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Women online
Monday, 09 July 2007 at 10:08 am

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I posted a slightly tongue-in-cheek essay to my OKCupid journal recently, on the topic of men who whine that women on OKCupid are rude to them. I give several possible reasons why women might be rude in an online dating context like OKCupid:
  1. The major one: most women have the experience of being pestered and hassled by men who won't take no for an answer. Polite friendliness is taken as a definite come-on, mere polite refusal may be ignored or used as an excuse to try to persuade, so many women jump straight into blunt refusal, or simply ignoring unwanted overtures altogether.
  2. In person, women are afraid (to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the person and the situation) of violence. Often, women try to turn men down as gently and politely as possible, not because they really care about hurting the guy's feelings, but because they are afraid things will turn ugly if they are too direct. It's a balance between making it unambiguously clear that you're not interested, and causing offence which might put you in danger. I personally hate having to judge this balance, but it is a fact of life.

    However, online the threat of violence is much less, and even verbal violence can be avoided by blocking messages from a harasser. Men who (without realizing it) are used to a certain degree of deference from women they approach in person, find it shocking when women online are free to say what they really think.
  3. In an online dating context, women have quite a significant advantage over men; simply being female means you are in demand to a certain extent. That means women can afford to be picky, and in fact probably need to be picky, if they don't want to spend their entire life managing their social network on dating sites.
  4. Some women are just rude, superficial, etc. The online context allows the worst of women to behave like the worst of men, whether it's rudeness, impossibly high standards, pursuing sex aggressively or whatever. It's dangerous for women to do this kind of thing in real life, so few do.
Basically, my suspicion is that men have the upper hand in in person dating contexts, because of their social position and to a minor extent greater physical strength. When they lose these advantages in online dating, they are distressed. Some of them are distressed because they are genuinely decent people who are utterly unaware how a certain proportion of jerks behave towards women, and don't understand how that benefits them in person (because they get let down gently when they approach a woman who isn't interested), but disadvantages them online (because women are on the defensive and expect to be hassled). Some of them are distressed because they are sad cases who enjoy having power over women and can't deal with any diminishing of that power.

The version I posted on OKCupid was a lot less harsh than this. I filled it with disclaimers about how I'm sure all the men doing the complaining are basically decent people, and how I understand that it's really upsetting if a woman is rude to you because of other men being jerks to her in the past. Even so, within minutes I got a comment from a guy whining that I was expecting men to be omniscient, and how unfair it is that women are so mean to him. (I suspect this is partly a ploy, he wants me to come back to him and try to prove that I'm not like those mean horrible women that he's complaining about.)

I'm also reminded of this long and tangled discussion on Making Light. There was a thread that was vaguely about feminism, and a commenter showed up with an anecdote about an incident of fairly standard harrassment of a woman by men. The reaction to it was kind of amazing. Many women started talking about how she might have been in physical danger, and ways to assess the probability of and hopefully avoid really extreme things like gang rape in that sort of situation. Many men started talking about how the guy sounded like he was a bit clueless but he didn't mean any harm, and there was no need for her to overreact so much, she should have been more polite. (Her supposed rudeness, by the way, consisted of: So I take off the headphones, look him dead in the eye, and say, "I would like to be left alone. I thought by now that would be obvious. Good night." And I put the headphones back on.)

Now, the discussion wasn't divided purely along gender lines, but the gulf was definitely significant. The thread unfortunately devolves into people yelling at eachother, with some trying to frame the whole discussion with standard feminist theory and others not understanding the asusmptions of said feminist theory, and I don't think any of that is helpful. But I think it's part of the same phenomenon I'm talking about in this post. Men just don't know what it's like to go through the world being female, and don't understand why a lot of women make an assumption of malice when an unknown man approaches them. Also, they don't see malice when it actually exists; the guy in Nicole's story wasn't just socially inept, he was getting off on having power over her, but he was keeping his threats deniable.

I've never been offended by a man chatting me up or expressing interest in me, if it's genuine. I am offended by men being sleazy and lechy because they can get away with it. I really don't like having to be wary of men; by nature I'm very friendly and will chat to pretty much anybody who approaches.

Whereaboooots: Älvsjö, Stockholm, Sweden
Moooood: quixoticquixotic
Tuuuuune: Dead Kennedys: Where do ya draw the line?
Discussion: 61 contributions | Contribute something

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lavendersparkle: modest me
Date:July 9th, 2007 09:56 am (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 09:56 am (lavendersparkle's time)
I've also noticed that in my experience the men I know just don't know what to do when men are being sexually harassing toward them, whereas the women I know have developed strategies because it's happened to them before.

One year at Pride I was on a tube with some friends and a lechy drunk old gay guy started hitting on one of my gay teenage friends. The friend didn't know what to do to the extent that he ended up kissing the guy because it didn't even occur to him to try saying "No". I'm not sure if this is typical or how much it's because I tend to hung out with dominant women and submissive men.
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livredor: likeness
Date:July 9th, 2007 10:11 am (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 10:11 am (livredor's time)
I didn't really discuss the dynamic between gay men, because that's the aspect of gendered interactions that I know least about. I do suspect that gay men have the worst of both worlds: they are subject to the sometimes aggressive sexuality of men, but a proportion of women will still mistrust them as being potential aggressors.

I take your point about developing strategies. Not just for handling harassing situations, but for avoiding them in the first place. Men are disproportionately the victims of random violence from strangers, and this is partly because they are actually are the targets more often, but also partly because of the false expecation that a woman on her own is in danger, whereas a man on his own is safe, so men in practice take more risks.

I don't think it's anything to do with being dominant or submissive though. A submissive person can be assertive in dealing with unwanted advances, or a dominant person can be floored and not know how to deal with someone who is hassling them. Dominant and submissive are about how people behave once they are in a consensual situation, not about how someone deals with being pestered for sexual or romantic attention.
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(no subject) - lavendersparkle (7/9/07 12:11 pm)
(no subject) - blue_mai (7/9/07 02:48 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (7/9/07 05:10 pm)
(no subject) - blue_mai (7/9/07 05:27 pm)
Date:July 9th, 2007 01:48 pm (UTC)
5 hours after journal entry, 01:48 pm (thursdaily's time)
Possibly true. I transitioned a few years ago from living as male to female, and I'm still fairly bewildered by harrassment. While it happens to men, it's not something that I was taught to deal with while being brought up as a boy. (Actually, I possibly got more of it than most, because I was perceived as gay by a lot of people at school (though I wasn't) which got me more harrassment and rather less support.)

As a woman, it's still something I find hurtful and sufficiently surprising that it's hard to know how to react, except when it's close enough to something that's happened before. After an early incident that turned into a sexual assault, I was actually told off by several female relatives for getting into the situation; their upbringing as girls would have drilled it into them not to get into a position where it could happen, and I'm still really learning that. It hurts me that I'm essentially being told "you shouldn't trust people", though; somehow, I expect better of human nature.

I don't have to cope with being chatted up that often. I'm not sure whether that's because of general unattractiveness, or because of being perceived as transsexual, or because I broadcast the wrong kind of signals; possibly it's actually that I still don't react to subtle clues, where someone socialised as a girl from an earlier age might? Sometimes this worries me a bit, because honestly, a little attention would be nice once in a while, but on the other hand it has the great benefit of comparative safety: men might assume a lot of rights over women, but compared with their reactions to transwomen... sigh.
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(no subject) - livredor (7/9/07 06:10 pm)
coalescent: default
Date:July 9th, 2007 10:34 am (UTC)
2 hours after journal entry, 10:34 am (coalescent's time)
Interesting; and it makes sense.

You know, I was about to say that in my (admittedly limited) experience of online dating sites, OKCupid was the friendliest. And I think that's true; I had more than a few good email exchanges, and made a couple of friends, which is more than I've got out of any other site. So I was about to say, as a datapoint, that I didn't have any women being rude to me.

Then I started to wonder about what the complainers mean when they say "rude". Do they just mean "didn't respond to my message"? Because that's ... well, isn't that just part of the way these sites work? Not responding to a message isn't rude. Responding to a message and saying "no, you look stupid, please don't message me again" could legitimately be called rude, I think.

Which, I guess, is to say that I think you're right, there's a gendered component to it, but also I think it's just that people expect online interactions in general to work the way real-world interactions do, and they don't.

On the Making Light thread: yeah, he was clearly hitting on her because she was a single woman, and her response was in no way an overreaction.

That said, people on trains and planes do seem to have a hard time realising that people could prefer their book/music/laptop to real! genuine! conversation! "Oh, they must only be reading because they're travelling alone and don't have anyone to talk to. I shall try to be friendly and strike up a conversation." A guy did this to me on the way back from York yesterday. (I suppose he could have been hitting on me, but it seems unlikely.)
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coalescent: default
Date:July 9th, 2007 10:52 am (UTC)
2 hours after journal entry, 10:52 am (coalescent's time)
Also, everything tnh says in that thread is brilliant. (This may apply to everything tnh ever says, mind.)
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(no subject) - livredor (7/9/07 12:02 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (7/9/07 11:53 am)
(no subject) - coalescent (7/9/07 12:59 pm)
(no subject) - syllopsium (7/9/07 01:07 pm)
(no subject) - coalescent (7/9/07 01:13 pm)
(no subject) - syllopsium (7/9/07 01:46 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (7/9/07 06:22 pm)
(no subject) - leora (7/9/07 08:08 pm)
(no subject) - syllopsium (7/9/07 02:43 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (7/9/07 06:35 pm)
(no subject) - syllopsium (7/9/07 08:11 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (7/10/07 09:12 am)
(no subject) - livredor (7/9/07 12:01 pm)
(no subject) - coalescent (7/9/07 12:52 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (7/9/07 06:41 pm)
syllopsium: default
Date:July 9th, 2007 11:30 am (UTC)
2 hours after journal entry
Is the music choice deliberate, or simply a happy coincidence?

I'm going to ramble a bit here.. It all boils down to there being less women available to date than men and expectations about gender behaviour & dominance/submission based on that. It also, and I think this is important, depends on the life situation of the person.

I agree on half the points; personally I see the online dating world as being similar to real life, but amplified somewhat. Therefore I disagree with men having the upper hand in dating, or that women don't play the superficial/high standards game. Obviously people in general tend to be less rude when there's a chance someone might get annoyed at you.

I tend to go further than your points; I see het dating as possibly irredeemably fucked. Much though I'd like to say the dating game should be equal, etc, etc, it seems to me that not only is the dominant man/submissive woman the stereotype, it is actually what a majority of women want. Although it's not quite that simple, as you can then throw in a whole slew of expected behaviours and control games instead of *actually talking*. It probably wouldn't be inappropriate to throw in the phrase 'topping from the bottom' here.

The upshot of this is that men are expected to do the chasing, and women expect to be chased. Where is the line drawn between repeated wooing or asking, and harassment? It's also clearly not as simple as standards as behaviour, because although there are some things that are clearly wrong, others depend on the person saying it (i.e. it's cute if you ask and you're fancied, but sleazy if you're not fancied).

The guy on okcupid isn't trying to entice you, or whine (much) - he's simply reporting reality. That's not to say he isn't doing something wrong, because if you send out friendly messages and have a non sleazy profile, you will get some responses, and okcupid is quite friendly.

The strategy from the point of view of a man seeking a woman on a dating site is to contact as many suitable women as possible, because you're chasing a minority of people. It's also important to weed out the women that aren't actually serious about meeting, and just want entertainment, and have a profile that rejects the barest minority of suitable women, whilst driving away the majority of unsuitable ones.

Because women are the minority, this leads to some of the behaviour above; women can be ridiculously picky and 'sweetshop dating' (where people keep searching for their perfect partner rather than *actually going on dates*) is not uncommon.

To succeed you're going to have to keep asking, and being rejected; being nice and staying in the background *will not work*. Until sufficient social skills have been learnt to ask in a direct, but nice way, men will continue to annoy/upset women.

Mind you, the dating sites don't help things either. There aren't enough controls to weed out the sleazes (things like okcupid are at least stopping 419 scammers now..), and there are insufficient tools for people to manage their mailboxes - such as prioritising replies by people you've contacted. It's not in their interests to get you quickly paired up with the most suitable person, when that's really what they should be doing.

Things are somewhat more convoluted than what I've said here, but I think I've managed to get some of the appropriate points across.
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livredor: teapot
Date:July 9th, 2007 12:18 pm (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry, 12:18 pm (livredor's time)

Part I

Mm, thank you for such an interesting and thoughtful comment.

Music: about half the time I pick music that goes with the post, and half the time it's just whatever happens to come up on shuffle. It's cool you noticed it though!

How does it work that there are fewer available women than men? Is it because more men hate being single? (Stereotypically, it's women who feel like their life can't be complete unless they Get a Man.)

I think a proportion of women are going to be superficial and have ridiculous standards, that doesn't change with the context. But in real life your average clueless bloke might not realize that he's being dismissed because he isn't toned enough or whatever. Partly because he might not realize he's being dismissed at all, and partly because he might get a rejection like "I like you as a friend" or "I'm not looking for a relationship right now" when the truth is "You're too ugly for me". Online, he might hear the truth.

But it's not just that people are ruder online than in person; plenty of men are extremely rude in person, because they're not scared of women's reaction and don't care about hurting feelings. Also I do think that some women get into situations they're not comfortable with because they are scared of saying no. Whether that's going on a date, or taking things further sexually than they really want, or simply continuing to have a conversation with someone they're not in the least interested in. A minority of scummy men take advantage of this deliberately, but that leaves a lot who benefit from it without realizing that they are intimidating an unwilling partner.
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Re: Part I - coalescent (7/9/07 01:09 pm)
Re: Part I - coalescent (7/9/07 01:20 pm)
Re: Part I - syllopsium (7/9/07 01:52 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (7/9/07 06:44 pm)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) (7/9/07 08:16 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (7/10/07 09:19 am)
(no subject) - syllopsium (7/10/07 09:34 am)
Re: Part I - leora (7/9/07 08:15 pm)
Re: Part I - syllopsium (7/9/07 01:17 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (7/9/07 07:00 pm)
Part II - livredor (7/9/07 12:38 pm)
Re: Part II - coalescent (7/9/07 01:02 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (7/9/07 07:48 pm)
Re: Part II - syllopsium (7/9/07 01:24 pm)
Yet more response, you've really got me thinking here! - livredor (7/9/07 01:04 pm)
Re: Yet more response, you've really got me thinking here! - syllopsium (7/9/07 01:32 pm)
hatam_soferet: default
Date:July 9th, 2007 11:40 am (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry
That's really interesting.
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ewx: default
Date:July 9th, 2007 12:32 pm (UTC)
4 hours after journal entry, 12:32 pm (ewx's time)
Generally I'm only likely to approach people who I think are actually likely to be interested. This is something that's much harder to tell online than in person, which could explain some of the difference.
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livredor: body
Date:July 9th, 2007 01:12 pm (UTC)
4 hours after journal entry, 01:12 pm (livredor's time)
That's a good point, actually, it's partly that you get less information out of an online interaction, so there more chance of possibly hurtful misunderstandings. A man who is emotionally aware in person may find online interactions frustrating because he loses some of that ability.
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(no subject) - neonchameleon (7/9/07 01:47 pm)
Date:July 9th, 2007 01:45 pm (UTC)
5 hours after journal entry
I thought I'd try to present the other side - I'm aware that this comment is one-sided and biassed but thought that it might be useful to present the other side (after all, women don't know what it's like being male either...)

The major one: most women have the experience of being pestered and hassled by men who won't take no for an answer. Polite friendliness is taken as a definite come-on, mere polite refusal may be ignored or used as an excuse to try to persuade, so many women jump straight into blunt refusal, or simply ignoring unwanted overtures altogether.

And thereby lend evidence to the view that polite refusal is an excuse to persuade because if it was for real rather than simply playing hard to get, it would have been a blunt refusal or ignoring the overtures.

Basically, my suspicion is that men have the upper hand in in person dating contexts, because of their social position and to a minor extent greater physical strength. When they lose these advantages in online dating, they are distressed.

I wouldn't agree that men have the upper hand per se in person dating contexts - what I would say is that there is the expectation from both parties that men lead. In a civilised setting, men have the power and women have the control.

To expand slightly, in a dating context there is the expectation that it is the man who will make the initial overture, and the woman gets to choose whether it goes anywhere. If she accepts, there's a possibility of moving on to further steps (which will require leading again). If she declines impolitely, it's probably sensible to back out. And if she declines politely, it might simply be because she's a polite person, it might be because she likes you but doesn't want the step in question, it might be that she's persuadable, or it might be that she actively wants persuading/seducing. (It's this last one that makes things extremely tricky for men in this context).

When men (and it is even in the 21st century normally men) make the approach, we are risking rejection. And rejection hurts. Particularly when it is actively rude and rejecting the person in specific.

Therefore, by the standard setup of dating, men need to be slightly pushy, more than slightly thick skinned, and willing to take risks. That means either skilful or rude (or a combination of the two). Women don't have the same level of pressure on them - it's expected that the man approaches and the woman turns him down. And although that may be only appropriate in situtations where flirting is appropriate, OKCupid is definitely one of those.

The making light guy was simply obnoxious and drunk. That's a different matter. Or, more probably (as tnh says in the thread), he was playing to the audience of his friends (there are reasons I tend to detest pure male groups).
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syllopsium: default
Date:July 9th, 2007 02:00 pm (UTC)
5 hours after journal entry
Yup. I agree.

You can't on the one hand as one woman say to men that they should be polite, and accept a polite no, and on the other hand as a (different) woman give in to repeated refusal and go on to have a successful relationship and marry.

Guess which behaviour you're going to adopt as a man?

It all starts to stink of 'I want you to conform to the way I want the world to be' after a while, and (un?)fortunately things aren't that simple and there must be a bit of give and take in both directions.
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(no subject) - leora (7/9/07 08:29 pm)
(no subject) - syllopsium (7/9/07 08:57 pm)
(no subject) - neonchameleon (7/10/07 09:18 am)
pw201: default
Date:July 9th, 2007 03:38 pm (UTC)
7 hours after journal entry, 03:38 pm (pw201's time)
This reminds me of theferret's postings while I mentioned a while back (here and here). I also got into a discussion about related stuff on loos_company, here. As I said on loos_company, violence is such an escalation, and violence against women is so often taboo (even among men who might be violent to other men, I think) that I was shocked to learn that women genuinely feel they might be at risk of it for turning down a man "impolitely" (assuming the absence of other clues that this person might be violent).

Assuming that het women want the right men to approach them but don't want to make the approaches themselves (true on the whole, even now, I think), the women either tolerate a certain amount of noise to get the signal, or they change that arrangement. That's no excuse for male aggression or for the kind of schoolboy pigtail-pulling stuff that the Making Light woman got. Secondly, apparently some women reward persistence from total strangers even if they're initially cool towards them (I've never tried to pull anyone from a standing start, but I understand that people do it :-) So again, it's disappointing but not very surprising that some men persist (I guess I'm lawful good, because it wouldn't have occurred to me that this was an acceptable idea).

I believe this is the definitive work on whiny guys who think women owe them something, a category which seems to cover your dating site complainers. I wish someone had shown it to me when I was younger :-)
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leora: glen
Date:July 9th, 2007 08:32 pm (UTC)
12 hours after journal entry, 12:32 pm (leora's time)
I have often heard the idea that males shouldn't use violence against females and how taboo it is. However, my experiences as a female do not seem to demonstrate this actually to hold true often enough.
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beckyzoole: default
Date:July 9th, 2007 11:17 pm (UTC)
14 hours after journal entry, 05:17 pm (beckyzoole's time)
violence is such an escalation, and violence against women is so often taboo (even among men who might be violent to other men, I think) that I was shocked to learn that women genuinely feel they might be at risk of it for turning down a man "impolitely" (assuming the absence of other clues that this person might be violent)

Oh boy. It would be nice if violence against women was taboo. That's simply not the case, though.
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(no subject) - neonchameleon (7/10/07 09:32 am)
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(no subject) - neonchameleon (7/11/07 09:10 am)
(no subject) - syllopsium (7/10/07 09:55 am)
(no subject) - redbird (7/10/07 12:24 pm)
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