This post has been a long time coming. I was working on it in my head for weeks before some guy decided to go on a killing spree because “hot girls” didn’t fancy him. In the wake of that, it didn’t feel appropriate to publish a post like this, not while people were still mourning, not while every woman I know was feeling terrified that any of the men in their lives might secretly think like that guy… women were hurting and their needs ultimately came first. Yet the aftermath of that tragedy showed me that this post had to be written, that men and boys had to be presented with another, better, truer view of the women and girls in their lives. The post below draws on stuff that I already tweeted about on the #AllMenCan hashtag and it’s stuff that men and boys need to hear.
So, here it is. From man to man, I want to teach you some things that you maybe already know or half-know or maybe never learned before at all. If you didn’t already know this stuff, that’s not your fault but it doesn’t mean you’re excused from learning it now. Every man, whether heterosexual, gay, bi, queer or asexual, cis or trans, young or old, needs to learn these things and practice them until they are as natural to him as breathing.
Why? Because every single one of us knows at least one woman or girl and every woman and girl deserves to be surrounded by people who treat her with respect and dignity. Why? Because all people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and it seems that men, as a group, have been taught that we don’t have to respect women. We can and must change this for the better – not just for the women and girls in our lives but also for ourselves.
Here are the lessons you need to learn:
1. Women are people.
Not only if you find them attractive or only if you find them unattractive. Each and every woman you meet in your life is an individual with her own desires and her own goals and her own life. This likely doesn’t surprise you but I want you to really, really keep it in mind whenever you interact with a woman – from the barista to the cute woman on the bus to your girlfriend to your mother. Every woman is unique and has her own independent life going on. The extent to which her life is going to involve *you* cannot be decided by you alone, only by you and her together.
2. Women are all unique and different from each other.
Because women are all different and unique, anyone trying to teach you tricks or skills for interacting with women (particularly for dating women or initiating sexual relationships with women) is selling you snake oil. To be blunt, they either don’t know what they are talking about or they know they’re telling you bullshit and are hoping to gain something by getting you to fall for it. Treat ANY dating advice that claims to work on all or most people of one gender only with extreme SUSPICION. While there are some very general skills for interacting with *people* you can learn, skills that are gender-specific and dating-specific are few and far between. If you think you may need help (and indeed even if you don’t think you do) I recommend Dr Nerdlove, Captain Awkward and Real Social Skills as good places to start looking.
3. Sometimes women don’t fancy you and you’ve got to be okay with that
If a woman (or any other person) doesn’t like you or isn’t interested in you in the way you’d like her to be, there is likely nothing you can do to change that and you shouldn’t try. I know this is hard to hear but it has to be said. No matter how much you like her, she doesn’t have to like you back or date you or give you “a chance”. You remember how she’s got her own independent life and goals? If she doesn’t want to spend time with you, she doesn’t have to. If you’ve ever been assigned a “friend” by a parent or teacher who you didn’t actually like, you’ll see why. Hanging out with someone you don’t want to hang out with is no fun – can you imagine dating someone you don’t like? That doesn’t sound fun either and if you insist someone give you “a chance” that’s what you’re asking them to do.
Friendship, love, romance, sex, dates and social time are all great and I hope you experience lots of these throughout your life. However, nobody owes you them. You can ask people if they’d like to share them with you but you can’t demand them from anyone or take them without asking. These things can only really exist if everyone involved wants to be there, with those people, sharing that experience, at that time. It’s mutual and consensual and that means that it stops the second someone involved wants it to stop – even if you’d rather continue. This applies to every person you ever meet, whatever their gender or relationship to you. And it applies to you too! If you’re not feeling it any more, sex or a date or a friendship or a relationship can stop. You don’t owe it to anyone to continue and they don’t owe that to you either.
5. “No” means “No” not “I secretly hate you” or “You are objectively undateable”
This one follows one from lesson 4. Remember how you can ask people to share experiences with you (like a date or a friendship or a sex act or even to get married) but not *demand* those things? The difference between asking and demanding is that you have to be able to hear and accept a “No”.
A “No” to, say, “Would you like to go on a date with me?” can be upsetting to hear and it’s okay to be upset. The slightly more difficult lesson to learn here is not to read loads of things into that “No” that aren’t there. If someone doesn’t want to go on a date with you, that means she doesn’t want to date you. It does NOT mean that she also secretly hates you or she thinks you’re ugly or undateable. If she later says “Yes” to an offer of a date from another man, that doesn’t mean she thinks he’s better than you objectively, just that *right now* she individually is interested in going on a date with him. As a unique person with her own tastes and her own life, she gets to make her own choices – even if you don’t like those choices or can’t understand them. She is not a stand-in for “all women” so her not wanting to date you tells you absolutely nothing about whether *other* women might want to date you.
6. “No” means “No” not “Talk me into it”
If you ask for something from someone or offer someone something and they say “No”, respect that. No matter what your genders or your relationship or their age. You cannot argue someone into wanting something they don’t want and it’s inappropriate to abusive to try. If someone doesn’t want to come to your houseparty, accept that. If someone doesn’t reply to your message on a dating site or replies saying she doesn’t want to talk to you, accept that. Read Captain Awkward’s Guide To Dating for more on this. Where this links with the previous lesson is so important I’m going to make it into its own lesson.
7. YOU CANNOT PERSUADE SOMEONE INTO BEING ATTRACTED TO YOU.
Sorry for the allcaps but this is important. Attraction, whether romantic or sexual or both, is a feeling. Feelings are not things you can talk someone into or out of. Trying to persuade someone to feel a certain way about you or to persuade someone that you know how they feel about you better than they do is wrong and abusive. I can see why it’s tempting (like, I am gorgeous and awesome so why wouldn’t people be attracted to me?… because they are individuals with their own separate independent thoughts and feelings that’s why) but please never do this. And if anyone ever tries to do it to you and you notice it, please run. Either they are a bit clueless and going to learn the hard way that you can’t make people feel things they don’t feel or they don’t have your interests at heart. Please don’t wait around trying to work out whether they’re clueless or harmful – you don’t owe them a second of your time either way.
If you’re inclined to believe that feelings are things that people can be argued into and out of, please read these three links on Geek Social Fallacies for more information on difficult situations this mistaken idea can cause and ways out of them.
8. Being single and/or not having partnered sex for some time won’t hurt you
There is nothing wrong with being single, even if you’d prefer not to be. It doesn’t really say anything about you as a person or reflect on you. If your friends are taking the piss about you being single, tell them to knock it off and even get new friends if they don’t. The world doesn’t owe you a partner and no particular person owes it to you to become (or indeed, remain) your partner. Being someone’s partner is a wonderful experience to share with someone – doing so out of a sense of obligation is awful for all involved.
Being a virgin or having been without partnered sex for any length of time is not a bad thing. It doesn’t mean you’re not attractive or that no one will ever want to have sex with you – all it means is that the people you’ve asked have said no and you’ve said no to any people who’ve asked you. If you haven’t *asked* anyone if they’d like to have sex with you, that is probably part of the reason it isn’t happening. Remember that everyone (including any women!) who you ask could say “No” and you have to respect that and not argue. You’re going to hear a lot of “no”s. We all do. Remember that “No” isn’t an indication of how attractive or manly or awesome or whatever *you* are, it’s about the other persons feelings, desires and choices not lining up with yours right now.
9. Women are not all the same. Neither are men.
We’ve all heard sentences that start with “Women like…” “Women don’t like…” “Women want…” but beyond “respectful, equal treatment as a human being with her own interests capable of making her own choices” there is *absolutely nothing* that all women want. There’s a lot of people very invested in getting you to believe that women want things like flowers and teddy bears and diamond engagement rings.. and some women do want those things! And some women don’t want those things and they aren’t being a woman “incorrectly”. There are as many different ways of being a woman as there are women. So, if you’re a friend, boyfriend, husband, son, brother or colleague of a woman, you’ve got to learn to recognise that she is not just “a woman” she is one particular woman with her own likes, dislikes, goals and desires that may or may not be similar to those of other women you meet. How will you find out what she likes, dislikes, wants etc? The only way is to ask her. Ask her and take her words at face value even (especially) if they aren’t what you expected or wanted to hear. This applies equally to other men – don’t assume, ask and then accept and respect the answer.
10. Set an example to other men and teach any boys you know
Whether these lessons are new to you or just a refresher of stuff you already know, just knowing this stuff isn’t enough. You have to practise it in real life, treat every woman (and man, and nonbinary person and child) you come across as a unique person with goals capable of making her own choices. You have to ask people for things you want and be able to hear and accept “No” as the answer. You have to ask the people you know what they want and like and accept their answers even if they go against gendered norms. If other men try to tell you that women owe you “a chance”, tell them why no woman owes any man any such thing. If they try to tell you “tricks” to “making” women like you or insist that “women don’t know what they want”, tell them they are wrong. It may not be their fault if they were never taught this but all men (and people of other genders but primarily men) need to learn how to treat everyone with respect and dignity. Teach your sons and nephews and cousins and godsons and students that girls are not strange alien creatures totally different from boys, but just as much people as they are. Teach them to ask for things and to accept and respect “No”. Teach them now so they can teach the next generation of boys when they are men.
We didn’t ask to be born men in a patriarchy. We didn’t ask to become so alienated from women as to need reminding that they too, are people. We can change things now so the men of the future will never so much as question the humanity and equality of women.
The world can be freed from patriarchy, piece by piece and you and I and every man and boy we know can help by learning to treat women as our equals from today.