This conversation really happened to me on a dating site, to me. I’ve changed some details, of course.
I’m sharing it partially because my amour says it shows exactly who I am, but also because it really demonstrates what I was talking about yesterday, and how the damage that our society does in communicating between people of different genders. And it also – though my amour didn’t comment on it – illustrates where I screwed up and let my privilege show.
While browsing, I saw a dating profile that looked compatible, and where we had enough things in common that they seemed like a cool person that I’d want to talk to. (I’ve started more than a few friendships on dating sites.) Unfortunately, the last line of their profile was “nobody over forty”. So I sent this message:
Damn, that’s a pity – missed that age cutoff by a year or two. Though I’ve noticed my own age range has been SIGNIFICANTLY broadened since I started doing this a few years ago, I totally get what you’re saying. I wouldn’t be UPSET if you made an exception, but I’m mostly sending this as a virtual handwave to a fellow [person with the same interest].
Note the last line there. Sure, I would’ve been glad if she’d said “Ooh, I’ll make an exception for you,” but my last line was utterly serious. I was trying to be friendly… but I didn’t come across that way. More than likely, that was because my privilege was showing, and I messaged her even though she’d said “nobody over forty”.
Her response was… well, here it is (again, lightly edited):
Funny, online dating has made me pull my age standards closer to my own because so many dudes in your age range are entitled **** heads who don’t respect me due to my age, my proclivity for many partners, my feminism, the way I talk, whatever bullshit they decide makes me less than their morally and intellectually superior selves.
I guess she expected me to be angry or upset in response. I don’t know. But after a moment of bruised ego-ness, I realized she was… well, right. And if you’re like me, and want to change the culture, you take responsibility for that change. So here was my reply (again, lightly edited):
Totally understandable, and sadly, a reflection of the role the patriarchy in our lives. For what it’s worth, I apologize for the entitled **** heads (e.g like, all men) and hope that you are actualizing the HELL out of however many partners you want to have, your feminism, the way you talk, and all that stuff that makes you a special and unique person instead of some cookie cutter idiot idea of what a person of your gender is supposed to be. You go, girl, and there’s not a hint of sarcasm in any of this! You have just made my day. 🙂 I am pleased to have made your acquaintance.
And because I realized that I’d screwed up, I haven’t contacted her since.
I’m not posting this here for kudos, or to shame the woman who has had to endure so many awful experiences that led to her reaction. Remember, I was in the wrong for contacting her in the first place, no matter how friendly I was.
Because I knew I was wrong – and because so many others had clearly wronged her in the past – I praised all the things she said she was shamed for (and honestly so), and took responsibility for all the craptastic jerks she’s encountered in the past. I lauded her forthrightness and honesty, even if it made me uncomfortable.
Women do not exist to make men comfortable. It is not the responsibility of a woman to make a random man feel okay.
But to battle the existing gendered power differential, it is the responsibility of men to encourage and support women who speak freely, honestly, and openly.
Especially when it makes men – any man – uncomfortable.