Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Rules Of Engagement: Sex And Dating In The 21st Century - Part 2

Continuing on from part 1, I've argued that there is a gray area when it comes to the rape/non-rape and harassment/non-harassment divide because, among other things, the definition of consent is not agreed upon. And there's a series of new problems on our hands given the seemingly new rules surrounding appropriate communication we all must abide by: Women don't want to be harassed. Men don't want to be rejected. But neither do women want men to not ever pursue them, and neither do men want to be harassers (well most of them at least). In light of the recent allegations against Aziz Ansari, this is now more needed than ever.

So, I've decided to write my suggestions on the new rules of engagement: a 21st century conversation on sex, dating, and consent. This is one of the things we absolutely need analytical philosophy for. Sex and dating should be no exception.

I've broken this down into several areas covering day-to-day situations, bars and nightclubs, dating, and sex.

Let's start with day-to-day situations first. I'm defining a day-to-day situation as situations where you're in public, in a restaurant, on the street, on a subway or bus, in a common area in a college, or any place open to the general public, like the kind we frequent on a day to day basis.

A question arises: Is it OK to approach someone in a flirtatious manner or comment on their sexual attractiveness in these day-to-day situations? Consider these scenarios:

  • A guy catcalls a woman passing by on the street by telling her she looks really beautiful and that he would love to get her number. 
  • A guy tells women passing by on a busy street that he thinks they're beautiful. 
  • A guy politely strikes up a conversation with a woman next to him in a bookstore or cafe to talk about a non-controversial subject in a manner that is a bit flirtatious. 

I'm using a guy in all my examples because I want to focus on the main area of controversy, which is in the way men approach and behave with women. There is a kind of woman who would consider all of these situations harassment and a kind of woman who wouldn't. And some women may consider it harassment only at certain times, with certain men. Given that at least some women would find it to be harassment, should men behave according to the feelings of those kinds of women and refrain from such behavior with all women?

My view is that sexualized cat calling is harassment. Just like how I wouldn't want gay men cat calling me on the street making sexual comments about how I look, I don't think men should be doing this to women. But I don't think it should be a rule that no one can ever talk to people on the street in a flirtatious manner. It just has to be done with respect and not demeaning objectification. And if the other person isn't positively receptive, one should refrain immediately.

Regarding the last scenario above. I don't think that constitutes harassment. It should be acceptable at least sometimes to talk to a stranger in public, for both men and women. The person doing the talking just has to realize that the other person may be freaking out and tread carefully. Ideally, we'd all communicate our feelings honestly and openly, and let the other person know if they are bothering us. But we live in a world where we're conditioned to be nice to others. So we don't know if the other person is sincerely interested or just being nice out of courtesy.

I fear that one of the unintended consequences of the #MeToo movement is that we could as a culture make a hard turn against all talking in public, especially by men to women, such that even politely striking up a conversation in public could become a giant taboo. I fear we could be quickly heading towards a culture like Japan, where men almost never talk to women they don't know in public, and where there's a large percentage of very lonely single men and women.

Most women expect and prefer that a man makes the first move when flirting or dating. According to a 2011 survey reported in Psychology Today, 93% of women preferred to be asked out and only 6% prefer to do the asking. So it seems that a full 40 years after the women's movement, the vast majority of women still prefer the traditional roles in the arena of dating.

I think there definitely exists a double standard when it comes what women can do to men. Men are generally bigger than women, and men generally don't have to worry about women physically attacking or killing them. Women worry about men doing that all the time. Recently, I was at a pizzeria late one Friday night and three drunk girls came in right after me and after one of them talked to me a bit on the line, they decided to sit at my booth after I had already sat by myself. One of them was a bit rude, not directly to me, but was talking really loudly and insultingly to other people in the pizzeria. Although she was fairly attractive I just wasn't feeling the situation. When I finished my slice I made an excuse to leave. I didn't consider this harassment though even though it forced me into a situation I didn't exactly like. But that's me, someone else may not feel this way. And therein lies the problem: harassment is subjective.

Then there are bars and night clubs. Here I think there's a bit more leeway when it comes to flirtation. There is a general expectation that someone could talk to you in a bar or nightclub. People go there to be social after all. But still, harassment can occur anywhere, so imagine these scenarios:

  • A guy comes up to a woman at a bar and begins hitting on her. He tries to be funny and makes jokes that get a bit obnoxious. She doesn't appear to be interested in him but he persists. After about 15 minutes or so of talking to her, he moves on. 
  • A guy comes up to a woman at a bar and begins hitting on her. She responds but at some point moves away. Later he hits on her again, being polite but aggressive, she moves on and later he does this a third time. 

Was any of this harassment? One woman told me online recently that flirtation becomes harassment "at the time the person receiving the unwanted flirtation makes it clear - verbally or otherwise - that it is unwanted and the person doing the flirting continues." Seems simple enough right? The problem is that many women play hard to get where they pretend not to be interested, and men have a well known tendency to misread subtle female behavior, as the recent Aziz incident highlights. I've had women reject me at first, only to warm up to me after persistent courtship. Some women expect men to do this in order to see if how willing they are to pursue them. I've even heard many women over the years complain that men move on to other women once they are rejected. This is obviously a problem.

If the new rule is going to be flirtation "becomes harrassment [sic] at the time the person receiving the unwanted flirtation makes it clear - verbally or otherwise - that it is unwanted and the person doing the flirting continues," as the woman on Twitter told me, then both men and women will have to stop playing hard to get. I see no other option. You can't at the same time promote the idea that flirtation must always cease immediately once the other person makes it clear they don't want to receive that flirtation, and still think playing hard to get is acceptable. If you like someone you have to make it apparent, if you don't like someone you have to make it apparent. Playing coy with your interest in light of radical consent laws is a recipe for disaster.

Women are not a monolith and disagree on what these new rules of dating and courtship should be, with some still preferring the older traditions, and some preferring the newer rules. The direction things seem to be headed in is towards the newer rules, where traditional minded men and women will be left out. I'm fine with the newer rules as a man — if women don't continue playing hard to get, which forces me to violate those rules. In fact, I'd prefer that a greater number of women start taking the initiative and be the ones that start the flirtation or ask for the date, even though I'm skeptical that'll ever be likely.

From that same Psychology Today article above, it hypothesizes that one of the main reasons women do not initiate dates is because of "female reputational defense theory." Because of the different reproductive opportunities in men and women, and the fact that it takes so many years of investment to raise children, to attract a high valued male partner women invest heavily in their reputation as being sexually faithful. "By refraining from making first time relationship initiatives," the author writes, "women may be providing evidence to potential long term mates that they would not make the first move with another man in the future, given their history of not doing so in the past." My hope is that these social pressures can change and it can become acceptable for women to be able to initiate flirtation and dates.

Men know that women don't just land on their lap (most of the time), and that if they want a woman in their lives, they have to go out and make that happen. And that often results in men having to pursue many women who will reject them before they find one that accepts their requests, which also means many women will find themselves on the receiving end of many unwanted requests. If women complain that this is bothersome, and that they can't enjoy a night out without being approached and bothered by men they aren't interested in, they cannot continue to support a culture where they expect men to initiate all dating. Women need to start taking the initiative in dating so that the expectations are spread out between the genders. That way men won't feel like they always have to go out and hit on women to get a date with a one. They will be able to get dates with women by the women asking them out on dates. 

Now let's talk about dating. Once a man and a woman have already gotten past that initial hurdle, and are seeing each other, a new area of complications open up. One big one is, who pays for the first date? A recent survey by Money and Survey Monkey showed that more men (85%) than women (72%) prefer that men pay on the first date. I was a bit surprised to see more men wanting to pay for the date. It seems that women here are the more progressives ones. I think many men want to pay for dates because it makes them feel like a provider and they think this impresses women.

Source: SurveyMonkey/Money

My view is that there are no set rules and paying for the date should be negotiated. I just don't like the general expectation that a man should always pay. But this continues to be a source of scourge between the sexes. Is it hypocritical to say you believe in gender equality but also think men should pay for the first date? I'm inclined to say yes, but I've heard arguments that one's personal preferences do not necessarily have to coincide with their normative social preferences. For example, a woman could say, "Men shouldn't have to pay for the first date, but I expect the man on a first date with me to pay." It's just like a man saying, "Women shouldn't have to shave their legs, but I expect the woman I date to shave her legs."

Another big issue in dating is that for years there seems to be this trend among young people where dating becomes a game of who can appear to care less about the other. So these silly rules emerged where you have to wait X amount of days to send the first text, or to respond to any message and always act as if you're busy and not particularly interested because the worst thing is to look desperate like you actually need the other person for anything. This only seems to be getting worse. Hook up culture also seems to reinforce the idea we're only interested in sex and quick action and we're all too cool to actually care about the other person. This has permeated female culture too, where there are growing numbers of women afraid to look like that desperate woman who gets attached after a hookup that they purposely will ghost the man they've slept with. A culture obsessed with not caring about people will only lead to more loneliness. I hope this is a fad that passes over but I'm very skeptical that will happen.

And finally there's sex. Sex is usually the most controversial of all activities because it's the one where the most consent is needed. This is where the recent Aziz debacle becomes important. In the story from, Aziz goes home with a women from a date and according to her gets very sexually aggressive, missing signs that she was not interested. A debate erupted on social media after the story went public over whether this was rape of not. I think it falls into that gray area I wrote about in part 1. I can never know for sure what really happened, as I can't know what was going on in his head, or exactly how she was acting, but if I take the story at face value, it seems Aziz should have picked up on cues that the woman was uncomfortable. All this has made me wonder: have I at any times done an Aziz on a woman I've had sex with?

I've been trying to think back at all my past sexual experiences in light of this new woke #MeToo consciousness and the Aziz incident. Like all heterosexual men, I've pressured women into having sex. One time I went home with a woman I met at a party who didn't want to have intercourse, despite my constant pestering. She settled on giving me 2 hand jobs that finally chilled me out. Was that sexual assault? If she was a certain kind of feminist, I could definitely image her writing a hit piece on me skewing that night into a scene where I "forced" sexual activity on her that she was uncomfortable with. And my defense would be very similar to Aziz's: I'd say that she consented to all activity. The new rules when it comes to sex seem to be that both partners must have "enthusiastic consent" in all sexual activities, but as we all know, in real life that rarely happens, even when both partner are consenting.

Most men are not natural Casanovas. We're not born with an innate skill on how to be successful with women. It is an acquired skill for most of us. And growing up I got no education in how to be successful with women. Not at home, not with friends, and certainly not at school. I had to learn on my own. And in the process of doing that, I fucked up a bunch of times. I made mistakes. But the new rule seems to be that now one mistake and you're done. Your reputation can be destroyed, and you could possibly lose your job, be expelled from college, and end up in a kangaroo court accused of sexual assault with the system rigged against you. One bad date, one bad sexual encounter where you accidentally go too far, and you're done. And this is not even taking into account false accusations which can do the same damage. In other words, we're increasingly not allowing men, even young men just out of high school, any room for mistakes. It's like we expect perfection from the start. (Last month, Cenk Uygar, from the Young Turks was forced to resign from the board of the Justice Democrats, an organization I support, because it was revealed that 18 years ago he wrote a few blog posts that made some comical insults about women. Even though he deleted those posts a decade ago because they no longer reflect his views, the internet keeps a record of all things and they were dug up by the news and media site The Wrap, and used against him. This is how the Left's puritanism begins eating itself. No one will ever be pure enough.)

If "enthusiastic consent" is the new rule for sex, women in particular will have to get much better at demonstrating enthusiastic consent. I simply don't think that enough women are confident enough to do this, and I think some never will. Probably half of the women I've had sex with for the first time did not demonstrate "enthusiastic consent." Some women who are naturally shy and who come from traditional cultures may never be able to say and do the things that indicate in an obvious way they want sex now and badly. To minimize this we need to get rid of traditional attitudes regarding sex (which is one of the reasons why I'm motivated so strongly against religion), and we need to make it socially acceptable for women to desire and have sex just as men do. So I'm all for getting rid of the double standards and promoting sex positivity. But I'm skeptical of the enthusiastic consent idea. I think that if a person is not willing to go certain places sexually or do certain things, they need to make it clear they don't want to do them. They should say things like, "No," or "I'm not comfortable with that," or "Can you stop doing that to me? I really do not like that." When women tell me these things, I stop doing them. There's no way we can be expected to ask for consent for every stop along the path to sexual intercourse, and then check in every minute or so during intercourse to see if the person receiving is still digging it. So here's where I'd disagree with the new rules. We need to be up front with our limits and what we're feeling OK with. Communication needs to be clear.

When an accusation of sexual assault or rape has happened, the new rules suggest that we always believe the accuser, which in most cases is a woman accusing a man. I have reservations about this. First, by believing the accuser automatically you are saying the accused is guilty until proven innocent. This was the mindset in a recent case in England, where Liam Allan was on trial for 12 counts of rape and sexual assault. Investigating officers withdrew evidence that the female accuser texted Allan that she wanted rough sex because they deemed it "too personal." He was exonerated by that evidence. When you have overwhelming pressure to believe the victim, and drive up the conviction rate in sexual offenses, these kind of incidents will become more commonplace. The presumption of innocence by the way is in the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11. You can't therefore be for human rights and a guilty until proven innocent system.

Second, when someone accuses someone else of sexual wrong doing, we shouldn't automatically believe the victim or the accused. We shouldn't automatically dismiss the victim either, as has been widely done in the past. We should consider that the victim may be telling the truth and open up an investigation on the matter. If one single accusation can make you presumed guilty until proven innocent, that will no doubt be weaponized. And all this is going to do is make many more men terrified to make a move on a woman in any kind of romantic or sexual situation, which is going to lead to there being a whole lot more lonely, single, and sexually frustrated men and women in the future. I think anyone in support of an unfettered #MeToo movement has to seriously have a discussion on the potential unintended consequences of it. There are already women complaining that in progressive cities men are too passive. As I wrote before about toxic masculinity, there's a subset of women who seem to want to get rid of all masculine traits, not just the supposedly toxic ones. They want men to basically be like women: passive, noncompetitive, agreeable. There's another subset of women saying they like the traditional masculine ways: aggressive, competitive, uncompromising, and opinionated. I think women need to have their own internal debate on the matter because 21st century men are hearing mixed messages.

I've already gone on way too long, even though I've only scratched the surface. Stay tuned for part 3.

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