Tags

Recently, someone I know shared an article with the following title:

11 Differences Between Dating a Girl and a Woman

The post has gotten a lot of traction — so much so that The Huffington Post even reposted it. Naturally, I was skeptical of it and the related “11 Differences Between Dating a Boy and a Man,” both by Amy Chan. But I generally like and respect the person who posted it, so I took the bait.

Without reading either article, I can tell you there’s only one difference between dating girls/boys and women/men:

One is a felony, the other involves actual capacity to consent. Problem solved!

Real talk, though, I actually read both pieces. By the power vested in me as a special bisexual lady who has dated both men and women, I declare this to be mostly a load of heteronormative, gender essentialist horseshit.

But don’t take my word for it. Let’s break this down, starting with their intro pictures, shall we?

Ladies and Gentlemen

Real women pose in lingerie. Real men suit up. AMIRITE, LADIES?

Obviously, this is a nuanced work of feminist genius.

The piece has a decent enough premise: dating and relationships are different as people grow and mature. I wasn’t necesarily going to fault her for the heteronormativity: she’s a relationship columnist who writes for a heterosexual audience. There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing that. The author even added that “the post can have the genders swapped and most points would still apply,” so it can’t be sexist, right?

WRONG, because the author follows up that wishy-washy disclaimer with “[h]owever, we can’t deny that there are some fundamental differences between men and women – from how we are socialized to the chemical and hormonal differences that naturally occur.” I’ll give her the socialization point: we’ve talked time and time again about how women are socialized differently from men in pretty much every aspect of life, but especially dating. Nevertheless, “chemical and hormonal differences that occur” as a basis for how we interact in dating situations? That sounds dangerously close to an evolutionary psychology argument and y’all know we can’t STAND evolutionary psychology.

Moving on to her general points, we have four categories: girls, boys, women, and men. Let’s take a look:

Girl

Woman

  1. Insecure
  2. Throws tantrums
  3. Lacks independence, relies on a man for financial security
  4. Lacks self-respect, they care more about handbags and diamonds than about their bodies
  5. Suffers from “Princess Syndrome:” defined as “[s]he is entitled and feels that she is owed and therefore expects more than she appreciates.”
  6. Lacks strong values or boundaries
  7. Needy: “wants attention…to be adored by many,” leaves you feeling exhausted because “she takes more than she gives”
  8. Uses their physical beauty as currency
  9. Allergic to all things “domestic”
  10. Competes with other women and tears them down in pursuit of a career/mate.
  11. Plays games
  1. Confident, self-assured
  2. Has emotions*, but responds instead of reacts
  3. Financially independent
  4. Respects themselves and their bodies**
  5. “A woman has standards (what she holds herself to) not expectations (what she projects on to others).”
  6. Has taken the time to cultivate their values and understand what they want
  7. Knows their best assets are their health, their talents, and sense of self.
  8. Virtuous, empowers others: “wants respect, to be adored by one.” “After spending time with a woman, you feel invigorated, because she empowers you with possibility, and a passion for life.”
  9. Knows that someone needs to do the domestic work, and that it’s a super cool way to take care of yourself and others.
  10. Helps other women grow and succeed.
  11. Doesn’t play games

*Oh, thank goodness!
**Is this code for sleeping around? I think it’s code for sleeping around.

While Chan claims the points can easily be gender-swapped, much of her argument against “girls” hinges on common tropes used to describe women and girls, as opposed to general statements about maturity. For example, “girls” may see their beauty as social currency because that’s generally what they’re taught to do. Men and boys, on the other hand, are taught early on that they have much more to offer than just their physical attractiveness. Saying that “girls” are catty, competitive individuals feeds into the idea that women are naturally catty, and they must evolve in order to stop being so. When boys and men compete, they have valid reasons for doing so. The idea that real women respond instead of react, avoid expressing their emotions, and consistently empower others smacks strongly of the Strong Female Protagonist and the intense desire for women to just CALM DOWN ALREADY.

Regarding Princess Syndrome, telling women that they can only have personal standards, not expectations is a dangerous slippery slope. There are, in fact, basic things that every person can expect from a relationship, including consent, respect, honesty, trust, fairness, equality, and good communication. Most of all, every person can expect to have the right to express their needs and have them be respectfully considered. That’s not being a princess, that’s understanding what a healthy relationship is. Telling someone that grown-ups see those are merely standards to aspire towards puts people in the position where they’re forced to question whether they’re being too “needy” when one of their needs doesn’t get met.

Chan’s men/boys article, on the other hand, can be gender-swapped much more easily:

Boys/Immature Humans

Men/Mature Humans

  1. Don’t know what they want
  2. Look for superficial characteristics in partners
  3. Live in the moment
  4. Avoid emotions because they’re scary
  5. Commitment phobic
  6. Passive
  7. Afraid of rejection
  8. Just want to party every weekend
  9. Lack a moral compass or a vision for their life
  10. Never follow through on their promises.
  11. Play games.
  1.  Know what they want and how to get it.
  2. Look beyond beauty and status  for personality and other, more reliable indicators of compatability
  3. Plan for the future, are building towards a future with a family
  4. Don’t shy away from uncomfortable conversations
  5. Aren’t afraid to commit to someone special
  6. Assertive.
  7. Recognize fear of rejection but willing to put themselves out there anyway
  8. Understand work/life balance: can be social while still making advancements in their career
  9. Have strong values, understand their purpose
  10. Have integrity, always follow through.
  11. Don’t play games.

Not ONE mention of domestic work for the menfolk. All points start from the perspective of the “man,” whereas the previous piece starts from the perspective of the “girl.” Pretty much everything is easily swapped across the board. In my experiences with friends, lovers, and partners of all genders, the second piece is fairly true to the experience of growing up. When you’re young, just starting out in your career and new to dating, maybe you are more excited about ephemeral attachments. Maybe you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for. As you get older, you figure out more what relationship structures (monogamy! polyamory! some combination therein!) work for you, and you start to learn what you need in order to achieve those outcomes in your life. I’m pretty sure lots of people can relate to that experience, regardless of their gender, orientation, or relationship structure.

Why then, does the advice about boys/men get to be so even-handed while the insights on women (a gender identification shared by the author) rely on overused stereotypes?

Oh yeah, sexism.

To be sure, some of this could come from the fact that Chan, as a straight woman, has presumably only ever dated men. As a result, the only way for her to discuss women is to fall back on gender stereotypes and her experiences with the “girls” she sees as competitors for the scarce, worthy “men” out there. Of course, we can’t know this definitively, but it would make sense. Also, it appears that Chan has a lot of subconscious bias to contend with, which is hard to recognize within yourself.

I understand that Chan’s advice comes from a good place; her lived reality has informed her feelings on dating and wants to let that experience help others. In her men/boys post, she talks about her personal journey towards feeling more confident, self-assured woman, and how she started to look for different things in relationships. Gurl, I’m super happy for you. Self-discovery and self-actualization is AWESOME.  However, the truly fantastic thing about growing up is that your experiences are your own not a launching point for making universalizing, reductionist statements about the experiences of ALL (cisgendered heterosexual) PEOPLE EVER.

2013-10-07-Interpretation

Source: Robot Hugs. Literally the best ever.

If you want to share your experiences, by all means please do so. But make sure it’s coming from an authentic place: what you’ve learned from being a human in the dating world, not an expert whose advice can be applied across the board. Don’t bash your own gender in the process either. Talk about what it’s like to grow and mature and how your wishes might change instead of creating imaginary, gender-based hurdles for people to jump over. By constantly pretending like you have the magic formula to decode people of X gender, you’re feeding into gender essentialist ideas that don’t result in anything except for bad communication. In the end, that just makes it harder for everyone to date, no matter who your partner(s) might be.

Advertisements