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Safe Like C-4

September 3, 2010
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I’ve never heard anyone criticize C-4 for being too safe. (As I often do, I am starting with the metaphor and working my way back.) It’s amazing stuff. It’s totally pliable. It can be shaped and molded and squished and squeezed, dropped, thrown, bounced, and nothing bad will happen. You can put it in the microwave. You can shoot bullets into it. You can roll in up in a ball and throw it off a building and nothing will happen. You can light it on fire and use it to light candles with, and it won’t go off. It’s meant to release its energy under specific conditions, both heat and pressure, which generally requires a little shotgun shell-like device called a blasting cap. C-4 doesn’t do what it does best by accident, but only when it should. And for what it does best, it is the very best. Its safety is not a bug. It’s a feature.

So it seemed very weird to me that Stephanie Zvan, guesting at Carnal Nation, was saying that being “safe” is a bad thing to be, that it meant being toyed with. Zvan seems to think it’s a bad thing that, in certain relationships, women have boundaries with men and rely on men to accept those boundaries. In parts of this essay, I think she has the kernel of a good idea, but keeps going the wrong way with it.

I read this piece, and in part I thought that she had gotten mired in a framework of fixed sex roles. The roles she sketches in her piece (which is written from a ciscentrist and heteronormative stance) are a bit different than the traditional man-as-pursuer and woman-as-prey script, but ultimately not really very different. In Zvan’s script, women are deciding, without men’s input, when men are “safe” and then using then as practice-flirting objects like a cat uses a scratching post. Here’s what she says:

This is the phenomenon in which a (generally young) woman dismisses her behavior around a guy as “Oh, that’s just so-and-so. He’s safe.” It always sounds like it’s meant to be a compliment, but there’s very little like it to bring out the bitter in a guy even decades after the fact.
***
None of the “safe” guys I’ve been talking to are asexual. None of them are even close. … And being declared safe is going beyond saying there will be no sex in the relationship. What it has done is put them in situations in which they were flirted with, snuggled up to, asked for advice on what is sexy and what is acceptable sexual behavior, regaled with details of sexual exploits and problems–all without any permission to respond in kind.

Is it bad that the women flirted without wanting more?

Absolutely not. Flirting in safe situations is learning without risk. It’s testing sexuality and figuring out what’s fun in a low-pressure environment. More people, men and women, should have the option of doing this without feeling that they’re making promises.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that the women are designating the men as safe without any input from the men.

[bold omitted.]

I’ll stop here. This is where the limitations of her thinking become obvious. The only way that these men are designated anything without their input is if they are either unable to talk about the relationship because of the social constructs around manhood, or because the women shut down clear communication. The latter is really prevalent, and needs to change. The notion that men are always “up for it” is something I’ve written about before. If guys can’t say, “hey, if we’re not going to be sexual, I don’t really want to have a flirting, teasing relationship with you,” that’s the problem we have to change. We have to permission that conversation, not dictate how women (who play with men) interact with their men (who play with women) friends.

If the problem is that this woman’s friends are really setting out to tease guys and shut down the conversations where guys say, “if you’re not interested stop teasing,” well, then her friends are awful little shits and she should call them on it.

She’s on the right track when she says:

The men aren’t being asked whether they have any sexual interest and whether they’re okay with it being put on hold. They aren’t being asked where the limits of their comfort with the women’s behavior are. They don’t have an option to say, “No,” except by walking away from the situation. These guys might still choose to engage in flirtatious relationships for the fun, but the choice should be theirs every bit as much as it is the women’s. With the unilateral declaration of “safe”-hood, it isn’t.

There’s a complete solution there, but it’s not the one she proposes. The cure is communication. “Are you just flirting or are you interested?” Eight words. That fixes that.  But Zvan never actually proposes communication as a solution.  She identifies, rightly, a problem of unilateral action, but never says that communication is the way to fix it.  And as I will get to, the real problem is that her essay ends up suggesting that, rather than discuss the boundaries, women change their behavior.

The author quotes a friend who says this, which makes clear that this woman and I operate from some very different assumptions:

I found myself in a situation where an attractive man who was not my husband was watching me pick out frilly panties. I found this awkward, again because those old taboos told me that you don’t show other men your panties, and “Oh, noes! I might induce him to have unclean thoughts about me.”

So what did my brain do? It tried to convince me of something along the lines of “It’s XXX. He wouldn’t be thinking those things” as a comforting strategy. The equivalent of “He’s safe,” even though I don’t actually think of him that way.

There’s so much wrong with this that I need to unpack it a piece at a time:

I found myself in a situation where an attractive man who was not my husband was watching me pick out frilly panties. I found this awkward

There are a whole lot of assumptions packed into that. I take it that we are to understand that her friend’s marriage is monogamous, for one. Further, this passage only makes sense if this woman is not comfortable with a certain amount of sexually loaded exchange with this man. Those are assumptions that hold for many married people but certainly not every married person. Presumably, if he’s this woman’s friend, she can communicate with him about those things. How about, “hey, this is kind of awkward because I feel weird about picking out panties in front of you.”

Oh, noes! I might induce him to have unclean thoughts about me.

She can’t control and can’t even know what he thinks. Really, it’s none of her business. What he expresses is what she can know, and what he’s responsible for.

It tried to convince me of something along the lines of “It’s XXX. He wouldn’t be thinking those things” as a comforting strategy. The equivalent of “He’s safe,” even though I don’t actually think of him that way.

Here’s where it goes completely off the rails. If “he’s safe” means that he’s not going to do anything sexual to her without her consent, then he fucking better be safe. Showing him panties that she’s thinking about buying is damned sure not consent to put his hands on her! Zvan recognizing this; she wrote, “We have a right to an expectation of interpersonal safety.” Yes. Yes, we all have a right to an expectation of interpersonal safety. Underwear shopping does not change, vitiate or condition that in any way. There is no implied consent in underwear shopping. This is not debatable.

If the woman Zvan is quoting is only worried about this guy’s thoughts, and not his actions, if she needs to be safe from anyone fantasizing about her, then she needs to be a recluse and live out of sight of other humans. No one person gets to tell any other what they can fantasize about. I don’t get to declare myself off limits to the fantasy pantheon of any of the people I walk by between here and the subway station, and neither do any of us.

(If she’s concerned neither that he’ll touch her without consent nor about his thoughts, but rather about what he’ll say … well, what is and isn’t okay to say between friends is a widely varied area, and the only way to work it out is to talk it out. I have some friends who are kinksters like me who are not comfortable talking details, and some friends who are not kinky who will talk with me about sex right at the which-lube-did-you-use level of detail. )

Zvan falls further down that same hole in her response to the underwear shopping story:

“Now, it may sound as though I’m adding to the chorus of voices telling women that they are responsible for the world’s sexual decision-making. No. Women are not responsible for men’s decisions, even those decisions made in response to women’s decisions, but neither does freeing women from that particular unfair responsibility free them from all responsibility. And that’s what declaring a man safe does; it abdicates a woman’s responsibility for her sexual choices with respect to that man. It says that her decisions and her behavior don’t matter. More than that, it says that they don’t matter because a particular quality of the man in question—his safeness.”

This is where Zvan’s limited model prevents her from seeing where she’s ended up. She’s saying that women are responsible if they are deliberately sexually provocative towards men, because it may make those men bitter and frustrated. But this assumes that the men themselves are automatons, capable of predictable biological reactions but not agency. She’s not assuming that the response women will provoke will be rape, but that model of behavior ends up there anyway. If men have no ability to negotiate boundaries and deal with their own emotional responses, why would we assume that their reaction will be bitterness and frustration, rather than rape, as the rape apologists assume?

A worldview in which men can’t control their responses is always one in which they are not responsible for their responses, and that always ends up the same place. I’m not for that. I’m for the other version, the one in which men are people. People can’t be responsible for others, only to others. But people can be responsible for themselves. If I’m being teased and I don’t want to be, I have options other than bitterness and frustration (and other than aggression). My other option is communication. I can say what I want. I can say, “please stop teasing me.” I can say, “please stop teasing me unless you’re interested.” Those are two very different things. Or I can say, “tease all you want, but I’m not available.” (Which, for me personally, is generally the case.)

In feminism we talk a great deal about disappearing men and their responsibility. This is the space where we need to fix that. Policing women’s sexual expression because it might be some kind of unfair tease, out of a misplaced sense of responsibility to men, is first cousin to the policing of women’s sexual expression that aready goes on, the kind that assumed a woman consented to be on Girls Gone Wild topless, even though she said outright that she did not.

Zvan wants women to plan two and three steps ahead for who might think what, a sucker’s game of overthinking just to keep men from having to engage in some responsible communication. That’s a fucked up and bad way to go about it.

Near the and, Zvan says:

“Women don’t make progress by moving from not being allowed to make decisions to pretending there are no decisions to be made. We get where we want to go by accepting responsibility for the consequences of our actions and acting like the adults we’ve demanded we be allowed to be.”

She’s got that wrong. She could have said that what women should do is be clear about their boundaries with guys, so that they’re not assuming permission to tease a guy who is uncomfortable and frustrated.  But she never says that, and it’s clear from context that her idea of taking responsibility is for women not to flirt without intent.  That’s the wrong solution.  A woman who teases me isn’t pretending there’s no decision to be made. She’s making a decision to tease me. But she’s not emasculating me by assuming I’m “safe”, either. I just don’t know yet what exactly she means to do, and we’re going to need to communicate to find out.  I don’t want to go off by accident. I respect boundaries. I am safe. I don’t just explode at the slightest provocation. What I need to know is if she’s just bouncing me around a little bit, or if she wants to stick in a blasting cap and make me go “Boom.”

[Edited to add: the piece is also up elsewhere, and Zvan’s comments on that thread show a grasp of some of the stuff that I thought ought to be in the essay and was not.]
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63 Comments leave one →
  1. September 3, 2010 2:11 pm

    Thomas, in an ideal world, where everybody had feminist values and everybody had a high level of personal comfort with their sexuality and could clearly express what they did and did not want, your objections might be valid.

    Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.

    We live in a patriarchal world, where all men are supposed to be sexual aggressors at all times and women are supposed to be sexual gatekeepers imposing limits on that male sexual aggression.

    Yes, Thomas, that is a fucked up world.

    However, that is the world we were born in, live in and will probably die in, so we have to deal with the world as it is, not as we want it to be.

    In that harsh real world, there are insecure women who need the validation of male approval constantly and there are shy men who need the validation of female approval so desperately that they will take whatever crumb of affection they can get.

    Quite often, these two types of folks will end up becoming friends of a sort.

    The women in these types of friendships go in with the intent of feeling validated, lusted after and loved by a nonaggressive man who she does not have to be sexual with, and who she can reasonably assume would never try and coerce or force her to be sexual.

    The men in these types of friendships go in with the hope that, while they won’t get to have sex, at the very least they’ll get some scraps of female affection and they can cross their fingers and hope that someday she’ll change her mind about the whole no sex thing.

    I would hope you can understand just how miserable this can be for the guy in that situation.

    Yes, of course, there are situations where the genders are reversed, and it’s the man who’s the tease and the woman’s the one begging for crumbs of affection. And of course I’m sure this same dynamic happens among gays and lesbians as well.

    In any case, it’s not realistic to just say that “people should communicate” – for a lot of shy people, that’s just not possible because they don’t have that type of assertive personality (and I suspect that a lot of the people who get into the situations where they’re begging for crumbs of affection are very shy people – that’s probably why they are in that predicament in the first place).

    It would be better for the person who’s doing the teasing to just cut it out – if you don’t want somebody sexually, don’t toy with their feelings by teasing them – even if you can get away with it, you’re a bad person for doing so.

    GREGORY A. BUTLER

    • September 3, 2010 2:25 pm

      The men in these types of friendships go in with the hope that, while they won’t get to have sex, at the very least they’ll get some scraps of female affection and they can cross their fingers and hope that someday she’ll change her mind about the whole no sex thing.

      Don’t forget there are also Nice Guys™ who will do this and feel that they are “owed” something because they were friends with a woman.

      I also don’t see how women are responsible for a man’s low self-esteem. If she makes it clear from the start they won’t be having sex- she has in no way deceived him. If she leads him on, implying or stating that there will be sex with the express purpose of getting something when she has no intentions of following up (and she has NO requirement to “follow up” if she doesn’t want to- but it’s still incredibly scuzzy to lead people on on purpose), that’s a different story.

      It would be better for the person who’s doing the teasing to just cut it out – if you don’t want somebody sexually, don’t toy with their feelings by teasing them – even if you can get away with it, you’re a bad person for doing so.

      It’d be better for people who enjoy teasing with nothing sexual to make it clear that that is waht they are doing, actually. (and for the people to believe them) If you make your intentions clear- I don’t see the problem. Yes, people can decide “I can change their mind!” but that’s not really a person’s problem for enjoying teasing.

      That’s basically the entire point of this post, from what I can tell, some people enjoy teasing and should be able to tease others in a way that everyone knows what’s going on. Thomas specifically said that if a woman refuses to let a man communicate that he doesn’t want to be teased if there’s no interest that this is busted of the woman.

      • Sam permalink
        September 3, 2010 5:32 pm

        Re: meaning of “safe”

        I just remembered a party at which I was heavily flirting with a girl without the intent of having sex with her. She left, and another woman – the girlfriend of a good friend – came up to me and asked me to dance with her which I did – we danced with close physical contact and both enjoyed it. At some point she said “glad you’re really dancing with me, it looked like you were having afternoon tea with the other girl…” and I replied – “na, you’re xy’s girlfriend, you’re safe for me”, meaning that dancing with her, while physically close, was much less “flirty” or sexually charged.

        Thinking about it, “safe” really is inappropriate terminology to describe this kind of thing – I certainly didn’t want to imply that she was sexually unattractive to me or came across as generally asexual. I tried to say that it was cool for us to be flirty without having to think about stuff that may result, because nothing *would* result. Of course, in this case, she later did suggest we have sex, so the “safe” strategy didn’t really work out here either.

      • September 3, 2010 5:35 pm

        The way I see it, that type of friendship is actually very cruel.

        If you know that somebody is interested in you sexually, you are not interested in them but they are sticking around you as a friend in hopes that you change your mind about the sex thing (and this happens all the time) as the more assertive person in the relationship I feel you have a moral responsibility to not hurt the other person’s feelings.

        At the very least, that means not being in any way sexual towards that person – because you know very well how the other person is going to read your flirting (that is, it will feed their false hope that someday you’ll change your mind).

        Again, it would be nice if everybody spelled all of this out – but realistically, most folks are not going to do that.

        GREGORY A. BUTLER

    • premium permalink
      September 8, 2010 1:26 am

      the problem with making the alleged “tease” responsible for the feelings of fustration experienced by the interested person is that whether or not behaviour is percieved as “teasing” or “flirting” can vary greatly between individuals. behaviour that is percieved as indicative of sexual interest in one social scene or to one individual may be considered merely friendly, sociable or fun in another. also, if someone already wants to sleep with you, pretty much ANYTHING you do can be experienced by them as provoking their arousal, regardless of your intentions.

  2. September 3, 2010 2:19 pm

    It seems to me that there are two problems:
    1. Men are (presumably) flirting and thinking that it’s indicative of interest on the woman’s part when it is not, which they may feel to be using them.
    Solution: As you said, communicate so that the men can do that if they so choose or choose not to be in that sort of relationship
    2. Women are marking people as safe when they may not be- and when the women may have no reason tot hink they are.
    Which is a problem that feels a bit bigger because if she treats a person as safe and it turns out ze isn’t safe, well, that’s seriously #$%$#%# on zir part but it doesn’t really undo what could happen have happened to her. I think part of thinking a person is safe is trusting them- these women trust men not to do anything that would violate their boundaries (Rightly or not) and, in the case of underwear shopping where it could have been a complete stranger she had no reason to trust (it sounded like that to me, though I didn’t read the whole post, that she decided this man was safe because the thought he might be having “XXX” thoughts made her uncomfortable- not because she had reason to believe he wasn’t).

    When you trust someone, you’ll do things with/around them that you would not do things around other people. Now, again, if a woman chooses to trust a complete stranger to fully respect her boundaries- she has that right because EVERYONE’S BOUNDARIES SHOULD ALWAYS BE RESPECTED BY EVERYONE*- but if she believes she has a reason to trust a person when she does not, she might find herself in a bad situation because of this. Which is true in general, but, to me, that’s the more difficult part of labeling people “safe” and one that can’t as easily be solved with communication. If a person is untrustworthy- how can you know they won’t lie about how trustworthy they are? Depending on how men are labeled “safe”, it seems like it might undermine the person’s ability to decide what situations she does and does not want to be in with the person because she feels (potentially falsely) that he is “safe”.

    I could be misreading that, though.

    Policing women’s sexual expression because it might be some kind of unfair tease, out of a misplaced sense of responsibility to men, is first cousin to the policing of women’s sexual expression that aready goes on, the kind that assumed a woman consented to be on Girls Gone Wild topless, even though she said outright that she did not.

    I recently read a post by a woman, who was commenting on a post by a man, in which this happened: a woman was at a party with some friends in which they ended up in lingerie (I don’t know why), they decided to go to a bar afterwards- still dressed like that. While her friends did something, this man decided to chat her up. From his description- she was uncomfortable, trying to pull her clothes to cover her up more and as soon as her friends told her it was time to go (by his guess, 10 minutes later) she left- leaving her phone behind. The next day he texted her implying, though not outright stating (telling her to “read between the lines”) that he wanted something in return for her phone- possibly sexual. He also searched her phone for “hard core” pornography so this is possible he also looked to see if it was likely that she had a boyfriend or had ahd sex that night. Also, as he searched her phone and read her texts, he could have found information that lead to wehre she was if he decided he was really “owed” something in return for the phone.

    The woman talking about this post said this woman was wrong for “flirting” with this man and dressing like that and “teasing” him by giving out “non-verbal” signals- and that her “punishment” for doing these things was this creepy conversation. I really couldn’t put into words how incredibly problematic this idea was for me (this man has also admitted to purposefully misleading a woman to take her into an unfamiliar part of town far from her home and “abandoning”, his word, her there and getting a woman drunk just to “introduce” her to a man who “likes to share”- and smirking when he gets an upset call from her the next day, so I don’t know what he’s capable of).

    But this is exactly it! Thank you.

  3. college student permalink
    September 3, 2010 4:17 pm

    Gregory:

    It’s okay to be shy. It’s not okay to keep your feelings and intentions hidden and then get mad or bitter when other people can’t read your mind.

    A lonely shy person in the “begging for scraps of attention” situation you’re describing has two options if they want to avoid being a jerk: (1) stop beating around the bush and tell the truth about their feelings (perhaps using a number of shy-person-friendly strategies such as writing down what you want to say beforehand, engaging in this conversation using a method like the phone or email that feels less intimidating than face-to-face talking, etc.) or (2) remaining quiet but not placing expectations (especially of sex) on the people that they’re not willing to communicate to that person. (2) will usually work to mitigate the damage if you absolutely can’t bring yourself to say a word, but (1) is clearly going to make everyone involved happier because being honest about your feelings when they’re strong and affect your interactions with others is a much more well-adjusted way to go through life.

    Look, I’m sorry it’s hard to talk to people. Fucked up social norms like the ones you describe are hard to work through in your head, and it’s certainly hard to voice feelings that the culture tells you that you’re not allowed to have or voice. But in this case there’s no power structure like the government or corporations reinforcing this social norm – you don’t have to change the world, just your behavior. It’s perfectly realistic to suggest “talk to the person” if the problem is “I’m afraid me and another person have had a misunderstanding over the meaning of our interactions, feelings about one another, or the nature of our relations and this makes me uncomfortable.” Learning to tell the truth even when it’s hard (especially when it’s hard!) is part of becoming a well-adjusted and consequently happy adult. The consequence of being shady and moping around after friends who aren’t attracted to you is most likely going to be misery for both you and your friend.

    (sorry for feeding the Nice Guy (TM) troll)

    • September 3, 2010 5:43 pm

      I’m not even going to dignify the “Nice Guy Troll” comment with a response.

      I also want to make it clear that, while I myself have been in the “friend zone” position (and I’ve also been in the position where a woman was in my “friend zone’) I wasn’t strictly speaking talking about my own personal life here.

      All I was saying is that, in an imperfect and very sexist society where many people have problems openly asking for what they want sexually (because that goes against “gatekeeper sexuality” norms) people need to be careful about other people’s feelings.

      And if you’re the assertive person in a friendship, and you know the passive person has feelings for you (and probably the only reason they are still friends with you is because they hope you change your mind about not being sexual with them) it is a good thing to be mindful of that person’s experience.

      Yes, this involves a bit of mindreading – but, honestly, under the “gatekeeper” model, a LOT of male female sexual interaction involves having to be a mindreader.

      No, that’s not right – but that’s how it is.

      GREGORY A. BUTLER

      • September 4, 2010 7:58 pm

        Gregory Butler said:

        All I was saying is that, in an imperfect and very sexist society where many people have problems openly asking for what they want sexually (because that goes against “gatekeeper sexuality” norms) people need to be careful about other people’s feelings.

        Exactly. Should people speak up more and make clear what they are looking for? Yes, but in the real world, that’s easier said than done. At the same time, when you encounter someone who has trouble speaking up, then you should avoid conducting a friendship with them in a way that you think will be very frustrating for them, given what you know or suspect about what they may be looking for.

  4. Sam permalink
    September 3, 2010 4:55 pm

    Thomas,

    I suppose the problem here is essentially semantical.

    You’re reading “safe” as a guy usually writing about consent-matters and male sexual violence, while the author of the article is apparently having a completely different implied understanding of “safe”, one that you seem to have some difficulties to conceptualize, as your C4 metaphor implies – and, to be honest – one that is, in my opinion, not appropriate for the word. So we end up with the same impression about what she’s saying, right idea, wrong execution – just that I’d say she should drop the word “safe” entirely from what she’s trying to say, because “safe” is not really what she’s talking about.

    I think there are three main issues in her article – physical safety, sexual attraction, and sexual communication, part of which is conscious or unconscious “tempation”.

    Physical safety is an issue mostly because of the use of the word “safe” – it’s not what Stephanie appears to be concerned with, as it’s a condition sine qua non. I mean, any interaction with a woman starts by making her feel physically safe, and that’s especially the case in sexualised interactions – when flirting. For sexualised interactions, she needs to feel so safe that she feels she can let go. But – at this point the language gets a bit weak – any kind of initiation of anythin by him or her implies moving out of the current safe area/comfort zone, into the unknown. It must be safe, safe enough to let go, but “unsafe enough” to still be exciting – all at the same time… do you know what I mean?

    So Stephanie seems to be concerned with using “safe” as a metaphor for interactions in which mostly women use their assumed knowledge of both the other man’s sexual interest as well as their intuition about his inability to express his sexuality for flirting practice. If you read the comments to the piece carefully, you’ll see that a lot of people are reading “safe” in a way that feminists usually use “nice guy” for, which is, in itself a rather problematic term (Stephanie herself says at one point that what she was writing about is something usually done by young women attempting to assess their sexual appeal to younger male geeks).

    So, reframing the “safe”-terminlogy in this way, I think it is about time a woman, a feminist?, is recognizing that women do have agency in “nice guy”-relationships, that they may even actively pick out those relationships, that they are not always the victim of a man’s long planned emotional deception. I think that’s something particularly feminists, who rarely talk about anything but “nice guys” when they talk about flirting or dating should take note of. Also, to say that female behaviour or appearance has an impact on men is hardly the same as making women responsible for a man’s possible reaction. But it’s something they should be aware of – not for safety reasons (that would be the victim blaming discourse), but for *fairness* reasons. As Stephanie mentions in the comments –

    “you’re highlighting that problem with the word “safe” again. There is a big difference between being able to be yourself without fear of assault and being able to sit on someone’s lap without them even suggesting they’d like more. These are separate things.”

    As for this –

    There’s a complete solution there, but it’s not the one she proposes. The cure is communication. “Are you just flirting or are you interested?” Eight words. That fixes that. But Zvan never actually proposes communication as a solution.

    She says that “this is nothing good communication cannot fix” in the comments to the thread, but I think you’re giving too much credit to people’s ability to talk about these things. In *this* case, I fail to see how “are you just flirting or are you interested” is going to fix anything. I think saying that is going to kill whatever possible interest there may have been, simply because “just flirting” and “actual interest” are not two different things and people may not constantly be aware on which side of the imaginary border they are. And this is where your C4 metaphor is wrong – sexual attraction is not a binary state. It can grow with flirting, it may get less with flirting, who knows – it’s an interactional variable and hence depends on the interaction. So asking “are you just flirting or are you interested” is a pointless statement if you don’t follow up the “interested” with a specific proposition. And the usefulness thereof would very much depend on the environment and the state of the interaction.

    So in situations in which he may be interested in her but unaware of her level of interest, he may be unwilling to end the relationship or set boundaries, not just because he’s experiencing her flirting as pleasant but also because her level of interest may change during the interaction.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for better communication about attraction and sexuality, it’s just that it’s not usually happening in situations in which people aren’t *already* good friends, and even then I suppose that you are expecting far too much because you are coming from a different standard. I don’t doubt that the general public can, maybe should, learn a lot about sexual communication from people who are into BDSM, but as things currently stand, I don’t think it’s useful or fair to expect everyone to apply that knowledge and openness about sexual communication, particularly younger people only learning about their own preferences.

    Solution – let’s come up with better terminology so we reduce misunderstandings.

    • September 4, 2010 9:41 am

      Sam, it isn’t a semantic issue. I know she thinks she’s not talking about physical safety. I read the other comment thread. But she ends up essentially telling women not to act certain ways because of the reactions men might have. I’ll respond in full when I have time.

    • September 7, 2010 10:03 am

      Sam, you said:
      “In *this* case, I fail to see how “are you just flirting or are you interested” is going to fix anything. I think saying that is going to kill whatever possible interest there may have been, simply because “just flirting” and “actual interest” are not two different things and people may not constantly be aware on which side of the imaginary border they are.”

      But if that’s right, then there’s nothing to be done about it. Zvan herself wants women to stop flirting if they’re not serious — she’s not clear about what she actually wants, but that’s how I read it. If that happens, it kills the chances of a not-serious flirtation turning into something, and kills it much more surely that my solution of being forthright.

      Sam, you are arguing for the Nice Guy (TM). You are affirmatively supporting waiting around for table scraps of attention. If the attention itself is what such a guy wants, then that’s fine. But you’re aguing in favor of hanging around hoping that a woman who is not interested will change her mind. That’s an illusion. What not talking about it preserves is a guy’s illusion that teasing is serious interest or will become serious interest, when asking directly would make it clear that there is none. But if there is none, then the guy is not well serving himself by preserving that illusion, and waiting around and hoping for a change in intentions … well, I’m sure it’s happened many times in the history of the world, but in most instances in my experience it’s a lot of effort, a lot of frustration swallowed and a lot of self-destructive emotion for usually nothing. Guys who do that are just setting themselves up for disappointment. Zvan wants women to go ahead and preemptively be responsible for putting a stop to this, because she sees it as destructive. She’s right that it is destructive. But where you say that the women have agency — and thus you like Zvan want the women to take responsibility in such a situation — I expect more of men.

      It’s clear to me from the comments that Zvan had in mind a dynamic within a particular subculture and age group, and would have written a much better essay if she had made that clear in the text itself.

      She herself says that communication is the fix, and she’s right about that, and the thing that needs to change is the dynamics that shut down that communication. But that’s not what you’re proposing. You’re actually in favor of the not-communicating route. As far as I can tell from your comment, you think, “hey, sit around waiting and let her flirt in hopes that she’ll change her mind” is perfectly sound advice.

      As for the use of the word “safe”, I think it’s a bad usage, and I thought my C-4 analogy made it clear that I think it’s a bad analogy by essentially turning it on its head. However, Zvan’s view that she’s not talking about physical safety does not mean that the multiple meanings of the word “safe” are out of play. As I’ve said, one kind of making women responsible for men’s reactions cannot be entirely separated from another kind of making women responsible for men’s reactions.

      If men are being flirted with in ways that make them uncomfortable, it’s on them to communicate it, not on women to predict it.

      • Sam permalink
        September 7, 2010 3:26 pm

        Thomas,

        “But if that’s right, then there’s nothing to be done about it. Zvan herself wants women to stop flirting if they’re not serious — she’s not clear about what she actually wants, but that’s how I read it.”

        She writes somewhere that she wants physically safe places for both genders to practice sexual communication and flirting. What she’s saying is, I think, to stop toying with people when you *know* you’re toying with them and you also have reason to believe that they don’t know how to keep you from toying with them for some reason. I think that’s a reasonable proposition for both sexes.

        “Sam, you are arguing for the Nice Guy (TM). You are affirmatively supporting waiting around for table scraps of attention. … You’re actually in favor of the not-communicating route. As far as I can tell from your comment, you think, “hey, sit around waiting and let her flirt in hopes that she’ll change her mind” is perfectly sound advice.”

        Wow, not what I was trying to say. If someone else reads that – no, *IF* and that’s a big if – the situation is obvious to the guy in question, it would be a bad move all around to just stick around. I just don’t think that situations are always as clear to the people involved as you seem to think they are. I believe that preferences actually change during the interaction, and that there are other options in such a situation than forcing her to make a binary decision about a make or break. I think such binary decisions have their place, but as I said, I don’t think they’re particularly useful in situations in which neither involved party may be entirely certain about what they want now, later tonight, in three weeks.

        I completely agree that “waiting around” is the worst possible strategy in such a situation – but I also don’t think forcing a binary decision is going to be very helpful when she may not know herself what she wants. At what point do you expect the woman or the guy to know whether they want to be “serious” when they may even interpret that concept differently? Luckily there’s a whole lot of options between those two extremes, but, again, those may not be available to guys who are less socially skilled.

        “Zvan wants women to go ahead and preemptively be responsible for putting a stop to this, because she sees it as destructive. She’s right that it is destructive. But where you say that the women have agency — and thus you like Zvan want the women to take responsibility in such a situation — I expect more of men.”

        Again, I think this is actually simple and the same for both genders. Pay attention to the person you’re interacting with and if you believe you’re taking advantage of someone who you believe is unable, for some reason, to take care of matters for himself or herself, bring the issue up yourself, or, if you don’t want to bring it up, stop doing what you think is causing the misunderstanding you assume.

        “If men are being flirted with in ways that make them uncomfortable, it’s on them to communicate it, not on women to predict it.”

        Wow again, would you say the same if genders were reversed?

      • September 7, 2010 3:49 pm

        Sam, as I said in the OP, if the women Zvan’s friends are talking about are deliberately trying to quash communication about the dynamics of the interaction, then she should be calling them out for it. That’s about the specific circumstances, and maybe a particular subculture, but not the broad phenomena that her text appears to assert. People who are deliberately being assholes should stop, of course. People who are knowingly taking advantage of others should stop. But I do not presume that everyone who flirts with others without wanting more is in that position.

        Certainly relationships are fluid and nuanced. So is language. There’s a whole range of “maybe” between “yes” and “no”. There’s a lot of difference between “never going to happen” and “no, but ask again.” There’s a lot of difference between “I barely notice” and “you keep throwing bones, I’ll keep licking my chops.” Any of those conveys a lot more information that silence.

        About your last line, do you think that the cultural rules for men and women in how and when they can convey and discuss attraction and interest are the same? I’m going to go ahead and say, “no.” There are different standards and incentives for men than women around sexual behavior and desire. That’s why asking the same of each in every circumstance is as hollow as saying that the law bars the rich and the poor alike from sleeping under bridges. When someone writes something like Jaclyn’s My Sluthood, Myself, and the reaction is a collective, “so?” instead of hundreds of “thank god someone said it” comments and a virulent counteroffensive, then I’ll revisit that view.

      • Sam permalink
        September 7, 2010 4:40 pm

        Thomas,

        I absoluteley believe that there are different standards – one of which is leading directly to the miscommunication problem and the problem of understanding the meaning of “safe” in this case. I think there is the implicit general assumption that female touch is always welcome (and valuable) while male touch/male sexuality is generally considered unwelcome, not valuable and potentially dangerous (and was usually controlled by controlling access to female sexuality, hence slut shaming (a slut being a woman losing value)).

        I’ve explained that view a little more in Clarisse Thorn’s epic manliness thread and even expanded the view a bit here –

        http://realadultsex.com/comment/reply/2631/17675

        So male flirting always has a subtext of “safe?” in a way female flirting has not. That sucks badly, but that’s the way it is.

      • September 7, 2010 4:54 pm

        Sam, your comment is interesting in that it begins with a discussion of the social assignment of value to sexuality. As you probably know, my Yes Means Yes essay was about moving away from such a model to one based on what I called a Performance Model, by which I mean one based in collaboration like the performing arts.

        I am not for the assumption that male sexuality is inherently predatory, and I don’t think I’m asserting that male sexuality is inherently predatory by telling men that if they’re being flirted with and don’t like it they should speak up. As to the reverse, obviously it rubs you the wrong way that male expression of desire for women operates in a social circumstance where women are disempowered by it. Me too. I want to change that.

        There are certainly going to be particular men and particular circumstances where women’s expression of sexual desire is coercive. Those circumstances are particular, and need to be addressed particularly in order to say anything meaningful about them.

      • Sam permalink
        September 7, 2010 5:37 pm

        Thomas,

        I like your performance concept. As I mentioned above, I think society at large can learn a lot from people used to accepting and negotiating sexual pleasure as a part of human externalisations. But I don’t think that’s possible, as long as sexuality is largely seen teleologically and not deontologically.

        “I don’t think I’m asserting that male sexuality is inherently predatory by telling men that if they’re being flirted with and don’t like it they should speak up”

        no, but by saying that you wouldn’t hold women to the same standard you are, I think, at least implying the notion. As I said, I wouldn’t hold women to the same standard either in most circumstances (and that doesn’t even need a discussion of social value attribution, usually, simple differences in size and strength are sufficient), but there’s also a point where I think there needs to be a consideration of fairness on the battlefield. And when it comes to fairness on the battlefield, feminsts don’t usually look at bad female behaviour, so it’s not a bad thing to occasionally remember that women should to treat men like they’re people, too.

      • September 8, 2010 3:28 am

        Thomas said:

        If men are being flirted with in ways that make them uncomfortable, it’s on them to communicate it, not on women to predict it.

        I’m going to have to communicate that I’m a bit uncomfortable with such a principle, at least as a blanket statement. Certainly it’s the responsibility of the uncomfortable party in a flirtatious interaction to speak up, but does the other party really have no responsibility to predict how the other person might respond?

        In general interaction between friends, we do seem to believe in responsibility of people to predict how their friends might respond to certain behavior. That’s why you don’t randomly talk about your friend’s dead relatives, for instance. We encourage men to scrutinize their sexual behavior towards women, and try to predict whether it is welcome. Are women exempt from making such empathetic consideration in their sexual behavior towards male friends and acquaintances?

        I realize that you are going to be skeptical of the notion of restrictions on women’s sexual behavior, and for good reasons, since most such restrictions are unfair. But at least in the case of flirting with physical touching that Sam brought up, we do need to scrutinize female touching of men if we respect men’s body sovereignty… and women need to, also.

      • September 8, 2010 3:38 am

        Thomas said:

        People who are deliberately being assholes should stop, of course. People who are knowingly taking advantage of others should stop. But I do not presume that everyone who flirts with others without wanting more is in that position.

        I wouldn’t presume that everyone who flirts without wanting more is guilty of being inconsiderate. I certainly wouldn’t support a blanket ban on flirting with your friends. Yet I really don’t agree with the stance that any kind of flirting is fair game until someone protests, especially not with a double standard only allowing this behavior from women.

        I’m glad we agree that people shouldn’t “knowingly” take advantage of others or be assholes. Yet what exactly does “knowingly” mean? If someone doesn’t know how a friend might feel about being flirted with, what is their responsibility to make predictions? And what if someone doesn’t know that they are being a jerk… but they should, if they stopped to think about it? Knowingly causing someone unnecessary sexual frustration over you is problematic, I think we should also consider recklessness and negligence of some sort.

        When you are engaging in some kind of sexualized behavior with a friends who you know you don’t want to be more than friends with, you should apply a level of scrutiny and considerateness that is proportional to (a) how far that behavior is outside the norm in your culture for sexuality between friends, and (b) how much you know the other person interested in you and how vulnerable and able to speak up they are.

        Most verbal flirting between friends? Cool. Heavy flirting with friends who aren’t into you? Cool. Heavy flirting with friends who are into you, but who you know can handle it? Cool.

        Flirting with someone you know has a big crush on you and is pining for you? Uncool. Acting in a way that presumes your friend isn’t a sexual being? Uncool. Taking a friend underwear shopping with you when you know they are into you, but you are married? Changing clothes in front of your friend without thinking about how they’ll feel about it? Rubbing your body on them regularly? Telling them about your favorite sexual positions with someone other than them? Uncool, unless you have some good reasons to know that it won’t be frustrating and uncomfortable for them (e.g. you know they are into someone else more than they are into you). And if you are doing these things for the gratification of your own ego while acting like an ostrich and sticking your head in the sand about how the other person will feel, then double-uncool.

        Of course, these examples are only relative to the norms in my culture. I’m really not sure how other people, of any gender, would feel about these examples. Yet I think my level of uncertainty shows why people should think about the effects of their sexual behavior towards friends, and yes, try to predict how their friends will feel. And yes, even women with their male friends should engage in this consideration, even if the ultimate result of that consideration doesn’t change their behavior.

      • September 10, 2010 3:19 am

        I’m not really sure that the teleological/deontological dichotomy determines where one comes out. Sure, some teleological views are highly restrictive, like Catholic doctrine. But if one’s views of the purpose of sexuality are oriented around pleasure and social behavior and not just reproduction, a teleological analysis could get us to a bonobo-like sexual culture; a deontological view, by contrast, could dispense with purpose and still be restrictive, though such a view wouldn’t have much in common with my thinking.

      • Sam permalink
        September 10, 2010 10:21 am

        Thomas,

        “But if one’s views of the purpose of sexuality are oriented around pleasure and social behavior and not just reproduction, a teleological analysis could get us to a bonobo-like sexual culture;”

        hmm, I’m not sure to which extent pleasure and duty/teleology go together conceptually, except in rather uncommon Robbespierre-settings, where someone derives pleasure from behaving dutiful. We’re all epicurists in the end😉

        As for the Bonobos, I’m not an expert on primate behaviour, but their social behaviour/teleology seems to be centered around an abundance of female sexuality, ie, bonobo females use sex to solve problems in ways that I suppose most feminists would find problematic from the consent perspective.
        But I’ll stop here as this is really no longer related to the original post.

        Still an interesting topic in its own right.

  5. Chris permalink
    September 4, 2010 4:50 am

    First of all, excuse me if I’m missing some of the finer points here, or if I’m somewhat unclear, English is not my first language.
    I agree with most of your points, but as Sam already noted there might be some misconceptions about the meaning of “safe”. As Stephanie herself already noted in her article, it’s not about “physical safety” but beyond that, and it’s just that “beyond” which needs clarification. The trouble I see with this kind of “safe” is that when one is “declared” as “safe” it build up a reputation – but this reputation is quite often not about being fun to have around, being non-agressive and so on. It’s likely to be about not being interested in sexual interaction, being “a little boring”, asexual or (in heterosexual circles) being gay. It’s this (mis-)labeling of people’s sexuality/personality which is somewhat problematic, as it creates assumptions and unneccessary communication problems.
    So, there is no problem about people feeling “safe” about others in the meaning of being able to have an open communication even about more intimate details or being physically close. The trouble starts when the reputation of “being safe” leads to wrong assumptions about one’s personality or being declared as the metaphorical “scratching post” and not taken seriously in anything sexual.

  6. September 6, 2010 1:27 pm

    “In any case, it’s not realistic to just say that “people should communicate” – for a lot of shy people, that’s just not possible because they don’t have that type of assertive personality (and I suspect that a lot of the people who get into the situations where they’re begging for crumbs of affection are very shy people – that’s probably why they are in that predicament in the first place).”

    It is absolutely realistic, Gregory, to say people should communicate. Indeed, it is each individual’s responsibility to do so. If you can’t find it in you to open your mouth and speak, or to vote with your feet, then the other person is not your problem. Consideration is one thing; an expectation of someone reading your mind, determining your various neuroses, and acting accordingly is not only ridiculous, but presumptuous in the extreme, and not a little patronizing. I attempt to come to every interaction with honesty and sincerity; I expect others to do the same. If they do not, there’s not much I can do about that. I’m not going to figure out someone else’s stuff for them; my stuff is enough for me to deal with.

    • September 6, 2010 6:53 pm

      Kristie said:

      Consideration is one thing; an expectation of someone reading your mind, determining your various neuroses, and acting accordingly is not only ridiculous, but presumptuous in the extreme, and not a little patronizing.

      In Gregory’s post, I don’t really see him requiring mind-reading. I guess the question is where “consideration” ends and “mind-reading” begins.

      In situations where I can’t predict that a friend of mine is into me with any kind of intensity, and they don’t speak up about it, then of course I’m absolved from any frustration they feel. Yet if I do have a good reasons to believe that they are into me, then yes, I should exercise consideration about their feelings, even (especially!) if they can’t speak up about them.

      Because otherwise, that’s like saying that it’s OK for me to knowingly jerk the chains of friends of mine unless they speak up about it. I don’t agree with that. It’s an issue of consent. It’s not cool to assume that people are consenting to certain potentially frustrating ways of relating to me, and place the responsibility on them to play gatekeeper and stop me. It’s not cool for more assertive people to run roughshod over less assertive people placing the responsibility on the less assertive people to stop it.

      Like say I assume that it’s OK to borrow my friend’s car all the time, and I know that he has trouble saying “no.” Is it OK for me to just keep borrowing it, and declare that since he isn’t speaking up, any frustration he feels with the situation is his problem? No, because it’s not a reasonable assumption in the first place that he would consent to me borrowing his car all the time.

      Of course, as you point out, people can’t read minds. I can’t always predict what type of interaction might frustrate a friend of mine. But there is still a responsibility on me to make educated guesses, and to be considerate based on those guesses.

      For an example like flirtatious teasing between friends, it may not be obvious if it would actually be frustrating for the other person. For an example like taking your friend shopping with you for underwear when you know that they are into you, and that you are unavailable to them, an educated guess would suggest that such a situation might be frustrating to them… so the considerate thing to do is to not take them with you. I think it really depends on the situation and what level of knowledge you have of the other person’s feelings.

  7. Theresa permalink
    September 8, 2010 7:09 pm

    Aside from my finding the prospect personally censorious and repulsive (of “stopping flirting” if I’m “not serious”), I would suggest that flirting itself is not serious, but it is one of the array of behaviors by which we find out if we are, or want to be serious. So this is not a workable solution to this little conundrum.

  8. MertvayaRuka permalink
    September 9, 2010 6:47 am

    If “he’s safe” means that he’s not going to do anything sexual to her without her consent, then he fucking better be safe. Showing him panties that she’s thinking about buying is damned sure not consent to put his hands on her!

    Absolutely. Also, I think there’s a couple of other problems that she’s not considering here.

    Exactly what constitutes “flirting” can be very fluid from person to person and the supposedly “safe” guy may completely (and intentionally) misinterpret non-flirtatious actions and speech, especially if they’re attracted to the person they think is flirting with them. What good will it do to “cut it out” as another poster here suggests if they’re just going to assume that any attention given to them is inherently flirtatious? If they’re so bound up in hunting after any scrap of affection they can get from female friends, it’s a pretty short walk from there to “I’m wearing her down, she’s responding, I know she is!”. You can’t police your own behavior for something you’re not actually even doing.

    The other problem is, the “safe” guy may also take advantage of the assumption that they are indeed “safe”: they may start pushing physical contact boundaries, dig for salacious details about the female friend’s sex life, or try to place themselves in a position of greater control of/access to the female friend (ie. “Go ahead and leave the back patio door unlocked so I can water your plants”). They may start doing things that would be alarming from strangers (“oh hey, you walked into the room and I’m unexpectedly naked, what a totally unplanned coincidence”) but can easily be waved off because they’re the “safe” guy friend and would never do anything untoward.

    You might think I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the “safe” guys. And you’d be wrong. I don’t have any sympathy for them, at least not for the ones that are going to sit and nurse their bitterness because the woman they think the universe owes them isn’t madly in love with them. If you’re going to be someone’s friend, you do it without expectation of reward. You do it because you care more about them than about whether or not you get to fuck them. You don’t attach yourself to them with the sole idea in your mind being “I have GOT to get them to have sex with me”. And I say this as someone who used to be one of those guys. Like Thomas says, if you’re going to be safe, fucking well BE safe. Don’t let your safe-ness be contingent on your frustration level or your attraction. If it is, walk away before you do something truly stupid or awful.

    Unfortunately, as I write this, I’m only a few weeks past having to help a partner deal with a would-be “safe” male friend who did a good lot of the unpleasant things I described above. When my wife and I confronted him about his behavior he attempted to get our partner in trouble with us, lied directly to us and eventually blamed her for “making him fall in love with her” followed by trying to spread nasty gossip about her. And all of this for doing nothing more with him than she’s ever done with any of her other platonic friends. He himself made the decision that there was more to it than them being friends and he made sure that no matter what, nothing she said to the contrary would convince him otherwise. She is not responsible for his assumptions and she sure as hell wasn’t deserving of how he treated her for not living up to those assumptions.

    It’s very simple. Be truly safe, or walk away. Your self-control isn’t the other person’s responsibility. “Consideration” or the like is no guarantee that the “safe” person won’t make assumptions and those assumptions are also not the other person’s responsibility.

    • September 10, 2010 11:28 am

      MertvayaRuka, thank you for posting this. As someone who only found out her “Nice Guy TM” had any sort of feelings for her when I announced my engagement and he had a full on screaming tantrum at me in the middle of a crowded hotel lobby, I appreciate your telling this story, especially from the point of view of another guy. Because I cannot even tell you the number of people who immediately assumed that this asshole’s rant had any basis in fact.

      I saw this guy three times a year at SF/F conventions. We said maybe 20 words to each other time we saw each other, but in his head, I was the great love of his life and meant to be his. In his head, he was the victim of my feminine wiles, those 60 words a year meant I was leading him on and had convinced him that we would be together, forever, and ever.

      Yeah…

      That pretty much ended ANY sympathy I had for “Nice Guys.”

      • MertvayaRuka permalink
        September 10, 2010 6:02 pm

        “MertvayaRuka, thank you for posting this. As someone who only found out her “Nice Guy TM” had any sort of feelings for her when I announced my engagement and he had a full on screaming tantrum at me in the middle of a crowded hotel lobby, I appreciate your telling this story, especially from the point of view of another guy. Because I cannot even tell you the number of people who immediately assumed that this asshole’s rant had any basis in fact. ”

        You are welcome. I don’t post very often at the sites I frequent, but I do when I feel I have some insight to offer or any information someone might benefit from.

        When you’re dealing with a full-on NiceGuy, that’s usually how it goes when they realize they’ve got no chance at all. It becomes the woman’s fault entirely and they feel the need to retaliate. Fortunately in our case, this particular NiceGuy has a recognized history so nobody believes anything he’s been saying. Hopefully that will be where the retaliatory impulse ends both with the one we’re dealing with and the one you’ve dealt with. The fact that you only have to see him a few times a year should mitigate things a bit. Our problem is that this guy lives across the street from our partner’s apartment, so we’re being a lot more security-conscious than usual. So far, no trouble, and we aim to keep it that way.

      • September 10, 2010 7:54 pm

        GeekGirlsRule:

        That pretty much ended ANY sympathy I had for “Nice Guys.”

        So, let me get this straight: because one self-identified “nice guy” was a verifiable jerk to you, you don’t sympathize with anyone who identifies that way?

        Obviously, this guy had no basis for any complaint about the way you treated him. It’s quite reasonable that it would make you skeptical of hearing similar complaints from men, since you’ve seen with your own eyes that such a complaint can be delusional.

        But is it really so hard to imagine that any self-identified “nice guys” really have been mistreated in their friendships with women? You can’t imagine women treating men in ways that are analogous to how AnneBonney describes being treated?

      • September 10, 2010 8:43 pm

        HughRistik: It’s not hard to believe everyone’s been mistreated, but that isn’t another person’s fault. In the situation of a Nice Guy™- generally, he isn’t being mistreated. He isn’t being lead on. Sometimes the woman outright states that she just wants to be friends and he continues misconstruing (intentionally or otherwise) her friendship as an idea that she might be falling for him. And even if a person has been mistreated- that doesn’t excuse mistreating people later. It’s horrible, it shouldn’t have happened, the person who intentionally mistreated that guy deserves some sort of punishment because that’s messed up- but the people he’s dealing with now are not that person. The women he meets later shouldn’t have to suffer just because some other person mistreated him.

      • September 10, 2010 10:10 pm

        Dreki said:

        In the situation of a Nice Guy™- generally, he isn’t being mistreated. He isn’t being lead on.

        That’s because we are defining “Nice Guy(tm)” as a guy who is a jerk and doesn’t have a valid complaint in the first place, right?

        Sometimes the woman outright states that she just wants to be friends and he continues misconstruing (intentionally or otherwise) her friendship as an idea that she might be falling for him. And even if a person has been mistreated- that doesn’t excuse mistreating people later. It’s horrible, it shouldn’t have happened, the person who intentionally mistreated that guy deserves some sort of punishment because that’s messed up- but the people he’s dealing with now are not that person. The women he meets later shouldn’t have to suffer just because some other person mistreated him.

        I agree with you on all of these points. Yes, this scenario happens, and yes, its a problem.

        What worries me is how do you know that you are dealing with a “Nice Guy(tm)”? GeekGirlsRule’s post sounded like she would be quick to take guys who make similar complaints to the guy she dealt with, and label them as “Nice Guys” who deserve no sympathy. I could have been misunderstanding what she construes as a “Nice Guy,” and what evidence she uses to put a guy in that category. I contend that some guys (and women) can have valid complaints of being “led on.”

      • September 13, 2010 5:42 pm

        @ High Ristik: Because Nice Guy ™s have very distinctive patterns of verbalising their perceived injustices.

        If a guy says, “Man, I got shot down by this girl and I’m really bummed about it” that guy is not a Nice Guy ™. He engaged in very non NG behavior, such as stating what he wanted from the aquaintance with woman in question and taking no for an answer.

        If a guys says, “She just doesn’t understand me! I’m always there when her asshole boyfriend is mean to her, and I don’t even know why she’s with him!” then this is a warning sign.

        Nice Guys aren’t ever up front with what they actually want, because to do that would risk rejection. So they pretend to be interested in being a woman’s friend in the hopes that she’ll feel so indebted to them she’ll have to hand over the pussy. There is nothing nice about this behavior. It is emotionally manipulative weaselly bullshit, and should be called out as such by all and sundry.

        If someone’s complaining that a girl isn’t giving him a shot, and you ask, “Well, have you asked her out/told you how you feel?” and the response is “No, because…” Then you may well be dealing with a Nice Guy TM.

        You get real good at spotting behavioral patterns after a while, and you don’t even have to be a woman to do it! I have several male friends who can also spot these schmucks a mile away.

      • September 13, 2010 5:53 pm

        I should also clarify that until this happened to me, I had been a stalwart defender of the Nice Guys TM that I knew. ” How dare those heartless bitches not return your love? How could they not see the purity of your feeling?”

        Yeah, then I got burned and I realized just how stupid I’d been to defend them. Because these guys had done to other girls what tantrum man had done to me. Not a word about attraction, not even a request to go out for coffee or “Hey, can I get your email?”

        They don’t see the purity of your feeling because you never tell them. They don’t return your love, because… well, A. it isn’t love and B. that don’t know there’s anything to return. They think you’re their friend because you’re their friend, not that you view it as a cheatcode into their pants.

  9. Omnes et Nihil permalink
    September 9, 2010 1:33 pm

    Wonderful post.

    I do realise this is largely off topic, but as a point of order, I just need to address a misguided assumption about asexual men.

    “None of the “safe” guys I’ve been talking to are asexual. None of them are even close.”

    Zvan seems to be implying that none of this would be a problem if the men themselves were asexual– that it’s perfectly acceptable (and “legitimately safe”) for women to shower asexual men with sexual energy (again, without communicating about boundaries). This of course presumes that asexual men have no plausible romantic interest in women [and are naturally a different breed of human devoid of misogyny and power-hungry aggression, who never commit any violence against women].

    1) Some asexual men are romantically attracted to women. (Many self-identify as straight-asexual, biromantic-asexual and even panromantic-asexual.) It is entirely plausible that an asexual man has a romantic interest in a particular woman who flirting with him. It’s still important to communicate with asexual men about boundaries and intentions. Asexual men aren’t emotionless robots.

    2) Not all asexual men are comfortable with or enthusiastic about sexual energy from women. Maybe said asexual men are gay or aromantic. Or maybe, they just don’t want sexual energy from women or any particular woman– even the straight ones. Sexual energy shouldn’t be presumed to be something that men will necessarily either welcome or enjoy. Again… communication.

    which leads me to…

    3) Not all non-asexual men are comfortable or enthusiastic about sexual energy from women, a particular woman (or anyone else). Sexual energy shouldn’t be presumed to be something that men (or anyone else) will necessarily either welcome or enjoy.

    4) Finally, asexual men cannot be assumed to treat women as people anymore than this can be assumed for sexual men. Being asexual doesn’t make a man a respectful person, nor does it make him any less of a man in any sense. Some men are unfortunately violent, domineering jackasses who feel entitled to control women. It’s entirely possible for a man to be asexual and simultaneously be a violent, domineering jackass. Asexuality and misogynistic jackassery are two entirely independant characteristics.

    • September 10, 2010 8:55 pm

      I don’t know if the author of that post acknowledges asexuality or if she’s using it in the “mainstream” way to mean a cold, robotic, unattractive, genderless lump of a person.:/

      I can see calling asexuals “safe”, though. Most asexuals (NOT all) have, at best, apathy towards sex and wouldn’t initiate it- or only enjoy it because of the joy it brings their partner. So I can see thinking asexuals are less likely to violate sexual boundaries. But we’re also less likely to have any interest/awareness about being flirted with- so doesn’t that ruin the point of flirting with someone who’s “safe” to practice your flirting/fort he fun of it?

      • September 10, 2010 8:56 pm

        (I’d like to add- that doesn’t mean that I think it’s any better to do that to someone becuase they’re asexual, for the reasons you listed, I can just understand thinking an asexual is “safe”. Doesn’t really mean that person is- asexuals can do busted stuff just like everyone else)

  10. AnneBonney permalink
    September 9, 2010 5:20 pm

    I know this isn’t a direct 1-to-1 correlation, but when I read about the frustrations of “safe” men, I think about my frustrations as a fat woman. I have a lot of guy friends and of course men I don’t consider friends but must interact with, and the feeling of frustration, of invisibility I get when I’m around them sometimes seems really similar to what the original article is describing. Every group-leer at another woman, every “why aren’t there any hot chicks out tonight”-type comment, every time someone brings up how I wouldn’t be single if I just realized what “league” I was in, frankly makes me first feel like shit, and then makes me really angry. Mostly, I speak up, and let people know I think they’re being crappy, but sometimes, especially where there is an actual power differential or I know it will be too much of a problem, I just clam up. And it’s a pretty terrible feeling, that I usually can’t communicate my way around.

    I think the root of this is the same for a lot of the “safe guys” and the women they’re around: people sometimes completely ignore or deny sexual feelings in people they themselves do not feel sexual towards. It might be a straight-up empathy problem. I’m not calling for any sort of forced attraction, but some consideration, on both men and women’s parts, would go far to stop hurting each other. It’s pretty unfair to keep blithely dehumanizing people we don’t want sexually.

    • September 10, 2010 11:30 am

      Anne, I’m not trying to be mean. But it sounds like you hang out with jerks, and really need to find better friends. Seriously. Because that is some grade-A dickish behavior. There are people out there who aren’t completely uncaring of their friends’ emotions out there. Granted, they are outnumbered by the jerks, but they do exist.

      No one deserves to be treated like they treat you. But you also need to recognize that maybe these dudes are not the tribe for you.

      • AnneBonney permalink
        September 10, 2010 4:18 pm

        While I appreciate your thoughts on the situation, and I recognize that some of the people who behaved this way towards me were Huge Assholes and are no longer in my life, you’re missing part of what I was saying, I think. A lot of the men I have known to do this have been those I can’t avoid — bosses, coworkers, family members. Sadly, I’m not in a position to figure out when I agree to take a job if my direct superior will be part of my tribe.

        Also, of the men who are my friends (still), mostly it is in small ways and means that they express this sort of thing. Just talking to me about the girls they met at the bar, the actresses they find hot, the conversations about “women” where it becomes clear that women who look like me aren’t necessarily included in their default definition. They aren’t being cruel, but they’re just thoughtless; they aren’t used to thinking of me as a sexual being (quite like these hypothetical women with their “safe” male friends). If I point it out, they are embarrassed and apologize, they genuinely didn’t mean to hurt me, but that doesn’t mean they won’t do it again, out of habit and not fully understanding how it feels to experience that.

        I’m not saying that the folks I have to (or choose to) be around are the greatest, but this isn’t something that, from talking to my other (fat or otherwise non-conventionally attractive) women friends with different or broader social circles, is unique to me or my bad-friend magnet. The invisibility of fat women and the assumption of their non-sexuality is something that is pretty well documented among the feminist and anti-fatphobia blogospheres as well.

      • September 10, 2010 8:00 pm

        Anne gets it.

        They aren’t being cruel, but they’re just thoughtless; they aren’t used to thinking of me as a sexual being (quite like these hypothetical women with their “safe” male friends).

        Exactly. The ways you describe being treated, in my experience, are pretty typical of how non-conventionally-attractive people of either sex are treated by friends: as sexually invisible. It’s not just that you happened to fall in with a set of jerk friends. People act this way not because they are jerks, but because they just don’t realize what they are doing.

        That’s why I’m encouraging more awareness and empathy about how people treat their friends sexually… yes, even from women.

  11. September 9, 2010 7:06 pm

    THE PROBLEM WITH THIS POST IS THAT IT IGNORES THE SENSITIVITY WE MUST HAVE TOWARDS SOCIAL NORMS OF COMMUNICATION IN ORDER TO AVOID CAUSING DISCOMFORT OR MISUNDERSTANDING, AS MUCH, PERHAPS MOST, COMMUNICATION IS INDIRECT.

    Even online.

    • September 10, 2010 8:33 pm

      That’s actually kind of ablist because there are people who have a very hard time picking up those things. Also- just because something’s societally common doesn’t mean it isn’t busted or that it doesn’t need to change.

      I don’t really see how most communication is indirect anyways.

  12. AnneBonney permalink
    September 10, 2010 9:47 pm

    Hugh-

    I doubt this is your first time encountering this, so I’m sure you know the difference when people talk about “Nice Guys” and guys who are actually nice. GeekGirlsRule was clearly referring to a person, who despite all his self-identifying, wasn’t at all nice, and was being childish and manipulative. So when she says (I sorry if I’m speaking out of turn, GGR) she isn’t sympathetic towards “Nice Guys”, that means a very specific thing that you’re making overbroad.

    Likewise, I think we agree about how everyone no matter their gender has a responsibility to be contentious of others’ feelings. It’s wrong to essentially de-sex anyone. However, I personally don’t want to erase that the “Nice Guy or Girl” behavior is at odds with people being careful about hurting them. You can’t just wait around hoping that someone who isn’t interested in you will suddenly change their mind or think that they owe you more. It took me a long time to understand this for myself, but unrequited love is for chumps, and when trapped in a loop of one person pining away for another who is uninterested but careless, someone has to break the cycle. And the person being hurt is more likely to recognize the detriment first, and should act as best they can to get out of the kill zone.

  13. September 10, 2010 10:30 pm

    Anne,

    I doubt this is your first time encountering this, so I’m sure you know the difference when people talk about “Nice Guys” and guys who are actually nice.

    I know that people think there is a difference, but I find it problematic to take a word that a group of people self-identify with, capitalizing it, and turning it into a slur for a subset of the group. In my view, the category of “Nice Guy(tm)” is vaguely defined, combines a bunch of things that are actually different, and involves prejudiced speculation on the motives and psychology of men.

    It would be kind of like creating a category “Fat Women(tm)” for supposedly “whiny” and “entitled” fat women, that a fat woman could get tossed into for making any kind of complaint about how they were treated. That’s how “Nice Guy(tm)” looks to me.

    Clearly, a lot of women have had negative experiences with certain self-identified “nice guys” complaining of women leading them on. Obviously this problem needs to be talked about, but I don’t think the “Nice Guy” discourse is the best way to do so, because I feel that it erases self-identified “nice guys” who do have valid complaints about how they are treated by women, or how they were taught to act around women.

    And the person being hurt is more likely to recognize the detriment first, and should act as best they can to get out of the kill zone.

    I agree. Though the other person, if they realize what’s going on, should take steps to protect the more vulnerable person from being hurt; if that’s not feasible, then they should at least avoid taking active steps to hurt the person even more (like taking the poor guy lingerie shopping, to use the example from the original article). And people should try to realize what’s going on if their friend is acting weird, instead of saying “eh, everything’s cool until they speak up.”

    I think there is no contradiction between encouraging vulnerable people to speak up more or get themselves out of painful situations, and encouraging people who are interacting with them to try to take care, practice empathy, and not run over the more vulnerable people.

    • AnneBonney permalink
      September 11, 2010 1:03 am

      Hugh-

      It would be kind of like creating a category “Fat Women(tm)” for supposedly “whiny” and “entitled” fat women, that a fat woman could get tossed into for making any kind of complaint about how they were treated. That’s how “Nice Guy(tm)” looks to me.

      I get that. And I’m sure that there might some who paint with too broad a brush, but this is not something that is straight out of nowhere. Most of the “prejudiced speculation on the motives and psychology” is actually self-reported by the men involved, and though you may find the term “vaguely defined”, Dreki’s link above, as well as many others out there, are actually pretty specific about what sort of behavior earns one the moniker.

      Also, there already IS a “Fat Women ™” stereotype, though instead of whiny or entitled, it’s “lazy”, “gluttonous” and “unable to find sexual partners”. The difference is, this kind of prejudice isn’t actually based on what real fat women say or do; it’s the prejudice of the haters, not the traits of the fat women, that defines this reaction to them. Not so with the “Nice Guys”, who are living up to their capitalization.

      Most people, after some actual interaction, can tell the difference between someone who actually cares about others and someone who is too self-absorbed to be a good friend. I don’t think there are very many really good guys getting improperly labeled. Though you may identify with the real nice guys, I would say that it’s good to remember “if it’s not about you, it’s not about you”; if you’re not an asshole in disguise, you’ll have no problem.

      I think there is no contradiction between encouraging vulnerable people to speak up more or get themselves out of painful situations, and encouraging people who are interacting with them to try to take care, practice empathy, and not run over the more vulnerable people.

      Certainly true. But I think we can both agree also that doesn’t mean that women should be barred from having any flirtation or sexually open relationships with men they don’t intend to sleep with. Recapitulating to old sexism doesn’t erase the problem, it just masks it with further hurt and injustice.

      • September 14, 2010 3:26 am

        Anne said:

        Most of the “prejudiced speculation on the motives and psychology” is actually self-reported by the men involved, and though you may find the term “vaguely defined”, Dreki’s link above, as well as many others out there, are actually pretty specific about what sort of behavior earns one the moniker.

        In my experience seeing the term “Nice Guy(tm)” applied, it isn’t used quite so rigorously. It doesn’t take looking very far for in example: in the second comment of this thread, the response by college student to Gregory Butler ends with “(sorry for feeding the Nice Guy (TM) troll).”

        Whoa there. I can understand folks on this blog disagreeing with Gregory, and I’m not sure I entirely agree with him myself (for instance, he seems to be a bit more skeptical of people verbally flirting with their friends than I am). But does he really deserve the horrible “Nice Guy(TM)” epithet, and being called a “troll” even though he is obviously arguing in good faith?

        Am I missing some entitlement attitude or not-niceness of his post? If you take into account my perception that the use of “Nice Guy(tm)” combined with “troll” was undeserved, then you can see why I have reservations about it’s application. This sort of use of the term is not unusual, in my experience.

        As for the essay you and Dreki mention by Kinsey at “genderbitch,” I read it recently myself. I consider it an excellent articulation of a perspective that I think contains certain problematic assumptions, and I talked about it lately at Clarisse’s blog.

        One of the problems I have with her post is that she seems to equate men playing the “waiting game” towards female friends with “insincerity.” She doesn’t explicitly say that, but insincerity is the only explanation she offers for men waiting around.

        But there are other reasons men can end up waiting around expressing romantic interest with their female friends:

        – Being sexually repressed. It’s not the female friend’s fault that the guy interested in her is repressed by sex-negative cultural messages… but it’s not his fault either, and he isn’t an insincere, manipulative jerk for waiting around because he’s repressed.

        – Shyness, and anxiety: Anxiety can lead you to wait around with someone you are romantically interested in, without being insincere or manipulative. Slight to moderate social anxiety can be gotten over. But some people, including in the self-identified “nice guy” category have heavier, even clinical levels of social anxiety. To think that people who suffer from considerable anxiety are “insincere” by not expressing themselves and getting over their anxiety is ableist and busted.

        Now, normally I wouldn’t say that it is ableist to advise someone to make a move, but in lots of “nice guy” discussions, self-identified “nice guys” complain of considerable anxiety issues that make it hard for them to do so. So if someone’s seen those discussions (which I don’t know if Kinsey has) and doesn’t acknowledge pure anxiety as a reason that self-identified “nice guys” play waiting games, then that’s ableist erasing of their perspectives. And since some research on severely anxious heterosexual men found that most of the sample were bullying survivors, there’s also a bit of victim-blaming thrown in.

        – The third problem with casting the “waiting game” as “insincerity” is that making a move isn’t always easy. To go back to the old Doing Gender essay from Women’s Studies class, men don’t pop out of the womb knowing how to initiate with women.

        Initiating is dependent on sociocultural practice that just ain’t encoded in men’s DNA. If you (general “you”) doesn’t have to initiate often, then check your privilege before expecting other people to easily do so. If you don’t find yourself too challenged by initiating, then congrats, you have the combination of personality and socialization that equips you to do so… but check your privilege before assuming that everyone else does. If you find it completely uncomplicated to initiate (especially if you are male), then you haven’t thought enough about the ethical issues involved, and you should probably read more feminist material (yes, I know this is an odd thing to hear from someone who runs a blog criticizing feminism).

        Male-on-female initiation of sexual advances, verbal or physical, do not occur in a vacuum. They occur against a backdrop of gendered issues. In the area of initiating, not everything goes (sadly, Thomas’ suggestion of asking “Are you just flirting or are you interested?” is not one of things that can be reliably expected to work) . Women do judge men on how they make approaches. And they have every right to, both for evaluating a man’s safeness and his sexiness. Yet the right of women to only be sexual with men who initiate in extremely specific ways shouldn’t keep us from seeing that the expectations for how men initiate can be very stringent, and meeting them is a nontrivial (just as how the right of men to only be sexual with women who measure up to certain beauty standards shouldn’t keep us from seeing how those preferences can be stringent and difficult to meet for women).

        If you are a guy who has severe social anxiety, or is on the autistic spectrum, then initiating with women can quickly become an overwhelming idea. To judge a man’s sincerity and assholishness on the ability of him to directly initiate with women in his life he is interested in requires falsely assuming that cultural practices of male-female sexual initiation are natural, or presupposes that a man already has experience initiating (except, as Bruce Campbell hilariously illustrates, how do you get experience when you don’t have any to begin with?). Furthermore, acting as if initiating for men especially does not involve cognitive complications and overhead (e.g. over consent and wantedness of that advance), which can take time (hence, a waiting game) to resolve, is just flat-out unfeminist (and I again note the irony of me saying this). Even worse, if the guy in question has anything close to an anxiety disorder, or is on the autistic spectrum, then the issues of ableism again pop up if we criticize him for waiting around.

        To be perfectly fair, Kinsey doesn’t explicitly say that the only explanation for playing the waiting game is being an insincere asshole. But she says stuff like this:

        To put it simply, The Nice Guy™ is a guy with low self respect and low confidence who believes that being a source of emotional support, hugs, friendship and a shoulder to lean on entitles him to sex or a relationship. A jealous, self righteous, possessive, overprotective user who doesn’t act like a close, lovely friend because I’m fun, he enjoys my company and/or it’s just a nice way to be to your friends but because he wants to fuck me or date me and he thinks he can build up credit with me to get there. That’s The Nice Guy™, a bastion of insincerity, an asshole strategist of denial and the waiting game.

        where she constantly lumps things together that don’t always go together (yes, yes, they sometimes do go together). As I argue above, you can find guys who are playing the waiting game, who aren’t insincere assholes. You can find guys who are overprotective and jealous, but who aren’t users. There are guys who enjoy women’s company who also want to fuck them (imagine that!). It’s really not clear from Kinsey’s analysis how much of these strikes a guy needs against him before he can tossed into the “Nice Guy(tm)” category, and that’s a big part of the problem.

        Kinsey says:

        Let me make it clear, identifying as a nice guy isn’t the same as being A Nice Guy™. Your behaviors and outlook on women determine it. So if this post doesn’t reference you, then don’t make it about you. If you whine about it, I’ll just assume you’re trying to conceal your awfulness since you’ve been warned.

        Yet she lumps a lot of outlook and behaviors together. My old “nice guy” self used to play the waiting game (because I probably had social phobia and may be somewhere near the autistic spectrum, in addition to having a lot of moral scruples inspired by feminism about how I initiate)… I was also jealous of the attention of my desired female friends, and protective towards them, though I never directly expressed it. I did try to buy female sexual attention with nice behavior; this never worked, which frustrated me and confused me, but never involved thinking myself entitled to such attention. So, was I a “Nice Guy(tm)”?

        When Kinsey mentions several of the behaviors I engaged in her “Nice Guy(tm)” cluster, it does become about me. I object to her lumping together certain behaviors (e.g. playing a “waiting game”) with other negative behaviors and motives. Her analysis gives a very skewed notion of the traits of any guys who engage in a few of the behaviors and attitudes she mentions, but not the others, and it fails to acknowledge more charitable explanations of some of those behaviors. In the case of men with severe anxiety and/or non-neurotypicality, leaving that out risks being busted and ableist.

        You say:

        The difference is, this kind of prejudice isn’t actually based on what real fat women say or do; it’s the prejudice of the haters, not the traits of the fat women, that defines this reaction to them. Not so with the “Nice Guys”, who are living up to their capitalization.

        “Nice Guys(tm)” live up to their capitalization because the capitalized version of the term is defined that way from that start. Of course Nice Guys(tm) live up to entitlement! That’s how it’s being defined. What I’m worried about is people putting a guy in the “Nice Guy(tm)” cluster based on a view traits, and then assuming that he has other traits in the cluster by definition.

        In my view, the stereotype of “Nice Guys(tm)” is actually more similar to the stereotypes about fat women than you may realize. Just as some self-identified “nice guys” live up to the stereotypes about them, I’m sure some fat women live up to stereotypes about being “lazy”, “gluttonous” and “lacking in sexual partners” (and so do many non-fat women! And men!). But elements of the stereotype don’t always always go together: I’m sure there are fat women who are lazy and gluttonous, but who do not lack sexual partners, for instance (or any other combination of those traits and their negations).

        You might reasonably worry that if a fat woman displays a cue of one element of the stereotype, the whole thing is going to be slapped on her. That’s exactly an example of why stereotypes suck. It’s the same worry I have with the “Nice Guy(tm)” stereotype. Yes, there are self-identified “Nice Guys” who match the entire stereotype. But probably most of the guys who match a few pieces of it don’t match the rest, and these guys don’t deserve to be lumped together. It’s just that the guys who match the whole morass are more noticeable and memorable to women for being assholes. As we same in action at the beginning of this thread, it’s possible for a guy to trigger the “Nice Guy(tm)” stereotype with very little matching of the cluster.

        It’s especially saddening when some of the people touting the label are the sorts of people who are well-educated about stereotypes and the problems with them. No, people who stereotype Nice Guys(tm) aren’t unprejudiced while people who stereotype fat women are prejudiced. Both groups of stereotypers are lumping together people in the target group based on certain cues, based on the existence of a visible minority in the target group who is perceived to have those cues. Both types of stereotypes are prejudiced; the former just have prejudices that are less visible, which is why I’ve attempted to outline what I think some of them are in this post.

      • September 14, 2010 11:01 am

        Hugh, the Gilmartin research you linked identifies a discrete and specific group of het men who have never had intercourse and basically never date or form romantic relationships, a group that represents at most 1.5% of the male population, with discrete and recognizable preferences in such things as music. But you’re making broad assertions about the prevalence of autistic-spectrum folks and social anxiety disorders among Nice Guys (TM). Can you back any of that up, or are you looking to coattail disability rights in your Manifesto For The Nice Guy(TM)? Aspie, for example, is not the same thing as passive-aggressive entitled asshole, and I don’t think that a lot of aspies would appreciate you insinuating that this kind of behavior is a hallmark of their neurological differences. I am skeptical that Nice Guys(TM) are a phenomenon with any strong link to any disability. I think they’re just passive-aggressive little shits.

        Also, what you’ve said is simply of no use. Men who are paralyzed by anxiety and can’t initiate can stand around waiting for GGR (to pick an example from this thread) to fall in love with them until they are dead and dust and it won’t do them any good. If they can’t progress beyond a noncommittal conversation even to say they’d like to go out, waiting won’t do anything. Nothing. And no explanation you supply or claim you make for the people behaving that way will justify them then flipping out when the object of their unstated affection forms a relationship with someone else. If these guys can’t verbalize anything about how they feel, then telling women, “don’t flirt because he may take it seriously but be unable to say so,” just imposes limits on women without creating anything like a good outcome for the men.

      • September 14, 2010 4:28 am

        To the mods: I wrote a massive wall of text that seems to have been spam-trapped or automatically put into moderation due to a bunch of links. When it’s released from limbo, feel free to delete this. Thanks!

      • Sam permalink
        September 14, 2010 3:57 pm

        Thomas,

        “at most 1.5% of the male population”

        I’ve seen research putting the male 30+ no romantic experience whatsoever group at about 10% of the male population. Love shyness is not the only reason for involuntary celibacy – and given how embarrassing admitting virginty is for men from a certain age on, I’d say that percentage will be even higher.

        “I am skeptical that Nice Guys(TM) are a phenomenon with any strong link to any disability. I think they’re just passive-aggressive little shits.”

        I think Hugh’s point was that there is no clear definition and that a lot of feminist discussion about nice guys ™ tends to lump a whole lot together in a way that is unfair to a lot of people, and that there is no recognition of that problematic aspect of the discourse, and that even an allusion to female agency in such an interaction is met with complaints about male enititlement and unfair limitations to female behaviour.

        I think he’s complaining more about the way nice guy discussions usually work than about the concept itself – if clearly defined.

        “If these guys can’t verbalize anything about how they feel, then telling women, “don’t flirt because he may take it seriously but be unable to say so,” just imposes limits on women without creating anything like a good outcome for the men.”

        Agreed. But I don’t think it was suggested that “may take it seriously” would be a useful threshold. But if she *knows* she’s teasing him and *knows or reasonably suspects* he’s interested in something she is not, and is reasonably certain she won’t be, ever, and she *knows or reasonably suspects* he’s not able to do something about it for some reason, it is bad manners to continue to tease.

      • September 21, 2010 2:09 am

        Thomas,

        I don’t have any specific claims of the prevalence of anxiety disorders or Asperger’s syndrome in self-identified “nice guys.” I do, however, have suspicions that it’s big enough that we shouldn’t marginalize them when talking about self-identified “nice guys.”

        I don’t know where Gilmartin’s love-shyness numbers from, so let’s talk social anxiety disorder instead. The prevalence estimates range from 5%, to 13.3% with a 2:3 male:female ratio. That’s about 5%-8% for men. Given what we know about the personalities of self-identified “nice guys” and their level of social skills, they probably have a higher rate of anxiety disorders than the general population. It’s not difficult to imagine 10-20% of self-identified “nice guys” having some of anxiety disorder. And since mental disorders are on a continuum, don’t forget all the guys who are just one or two items on a checklist away from being considered to have a clinical condition.

        So yes, ableism is a potential consideration when criticizing these guys for not making an advance on their female friends.

        As you point out, this behavior *doesn’t* work most of the time, so the guy keeps sitting around. It’s exactly the same thing many mainstream heterosexual women do with men… only when women do it, we don’t accuse them of being insincere schemers.

        What I object to is the reflexive association of male “waiting game” behavior with some sort of insincerity, manipulativeness, and scheming. I argue that most of the time, we are just seeing mundane anxiety, and men having difficulty performing their role of initiator because the performance isn’t natural for them.

        And no explanation you supply or claim you make for the people behaving that way will justify them then flipping out when the object of their unstated affection forms a relationship with someone else.

        Yeah, so good thing I’m not justifying anyone flipping out. Flipping out at people who reject you is jerk behavior. I’m just skeptical about lumping this behavior together with so many other negative behaviors in the “Nice Guy(tm)” category. For instance, you can feel jealous of someone’s affection without flipping out at them. In fact, it’s quite possible that most people who feel jealous of their friends’ attention just deal with it silently.

        If these guys can’t verbalize anything about how they feel, then telling women, “don’t flirt because he may take it seriously but be unable to say so,” just imposes limits on women without creating anything like a good outcome for the men.

        In this thread, I’ve agreed that category prohibiting women from flirting with their female friends would be a bad idea. I enjoy flirting with my female friends all the time with both of us knowing it isn’t going anywhere, and it would be a shame if they held out off out of a misguided idea to protect my feelings.

        Yet not all forms of flirting are created equal. If you are saying that no forms of flirting by women to their male friends are suspect, then I would disagree. For situations where the female friend knows or reasonably suspects that her male friend is interested, I think some sorts of flirting should be suspect (and by “suspect”, I don’t mean banned, I just think that the person doing it should think first about the other person’s feelings and whether they really need to flirt this way):

        – Physical flirting being the norm for touch between platonic friends. Potential examples (your culture may vary): kissing on the cheek, kissing on the lips, sitting in lap, rubbing your chest on someone, wiggling your butt in someone’s face, or touching their chest, stomach, or thighs

        – Flirting involving nudity that’s more than the situation demands (so a pool party or lingerie party doesn’t count). You really don’t have to flash friends you aren’t interested in sexually, or change in front of them.

        – Any other kind of flirting substantially outside the norm for friends in your particular subculture. For instance, discussing favorite sex positions between friends, or going sex toy shopping could be outside the norm in some subcultures (but of course, not others!).

        Would you agree that those forms of flirting with friends, by either women or men, should consider the other person’s feelings in advance?

        I’m not saying such flirting with friends should be banned, I’m just saying that the default approach with it should be cautious unless both people understand the nature of the friendship. Instead of putting the burden on the other friend to object to forms of flirting outside the friendly norm (and risk looking like a “square”), the burden should be on the flirting friend to seek evidence that such flirting is OK and that the other person will be able to handle it without frustration. For instance, if you know that your friend is going out with other people and there isn’t any danger of them being romantically fixated on you, that’s evidence that they can handle more flirting.

        And of course, if you aren’t sure whether a certain form of flirting is welcome, you can ask.

      • September 21, 2010 9:44 am

        I think it is less useful to typologize the mechanism of the flirting than to analyze the context. People shouldn’t flirt when they know it is unwelcome or upsetting, and that’s true whether it’s flashing genitals or batting eyelashes.

        Lots of women don’t initiate and instead wait around hoping someone else will, because there is strong social pressure to conform to that role. So we need make no inference about their motives from that. With men, it’s behaviour against role, and as you note, those roles are constricting the don’t fit very well. I’m against the system of gender roles and prescribed moves that we live with now. I want to tear down that structure. I want a culture where there is no particular onus on men or women to initiate, which would make it a much better place for men with anxiety issues. The way we get there is to dismantle the social structures that discourage women from being initiators. That means don’t slut-shame, don’t rape, and don’t tolerate those who do.

      • Schala permalink
        September 22, 2010 12:51 pm

        I used to be what is referred to as a ‘nice guy’ (not capitalized). I have Asperger syndrome. I also have anxiety issues, and take rejection badly due to having been rejected basically all my childhood – I take it personally, wether I want to or not.

        Now since transitioning to female. I don’t have to initiate, but certainly don’t feel pressure against doing so, should I feel like it. You can’t slut-shame me because I readily accept that I can be slutty (not as in having many partners, just in being more willing than average sexually) and ascribe no negative emotion to it. Much like you can’t gay-shame someone who’s proud of being gay.

        I don’t initiate because I’m bad at it, and can get away with not-initiating. Not because some people might think less of me. That is, even if my trans status repels most guys who would otherwise be interested all else being equal (including looks), I can still wait to get proposed.

        Most guys don’t expect it, even if it can happen. They don’t go in a meeting place and expect a woman to accost them and start a conversation leading to more. It can happen, but most don’t rely on this to have relationships or even no-ties attached sex. That’s because most can’t rely on this. They aren’t obviously rich and aren’t looking like Brad Pitt.

        Some men might resent a woman who initiates, like some women might resent a man who doesn’t. But in my experience, neither is the majority. A woman who initiates will probably face rejection sometimes (without the slut-shaming), while a man who doesn’t will probably be left alone most of the time (without being resented for not making a move).

        I don’t know. I go by “people are decent unless proven otherwise” in most social situations, including school or work. Benefit of the doubt and all, and I’m not in much danger while in public with dozens of witnesses. Even speaking as an intense-bullying victim. I was bullied at school, and work, but the danger to my health was minimal with witnesses around.

    • MertvayaRuka permalink
      September 11, 2010 9:48 pm

      In my view, the category of “Nice Guy(tm)” is vaguely defined, combines a bunch of things that are actually different, and involves prejudiced speculation on the motives and psychology of men.

      I’d suggest starting here for more reading on the subject, because this is what we’re talking about when we talk about Nice Guys.

      http://www.heartless-bitches.com/rants/niceguys/niceguys.shtml

      Pretty much the defining characteristic for the Nice Guy is that their main motivation for doing anything nice for a woman is because they’re seeking to gain from it. Not because it’s the right thing to do. Not just to make someone else happy. They do it because they feel they will be OWED something. Affection, sex, whatever. They think if they press the right buttons, they’ll get what THEY want out of the relationship. The woman ceases to be a person and is instead a trophy, an achievement, a thing that can be won just by making the right motions. The Nice Guy’s lack of a long-term relationship is, in their minds, not because of any failing or shortcoming on their part but rather because “bitches don’t appreciate them”. A woman’s lack of interest in them is not understandable or her own choice, it’s a deadly insult to the Nice Guy’s masculinity and their entire being, an insult that some of them feel the need to immediately punish. Sometimes that punishment is a screaming fit like GeekGirlsRule experienced. Sometimes it’s walking into an exercise studio and shooting every woman present.

      That seems pretty clear and agreed-upon to me at this point. Nice Guys aren’t really “nice”, that’s the point of the sarcasm. They’re bitter, desperate, women-hating fuckers who think the world owes them the supermodel of their choice and when they don’t get what they want, they lash out at the same women they claim to worship so much. Their niceness comes with a price tag. And after reading some of the threads about George Sodini, where these “Nice Guys” were essentially saying “Good, now women will see that there may be a price for rejecting us.”, I don’t have an ounce of sympathy for any of them.

      Yes, people should be considerate about flirting. But I don’t think they need to coddle anyone who’s going to feel like they’re owed something and they shouldn’t have to fear reprisals over it either.

      • September 12, 2010 12:31 pm

        I think I like this link better. I believe it’s by a genuinely nice guy who has a lot of Nice Guy™ friends: http://www.heartless-bitches.com/rants/niceguys/coin.shtml

        at first, I was too busy being confused to become pissed off: whenever a NiceGuy would complain that he has trouble with romance because he’s too nice (and being in the middle of a nerdy social circle, I hear these complaints often), my typical thought would be something along the lines of: “huh; that’s weird; every girl who I’ve dated so far has liked me because I’m nice. Conversely, none of the girls who have turned me down have done so because of my nicer traits; it’s not like they say, “Sorry, but you didn’t call me enough nasty names on our first date, and you forgot to slap the waitress’ ass!”

        Now, yeah, there is grey area. A genuinely nice guy can be an asshole sometimes- and a Nice Guy™ can be genuinely nice. But the biggest thing is that the Nice Guys™ seem to feel that they deserve something for their niceness- it isn’t being nice because you want to be nice, it’s being nice with the idea you’ll get something out of it. (and, yes, girls can do it as well) That guy’s second category “People who whine that whenever they befriend a girl, she starts going out with some guy who “just wants to get laid,” and so then they “can’t even get laid!”” pretty much sums it up. Why would you think that, just because you’ve become friends with a person you’ll automatically get sex with that person?

        And I also suggest you REALLY read MertvayaRuka’s link, especially this bit:

        Nice Guys exude insecurity — a big red target for the predators of the world. There are women out there who are “users” — just looking for a sucker to take advantage of. Users home-in on “Nice Guys”, stroke their egos, take them for a ride, add a notch to their belts, and move on. It’s no wonder so many Nice Guys complain about women being horrible, when the so often the kind of woman that gets attracted to them is the lowest form of life

        That does tie into your complaint. But, again, it’s not womankind’s fault– it’s the fault of the women who actually do it. The author is not blaming Nice Guys for this, as it states that this behavior in women is abhorrent- but it’s still a valid point. If you msotly deal with the scum and low-lifes of a group, your view of that group is going to be distorted.

  14. September 13, 2010 12:35 am

    … huh. The whole thing falls down for me because I have only ever seen “safe” as a euphemism for “monogamously partnered” – a usage that I see one of your other commenters touched on.

    • September 13, 2010 5:57 pm

      Even that’s not necessarily safe. It’s not like supposedly monogamous people have never cheated on their partner. Most of the definitions of “safe” I’ve seen here make me pretty uncomfortable. Unless the definition is “This is a person I know well enough and I’ve made sure they know and are okay with playful flirting and isn’t indicative of romantic/sexual feelings”.

      • September 13, 2010 6:05 pm

        Oh, I entirely agree with it falling down, and with it being creepy, but that’s the only usage of the word I’ve seen previously. (It’s not exactly a going mindset among people I spend a lot of time with, anyway, so I don’t have broad experience.)

        And that means that the whole “But it’s so mean to do that when the guy isn’t getting sex” line of argument falls down, because the ‘logic’ involved is something like ‘because he’s already getting sex he won’t try to get it from me’.

  15. Sam permalink
    September 13, 2010 7:15 pm

    Isn’t it interesting how it took only a couple of days for a thread hypothesizing about possible bad female behaviour and implicit complicity (taking advantage of safe, resp. nice guys) to turn into a thread in which people mostly talk about shortcomings of nice guys ™? I find that interesting.

    • September 13, 2010 8:33 pm

      We’re talking about both- one tends to lead to the other. As was pointed out earlier, women who use men are more likely to target those with low-self esteem/confidence (which most Nice Guys™ have). Which can (but doesn’t always) lead to genuinely nice, but low self-confidence, guys thinking all women are like that and becoming Nice Guys™ or lead to Nice Guys™ feeling that their view of the world is backed up and, yeah, it is just that women are unappreciative $%@#$s.

      They’re also interrelated here. If a woman makes it clear she has no romantic/sexual interest in a guy but just likes flirting, and he says he’s okay with that then resents her for not “putting out” or feels that, even though she says she isn’t interested in going further, she should just “know” that he loves her- that’s not cool of him.
      If a guy tries to communicate that he isn’t okay with “just” flirting if she isn’t interested in taking it further and she stops him from doing so because she wants to flirt with someone she feels is “safe”- that’s not cool of her. Both very related.

    • September 13, 2010 8:50 pm

      We’re talking about both- one tends to lead to the other. As was pointed out earlier, women who use men are more likely to target those with low-self esteem/confidence (which most Nice Guys™ have). Which can (but doesn’t always) lead to genuinely nice, but low self-confidence, guys thinking all women are like that and becoming Nice Guys™ or lead to Nice Guys™ feeling that their view of the world is backed up and, yeah, it is just that women are unappreciative $%@#$s.

      They’re also interrelated here. If a woman makes it clear she has no romantic/sexual interest in a guy but just likes flirting, and he says he’s okay with that then resents her for not “putting out” or feels that, even though she says she isn’t interested in going further, she should just “know” that he loves her- that’s not cool of him.
      If a guy tries to communicate that he isn’t okay with “just” flirting if she isn’t interested in taking it further and she stops him from doing so because she wants to flirt with someone she feels is “safe”- that’s not cool of her.
      And then there are situations where both are “guilty”- he doesn’t try to tell her that he doesn’t want to flirt if she isn’t interested in him romantically/sexually, she doesn’t make it clear that’s what she’s doing to make sure it’s okay (possibly because she’s decided he’s “safe”)- and then what?

      And this can all be reversed. Men can flirt with women for the fun of flirting while the woman thinks he’s actually interested. Women can do it with women, men can do it with men, non-binaries can do it with whoever and whoever can do it with non-binaries.

      • September 14, 2010 5:02 am

        Dreki said:

        If a guy tries to communicate that he isn’t okay with “just” flirting if she isn’t interested in taking it further and she stops him from doing so because she wants to flirt with someone she feels is “safe”- that’s not cool of her.

        Unfortunately, there can be a bit of a power differential here. Due to the bias that men are always supposed to be grateful to receive sexual attention, it’s easy for the guy to look bad saying something like this, which could lead him to blow the friendship for even raising the subject. Of course, maybe if him bringing it up blows the friendship, then it shouldn’t last because she’s a jerk. But I’m a bit skeptical of that. She’s not necessarily a jerk, she may just be trapped in cultural biases. Furthermore, lots of women simply aren’t accustomed to having their flirting rebuffed, and may understandably have trouble handling it gracefully… but doesn’t necessarily make them into bad people who one should be happy to escape from friendship with.

        Contra Thomas, explicitly calling out the discomfort is a rather crude solution to these sorts of problems, because it has a risk of hurting the other person’s feelings and burning the bridges with them prematurely… and that’s because the women involved are human, not because they are jerks.

        If my standard for friends was “people who can accept criticism of their sexual behavior that they aren’t used to receiving without having such a strong negative reaction that it jeopardizes the friendship,” then I wouldn’t have many friends. Maybe that could be a standard for very close friends, but not all of the friends in these scenarios are close.

        And then there are situations where both are “guilty”

        That’s an excellent point, and it’s definitely one way of looking at it.

        Another way of looking at it is to say that both people are innocent in these same situations, and it’s the culture that’s guilty.

  16. anecdotal evidence permalink
    September 17, 2010 12:59 am

    What the fuck does Zvan want ladies to do? It’s not like the safe guy can say “I don’t like this safe shit” and the woman can be like “I recognize and respect your sexuality.” Does that mean no more light flirting–and would former safe even want that? Does it mean that people have to think of former-safe sexually? What it really looks like is that the safes aren’t seen as attractive by a lot of the people they’re into, and they find it tiresome. A lot of attractiveness standards are rooted in misogyny, homophobia, super-unrealistic gender, and these guys are probably suffering from that. But if A doesn’t think of B sexually, that’s not an unfair “unilateral decision.” How would you make that bilateral? B says, “Ok, now think of me in sexual terms because you totally didn’t include me in your decision not to?”

  17. Beverly permalink
    September 22, 2010 10:42 am

    Priests don’t get put on trial and that is a culture that’s guilty.

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