So that’s why men (and women) are afraid of me

Anytime you claim that men find you intimidating or “scary”, it generates debate. In a world where men are taught to look to women for support, not competition, some men do find a woman intimidating if she shows her intelligence or demonstrates self-sufficiency. The counter usually boils down to, “Just because you’re smart/self-sufficient doesn’t mean that’s why they reject you/ignore you. Maybe they do it because you’re just not nice.”

The problem with that argument is that niceness is required of women and looked down upon in men. We’re told “nice guys finish last.” We may like how nice they are, but they don’t get the promotions, the hot dates, the hard work from their employees, etc. (or so we’re conditioned to think). Conversely, when women are as authoritative, fair but unsympathetic, and aggressive as men are congratulated on being, we often get labeled “bitch.”

Katems at Feministing talks about having mixed feelings because men fear her.

Apparently my landlord, the man of the couple that lives next door, my husband’s mother and brother and everyone else I’ve ever told off have all confided in my husband that they are afraid of me. Both of us find this pretty hilarious considering that I’m barely 5’3 and around 100 lbs. I asked my husband what exactly scares people when I call them out on being ass-holes. He says it’s a combination of my intensity and the fact that I sugarcoat nothing and have a habit off cutting people to the core with my words.

That’s me. I read a lot of stories in which women describe harassment and the feeling of being scared and not knowing what to do, or thinking of some great comeback minutes after the event is over. My response is quite different: my adrenaline surges, I zone in quickly on that person’s insecurities, my vision goes a little hazy, and I want to physically hurt the person. I have to restrain that urge and redirect my energy into a verbal barb or a gesture that lets them know to back off.

For example: if a man tries to touch me in a remotely inappropriate way, I’ll try to edge away politely if the situation permits. If he’s insistent, I am 100% fully entitled to hit him. And I have done it. It stuns people, but to their credit I must say no one has ever criticized me for it. Several men have even congratulated me, and I’m not talking feminist ally types: I’m talking about men from all walks of life who simply don’t think women should be bullied.

This isn’t limited to men or sexual harassment. When AT&T tried to screw me over recently, I called them on every line of bullshit they shoveled my way until they realized they hadn’t a leg to stand on. When a medical billing company tried to charge me for something they weren’t supposed to and on top of that made it nearly impossible for me to reach anyone, I gave them hell to the point that the supervisor called my doctor, realized I was right and called me back, sounding scared. I am very forgiving of mistakes – we all make them. I also restrain myself when dealing with the people who aren’t responsible but get used as human shielding for those who are (i.e., customer service reps). But I just cannot tolerate bullshit, not even when it would be to my advantage to tolerate it for the moment. And even when I avoid being overly sarcastic or using my more colorful vocabulary, there’s a tone in my voice that says, “Nobody’s going home until either I’m satisfied with the outcome or you’re bleeding.”

If at this point you think I sound like a ranting bitch… I feel sorry for you. Get out more – you might just meet some people (not just women) who can be firm and unyielding without being mean or demeaning. It happens.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if a man who tolerates as little bullshit as I do would not also be considered “intimidating.” While men are conditioned to tolerate less crap than women, I think most people are uncomfortable enough with confrontation to prefer letting slights slide. I’m uncomfortable with confrontation, too, but for me the confrontation begins when someone bullies me, not when I choose not to let it slide, and since I’m already in I might as well kick some ass.


  1. says

    Jennifer, I have long argued that this is why, in the horseback riding community, that there is this stereotype that “mares are meaners.” I came in as an adult beginner, not having spent much time around actual horses (as opposed to reading books, magazines, etc) but *having* spent a lot of time around other domestic animals. I didn’t see ANY difference across the board – in fact, at the stables where I studied, where the girls were all nodding and sagely saying that “mares are just meaner” the meanest, most terrifying horses on the place were all geldings. Not all the geldings were aggressive and belligerent – this was a tiny subset of the remuda – but the ones that were? Like badly-socialized, spoiled dogs – only ones that weighed a thousand pounds or thereabouts. Yeah, fun. Not.

    And yet, “Oh, that’s just Red,” or “That’s just Tutaka,” or “That’s just Romeo” – the geldings were all regarded as individual animals, and not as representatives of their albeit-truncated maleness; but when Windy or Jill or Lady acted up? OMG, there was *proof* that “mares are just meaner!”

    I came to the conclusion very quickly that they were seeing what they expected to see – and eventually, that part of the problem was that they were imposing this cultural expectation that Female = Sugar/Spice/Everything Nice no matter what the species (hey, just look at Disney movies! The females are ALWAYS sweeter and gentler and nurturing/caring/loving!) and when the mares in the stable acted just like horses (or, rather, like ALL social animals under various stresses) this violated that baseline assumption that females should always be sweet and obedient and docile, and instead they were being *bitchy* – because even though aggression is simultaneously gendered as normal for males, it’s also accepted, inconsistently & incoherently, as bad and badness is gendered as inherently female, sigh…

  2. MaggieCat says

    I asked my husband what exactly scares people when I call them out on being ass-holes. He says it’s a combination of my intensity and the fact that I sugarcoat nothing and have a habit off cutting people to the core with my words.

    That’s me. I read a lot of stories in which women describe harassment and the feeling of being scared and not knowing what to do, or thinking of some great comeback minutes after the event is over. My response is quite different: my adrenaline surges, I zone in quickly on that person’s insecurities, my vision goes a little hazy, and I want to physically hurt the person. I have to restrain that urge and redirect my energy into a verbal barb or a gesture that lets them know to back off.

    This is very similar to my reaction. (And the reason suggested by Katems’ husband is almost verbatim what I heard from my mother last year when I expressed surprise that someone I’d met like, twice was reportedly scared of me.)

    What makes it so weird (and why it’s taken so long to sink in despite the first occasion where someone told me they’d been scared of me when they first met me being over a decade ago) is that I’m a complete introvert in social situations. To the point of an actual phobia of large groups of people I don’t know. But if someone tries to take advantage or bully me or someone I care about, some switch gets thrown in my head because I don’t play defensive. I’m not going to start the confrontation, but I never really learned the meaning of the word “retreat”.

    It’s the same everywhere, but I’ve just had the most opportunity to meet a wide selection of bullies in the medical profession. Yeah, you’re a doctor and you studied this disease for a few years. Whoo hoo. I’ve lived it for 15, and I know how to work textbooks too. I look younger than I am, and in a vulnerable position by default, but that does not make them The Boss Of Me and many of them have a problem with people pointing that out. Unsurprisingly, the really good ones? Usually don’t have that problem.

    Because arrogance and a need to completely shut down any strong personality that doesn’t agree with you absolutely is indicative of your insecurity, not your awesomeness.

  3. MaggieCat says

    I have long argued that this is why, in the horseback riding community, that there is this stereotype that “mares are meaner.”

    Really? I spent years riding and I never heard anything like that. (I hope that doesn’t sound dismissive, just my experience.) Maybe it had something to do with my age– I started as a child and continued into my teens until health problems made me stop– or maybe it’s because the two sweetest horses there were a mare and a gelding and the two most difficult were both geldings. One was just boarded there so I didn’t know him well but he’d been badly trained and regularly tossed his rider off for months when she got him, the other was my Showoff, who was just extremely intelligent and too stubborn to take orders from someone who couldn’t give him a good reason. (You can probably see why he ended up my favorite. I can respect someone who makes you earn their respect before they like you.) Or I was lucky. I always rode at the same stable, and everyone there treated the horses like co-workers or family, not animals. Refusing to alter your behavior to the horse’s personality was the quickest way to get booted out the door.

    Ahem. Not a horse discussion, and I’ve completely forgotten what my original point was. However, I do think that interaction with such large animals might be helpful for some people; it makes the point pretty clear that you should be nice but you still need to be respected. If the horse knows you don’t mean it when you tell him/her to do something you’ll spend most of your time meandering through the field with good snacks rather than getting where you want to go, but being mean doesn’t get you far either. I’ve seen it happen both ways: people who can’t get into the ring until all the clover’s gone, and people who are surprised their horse took the opportunity to scrape them out of the saddle with that low hanging tree branch.

  4. Firebird says

    I really really hate confrontations, and do my best to shorten them as quickly as possible – which means I tend to be a pacifist and let people get away with things as long as its not too terribly important to me. But what I thought was interesting is that if you do push me to where I don’t feel like I can let it go or safely walk away or there’s nowhere left to dissemble verbally, and you do force the confrontation, I have something similar to what Jen described. Everything goes clear and still inside my head and a little wavery on the vision, and my voice goes cold and quiet and I think even more clearly and quickly than usual, and I almost never leave wishing I could have thought of something to say.

    Interestingly, I also almost never want to hurt anyone, and so my wit is usually devoted to proving myself right, and finding a way to convince the other person, or to extricate myself from the situation. So I guess people are still not afraid of me – even if they make me mad all I’ll do is show them why I’m right and then gracefully leave and never mention it again! LOL

    Of course, customer service on the phone at work has led to unrelenting confrontations all day long, with what I consider as a positive result of teaching me how to say no, no, hell no, and make the person think I really listened and made it all make sense. Most of the time. I pity anyone who tries to force me to do anything now. 😉

  5. LC says

    My response is quite different: my adrenaline surges, I zone in quickly on that person’s insecurities, my vision goes a little hazy, and I want to physically hurt the person. […] “Nobody’s going home until either I’m satisfied with the outcome or you’re bleeding.”

    And see, that attitude I find scary – in men and women. I know you say that you only unleash this when you have already been slighted and it is all their fault anyway, but I have strong doubts about anyone being right all the time. After all, I know more than one man who has decided that the reason they *had* to hurt that person was that the other person had insulted/crossed the line/brought it on themselves.

    The more I think about it, the more I wonder if a man who tolerates as little bullshit as I do would not also be considered “intimidating.”

    Yes, absolutely. Because almost everyone has different scales of what is an affront warranting escalation, and someone who escalates (which is what you are making it sound like you do) will make people worry about setting them off.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    @Bellatrys, I once knew a gelding named Red who was very temperamental, LOL! I think you’re right that people see what they expect. We’re all trained to overlook/overemphasize one set of traits in males and the opposite set in females.

    @Maggie: “I never really learned the meaning of the word “retreat”.” Yep, that’s me in a nutshell.

    @Firebird, I get cold and quiet, too. The way you can tell you’ve enraged me to the point we’re not going to be speaking much longer is when I’m seem exceedingly calm.

    @LC, you *really* need to re-read. I NEVER unleash that and I do not “escalate.” Right after the first chunk you quoted I said, “I have to restrain that urge and redirect my energy into a verbal barb or a gesture that lets them know to back off.” Restrain = not unleashing it. My point was that my INSTINCT is quite different from that of most women and/or people. My instinct is fight, not flight, and I find it curious that most people lean one way and a few lean the other.

    But I am responsible for my instincts, so I’ve honed my control over them. And you’d be amazed what sort of stuff doesn’t upset me – my tolerance for human foibles is high. I just don’t tolerate being pushed around, because I’ve found that just one person standing up to a bully can make a difference.

  7. LC says

    @Jennifer Kesler

    I did read. I understand you say that you resist those instincts. But you do admit your instinct when pushed is to look for ways to hurt people. I suspect that was hyperbole to some extent. You asked why people might find you scary, and whether a man who acted the same way would be found scary.

    I think you not letting yourself be pushed around is a good thing. Standing up to bullies is a good thing. Not taking shit is a good thing. But you don’t have to go looking for blood to not take shit, and I think the fact that you are resisting your instinct to hurt these people might be why people find you scary.

    Now, I think it entirely possible people find you scary just because you are a woman who stands up for herself. I have a friend who has given herself the tag line “unintentionally intimidating” because she is a quiet, focused, fiercely intelligent person and this seems to intimidate all kinds of people.

  8. LC says

    Same with people– snarl and bluster all you like, but it’s not going to intimidate me when I’m not in the wrong.

    And I’ve got nothing but respect for that, actually.

  9. MaggieCat says

    My point was that my INSTINCT is quite different from that of most women and/or people. My instinct is fight, not flight, and I find it curious that most people lean one way and a few lean the other.

    Yep. Just because I might want to kill someone it doesn’t mean I’d ever do anything of the sort, I’ve struck exactly one person in anger in my entire life, and I wasn’t the one who first made that a physical interaction. I avoid confrontation if there’s a way it’s do-able, because I *know* if it gets to a certain point, I will say something very hurtful because I know how hurtful it is. But barring extreme circumstance my instinct isn’t going to be to run or acquiesce, and I think people pick up on that.

    It’s like, last year I was out walking a dog when another dog came charging across the street snarling and snapping at him, and to me the only obvious choice was to jump in between them to protect him (because he doesn’t have an aggressive bone in his body, but he’s a pit bull mix and would get blamed because he’s twice as big) and when I was telling this story to other people, a couple mentioned how scary it must have been. But I was just pissed, having been fully prepared to punt the hellhound AND his awful owner across the road if that thing tried to bite one of us and was told “You know that’s not normal, right?” I didn’t, I waited until it was taken inside and left and made the appropriate complaints about an unleashed aggressive dog, but ‘scared’ wasn’t where my brain went at all and apparently that’s weird to some people.

    Same with people– snarl and bluster all you like, but it’s not going to intimidate me when I’m not in the wrong.

  10. Jennifer Kesler says

    But you do admit your instinct when pushed is to look for ways to hurt people. I suspect that was hyperbole to some extent.

    No, LC, not hyperbole. Just an inappropriate response left over from an abusive childhood in which I *did* have to go looking for blood to avoid taking shit – the only thing that would get my father to stand down before he escalated was a verbal barb in the style of his abusive mother (really sick family, I know, yes). Adults who were abused children typically have a range of “inappropriate responses” because instead of learning the social skills that work on decent people, we learned the social skills that work on psychos. That’s just an unfortunate reality of being an abused child, and one of our crosses to bear is the need to self-monitor the tendency to infer abuse where there is none, or assume a healthy relationship wherever abuse isn’t present.

    It’s been a lot of years – well over 10 – since I said anything particularly cruel to anyone. I’ve never hit anyone in my life except for my father. So the tendencies are well under control – I can’t even remember the last time I yelled at someone.

    But what I’m asking in the article is basically this: can people sense that when I refuse to take shit, it’s not a conditioned response but rather my gut instinct, my first thought? And does it scare them to detect that instinct in a woman whereas they would respect it in a man, because in a woman it seems misplaced (or so we’ve been taught to think)?

  11. says

    I am also ‘intimidating’ to others. Yes, even without my glasses. Jennifer, you are absolutely right: most people *are* scared of women who do not sugarboat things. I call people out on their sexism, racism, and I get what I want or need — most of the time. And it also intimidates them that I am a WOC.

  12. Patsyjane says

    Love it! Love it! Love it!

    I’m 51 and have been able to “create” fear in others, most of my life, with just a look. “The look” my family call it.

    Many many times I have felt terribly ashamed and infeminine for having this ability as I rarely see other women able to excercise “back off” so efficiently.

    Reading this today has made me feel enormously better about this skill and more understanding of how and why I am graced with it, indeed what an incredible bonus it is.

    Having this skill has allowed me to successfully act as a licensed publican in a very gang orientated hotel, manage 70 children per day in an afterschool program, stop my pediphile father from further abuse even into my thirties, stop an ex-husband from attacking me or my children when he became violent with rage, sail single-handed for two years fulltime with two small children and exhilerate in the challenges.

    You may wonder why I add the last one. Well it’s the personal characteristics that back up this “look” that give it such weight.

    I am a hugely capable, intelligent, resourceful, considered, thoughtful, woman. And today, for the first time, I don’t mind being any of those things.

    All my life I have felt I need to apologise and downplay that side of myself in order to be feminine. Now I see otherwise.

    What a rollercoaster it has been to gain some self control over all of those things and to only apply “the sledge hammer” when it was needed.

    I now know that others fear my capabilities because these makes them feel less about themselves. It has nothing to do with me. This is actually the first time I have ever spoken about myself this way. I usually defer to others because I know it gives them space to grow.

    There is much power in love and kindness, generosity, gentleness, forbearance and all good things.

    It is wonderful to have that but also have the ability to standup to those who would crush me or others in their pursuit of wrong.

    Unfortunately the very challenge I offer, by being myself, to others causes them to confront themselves. A most difficult task for the irresponsible.

    I thank God that he is my maker and perfecter and I can rest in the knowledge that he created me.

    Wooohoooooo…Go God! He doesn’t make junk!!

    If you have come this far …I salute you..:-)))

  13. Jennifer Kesler says

    Joy-Mari Cloete, yes, and I think people are even more afraid of assertive women of color than assertive white women. It’s like the more submissive they assume you should be because of your place on the social ladder, the more frightening it is when you exhibit a sense of entitlement. Even if all you feel entitled to is basic dignity and general respect! What a sad world we live in, when you think about it that way.

    PatsyJane, some people seem to believe a woman is supposed to AVOID mistreatment, not stand up for herself when it happens. I don’t care how “smart” you are, or what great “relationship choices” you make, unless you live under a rock, you are going to encounter personalities ranging from disrespectful to abusive. Every human being does. Either you let them push you around or you don’t, and anyone who suggests women should not stand up for themselves is, whether they mean to or not, suggesting that women should just take crap.

    I don’t think anyone should take crap, and when we find non-violent ways of scaring off even the most abusive personalities, how wonderful is that?

  14. Anemone says

    Some people are just natural fighters. One sister and I naturally stand up for ourselves – we’re ornery and stubborn, while our other two siblings are more retiring. (Also, I’m not good at thinking on my feet, so I tend to just dig in to start with when confronted.)

    I recently started going barefoot full time, fed up with shoes hurting my feet, and I am continually surprised by barefooting men on the internet commenting on how they put flip flops or moccasins on whenever anyone confronts them. I refuse to carry anything to put on, since I’d hate walking in them, and when I’m confronted, I talk my way through it. A lot of people give in too quickly and it makes it harder for them in the long run because it sets a precedent.

    Standing up for yourself seems to have nothing to do with gender. Unless men are less good at it because they have less practice?

  15. says

    Some people are just natural fighters.

    Maybe so. I tend to focus on nurture rather than nature (how we are products of our experience), but I guess genes most likely have some say in our personalities and how we tend to react. In other words, that two people with identical life experience might react differently to something at some point.

    Standing up for yourself seems to have nothing to do with gender. Unless men are less good at it because they have less practice?

    I believe we need challenges to grow and develop character. I often think privilege actually harms its recipients by enabling them to skip learning survival skills.

  16. Anemone says

    I don’t think that I meant assertiveness was genetic (although yes, there may be some genetic components). I guess I didn’t realize how the expression sounded. I suspect that attachment and favouritism in early childhood has a lot to do with it. My less assertive siblings were the family favourites. And I’ve read that less favoured sibs tend to be more ambitious, so they’d be more likely to stand up for themselves, too.

    But at the same time my more assertive sister and I are bigger boned, and there’s a relationship between body type and personality too.

    Regardless, it can show up very early in a person’s personality. I guess that’s what I meant by natural.

  17. says

    I often think privilege actually harms its recipients by enabling them to skip learning survival skills.

    I agree with you on so many levels. It doesn’t always happen, but once in a while I am glad that I hadn’t always had an easy life. And it teaches me empathy with those who are less privileged than I.

  18. says

    I just discovered this site about 30 minutes ago; and I have a feeling I will be here for the next couple of hours!

    So, here’s my first in what will surely be many comments.

    I have heard that I am “intimidating” all. My. Life. And it is a comment I cannot stand. I’ve heard it from men and women, and it’s definitely been given to me as the reason that I have a hard time dating. And what usually follows “You’re just intimidating” is “…I mean, you’re smart and funny and confident.” Those are not intimidating characteristics, they should be endearing ones.

    I remember in college living with two equally as “intimidating” women. At our apartment, we were smart, quick, sarcastic, to the point. But as soon as they got around guys, all of that went away. They laughed at jokes that weren’t funny, wouldn’t express their real opinions (which I knew b/c I had heard them discuss privately). And I got called “intimidating” because I stuck to my guns. And didn’t laugh.

    Very much looking fwd to reading more!

  19. Alara Rogers says

    This is funny, because my husband recently did a parody of those Dos Equis commercials in which he called me “the most intimidating woman in the world”, and I was all “I don’t always drink soda, but when I do, I drink Coca-Cola in cans”. And now it’s a running joke.

    My husband refers to it as my “fuck off” field. People do not catcall me. They didn’t even when I was 18 years old, skinny and little. Panhandlers don’t get aggressive with me. Guys don’t hit on me in public (well, except at science fiction conventions). Many of the experiences women describe as happening to them all the damn time don’t happen to me.

    At the same time, I have dealt with people mistaking my *age* in ways that leads them to patronize me — the comic book shop woman who snatched an adult comic out of my hands, shouting “You can’t buy that”, until I told her in my best ice-cold “you are a bug on my shoe” voice that I was 22; the nice lady at H&R Block who was so stunned that I was 30 years old that she had to bring her friend out from the back to gawk at me; the older man who asked if I was visiting an older sibling on a college campus, several years after I’d graduated. So I don’t entirely understand how I can strike some people as ludicrously young, and yet other people are apparently intimidated by me.

    I suspect it’s because, in part, I am not interested in engaging and playing nice. I don’t look at people until they demonstrate that they wish to communicate with me. Then they do, and if I am not interested in their communication, I say “No, sorry” in a brusque monotone and turn away. I project that other people are unimportant to me, unless I am trying to engage with them because I need something (like they are at the counter of the post office or something), and I think this intimidates people, even though I am 5’0″ and look younger than I am. Because they expect that women are *supposed* to be catering to the desires of strangers, maybe, and a woman who plainly does not give a damn about what a stranger wants and isn’t afraid to let the stranger know it is scary?

    The one exception to this is kids. For some reason, kids in general have decided that I must really, really care about their art project or something. I have four kids myself, and I like kids enough that I don’t brush kids off the way I do adults, so there must be something on my forehead that says “That woman is a mom! She must really care what kids do! Go tell her what you did in school today!” I don’t hear stories on feminist blogs about other women having random children come up to them to tell them all about their day, so I guess where other women get asshole men catcalling them or hitting on them, I get little children pestering me. Honestly, it’s a trade I’m happy to have made. :-)

  20. says

    I think it is simply that women are expected to be nice, cooperative, supportive helpmates even to strangers. What’s viewed as perfectly kind, decent behavior from men is viewed as harsh and unacceptable coming from women. Maybe when they can’t quite pin down why our behavior seems wrong (because it reminds them of behaviors they often approve of in men), they use a vague term like “intimidating.”

  21. AH says

    I’m a 25 year old male.

    While it is your unfortunate label (bitch) for standing your ground, it is my unfortunate label (wimp) for not. I avoid confrontation with great effort, to the point that I avoid offering an opinion for fear of having to defend it, whether verbally or physically (sounds like a problem a lot of women have had historically). This means I’m a weak person, and I’m not proud of it.

    The problem is strength. For a woman, let’s be frank – the underlying fear, particularly in opposition to males, is that they lack the strength to defend themselves, physically. I admire that you’ve dismissed this fear and have actually resorted to physically STRIKING a man who made inappropriate advances. And good for you, and if I sense the article’s tone and the replies correctly, it seems “atta’ girl’s” are due.

    But what about me? If I ever take a strong enough stand about something (for example, getting in a verbal altercation with a male at a social gathering), it’s always in the back of my mind that I should be prepared to defend myself physically. No matter how sharp my tongue is, I need to be smart enough to know that I might, well, get my ass kicked in the end – and again, being frank, a stronger male wouldn’t do me the favor of not hitting me back as me might do for a female.

    Many women feel as though they don’t have the upper hand in our society – in the work place or wherever else. And they would be right, most of the time. But what about me? I’m not intimidating – I’m the “nice guy” you mentioned. I’m not rewarded for being nice, as a female would be (the servants who stroke male egos, cook meals, always agree, etc). I’m not saying women should be that way, I’m just saying that it would be socially rewarded. But I believe, for my cowardous, nice ways, I’m unattractive to females AND I’m not respected by men.

    I guess what I’m saying is, as a male, my options are: Guy who knows how to punch who women might or might not approve of, or wimp. For women, the options are: the socially-accepted submissive female, or “intimidating bitch.” My results, I’m strong one way or weak the other, respectively. For you, you’re either socially accepted, or a strong person.

    You are a strong person. And while you might have to endure being called an intimidating bitch from time to time, at least you can feel proud for not being weak.

    I don’t mean to sound offensive or undermind the female’s struggle, nor am I saying you’re wrong about ANYTHING. I’m just stating my own male woes as a counterpart to your article.

    • says

      The gender imbalance hurts everybody. While we focus on women, you’ll find a lot of references on this site to the fact that even when a gender imbalance seems only to disadvantage one group, it actually hurts everybody in various ways.

      But you’re very mistaken about one thing, and it’s important:

      I’m not rewarded for being nice, as a female would be (the servants who stroke male egos, cook meals, always agree, etc). I’m not saying women should be that way, I’m just saying that it would be socially rewarded.

      Socially rewarded? The social pact you’re talking about is: “girls, if you’re really really nice, and that means tolerating lots of abuse, maybe if you’re lucky men won’t permanently damage you! Especially if you’re really pretty!”

      Whether women are nice or not, look at what awaits us when it comes to, for example, hetero sex: if we’re lucky, we might even get an orgasm sometimes. He’s entitled to one. If we’re REALLY lucky, we’ll never be raped. He – unless he was molested as a boy – is rather unlikely ever to be raped. And it’s unheard of for a woman never to face gender discrimination or sexual harassment. Again, men usually live out their lives without ever being victims of someone hating men or thinking men are too stupid for jobs or thinking men exist only to sexually service them. Why? Because that’s our second-class place in society: it’s not biology, it’s how we’ve decided sexuality plays out, based on our failure to value women.

      And none of that changes for “nice” women.

  22. AH says

    Sorry, “socially rewarded” is just a term I made up to try to get my point across, and it’s not a good one. I don’t mean reward in the sense that if you act a certain way, YOU get a positive result for it. I just mean that if you were a submissive woman who agreed with everything a man said, you wouldn’t have to look very far for a mate. That’s what society seeks in most females, so I don’t think you’d have to struggle for acceptance if you acted that way. That’s all I mean. In contrast, males are often “socially rewarded” for being arrogant jerks – not saying it’s a good way to act or that it’s the path to a joyful life for a man, but it’s socially rewarded.

    The female orgasm thing has never come up for me – I’m a virgin. Yeah, and laugh about that all you want. If I were female, I’d be applauded. Different story for a male. Sadly, being the arrogant jerk is usually the prerequisite to sexual engagement with females (and it’s those arrogant jerks who probably don’t consider the female’s enjoyment much). Sorry if you’ve never had an orgasm, but then again, no one has asked me to give it a shot yet. Oh yeah – it’s my job to make the first move, right?

    • says

      I just mean that if you were a submissive woman who agreed with everything a man said, you wouldn’t have to look very far for a mate.

      A submissive woman is exactly what abusive men look for, so yes, she’ll stand a good chance of getting a mate, but odds are he’ll be worse than loneliness. This is because sex is only set up to be a reward for YOUR gender. For us, it’s something we’re supposed to trade for food and shelter, not enjoy or feel rewarded by. And yes, a woman with an abusive mate is still approved of by society for being mated off, but what’s that worth? The only social approval available to women doesn’t include things like wanting to see us in the White House, you know, so who cares?

      If I were female, I’d be applauded.

      Not really. You’d think Christians, for example, would applaud it, but once a girl gets to, oh, 18, and is still a virgin, there’s a weird undercurrent of “WHY? ARE YOU SOME MAN-HATING FEMINIST BITCH?” in their responses to it. People are bizarre.

      Sorry if you’ve never had an orgasm, but then again, no one has asked me to give it a shot yet. Oh yeah – it’s my job to make the first move, right?

      Oh, quit whining. You don’t even have to worry about being raped and getting ironically blamed for it every day of your life. I’m not unsympathetic to your problems, but you are profoundly unaware of what anyone other than you goes through. Hopefully, as you gain awareness, you’ll want some sort of solidarity with others. But at the moment, you want more sympathy than you’re giving, and that’s offensive.

      • says

        Well, as a man I think I am being rewarded for being nice. I am neither the stereotypical macho asshole, nor do I have the body of the Coke Light model (sadly), but I still manage to get girlfriends who think I’m nice, smart and funny.

        Also, I don’t applaud women for their virginity, normally, and Jennifer is right that while women are “supposed” to be a virgin until they marry, that normally is taken to mean they’re to marry as young as they can.

        And I’m sorry, but the sarcasm about never having had an orgasm just seems grossly out of place and inappropriate in that post.

  23. AH says

    I would just like to clarify that I don’t think women should be submissive and amiable. I’m just saying that’s a general expectation of females, and at worst, I’m playing devil’s advocate.

    A submissive woman isn’t just what abusive men look for. Since you bring up Christianity, don’t most Christian religions teach a patriarchal family structure, that is, the man is the leader and the wife submits? I’m not trying to get in a religious argument, and I’m not speaking for or against the teachings of Christianity, but I’m just saying that not every man who seeks a submissive woman has a rape kit in the trunk of his car. It’s a social preconditioning of females to act this way, and a preconditioning of males to expect it – we’re exptected to be the aggressors, the decision makers, and like you’ve noted multiple times, males have egos. If a woman doesn’t submit – like you said: intimidating bitch. If a man doesn’t act aggressively – what I’m saying: wimp.

    I was surprised to see that initially you brought up the elusive female orgasm and rape IMMEDIATELY following some of my experiences of being male and that I’ve had my own difficulties. I know you meant it generally and it wasn’t aimed at me personally, but it felt as if you were holding that over my head. I got up the courage to post a differing perspective to your article (which I really like), and you yell rape and that women don’t have orgasms often enough.

    That’s why I brought up my virginity. I don’t see how men not giving women orgasms could even apply to me because I haven’t even had the opportunity, so why even bring that up or hold it over my head? And I haven’t raped anyone either, if you can believe that. I’m also offended that you think I’m whining.

    Want to know why I’m a virgin? You’ve probably already made some assumptions, like Christianity, social ineptness, too skinny, fat, lives in mom’s basement, micropenis, whatever. But I’m an upstanding, average looking, middle class homeowner (the all singing all dancing crap of the world – I love your FC articles btw). The real reason is that I’m terrified of sex. The Internet has given me an extensive look into the female mind – and I often go in search of it. I enjoy perusing feminist sites and reading about why women hate me before they meet me, why women seem to not enjoy sex, what the big deal is with this whole childbirth thing is, etc. And it’s really just led me to being fearful of any sexual experience. You might think I’m a wimpy whiner, but it’s really derived from my desire to please a female and be everything she wants me to be – and I just don’t see how that’s possible.

    And yes, I’ll probably never be raped, so you’ve got me there. But I’m not trying to settle any kind of score or even “win” anything. I just wanted to say that being a man isn’t all fun and games either. But I forgot – I’m a man and I’m not supposed to talk about my feelings, am I? Oops, there I go whining again. Do I need to get back to being sympathetic?

    • says

      But you’re trying to compare the general sufferings of men and women without really having a clue what women generally go through. Read my Cult of Masculinity post and you’ll see that I do understand a great deal about what men go through. But even so, I don’t waltz into a site for men who are talking about problems getting custody or visitation with their kids, and tell them, “But I have to worry about rape!” See, it’s not always that what you’re saying is wrong so much as where you’re saying it. Though, in your case, it’s a little of both. Let’s address that.

      The Other Patrick is right: your sarcasm about orgasms was not only inappropriate – it revealed that you think deep down your lack of sex is on par with my statistical likelihood of being raped. That’s eggregious male privilege on your part.

      You should google a few things if you want to contribute to feminist sites in the future:

      –“Nice guy argument”
      –“Safe space”
      –“Male privilege”

      Because you’re screwing up on all three counts. I don’t think you’ve any intention of being an ally to others seeking equality: you just want sympathy for being a virgin, and you know it’s not coming from men, so you thought maybe if you conceded a few of the feminists’ points they’d concede a few of yours. But I got news for you: you are so not unique. We see guys like you all the time (who want something from feminists rather than wanting to participate in feminism). Also, your virginity isn’t unique. It isn’t even interesting, I’m sorry to say. We have plenty of regulars here who are “late” virgins (both genders), asexuals, transsexuals, gays, bis, happily married heteros. We’re way beyond the stereotypes you imagine to be the level at which we’re functioning. You’re the one who’s hung up on some very elementary ideas here.

      Now you need to go away for a while, google what I told you, do some serious reading (be sure to check out Feminism 101). THEN if you find you really want to talk to feminists as someone who supports their movement for your own reasons, come visit again.

    • sbg says


      Of course, you realize it’s virtually impossible to please people of any gender (something’s always wrong), so it’s not a far stretch to think you never leave your home out of fear of failure.

      Whoops, why am I responding?

      /backs away quietly

  24. AH says

    Fair enough.

    I may be wrong, but I’m a man and those are the opinions I have based on what I’ve observed in my environment. Maybe I’m stupid. I didn’t start out seeking a “this is right/wrong” argument. I didn’t want this to turn into a vicious exchange of rhetoric. I just read an article about you talking about why people think you’re a bitch when you argue with them and hit them, and I just thought I’d say, hey, people consider me a doormat because I don’t do those things and I think it has something to do with me being a male.

    Sorry about the orgasm comment too. I didn’t mean it to be as offensive as it sounded. I was just very disappointed that you introduced that to the argument so I wanted to throw it back at you. I often get the feeling that women partly feel slighted for their male partner’s lack of sexual reciprocity, but I also think that they use it as a weapon to make insecure fearful men feel even a little more insecure and fearful. If I said that that comment made me feel a little more fearful and insecure, would you feel like you won? Because I think you did.

    I will definitely google those topics.


    • says

      I was just very disappointed that you introduced that to the argument so I wanted to throw it back at you.

      I introduced it because your entire argument boiled down to: “Women suffer a lot, but at least they have an easier time getting laid.” Which would be a valid argument if sex were pure pleasure for women as often as it is for men. For us, it’s something we owe men, something men are entitled to take by force, something we’re not supposed to reserve for ourselves or for female lovers if we’re so inclined, something we’re supposed to be ashamed of, something we’re supposed to trade for our very subsistence. Do you not see how utterly offensive it is to suggest that it is in any way a good thing if sex is easier for women to procure than men?

      I often get the feeling that women partly feel slighted for their male partner’s lack of sexual reciprocity, but I also think that they use it as a weapon to make insecure fearful men feel even a little more insecure and fearful.

      Of course you do – because your male privilege insulates you from realizing that sex is a weapon against women every day of our lives. It determines, for example, where we can live safely and how much extra we have to pay to live there next to our male counterpart who needn’t worry about a rapist breaking into his home and raping him. It determines what jobs we can safely take (hey, if you take a job with a bunch of randy men, you’re just askin’ for it, toots). Even those of us who’ve never been raped are constrained every day by the culture of rape in which we live.

      I’m no fan of women using sex as a weapon, and it does happen, but bloody hell, you’re talking about a mouse getting in a bite now and then against a lion. Just as you can’t measure the distrust or hatred of an oppressed race against its oppressor the same way you would measure the hatred of the oppressor who has so little to fear from the oppressed, it just doesn’t begin to compare.

      If I said that that comment made me feel a little more fearful and insecure, would you feel like you won?

      No, I just find it incredibly sad that you would even think this. I don’t think it’s sex you’re afraid of – I think it’s women.

      • says

        To put it in a different perspective maybe: I don’t think the charge of insensitive male lover applies to me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize how society still regards women’s sexuality very different from men’s. I would even say that women have it easier to get sex precisely because of that difference, of the fact then men looking for release is acceptable, so having a one-night stand is something to congratulate your buddies for – women, on the other hand, take the “walk of shame”. It’s great that it’s easy to have sex, but when having sex is treated as a shameful act, when society still regards sexually liberated women with suspicion and almost exclusively from a male point of view (i.e. it’s all intended to turn the man on, nor for the woman’s own gratification), then that supposed advantage evaporates.

        And then, if a woman goes out looking for sex, she is either rebuffed as too aggressive or seen as a slut. Yes, men are at least somewhat under pressure to be sexual aggressors, and that can be a harsh pressure, but at least it’s a pressure that in the end points to personal satisfaction – your own, and not your partners. On the other hand, even femdom fetish films are usually filmed to excite submissive men, not the dominant women supposedly portrayed therein.

        So get over it. That’s one lesson I had to understand, too, that while I have my own problems and expectations I don’t fulfill, I have it infinitely easier than someone who is not a more or less straight white middle-class dude.

        And let me just quote Jennifer from above:

        See, it’s not always that what you’re saying is wrong so much as where you’re saying it.

        This is simply not a site where you say, “yeah, you women have it hard, but men do, too”. This is a place for (feminist) women and the men trying hard to be some kind of ally. Imagine a forum for, say, film freaks where there’s a thread about the dying art of film criticism – and you come in and post, “yeah, I don’t watch films, but I read a lot, and I have problems with reading, you know?” I guarantee you most forums would say that was trolling. It’s off-topic for both the discussion and the whole site.

        Not to say that there might be a discussion here about looking at the other side, at what men may “go through”, and where your comments would be perfectly fine and welcome. And it’s certainly possible to describe your own experience, even as a man – I’m not doing much else, most of the time, really, aside from trying to understand. But you have to do so regarding the problem at hand, somehow. And be mindful of the space you’re in (granted, I sometimes forget that, too, since I feel so at home here). I mean, I’m writing this worrying that this post might look as if I thought Jennifer needed my (male) help in dealing with you, which I certainly don’t think. I think she’d kick my ass if it came to that, and I’d welcome the ass-kicking, too. :)

  25. AH says

    I’m really glad I visited this site. For one thing, it will help me gain insight into feminine views, but for now, I think it’s making me think introspectively more. I stayed awake most of last night thinking about all of this. I hope you don’t think you’re wasting your time on me. I know I’m struggling with concepts and sometimes I make bad comparisons (sometimes I mean to and sometimes I don’t). I AM listening to you and I am taking your words to mind and heart (ouch, by the way 😉 )

    I’m just now seeing your comment, and it affirms what I thought about last night. I think you are absolutely correct – I do fear women. And I think the biggest problem you have with me so far is that I don’t truly understand feminism because I’m being too selfish. Again, correct. To truly understand this, I need to think outside of my own box; I must be selfless and put myself aside for a moment to really gain understanding of the female perspective.

    To rephrase, I think the problem is, that (you’re right), I’m not perusing feminist insight for selfless understanding. I’m looking for answers to my own questions. My question is: How have I wronged women? Why do I fail? Why can’t I earn their affection? Well, something I’ve always known but it hit me again last night – I have mommy issues. My parents had a terrible marriage, and he was often off on business, leaving her behind to deal with the little kids. She felt overwhelmed and resented my dad on MANY levels. She resented his bossy personality. Well, I felt the rift of her dislike of my dad and what grew into her general disdain for men. She took frustration out on me, physically and mentally. If I ever had a budding male ego – believe me – she beat it out of me before it could bloom.

    I do have male/female equality issues. But it’s not the problem that I feel superior to women; I feel INFERIOR to them. I reject myself before they do because I do not feel worthy or deserving of their respect. I’ve been taught by mom to fear and yield to women. Well, if I fear women, how can I ever respect them?

    In seeking answers to my questions about femininity, I admit, I get upset. I put my feelings aside for the time being (put myself second), and read about how women have been historically wronged and the privileges males have. I read about men being superior, when throughout all my life, women (specifically, MY MOM) have broken my spirit and taught me to feel inferior. I have never wronged a woman, so to be TOLD I have pisses me off – I realize that’s unjustifiable, but that’s my reflexive response. I take feminism personally and internalize it (wrong, I know). What I need to do is shake my inferiority complex. In some sense, I need to stop taking crap from people (women’s crap too – whether real OR perceived), and treat myself as an equal to women.

    I do self-pity and seek sympathy from others, but honestly, who doesn’t? Something I often read and hear: “Men have no idea how bad childbirth hurts.” “You will never know how bad this hurts” “Men are so lucky for not having to do this.” Correct. I will NEVER know what childbirth feels like. What do you want from me? My sympathy? My understanding? I think I’m supposed to just sit there and nod my head. “Yes, I’m sorry – and I support you.” That’s just being humane. Putting male and female struggles in the balance to determine “Who has it harder” is a dead end road. Trying to say two things that are different are equal seems idealistic to me. I think in some of my flawed comparisons, I’m really just trying RELATE to women with my own male life experiences and not pretend that I KNOW what it feels like to be a women, and perhaps not even try – because how will I ever know? As you said, I’m not special nor am I interesting – but I still feel compelled to hold on the thing that makes me different from you – my gender. I don’t want to surrender the acknowledgment my own struggles in exchange for the understanding of yours. That’s probably my wrongful internalization of feminism show again, but I’m working through it…

    I might be stupid too – many of my concepts probably seem elementary and redundant to a professional like yourself, but I’m just trying to process it. And when I argue, I’m trying not to fear you (the “intimidating bitch”), I want to respect you even if I make a fool out of myself in the process.

    • says

      If you’re still here at this point, then there’s hope. 😀

      There are many things you have in common with many people on this site, including me. Maybe that could be a starting point for relating to us. For example:

      –As I said before, lots of people who are “late” virgins, asexuals, etc.
      –Lots of people, including women, who never or rarely get the opportunity to date. Some of whom wonder “What’s wrong with me?” but many of whom wonder “What’s wrong with all the people who don’t want me? Losers!” 😉
      –Lots of folks who had dysfunctional or abusive relationships with one or both parents, and have struggled to work through all the shit that heaps on a person.

      And yeah, your concepts are “elementary”, but we all had to learn them at some point. It’s just many of our discussions are designed for people who have already learned them. Hence, the recommendation for extracurricular reading.

      I don’t want to surrender the acknowledgment my own struggles in exchange for the understanding of yours.

      Read Patrick’s response to you – this is precisely NOT what anyone’s asking you to do. This is in fact what men have expected women to do, and whites have expected other races to do, and so on. But you DO have to realize this is a website where we discuss the struggles of women, primarily. Except on articles like the Cult of Masculinity post, where the subject matter clearly invites some of the type of complaints you were making before. I would suggest maybe you don’t try to relate it to women’s struggles directly – at least not until you’ve read more – but on that article, you’re welcome to talk about how “be aggressive or we’ll label you GAY which is the most worstest fate evah” is a miserable pressure under which to live.

  26. Patrick McGraw says

    AH, I’m one of the “late” virgins that Jennifer Kesler mentioned. I’m a 31-year-old straight man, I rarely date, and I haven’t been in a serious relationship since high school.

    And really, this is mostly due to my own decisions. I’m not interested in casual sex, and I haven’t gotten out of the house much during the past three years, most of which were spent on dialysis. I did not go on a single date during college, largely because I only asked women out once I already knew them well enough to be interested in a relationship with them. (No women asked me out, probably for the host of reasons that have been covered all over this site.) All of my female friends are involved, gay, or simply uninterested.

    I’d like to give an example of how social factors have interfered with my romantic life. I’ll be pretty vague here, since I post under my real name (male privilege!).

    There’s a hobby group I take part in, and I’m quite interested in a woman who is another member of the group. However, this is a hobby that is VERY male-dominated (there are a grand total of two other women in this fairly large network). Many of the men in this subculture are lacking in social graces, and there is a good deal of sexism present.

    What this means is that there is essentially no way that I can make a move without potentially compromising her comfort zone and ability to enjoy the group without feeling any more self-conscious than she might already. She’s there for the hobby, and being hit on would hinder that.

  27. AH says

    Thanks for telling me about your situation. There are many other things I can relate to you on, beyond just the single male virgin part.

    I’ve dug deeper into this site, and the sites it has linked me to. So much of it is mind-blowing. For example, the “nice guy” myth. Hell, I’m not nearly as damn nice as I thought I was. If I were to define a guy who is “not nice” as one who consciously aims to harm women, then at a very simple level I feel fairly sure that in contrast to that, I could be considered….”nice.” (I’m trying to tread lightly with how I use the term “nice” here, as it relates to my failure with women.) But I didn’t really grasp some of the subconscious irrationality I had about my my perceived rejection by women despite my “niceness” and the growing resentment that was beginning to steam from that. I’m alarmed that I’m more ****ed in the head than even realized.

    The more I read about some of these feminist views, though, the more I feel liberated. I wouldn’t say I’m becoming a feminist ally, nor do I really want to be – at least not yet. I’m not to that point, and if I said I was, I’d only be patronizing. But I find it liberating that shedding some of the bizarre conditioning males and females undergo in our culture (conditioning that feminism has opened my eyes to) and the irrational expectations that conditioning breeds, it makes the falsehoods seem a little more transparent.

    For example – instead of viewing a woman as a higher being that I have to prove my worthiness to (worthiness I’m always afraid I lack for various screwed up reasons), I should instead treat a woman as just another individual who has the choice of accepting me or rejecting me for her own reasons, regardless of my screwy little inferiority issues that she’s not really even aware of yet and has no reason to care about. In a way, in understanding more of these concepts, I feel solace in that I don’t really have to give a shit what women think about me – because I’m not so sure they do give a shit. That feels a little crappy, but not really, because expecting someone to give a shit by default doesn’t really mean much. And if I approach a woman, I can do so with far more less anxiety because I’m not preloaded with irrational bullcrap I really have no reason to worry about.

    So to relate all of that nice guy stuff I’m guilty of to the situation with the female you’re mentioning, I ask this: By acknowledging the existence of the social factors you believe are hindering your approach to this female, aren’t you really just reinforcing those same flawed social factors and extending their existence? Consider this: screw all those factors. Tell yourself “who gives a shit?” and just go for it. If you are as good of a person as you seem like you are, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t go for it. If she rejects you for whatever reason, who gives a shit? Maybe it would be because of one of those factors you mentioned, but how would you know until you gave her the choice to make that determination on her own?

    I don’t mean “who gives a shit what this woman thinks of me” to be a form of ignorance towards feminism, I just mean it in the sense that having too many expectations, most likely based on false pretenses, will probably not yield much success for anyone.

    And I’m NOT attacking you in any way Patrick. In fact, your kind offering of your situation and what you have in common with me feels very warm and welcomed, and I appreciate it very much. And I know that “not giving a shit” is far more easier in theory than in practice, so I’m not trying to belittle you or say that you need to buck up. I’m just stating all this for the sake of discussion and understanding of what my own problem is.

  28. Calirodan says

    Thanks for this post. It felt almost autobiographical!

    One thing I’ve found to be ironic is that sometimes men I’ve known can do things that are incredibly rude — things I would never even consider doing. But when I say something like, “Hey, that’s kind of uncool,” they respond with something like, “why are you so oversensitive?” When they don’t take the hint and I finally tell them to get a clue and cut it out, they look astonished and then say that I’M the one being rude or intimidating! For example, several years ago a group of friends and I visited Santa Fe together. While we were there, one of the guys briefly met a woman and then committed the entire group to going to a certain club to meet her. He and the other guys in the group then dominated the conversation for three hours with speculations on his odds of getting laid. Personally, I just found it to be completely uninteresting, but the other two women were friends with his girlfriend at home, so the conversation made them uncomfortable. We tried changing the subject several times and they ignored us. I asked if we could please talk about something, anything, else, and they blew us off. Finally I told him that the conversation was “fucking pathetic” and suggested that he just go on the date without discussing it for hours like the rest of us do. He was very offended and barely spoke to me for several months (something I viewed as a benefit). Anyway, I thought it was ironic that he could be THAT insensitive and then get mad at me (for months) when I finally bluntly told him that his behavior was just sad.

    When I was younger, I was even viewed as a “problem,” particularly with a few male teachers/bosses, even though my behavior often wasn’t different than those of the guys I was working with. When I was 19, I went on a backpacking course taught by two men from my university’s counseling center. While the two straight male students on the trip were commended for their knowledge of outdoor skills and for their “leadership” ability when they expressed opinions to the group, it was more problematic when I did similar things. In fact, both of the male instructors offered to counsel me for my “communication problems” — in one of the cases it was after one of the guys in the group who was co-leading with me undermined my decision in front of the whole group after I was out of earshot. This was viewed as a symptom of my communication difficulties, and they discussed the “problem” with me, but not with the guy. Even then, when I was 19, I mentioned to one of the male instructors that there might be a difference in how they were treating the men and women on the trip. That at least got him to back off. But then the other male instructor took his place and began pressuring me to get counseling from them. I’m 38 now, and this would all be behind me, but now I’m an untenured professor at a small college and one of these men is on the faculty — he’s become a big name in the Outdoor Education field.

    Like other posters here, I’m a petite woman and I also look young. I think it throws people. Particularly when I was younger, people would sometimes respond like, “Who the hell does this girl think she is?” But the good news is that it’s become a bit easier to be an intelligent and outspoken woman now that I’m in my 30’s. Having a PhD helps a bit too. Also, maybe at least a little bit has changed since the 90’s.

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