Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Sex, Power, and Patriarchy


This post has garnered a lot of heat over the past few days. I had to sit with it awhile, and take in some of the other reactions first before making any comments of my own.

The author writes of feeling frustrated by the fact that she's turned down for sex by an Ex she's still attracted to. That, in and of itself, isn't terribly novel. Men experience this kind of rejection on a regular basis. And the thing is, it's often not even about rejection per se. There are any number of reasons why someone says "no" or otherwise indicates not wanting to have sex.

Clearly, the article writer knows this. And yet she also sees a bigger pattern going on. One that she frames in a way that's controversial, and in my opinion, somewhat problematic. She writes:

Now that women are prioritizing sexual pleasure, men are changing the rules. They are recognizing that sexual performance can decline with age just like beauty.

But frankly, strictly speaking from my own experience, I think that men say no as a way to regain power.

I have a strong personality, I’m outspoken, and smart. Whatever the fuck Steve Harvey says, I know some brothers have found it intimidating. Denying sex becomes an easy way for men to let you know who’s boss.

Of late, I’ve had more than a few homegirls tell me about the negative reactions that they have gotten from men they were casually involved with, when they tried to prioritize sex in the interaction. Apparently, even when these brothers weren’t all that interested in a relationship, they took it as a serious blow to the ego, to find out that sisters just wanted to engage them for their bodies and sexual talents.

And in the classic fashion of those with privilege, they played the victim, changed the rules, and refused to give the thing they had the power to give. In this case, sex.

In the comments section, there is a large amount of blowback focused on the issue of consent. The fact that men (like women) should have the personal agency to choose whether or not to engage in intimate relations. And that saying "no" does not mean also having to defend yourself through extended explanations.

I'm totally on board with this. As a man who has said no to sex a number of times for various reasons, I think it's high time to put to rest the view that men are always thinking about sex, and are ready and willing whenever, wherever, and how ever. The article author seems to also be on board with all this, but the way she wrote the passage above, that belief isn't really clear. Which is one reason why, in my opinion, so many people missed a lot of what she was trying to do.

The first mistake was focusing on casual sex at the center of her main argument. Mixed groups of people tend to give less credibility to discussions where casual sex is the sole focus. By "mixed" here I mean people who have a wide variety of understandings and ethical/moral views around sexual activity.

The idea that these guys being talked about, who got upset when discovering that the women they were with were just looking to get laid, were somehow in the wrong doesn't fly to well. Women are frequently offering the flip narrative about men wanting to use them. The reality is that unless you're ok with casual sex in the particular situation, you're probably going to feel used and unhappily so, regardless of gender.

Here's the thing, though: I agree with the author that some men who say no are doing so to maintain power. That for them it has nothing to do with feeling used, and everything to do with the fact that the woman initiated, was assertive, etc. Some men absolutely can't handle strong, smart, and outspoken women. That's just the plain truth of it.

I'm guessing she has run into enough of these kind of guys that it's difficult to see beyond that pattern. Furthermore, I would argue that she is completely accurate in assigning that pattern to the larger pattern of patriarchy.

Unfortunately, that gets lost not only in the tussle over consent and perceptions about casual sex, but also in what appears to be - to several male and female commenters - a sense of entitlement.

In the comments section, the author writes:

I’m exploring how to get my needs met. Of course I get the incongruency of the other person’s needs with my own. But as my needs were not his concern, his needs are not my primary concern.

What bothers me about this statement is the linking of the Ex boyfriend's particular "no" to sex with a total disregard for her needs. Here's how she writes it:

Exasperated (and horny) I asked “Why?” Lo and behold, he flipped the gender script and told me some version of: “I’m happy to have you back in my life. I don’t want to move too prematurely because we are rebuilding our relationship.” Riiiiight. What I wanted to know is what our “relationship” had to do with the sex that I needed to have right then and there.

Now, perhaps he was just giving her a line. Who knows? But it sounds to me like the kind of thing many women say and do after a fight with a boyfriend, or when getting back together with someone. In that way, it is a script flip. However, if he indeed was being sincere, I'd argue it's a healthy script flip. And that she comes off looking selfish.

On the other hand, though, there's this section from her post, which complicates the notion that she's just being entitled:

Truth be told, it sucks to feel like on the one hand, good long-term relationships are hard to come by (and 70% of Black women with advanced degrees are single, mind you) and on the other hand, your sexual empowerment strategy is literally a life and death situation, every single time.

This is the kind of ish that professional women of color confront on our journey to trying to find the balance, the all, that highly educated professional white women rarely have to think twice about. {Good reply here though.} I mean, fuck ALL. Can I just get some?!

Unfortunately, the majority of women still don't feel like they can be open and assertive when it comes to sex. Especially in newer relationships, or with men they don't know well.

Hell, it's commonplace to find debates about whether heterosexual women should even ask men out on dates, or offer to pay for first dates.

In some ways, I think the male blowback towards assertive women is generational. The over 30 crowd seems much more challenged when the old scripts are flipped than younger men. However, I also believe that plenty of women reinforce aspects of the old narrative. For example, there's this from a female commenter responding to the author's post:

I think to make this a feminist issue is disingenuous IMO. One phrase I’ve read a long time ago and that make sense even in this topic is that if you put yourself out there like a man, then you need to learn to accept rejection like a man.

The idea that assertiveness is a man's domain is sexist, and of the old paradigm. And yet plenty of women (and men) not say things like this, but also run their romantic lives in such a manner.

In the end, I find myself resonating with these words from the author in the comments section:

Indeed it is a power struggle, and I’m [not] sure how to mitigate it, but I think radical empathy, the intentional commitment to understanding your potential partner’s position and needs in the interactions and the ways in which your privileges affect those needs, is a starting point.

Given that I write about conscious, healthy relationships, I think that ultimately, the only way to be in such a place is to move past power and control games. It is possible to do so, but there are plenty of challenges present. Including the many ways in which gender is still tied up in the old, patriarchal structures.

Another thing that got lost in the discussion was the fact that the author is sincerely - as I see it anyway - trying to figure out how to be fully herself in less than ideal conditions. As a man who has never felt connected to the male norms, and who has struggled to locate himself within notions of maleness and masculinity, I sympathize. And want to uphold her struggle, because it's really part of the broader struggle of liberation from oppressive cultural norms around relationships and sexual expression.







41 comments:

  1. Many thanks for your thoughtful post. You have aptly captured much of what is complicated about the interaction I cite in my post, and I appreciate it.

    One thing: I fully respect the primacy of consent on both sides of the relationship, but I feel like this was set up as a straw man against female desire in a really problematic way.

    I didn't deny him consent.

    So one challenge here is that by making the post about consent, which many commenters did, as opposed to what I was attempting to do which is think through the challenges to being assertive about expressing female desire, female desire becomes cast as predatory.

    I find that unfortunate, and that is why I have reacted so strongly against much of the comments section.

    Let me also respond to this: "However, if he indeed was being sincere, I'd argue it's a healthy script flip. And that she comes off looking selfish."

    Why are his desires healthy and mine the converse? At the point that we didn't share each other's desires, why is his assertion of his desire not seen as being selfish in the same way that you understand mine?

    For the record, I didn't foreclose the possibility of a relationship. I just didn't think that that conversation could only happen prior to sex.


    Anyway, thanks again for your thoughtful post. It is appreciated.

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    1. So one challenge here is that by making the post about consent, which many commenters did, as opposed to what I was attempting to do which is think through the challenges to being assertive about expressing female desire, female desire becomes cast as predatory.

      Yes, and? This construction, with the genders reversed, is how many men experience dating as a whole: that their desire is cast as predatory. Moreover, their desire is cast as universal and non-differentiating: from your original post: "I swear that I have managed to meet the only 200 men on the planet who actually say “No” when you ask for sex." Men end up feeling like that CAN'T (or don't have a right to) say no, because of scripts like this, and that's why consent is an important part of the discussion. (I wrote about these pressures in a situation where I appeared to play "hard to get".)

      Personally, I like dating feminist women ("like" as in "refuse any other kind") because I know they'll be able to tell me what they want and don't want. But it also makes it possible for me to say what I do and don't want because the prevailing scripts are that much weaker. In your OP you said, "I think that men say no as a way to regain power." Damn right, that's what I'm doing. I'm taking back power from Patriarchy and and feeling empowered against social expectations. A woman who just expects me to say "yes" because "hey, dudes always want sex", is just a person presenting herself as the current conduit via which Patriarchy attempts to alienate me from my own body and sexuality. (Of course, there's also the many women who buy into Patriarchal scripts and view sex as a trading chip to control or bargain with men).

      Why are his desires healthy and mine the converse? At the point that we didn't share each other's desires, why is his assertion of his desire not seen as being selfish in the same way that you understand mine?

      Both people's desires are healthy; it's how you relate to them that comes across as selfish or otherwise. When your language sounds the same as the language that is claimed as evidence of male entitlement, then it is worth recalling that the tools of oppression are rarely the tools you can use to end oppression. Your OP, and this comment, come across as heading down the same thought processes that turn Nice Guys into the worst types of pick-up artists. But better PUA advice includes the concept of being okay with hearing "no", and allowing that to give you power to accept any answer with equanimity.

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  2. Crunk - one of the challenges I see in all of this is that any desire that doesn't fit the old scripts comes off as predatory and/or is marginalized, if not outright invalidated. The reason I continued on after the "you come off as selfish" comment is that I felt it much more complicated. The way I see it, whomever is wanting some in a situation where the other doesn't is often viewed as selfish. Men get ripped all the time like that. I think I could have added a few more clarifying points to the statement you objected to, though, because it does play into that "selfish narrative," even though I didn't intend it to.

    Snowdrops points out the nice guy theme. More than once in a recent relationship, I was caught in a bind between being too careful and too assertive. Having had partners who'd been in abusive relationships in the past and who were sensitive to strong male desire, I had learned to tone it done - too much so looking back. And so, when faced with a more sexually engaged partner who wanted to both be assertive and also for me to be more assertive, I struggled to recalibrate. Because part of me was - and still is to some degree - tied to the notion that strong male desire - my strong desire particularly - is going to bring me grief again. Even though I know everyone reacts differently, its hard to let go of that past. Just as I can imagine its hard for you to let go of the experiences you spoke about.

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  3. How about the fact that many men aren't attracted to women who aggressively initiate sexual contact?

    It's not a power play; it's a turn-off.

    A far simpler explanation with far fewer words.

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  4. "How about the fact that many men aren't attracted to women who aggressively initiate sexual contact?"

    Yes, and what's behind this. That's one thing Crunk is exploring in her post, and I am also in mine.

    Go back just a few generations, and women who asserted most any personal need were considered aggressive, selfish, etc. Point being that attraction, at least to some extent, is socially conditioned. And living in a society where racism, sexism, heterosexism and the rest are still prominent features means that everyone's conditioning is negatively impacted. (Note, I'm not saying we're all sexist and racist here.) I'm saying that our ideas about what's attractive and what isn't don't come out of a vacuum.

    Secondly, there is a difference between "assertive" and "aggressive." The way I see it, many moves that assertive, but respectful men make would be considered "aggressive" if a woman made them. Something is off about that.

    And finally, Crunk's example doesn't fit the comment you made. They'd already dated. There was already attraction present. Somehow, I doubt that she was never the assertive one in the past. What seems more pertinent here is the fact that they were coming back together in some manner, and that the nature of the reformed relationship wasn't clear yet.

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  5. I still think that regardless of the OPs original story, the fact that this can turn into a debate about gender roles is a bit misguided. Sometimes an apple is just an apple.

    If a man gets rejected sexually, it's par for the course.
    If a woman gets rejected sexually, it's the patriarchy.

    Listen, we agree on most things, but one way in which I disagree with you and some of the more ardent feminists is that because men and women have equal rights that they are the same people.

    If men find it a turn off - as I did - when an attractive woman blatantly hits on me, that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with society, and that

    What's so wrong with accepting masculine and feminine energy, yin/yang - men give, women receive. Men ask out women, plan the date, pick up the check, make the first move, follow up the next day to talk again, plan the next date, ask to go exclusive, initiate sex, ask to move in, propose, etc. All the woman has to do is be receptive and say yes. Most women LOVE when men take this initiative.

    And if these same women want to get into the masculine (doing) energy, that's fine, but then they're going to have to take more than their share of lumps when they find out that most men don't respond to women who initiate, follow up, plan the dates, pay for the checks, ask for sex, and propose to him.

    I'm not saying that women CAN'T do this - I'm saying that I don't think there's anything wrong with a world where men and women have different roles and energies.

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  6. The narrative of sexual desire is a tricky one for both sexes. As a woman, I've been told that all men want to have sex all the time. This means that when I have been sexually rejected in the past I took it very personally. If all men want sex all the time, but this man doesn't want sex with me right now, I must not be attractive. Our society places a large amount of women's self worth on their ability to get men to have sex with them. If any man doesn't want to have sex with you at any given time, you are less of a woman.

    Yet, for men it's a little different. They have been socialized to expect rejection. They have been told that women are less interested in sex and so when they don't want to have sex it's nothing personal its just our weak female sex drives.

    I think it's interesting that such a debate about consent occurred. She initiated sexual contact, he rejected that contact, she stopped. It sounds to me like she respected his right to consent. It is perfectly reasonable that she should analyze this rejection within the realm of patriarchy. We should all analyze every aspect of our lives within the realm of patriarchy.

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  7. Evan "I'm not saying that women CAN'T do this - I'm saying that I don't think there's anything wrong with a world where men and women have different roles and energies."

    Actually, I never disagreed with this idea. Whenever I bring these points up, it's inevitable that someone will accuse me of arguing for a flattening of difference - that equality means exactly the same. Which is not at all what I'm interested in.

    I am interested in people having enough awareness of themselves, and of the social conditioning that blunts who they are so that they can more freely choose how they want to be in relationships.

    "What's so wrong with accepting masculine and feminine energy, yin/yang - men give, women receive."

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with this when the men and women involved choose this way of being. Because it fits who they are and how they want to be.

    The thing is, though, that many women feel subtle and not so subtle pressure to go along with this approach. Not because they want to be the mostly "receptive" woman, but because they don't want to be alone.

    This where you and I seem to differ. Just because something works in a practical sense doesn't mean it should be continued to be supported as the main or best approach. I have met a fair number of women in their 30s, 40s, and beyond who played the receptive role for years, only to find themselves eventually feeling suffocated, frustrated, and unhappy in their relationships. On the flip side, I have also witnessed some older men who have grown tired of always being the assertive one. In other words, our needs change. Desires change. The woman who was fine being mostly receptive at 30 might want something much more complicated at 40.

    So, again, for me, it's about about any particular set of roles or approaches. It's about how certain things are imposed upon us when we are young and impressionable, and then are reinforced as the right or best way of doing things throughout our lives.

    "Men ask out women, plan the date, pick up the check, make the first move, follow up the next day to talk again, plan the next date, ask to go exclusive, initiate sex, ask to move in, propose, etc. All the woman has to do is be receptive and say yes. Most women LOVE when men take this initiative."

    Some men want to do all of this. I, and plenty of others, don't. Not all of it. It's a turn off to me to have to do all the initiating. And I'd argue that more men would feel similarly if they were encouraged to question the narrative, and also were supported in experimenting with other approaches that are more mixed. Which doesn't mean that others won't stick with being the initiators who want to attract mostly receptive women. That's perfectly cool.

    The point is that they get to consider options. Preferably from a young age. Frankly, I think teens and 20-somethings have more flexible views about this kind of stuff on the whole. But in the unpredictable, modern dating world, a lot of middle aged guys are getting the opportunity to face this kind of stuff as well. Because some older women aren't going along with the norm any longer. At least in certain ways.

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    1. I wouldn't argue too much with Evan. If you've ever perused his blog, you'll know that his advice centers on the maintenance of some very rigid gender roles (which you can probably already see in his comments here).

      Moreover, there are such things as gendered racism and raciomisogyny, and I would venture a guess that Evan has little to no grasp on how Black men's having to deal with racism keeps them very invested on keeping an even tighter grasp on their male privilege vis-a-vis their relationships with Black women. That's a subtle subtopic, and a lot of men don't get it, let alone want to talk about it, so he's probably going to miss that too.

      The final thing about his comments (I've read his blog for a long time) goes back to the exact same problem with most of the male commenters on the post on Crunk's blog -- they keep trying to re-center the conversation away from her exploration of what she wants, and back to what men want.

      Which, for my money, misses the entire point.

      You get it, Nathan, when you say she is "trying to be fully herself in less than ideal circumstances". That goes right to the center of the question. Evan plunging in here in a situation where he really doesn't understand all the subtleties in the issue is nothing but a derail -- and, frankly a surprise to me, for someone who purports to be a professional at this stuff. At least have all your facts straight before you jump into the middle of someone else's conversation ... especially about something this sensitive, you know?

      But, as my mama would say, "'Twas ever thus."

      *sigh*

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  8. Anon "As a woman, I've been told that all men want to have sex all the time. This means that when I have been sexually rejected in the past I took it very personally. If all men want sex all the time, but this man doesn't want sex with me right now, I must not be attractive."

    I have dated women who bought into this narrative completely. With one in particular, I felt like like attraction was always being measured based on my ability to "perform" in bed. As well as always wanting to when we were together. My anxiety around sex increased in response, and in the end, I never felt like what I did was enough.

    The thing about that narrative is that it also limits everyone's sexual desire. It puts a very narrow box around what it means to express love and desire with each other. Everything revolves around successful, penis into vagina intercourse. As if that's the main, or only way to go. Which it so isn't.

    "They have been told that women are less interested in sex and so when they don't want to have sex it's nothing personal its just our weak female sex drives." Right. And this often isn't the truth either. Many women are plenty interested in sex, just not with the guy in question. For whatever reason.

    "She initiated sexual contact, he rejected that contact, she stopped. It sounds to me like she respected his right to consent. It is perfectly reasonable that she should analyze this rejection within the realm of patriarchy." You are right. She respected his consent. Although consent is an important part of these discussions, it derailed her post. Given the history she said she's had with men, as well as that of her girlfriends, it's perfectly reasonable to examine rejection in terms of patriarchy. I'm not so sure, though, about just doing so based on that particular example. To me, the rejection from her Ex was a tipping point. It pushed her to look closer at a lot of other experiences. Which is what I felt needed to be upheld and supported. Many commenters on her post questioned the Ex example because it didn't hold up well, in and of itself. I think it was fair to question that example, but disappointing that many couldn't see beyond the example.

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  9. Nathan,

    For what it's worth, almost ALL of my clients - the smart, strong, successful, masculine energy ones COMPLAIN that men these days aren't masculine anymore. These women WANT a man to call, make the first move, pick up the check - instead of sitting back, passive, waiting for HER to call him. Passive men drive women crazy, because they never know where they stand. To me, this is one of the GOOD things about traditional masculine/feminine roles. Everything's a lot clearer. If he likes you, he'll call. If he doesn't like you, he won't call. It's very difficult to give advice to women if you're suggesting that the man who likes her won't call because he doesn't like the strictures of his aggressive gender role.

    Is it more complex than that? Sure. But virtually every woman I've talked to has had it up to here with men who don't act on their desires and wait for women to man up.

    Just my observation, not my judgment.

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  10. What's interesting to me is that in my experience, every woman I have "gone after" and "made all the moves with" wasn't really into me. Or had so many hoops she expected me to jump through that I got tired of making the effort.

    And conversely, every woman I have ended up dating has stepped up and done some of those traditionally male steps. Maybe I started things out, but she made a call or sent an e-mail after the date. Or she bought dinner or drinks really early on. This has been true across racial lines, as well as class lines, for me.

    There is a difference between being passive and displaying a mixture of assertiveness and receptivity. The majority of people aren't attracted to truly passive folks these days, regardless of gender.

    I agree that the traditional roles make things clearer. I get that a lot people like them for that reason. I also think that, in practice, the majority of us are actually displaying a mixed approach across a spectrum. In our minds, people get hung up on men or women fitting certain patterns. But how we act never fully complies.

    That comment by your clients about men not being masculine anymore opens a major can of worms. What's masculine? I think what they are experiencing is a mixed bag. There are the guys who are cut off from themselves. Who are weak willed, overly sensitive, and unable to initiate much of anything. And then there is the more diverse expression of being a man that is present these days. Guys who cry when crying is a healthy response. Guys who are the primary child raisers. Guys who knit, and sew. I just read about a minor league pitcher in the MN Twins system yesterday who knitted hats for his teammates between outings because they played in a cold place. Why should this be looked upon as non-masculine? And yet it often is. I'm interested in separating the former from the latter. Some of your posts about the obsession with alpha males do this as well.

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  11. http://lifecoachesblog.com/2007/08/06/are-you-masculine-or-feminine-part-i/

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  12. Note to readers. It looks like the original post at. Crunk Feminist Collective has been taken down. Perhaps she's re-writing it. Don't know.

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  13. Thank you for making part of my comment live on in posterity LOL.

    Seriously, I was not saying that to be the initiator is exclusively a male attribute. What I was saying that when you challenge stereotypical roles, you also take on all of the aspects that come with a non stereotypical role that you may have never thought of. In this instance, Crunk assumed that she'd get what she asked because she thought she carefully made her choice of a partner and their shared past but it seems she never thought of being turned down, something that many have said, and I'm sure she knows, that happens to men every minute. One may use a feminist frame to look at the situation but a the same time, not all rejections can be viewed through that lense.

    We women are used to acquiescing or rejecting men's advances, we have have plenty of thought about our agency and desires but we never gave much thought to what it feels like to be rejected much like I'm sure most men never thought of what it means to be pursued for themselves or their pursuer so some of them are probably grappling with this as well.

    For those who are curious, you can find the original article in Google's Cache.

    Karine1976

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  14. I agree Nathan. While social narrative ordains that men have a high sex drive and women have a low one, this simply isn't true. Some people have a high sex drive and some people have a low one. It's as simple as that. I also agree that most people give in to the traditional narrative of active man passive woman more out of fear of being alone rather than an actual relational preference.

    What I wonder is how do you, as a feminist anti-patriarchal man go about navigating the dating scene? Please correct my assertions about you if they are incorrect. I ask because, I get rejecting the social narrative and I get attributing lots of this junk to patriarchy. But how then does one proceed? I usually don't talk about this kind of stuff until I'm a few dates in. Until then I just go along with the social narrative.

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  15. Also, I read the blog post that Evan posted the address of. I have to say that as a woman I don't appreciate being told that a man needs to lead and have a life mission and I need to get in touch with my feelings and have good relationships. Maybe I have a life mission and maybe that doesn't make me less of a woman.

    Perhaps Evan means that all people have these various sides to them and he's just using the terms masculine and feminine to describe them. If that is the case then removing the labels masculine and feminine would be less offensive to every woman who considers herself both strong and feminine. We take offense at the word feminine being associated with weakness. Giving birth is feminine, having done it twice I can assure everyone it is the hardest physical feat a human can accomplish. Women aren't weak.

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  16. I read the article linked by EMK, and frankly, i think it's wrong on just about every level. Perhaps most strongly, though, is that it misses the idea that I understand to be an important part of the yin/yang philosophy that each side contains elements of the other. I've been fascinated by divination since my teens and one method I read up on was the I Ching - to express concepts, that uses 6-digit binary representations (hexagrams - if you represent yang as 1 and yin as 0, for example, a 6-digit binary number, giving 64 possible combinations) that demonstrate how most situations or personalities contain elements of yin and elements of yang.

    For me, personally, I am quite strongly feminine in some ways, and quite strongly masculine in others: to ask me to be one or the other would be to deny my core essence or being.

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  17. Anon: "What I was saying that when you challenge stereotypical roles, you also take on all of the aspects that come with a non stereotypical role that you may have never thought of. In this instance, Crunk assumed that she'd get what she asked because she thought she carefully made her choice of a partner and their shared past but it seems she never thought of being turned down, something that many have said, and I'm sure she knows, that happens to men every minute."

    This is an excellent point. And one that's hard to swallow sometimes. I know that I sometimes feel frustration, and sometimes resentment over the fact that when I say or do something quite different from the norm, people often expect a lot of justification, data, and other extra support behind the idea. The levels of "proof" sometimes expected are exponentially higher just to be taken seriously by many people. Which can get exhausting.

    Anonymous: "What I wonder is how do you, as a feminist anti-patriarchal man go about navigating the dating scene?" Oh, it's a real trip, lol! Seriously, though, I started this blog a little over a year ago as a way to share some of the ways I do approach dating, and also some of the places I get stuck or feel challenged by.

    All - I haven't read EMK's post link yet. I'll go do that and respond to the comments about that.

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  18. Ok - a few quick responses to that post. I have long felt that discussions of yin/yang energies, and similar energetic approaches are often tainted with sexist notions. Historically, the feminine has been assigned to passivity, and deliberately linked to women in that form as part of the system of oppression. The author of the post refers to darkness as part of the feminine, which has long been associated with evil in patriarchal religious systems. Whereas light and logic are associated with goodness, God, etc. under the same systems.

    Because feminine and masculine are so intertwined with female and male in most minds, the words themselves limit - in my view - our understanding of the dynamism of these two energies and how they can, and do, come together. This sentence is so typical an outcome.

    "So to fully express your core being, a man has to learn to lead and stay true to his life mission, while a woman has to develop her capacity for relationships and feeling."

    Even though the author goes on to point out variations "masculine woman," "feminine man" - they are inevitably viewed as lesser than, or deviant in some troubling way.

    Personally, I think the gendering of the energies should be tossed out. Regardless of whether the majority of women have more "feminine" energy, and the majority of men have more "masculine" energy. If they were just called the blue and the red energies, for example, folks probably would have an easier time speaking about individuals - as opposed to be tempted to just lump people by gender.

    The other thing about all of this stuff is that it suggests people maintain the same energy balances, and thus the same roles, throughout a lifetime. Which might be true for some, but definitely not true for others. I think there is more flux today because more people are saying to themselves "I don't have to keep doing/being X just because society has said that's what my gender does."

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  19. Okay, Nathan: it's blue and red.

    Except men, in general, tend to have a lot more red energy and women, in general, tend to have a lot more blue energy.

    So where does that leave us? To me, this is all semantics. Men with more traditionally "blue" and passive energy are better off with women who are more traditionally "red" and proactive". And vice versa.

    There's no judgment whatsoever implicit in this. Find a complement, not a clone. It's not that there's anything "wrong" with "red" women; it's that there are a lot fewer "red" men who respond and fit well with them long-term.

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  20. Well, I am guessing a fair percentage of women aren't going to agree you about it just being about semantics. Especially when terms like passive are used. Passiveness tends to unattractive to everyone except men looking for a 50's housewife type.

    I agree with you about finding a compliment, but tend to think that we all fall more along a spectrum, and that our placement can change across a lifetime based upon personal growth, refection, and shifting needs.

    Hopefully, the others who wrote about your post will chime in responding to our comments, given that they brought up some different issues than I did.

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  21. It's all very subtle language choices. You can call it passive, you can call it feminine, you can call it receptive - but there is a peaceful, nurturing energy that certain women have that is rare to find in men. Testosterone is a very aggressive hormone that explains a lot of male behavior, from war to infidelity. Doesn't mean men can't override it - not at all - but I think it's a mistake to assume that masculine and feminine energies are not decidedly different. If I'm 70% masculine and 30% feminine, I think it's smart for me to find a wife who's 30% masculine and 70% feminine. I did. We're happily married and she's a super cool, super smart, super sane stay-at-home mom (who worked at the same company for the 17 years before she gave birth). I found a great fit, given what my energy was. All I try to teach is that you should know how you are - whether it's red or blue or masculine or feminine or receptive or aggressive - and find a partner who accepts you, loves you and meshes well with you.

    If any readers take exception to these labels, I think they're being hypersensitive, since there's no implicit judgment of anyone based on their yin/yang balance. It's all about recognizing that when men tilt too far to the feminine or men tilt too far to the masculine that they will be less appealing to the majority of the opposite sex. Which is fine. Every pot has a lid. But the answer is not to get angry at men who prefer traditional stay at home wives or get angry at women who prefer traditional breadwinner husbands - and I see a lot of that in the feminist community. I don't spend any time trying to convince people who don't want to be married or have kids that they should want to be married or have kids. So why do people who don't want to be married or have kids get so defensive when people who DO want that speak their piece?

    To sum up, I think we're largely on the same page - I just don't think it's my place to change what most men want (more nurturing than assertive) or change what most women want (more assertive than nurturing). I do think that the best partners - both men and women alike - are the ones who are nurturing, patient, understanding, and supportive. And if that's feminine energy, I think the world needs more of it.

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  22. The majority of the anger you speak about which maybe stems from fenimist arguments, but goes beyond those who identify as feminists, isn't anger about traditional preferences - it's anger about sweeping statements, views and judgements that place those preferences as the only or best approach.
    I agree with you that people from minority positions about relationships say things like "getting married is stupid" or that all breadwinner husbands are oppressive to their wives. Those kinds of arguments are ridiculous and nonconstructive.

    The thing is, you often remind people that your columns are aimed at a specific demographic. But what I and others who don't consider ourselves part of the mainstream narrative often experience are sweeping generalizations about what a good relation looks like or how to date that are all about a mainstream perspective without any notion that they are speaking to a particular audience. Or that they are coming from a particular perspective. And then, when someone like me or Snowdrop shows up and says this isn't how I would do it or I see things differently, what we often experience are people telling us we are flat out wrong or naive or some kind of dreamer. And then any form of upset on our part is used against us as a sign that we are overly sensitive, jealous, or any number of other defections from the actual issue. That gets very old.

    You and I sometimes come to very different conclusions, but I always appreciate appreciate that you're clear with folks about your target audience, and that you make the effort to engage the ideas of folks like me that are presented in a respectful manner.

    Finally, I think the last two sentences of your comment are right on. We do need more of those qualities, in whomever can develop them.

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  23. I took exception to Evans post. For the record I am a happily partnered stay at home mother of two. The words masculine and feminine being used to describe these different ways of being are important. Feminine means female and masculine means male. Saying that one type of energy is masculine and the other is feminine isn't a gender neutral statement. Futhermore, the type of energy that is described as masculine is the type of energy we are all socialized to believe is important in our society. Being active rather than passive have very real economic consequences. I think it will be useful for Evan to know that many women are offended by these semantics. Words aren't meaningless, they in fact do hold power. It's also important for Evan to know that all women who are offended by this aren't raging "feminists" who hate men and aren't in touch with their roles as wives and mothers.

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  24. Anonymous,

    I'm not all that worried about offending. Masculine/feminine energy isn't my idea. It's the same as yin/yang, which has been around longer than both of us. If you change the terminology, we're still talking about the same concepts. And, for what it's worth, it's not a gender neutral world, and I don't think it should be. Even if we're 90% the same, it's the 10% that makes all the difference in how we relate and understand each other. I wish you all the best.

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  25. Sexism has been around much longer than any of us as well. And it taints many of these concepts, regardless of our individual intentions. I think the yin and yang framework can be a great tool for talking about relationships, but the problematic elements need to acknowledged and addressed in some manner. You see no difference in the impact of the wording: at least three of us do here. Now that's a small sample size, but I do think we represent a much larger group. Enough to at least entertain the possibility that we have something valid and aren't just fussing over words.

    As for the gender neutral comment, I doubt she was saying men are - or should be - exactly the same. Gender neutral language is about respecting the truth that people are not one way or another. That gender is across a spectrum (or is a field) and in this case that yin/yang combinations in people are endless. Even if the majority of people look a certain way.

    These are the kinds of discussions people of color often face about race. Some white person makes a sweeping statement that isn't accurate, is highly exclusive, places their experiences at the center as the best or the appropriate norm, or is simply flat out racist. Now, unless the comments are clearly racist, what tends to unfold is a pattern where the comments are questioned, the white person responds with defensiveness, pleas of "it was just a joke,'lighten up," idiotic qualifiers like "I didn't mean you," or they just head into the character assassination. Regardless, if the person of color keeps questioning long enough, inevitably calls of being over sensitive will turn into accusations of trying to stir up trouble or bs nonsense like "reverse racism." I have literally witnessed hundreds of the incidents unfold in person, and some online. It's very rare that the person of color is just stirring things up, or coming from a baseless place. And yet that is a common shut down tactic used by white folks.

    The point in bringing that up is not to draw an equivalency between those experiences and the experiences of folks who question relationship and gender norms, but to point out that there are similar dynamics that sometimes take place.

    Whenever the word sexism is brought up, people rush to take sides or wish to avoid such talk all together. The word feminism is no less of a lightning rod, even though many folks have nt the foggiest these days what it actually means. Or the fact that there are literally dozens of sub branches under that term, with widely different views about - for example, the value of men. People who equate feminism with man hating and/or extreme notions of destroying all difference are basically relying on propaganda that was built from the ideas of a few radical offshoot groups that gained notoriety in the late 70s and on into the 80s.

    Anyway - words have power and definitely whatever long standing associations they have will impact how people react. Which doesn't mean everyone should go around on pins and needles worrying about every last comment. But to me, it does mean pausing if there is a pattern of objections around something, and reconsidering. And it also means that I pay attention in general for any themes, phrases, ideas or frameworks that spark a lot of blowback.

    Sometimes, causing blowback is good. And sometimes it's harmful. I aim to increase the former, and decrease the latter whenever possible.

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  26. And as a guy who considers himself a feminist, inasmuch as I believe that women are 100% equal to men and deserve equal protection and opportunity under the law, I have been appalled to have been informed that I'm a misogynist. Really. As a guy who is close with his mom and sister, has a wife and a daughter, and spends four hours a day coaching women in having better relationships.

    This is not "some of my best friends are black".

    This is due to the hypersensitivity by certain women to anything resembling constructive criticism. I wrote a column once upon a time for Yahoo about things women don't know about men. It was a jokey little piece - very much like the columns that actresses write in Esquire about what men don't know about women - and yet I was vilified on feminist blogs. Because you can't make any joke about women and you can't ever ever EVER mention a stereotype of any sort. Because there is NO truth to stereotypes and if you insist on using stereotypes then you're part of the patriarchy.

    Sorry, bud, but that's bullshit.

    People need to look in the mirror and see how they're perceived.

    I can laugh at stereotypes of New Yorkers, Angelenos, writers, men, and Jews. They're not true in every single instance. But there's enough truth to them that they're recognizable, which is what makes them funny. Once you declare yourself off-limits to criticism or humor, you've pretty much shut down anything resembling a dialogue.

    You either agree with the most vocal feminists or they will rip you to shreds.

    My friend sent me this article the other day.

    http://jezebel.com/5923260/dating-sites-encourage-men-to-be-interesting-women-to-be-doormats

    It's a perfect example of the feminist bubble. Sound dating advice, based on facts, is destroyed because it says the unspeakable:

    Men don't care nearly as much about whether a woman can run a marathon or speak six languages as they do about how HE gets treated when he's with her. Men are about feelings, not resumes. I don't know any guy who looks at a woman's career/income as a determining factor in whether he writes to her online. I've never had a client who didn't factor that in.

    And so, by pointing this out, the authors of the article aren't illustrating a valuable point about the preferences of men, they're "encouraging women to be doormats."

    You're a reasonable guy, Nathan, and I respect you and appreciate your contributions to my blog. But such twisted statements are trumped up, unfounded, unfair, and impossible to discuss rationally. You're guilty before you can mount a defense. Which is why, as a feminist, I have a really hard time conversing on feminist blogs. I teach women how to understand (most) men and make authentic adjustments to reach happiness. Apparently, this, too is sexist.

    There is no doubt in my mind that if there were a woman teaching men to understand women, she'd be lauded as a savior to womankind.

    Funny how that doesn't work both ways.

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  27. Actually, I tend to have a hard time on feminist blogs as well. The large ones aren't very representative or diverse from my experience.

    I was not saying you are sexist. I am saying that sexism is embedded in so many aspects of culture. Our institutions. And so, everyone has to pay attention to that, even feminist men who tend to "get it."

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  28. I agree with Nathan. Evan I'm sure you personally are a nice guy and that you treat women with respect. My beef is with using the words masculine and feminine in the ying-yang theory. I don't think we need to throw the baby out with the bath water here. Ying-yang can be a good way to understand ourselves and others. Quite frankly if you argue that these are just words, then simply using other words that don't assign gender to certain qualities shouldn't be a big deal for you.

    There are lots of men out in the world who exploit lonely women desperate to have babies before their time is up. This is why some of us are very sensitive to dating advice that tells us how to "be feminine" and attract men. Lots of it is just the same old sexist garbage that has been oppressing women for generations. It's not that we think a man should necessarily be attracted to us because we are athletic or successful, but at least these qualities shouldn't make us unattractive. Regardless those of us that are "masculine" shouldn't change who we are in order to get a man.

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    Replies
    1. No, you should probably just choose a more feminine man. And it's not sexist garbage to say that men like nurturing, patient, fun, happy, warm, open women. It's common sense.

      Delete
  29. Everyone likes nurturing, patient, fun, happy, warm, open romantic partners. Not just men. Having all those qualities isn't feminine, it's just well adjusted.

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  30. Since everyone who calls it feminine energy MEANS nurturing, patient, fun, happy, warm and open, I would hope you would agree that this is a tomato/tomahto argument.

    By the way, athletic and successful isn't a turn-off, it's just the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. Seems you're getting tangled in knots trying to avoid the term feminine energy.

    So you can call it "well-adjusted", I'll call it feminine energy (or yin, if you prefer), and we'll all continue to find complementary partners.

    Finally, my job is to help women either embrace your masculine energy (i.e. be yourself) to find a man who is more feminine complement OR, if you want to attract a more masculine man, shift into more feminine energy. This doesn't negate that you're smart or successful - it just leads with more openness, nurturing, warmth and sensuality.

    If this STILL seems wrong, misogynist, or sexist, I've got nothing else for you. By the way, I can do the EXACT same thing with men - either help the Nathans and Snowdrops find more alpha females who are their best complements OR help them (if THEY choose) embrace a more confident, leadership type style that MOST women find more attractive.

    Thanks to all for your time and attention. I'm going to go back to my blog now.

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  31. "Everyone likes nurturing, patient, fun, happy, warm, open romantic partners. Not just men. Having all those qualities isn't feminine, it's just well adjusted."

    Yep. This seems pretty straight forward and true to me.

    Evan, although I'm constantly advocating for more flexibility and less rigidity in gender roles, I also am considered a leader in multiple organizations. And those qualities do transfer over into my relationships. I just don't want to have to lead all, or most of the time in my relationships. I'd rather share. Or take turns. I know I'm not alone in this desire.

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  32. @ EMK:

    If I'm 70% masculine and 30% feminine, I think it's smart for me to find a wife who's 30% masculine and 70% feminine.

    See, this is where it all breaks down for me: from my experience and observations, it just isn't the case that there's a fixed amount of "gender-energy" that has to be divided up so it adds up to 100% in everyone. I view "male" and "female" as being orthogonal (and, in fact, composed of multiple independent dimensions as well) so that being more masculine doesn't automatically mean being less feminine: you can be lots of both or very little of both (I reckon I'm about 65% feminine, 70% masculine, at a rough guess - but those vary depending on mood, etc).

    While finding a complement makes sense, I think looking for "energy" in that sense is pretty pointless. You need to take into account multiple variables (maybe not the MBTI exactly, although that's a good model for the sort of different dimensions that might be important; the "Big 5 Personality Traits" might be another way of approaching it, and I am sure there are plenty of others).

    It's not a sliding scale "I'm this much masculine, so you have to be that much feminine". It's waaaay more complicated than that, and I'm pretty sure "gender-energy" disappears when you actually break these things down properly.

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  33. I would add that I think it can shift depending upon situation, life stage, and even the relationship you have with a certain person. The idea that one is "fixed" at a specific energy distribution for life does not fly with me.

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  34. Sex is also an important part of our life

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  35. if you want to relax, sex is the best thing to do

    ReplyDelete
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