By assuming that any approach is malign unless proven otherwise, we lose something potentially risky—but also potentially wonderful.
Not being able to see and manage the vast difference between flirting and assault symbolizes the lack of nuance in our dialogue, and is, to use the current jargon, "harming" all of us. I feel sorry for all the young women and men who are afraid to engage in this playful, HUMAN behavior. Yet, we've come to a point where we are told ALL males are dangerous, ALL females are victims, ALL whites are evil...etc., etc., etc. This juvenile thinking is one of the reasons our society is failing.
I agree with the point of the article--what went wrong--but there's a distinct lack of concrete solutions. I understood the problem back in the 1990s, as I was a teen girl in a region where the moral panic hit early, not least because we had actually serious and pervasive violence problems. I was lucky to have been a tomboy, because having primarily male friends both demystified guys and helped me see how trapped they were by the idea that any advance could be seen as threatening (or worse).
I adapted by directing my attention toward older men when possible, and by becoming a clear-communicating instigator in any case. I gave up on passively waiting, and said all the things that girls aren't supposed to say. I also went out of my way to create a sense of safety for the guys I talked to: letting them get to know me in a group setting, making it clear that I didn't consider it their job to read my mind. I established that in every social setting, I mean what I say...I won't ever say X is okay, then blame you for X. I assume positive intent and accept that humans make mistakes (sometimes awkward ones).
I remember sitting up one long night with a dear friend of the drop-dead-gorgeous variety. She was sad, because she never got the kinds of guys I got...and to be clear, I was not gorgeous. I was an overweight tomboy nerd who had no idea how to dress and hated make-up. If you squinted really hard and turned your head, I might be called "cute", but never "beautiful". What I had going for me was that I was smart, adventurous, and assertive. I went out of my way to reduce a man's risk in getting to know me. I didn't need to be beautiful, I had more choice in a mate than I could possibly need.
Women, unlike men, can "opt out" of the system in our current society.
Now, I just wish I knew what to tell my son. :(
This is a good example of what happens when a legitimate movement goes over the top. It is a consequence of separating people into binary categories - victims and oppressors; all suffer needlessly.
Oddly, it was just a couple of days ago that I was prompted by Lenore Skenazy's Persuasion essay about "free-range" children to make a comment similar to the following:
I agree with the author's suspicion that the flirting baby has been thrown out with the harassment bathwater, and that relations between the sexes would do well to return to something less fraught. It's important that people understand, though, that there's no perfect solution.
People will misbehave, and to the extent that men and women are encouraged to pursue one-another with their former abandon, there will be an increase in abuse, hard feelings and even crime. There's a lot that can be done to minimize them -- though many of the techniques that worked well (not perfectly, but well) for millennia in traditional societies have been rejected by today's prevailing culture -- but we'll never get to zero. Trying to get to zero, an impossibility in any case, is a major driver of the attitudes that the author bemoans.
So by all means let the cute guy in the elevator chat you up, and do with your worry that he's a creep whatever you normally do with your worries. Just keep your wits about you, call on the clearheaded strength that many in the MeToo moment exhibited, and don't count on social pressure to protect you unless you want that guy to refuse to make eye contact.
The degree to which it is true that critical gender theorists cannot find sexual partners does seem to suggest that if it is a wide-spread problem, rather than just a rabid vocal minority, it is a problem that will solve itself over-time. They will fail to reproduce and the pernicious mental model will die out.
One of the most important features of a virus is that it has to keep the host alive long enough to reproduce itself.
I have to say, this is a subject that has always perplexed me. I know it's a cliché to say that men are simple and women are complicated, but everything I read about this seems to reinforce the idea that women are just all over the map when it comes to sexual desire and how they respond to male attention. Sophie Gilbert from the Atlantic wrote about this same controversy in British schools and had the exact opposite perspective.
When I first heard of the concept of "objectification", I was confused. Why wouldn't someone want attention from the opposite sex? I often hear women talk about getting breasts and curves as a traumatic experience due to all the sudden attention from boys that it brings. Some women, it seems, feel that this is a good thing, and others lament the lack of attention they receive because they're "flat" or remain with narrow hips.
Needless to say, this is a stark contrast to males. When (straight) men are going through puberty, there is no ambiguity - our minds become consumed with lust, and there is no such thing as bad attention from girls. Any obvious "adult" features we obtain (facial hair, deepening voice, etc.) that we think might make us more desirable to females are greeted as unqualified goods. Talk to virtually any man and they'll confirm this (I assume the same applies to gay men, though they usually have denial to work through which complicates things). We really are that uniformly simple on this issue.
Don't get me wrong - as we grow older it becomes harder to ignore that women are judged far more strictly on their physical appearance than men, so you can understand where they're coming from on the general issue of "objectification". But there is a difference between objectification creating unreasonable standards for female attractiveness and objectification making women feel "too attractive" to the opposite sex.
The article that Zoe links to here about the "omnivorous" female sex drive seems to unequivocally confirm the relative complexity of female desire compared to that of men. It talks of women's minds being separate from their genitalia in terms of what stimuli they respond to. About women being aroused by being desired rather than just from desiring their partner. About how women want a chivalrous man who will also throw them up against a wall and "take" them. Even the researchers seem to acknowledge the difficulty in drawing conclusions from the mass of confusing and sometimes contradictory seeming data on what turns women on.
Ultimately, it seems this is something that varies greatly from woman to woman, and depends a lot on self-image, strength of libido, previous experience with males, and personal values. I'm just glad to be reminded that women like Zoe exist, and that there are still those that don't consider my natural sexual desires to be a force of oppression.
I usually believe that the best path to tread is in the middle; that we can’t keep retreating into destructive polarisation. However, what this article doesn’t take into account is how much the internet and smart phones etc have changed the worlds of the young; in particular the rise of truly horrifying porn and the birth of incel culture etc. Women are objectified and abused all over the web and that pervades and pollutes the area of sexual relationships, warping the minds of some young men. This stuff wasn’t around in the 90s unless you looked pretty hard, now it’s almost unavoidable. It does far more damage than #metoo to male/female relations. Young women need to protect themselves until society gets to grips with the misogyny that threatens them.
Flirting is fine for adults who have equal status. Never for the relationships of those who are not equal such as employee and boss, student and professor etc. But, of course either party may still feel uncomfortable and thus the flirting should end. This applies to heterosexual as well as homosexual flirting; it is not just men in relationship to women.
I suspect flirting might become more comfortable for women if society revised its norms of how quickly it was supposed to leas to sex.
As lefties succeed in emasculating the more sensitive males, they leave the field wide open to the predatory ones. Females have always had a weakness for these guys, and a poor ability to distinguish between healthy assertion and malignant dominance . Now, that problem will get worse.
Thank you for this, Zoe. I'm 62, had three sisters and three daughters, was raised Catholic, and have spent an enormous amount of emotional energy feeling guilty for "thought sins", and trying to avoid being a "creeper". I lived in Italy for a few years and envied men who could show their attraction so joyfully, and the women who were delighted with the attention. I wish I had been able to enjoy the playful behavior that Adrienne describes below. Such a loss for both genders.
A much-needed corrective! Thank you.