We have a call and response and variations on the theme of brazen wimmins asking lovely shy manpeople on dates, and particularly, why a feminist who takes no crap from The Rules might still not want to do such a thing. Reasons discussed include (in ascending order of silliness):
- She’s shy, and society affirms that shyness.
- She’s scared that once she invites a little bit of attention, she’ll lose the ability to put a stop to it, and she’ll be annoyed/stalked/assaulted.
- She’s Venusian and wants to date a Martian.
- She’s from Earth, but thinks men are from Mars and will
blast her with their phallus ray guns if she reveals herself as an Earthling spynever take her seriously if she fails to approximate a Venusian for the first N minutes of their acquaintanceship.
I’m primarily concerned, here, with the practice of telling women that traditional gender roles will keep us safe(r). While there are differences in the truth values of “math might make your uterus explode” and “flirting with a strange man might make him decide not to stop following you around in hopes of more attention” … I’m not sure that they serve such different rhetorical functions.
I’m aware, of course, that glomming isn’t the only worry here. I think Media Girl put it best:
So much of courtship is a matter of the man’s demonstrating to the woman that he can be trusted. Break those courtship rules, and the woman is potentially left foundering in the deep end, having opened herself up to courtship without any indications at all whether there is the trustworthiness to justify it.
[I]f we’re talking about strangers, I really feel like I can go only so far in indicating any interest in a man, lest I be seen as inviting too much of the wrong kind of attention, and perhaps get myself into real trouble. (How many men have spent three extra hours in a bookstore because they were afraid that creepy girl buying the book on taxidermy might assault them in the parking lot?)
Let’s not forget that we are far more likely to be raped by a partner or an acquaintance than by a stranger we were trying to pick up at a bookstore. Courtship rituals may be designed to weed out assailants and abusers, but they don’t seem to be very effective. Particularly not when they’re stacked up against the sense of entitlement some men feel to “their” women.
Starting a relationship with Mr. Unknown Bookstoreman is risky, sure. But the question isn’t “do I or do I not want to start writing Mrs. Yami Bookstoreman in girly hearts on my notebooks?” – it’s “Given that I have already written Mrs. Yami Bookstoreman in girly hearts all over this copy of The Rules, which OH FUCK I must now purchase, should I initiate a conversation or should I merely wait and respond positively if he makes an overture?”
In other words, we should be comparing woman-initiated stranger relationships to man-initiated stranger relationships. Instead, both Hugo and Media Girl seem to be comparing woman-initiated stranger relationships to continued singlehood, and then attributing the added danger to the woman’s initiative rather than the relationship. Hugo’s statement can easily be rewritten:
Most women have abundant experience with having their friendly, non-sexual responses misinterpreted. For some men, even a simple smile from a woman can mean sexual interest. We have to do much more to make public space safe for women before we can expect greater willingness to respond to men’s advances!
… and then we’re having a conversation about meeting people on the street, and whether or not women should avoid that if possible, and what kinds of dating situations we should seek out and how to make the whole thing safer, rather than a conversation about who should make the first move. And I’m not a fan of meeting people on the street. I would never consider it a blow to feminism if a woman was reluctant to initiate a relationship in a situation she felt was unsafe. But if she does feel safe, and still lets things slide on gender-role autopilot? Her leg hairs should be twitching.
I’ve drifted from my initial point, which was something or other about paternalism. But I think I’m too far out to sea to swim back; better to let the Sandman carry me back to shore.