It’s no great revelation of mine, but as I’ve recently been dating a number of guys (I specify this because I identify as bisexual and sometimes I see more women than I do men), I’ve been facing the consequences of a societal norm that, to me, seems a bit stale. As many have said before me, women are often expected to be passive; to be objects of sexual pleasure but not to seek it for themselves, to be available when sex is desired of them by others, but not so much as hint at their own desire if and when they experience it. This double standard has been thoroughly laid out by plenty of other thinkers. What is less criticized, however, is that this expectation carries over into real life experience in so many ways that don’t actually involve sex. At every point of the hetero dating cycle, women are to wait for the cues of the male love interest--whether it’s who’s going in for the first kiss, who’s deciding what to do on the first date, who’s inviting whom up to spend the night, and, most annoyingly, who’s going to initiate and maintain texting conversation after the hook-up. Whether or not women adhere to these regulations can determine the longevity of the romance.
It’s all problematic, but I take particular offense, and have caught myself carefully adhering, to the rules of the last one in the above list. After having sex with someone new (or many new people at once), it’s quite possible that the sex was subpar. I’m of the opinion, though, that the rare times when it is not--that is, if there is a connection between those involved--this is reason enough to want to see each other again, or at least reason to maintain communication. However, because of the way that I’ve been socialized, I often find myself and my relationships at the whim of the men I’ve hooked up with, waiting to hear from them before I tell them how I feel, or waiting to be asked out by them before I see them again--in spite of what it is I am feeling. In essence, it appears that it doesn’t matter that I feel a connection with a man until he legitimizes it by choosing to continue talking to me; that my feelings and my desires are entirely second to his. Aside from the obvious sexism at hand, another issue here is that, even if a man does feel a connection with a woman, most men are socialized to be poor communicators.
In my experience, women are trained to put up with waiting games that boys and men play with them, intentionally or not, because they feel that they can’t initiate conversation lest they risk ruining the entire flirtation. With the communication skills of the men that I and my friends have dated, however, this often means that women are waiting for texts or calls or messages that will never come. Earlier this year, I wrote a piece about my frustrations with the ghosting phenomenon, which is precisely a consequence of the societal expectation that men will dictate the cadence and flow of conversation post-hook-up. Much of the time, ghosting of this nature is the perfect storm of women feeling that they can’t demand communication from the men that they’ve slept with, and men either feeling stifled by toxic masculinity or lacking enough respect for women they’ve had sex with to simply communicate their disinterest instead of leaving everything open and ambiguous. These social and sexual dynamics are unfair to all involved; everyone in this equation feels dissatisfied and everyone winds up a loser.
There have always been the men who claim that they *love* a woman who’s forward, who takes initiative. Other than fetishizing a woman’s ability to take charge, this “love” of a woman’s straightforwardness often doesn’t play out in relationships outside of the bedroom; those same men who say they love a woman who takes charge will probably get freaked out when she takes charge of the conversation and asks him to hang out later this week, or to sleep over, or whatever it may be. This has long been explained away as the Biologically Male fear of commitment or intimacy, but we know that men are not predisposed to reject intimate love--and we’re starting to realize that their socialization as such is detrimental to masculine development, and to everyone. No, it’s not a natural capacity for lovelessness; I see it more as a fear of losing power, a fear of vulnerability. When a women makes it clear that she has an agenda that includes being honest about her feelings and asking a man on a second date, she is threatening his ability to maintain the myth of his hyper-masculine independence; she is cracking away at his shell with every “I had fun last night, let’s do it again soon” and “I really like you, what are you doing tomorrow?” and “I’d love to see you again.”
Ultimately, it’s time we accept that women’s feelings are important and don’t need validation by way of men. Any communication is better than no communication, even if it’s just to say “You know what, us hooking up was a mistake and I never want to see you again.” Both women and men need to feel that they can express their feelings when they feel them, because playing games with one another leads to unhealthy relationships and unsatisfied folks on all ends of the relationship.
Written by Emma Glassman-Hughes