No More “Safe” Guys

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a number of conversations with my male friends about them being called “safe,” or in one case, a “safety blanket.” Don’t know what I’m talking about? Celebrate.

This is the phenomenon in which a (generally young) woman dismisses her behavior around a guy as “Oh, that’s just so-and-so. He’s safe.” It always sounds like it’s meant to be a compliment, but there’s very little like it to bring out the bitter in a guy even decades after the fact. It took explaining the concept of “safe” to the wife of one of these friends for me to really figure out why.

Safe is better than not safe, right?

Well, of course none of my guy friends want to threaten any women, so being very not safe is right out of the question. However, being this sort of safe is far beyond not being a rapist in potentia, far more than just what’s left when that worry is removed. This safe means out of the running for any kind of sexual consideration whatsoever. This is gay-best-friend safe without the gay or necessarily the best friend. There are more options to be found in the real world than just this kind of safe and not safe.

So no sex. But that’s okay, isn’t it?

No sex is okay. No sex is always okay, if sometimes frustrating. What isn’t okay is the complete denial of someone else’s sexuality.

None of the “safe” guys I’ve been talking to are asexual. None of them are even close. They are, in fact, all attractive guys with fairly strong libidos. I doubt they’d be as desirable as “safe” friends if they were anything else. And being declared safe is going beyond saying there will be no sex in the relationship. What it has done is put them in situations in which they were flirted with, snuggled up to, asked for advice on what is sexy and what is acceptable sexual behavior, regaled with details of sexual exploits and problems–all without any permission to respond in kind.

Is it bad that the women flirted without wanting more?

Absolutely not. Flirting in safe situations is learning without risk. It’s testing sexuality and figuring out what’s fun in a low-pressure environment. More people, men and women, should have the option of doing this without feeling that they’re making promises.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that the women are designating the men as safe without any input from the men. The men aren’t being asked whether they have any sexual interest and whether they’re okay with it being put on hold. They aren’t being asked where the limits of their comfort with the women’s behavior are. They don’t have an option to say, “No,” except by walking away from the situation. These guys might still choose to engage in flirtatious relationships for the fun, but the choice should be theirs every bit as much as it is the women’s. With the unilateral declaration of “safe”-hood, it isn’t.

It’s also a problem that the word “safe” is being used to deny men these options. Safe and convenient are very different things, and “safe” brings a level of emotional manipulation to the table (by contrast with “not safe”) that “convenient” doesn’t. We want women, in particular, to feel safe because we’re aware they often don’t. We have a right to an expectation of interpersonal safety. We don’t have the same right to an expectation of convenience, which is what these relationships boil down to.

One more problem was illuminated by the same woman with whom a modified version of the conversation above took place. Shortly after the conversation, she went shopping in a mixed group.

When XXX went with me to Victoria’s Secret, it was, well, a little awkward. It was only yesterday, however, that I started thinking about it enough to figure out why. I do not really think of XXX as “safe” (intimidating was actually the first word I would have ascribed to him), but I found myself in a situation where an attractive man who was not my husband was watching me pick out frilly panties. I found this awkward, again because those old taboos told me that you don’t show other men your panties, and “Oh, noes! I might induce him to have unclean thoughts about me.”

So what did my brain do? It tried to convince me of something along the lines of “It’s XXX. He wouldn’t be thinking those things” as a comforting strategy. The equivalent of “He’s safe,” even though I don’t actually think of him that way.

The problem here is that “safe” is (or would be, if my friend weren’t thoughtful and honest) being used to make a decision about privacy and sexuality not “count.” Every one of these decisions count. Every one of them affects someone, even if it’s only the woman making the decision. Of course, in cases of “safe” men, it’s not just the women.

Now, it may sound as though I’m adding to the chorus of voices telling women that they are responsible for the world’s sexual decision-making. No. Women are not responsible for men’s decisions, even those decisions made in response to women’s decisions, but neither does freeing women from that particular unfair responsibility free them from all responsibility. And that’s what declaring a man safe does; it abdicates a woman’s responsibility for her sexual choices with respect to that man. It says that her decisions and her behavior don’t matter. More than that, it says that they don’t matter because a particular quality of the man in question–his safeness.

Maybe that’s progress of a sort, but only if you consider flipping an unequal situation upside down to be progress. I don’t. Women don’t make progress by moving from not being allowed to make decisions to pretending there are no decisions to be made. We get where we want to go by accepting responsibility for the consequences of our actions and acting like the adults we’ve demanded we be allowed to be.

No wonder these guys are bitter. I would be too. A lot of time and attention has gone into teaching me from the time I was a small child that I have every right to have my sexual and romantic life decided by me. Shouldn’t we extend the same right to these guys?

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99 Responses to “No More “Safe” Guys”

  1. July 29th, 2010 at 6:48 am

    D. C. Sessions says:

    Than you for getting it.

  2. July 29th, 2010 at 7:39 am

    Umlud says:

    I have often “gotten” the message of when I was considered a “safe” guy. To me, though, that always meant that I had the option of then acting upon the woman’s decision. That decision could be to tacitly go along with it (why rock the boat when the boat ride is all you really want anyway), discuss it openly (due to the reasons you outline above), act out against it (because I may well be interested in her in a “not safe” way), or to just drop the whole pretense and walk away (after making it clear that my unilateral decision to leave her like a complete stranger was due to her own unilateral decision about me).

    My experience has been that unless I tacitly went along with it, the woman was usually surprised about the action I took, which implies to me that most women don’t think that what they are doing is wrong in some way (if they consciously understand it in the first place). One woman was even offended that I acted in the way that I did, even after having it pointed out to her that her unilateral determination who I am is actually something that I should be offended by, and that she was merely reaping the harvest of her own actions taken against another.

    While it is difficult to undermine those unconscious actions that all of us take — whether they are inherent or socially impressed upon us — it is useful to take time to at least acknowledge that they are there and that you will be prone to act on them, as well as understanding what those actions may mean (and therefore be able to discuss it or admit to it when it occurs).

  3. July 29th, 2010 at 7:47 am

    symball says:

    How many ‘safe’ guys are actually just frustrated wannabe lovers? there is a reason that ‘i just want to be friends’ is such a cliché.

  4. July 29th, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    symball, what do you mean by “just”? Are you suggesting that there is less of a problem with women unilaterally deciding they have a right to a guy’s time, attention and consideration because of some inherent safeness than there is with men unlaterally deciding they have the right to the same from a woman because of her, say, inherent provocativeness?

    There’s nothing wrong with deciding you want to be friends. There is something wrong with deciding you have more rights within a friendship than your friend does. That’s not friendship.

  5. July 29th, 2010 at 8:20 am

    Pinky says:

    I detest being called ‘safe’ or ‘nice’. Its’ patronizing. Nice guys finish last.

  6. July 29th, 2010 at 8:30 am

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Oh, no they don’t. Not the actual nice ones. But “nice” and “safe” are two completely different discussions.

  7. July 29th, 2010 at 9:11 am

    Tony Sidaway says:

    There’s a lot of advantage to being safe, but assuming you’re safe can be risky. I’ve assumed I was just friends with an attractive woman once or twice, only to have to reject an unexpected pass. What follows is predictable: shock and disappointment, and sometimes an angry end to the friendship. And I can understand why, too. I’m a pretty flirty guy, I enjoy the playfulness. The fact that often that’s as far as I want to go isn’t easy to handle.

  8. July 29th, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Ben W says:

    Preface: I’m a married, non-cheating, nice, chatty, reasonably attractive guy who gets along well with people. Prime “safe guy” material.

    I’ll say that my experiences seem to be quite different. Being a “safe” guy has been a two-way street – it means that I can also flirt, snuggle, talk about sex and relationships, but we both know that this is all platonic. Even when I was single, I considered a girl calling me “safe” as verbal recognition that she wasn’t interested in me for a relationship or sex. I could take her friendship, or nothing.

    So what’s the problem? Yes, girls can designate men as safe without any input from men. The guy can protest if he likes, but he doesn’t have a *right* to any kind of relationship with the girl, so really, she’s just letting him know what his options are. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

  9. July 29th, 2010 at 9:20 am

    jen says:

    “The problem is that the women are designating the men as safe without any input from the men. The men aren’t being asked whether they have any sexual interest and whether they’re okay with it being put on hold.”

    How exactly does that work? How does a women put a guy in the “safe” slot without his permission (in words or actions). If I am out with someone, and we go to the mall, and I go into Victoria’s Secret, how exactly do I relegate the guy to “safe” without his acquiescence? I can only label him “safe” as long as he acts that way, right?

    Obviously, I’ve been out of the dating world way too long, or wasn’t in it long enough to start with, or something.

  10. July 29th, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Jen, judging by the comments above, it’s done with anger when unposted lines are crossed.

    This is certainly not a problem that good communication can’t solve, but one of the things that’s often put off limits in these relationships is talking about what’s going on. Even if it isn’t entirely off limits, the reactions to challenging unexamined assumptions (“But Tony, you’re a guy! You must want sex all the time!”) is often off-putting. Like flirting, serious communication about wants and needs requires a safe space for practice.

  11. July 29th, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Greg Laden says:

    My response to the post is here: http://tinyurl.com/2c8o3na

    My response to the comments … still thinking about that.

  12. July 29th, 2010 at 10:13 am

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Well, Greg, given the people I’ve been talking to, I don’t think it’s a regional thing. I really hope it’s at least in part a generational thing, caused by feminism’s first focus being on the narratives that are harmful to women. I also hope that people will read your post and realize that it is something that can be handled by good communication and negotiation once we recognize that it’s necessary.

  13. July 29th, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Greg Laden says:

    It could still be regional in that regional is generational. I lived for 17 years in the People’s Republic, a few blocks from Bread and Roses and Cell 16, shopped in Rita Arditti’s bookshop, Brandeis was a short drive away, almost all my weekends when not in the field involved at least a half day of feminist activism (often quite violent and taxing, in those days), most of my friends and colleagues were radical female anthropologists, and so on. I find myself engaged these days, living in the midwest and on the blogosphere, with conversations that date to 2 or 3 decades ago.

    As a behavioral biologists, I know that there are no “safe males.” As a person who gets along better (mostly) with girls better than boys, my entire social life is all about being safe (or not). I’ve never felt categorized as “safe” but I have been, I’m sure, categorized as “trusted.” (Of course, I don’t assume that I’m one of the “safe guys” … or if I know any.)

    So it could be regional, it could be generational, and it could ALSO be subcultural. Your vignette of Victoria’s Secret places your conversation in the suburban subculture. I grew up without malls, and malls are virtually disallowed in Cambridge/Boston (there area couple, but one does not go to them).

  14. July 29th, 2010 at 11:26 am

    quietmarc says:

    I’m gay, so that usually puts me in the “safe” category by default, and the conflict that a straight man might feel in this situation isn’t something that I readily identify with, but it seems like if being considered “safe” puts the guy in an awkward situation, the onus should be on him to say something about it (in a context-appropriate way). If everything was considered equal, then I might feel differently, but since women are in a situation where identifying “safe” men is practically a necessity, why should they also shoulder the responsibility of identifying false-positives?

  15. July 29th, 2010 at 11:51 am

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    quietmarc, you’re highlighting that problem with the word “safe” again. There is a big difference between being able to be yourself without fear of assault and being able to sit on someone’s lap without them even suggesting they’d like more. These are separate things.

    And who said the onus should be on one party? What I have said is that it’s every bit as important for men to have a safe (in the real sense and both physically and emotionally safe) place to practice communicating about relationships as it is for women to have a safe place to practice flirting. Both are behaviors on which our society imposes costs that are far too high. This is one of those areas where the costs have been shifted all to one gender–without there being any need–and that isn’t how we get to shared responsibility.

  16. July 29th, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    Gretchen Ash says:

    Stephanie, thanks for bringing this up – it’s been on my mind a lot lately.

    The thing that’s always bothered me with these types of relationships is how often the male is called upon to be boyfriend-without-sex – essentially a toy – most often so that the female can fill all her emotional needs without fear of actually having to be a grown-up and deal with an adult relationship. It’s completely disrespectful to the guy, and willful emotional crippling for the girl (kinda like cutting off your own toes so you can wear smaller shoes).

  17. July 29th, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    itzac says:

    I think a small part of this is giving a guy credit for being able to take a woman seriously and respect her even if he does want to keep this comment family friendly with her all night long.

  18. July 29th, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    D. C. Sessions says:

    This brushes up against the common demand that men not impose their own sexual awarenesses on women. Which is slightly but significantly different (and often confused with) men not having such awarenesses. By all parties, although often in different directions: most famously men all too often insist that such awareness is built-in (and indeed it may be) and that demanding it be turned off is unreasonable.

    Which it would be, if that were really what were being demanded. For all I know, sometimes it is. However, demanding that men behave themselves by not imposing whatever is going on behind their eyes on others is not at all unreasonable.

    However, it can lead women to misunderstand “well behaved” for “not interested.” Which can in turn lead them to putting some severe strain on the men in question, who are doing their best to be well behaved despite what’s going on behind their eyes.

    And, I will note, I reject the Christian assumption that we are so in control of our thoughts that we should be guilty for unexpressed impulses.

  19. July 29th, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Umlud says:

    itzac said: I think a small part of this is giving a guy credit for being able to take a woman seriously and respect her even if he does want to keep this comment family friendly with her all night long.

    D.C. Sessions said: However, it can lead women to misunderstand “well behaved” for “not interested.” Which can in turn lead them to putting some severe strain on the men in question, who are doing their best to be well behaved despite what’s going on behind their eyes.

    This appears — to me at least — to be two sides of the same coin. I have most often felt relegated into the “safe” category when because I was respectful and well-behaved around women (including those to whom I felt an attraction), which is generally how I try to behave around most people regardless of gender. (Perhaps that’s because I was raised by a mother who taught me and my brother to treat people like people.) However, I have fallen so many times into the position outlined by both itzac and DCSessions, perhaps because (in part) of this false equivalency between “well-behaved” and “uninterested”. And, yes, it was most frustrating when I was relegated to “safe” by a woman toward whom I felt an attraction.

    Of course, it could also be due to what Gretchen outlined: “the male is called upon to be boyfriend-without-sex – essentially a toy – most often so that the female can fill all her emotional needs without fear of actually having to be a grown-up and deal with an adult relationship”. And in that case, there probably was little that I could have done. I’ll have to ponder that side, now, too.

    Still, with women that I’m not interested in, being classified as “safe” is not always a problem, since the “safe” tag aligns with my attitude to her anyway. (Maybe this is me labeling her as “safe” or some analogue thereof?)

    As a final “interesting” piece, maybe being “well-behaved” is also interpreted as being “modest”, something that was found to be a general turn-off in a recent study: http://www.physorg.com/news199622208.html

  20. July 29th, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    steve says:

    Thanks for writing this, Stephanie. As a shy, socially awkward guy with quite a few female friends, I can say that I’ve been falsely miscategorized as “safe” a couple of times. In some ways it hurts more than a simple rejection would.

    On the other hand, I’ve been correctly categorized as “safe” a couple of other times (i.e. times when I had no interest). My lesson learned out of all of this is that communication is important. Once you get it out in the open about how all parties feel, then the friendship or relationship (whatever it will end up being) can go quite smoothly. Until you do, however, hurt feelings and resentment can build up on one side.

    The onus for communication shouldn’t be strictly on men, however. It would help a lot if a woman could state clearly, just once, that she’s not interested in a relationship with her platonic friend. We males are often wishful thinkers so oblique comments that could be taken other ways won’t do it. Think of it as insurance against hurt feelings later on.

  21. July 29th, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    John McKay says:

    One thing you’re absolutely right about is that the bitterness can linger for decades. I’m trying to write a contribution this conversation, but my mind is exploding in a dozen directions at once, while the pain of dismissals experienced almost forty years ago feels as humiliating and devaluing as they did back then. Just a few thoughts:

    When I was single, the word that set my teeth on edge was “nice.” I always heard it as a hiss: nis-s-s-se. It was the sound of a death sentence, a heavy door slamming that could never be opened again. “Nice” and “safe” should be nice. They mean liked, trusted, a friend. But, to me, it also meant, “just” a friend, neutered, not sexual, “I love you like a brother.” “Nice” and “safe” can be words that castrate. You use the word “attractive” to describe the safe men you have in mind, but safe not only denies sexuality, it denies attractiveness, if only because attratctive and sexually desirable are such closely related concepts in our culture (perhaps too closely, but that’s another discussion). Being relegated to the categories of “nice” and/or “safe” can be a huge blow to the self-image of a young male.

    In one respect, “nice” and “safe” are part of the same discussion and it has strong feminist connotations. The opposite of nice guys and safe guys are bad boys, dangerous boys. Bad and dangerous boys are interesting boys, fully sexualized humans while nice and safe guys are neutered figures in the background. Does our culture contain values that encourage young women to find attractive men who look like they could hurt those women (emotionally if not physically)? That bad boys are interesting boys is a textbook example of a narrative that is harmful to women.

    Equivalent relationships exist for women. At my age, the form I witness most often in real life is that of women over forty becoming invisible. At the age when they become the most three dimensionsal and interesting, our culture denies their sexuality and tries to make them less dimensional. The cougar character only reenforces these narratives by saying that fully sexual grown-up women are a noteworthy rarity (and that for a grown-up woman to be fully sexual, she must be at least moderately wealthy and look younger than her age).

  22. July 29th, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    D. C. Sessions says:

    RE: bitterness. Mixed feelings. Being “one of the girls” was enlightening, but didn’t exactly help with developing my own social and sexual identity. It wasn’t until that phase of my life was far much behind me that I really settled into someone I recognize now as “me.” On the other hand, it was good times in its own way and quite educational.

    “Nice:” Attending my 30th HS reunion (ten years ago, how time flies) I had several conversations with women who I clearly remember as going out of their way to avoid being anywhere near me. Their memories appear to be quite different: I heard all sorts of flattering reminiscences. I put it down to the fact that a lot of them now have daughters who were at the time about the age we were then, and would rather their daughters were seeing boys more like I was. Talk about the dating kiss of death!

    Today: I’ve been a serial monogamist for 35 years — with a very weak form of “serial.” As far as anyone other than $HERSELF is concerned, y’all are quite entitled to consider me “safe.” Which is not to say castrated, thank you, and as a general social convention I would greatly appreciate it if women my daughter’s age didn’t treat me as though I were blind. It doesn’t take too many visits to her where a roommate wanders through partially dressed to make things really uncomfortable — and I have yet to find a way of saying so that is well-received. “Dirty old man” and “you’re not my father” come to mind. Alas, if I were some young lady’s father I suspect she wouldn’t be quite so comfortable with treating me as a harem guard.

  23. July 29th, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Nightfallz says:

    @Gretchen:

    Gretchen, I think you hit it dead-on with your comments. Now, bear in mind that I’ve seen this behavior in both men and women, more often I (as a man) have witnessed it from the male perspective. I’ve seen it happen to friends, and I’ve seen it happen to me. Being the “safe” friend gives an emotional safety net to the other person to allow them to take more risks.

    Still, there is a responsibility of the “safe” person to make their feelings known as well, assuming that they have such. Life is not a movie. Sitting idly by and waiting for someone to return affection is not romantic; it’s creepy. If someone does not want you, no amount of being nice to him/her is going to change that. Find someone who deserves your attention and affection, or stay single, but just walk away if your intention is find an intimate partner.

    The song “self esteem” by the band Offspring comes to mind after reading this. lol

  24. July 29th, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    D. C. Sessions says:

    The thing that’s always bothered me with these types of relationships is how often the male is called upon to be boyfriend-without-sex – essentially a toy – most often so that the female can fill all her emotional needs without fear of actually having to be a grown-up and deal with an adult relationship.

    Gretchen, maybe I’m showing my age but I’d like to make a distinction between “boyfriend w/o sex” and “boyfriend w/o sexuality.” The one is a needs-no-defense drawing of lines and the other is a matter of (as Stephanie puts it) redefining another’s identity.

    Then again, maybe I’m rationalizing my own history with being the father of an adult daughter whose sex life is none of my business.

  25. July 29th, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    7PM says:

    As noted by others in the comments, there are women out there who abuse and trample the trust of a guy who has a “safe” status. I’ve known some men who give rides, buy drinks, do errands for a girl they are attracted to, when they very well know they are flat out in the safe zone. Guys, STOP. These women are either immature or manipulative. It’s very common for this to happen at a young age, when women realize they can use their charms to get favors from males. I pretty much doubt that women who are well aware of their behavior will be responsible about it. This is an abusive relationship. It is up to men to set their own boundaries.

    That said, don’t confuse manipulative women with the ones who have set a relationship boundary. If she’s not interested in anything other than a friendship, that’s life. If a guy is not comfortable with this situation, then he does a favor to himself to move on or to understand that boundary and accept it like an adult.

    If this comment hasn’t made it evident already, I don’t think the issue is so much with the “safe” label. By focusing on the label, you’re missing on the nuances of the relationship dynamic. The label implies a polar dichotomies. You’re either allowed to have sexual interest or you’re not. You’re either going to get lucky or you won’t. You’re either Bad or you’re Nice. One is respectful and the other one isn’t. No, especially not this last one (for those who might interpret it that way). As mentioned above, it depends on the circumstances and the actions of both people. My concern is that I’ve seen these dichotomies played onto women to manipulate them into sex: “Either you accept my libido or I’ll never talk to you again.” “You exposed me into a sexually arousing situation, and now you’re saying I can’t have sex with you.” Sorry, it goes both ways. And both are awful if allowed in the negative direction. Notice that it’s people with low self-esteem who get easily sucked into an unhealthy situation.

  26. July 29th, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    Karen Burke says:

    John McKay said “Equivalent relationships exist for women. At my age, the form I witness most often in real life is that of women over forty becoming invisible. At the age when they become the most three dimensionsal and interesting, our culture denies their sexuality and tries to make them less dimensional. The cougar character only reenforces these narratives by saying that fully sexual grown-up women are a noteworthy rarity (and that for a grown-up woman to be fully sexual, she must be at least moderately wealthy and look younger than her age).”

    ^THIS!

  27. July 29th, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    Adamo says:

    If you are married or otherwise entangled, for me that makes you “safe”, in that I will not consider you for a partner. That’s not a negation of your sexuality, just my personal code putting you off limits. This never means, however, that I will take you to a lingerie store. That’s rubbing your nose in it, and that’s just flat out unkind. If there’s some kind of negotiation with your wife, however, I may consider you for an escort in very special circumstances, where I “need” the presence of a male to repel other males. This never means you aren’t sexual. Just circumstantially safe. My brother and my father are my only truly “safe” men. I realize that in this I am lucky, that it’s not always that way.

    I am lucky in another way as well. A support group for relationship issues is where I learned to talk with a lot of different men, and within the context of the group, all people were “safe”. Afterwords, you learned on your own just who was safe and who not, but thanks to the communication achieved in the groups, this was a much-discussed and much-negotiated topic. I was not aware of men feeling slighted by being labeled “safe” because the context changed and the situations were fluid. We were, after all, learning to negotiate relationships that were healthier than the previous ones that landed us here. And we women got our share of rejections too.

    The safest man in the group became my best friend, something repeatedly discussed in case mixed signals were sent. We spent a lot of time sharing with the other about our current relationship interests and their levels of success or not. Flagrant flirting was enjoyed because of the ground rules.

    Eventually we went our own separate ways, not connecting for years. When we did again, both found the other to be decidedly “unsafe”, and have been working on our own relationship since. As for aging, we’re both comfortable with sharing that facet of our lives as well, delighted to have found somebody grown-up enough to get past the gotta-be-young-and-sexy nonsense.

    So, yes, communication is essential. Safe isn’t forever, necessarily. (Sexuality can be.) And there are ways of taking unfair advantage of “safe” that are just plain cruel.

  28. July 29th, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Kelly McCullough says:

    I think that there’s an interesting and very fine distinction here between “safe”and safe, i.e. not dangerous,” or as Greg framed it “trusted. I don’t think I’ve been treated as “safe” more than once or twice since about the time I turned 15, but I’ve generally been treated as safe, and often by women who’ve treated at least some other males in their life as “safe.” So, despite being from the same region as at least some of the “safe” sample, my personal experience runs closer to Greg’s, though I can’t say why exactly that is.

  29. July 29th, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Kelly, I suspect it’s for the same reason that nobody ever bothers me on the street but everybody wants to stop me for directions. There is a certain point at which competence (in the case of “safe,” social competence) becomes intimidating–unless you need that competence on your side.

  30. July 29th, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    becca says:

    First reaction, to the post: I am not safe. Just because I am a girl, just because I have a femme side, just because I am with a guy (don’t make me explain polyamory)… I am not safe. Wanting my own lacy panties does *NOT* remove any sexual tension from shopping for them with you.
    Ok. The rant over. The heterocentricity was getting to me.

    Second reaction, to the comments (particularly, but not limited too, Gretchen): Guys who do things for women without getting sex in return are not suckers, nor are they pitiable fools, nor are they victims. I am sooooooooooo creeped out by the apparent assumption guys go through the emotional aspects of relationships to get sex.

    Considered reaction, upon trying to figure out just what bothers me about this post: I simply don’t buy that a unilateral declaration of ‘safe’ removes any choice from the guy.
    They have many available options. The most obvious being, they can simply ask the woman to desist. I really don’t see what is so damn hard about saying “I find you very attractive, and this behavior of yours is distracting from me being able to have the kind of platonic friendship I would like to have”. Either the woman will stop, or he can walk away. If he frames it as e.g. his right to be taken seriously (instead of his right to be free from flirting), he even has male privilege to fall back on.

    And despite what you say, he always has the option to flirt back. To assert his sexuality (in a friendly way). Calling a man ‘safe’ does not make him so.

    “I’ll show you safe… bend over!**”

    *Personal idiom for random death. Feel free to substitute ‘got hit by a bus’.
    ** This is just as bad as it sounds. Don’t say that. It’s still funny to me.

  31. July 29th, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Of course, becca, you’re adding to the “Geez, guys, just communicate. How hard can it be?” chorus without any consideration of the facts that talking about this stuff is a skill that needs to be learned and that men face special risks in even attempting to communicate their feelings. I appreciate that you found this discussion exclusive (and I’d be interested to hear about instances of this that are differently gendered), but I’m pretty sure we don’t need to lose track of another group in order to talk about you.

  32. July 29th, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    D. C. Sessions says:

    I really don’t see what is so damn hard about saying “I find you very attractive, and this behavior of yours is distracting from me being able to have the kind of platonic friendship I would like to have”.

    Change just a few words and have a man saying that to you. I can certainly see a woman being majorly, and justly, offended.

    Yes, there is male privilege. Which doesn’t mean that everything is stacked the same direction.

  33. July 29th, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Nightfallz says:

    I think a point that is being missed here is the transition. I’ve had a lot of female friends in my life, and oddly enough, many of them were met just after a break up (mine or theirs), and neither of us were looking for a new person. The ground rules would usually be set early on, and that seemed like enough. A man and a woman can go to a movie, have dinner, see a concert, etc.. without having it turn romantic.

    However, as Adamo stated, these limits have to be discussed repeatedly in case mixed signals are sent out. Two people may not have any interest in each other for a long time, and then one or the other may flirt for the first time, sending the wrong message to the other, or worse, one might start spending more time with a romantic interest and have the other person suddenly finding him/herself jealous. At one time, I had several female friends that I spoke to regularly, UNTIL I started dating someone. I was shocked to find that to the day, all of the others stopped speaking to me, despite my complete transparency about my feelings from square one.

    Back to the original topic, the “safe” label does and will always feel like an insult. If a girl is asked about her male companion and she responds “Oh, that’s just X, he’s just a friend”, the word “just” is a declaration of a lower status. It is never worded “that’s my very good friend X, who is there for me in a lot of ways” because that would suggest connections/complications which might chase away new interests. You would never say “Oh, that’s *just* my father, he’s *safe*”. Why would you assign this neutral-sexuality, third-gender lackey designation to a “friend”?

  34. July 29th, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    Well, I just spent the whole evening being a safe male with a female friend. It was a perfect evening for dining outside, so we did. We talked about my wife and our new baby, her recent ‘blind’ date, caught up on a lot of personal history having not seen each other in ages. (One characteristic of our relationship is that it is mostly face to face, very little email, and she does not access me through my blogging. Which is probably why our evenings together are so deeply relaxing for me.)

    I’m 99% sure that if I asked her if she thought of me as a “safe guy” she would have laughed for a long time. Not because she would think of me as “unsafe” but rather because, as Jane Brody might have said, “The attribute does not signify.” We are simply very good platonic friends and we are friends for a lot of different, very good reasons.

    Having said that, it is also true that almost every single medium to long term relationship involving sex that I’ve ever had started as some kind of platonic thing. In fact, I’m not quite sure how it could be otherwise. Is there one place you go to find your sexual parters and another place you go to find your non-sexual friends?

    Shit. There probably is and I don’t know about it. Damn. I’m always the last person to figure these things out.

    (I would also like to add this: As I sat in a coffee shop waiting to meet my friend, it occurred to me that I may have looked like the loneliest person in the shop, but I’m pretty sure I was the least lonely person there, in part because of my family and in part because of my lovely friends, safe, dangerous, or otherwise.)

    Becca, thanks for bringing in the gender thing, very much worth noting. There is a very context-limiting aspect to this discussion, but that certainly does not require any genderization. In fact, it suddenly occurs to me that it has been my experience that “safeness” and presumption about potential sexual interaction has been an issue that involved explicit or nearly explicit signaling and discussion most often with friends of mine who were gay or bisexual, mostly men but in one notable case a woman. Interesting.

  35. July 29th, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    Arikia says:

    Hi Greg! Glad to see Quiche Moraine is still going strong. I have a contention with this logic:

    “The problem is that the women are designating the men as safe without any input from the men. The men aren’t being asked whether they have any sexual interest and whether they’re okay with it being put on hold.”

    This is pretty funny to me. Men don’t ask women whether we are OK with being the objects of their sexual desire — which, let’s face it, any time a man wants to have a close relationship with a woman, it’s usually out of sexual desire, and us women know it. We’re very perceptive of male sexual attraction, and sometimes have to work very hard to defuse it if we want to, say, have a conversation. So why should a woman ask a man if he is OK with her not wanting him? If a man falls into the boat of “safe” he is probably also in a bigger boat of “glutton for punishment.” Granted, the type of woman who would keep around a “safe” guy well-knowing he wants her selfish and probably a little bit sadistic. There’s a reason why those two personality types often go together. Dare I recommend the “safe” guy grows a pair?

    Sorry if this seems harsh. For the record, if I sense a male friend is into me when I’m not into him, I nip it in the bud to spare him until he snaps out of it. Also, keep in mind I’m coming at this from the perspective of a single 23 year old in New York City.

  36. July 30th, 2010 at 6:24 am

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Yes, Arikia, definitely gluttons for punishment. These guys all really loved being labeled and told their reactions didn’t matter, so much so that these were very fond reminiscences they were sharing lo these many years later. Look, I appreciate that you don’t behave like this, but unless you’ve been in the situation, your insights on why it happens (from both genders’ perspectives) could maybe be tempered with more compassion.

    I apologize. I’m picking on you a bit, but it’s frustration from a bunch of people who have said similar things in this thread. I see a lot of people projecting their experiences with “Let’s just be friends” onto a situation that is importantly different (“I’m not interested” is hugely different from “You’re not interested”) and making assumptions that what “any reasonable person” would do in the situations they’ve experienced would be entirely applicable to this different situation. Of course, you’re also getting it because you chose to emasculate any male whose communication skills weren’t up to the task.

    Greg, my experience is that this closing off of negotiation based on the idea that one party in inherently something or another is entirely gendered. Everything non-heterosexual gets negotiated, if not always well.

    And since becca didn’t champion the polyamory viewpoint as she usually does, it’s also worth noting that, no, you can’t always assume someone is safe because they’re married. If you don’t like surprises, check.

  37. July 30th, 2010 at 8:17 am

    Karen Burke says:

    Not to derail and minimize the discussion to something trivial, but I can’t shake this question from my mind. Why would a woman bring a man, who is not the man who she is intimate with, shopping to Victoria’s Secret, to buy *panties*? Am I that old and prudish to think that’s a little over the top? Here Mr. Safe man, come into a lingerie store with me, while I finger these lace panties and walk amongst the bras, you know, all the stuff you will never ever ever see me in, because you are such a good friend! No really, you are.

    Please help me to understand.

  38. July 30th, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Karen, not quite how it happened, according to my friend. Two couples shopping together. Her expectation was that all would go in or she’d go in alone. When they hit the store, there were two conversations going on, female with male, not aligning with couplehood. The other female doesn’t shop at Victoria’s Secret and stayed outside the store. The guys followed the conversations. Part of my friend’s discomfort was caused by the fact that she hadn’t anticipated the situation.

  39. July 30th, 2010 at 8:43 am

    Jason Thibeault says:

    Stephanie’s comment illustrates exactly the crux of the problem with communicating that this is even a disparity. Arikia thinks the topic of conversation is about being friend-zoned by someone that doesn’t have any interest in the man in question. On the contrary, it’s about someone making the assumption, and stating it pretty much outright, that the person in question doesn’t or won’t have any interest in her. It’s about taking away the guy’s ability to decide whether he’s interested at all — because once you’ve been declared safe, you have to do something decidedly unsafe to get out of it, like stating outright that you have an interest, breaking any level of trust you’ve built up with the person that decided preemptively for you that you’re “safe”.

    It’s not about the word. And it’s not about taking away a woman’s right to have no interest in a man, because she does have that right. It’s about taking away a man’s right to decide for himself whether he as an interest in a woman by pidgeonholing him before he gets a chance to weigh in himself. It’s about the woman’s right to decide whether she has interest in a man somehow extending into a right to decide whether or not a man has any right to have an interest in her.

    It all comes from lack of communication, yes, but as Stephanie pointed out, there’s a hell of a more dangerous minefield for a man to walk in order to communicate such interest AFTER he’s been declared “safe” unilaterally.

  40. July 30th, 2010 at 8:46 am

    Glendon Mellow says:

    Like John McKay above, I have trouble forming a worthwhile contribution to the discussion, other than to say this post described virtually my entire high school experience. And post university. Thanks Stephanie.

    At a very base level, one of the things I’m grateful for in my marriage every day is while my wife finds me safe, she also finds me hot.

  41. July 30th, 2010 at 8:53 am

    bzvan says:

    As a guy who has been frequently categorized as “safe” I’d like to say something to everyone who disagrees with this post: You just don’t get it.

    Some commenters managed to hit on the important distinction between “safe” and safe. Safe is a good thing. Safe means she trusts you and believes you won’t harm her and may even protect her. “Safe” is what is described above. “Safe” is usually a strong personality preying on a weak one. “Safe” means you’re in public and a creepy guy is making advances at her and she comes over to you you and pretends you’re together until he leaves, then she leaves too. Or she tells you all about it. “Safe” is a “just” as in “just him.”

    I’d wager that most men who have been branded “safe” were branded young and that they were geeks or nerds or someone else like me who had poor social skills. Yes, “safe” can be ended by one simple statement of “I’m not as ‘safe’ as you think I am” but there are problems with that. Saying that involves communication skills and this is a real live person. Even worse: it’s a girl.

    “Safe” only works because it preys on the fears and inadequacies of the “safe” guy. If a girl has never shown interest in you before, why would this one? If you show interest in this one, she’ll just dismiss it because you’re “safe.” If you convince her that you’re not really “safe” will you also not be safe? You want to tell her and she’s so close to you right now, but that’s never really worked for you and you sure as hell don’t want to scare her away.

    When you get married (however you managed that) “safe” should (in a monogamous, hetero-normative relationship) become the default for other women. But that doesn’t mean you won’t still be bitter about the years of being “safe” without choice.

    And yes, because “safe” is a giant one-way street of power, it is emotionally abusive. But none of the parties recognizes that.

    The comments so far have been an interesting and illuminating discussion of who gets it and why. I hope that a younger version of me will read this and get the tiny boost of confidence he needs to say something to that girl and not worry about scaring her away.

  42. July 30th, 2010 at 9:15 am

    Jason Thibeault says:

    The other problem with telling a girl “I’m not as ‘safe’ as you think I am” as bzvan mentioned, is that this sounds identical to “I’m not as safe as you think I am”. The former is a declaration that they don’t get to decide whether or not you will have any interest. The latter is a declaration that you might be unsafe in less savory ways — not that you’re a “bad boy” but that you might be capable of doing some very bad things to the girl. It’s a problem of co-opted terminology.

  43. July 30th, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Greg Laden says:

    Arikia: I essentially agree with you, in that I think of both “safe” and of the process of figuring out how a relationship operates is different from, or at least more variable, than this post implies.

    It also sounds like my friends are very different from you in the main, and your friends are very different from me in the main, but I essentially agree with you: “why should a woman ask a man if he is OK with her not wanting him? “

  44. July 30th, 2010 at 10:12 am

    Greg Laden says:

    Sorry, I hit “send” before I added: I don’t think Stephanie meant for her comments and analysis to apply globally. I’m an anthropologist. When I try to apply this conversation to the Yanomamo where women probably have a fair amount of power except when they ae being raped, or the Tiwi Islanders where all fetuses are in an arranged marriage until they are born (if male, the marriage is annulled) or to Victorian England, etc. etc. well, you get the point. thus my comment above disagreeing with Stephanie’s post a bit not in the center but around the edges.

  45. July 30th, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Greg Laden says:

    Karen … Why would a woman bring a man, who is not the man who she is intimate with, shopping to Victoria’s Secret, to buy *panties*?

    I assumed they were car pooling or something.

  46. July 30th, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Greg Laden says:

    BZvan and JasonT: Excellent Socretean repartee! Nicely done. We should delete all the other comments.

  47. July 30th, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    And for that matter, why not, if everyone knows what’s going on–or not going on? The story was related to me in the context of talking about separating taboo and real fidelity in a monogamous relationship. It was a fascinating discussion.

  48. July 30th, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Karen Burke says:

    It is a fascinating discussion, but clearly I have lingerie issues ;)

  49. July 30th, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    TTT says:

    BZVan is 100% right. I was rampantly “safed” in early college when I was very inexperienced and insecure around women. At that time my efforts at dating hadn’t worked, and I actually found myself thinking that, hey, this is something like a relationship, isn’t it? and maybe it could go somewhere as long as I don’t screw it up, couldn’t it? One girl in particular insisted we go on what I can only describe as platonic pseudodates when her boyfriend was out of town and she was lonely. When I finally had to cancel one of these “dates” because I was actually getting involved in a girl who was interested in me, I will never forget how shocked and confused my exploiter was. The bitterness can indeed be long-lasting, but at least I can feel that it ended on that positive note. Maybe she even learned something from it.

  50. July 30th, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Jason Thibeault says:

    I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not, Greg, but I’m not really a fan of Socratic dialogues. It always feels like one person is leading the other by the nose, and that’s not what I wanted to do in commenting here. In fact, one might say that makes me not a “safe” commenter.

  51. July 30th, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Kayla says:

    I think this begs a post on “Nice Guys”.

  52. July 30th, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    Jason, I’m not being sarcastic. Actually, I referred to it at Socratean repartee, not dialog, and what I meant by that was simply making it more clear by responding to the discussion at hand.

    So maybe my use of “Socretean” was incorrect. If you want to get all sophistic about it!

  53. July 30th, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Jason Thibeault says:

    Ah, thanks Greg. Sophism is more Plato’s bag anyway. :)

    It occurs to me on rereading that there have been commenters claiming the actions of the woman in the lingerie store were somehow inappropriate, in that they were rubbing it in the “safe guy’s” face. Except that the excerpt says, explicitly, that she does not consider this guy “safe” in that way. Regardless of how they ended up together in the store, her actions were not flaunting or taking his “safe-ness” for granted, which I think is exactly what geeks like me might find upsetting.

    I know if I was in that position, had she been, say, parading them to me, or asking me which ones her husband would like best “on her”, I might consider myself emotionally abused in that those would be implicit triggers for those “impure thoughts” and would be forced to quell them lest I somehow break that trust. See? It’s the minefield between them and proper communication that screws the whole thing up. And if he were to say “look, I can’t be in here with you if you’re going to parade those undies around”, then imagine what happens to their relationship thereafter. Which could be a very close friendship, even without that sexual aspect, and thus something he didn’t want to wreck.

  54. July 30th, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    I think it would depend on the underwear.

  55. July 30th, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    Ben Zvan says:

    If she’s asking which ones her husband would like best on her, I don’t think it would depend on the underwear.

  56. July 30th, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    Oh, it most definitively would. There are a lot of different kinds of underwear. Sure, a line has been crossed regardless of the underwear and that may be the biggest step. But crotchless panties with hardware and gizmos and the VC version of tidy whities are different.

  57. July 30th, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    D. C. Sessions says:

    Why would a woman bring a man, who is not the man who she is intimate with, shopping to Victoria’s Secret, to buy *panties*?

    Well, in at least one instance because I was her father.

    Look, there have been a lot of comments by men pointing out that it’s not that we have a problem with friends-who-are-women treating us (as it were) as “one of the girls.” It’s the unilateral nature of the process that can really hurt.

    Again, go upthread — this is one of the (rare) instances where the gender disparity works against men. Since the symmetry relationships aren’t trivial, we can’t just put together a role-reversal example. Instead you have to look at the (is “womansplaining” something that should be banned from the language?) dismissive rhetoric and mirror that to see how it relates to dismissive male rhetoric applied to women.

  58. July 30th, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    Adamo says:

    What I think a lot of comments are missing is the traditional power disparity between men and women. Suddenly the woman assumes the power (to say an unequivocal “no” to sex but “yes” to other kinds of relating AT THE SAME TIME) and it’s perceived as abusive by the guy? Where does that come from? It’s been my experience that the guy is always saying/thinking “yes” or else there is no other kind of relating. End of story, as far as he’s concerned.

    The other thread I’m picking up is the bad kind of “safe” is where the gal is telling the guy HOW HE FEELS about her. That obviously is bogus. I can’t tell you what your feelings are any more than you can tell me mine. This doesn’t seem to stop most folks from trying, however.

    To bzvan and all those others hurt by being categorized as not desirable by girls/women: it works both ways and always has. The girl who is too smart/fat/plain/flat-chested/whatever gets the same thing. It still hurts. It’s not gender specific, and you grew out of it and found somebody who appreciates you for the man that you are.

    Growing up and moving on is something everybody needs to do in some way or another. Adolescence is brutal. Most survive. Some learn. Some forgive.

  59. July 30th, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    DuWayne says:

    becca –

    You should know that I mostly adore you, but I think you are making a seriously fucked assumption about men and our general ability to communicate, or even understand our emotions.

    Men are considerably more prone to heart attacks and strokes*, than women are (yes, this is relevant – work with me). Men are also exponentially less prone to help seeking – whether we are talking general medical issues, or mental health issues, though we are really fucked in terms of mental health issues. There is also a legacy gospel assumption (in psychology – even today) that women experience depression in vastly higher percentages than men. While more women attempt to commit suicide, considerably more men actually kill themselves, than women.

    The heart attacks and strokes issue is hypothesized to be largely due to the fact that men are, in general, completely and utterly emotionally incompetent and incoherent. While trying to design studies that can provide causational evidence to support this are extremely difficult to design, there is a whole hell of a lot of correlation between emotional competence and not having heart attacks or strokes.

    Men are generally better at actually killing themselves, because a) they are less afraid of being messy and b) studies have indicated that they tend to be far more motivated – though studies on suicide are exceedingly rare, because it is virtually impossible to get approval for them.

    The help seeking and depression issue is really rather at the heart of this though, and dovetails into the problem with what you are suggesting. What you are suggesting guys do, is, in psychological terms, in the same category as help seeking and related problems. First, most guys aren’t entirely cognizant of exactly what they are feeling about being labeled “safe,” except maybe that it feels bad.

    They often aren’t aware of what makes them feel bad about it. Instead of getting rather annoyed that they have been imbued with this label, they feel that the feelings of sexual attraction they might have are somehow wrong, or even perverted. They are ashamed of those feelings and are also, conscious or otherwise, ashamed that they are not perceived as a sexual being.

    I could go on, but I just drove 600 miles and will be picking up the eight and two year olds in the morning and driving 600 miles back. Suffice to say that what you are suggesting is not particularly viable, under the circumstances.

    And of course, these are all generalizations and are not applicable to every situation. They are just applicable more often than not in the context of “safe.”

    I do want to add though, that I really appreciate this post. Though remarkably shameless, I have experienced shame a couple of times and really fucking hate shaming. While shame about one’s color/ethnic origin is at the top of my list, with being ashamed of how one’s brain works coming in second, shame about sexuality is third on my list of really shitty things to feel shame about – all of them being very close.

    Sexuality is just such a beautiful thing, with so many incredible variations. Nobody** deserves to be robbed of that beauty, or to have it sullied by feeling shitty about their sexual desires.

    * At a relatively young age
    ** Almost nobody. Unless you are Rush Limbaugh…Or Ted Haggard…Or……Goodnight.

  60. July 30th, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    daedalus2u says:

    I want to throw out a hypothetical evolutionary psychology reason why having “safe” male friends might be advantageous for a woman. I am not saying that any of this is conscious, but it doesn’t have to be. By “safe” I am meaning it as John McKay used the term as being desexualized, the opposite of a “bad boy”.

    If males did fight other males for access to females (presumably to the death), being not attracted to certain males was “safe” for the male too because as non-potential rivals there would be no need for an alpha male want-to-be to kill them. The “safe” male friend might be someone she could turn to if she needed to, if a new alpha male was going to kill her children.

    There may be some circumstances where a woman’s “best” reproductive choice will not be to choose the “best” male. For example if she has to choose between two men, one of whom would kill her children if she chooses the other man (a bad boy), and one of whom would not (a nice guy), who should she choose? Pretty obviously the one that would kill her children if she chose the other one, that is not the “safe” guy but the bad boy.

    I suspect that some of the aversion that some pre-adolescent boys have to things female might have a similar basis. An older male could easily get jealous of a same-age boy spending time with a girl, and perceive the boy as a potential rival and kill him. Avoiding girls until later, after the boy has grown larger and stronger might be a safer course of action.

  61. July 30th, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    daedalus2u: Well, there is the literature on “friendship” in baboons (Barbara Smuts) which is all about safe/”safe” male baboons.

  62. July 30th, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    daedalus2u says:

    I just saw a video as SBC which very closely matches the topic of this post, but in SBC fashion.

    http://www.smbc-theater.com/?id=221

  63. July 31st, 2010 at 11:46 am

    becca says:

    I think part of the reason I’m having a really hard time relating to this is that the male I’ve probably spent the most time talking to- my father- always got a kick out of being the tag-along. Sometimes it was the young kid in a bunch of older people (that was my role in many contexts during my adolescence). Often it was the one guy allowed in the inner cadre of women. He was “safe”. If it helps to understand his personality, he was so slow to develop that he got in for the children’s rate- under 12- at the movies until he was 18 years old. He *was* desexualized while he was learning to communicate to/relate to women as an adolescent- because that’s what the biology supported. I think it was frustrating, but he took it up with fate for making him that way (with a younger brother basketball star, no less), rather than the women. If anything, my impression is that it was always a point of pride for him that he was trusted (*his* father was a salesman, and made a special emphasis of getting along with people as something to be proud of… it’s too bad that value got diluted after the next generation).

    Now, I was also probably a perpetrator of this vile act as an adolescent, so I may have a vested interest in seeing it as ok. Maybe I’m like those jerks defending their right to check women out not getting how common the ‘leering’ aspect is or the tedium of even more casual glances.

    Of course, as I mentioned, in a sense I was also a victim of this kind of act and I didn’t feel *that* stressed about it- if anything, the annoying aspect was the invisibility- which is something non-heteronormatives often have to struggle with. Of course, despite having *gone* through this with women, I’m still obviously oblivious to the power dynamic of women-over-men with regard to defining parameters of relationships. Maybe I just have this enormous blindspot and can’t see my privilege, or maybe I’ve just more fundamentally internalized “women don’t owe men sex” AND “men enjoy relating to women as people” than the vast majority of you. I’m really not in a position with any perspective to tell which it is (maybe both).

    DuWayne- I get that it’s very hard for men without many communication skills, or strong interpersonal skills to learn to say this kind of thing. I get why it might be difficult for them to *communicate* how they want to define the parameters of relationships. I just don’t get how “safehood” is having their power to define the relationships stripped from them. Why aren’t such communication-challenged men equally unable to ask for a certain type of relationship before being classified as “safe”?

  64. July 31st, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    D. C. Sessions says:

    Why aren’t such communication-challenged men equally unable to ask for a certain type of relationship before being classified as “safe”?

    You’re assuming that the sequence is:

    relationship negotiation -> “safehood”

    but that’s not necessarily how it works. At all.

    Remember, there’s no team uniform here. In the early stages of a relationship there’s no difference between “safe” and “polite.” You certainly can’t count on a deep discussion of hopes and expectations — that in itself, if initiated by a guy especially, is pushy and enough to get him an instant reputation as a creep.

    Later, once he figures out that he’s been classified as a harem guard, even suggesting that he’s interested turns into betrayal: “false pretenses to get her to trust you” is the obvious accusation when he turns out to have intentions other than the ones previously written for his part.

    The only sure-fire way to avoid getting labeled “safe” is to come on right from the beginning. Sure, it gets you rejected sometimes — and sometimes it doesn’t. By observation it’s almost certainly the most efficient strategy; it’s just that for some of us it was never one we were willing to adopt.

    After that, you’re looking at the local optimum trap: the relationship you have may not be the one you want, but it beats leaving altogether — and that’s quite possibly what you’re going to get (possibly seasoned with some very unflattering words) if you so much as suggest any renegotiation.

  65. July 31st, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    D. C. Sessions says:

    Sorry — blockquote fail.

  66. July 31st, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    DuWayne says:

    I get that it’s very hard for men without many communication skills, or strong interpersonal skills to learn to say this kind of thing. I get why it might be difficult for them to *communicate* how they want to define the parameters of relationships.

    becca, I am talking about the vast majority of men here, not a random few. Guys, as a rule, really suck at even understanding, much less communicating their emotions. This is not limited to geeks who are “safe.” This applies to guys who actually have strong communication skills and who seem pretty confident and sure of themselves.

    There are exceptions, but that is a very small percentage of men.

    Why aren’t such communication-challenged men equally unable to ask for a certain type of relationship before being classified as “safe”?

    I am really not sure what you mean by this.

    The point I am trying to make is exactly this – they are absolutely incapable of asking for what they actually want, what type of relationship they want. Hell, most men in reasonably healthy relationships are incapable of really expressing what they want. Many men who are reasonably confident and capable of communicating with women, are incapable of expressing what they really want.

    Take a guy who is actually rather awkward and uncomfortable around women and what they actually might say, versus what they are thinking they feel, versus what they actually feel and we’re talking about at least five or six different concepts – not two or three – most certainly not one. This is not as simple as being able to communicate with women, it is about being able to functionally communicate with oneself. This is much more a problem of emotional intelligence, than it is a problem of social intelligence.

    Ironically, these “safe” guys who have lower social intelligence are generally more likely to end up in stable relationships. In part, I suspect, because they often compensate for social intelligence issues, by becoming rather introspective.

    I would also like to note, lest it sound like I am above these social intelligence problems, that nothing could be further from the truth. It is just that my social intelligence issues didn’t really get in the way of having intimate friendships, or of having sex – they just got in the way of virtually every other aspect of dealing with society.

  67. July 31st, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    Bais Blackfingers says:

    A word on terminology first- Nice : Safe :: Soda : Pop. I think people who actually use them interchangeably are rare, but trying to split hairs between the meaning may be somewhat pointless unless you want to have a comprehensive linguistics conversation (for which I am not personally qualified). I’ve been called both and both feel nasty in the same way. Nice stings a bit more (possibly because I’m culturally closer to people who say nice instead of safe?), but I’ll use safe here for consistency.

    I think it’s clear that there are two kinds of safe- one acceptable, the other abusive and dehumanizing. I’m not going to pretend I know exactly where the line is but there is enough range in my experience that I can say I’ve been hit with both. One thing I have noticed that nobody else seems to have brought up- most of the definitively abusive situations end up involving more than two people.

    Say you have a platonic relationship with A, and she decides that you are safe. You meet B and have a romantic inclination toward her, but you have been deemed safe by A. Because of that assessment, B quickly also comes to see you as safe.

    Obviously this is a situation that requires some communication to get out of- but what needs to be communicated, and where? Simply stating your feelings for B while still appearing to be safe will seem disingenuous- like you abused her trust (which you did not ask for) to get close to her. First you have to make it clear that you never intended to be safe.

    Which brings me to a point common to both the acceptable and abusive forms of safe- the ridiculously high barrier of exit. In some rare cases, I have seen simply speaking honestly work. It ends in flat rejection, but hey, at least it worked. More often saying ‘I don’t want to be safe’ is met with straight up denial- ‘he couldn’t possibly be talking about me!’. In order to actually rid yourself of the label, you have to prove it. Say something egregious or fail to be supportive during a genuine crisis. Live up to the stereotype of men as unreliable pigs.

    Of course if safe guys had that in them, they wouldn’t be safe to begin with. But there’s a fine line to be walked here- stop short and you may reinforce your safety because your behavior is written off as a joke. Step too far (or even far enough), and you genuinely hurt someone. This brings us back to the three-body problem: the line for A and B will be in different places. If you successfully walk the line with A, it might be way too far for B, or vice versa. It may be possible to solve, but I’ve never seen it done without bad blood from at least one party.

    Naturally that text-wall of angst is wholly unnecessary. Good communication from the start could have solved this mess. Which is what makes it so bitter- being denied sexuality sucks, but the salt in the wound is being denied the option to communicate it well. Sure, the guy has options to make what he wants known, but every one of those options is terrible through no fault of his own (or worse, through his own positive behavior).

  68. July 31st, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    Ben Zvan says:

    I get that it’s very hard for men without many communication skills, or strong interpersonal skills to learn to say this kind of thing. I get why it might be difficult for them to *communicate* how they want to define the parameters of relationships. I just don’t get how “safehood” is having their power to define the relationships stripped from them. Why aren’t such communication-challenged men equally unable to ask for a certain type of relationship before being classified as “safe”?

    They’re already bad at communicating, they’re probably shy and not very confident and this is yet another roadblock in their way. Often, he’s been classified as “safe” before ever meeting someone. It doesn’t mean that he would otherwise expect sex from her and it doesn’t actually mean that she’s sexually off-limits. It just means that his inherent weakness has just been made weaker.

  69. August 1st, 2010 at 6:57 am

    Tony Sidaway says:

    I suppose I should say that I don’t understand at all the expressed male point of view in this. As a man I unconsciously designate some women (and men, too) as people I have absolutely no interest in having a sexual relationship, but being a guy I flirt practically non-stop, even with complete strangers.

    It would seem that I’m doing just what you, Greg, are describing some women as doing: making my own decisions without discussing them with the involved party. But as this “safe” designation applies to practically everybody I know I don’t think it would be practical to negotiate “safeness”, and in any case I’m sure the very idea that they might have a sexual interest in me (I’m not Brad Pitt, you know!) would be rather presumptuous.

    Of course for a woman flirting is a rather more problematic area, because there really are quite a few men who might take flirting as an invitation. So assuming by default that all men are safe isn’t as sensible for a woman as it is for me to assume that I can express open admiration for a womanfriend’s beauty without misleading her.

    I’m not the world’s most socially adept person so I don’t know how seriously to take this, but I do think that everybody should feel free to decide that person X or Y is “safe” unless given a clear statement to the contrary. On the other hand I’ve lost friends through making that assumption.

  70. August 1st, 2010 at 8:29 am

    Kelly McCullough says:

    Quite a number of people seem to be making a conflation here between being treated as a male not of sexual interest and being treated as a “safe” male. I think that’s driving a lot of the confusion. They’re not the same thing at all.

    It’s the difference between saying “I’m not interested in sex with you,” and saying “you’re not allowed to be interested in sex at all.” One is a statement of personal preference in regards to an individual. The other is a declaring of a sort of state of being for another individual. That’s a huge difference.

  71. August 1st, 2010 at 8:55 am

    DuWayne says:

    Kelly -

    With all due respect, that’s fucking bullshit. When woman A tells woman B that guy F is “safe,” she is making a declaration about the nature of his sexuality – or lackthereof. She is, in point of fact, declaring a state of being for guy F.

  72. August 1st, 2010 at 9:03 am

    DuWayne says:

    …and in any case I’m sure the very idea that they might have a sexual interest in me (I’m not Brad Pitt, you know!) would be rather presumptuous.

    Tony, that is not how this works. When I was rather younger and a rather more sexual person, I was most definitely not “safe.” Whether I actually wanted to have sex with a given person or not, the baseline assumption was that I did – at least with women (I was far more select about flirting with guys, as it made many guys uncomfortable). I had a reputation and where that didn’t apply, my oozing sensuality made it apparent enough.

    It wasn’t me presuming that women would want to have sex with me – I was generally pretty shocked when they did. It was the assumption they were making, that I wanted to have sex with them and would try to convince them they should sleep with me.

    The problem here, is that you have the who assumes something about someone else’s desire entirely backwards here.

  73. August 1st, 2010 at 9:39 am

    Kelly McCullough says:

    DuWayne, read my post again. That’s what I just said. That saying a man is “safe” is declaring that they’re not a sexual being.

  74. August 1st, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Kelly McCullough says:

    DuWayne, I’m actually thoroughly baffled by how badly you misread my post. Could you clarify where it went wrong for you?

  75. August 1st, 2010 at 9:55 am

    Bais Blackfingers says:

    DuWayne-

    I think you and Kelly are actually on the same page there…

  76. August 1st, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    In case DuWayne doesn’t make it back any time soon, I think it’s a simple misreading. There’s currently something going on in his life involving two small children and 600-mile road trips–plural.

  77. August 1st, 2010 at 10:13 am

    Jason Thibeault says:

    My guess, given the parallel construction of Tony’s “Person X” and DuWayne’s “Woman A”, is that DuWayne was rebutting Tony in both posts.

  78. August 1st, 2010 at 10:33 am

    becca says:

    DuWayne- it’s hard for someone as aggressively analytically introspective as I am to wrap my brain around this apparently ubiquitous reputedly male trait of *not* examining oneself. I think you exaggerate, but maybe that’s because I *hope* you exaggerate, else the males I know are ultra bizzaro and/or I’m delusional about them.
    Even so, it seems peripheral to me- unless being classified as safe actually impacts what a man actually wants?

    D.C. Sessions- it’s the being ‘caught’ in the local optimum ‘trap’ that I’m REALLY having trouble mustering much empathy for. It’s the old Ann Landers question- are you better with her or without her? As long as, on balance, it’s a good relationship, why should the guy feel bitter? Why should outsiders look in and feel pity for a guy because he’s not getting sex (or even feel bad that he is socially discouraged to ask for it)?

    I don’t see it as a horrible, disrespectful thing for a guy to be discouraged from seeking sex. In fact, I find it very interesting that no one has voiced any concern about men being erroneously classified as ‘sexualized’ (rather than ‘safe’) and being discouraged from seeking emotional and intellectually enriched relationships. Basically, the implicit assumptions about the importance of sex for men just creep me out.

  79. August 1st, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    becca, a few things to remember. First, remember that this particular thing I’m talking about is largely something that happens to young male geeks (DuWayne can support his more general comments, but they are separate from “safe”). Also, it almost exclusively is done by young women. You were definitely taught far above average emotive communication skills, and that will affect both who your friends are and how they communicate around you.

    These people are still very much learning, and they’re doing it amid a slew of messages telling them not to. Men are being told that having feelings and communicating them is weak. Women are being told that communicating about sex is wrong. That’s the background in which all this is happening.

    And finally, there are some really ugly messages about male sexuality in this. Note that “safe” is being treated as the opposite of sexual. Male sexual response to deliberate flirtation is classified as so unsafe that it can’t even be discussed. And yes, inherent in the whole thing is the idea that men are hypersexualized, or there wouldn’t need to be any such designation. A big part of the discussions I’ve had about this, well, I’ll just quote one of my friends. “I mean, I don’t want to be perceived as ‘unsafe’ — but I also don’t want to be perceived as a eunuch.”

    As I said in the post, there is plenty of room for no sex and safe places for flirting. (I could have used one of those. I’m terrible at flirting.) It’s doing it this way, without room for any kind of negotiation, that’s the problem. And part of the problem is reinforcing that dichotomy of sex-male/no sex-not real male.

  80. August 1st, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Kelly McCullough says:

    Becca, what’s being discussed isn’t about a guy being “discouraged from seeking sex.” It’s about a guy being discouraged from being a sexual being. It’s not a woman saying “I don’t want to have sex with you.” It’s a woman saying “You aren’t allowed to have sexual agency.”

    Those are very different statements and when they’re conflated into one thing it misses the whole point of this conversation, which is what I was trying to get across with my comment about conflation above. One denies a guy sex (which I don’t think anyone in this conversation feels is unreasonable). The other denies a guy sexual personhood.

  81. August 1st, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    D. C. Sessions says:

    D.C. Sessions- it’s the being ‘caught’ in the local optimum ‘trap’ that I’m REALLY having trouble mustering much empathy for. It’s the old Ann Landers question- are you better with her or without her? As long as, on balance, it’s a good relationship, why should the guy feel bitter? Why should outsiders look in and feel pity for a guy because he’s not getting sex (or even feel bad that he is socially discouraged to ask for it)?

    Becca, I think you’re missing some context that carries over into other discussions regarding (to pick an example) women’s clothing and men’s reactions to it. Now, I’m not going anywhere near the “she was asking for it” stupidity, but may we stipulate for the sake of discussion that women’s clothing (or lack thereof) can carry sexual messages? Can, at least, be designed to draw attention?

    OK, that established: imagine a young, socially awkward guy hanging out with friends-who-are-girls. The guy in question is not looking for sex with any of the girls in question, but …

    In the course of an afternoon, the girls decide to do some “what should I wear to get [tonight's date] worked up?” And, guy present and no warning, they start trying stuff on. Down to underwear, try on something, off, on …

    Sure, ten years and a lot more experience and self-confidence later, a “Ladies, please, I’m not a plaster saint” comment might have gotten the individual in question out somewhat gracefully. Tell that to a 17yo boy, who is already far enough from the middle of the bell curve to be spending an afternoon hanging out with a bunch of girls because he’s much more comfortable with them than with the guys his age — or was, until the “one of the girls” went to the next level.

    Try to identify with that and consider the implied message.

  82. August 1st, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    DuWayne says:

    Sorry Kelly – I totally misconstrued what you were saying. Please excuse my complete and utter fucking stupidity, I am usually not quite that off kilter.

    becca –

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/14107293/Mood-Disorders-in-Men

    See the bibliography (not that my paper sucks, but it is rather specific in focus). I am not exaggerating at all. Men are seriously fucked up creatures, being fucked up by archetypal gender constructs.

    As for your personal experience with men, I would assume that it is a combination of you being somewhat delusional and selection bias. I am guessing that you aren’t really big on archetypal “manly” men, though I could be mistaken. And based on what little I’ve gleaned from the discussions about homeschooling, whatever problems your folks have with the smoking aside, your dad provided a pretty decent template for what you expect from men in your life.

    The irony of this, is that a hella lot of the young men who were labeled “safe,” are far more likely to transcend archetypal gender constructs as they mature. As they get older, they are more likely to become more emotionally intelligent than most other men. It just sucks total balls when they are young, because aside from just being socially awkward, they are also still stuck in a very masculinized emotional construct.

  83. August 1st, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    D. C. Sessions says:

    What DuWayne said.

  84. August 1st, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    DuWayne says:

    Crap, I didn’t hit on this -

    Even so, it seems peripheral to me- unless being classified as safe actually impacts what a man actually wants?

    And that is the key. Young men in general, are very prone to living up to peer classifications. I don’t care how confident a motherfucker is, nor do I care how much he may believe that he is the way he is, because that is who he is – it just doesn’t work that way (nor does it work that way for women). We are, all of us, who we are in part, because of how we were perceived by our peers. Young men are particularly prone to this, largely because of the same characteristics of the brain that drives their impulsivity (I will try to dig up the paper tomorrow, if I have time – but I also have my kids for a week and only a week, so don’t count on it.)

    Add socially awkward and being classified as nonsexual to the mixture, and you can fuck up a guy’s sexuality pretty good in the short term.

  85. August 2nd, 2010 at 7:58 am

    D. C. Sessions says:

    Even so, it seems peripheral to me- unless being classified as safe actually impacts what a man actually wants?

    Boggle. If I had written “Even so, it seems peripheral to me- unless being classified as ____ actually impacts what a woman actually wants?” for any number of blanks, I would rightly catch six kinds of hell.

    Male privilege will only get you so far, after all.

  86. August 2nd, 2010 at 9:42 am

    Kelly McCullough says:

    DuWayne, no worries. I was just surprised. I’m not used to reader reaction falling that far from my intended meaning. Well, with the exception of one lone book reviewer who will remain nameless.

  87. August 2nd, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Rich Wilson says:

    It’s doing it this way, without room for any kind of negotiation, that’s the problem.

    I’ve been uncharacteristically silent on this. Well, I don’t have a presence on AD, but that’s never stopped me from jumping in before. I think DuWayne and Kelly are putting it better than I will, but that also doesn’t stop me often enough.

    The part I’m still having trouble with is “so what now?” A female platonic friend once said to me “there are two kinds of guys, those you’d date and those you wouldn’t”. What I think Stephanie has pointed out is that there is a 3rd, “not even considered yea or nay”. I think we all agree that ‘nay’ is obviously acceptable. But how is that 3rd option not an acceptable opinion to have? To say I don’t want to be ‘safe’ (IMO) is to say that someone else’s opinion is invalid. I may not like it (any more than ‘nay’, or ‘yea’ for that matter) but it’s not my opinion, it’s theirs. And if someone thinks I’m safe, I don’t see how they can treat me otherwise. Other than not asking me for lingerie advice of course.

  88. August 2nd, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    DuWayne says:

    Rich –

    I think you are addressing something that can be largely ignored, because the bottom line is that most of the young men this happens to are generally going to accept the status quo. I do feel compelled to address something rather important here.

    To say I don’t want to be ‘safe’ (IMO) is to say that someone else’s opinion is invalid. I may not like it (any more than ‘nay’, or ‘yea’ for that matter) but it’s not my opinion, it’s theirs.

    Honestly, their opinion isn’t valid in this case. Someone else having the opinion that you aren’t a sexual being, is not only not valid, it is flat fucking wrong. That is no different than my having once been accused, by a guy, of lying to women to get them to have sex with me. He felt that something I had said to someone was a lie – it was not, but he felt he was entitled to his opinion (I would note that the woman in question didn’t think I had lied).

    His opinion wasn’t valid, but he had a vested interest in me lying to women to get laid. Likewise, the opinion of these women that one is not a sexual being is not valid, but perseveres because they have a vested interest in that being the case. The reasons that guy had for wanting me to be a liar weren’t ignoble, any more than the motivation of young women to have nonsexual men in their life is ignoble. But they are flat fucking wrong. This isn’t invalid opinion, this is a lack of truth.

    Just because someone else believes something – possibly considers it an opinion, doesn’t make it valid.

    And if someone thinks I’m safe, I don’t see how they can treat me otherwise. Other than not asking me for lingerie advice of course.

    Obviously in this context this is a little more complicated, given the problems discussed previously. But when it comes to being treated a certain way, one can change their end of the paradigm. In the case of someone thinking you are safe (assuming the “you” is selfaware and confident enough), show that you aren’t. There will be consequences and some might be negative, but it will change the paradigm and you are treated differently after.

    In the case of the guy who claimed I was lying to women, I both asked the woman in question to clarify that I wasn’t lying and became rather more blunt about exactly what I was about. There were consequences, some of which were negative. But I changed the paradigm. Another option, were I a different sort of guy, would have been to kick his ass – which would also have changed the paradigm.

    Point being, there are always options and in nearly all cases, you can change the paradigm. You just have to be willing to accept the consequences.

  89. August 3rd, 2010 at 12:09 am

    Rich Wilson says:

    Just because someone else believes something – possibly considers it an opinion, doesn’t make it valid.

    You’re right.

    Point being, there are always options and in nearly all cases, you can change the paradigm. You just have to be willing to accept the consequences.

    Thanks. You’ve made me realize that what I was expressing was pants-pissing-fear of the idea of trying to change that paradigm. Not even the consequences so much as not wanting to go anywhere near the apple cart.

    When I was 15 I got a bizarre phone call from a girl 2 grades younger. It was fairly benign, homework, TV, etc. But a) even girls in my own class who I spoke to during the day wouldn’t call me and b) she was from a fairly religiously repressed home. During the call she switched to pretending to talk to a girl when one of her parents was within earshot. During the call I suspected it was a prank, so I kept waiting for the punch line, but I was also too intrigued to end the call myself. The next day I tried to make eye contact with her in the hall, and she looked right through me. To this day I don’t really know what it was about, but I suspect it was a practice call. I recall feeling kind of used, but not upset or hurt. More amused. Partly I suppose because I wouldn’t want to admit that it hurt. But partly because hey, a girl called me at home. Maybe it wasn’t ‘real’, but it was something.

    (Yes, in case we haven’t established it yet, teenage nerd boys are that desperate and lacking in self esteem. At least I was)

  90. August 3rd, 2010 at 7:07 am

    Bais Blackfingers says:

    Not sure when we came to the point that we were talking specifically about nerdy teenage boys here, but it’s certainly past time to nip that crap in the bud. Nerdy young boys will always be disproportionate victims of this particular ill just as certain forms sexism fall disproportionately on certain types of women.

    But the original post started off talking about an attractive, full grown man.

    And as nice as it is to imagine that the only problem here is the local optimum trap and generalized fear of change, that’s total hogwash. Most guys in the safe situation beyond the teenage years crave change rather than fear it, and the optimum trap exists only as a coincidental result of the fact that the consequences of a safe guy’s options are totally inappropriate responses to said options.

    Not meaning to pick on the girls here, but I think this is a useful analogy- say a woman is in an (emotionally) abusive relationship. Pretty much everyone would say ‘she is better off without him’, and she is (physically, if not psychologically) capable of walking away from the situation. The man will likely cause (unjust) consequences for her, but she will still be better off in the long term.

    The local optimum is probably a problem for her, but almost everyone understands that isn’t *the* problem. Very few people would suggest that if she were more emotionally developed the problem would be solved, in spite of the fact that it would enable her to specifically resolve her own problems by doing a lot of work she should never have had to do. The problem is that the guy is abusive, full stop.

    If a guy happens to be confident enough or developed enough to actively choose between the awful options presented to a safe man instead of just being trapped (and even that being on the somewhat flimsy assumption that just being emotionally developed is enough to overcome denial), it doesn’t make those options less terrible.

  91. August 3rd, 2010 at 7:41 am

    becca says:

    Ok, so I can sort of understand some of this now. I can relate to feeling marginalized or dismissed or silenced. I just couldn’t understand why it was so important, so central to identity, to be seen as a sexual being *by any given person* (Yeah, I was forgetting what it was like before one has been seen as a sexual being *by anyone*).

    Stephannie- I also think reading the ’5 things’ link on Almost Diamonds helped a lot with this. The importance of being seen as sexually powerful to male identity is not something I have considered much before.

    However, I think a lot of the reactions to this have not been focused on the individuals, and not the culture.

    I don’t think this phenomenon is an inevitable consequence of people not having empathy for each other (which is how some of these women are behaving) or people not being emotionally intelligent (which is underpinning the lack of communication). Both of those things are more common in immature individuals, which is I think why some of us remember this as a phase. Each factor is necessary, but insufficient, for this kind of thing to take place.

    From my perspective, what’s really driving this phenomenon is that a woman behaving this way is doing so in a cultural environment in which her identity as a sexual person must constantly policed out of desire to feel safe.

    There is enormous pressure for women to constantly calibrate their actions based on the sexual effects they will have, and it’s perfectly understandable to want some relief from that constant responsibility.
    Furthermore, the reason this pressure exists is because society in general (including individuals on this comment thread) are operating under a paradigm where women are more or less defined by the sexual effects they have on men. This paradigm denies personhood to women, and leads to egregious abuses of sexual agency.

  92. August 3rd, 2010 at 10:40 am

    D. C. Sessions says:

    There is enormous pressure for women to constantly calibrate their actions based on the sexual effects they will have, and it’s perfectly understandable to want some relief from that constant responsibility.

    Hardly unique to women. Aside from the inevitability of that to some degree just from being part of a species which is always in season, there’s a lot of stress that comes from trying to create a culture which is in many ways contradictory to nature (e.g. not using violence when despite impulses.) I think that it’s a very good thing, but let’s not pretend it doesn’t have costs.

    Then there’s the fact that we’re in a period where the cultural environment is changing so that we don’t even have a stable base of custom and ritual to fall back on.

    The stress manifests differently for men and women, though, so it’s not all that surprising that we have different perceptions.

  93. August 3rd, 2010 at 11:14 am

    Ben Zvan says:

    Bais Blackfingers:

    But the original post started off talking about an attractive, full grown man.

    Really?

    Becca:

    I just couldn’t understand why it was so important, so central to identity, to be seen as a sexual being *by any given person*

    You’re getting closer. It’s not a desire to be seen as a sexual being, it’s a desire to not be seen as a eunuch.

    The importance of being seen as sexually powerful to male identity is not something I have considered much before.

    Power? Where do you get that? This has nothing to do with power, this has to do with existence.

  94. August 3rd, 2010 at 11:22 am

    D. C. Sessions says:

    Power? Where do you get that? This has nothing to do with power, this has to do with existence.

    If you take away the negative connotations that “power” can carry in gendered discussions, it’s not an inappropriate term. “Potency” is really the same, with more sexual and fewer compulsive overtones.

  95. August 3rd, 2010 at 11:34 am

    Ben Zvan says:

    I almost agree with that. “Validity” would be a better term. “Impotency” does not a eunuch make.

  96. August 3rd, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    DuWayne says:

    I love naptime – any time Youngest is asleep really. He is the only child I have met who absolutely must snuggle his sleepytime beverage cup. This is more important than his stuffed critters even.

    Becca –

    I don’t think this phenomenon is an inevitable consequence of people not having empathy for each other (which is how some of these women are behaving) or people not being emotionally intelligent (which is underpinning the lack of communication).

    It isn’t inevitable and in fact is highly culturally dependent. There are cultural contexts, for example, where this phenom wouldn’t apply, simply because women place an even larger premium on being perceived as sexually desirable. “Safe” guys can’t exist, because sexual perception is more important.

    Both of those things are more common in immature individuals…

    This is where the “delusional” accusation came from (not that I see you as generally delusional, or believe that was the best word). While empathy is relatively important to maturation, it isn’t critical for men in general and can actually be problematic. Emotional intelligence is even less critical and far more difficult.

    Men raised in mainstream U.S. American culture have certain, specific emotional deficits. Some of us are less impacted by these than others, but they are there and they are inevitable. Maturation definitely helps in some cases, but for others it just doesn’t.

    I am going to address this in more detail on my own blog – later. I have a small person waking up here…

  97. August 3rd, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Ben Zvan says:

    “Safe” guys can’t exist, because sexual perception is more important.

    That is an excellent point.

  98. August 4th, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    DuWayne says:
  99. December 5th, 2010 at 1:02 am

    Jane says:

    I’m a bit late, but in case anybody drops by late, too…

    I’m trying t think this out. Is the problem women talking about sex or even flirting with guy friends from whom they want no response in kind? I think there is confusion here about terms; is “safe” a female assuming a heterosexual guy (or lesbian gal) has no sexual feelings about her or in her presence? Or is it the assumption of a lack of sexual interest in her personally? I’m suspecting we’re trying to talk about the former. In either case, the woman certainly has no sexual feelings for the man (or woman). (I’ll keep saying man, and sometimes I am talking in particular about men and feelings and their approaches to relationships as men, but I don’t mean to imply this scenario only happens in hetero relationships.)

    I don’t want to blame the victim or discount real pschological struggles and limits due to the maturation process and the teachings of our culture. But if a man treated this way doesn’t like it, even if he is young and insecure, he can express that, or hopefully will be able to learn to express that in one of the ways Umlud outlined on July 29th. Jen also explained on the 29th the guy’s agency in the relationship. I think Adamo’s comment on the 30th (about women’s long-limited natural prerogatives in a relationship vs. the disrespectful situation of a woman telling a man what his feelings are) is great. And becca, on the 29th: “They have many available options. The most obvious being, they can simply ask the woman to desist. I really don’t see what is so damn hard about saying ‘I find you very attractive, and this behavior of yours is distracting from me being able to have the kind of platonic friendship I would like to have’. Either the woman will stop, or he can walk away.”

    On the girl’s part, unintentionally failing to consider a guy’s sexual feelings is insensitive, but I wouldn’t call it victimization, except in the most technical sense of the word. People usually aren’t capable of treating each other perfectly, and often, muddled up in conflict with their own feelings as they are, there behavior hurts us more than it would seem to to them or an observer, but we all have to bump through and figure out how to be aware of what’s going on and stick up for ourselves.

    On the 29th 7PM contrasted manipulative “safe” relationships with relationships where there is a friendship parameter. In the case of 7PM’s abusive relationship, however, the woman is using the man’s sexuality, specifically his sexual feelings toward her, for selfish gain. Much of the earlier discussion was devoted to the situation of a woman denying a man has sexual being. I guess there are different ways of denying something; 7PM’s scenario is explicit denial, and the other is implicit. The most interesting part of it to me is when the woman is unaware of her behavior and its effect on the man because… well, I guess that’s what we’re talking about. I feel like there’s something I’m not quite getting here that is important. While the manipulation can be conscious or unconscious and damaging either way, I also see strong elements of simple friendship interest on the part of the woman and, in a “safe” relationship where the guy is uncomfortable, lack of consideration for the fact that maybe some things of a sexual nature cannot be talked about or done with certain male friends because… he might feel marginalized? I don’t want to sound like a female sexist, but the mistake often seems pretty honest on the part of the female and I don’t see how she can anticipate the guy’s reaction is discomfort if he won’t show it. She’ll treat him like any other friend if he acts like one.

    Some things are obviously disrespectful, acting in a physically flirtatious way like sitting on the guy’s lap without expecting consequences like Stephanie described, but what about talking about sex with another guy? About your panties riding up your crack? About bra shopping? About how he thinks a top looks on you? About hoping to pick up a guy tonight? About guys you’re (romantically) interested in and why? I can picture friendships where these things would work and ones where they wouldn’t, and it can’t be all up to one party to figure out what is acceptable. On the other hand, no one should ever treat anyone as less than fully human.

    I do think it’s a good thing for women to at least think about, to examine their feelings and assumptions and behavior around people. I can see this is a real problem for some men (and women), and it’s not something they deserve.

    I like becca relating (on the 1st) the potential or actual de-sexualization of men we are discussing to the usual female assumption of the sex-obsessed man–it is true that, as a woman I really do have to watch out, almost on a daily basis, for strong male interest in sex as a possible motivator of insincerity on the part of men in social interaction, creating a disrespectful situation masquerading as a warm, fun, or compassionate one. Maybe the unconscious weariness of that leads women to act in insensitive ways around guys who they perceive will not only not approach them sexually but will not display any sexuality out of their own timidity. I have an image of a depressed springboard finally being released allowing a free-floating feeling. Maybe we are so acculturated to outspoken male sexuality, by experience and myth, that when it is submerged we forget, or want to forget, that it exists. I don’t know.

    I think it was very astute pointing out this also happens to young women (Adamo on the 30th) and older women (McKay on the 29th), and I’m sure to women in between as well.

    I feel somewhat more educated by this discussion. I shall be returning to this site!

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