*Recommended audience: High school-aged and above
“You know you want it.” Think of how many musicians have said that or a similar lyric in a song.
::cough:cough:: Robin Thicke. Mavado. Pitbull. Wyclef. The list goes on and on.
Now think back to literally every television show ever. A Different World. Family Matters. Friends. Kim Possible. That 70s Show. The early episodes of all of these shows have something in common. These series show a man or boy desperate for the romantic attention of an uninterested woman or girl. By the end of the series, they are together.
That just goes to show how popular the idea of “assumed consent” is. “I knew you wanted it all along. You were just frontin’ and playing hard to get.” The message here is: when a woman says “no,” she doesn’t mean it; just keep asking her until she says “yes.”
There are several underlying ideas that contribute to the notion that persistence is key:
- Playing hard to getOften times, when women reject sexual advances they are presumed to simply be “playing hard to get.” This idea is rooted in the fact that we have all been socialized to believe that women are not supposed to be sexual beings. Women are expected to participate in sex with the understanding that it is not for them; that their body is a temple and a gift that is given to a special and deserving man; and that sex stops when he is finished. We say things like “she gave it up to him,” which implies that heterosexual sex for women is not for the sake of their own enjoyment, but for the service of a man. Because of this relationship between women and sex, we ridicule, harass, and disrespect women who take ownership of their sexuality; who have had multiple partners; who enjoy and actively seek out sex. Heterosexual men who are sexually active are not met with nearly as much disdain as women are. To avoid slut-shaming and the violence that accompanies it, many women have adapted themselves to seem less sexual. They strive to be “a lady in the streets but a freak in the sheets,” the perfect balance of class, modesty, and sexuality. Playing hard to get is a part of this image. If a woman appears to be too easy, she opens herself up to slut-shaming and violence. Accordingly, heterosexual men have been raised to value this and to “check the carfax” on a woman in order to ensure that she doesn’t have “too many miles.” Because women are always expected to be playing hard to get, people too often forget to acknowledge the very real possibility that she just doesn’t want to be “gotten”.
- Women don’t know what they wantMen are from Mars and women are from Venus. Mars is the home of rationality and reason, whereas Venus is where logic goes to die. Gender stereotypes suggest that women are far more emotional than logical, and as such their judgment shouldn’t be trusted. So when a woman says something, the assumption usually is that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about and will change her mind in a few seconds. So if a woman makes a decision regarding sex or dating, we assume that her decision is in response to her current mood, which could change at any given moment. As such, men often respond to being turned down by debating her and providing lists of reasons that she should give him her number or go out with him (ex. “I just want to talk to you. There’s nothing wrong with talking, right?” or “Let’s just get dinner together. You gotta eat sometime, right?” “What’s your man got to do with me? I could treat you better than he can anyway”).
- Women’s standards and desires are irrational
Memes like the one above have been floating around the internet for quite some time now. The message: Women, lower your standards and be happy! And when Beyonce dropped Lemonade and revealed that Jay-Z had cheated on her, that was enough validation. Even the queen puts up with a cheating husband. Why should the average woman look for more? Women are too often made to seem irrational for having certain expectations of their partners. We tell women that what they want doesn’t exist, so they might as well settle. Moreover, women are charged with the burden of building men up to eventually meet or come close to their expectations. They are told that they should stick with the “bad boy” because she can help set him on the right path; stick with the “man-child” because she’ll help him grow; stick with the cheater because she’ll teach him to be faithful. What is truly irrational, however, is the idea that one partner should be responsible for “fixing” another. Women are not mechanics and romantic partners are not cars. It is not a woman’s job to fix anyone, and it costs nothing to break up and get a new partner (or be happily single). Furthermore, how can we assume that the emotional turmoil of being single or being back on the dating scene is greater than the emotional turmoil of staying in a relationship with someone who does not fulfill your needs? We must remember that dating is optional! People don’t need romantic partners to survive. We can still have fulfilling, happy, and healthy relationships with friends, family, and ourselves. Why bring an extra person into your life if they don’t have what you’re looking for? This is not to say that there is no such thing as standards that are too high, but we need to stop pressuring women to lower standards that are reasonable just for the sake of staying in a romantic relationship.
- Any man is better than no manIn the previous section, I asked: “Why bring an extra person into your life if they don’t have what you’re looking for?” Well, the reason is because any man is better than no man! Or at least, this is what society tells us. Girls are raised to think that their main goal in life is to be chosen by a man. Even if she finds that man unattractive, or annoying, or undesirable in any way, she should put up with it because, well, she got herself a man! This idea is compounded by male entitlement. We raise our boys and men to believe that they deserve whatever they want– anything from jobs they are not qualified for to dating partners they do not deserve to have. An extreme example of this is Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old man who killed 6 people and wounded 14 others in a violent 2014 spree. In a video he posted online detailing his motives, he explains that he was angry because women refused to date him despite him being the “perfect guy,” so he sought his revenge against all women. On smaller scales, many men buy into the same idea. They catcall and harass women in the streets, they cuss out women who decline an exchange of phone numbers, they forcefully grab women who do not accept the drinks they’ve bought, and in other instance, they rape women because they felt entitled despite being told no. Men were raised to believe that they are always desirable to any woman, and as such, women should feel lucky to have been chosen by them.
All of these social concepts creates a set of norms where men are expected to pursue women relentlessly until they succumb. This idea extends beyond dating and rears its ugly head in sexual relationships as well. At the Katie Brown Educational Program, we teach our participants that the best way to know if someone is giving you consent is if they explicitly say yes (given that the person is also of age, awake, conscious, sober, and free from pressure, coercion, or fear). If a person says “no” to sexual advances, that does not mean that they want you to badger them, coax them, or harass them until they say “yes.”
Be persistent about your academic and career goals. Be persistent about your dreams. But it is inappropriate (and often times violent) to be persistent about your access to another person’s heart or body. It is important that we take people seriously, especially women. It is dangerous and unfair to assume that “she is playing hard to get” or is “frontin’ when she knows she really wants it.” Chances are, she’s just not into you. :/
Addendum: Heteronormativity is the idea that being heterosexual or “straight” is the norm or default sexual orientation. We wish to make it abundantly clear that we at the Katie Brown Educational Program believe that all sexual orientations were created equally. This post repeatedly provides examples of heterosexual relationships to address common ideas and messages about women’s romantic relationships. Though same-sex relationships are common, society’s portrayal of and dialogue on them is, unfortunately, still infrequent.