Thursday, October 6, 2011
Women Asking Men Out: Some Analysis of Gender Norms
During a conversation over at the blog And that's why you're single,
I was involved in a short discussion about women asking men out on dates. The lone woman in the conversation argued that while men might say "yes" to a woman's invitation to go on a date, they probably weren't terribly interested in her beforehand, and/or aren't going to be as interested in dating her as if they had done the asking. She uses this view to justify to herself not asking men out, which she's certainly entitled to do. (And if she's having luck with her current approach, who cares, right?) I guess I don't know if she's having luck finding quality potential partners or not, but another male commenter suggested that she might be missing out on a certain percentage of men who might not, for various reasons, directly ask her out. She felt that number was tiny, but I disagreed. Here's my response:
You know, I understand that adhering to the old gender norms where men do the asking, and women accept is in some ways a practical strategy. I think women who stick totally to that model are missing out on a swath of men. And it’s not just men who are shy and not assertive. It’s actually including any men who haven’t found you yet (if online), or who don’t know you (if in person), or who simply aren’t the type to ask out strangers or relative strangers.
When it comes to online dating , I really think plenty of women are – through their lack of being proactive – missing opportunities. Vox (the female commenter I spoke of above) points out that men might save her profile and then not go back. Because there’s hundreds of others out there. I know that there have been times when I have saved profiles of women I thought were really interesting, and then didn’t go back for weeks afterwards. Sometimes, it was because I was already going on dates, and didn’t have any more time. Other times, I was simply too busy. And still other times, I just plain forgot.
Another issue here is the issue of who it is you’re attracting. Perhaps you have a full inbox of e-mails from guys, but what if it’s full of guys who either are totally not what you want, or who are too much like your exs? Sometimes, you have to break the norms in order to also break patterns like attracting the “wrong people” – even if you desire to uphold the norms in general.
Besides those comments, I also believe there are some unquestioned assumptions about heterosexual men as a group that underlie Vox's view (which is shared by many other heterosexual women). First off, there is an assumption that men only display attraction directly, and that if they don't ramp things up in an assertive way, they aren't interested. I flat out disagree with this totalizing view, and believe that even some confident, mostly mainstream guys display a mixture of approaches to demonstrating interest in women. To me, this men are always direct and obvious is a dressed up version of the "men are simple creatures" narrative.
The second issue I want to point out is more complicated. I do think there are some men who feel a need to be dominant and in control of the dating process, and who would react negatively towards women who choose to initiate dates. I can see how men like this might go on a date with said woman because it's something to do, and might even be interested in her on some level, but ultimately feel threatened by her assertiveness.
However, I sometimes think a lot of women fail to recognize that men haven't stayed, as a whole group, in the past. That all the efforts of the women's liberation movement, of the various feminisms, and even to some degree elements of the more recent men's movement have had a marked impact on a large number of younger men (amongst the under 50 crowd) in American society. That there are a hell of a lot more men out there today whose actions and beliefs are a blend of "masculine" and "feminine" to use those sort of sloppy terms. That there are plenty of men who are defining relationships more along lines of an equal partnership, and who view dating as something mostly other than from a "traditional" courtship model. And this post is only focusing on heterosexual men. If you include gay men, bisexual men, and men who identify as queer, that would add even more layers upon this discussion.
In fact, I'd argue that one of the things undergoing revision in society is a strict adherence to a single definition of sexuality. That who we are as sexual beings, regardless of whom we choose to ultimately be partners with, frequently doesn't fit into a tiny set of boxes. People like Alfred Kinsey were shunned for talking about this kind of stuff decades ago, and there are still plenty of naysayers running around saying things like sexuality is only about procreation, or only happens in X number of forms, and whatnot - but more and more people are choosing to see the true diversity out there, and do what they can to support and even celebrate that.
Going back to the original topic, I think men who don't "fit" the old norms have a role to play also. We need to be more vocal about how we are approaching dating, including writing and responding to these kinds of posts on dating and relationship websites. We need to share our experiences, and even to some extent explain our reasons for choosing to not go along with the old ways. And for some of us, there's a strong need to develop confidence and an ability to let go of criticism and commentary that we "aren't good enough" or "aren't man enough." And finally, we need to figure out a way to balance critical commentary about the oppressive elements of gender norms with a respectful attitude towards those who genuinely feel ok following those norms themselves.
Whew! All that from a few comments about people asking each other out dates. That's enough from me. What are your thoughts?