#MeToo: The Plight of Women in the Game of Love
Last night I got dumped. By a guy I went out with for a week. Who said that I showed too much interest and it turned him off.
A few years ago I went out with a different guy who, after maybe 3 or 4 dates, told a mutual friend that I showed too much interest and he wanted to back off. His words were much less tactful. They went something like this:
“I’m a hunter, and the prey walked into camp and laid down on the fire.”
Lucky for me, I now know what it means to “see red”.
Let’s talk about love, particularly the role of a woman in the game of love. Our society is progressing more and more towards equality of the sexes in education, business, and politics. Yet for all this progress towards a more equal society, when it comes to love, our roles have not advanced beyond the Middle Ages.
Don’t believe me? How many guys out there immediately dismiss a woman if she asks him out first? How many guys like women who are smart but shy away from women who are educated? And let’s not forget our “hunters”.
Every bit of dating advice talks about how much men love “the chase”. We shrug our shoulders and call it “nature” and say that if a guy doesn’t have to work for it he won’t be committed to it. We tell women to take charge of their dating lives, but within the very narrow confines of “the game”. For all our talk of social evolution, the only thing that has changed in dating is the evolution from calling to texting. Darwin is probably rolling over in his grave.
Before you judge me for writing this in retaliation for being rejected, let me point out that this is a recurring pattern, not only in my own life but also in the lives of many of my friends. Women are so often left with no way to win when it comes to dating. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been accused of showing either too much interest or too little interest, both of which have subsequently been used as reasons to end the relationship, often before it ever began. I’ve also been told that I’m intimidating, a stigma only strengthened by my two graduate degrees and chosen career path.
What are women supposed to do when faced with these kinds of constraints?
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream (my favorite Shakespeare play), one of the heroines – Helena – chases the guy she loves – Demetrius – into the woods in an attempt to win his heart. As she pursues him into the woods, she tells him of her love for him and he pushes her away, angrily exclaiming,
I will not stay thy questions; let me go:
Or, if thou follow me, do not believe
But I shall do thee mischief in the wood.
(Act II, Scene I)
In despair, Helena cries:
Ay, in the temple, in the town, the field,
You do me mischief. Fie, Demetrius!
Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex:
We cannot fight for love, as men may do;
We should be wood and were not made to woo.
(Act II, Scene I)
I feel ya, Helena.
Calista Flockhart played the role of Helena in the 1999 Hollywood production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Coincidentally, Calista Flockhart gave another line in the CW show Supergirl (I know, don’t judge me) that highlights a similar theme. Speaking to Kara Danvers, Supergirl’s alter ego, Calista’s character says, “The thing that makes women strong is that we have the guts to be vulnerable.” (Season 2, Episode 22). Although that sentence gives me the courage to try, it seems sad to think that a woman’s strength comes from the trampled-on beatings of a vulnerable heart.
I probably wouldn’t have written this post if me being rejected was the only thing to discuss. It’s not really that important and I’ll move on just fine. But it just so happens that my being dumped occurred on the same day that the #MeToo movement was spreading across the internet. I spent the day reflecting on that movement and find myself troubled at the surprising similarity between the issues women face with sexual harassment as well as the struggles women face in dating.
As I’ve been reading stories of my friends who have experienced various forms of sexual harassment, the thing that stands out the most to me is not the number of men who act inappropriately aggressive towards women (although that is shocking and thoroughly disheartening), but rather the common theme that the women didn’t know what to do about it and therefore didn’t say anything at the time that it happened. Often, their reasons for silence amounted to feeling embarrassed, feeling at fault, or thinking that no one would believe them. In the case of Harvey Weinstein, it all came back to power. Unfortunately, I’ve been there too.
A few years ago, a man at my work who was much older than me began asking me out and making advances towards me. I told him no. Later, likely in retaliation for my rejecting him, he sent an email to the entire company, including my boss and those above him, blasting me and my management abilities. Luckily the company knew that his words were hollow accusations and stood behind me, but it still stung. As a result of the fallout from that email, I finally told our HR director what had happened and found out that I was not the only woman at the company on whom he had made advances. Perhaps if I had known I would have said something sooner, but at the time I didn’t know any better. I thought he was just a man being a man. Even though it made me uncomfortable, it didn’t even occur to me that it was wrong until much later. Because that’s just what men do when they’re interested in a girl, right?
Then there was the time that I was sitting on an airplane on the way to Texas for work. The much-older-man next to me started talking to me, which was fine until he wouldn’t stop talking to me and started leaning over my shoulder to “help me” with my crossword puzzle. Rather than make things more awkward, I decided to pretend to sleep, which worked fine until I woke up and found a gin and tonic on my tray table. I thanked him but said I didn’t drink. He took it back and then placed his hand on my knee. I think I made a joke and quickly brushed his hand aside. But I didn’t chew him out. I didn’t push the call button and ask to have his seat or my seat changed. I didn’t get up and go ask my coworker for help who was seated just a few rows back. I wanted to, but I also didn’t want to make a big deal about it. So instead, I felt embarrassed and a little afraid in my window seat and just went back to my pretend sleep until the flight was over.
All of this leads me to ask: How should women respond to the advances of a man? Should we act disinterested until some unknown threshold is reached? Should we not seek out advanced degrees or ambitious careers for fear that men will be too intimidated by our success? How do we avoid unwanted advances when we’re simultaneously told to look pretty but avoid wearing tight jeans? For too long women have been objectified as nothing more than Best Supporting Actress in the tale of humankind.
At what point do we get to stand up for ourselves and actively participate in this story?
I realize that many good men out there are wondering what they can do and how they should act in the midst of these new constraints. I applaud their efforts and respond by saying, welcome to our world.
I am not angry at the guy who rejected me (although I know it probably sounds otherwise). Rejection happens. It’s part of life and part of dating, and he really is a genuinely good guy. I can’t fault him for not being interested. People console me by saying that finding the right one makes all the pain of previous rejection worthwhile. In my head I think, well it darn well better; otherwise there is no point to this masochism. No – I don’t blame the guy, and I suppose I shouldn’t really blame myself for being open to it either. It’s part of life, and we all move on.
I do, however, blame the game, and the men who think they can manipulate the game. I’m left wondering: what are the Helenas of the world supposed to do when it comes to the game of love? Are we forever doomed to be conquests of nature, or is there room for us to be equal partners in our relationships as well as in other areas of our lives? Are we always going to be subject to the advances of testosterone-driven men, or
do we get to come to the table in the fight for our own dignity?
Perhaps right now I am just cynical. But when it comes to these questions, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.