Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Male Privelege, Female Privelege, and Why More Men Should Take Feminism Seriously

These two posts by Lindsay of Majikthise got me thinking. I’m a bit of a geek, and more than a bit of a social misfit (I should have been a pair of ragged claws, and all that), and as a result, I’ve been pretty terrified of women in social contexts since the onset of puberty. Being a social misfit, particularly one who’s terrified of women, means you end up being around other men who are social misfits and terrified of women, so I've had a lot of experience with men like me. While I’ve never suffered from nice-guy syndrome (I’ve always recognized my own assholeness), which involves the belief that (attractive) women always end up with jerks, and then complain about men being assholes, while nice guys (which pretty much means misfits in this context) get the shaft, I have known plenty of afflicted men. These men genuinely believe that if only the woman would take the time to get to know them, and look past the surface (i.e. physical attractiveness), they would fall for them instead of the attractive jerk. It’s a strange belief that underscores the points about “privilege” that Lindsay and some of the commenters made in her first post. It basically faults women for being superficial by choosing the attractive guy, who ends up being a jerk, rather than the nice guy who’s less attractive but will treat her right. At the same time, it allows the self-described nice guy to be superficial, by choosing a woman for her looks (remember, if she hasn’t taken the time to get to know him, then he hasn’t had the time to know her). In other words, the nice guy is faulting the woman for doing exactly what he’s doing, and this sort of reasoning is pretty widely accepted by men everywhere. If that’s not a double standard of the sort that defines male privilege, I don’t know what would be.

Of course, not all the fear of women held by us misfits is totally unjustified. The same system that produces male privilege also produces something that might be called female privilege. It’s the privilege that allows women to reject men with little regard for their feelings, or require things (drinks, gifts, or whatever) in return for the honor of spending time with them. Even attractive men will be rejected more often than not, and often quite harshly, and it takes a pretty thick skin to take all of the inevitable rejection without developing some fear of women. The privilege arises out of the part of the social system that requires men to approach women (and in many ways frowns on women who approach men), creating the belief in many women that men should earn or deserve their attention, affection, or just the chance to sit next to them in a bar.

The point I’m trying to make here is that the male-dominated, and largely male-created social system tends to harm about as many men as it does women. Too many of us are on the outside looking in because we fit into propertly into the gender roles that the system (the patriarchy, as some like to call it) itself has created. Both men and women are harmed by both the male and female-oriented double standards of that system, and often we’re too blinded by those same double standards (as in nice guy syndrome, or harsh rejection disorder) to see that. It’s for that reason that I think more men should take feminism seriously. Feminism’s primary purpose is to expose the problems in the system, showing where it has created double standards, along with what the causes and effects of those double standards are. If those effects are just as often bad for men as they are for women, then we’d do well to take notice of them and, if possible, work to change them, at least in ourselves.

Yet, as the comments on Lindsay’s post show all too well, many of the men who are getting the short end of the patriarchal stick are a long way from seeing this. For them, feminism is just women bitching, blaming men for everthing, or making whacky claims about how fluid mechanics are neglected in physics because the fluid is associated with the feminine. Instead of thinking about what feminists actually say, these men are doing exactly what the double standard requires: blaming women. It’s women’s fault that I’m alone, bitter, depressed, afraid, or had to settle for a woman I didn’t really want, because (attractive) women exercise poor judgment when it comes to men, picking, as they do, the attractive over the nice. Or so the reasoning goes. But that reasoning has never gotten anyone anywhere, and it never will. It will just reaffirm the system that causes so much trouble for all of us. And trust me, that's just what the men (and women) who are genuinely benefitting from the system, at the expsense of the women (and men) who aren't, want.

Post Script: Yes, as the title of this blog, and the allusion in the second of this post indicate, I read too much Eliot. What of it?


Chris W said...

It’s the privilege that allows women to reject men with little regard for their feelings, or require things (drinks, gifts, or whatever) in return for the honor of spending time with them. Even attractive men will be rejected more often than not, and often quite harshly, and it takes a pretty thick skin to take all of the inevitable rejection without developing some fear of women.

I believe this should be tagged as applying to a particular cultural area.

When I grew up in Germany in the 80s, we didn't assume that boys pay the girls' way or shower them with gifts. Indeed, I remember my English class laughing out (or for some, cringing in dismay) when a didacticised dialogue about teenagers going out for a movie and a meal suggested that the boys would pay for the girls.

(This is not to say that I am in total disagreement. Sexism exists in heterosexual courting, even in German. Only, for how I grew up, you overstate your case.)

And might it not be the case that women receive quite as much rejection from crushes who are not interested in them as men do? In the heterosexual dating game where you live, are women really held to lower standards when it comes to gently letting down someone who is interested in them than men are?

Suz said...

First of all, great post.

Second, I concur with the last point from the commenter above. I do think women get rejected just as harshly but with much lower frequency (as men do most of the asking) and in a different form. That form is the guy not calling despite asking for her phone number, or blowing her off after a couple of dates.

Third, I think the male/female gender expectations are changing for the better in some ways. I think it's becoming more and more acceptable for women to approach men, though some members of both genders still have an "issue" with that.

Clark Goble said...

I'm not sure your point about women going for attractive men who are jerks rather than socially awkward men who are nice but unattractive is nice. I do think it a result of a lot of socialization though. The fact is a lot of women, especially in their youth, are mistreated. Sometimes horribly. In many cases, according to psychologists at least, that means they try to recreate the events to produce a different outcome. That is they seek after men who were like those who were mean or worse to them.

Now I tend to be leery of a lot of psychology, so I'm not sure how much I buy this as a formal theory. But there does appear to be a lot of truth to this. Certainly women with troubled pasts are much more like this than women from well adjusted homes.

But it really has little to do with attractiveness. I had a few roommates in the past who might be characterized as "players" who constantly noticed that the more attentive and nice to women they were, the less luck they had. It seems that this crosses the spectrum of men.

I think the place where socially awkward men fail (and I used to be one years ago) is that women, especially in American culture, want to be entertained. The other big factor in how women value men is in that entertainment value. And frankly being socially awkward makes it unlikely you'll be entertaining.

This isn't to deny some sexism. But the key factors of the dating dynamic seem largely unrelated to sexism (IMO). I should add that the fact young women (and even some in their 30's who ought know better) simply don't think long term. But by the same measure, neither do men. I'd say most men don't seek out the stable, well adjusted woman who would lead to a great family life. Rather they seek after the hottest, funnest, and in many cases most socially valued woman. This is almost always a mistake, just as it is for women to seek after the rich kid, the musician or athlete who seem unprepared for family life, responsibility and especially fatherhood.

None of this is to deny a lot of sexism in our culture and especially in our relationships. Just that I really don't think it is the main issue.

Chris said...

It's certainly true that men can reject women harshly, but from what I've seen in my relatively limited experience, men tend to reject women in accordance with their personality. Jerks will be jerks, and nice guys (actually nice guys) will let someone down nicely. Now, this may be the case with some women, as well, but I've seen otherwise nice women be cruel to men who approach them in bars or elsehwere. My point was not so much that women are the only ones who reject men harshly as it was that it's part of the social code for them to do so. It's perfectly OK for them to do so, in most cases, even.

And there's more to it than just the rejection, there are the other parts, such as the "entertainment" factor that Clark mentions. Of course, this isn't exclusive, either, but these things are not categorical (by way of contrast, think of the times that men are used as sex objects -- it doesn't happen as often as it does with women, but it happens).

I'm really not sure how much truth there is to the nice-guy myth/mystique. From what I've seen, at least outside of the bar/club scene, nice works pretty well. In the club scene, I'm not sure that men are better off being jerks than nice, so much as they're better off being forward. Sometimes the two tend to get mistaken for each other, while niceness gets lumped with shyness or meekness.

Clark Goble said...

Chris, one thing to keep in mind with the bar/club scene is that in certain ways it is kind of annoying to women. You have drunk guys hitting on you all the time. The more attractive you are the more you have to put up with. Thus women become used to putting up defenses. So you end up with several classes of women.

1. Those who are messed up. These are the "regular partiers" and (in my experience at least) often have some serious emotional issues to deal with. They more typically than the general population will have those past abuse/problems which lead to first manifesting the anti-nice guy personality. But they also are "experienced" enough to want something knew. They also are often much more excitement seekers. Having dated a few of these and heard horror stories from many people, they can cause troubles. Especially to people more socially awkward or unskilled. (Since these women will often manipulate those guys mercilessly for free stuff) I should add that many of these women are very nice people and the nice guy probably instinctively wants to help them. But they're definitely the sort of people to have a friends and not girlfriends or even "hookups."

2. The biggest group are simplest nice women with solid personalities out for a good time. They don't *want* to hook up with some stranger. They aren't looking to meet a boyfriend with some random guy in a bar. Those who have often have been burnt by messed up guys. (Who've we've unfortunately not been discussing) So they'll be cold and to nice or guys not socially adept (really adept) difficult to get to know in those settings. These are the types of women you'd *want* to get to know. But it's just not the environment.

3. The last group are women *not* really messed up but also not shunning meeting guys. However as often as not they're just out for a good time. They don't want to necessarily meet a guy. They may give you their number but they'll be embarrassed afterwards or they may give a fake number. They'll have a blast with you, may even lead you on a little. But they are fundamentally just looking for a fun night. You may get a date with them but probably not. Certainly they'll be completely different women in a different environment.

In any case, it seems most of the hookups in the bar scene are by messed up people with messed up people along with the occasional exception. I've had some pleasant experiences. But by and large it's a horrible place to meet people. (IMO - other people's milage may vary) You can have fun, especially if you don't drink. But for meeting people it's best seen as a place to meet people who then invite you to parties or other such things. Then you can meet women in a quieter, less intense setting. Further they can get to know people better and aren't quite as defensive. (Once again all IMO - I think most women know that in a bar or club any guy is just thinking about quick sex)

Chris said...

I definitely agree that it's a horrible place to meet people, though so many people (male and female) spend so much time, money, and energy meeting people there, it provides a nice sample of the overall meeting behavior. Ultimately, I don't think it's all that different from most of the other places where men might approach women (stores, parks, etc.), except that there's a lot of alcohol involved.

It's certainly true that women put up defenses. In my experience, they tend to do this in any context, when men approach.

Razib said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Razib said...

some men turn theirnegative personal experiences with women into an ideology. some women turn an ideology into a formula that dictates their personal experiences with men.

myself, i've had more luck being a jerk than being a 'nice guy' (sexually, personal attention, etc.). should my past outcomes dictate my future decision making process via inductive reasoning and utilitarian outcomes?

also, all these one-size-fits-all theories neglect, in my opinion, interpersonal variation. differences in looks, intelligence, breeding and affability determine the play you get from the opposite sex.

Razib said...

following up my previous comment, some people will always play a 'winning strategy' by the nature of who they are. some people will play a 'losing strategy' by the nature of who they are. the mixed strategies in the middle are contingent upon a lot of variables. the resentful loser is a real vector in there...but there are many others.

Chris said...

My own experience, limited as it may be, has been that niceness has gotten me pretty far with women. If not niceness, then respect.

Strangely, however, when being nice in the past, I've been accused of being a player. Maybe that's why some people find being a jerk works for them: it doesn't look like you're playing nice to get in her pants.

Clark Goble said...

I think the problem is that when "nice" is discussed in these contexts it isn't just being polite, respectful and so forth. Rather it is the idea that some men have that you fawn over the woman and don't be your own person. I agree that being nice in the more limited sense does get you a long way with women. Especially women who've had to deal with jackasses a lot. (Just not with women in bars and clubs) But at the same time you have to be confident, not be fawning, and present yourself as having your own views. Do that and be a little entertaining and most women will like you. Doesn't mean a relationship will develop. But things will work out unless you actually are looking for something superficial or you are dating a woman with a troubled past.

Razib said...

my overall point (implicit) is that i favor feminism when it comes to repealing inequitous laws. that's easy, but once you get into discussions about interpersonal dynamics there are a lot of variables in there...and normative biases basically determine how you determine the "first aproximation" of your sociological model. and of course personal self-interest.

clew said...

One specific way in which the 'traditional' system benefits a subgroup of people is that, like the hospital-to-intern matching system, the pairings it leads to are optimal for the askers and pessimal for the responders.

If I were a shy guy who had already done poorly in bars, this would not be flattering news. On the other hand, surely this is confusing the sex-matching done in bars with the family-formation matching done (in my experience) elsewhere? Because I see nice guys doing rather better in environments that allow, e.g., complete sentences.

On the side-issue that gets everyone bothered; I know that as a young woman I was initially more concerned with being kind than with being clear when refusing a suitor. It worked horribly for both of us; misinterpretation, overreaction, feelings of betrayal, sulking. There's a lot of noise in the system. This is only part of the reason "No means no" is a feminist slogan - for both sexes, n.b. - but it'll do.

Anonymous said...

This is such an old thread but I just have to leave a comment. I've personally been mean to try to run off strange guys that approach me at random. I am an attractive woman and this happens a lot. Please, if this is you, don't take it personally. It's just that I don't want to encourage someone to get obsessed with me and stalk me, follow me home, or what have you. It's just too dangerous to be friendly to strange men. I've been burned more than once by being nice to the wrong person, and I won't let it happen any more. If you want to get to know someone like me, arrange an introduction that will let me know that someone can vouch for you that you are not dangerous.

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