“Learn to take a compliment”

So complaining about online dating has, historically, been a very… male-shamey thing, which is interesting.

I don’t doubt for good reason, and I’ve seen for myself some of the outcomes on the other side of the fence.

But it’s interesting to me to talk about why it really sucks to be a guy too. You don’t really see it as much. Usually there are two major outcomes when I do see it brought up; It’s delegitimized — women have it worse, and you’re derided for portraying your side of the issue — or it’s made into a string of personal attacks, you aren’t having success because you’re not worth dating.

But there’s an interesting situation forming. In online dating, men are meant to send the messages and women sift through them looking for the best option — the data shows that the onus of making the first message is overwhelmingly on the male.

Men are only 12% likely to get a response at all. Women get closer to 30% if they initiate.

It creates this horrible situation where men feel disposable — this process starts feeling more and more like sending out resumes — and women feel more and more inundated with ‘noise’ — men resorting to sending out as many messages as possible because of their horribly low success rate.

And I say this is an interesting problem because you’re punished for it, as an individual, if you don’t participate in it. Alvin Roth, in the economics article I talked about last week, actually talks about the problems online dating faces in market design, and it’s something that OKCupid has especially been working to deal with.

But the question is why did it turn out this way, anyway?

OKCupid has 1.5 men for every woman on the site, and monogamy is still the traditional model, meaning that competition is far more fierce on one side of the gender divide. And when women were asked “Do you prefer to pursue a potential partner, or for them to pursue you?” where the answer options were “I’d rather pursue,” “I’d rather be pursued,” and “I prefer a little of both.” The results showed that fewer than 1% of all straight women prefer to do the pursuing.

And this ties into a lot of interesting cultural problems, as well, because of how men have been trained to pursue. Not only is the burden on them, but the expectations of what that means is… honestly a little fucked up.

Vox recently did an interesting article on the Aziz Ansari situation, and I want to open this with a quote;

Despite a growing conversation around enthusiastic consent, most everything in American culture still tells men that they should be pushing for as much sex as possible at all times. The idea that men have more sexual desire than women still goes unchallenged, leading too many men to believe that a lukewarm yes is all they’re ever going to get, because women don’t like sex that much anyway. Boys learn at a young age, from pop culture, their elders, and their peers, that it’s normal to have to convince a woman to have sex, and that repeated small violations of her boundaries are an acceptable way to do so — perhaps even the only way.

The whole article is worth a read, but that quote is the most relevant to me, and a huge part of what I want to talk about.

These expectations for men to be the pursuers is reinforced by both genders. In fact, women who identified as feminists in the above data were less likely to initiate. In dating, in pursuing a relationship, we still have fairly rigid expectations of what a man is expected to do, and how he is supposed to behave, and they are outdated.

Right now our cultural views on masculinity are seriously messed up, and it’s hurting everyone. And while women have had the backing of the feminist movement for the last sixty years now, there hasn’t really been as effective a parallel movement for men, and our expectations of them are largely unchanged since… well, the Mad Men era.

This isn’t to say feminists don’t talk about these issues. They do, and that’s why most of the things I’m quoting and citing as sources are feminists discussing these issues. But they’re not a men’s movement, so it’s not being talked about outside of those circles. And when it is, it’s with derision.

In fact, Mad Men is a fantastic example. We look at the female characters and see how far we’ve progressed, and we hear the men talk and we think about how their relationships with others are deeply messed up… but the traits of the men themselves, the male protagonists, are still largely seen as admirable, if flawed. At the end of the day, you’re still supposed to want to be Don Draper.

Which is kind of messed up, isn’t it? In fact, while male protagonists are overrepresented in media, what percentage of them — especially in media targeted to a male-demographic — are people you’d actually want as a role model?

And so far, it seems, that resentment towards masculinity is growing without reasonable substitutions being put in place for acceptable, or encouraged, alternatives. In fact, as we understand the nature of the problem better, all that’s happening is that the resentment is becoming more socially acceptable, if not outright taken for granted.

One girl I talked to over an online dating site but didn’t really click with had started to post a bunch of really… misandrist statements on Facebook. “All men are terrible” “Men are pigs” “Men are liars who will use you” etc.

I got this reply before she blocked me;

Like the whole reason I was never interested in you in the first place is because of your superiority complex. And how you act way smarter than you actually are. It’s pretty clear you’re just offended by what I post because it relates to you. It’s whatever. That’s your life.

When you have enough experiences with something, it’s not an individual thing, and when I’m not the only one saying these things, it’s not a fucking individual thing. You don’t date guys. You don’t know what guys are like. So don’t fucking tell me that saying ‘all guys’ is prejudiced. Because it’s enough guys. It’s enough guys that all girls have had the same experiences, more than once! It’s enough guys that we can say all guys. And at the end of the day, you know you’re also that type of guy. That’s why you’re offended.

So instead of trying to fight this ‘all guys’ bullshit, understand that it’s enough guys. And she the world you’re not one of those guys. Because you’re not doing a good job at it.

So this is going to be more interesting for a lot of reasons later. But on its own, it looks pretty damning of me and my gender. This seems like a fair criticism on its own.

However. Let me contrast that with the preceding messages in the conversation that led to that moment.

My bitter statuses the past few days were not even about someone I was interested in, either. They were about a guy who was just fucking crazy

>It’s been going on for a while now, and you don’t say that, you say “all guys are”

The thing is, if you’re part of a group and someone categorises everyone in that group into a box; all guys, all white people, all girls, and you’re offended by whatever it is that was said. It means it applies to you. If you know you’re not like that, you’re not offended by it. It’s a simple as that. So maybe it’s you with the issue

>Or maybe putting everyone into an inherently negative group because of a bad experience with an individual is prejudice?
And it looks really prejudicial?

Wow you’re an idiot.

And the first message changes in meaning somewhat. No longer is it an indictment of a systemic problem which I happen to be a part of, it’s an established prejudice with which I am painted and my legitimacy as an individual diminished, regardless of my actual actions or statements. It is justification to discredit me as an individual because of the gender I identify as.

I wonder, now, how many people probably nodded along with the first message, and wondered how I was at fault for being on the receiving end of it?

Basically, guys can be the victims of gender prejudice too. But we’ve reached a point, culturally and socially, that we can’t really talk about those issues. Mens Rights Activism got co-opted and made into this… awful, awful, awful thing, and it deserves a lot of the hate it gets. But it was founded in a lot of truthful, legitimate issues before it got co-opted.

The people who spun off from that formed a group called Mens Lib, and I found them through this quote that really resonated with me.

Internalized misandry, then, is the act of identifying as a man and discriminating against oneself and one’s masculinity. … different masculinities retain different authorities across performance so that one version of being a man is valued over another. Because of this, men may form internalized feelings of hatred for aspects of their masculine performance

This is really interesting for me to unpack for a lot of reasons. Firstly, because I identify with it so much. I’m not a super masculine man by any means, and it makes me feel shit that that’s not what I want to be, so I feel kind of… weird about failing to live up to an expectation I don’t want to have for myself.

I don’t really realize that that’s what it is unless I stop to think about how I feel and analyze it, but it’s a very common passive, subconscious thread for me.

The more I think about it, too, the more I realize that it’s heavily tied to an idea of maturity. The phrase “Being a man” ends up making acting out those more… I’ll call them testosterone-masculinity traits as a shorthand, it makes those traits synonymous with growing up, with becoming an adult.

Which means, in my own head, my lack of desire to pursue those traits makes me feel immature, when in truth it’s not a person I want to be, and I’d probably be very unhappy if I tried. But when you believe that what you want for yourself is immature… it puts you in a position where you feel very vulnerable about trying to think or explain why you’re rejecting maturity.

If I told you I sat here writing this next to my boyfriend and asking his thoughts on this, your mental image of me snaps to change. Gay men, after all, have a different array of ‘acceptable’ masculinities. By telling you that I don’t desire masculine traits and have a boyfriend, pigeonholes form and I start to fill them.

But we also have a girlfriend, because polyamory is fantastic, and that’s shot through again. In fact, I’ve had a crush on this guy for years while identifying to myself as completely heterosexual, and only just acknowledged all this recently due to my better mental health. Before then, the idea of having a crush on another guy was beyond my self comprehension: I had no problems with it, obviously from how things have turned out, but I couldn’t reconcile my feelings of masculinity with the idea of being bisexual.

So here’s a question; What was there to reconcile at all?

“Be a man” is a binary. It’s black and white. You ascribe to all its values or you fail. So I couldn’t incidentally just happen to have a crush on this guy without distancing myself from that ideal — because to be queer is to have a different socially-accepted ideal of masculinity which I also didn’t subscribe to.

Here’s something weird and interesting. As the portrayal of gay characters in media becomes more frequent and accepted, how have the stereotypes developed?

We start seeing the community become accepted as gender roles are reconfirmed. The ultra-male ‘bear’ gay and the effeminate gay men, and the ‘butch’ and ‘femme’ lesbians. But even within these communities you’ll find that those who don’t conform to the new gender roles are kind of… outsiders.

They’re different, but their differences are categorized so it’s now safe again. As it becomes safer and more normalized to show gay men who are ‘out’ it becomes more relevant to show them as conforming to these roles. Men who conform to heterosexual ideals, but have boyfriends, seem exclusively the domain of the romantic comedy where the reveal is a shock-gag, a punchline, and the character fades into the background after this reveal.

The concept of traditional masculinity, then, is still isolated and safe from this.

It’s interesting, then. Funny thing; By the time I’d gotten that message I opened this with, I’d been dating this guy for a month. I don’t date guys indeed.

One masculine ideal is kind of pervasive in our culture, and one of the worst ways it manifests is compliments. If you’re a guy, you can probably remember compliments you got five, ten years ago now, and how just an offhand remark changed your own self-identity.

So… why are they so rare that you remember them so specifically when they do happen? Why do they mean so much when you do get them?

I’m going to talk about this from the perspective of a media, because our film and television is a fantastic reflection of a society’s values.

Notice how you’re told things about a male protagonist vs a female protagonist. A female protagonist will receive a compliment from their best friend, to establish both this being a true thing about the protagonist as well as the fact that these two are friends.

How does that information get conveyed to males? Usually the compliments happen around them, two people talking about them behind their back before they walk into the scene. They’re talked about, not to.

And if it’s ever said to his face, he has to shrug it off, if not outright disagree.

Here’s another way to put it, which I find interesting. If a character gives another character a compliment in a scene and they are female, they can leave the scene and are never seen or heard from again.
If they are male, they will always be relevant later in the scene.

Because a guy cannot give a compliment without there being intentions behind it. Whether flirting, or politics, or because he is manipulating you — if a guy gives a compliment it is because he has intentions. And we’ve just kind of accepted this.

I mean, consider the overt terribleness of catcalling. Unwanted compliments of that nature are awful. There is a reason we show someone is creepy in media by making them give unwanted compliments, especially ones that are physical in nature.

But this all means that guys can’t have a kind of open, emotionally vulnerable relationship with their friends. For us that kind of relationship is relegated to, specifically, a heterosexual romantic relationship with a woman.

This makes the societal issue of the friendzone really interesting, and sad on another level. When you realize that those guys aren’t ‘allowed’ to have that kind of emotionally honest and vulnerable relationship outside of a heterosexual romantic one, then yeah that friendship is
1) Going to feel insufficient
2) Going to mean that when you get those compliments and that sincerity, it’s going to feel like a romantic relationship is implicitly being offered

And that sucks. That’s not fair on women — they shouldn’t have to second-guess the idea of complimenting a guy in case he takes it the wrong way — and it’s not fair on guys in that they can’t get what they need, emotionally, from a friendship.

To quote a post by Alara J Rogers:

Women get to have a much healthier approach to emotional support — they don’t die when widowed at nearly the rate that widowers die and they don’t suffer emotionally from divorce nearly as much even though they suffer more financially, and this is because women don’t put all their emotional needs on one person. Women have a support network of other women. But men are trained to never share their emotions except with their wife or girlfriend
[…]
So men suffer terribly from being trained in this way. But women suffer in that they can’t reach out to male friends for basic friendship.

I don’t think there are any easy solutions to this.

I think there are good ones though. Being more openly affectionate. Having more ‘deep and meaningful’ conversations with your guy friends sober, without needing to use alcohol as a crutch. More open and sincere compliments, even if they’re on small things. Watch a fully grown man get flustered and confused over it, it’s fantastic.

There are many who will see this as advice that makes men ‘less manly’. And yes, I agree it’s moving away from a single, rigid view of masculinity. But we’re in a society that is growing more in lockstep on the idea that women can be anything they want to be. So why can’t men be, too?

 

 

 

3 thoughts on ““Learn to take a compliment”

  1. I adore this article. It touches on a lot of how I’ve felt about my sense of masculinity in the past, and once I became aware of how rare it was that men would get given proper, meaningful compliments, I’ve started putting in the effort to be more open with other people about this sort of thing. It feels right.

    Thank you for writing this.

    Like

  2. The phrase “be a man” gets a bad go at it, usually, and in my observations, I find that this is usually because it’s something that people say without ever explaining exactly what it means. “Don’t be a sissy” is another one that is said — although not as much anymore — and never really explained. In both cases, the result is anxiety because suddenly, we have this thing that we are/aren’t supposed to be, and have no idea what to do because no one tells us what to do (likely because they don’t know themselves), and often times we end up emulating other men that are not the best or even good role models because it’s all we can think of to try.

    This is, I think, where media steps in, so do we end up with harmful stereotypes because that’s what we see in life, or do we see in life what we learn from harmful stereotypes?

    Like

  3. I find you remark about sharing while sober pretty interesting. It implies that we are all aware about what the situation really is, that, deep down, we know the issues, the pressure, and the complexities underlying “being a man”. It’s just that we know we are supposed to not show it. Alcohol changes the framework in which your behaviour is judged, and so you can let those things out. Things we already know are there. And we knew for a long time.

    Like

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