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*A psychological and sociological perspective on “Why Women Rarely make the First Move with Love.” In short, a rebuttal.
Firstly, this perspective is coming from someone who identifies as a heteronormative, male-bodied individual.
The topics I speak to are in reference to some of the normative traits of heterosexual dating culture. It is common practice for a man to ask a woman out; for a man to open the dialogue between himself and a woman.
Often, that man may be rejected. And what is he to do but try again (perhaps after spending some time licking his wounded heart). Is this—this trait of being the one who starts things off, and the ability to recover and move on afterward—a sign of a healthy ego?
That is not really a question one can answer, as the question itself is flawed.
First of all, what we call a “healthy ego” is a highly subjective concept. The ego, as it were, has numerous definitions. There is, in psychology alone, the psychodynamic ego, as well as the developmental ego. And do not even get me started with what the ego means in Buddhism (fun fact, there isn’t one).
So, instead of talking about healthy or unhealthy egos, let’s use clearer jargon.
As boys (who have been socialized to be heteronormative), we develop what is known as masculine identity structures. This development is part and parcel to how we will react with the world as we grow up (in essence, the ways we learn and are taught to develop our gender identities often dictate how we show up in the world). For a boy such as this, chances are they will have had either a father—or a father figure of some sort—with certain views of what it means to be “a man.”
Are they true or false? Not really. They are just what is considered normative.
Now, it is absolutely correct to say that men are expected to be decisive and outgoing (not to mention our culture has taught, for a long time, how men ought to act with women). So, from this perspective, yes, perhaps the man who starts conversations with women is in fact playing out a “healthy” version of what he was taught. Is it the best practice? That is not for me to say.
What I would like to touch on is a study in which middle school children were asked their greatest fear. By and large, the boys’ greatest fear was being embarrassed or ostracized by their peers. The girls’ greatest fear? Being physically assaulted.
This is an important point to take into account when we know that at least one in three women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. It is a nonstarter to say that women should know how to take care of themselves. To let a friend know where they are. To be careful who they invite into their homes. And so on and so forth.
If there were not so many instances of physical assault from men toward women, then women would not need to worry about such things. And yet, this is not the world we live in.
We also know from studies that men tend to react differently when they are around women, versus groups of other men. One study pointed out that college-aged men in fraternities more often showcased what we call hypermasculinity when around a group of their peers. What, pray tell, was it that men were so afraid of being seen as by other men? It was the fear of being seen as feminine.
It is important also to point out that common normative masculine identity structures happen to focus little on any actual definitions of what masculinity is. Too often, instead, masculinity is defined as what femininity is not. It has been said that masculine identity is not the raising up of masculinity, but rather the pushing down of femininity.
So by and large, men make the first move. And women have the comfort of saying either yes, or no. And yet, man’s only real danger in this scenario is that of emotional pain; of having to learn how to deal with rejection.
And this is not actually easy for most men, or anyone really. It hurts to be rejected—plain and simple. Yet it is a part of our lives. We will all be rejected in some way, at some point.
What we, for the most part, do not need to worry about is being physically attacked or hurt (which is not to say that it does not happen, only that there is a far smaller chance of it happening for us men). Being rejected, for the normative man, is in fact a seeming attack on these masculine identity structures we have learnt to build our personality around.
We have been led to believe that we are entitled somehow to get whatever it is we go after (often because we actually do tend to get those things). History tells us so. Our masculine figures growing up tell us so.
Sadly, this also tends to create quite a fragile phenomenon (what we call fragile masculine syndrome). We do not know how to deal with rejection (let alone being told that what we are doing is toxic). And when we are faced with the possibility that we have done something wrong (as in the case of toxic masculine practices around common dating culture), then what actually happens is that we feel as though our very identity structures are being attacked (which they are, and which I am not necessarily against the practice of).
It is no simple feat to begin deconstructing the very identities we were raised to understand ourselves through. This is an incredibly tedious journey, and one would probably benefit from having a psychotherapist to work with along the way. Interestingly, it is the direction we men are being asked to go toward more and more.
And it makes perfect sense that we would fight such a thing (both because we have been taught that we must fight to uphold our beliefs, and also because it feels like a direct attack on the underlying person we have spent all of our lives developing).
So yes, it may be a nice thought for a man to ask that women begin taking responsibility for their own agency as equals to us. For women to ask more men out, or to take the initiative in our current dating culture. But it is not up to any man to dictate the ways in which women ought to be going about any such thing.
It is not actually the man’s job to tell women how they should behave. What they are doing wrong. Doing so not only elicits the same behaviour that has created this concept of toxic masculinity in the first place, it also plays into what we call enlightened sexism—a term that came about when people in academia realized how most of the professors lauded and receiving acclaim in the field of feminist and gender studies had not necessarily done anything to earn such status apart from happening to be, well, men.
From this perspective, one has to wonder why I am writing this in the first place.
Change tends to begin with us. Ourselves. And it is far easier to ask a thing of someone else, rather than to ask ourselves of a thing.
If we men are unhappy with current ideas of how our normative masculine structures are being perceived, perhaps we ought to question why this phenomenon is taking hold, and not to so quickly condemn the women who are asking it of us.