Wednesday, May 28, 2014

When women are refused

"When Women Refuse" is incredibly important and, I suspect, really hits home for most of us. If anything's "triggering," it's that Tumblr, but nevertheless, it's good that this sort of thing is now being made so public.

But another story worth telling alongside that one is that of the young women who are themselves the rejected party, ala "Tiny Furniture." I keep reading about how women just don't get how lonely it is for some men, from men who aren't of course defending violence, but who are empathizing with, I suppose, undateability. This, they're claiming, is a uniquely male experience. But, as it happens, some women, some girls, do get this. Many people of both sexes experience this, some for longer than others. Is the pressure worse for men? Probably not - there's the assumption that "woman"=desired, so women who are not that, but would like to be, aren't exactly thrilled.

Why does this get ignored? Either the assumption is that even unattractive women have their pick of men (the whole 'any woman could get laid at any time' theory), or unattractive women simply don't register in people's minds when the subject is sex or romance. "Women," it can seem, are being defined as that subset of women whose rejection has so saddened lonely men. Even among the not-at-all-murderous, 'nobody loves me' tends to mean 'nobody sufficiently attractive' does.

What's different, though, is that the young woman who fails to get dudes - or the dudes she finds attractive - will at most complain that society unfairly judges women who look the way she does (assuming her looks enter into this), but that's as "entitled" as it gets. She'll rarely direct her fury at the men who've rejected her. She'll aim it at herself, most likely. It's not that girls and women in this situation aren't miserable. It's that they've been socialized to accept rejection as final. There's no narrative saying that a plain-looking woman who persists will eventually get the guy. (Even attractive women who do just fine in the dating world generally are socialized to accept 'not interested,' to round up 'super busy' to 'not interested,' and so forth from individual men who aren't into them, but they're presumably not harboring any broader resentments). While this sort of socialization is kind of crap in other areas of life, in love, it's the only way to go.

Of course, another part of what prevents girls and women from going all rom-com on their futile crushes is that even the plain-looking get harassed, cat-called, intimidated, etc. Even a woman who can't find the sorts of dates, relationships, or hook-ups someone might reasonably seek out may well be subject to creepiness-and-more from random men or even those in her circle. And knowing how awful it is to be on the receiving end of that could well be part of what prevents women who've been repeatedly rejected from entering a whirlwind of entitlement.


Flavia said...

This is SUCH an important part of the conversation.

As I said on a male friend's Facebook thread (in which he was confessing that at a certain point in his life he could have been E. Rodgers, except for the part about shooting people), I realize now that I was a pretty virulent misandrist for at least the first half of my twenties.

Some of that was about specific men having done genuinely jerky things to me, but it's more complicated than that. Having spent my teens and most of college feeling dorky and unattractive, around age 21 I learned how to perform femininity in a way that worked. . . but this was both gratifying and a pretty serious mind-fuck. Suddenly I was able to get the male attention I never had before, but a) it was usually pretty shallow, and b) I wasn't mature or experienced enough to know how to seek out something more substantive (or, frankly, to make smarter decisions w/r/t drinking, strangers, etc.). So I could go to a party and get a surprisingly hot guy to go home with me. . . but it never developed much past that. This made me feel contemptuous of men (what they seemed to want, how easy they were) while also being pretty lonely and wondering what I was doing wrong. I met a couple of decent guys, whom I genuinely liked and tried to have a relationship with, but they weren't a good match, personality-wise. And that in turn made me sure I was just a bad person, unlikely ever to be happy with anyone.

Anyway, I won't belabor the autobiography, but my point is that there are lots of ways to feel rejected and misunderstood by possible romantic interests, and even getting attention from the people to whom one is attracted doesn't prevent the volatile feelings and overreactions (anger, depression, whatever) that may just be part of being young & inexperienced, trying to date other young & inexperienced people, and generally making a hash of things. Some of that is about the effects of misogyny and patriarchy on heterosexual courtship, but some of it is just youth.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Reading your (interesting and relatable!) account, all I can conclude is that we never hear these stories because The Narrative continues to come from men. From a (straight) male perspective, the girls who matter are the pretty ones who turned them down. The women who matter, the hot ones who weren't interested. No man is ever going to tell the story of an unattractive girl's unrequited crushes, because being liked by an unattractive girl isn't a formative event in a man's life. No entertainment aimed at a general (i.e. male) audience will tell that story, either, because there's no hot girl selling tickets, books, whatever. And thus "feeling dorky and unattractive" gets cast as a male sentiment. The only part of your story that would ever make it to an audience would be the bit where you became interesting to men. Which... misses so much of the story, of where you were coming from.

And yes, 100%, re: youth and inexperience. That's part of what kept bugging me about the conversation about this crime - that we were somehow supposed to equate the killer's experience with that of the lifelong lonely, the rare few who never, in their entire lives, receive affection, whose plight is truly sad. It's not impossible that's where things would have headed for him, but 22 is way too young to know. There's nothing pathological - a little unusual, but not *that* unusual - about being a virgin at that age.

But also, more generally, I like what you've written because I think it's important for those of us who are a bit older, married-er, to remember our own youthful mistake-making, and not to create revisionist histories of our youths that go straight from innocent childhood to stable early-middle-age.

David said...

You really hit a nail on the head when you say non-attractive (or at least not desired from whichever particular perspective) woman aren't considered 'woman' in the sentence 'why won't women go out with me?'.

The one major difference I can see between the male and female self-diagnosed 'un-datables' is that men are supposed to do something about it. Thinking you're undesirable physically must suck, probably especially for women given how much it plays into notions of femininity. But men are told that not being desired isn't a good enough not to be with somebody - you make your own desirability through persistence, jokes, being smart or nice. And if you have no experience of dating etc, it can become like a video game where you do certain actions in search of a desired result (most obviously seen through the 'cheat code' approach of PUA community) and because that's mostly bullpoop, you don't do very well at the video game and you become immensely frustrated. The game must be broken. Voila, a 'nice guy'.

(And the 'nice guy' becomes a problem because, poop runs downhill and in a sexist society, women are sometimes made to take the burden of a man's frustration/insecurity/whathaveyou)

Flavia said...

What also strikes me about the UCSB shooter, what you've written here, and my own experiences is how, I guess, flexible or all-encompassing misogyny is, in that it winds up being just kind of a generalized social hatred. It's not just about hating hot women (if one is a man or a less-desirable woman), but also about self-hatred (regardless of gender), a hatred of impossible beauty standards (if one is a woman), AND hatred of more-successful men (the ones who get the hot girls, if one is a less-successful man, or the ones whom one can't get, if one is a less-successful woman). Ultimately, though, it expresses itself most as woman-hatred.

Which is maybe why lonely women don't feel the same entitlement; being women, their anger and unhappiness are largely directed inward, at themselves, for not being desirable enough or good enough (though they may also be bitchy and nasty about other women).

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


"The one major difference I can see between the male and female self-diagnosed 'un-datables' is that men are supposed to do something about it."

Agreed that men are supposed to press on, but women *are* expected to do something. Something like, stop eating carbs. Wear more (or better-applied) makeup. I wouldn't underestimate the frustration women experience when they do put in whichever effort and remain unattractive/unattractive to the men they like.

The difference is more that men learn they should be able to get *a particular woman* through persistence, whereas women learn ways to increase their odds, with an understanding that no woman is every man's type, and 'men are visual,' so if you're not what this one man goes for, that's that.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Yes, absolutely - it ends up being a hate-fest all around, but with just that much more aimed at women. All of this is reminding me why I've long wondered about "pretty privilege" - it's not necessarily advantageous for a woman to be beautiful. Yes, it helps in finding a partner, and yes, it can help at work (and opens up some entire career paths, at least for a time). But female beauty inspires tremendous resentment, in men and women alike. "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful" is a joke, but the principle behind it is real. Not to mention, unpopular as it is to point this out, but beautiful women really do seem to get more random street-type attention. It seems like the greatest advantage, unless you're going to make it as a supermodel, is to be pretty *enough.*

That said, I'd probably trade my pretty-enough privilege for looking more like Alexa Chung.

David said...

"Agreed that men are supposed to press on, but women *are* expected to do something. Something like, stop eating carbs. Wear more (or better-applied) makeup. I wouldn't underestimate the frustration women experience when they do put in whichever effort and remain unattractive/unattractive to the men they like. "

Well, this is a very valid point as usual. I attempted, in a longer comment I deleted because it was excessively long, to draw on my social circle (which, as per the first commenter includes ex-nice guys) to expand on the idea of that frustration being different through just how active a young man who has virtually no experience is supposed to be in order to be 'a man'. And why that is part of the puzzle of why some young men sometimes react quite nastily and selfishly in a way they go on to outgrow completely.

But, yes, the frustration is at the very least much more similar than it is different. Perhaps all I really have to say is "men and women are socialised in such a way that sometimes sucks for men in certain ways but sucks a lot more for women. Oh, I've uselessly paraphrased a possible simplewiki entry for 'feminism'"

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

That makes sense. Masculinity and femininity are both, as they say, performances, and probably don't come entirely naturally to anyone.