Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day?

-Do you have an engagement ring? Madeleine Davies of Jezebel probably hates you, but you may be an exception, or maybe your ring isn't as big as all that. Cue the responses: Suggestions that Davies must be jealous of women whose hands sparkle. Proud announcements that one's own ring is ethical, an heirloom, a crusty ponytail band. One really amazing complaint from a woman who unselfconsciously complains that her (ethical, she assures) ring is too big and unwieldy.

-Did you change your name when you got married? Jessica Grose of Slate did, except you may remember her as Jessica Grose - she still uses her maiden name professionally. She has invited you to use the Slate comments to tell her why she's a disgrace to feminism. (See also: why, the larger the audience I'm writing for, the less I say about myself. For any audience, I'm careful only to reveal what I'd be fine with the whole world knowing, and yes, that includes Facebook, but I'm reluctant to actively solicit comments on my life choices from quite so many strangers. If that distinction makes sense.)

-Are you a man? Do you ever approach women with romantic intent? Freddie asked for my opinion on a short film about a man pursuing a woman, and on the issues it brings up. And... I watched it, but it didn't make me think 'street harassment.' If anything, what was off-putting was that the man was entirely active, the woman entirely passive. Definitely interested, but exclusively the pursued. What Freddie writes here, and I'd emphasize that last bit, seems reasonable:

For me, it seems as though the current reality of street harassment, the culture of rape, and assumed privilege of heterosexual men to approach any women makes it clear that we need to be far more careful about approaching strangers, and to require far more in the way of demonstrations of attraction before we decide to talk to women we don't know, particularly when they're alone. Perhaps that means that women who are interested in being approached will have to be somewhat more demonstrative of that in this future culture.
I'd go further and say that we'd need to come around to the idea of women not just announcing approachability, but also approaching men. It's what I was getting at here - it's somehow both unacceptable for men to pursue women (creepy!) and for women to pursue men (desperate!) If he liked you, you'd know! Except if he let you know, he'd be sketchy! How does anyone ever get together? (Alcohol?)

In all seriousness, it simply doesn't work to have a culture of men not inadvertently bothering women who aren't interested in them and one of women playing "The Rules"-esque games. (Rape is another story, and is of course inexcusable regardless of game-playing or lack thereof. Same with stalking, harassment, etc. I'm talking about interest clumsily expressed, obliviousness, things of that nature.) As it stands, there's so much pressure on women to seem indifferent to the men they like that it no doubt can be confusing for men to know when a woman is interested. The whole hard-to-get thing is so ingrained that a woman's complete and utter lack of interest can be interpreted by an optimistic dude as an elaborate mating dance.

Let me repeat: this is not about women asking to be harassed. That's not it at all. It's about how the expectation of female passivity - the expectation that a woman will never actively want anything - is incompatible with it being abundantly clear when a woman isn't interested in a man, so that the flirtation or asking-out or whatever can come to a halt. And if it were more socially-acceptable for women to pursue, a man not keen on expressing unreciprocated interest would have the option of only ever accepting others' invitations.

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