I recently signed up to one of these trendy dating apps, thinking it would enable me to meet people I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise; amongst the reasons for my liking the idea of online dating are the fact that it’s easy to hook up, we both know we are attracted to each other (if the pictures are accurate enough…), we have been clear on what we’re looking for and last but not least: you meet people beyond your usual circles of friends and acquaintances, socio-cultural categories and work- or studies-related circles. But, naively enough, I did not expect to read the kind of messages I received…
Most men met were sweet, we had a good time. But in the days following our first date, I started receiving messages asking to see each other again. When I declined politely, saying I had things to do or people to see, they promptly got annoyingly insistent: “come on”, “just for an hour”, “just for a kiss”, etc. With one, I exchanged several messages repeating I did not want to see him. He kept insisting.
Him: Can we see each other tonight?
Me: I’m not the only pretty girl around you know? / No, I’m having dinner with some friends.
Him: After your dinner. / I liked what we have together. / We can see each other just to have a chat. / Even if the sex was great too. / I like to speak with you
Me: Haha sure but I still need to pack my bag and all!! I promise we’ll see each other again in December.
Him: It’s so far away
Him: Come see me at my work / Tonight / I can come give you a kiss / Tonight / Around 2 am
Me: Gee! You guys have troubles taking “no” for an answer, don’t you?
Him: That’s true
Me: Glad you acknowledge it :-S
Another time, I was supposed to go on a date the day the terrorist attacks in Paris broke (Friday 13th November). I sent a message to cancel our appointment, but far from understanding, he insisted: “Come on, it’s not in the same neighbourhood”, “I’ll come pick you up” (note how brave and protective this offer of being my human shield is), “you can sleep at my place”… Because I did not really rejoice at the idea of finding myself in the middle of another terrorist attack that night, I declined and we postponed to Sunday – in spite of his machismo having turned me off already.
But the following Sunday evening, there was a rumour of my neighbourhood being under threat again. I sent a message saying I would not go out that night, because of the situation being too risky. Again, he insisted. I got angry and told him I did not want to date someone who ignored a woman’s will so blatantly.
At this stage, I could ask myself if I would have reacted the same way if a female friend of mine was being pushy. Probably not! Perhaps because my initial assumption is that of a power difference, that an insistent man is a potential threat. But by being offended by his persistence, am I not acknowledging that I might have less power? Why is it that a woman being insistent to a female friend or to a man is just annoying, while a man being insistent towards a woman is maybe harassment, or at least offending?
These two episodes made me reflect about consent. I recently had come across Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess’ metaphor for consent as serving someone a cup of tea. I thought it was a brilliant parallel to make, yet I believe consent – if one wants to investigate the notion further – is far more complex. I came to acknowledge this over the last two weeks, thanks to the thoughts my online dating experiences triggered.
On this app, one man approached me with the following catch phrase:
Aside from denoting an insecurity – be it genuine or strategic, i.e. to inspire pity – this self-depreciation (the objective of which was humour) implied that his author’s tactics are to approach women if they are drunk, thus being easier to seduce than if they are in full possession of their reason and will. Far from having the expected comic effect, it provoked the feminist in me and made me decide to not ignore these kind of remarks, like most of us, women, do when we get them in real life (to avoid confrontation; which happened with him: he became aggressive).
This brought me to wonder: is consent a definite yes or no? It seems to me that very often, where there is hesitation or uncertainty, consent can be forced upon us by others. If you are not so sure about something, or don’t really care enough to oppose it, you can be almost sure the other person’s will will prevail on yours.
And even though you might not regret it afterwards, or even be satisfied by the way things turned out, you must be aware that a power dynamic took place and that you gave in. The problem I see with this is twofold. Firstly, it sends the message to your partner that he can exercise his will over yours, and that he just needs to try hard enough to obtain what he wants. Secondly, women are in most cultures raised to believe they have to constantly please others.
As a woman, you have to be pleasant to listen to, look at, interact with. You should not be perceived as aggressive, impolite, or too self-confident. The say that “boys will be boys” (which echoes the “what did you expect” some people gave me when I expressed surprise to these behaviours) also implies a validation of a boy/man’s behaviour as doing as pleases him, because it is his full right to exercise his will freely. It is one of the defining elements of his masculinity. Those of women are to know their place and obey – be it her parents’ authority, a man’s or social rules of discipline and decency.
This brings me to evoke something else that caught my attention during my time on this dating app. The logics of consent we may have in mind – i.e. yes means I like you, no means I don’t – may be superseded by another logic: that of benefit.
This is probably enabled by the fact that for some men, the boundary is not always clear between a woman who is sexually liberated and a prostitute. Hence another stranger approaching me with a blunt: “Hi are you interested in 200€?” With all due respect to prostitutes, nothing in my pictures suggested I was there to earn money. None showed my body, none was a nude nor even half a nude, none called upon looks or postures evoking sensuality or aimed at being sexy. I have two possible interpretations of this.
One is that perhaps this man thought his only chance of having sex with me was to offer money in exchange. Money was to compensate his unattractive looks and restore a balance of benefits: he benefits, I benefit – only on different grounds.
But then another explanation can be put forward, and my question goes to the men out there: do women sometimes send you such offers? There is a culture of commodification where men are brought to believe that they can buy what they cannot have “naturally”, which is less the case for women.
This man addressing me as if I were a prostitute could be an attempt at dominating me and taking control of my freedom (by the domination of the assumed need for cash) because I have trespassed the limits of what is socially acceptable for a woman, i.e. taking control of my own sexuality. It sends out the message: “you can belong to me because you belong to no one else, and that you cannot belong to yourself.” Just like men getting angry when you turn down their propositions, because if you “belong” to no men, you are available, and thus available to them.
Perhaps is there also behind the question of who is active and who is acted upon the remnant of a more “classic” scheme of seduction: that of a man who conquers and of a woman who is conquered. Thus, most men felt compelled to approach me in spite of my introductory text indicating that “if I like you, I will have approached you”.
There is a game of seduction old by a few centuries of women having to say “no” even if they desire their suitor, just to make him more eager, and make men believe that the prize (you) is worth a challenging conquest, a fight, something in which they’ll have to win your spurs. Yet times have changed, and I think most women (in Europe at least) do not like to consider themselves as a Holy Grail to be granted to the most valiant knight.
But this artificial game of seduction, that links us so closely to the animal kingdom (think of the courtship dances), is not the core of the issue. Its potential implications are more worrying, to me.
Indeed, if you say “yes”, some will think you’re an “easy catch” (and that’s not a good thing); and if you hit on them, they’ll think you’re too eager – and perhaps even a prostitute: “are you a professional?…” asked a guy when I took out of my bag a condom, while he also had one in his pocket, but it didn’t occur to him that he might be a prostitute… Another guy I approached answered this (warning: explicit content):
There is thus definitely a discrepancy between two people of whom one has this longstanding pattern engraved in their mind and the other just follows his/her desires, with no such constraints. Hence the possible qui pro quos.
And lastly, I can’t resist sharing with you this other nugget. The call to order I evoked earlier doesn’t necessarily translate in such unappropriate messages; it sometimes comes in the form of the taste of loukoum – i.e. far too sweet (perhaps humouristic) romanticism:
But I realize how ungrateful I am to a man whose intentions were good: those of rescuing me from an arena of hungry animals, lost as I seemed to be in this jungle of predators, defenceless and innocent, by offering me to have a single protector and owner (yes, I am being ironic)… Aah, will feminists ever learn to behave properly and find themselves a husband?
PS: Proportionately, most of the men (and women, but the behaviour is just completely different to be mentioned here) were very sweet (not loukoum-sweet!). Some were respectful enough to simply accept “no” for an answer – which proves there still is hope!
Him: Crumbs! No answer from you…
Me: Okay I’ll answer you because you seem like a nice guy. Unfortunately I’m not in Paris any longer and not interested. But you look undeniably handsome and you seem like a delightful person so I have no doubt you will seduce many girls here! Have a good evening, cheers
Him: That’s nice. 🙂 It’s always nice to get an answer, even if negative. 🙂 Have a good evening
Mandi is a 41 year old single gal in Arizona. Never married, she’s been on the dating treadmill for 17 years. She’s dated all different types of guys, come close to marriage twice. Often besieged by friends for dating advice, she enjoys the opportunity to share what she’s learned from personal experience and watching her friends through romance ups and downs.