Dear Doctor Amorous,
Everyone is always getting angry about harassment and yelling at each other. I don’t know what to do in this kind of atmosphere. I just want to have a good time, but I am afraid if I ask a woman out, she will call the police. How can I show interest in a woman without getting shouted at? Where is the line between harassment and just getting to know someone?
Thanks in advance,
A Good Guy
I am delighted to be able to answer this question and I hope that others will also benefit from some clear instructions and information. Let me provide a dude-friendly guide to avoiding harassment. I will make two lists, one of things which are OK, one of things which are not OK.
I’m going to assume that you know that all the things that were not OK in kindergarten are still not OK, and that none of the things Harvey Weinstein does are OK. The basic stuff regarding keeping your genitals in your trousers and all other organs inside their respective orifices or clothing should be obvious.
(We don’t jerk off into the ficus plant, Harvey, in fact we don’t jerk off anywhere except in privacy or with the explicit and enthusiastic consent of any observers.)
– It is OK to ask an adult woman who is in no way dependent on or vulnerable to you on a date.
This means you are not her employer, housemate, therapist, or doctor, and that you are not asking in a situation where it is dark, there is nobody around, and there is a risk to her safety in saying no. It doesn’t matter whether you perceive a risk, it matters that we live in a world where men who are rejected often become volatile and dangerous. So basically unless you are in a public place where she has access to all the exits, slow your roll.
– It is also OK to do things which an adult woman who is in no way dependent on or vulnerable to you has told you explicitly that she would like you to do in an actual sentence.
If she says, “Let’s hang out sometime!”, it is OK to hang out sometime, but there is no using a secret decoder ring to translate that statement to mean “Please take my clothes off,” or “Show me your junk.” (Keep your organs to yourself until explicitly asked.) If she says to you, “Please take my clothes off,” that does not mean, “You may now do whatever you want with me.”
It is really very simple. The category of what is OK starts to make sense as soon as you realize that women are grown adult people with agency who are perfectly capable of telling you what they want, and whom you can ask about their thoughts and feelings and desires using your words. Your main focus when you get to know a woman should be learning about those thoughts and feelings and desires, not on figuring out how to get what you want.
– Making comments about a woman’s body, clothing, weight, age, sexual experience, or general appearance.
Unless she specifically asks you “Do you think my hair looks sexy today?”, then you keep your opinion to yourself.
– Contacting a woman in any manner, online or in person, after she has said “no.”
Remember when we were kids, and we had magic formulas like “no backsies,” “dibs,” “shot-gun,” or “jinx?” “No” is the same type of word. If someone says “no” to you, you automatically and immediately cease and desist.
– Asking a woman out after she has said “no.”
Let it go, walk away, do not argue about it or try to persuade her or enter into some crazy theory about how the word “no” is part of a super tricky strategy on her part. It means exactly what it says.
– Sharing any type of below-the-belt information which she did not directly ask for.
Do not tell women what you are into in the bedroom, how good you are at giving head, or share any description or images of your genitals. If, and only if, a woman says to you, “Could I please have a picture of your reproductive organs?”, is it OK to send one. “But that never happens!”, you say? Exactly my point.
– Asking women who are not voluntary and current sexual partners to show you parts of their body or to tell you any sort of sexual or below-the-belt information.
– Asking women to do anything at all with their bodies, attention, or time that they do not want to do.
How do you know if they want to? You use the apparatus slightly above your chin for its god-given purpose. You could say, “Would you like to get a drink with me?”, or “Could I pick you up at your place?”, or “Can I come in?” But not, “Why are you so uptight? Just have a drink and stop stressing,” or “What’s your problem, what are you scared of?”
I also want to talk about the ideas and mentalities that drive harassment.
Men are generally brought up with the assumption that women are instruments for their pleasure and convenience. As such, women should be pretty, agreeable, quiet and pleasant, and should do what the man wants. This is why men become angry when we say “no.” Very few men would state this explicitly, but it is immanent in the patriarchal reality we are part of.
In other words, in the patriarchal world they have been brought up in, men expect to be allowed to instrumentalize women for their own benefit, in order to feel good. When the woman says “no,” it is like gravity has been reversed, because the woman is refusing to serve such a desire. This is revealed when men yell at women to smile, punish and insult women who are fat, older, unstylish, or otherwise not pleasing to them visibly.
If you feel like women are getting angry with you a lot, you should reflect on your expectations and mentality. You might also experiment with using empathy.
How would you feel if you were constantly undermined, silenced and ignored when you said what you think? How would you feel if you were constantly in physical danger? How relaxed and fun would you be if you lived in a world where half the population feels that you owe them your attention and are required to please them and cooperate with them? How easygoing would you be if the people who were dominant in your life enjoyed watching images of you being tortured, humiliated and raped?
Each and every woman you encounter has experienced some form of harassment or assault or worse.
So if she does not want to go over to your house alone or get in a car with you before getting to know you, do not make any comments. Do not complain about “suffering” because of what other men did.
If you want women to engage with you with trust and warmth, earn it. Demonstrate trustworthiness consistently in your actions by doing what you say you’re going to do, and by always showing respect without pushing or pulling.
If you are getting to know someone and you are pretty sure they are into you, consent still matters. If you are walking someone home and you feel confident it’s time for a first kiss or make-out session, it is not OK to just kiss them or hold them without asking. Entering into a relationship or dating does not constitute total surrender or suspension of the need for consent. In any move you make, you need to ensure that the woman always has a realistic and fair chance to say “no.”
If someone was walking me home and said, “I really like you and I wonder what you would like to do right now,” that allows me to say, “Kiss me,” or “I would like to say good-night,” and then stick out my hand. If someone is walking me home and just puts his arm around me, I am now in a bad position, because I can’t say “no” without a conflict with someone who is bigger and stronger than I, while alone in a dark place.
Basically, then, the difference between harassment and OK behavior is all about saying “no.”
Once again: Has the other person not had a real and fair chance to say “no,” or has she said it already? Then you are messing up. Have you consistently asked what she wants and abided by her statements? Have you been frank about what you want, so that if she says “yes” to sex she knows whether she is saying “yes” to a one-night-stand or to meeting your mother? Then you are doing fine.
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