotes about the superiority of peens over vajeens, it makes no sense. It only works if vaginas are supposed to only fit one penis and somehow keep all others out. ((And this isn’t even getting into cutting new keys… ouch.)) You may as well point out that a pencil that goes into a sharpener too often gets whittled away to nothing while the sharpener can take pencils all day without a problem. It’s exactly as relevant: long cylindrical thing goes into hole designed to receive cylindrical thing.
The problem is that this is another case of received wisdom that people keep trying to justify into existence. There has been study after incredibly flawed study in an attempt to “prove” that women don’t like sex the way that men do as people try to ascribe to biology and evo-psych something that’s caused by culture. If we can “prove” that women don’t like sex because BIOLOGY then it goes to show that women who like sex are somehow wrong and defective. It’s a way of making the madonna/whore dichotomy a matter of scientific fact rather than shaming women for the crime of liking sex the way men do. To give a recent example: the jubilation on the right over the Hobby Lobby decision in the Supreme Court shows that the case was much more about punishing women for having sex than it was about contraceptive care. Even other women get caught up in the “shame” of admitting that women like to fuck; many women list alternate reasons why they might be prescribed hormonal birth-control pills because these are somehow more “legitimate” than “I want to fuck and not have babies, m’kay?”
Understanding that women are sexual beings – just as much as men are – is critical to modern dating. Respecting them as equals and collaborators in sex rather than as antagonists makes for better partnerships. This, in turn, means that not only will there be more sex, but there will be better sex.
Oh and speaking of:
Women Don’t Want Movie Stars and Models
As we’re talking about what women want, it’s important to talk about what women don’t want, too.
And in this case, it’s “prettyboy actors” and models.
One of the most recurring complaints I see from men about women – in fact, one of my longest running frustrations with men – is how women “only” want a certain type of man. That type is inevitably someone who is model-gorgeous, preferably with 5% body fat and abs like damn. Guys will point to Brad Pitt, Michael B. Jordan, Zac Efron, Harry Stiles or any other Tiger Beat cover model and say “See, see?! Women only want guys who look like that.”
Yet, surprisingly, men who aren’t pretty-boy frontmen or Abercrombie and Fitch models continue to get laid and get married on a daily basis – even by women who would presumably be “out of their league”. To choose a famous example4 , take Adam Duritz, the lead singer of Counting Crows. He’s a man a man that Jezebel describes as “a haunted chia pet”, yet has dated an impressive number of women, including Mary Louise Parker, Gwen Stefani, Emmy Rossum, Lara Flynn Boyle, Courtney Cox, Jennifer Anniston and Samantha Mathis.
Then there’s Prince Fielder, the first-baseman for the Texas Rangers. He is decidedly not the washboard-ab-bedecked, 32-inch waist athlete type… yet he has many many fans who appreciate his more generous build. In fact his appearance in the ESPN “Bodies” issue is being celebrated by connoisseurs of larger men (and there are many) on Twitter with the #huskytwitter hashtag.
And of course, there’s Geoffry Arend, who is married to ginger bombshell Christina Hendricks, despite not being what you might call gifted in the facial symmetry department.
Just like men may drool over Kat Dennings and yet still fall in love with women who are not Kat Dennings, women are capable of eye-fucking the hell out of Ryan Gosling or Idris Elba and still desire normal, non-celebrity men. Men and women are equally capable of lusting after extremely attractive people and still lust after people who aren’t featured on movie posters. The difference is that men are told over and over again that a certain type of woman is desirable… and tend to assume that women feel the same way, despite all evidence to the contrary. Yes, good looks certainly help… but it’s not the only factor in attraction and what women define as “good looks” can vary widely.
It’s Not All About You
If there’s one thing that men tend to do constantly, it’s to assume that everything is about them – and this includes women’s behavior. One thing I see over and over again is the assumption that women are trying to trick men or somehow put one over on them. It comes up in discussions about The Friend Zone – when women are implied to have done this maliciously to men. Other times I’ve seen it come up in discussions about dating; one of my favorites5 is that “women won’t tell you the truth about what women want”. The idea is that what women say they want and what they really respond to are two different things entirely. Under the most benign interpretations, women are simply ignorant about what they really want and will just tell you what society tells them they like. More often than not though… they’re actively lying to you because FUCK YOU, PENIS.
Of course we all know men never do this.
Even times when it’s well-intentioned, the tendency for guys to assume that everything women do is for our benefit is presumptuous. To give an example I see often: one of the ways that guys try to psyche each other up to make a cold approach is to remind themselves that women don’t put on sexy dresses and make-up and go out to clubs because they don’t want to meet guys. And while this is often true – the social contract in certain bars is that meeting strangers is not just expected but desired – it ignores the fact that women will quite cheerfully dress up and go out with their friends because it makes them feel good and they want to spend time with their friends. Men don’t enter into the equation at all.
It’s not terribly surprising. We already have the majority of culture catering to our interests as men; it seems only natural to assume that everything is about us. But it’s that “man”-centric view that causes so many dating issues; we get defensive because we see rejections as being slights against us as people. We freak out over women being visually aroused by other men because we assume it says something about how they feel about us. We obsess about women’s sexuality because surely it should revolve around us. When it doesn’t… well, it feels like we’ve had something taken away from us.
And while we’re on the subject:
Women Are Trying To Help You
Men tend to make the common mistake of believing that feminism is about superiority. They hear “feminist” and assume that what women want is total domination over men… because… well, c’mon, it’s what we’d do, right? Feminism has to inherently mean that women are superior and men are inferior and need to apologize for being male and so forth and so on.
Which makes for great MRA paranoid fantasies but in reality, it’s a lot simpler. In the words of Rebecca West: “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people”. It’s not about destroying men, it’s about making men and women equal. People get caught up in the furor of “OMG Feminists are coming for your penis” because they assume that equality is by its nature a zero-sum game; if women somehow become men’s social equals that means, by definition6 that men have lost out on… something. Nobody’s quite able to say how it brings men down but by Jimminy they know it will. Because reasons.
Here’s the thing, though: part of making men and women equal means correcting a toxic system that actively hurts women.To a lot of guys, that can seem threatening; it means having to be aware of the invisible benefits that men enjoy by virtue of being male and the understanding that some of the privileges we enjoy come at a cost to other people. We don’t like to think about the negative side of things that we enjoy. We don’t want to think about how our smartphones are made by slave labor. We don’t want to think about how our culture of conspicuous consumption poisons people in developing countries. And we don’t like thinking about how much of being a man in western society is at the expense of women.
And on the individual level, this idea puts us on the defensive – we aren’t sexist! We don’t treat women like crap! We aren’t specially privileged! Don’t take your anger out on us! But it’s a system we all benefit from whether we are aware of it or not.
Now here’s the twist: the same system that women are trying to fix hurts men too. It’s not women who enforce the rigid, toxic definitions of masculinity, it’s men. The same system that tells women they’re horrible sluts for having sex is the same system that makes it harder for men to get help when they’ve been sexually assaulted or when they’re trapped in an abusive relationship. It’s the same system that says manhood is something that can be taken away from you and that any man who doesn’t adhere to the narrow definition of “man” needs to be punished for it. It’s the one that says violence is the only acceptable way to solve your problems and that admitting weakness or seeking help makes you less than a man.
This is part and parcel of the antagonistic view of relationships between men and women; we’re taught that women are the enemy when what women want more than anything is to help us – men and women both. Instead of assuming we know everything, we need to stop and question. We need to ask. We need to listen.
Because that’s really what women want.