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June 06, 2006



I think it's Hugo's laughing at the end that bugs me. If he had said very seriously "one day at a time," it wouldn't have been an implied endorsement.


From Pete's perspective, isn't it easy to see how he might have trouble giving up what is, I hasten to point out again, a basic human need?

Most people have a basic human need for ethical behavior.

Of course, in the real world, you can behave ethically and have sex. Most people do. But if you believe you have to choose, which one you choose sure says a lot about you.


You know, I seem to remember plenty of feminist women on college campuses. This isn't about Pete's peers being unable to catch up with his enlightenment, Pete's hanging with the wrong crowd.


The thing is, I don't know what exactly Pete is doing in his interactions with young women that he thinks is so non-feminist. I have a feeling that Hugo did not in his heart think it was necessarily so bad -- and that a few of the feminists who are posting might not, either. I kind of trust Hugo's instincts on this, although if someone caught something I missed it would be useful to be reminded of it. Otherwise it is difficult to know without the specifics. Certainly whatever he is doing seems to be consensual with the young women in question. I wonder if there is really enough information for any of us to make a judgement one way or the other. And this is from someone who can't help being the "sensitive New Age guy" stereotype whatever I do, and whether I am being feminist or not. (And certainly being dependent or needy to a woman, as I know I could be in the past, is not always a "feminist" thing to be.)

I think the point about not taking the woman's emotional temperature all the time is very salient. I also think that "hellfire and brimstone preaching" to young men about their sexuality can be counterproductive, not so much to the bad boys as precisely to the "nice guys/ possible wimps." We very much need a positive sense of what being a confident feminist/pro-feminist/ally man, who acknowledges his needs and desires and reaches for them in a respectful yet non-needy way, can be -- of how such a person can behave, for example in flirting and courtship. And yes, being effective is critical here; very few men will persist in "moral" behavior that is counterproductive at this emotionally charged stage in their lives. (I don't think being "really" feminist is counterproductive, btw, but I think that some young men could internalize messages they think are feminist and thereby reinforce existing counterproductive patterns of behavior that ultimately will not do either themselves or women any good.) It may not be women, in the final analysis, who "tell us the answer" to this conundrum, at least theoretically -- in fact, I think theory is very likely to be easy yet wrong -- but praxis, praxis, praxis.

I also think there are some real psychological issues about how one integrates radical knowledge that questions one's privilege or habits. People who are strong in themselves in the first place do better, and last longer as radicals, and are more effective, than people who take this sort of thing like a medicine ball to the solar plexus and find themselves weak and sometimes in need of constant reassurance. Yet it isn't actually anyone's fault whether they find themselves in the former or the latter category. It has to do with one's own relationships to peers and family and others in their own past.

Not to say I don't question Pete in any way. I don't like the "player" as a concept very much, and what does he mean he has a choice between being a nice guy and a bad boy? Again, bad in what way? Actually his course of action is kind of obvious if you think about it. He should find one of these women who are feminist but attracted to bad boys, hook up with her in his bad boy avatar, and then join with her in her feminism -- all solved, and without ever having to be one of the dreaded "nice guys" at all.


Z, the chuckle was an indulgent one that recognized that it is hard work to change one's life. I give the same chuckle when a student says to me "Hugo, this take-home final is really hard!" I laugh and say, "I know, but I believe you can do this. Keep at it."


Truly, Hugo, I think you need to point out to Pete that he doesn't seem to be looking for peers that challenge him or his politics. He's operating from presumptions and false binaries.


Yes, he is. But PCC has a tiny, tiny feminist club. It's a commuter school that's 82% non white, and has one of the highest percentages of ESL students of any community college in the nation. This is not fertile ground for traditional feminist organizing --of course, that's what makes trying to do the work so exciting! But Pete is in a different situation than if he were at a major state university or a liberal arts college. That's not a defense, but it is an explanation.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

humbition says just what was going through my mind; without knowing just what unfeminist things Pete is doing with young women, I really don't know how hard Hugo should have been on him. Is he getting a friend to play the part of "wingman" and lie and say that he's a pilot, so that he can get laid? Doing a bit of macho role playing with a young woman who's indicated she finds that sort of role playing sexy? Lying about his real views about abortion so some woman who totally disagrees with him on the issue will sleep with him? Taking the lead and paying all the bills on all his dates, even though in feminist theory both things would be divided between the couple?


without knowing just what unfeminist things Pete is doing with young women, I really don't know how hard Hugo should have been on him.

This is true. But one he's doing is pretty clear: he's relating to women and thinking about women's reactions as potential girlfriends or lovers, period. Why isn't he worried about what his female friends think about him?


McBoing is quite correct--I wonder how many women (or, in his words, "girls") Pete really knows at all, if he thinks the world is divided into "those who like decent, strong, feminist men" and "those who put out".

Q Grrl, ultimately, I go with what works.

As you've said in the past, Hugo, you're a man. It's no skin off your nose, except in an intellectual guilty kinda way, if you tell Pete to go ahead and treat women as inferiors to increase his pool of available pussy. Because, bluntly, that's exactly what you've done, with the excuse that feminist is soooo hard and, gosh, there'll be plenty of time for him to develop into a decent man, once he's gotten all the humping out of his system. So yes, it "works" for you and for Pete.


You know, I think the operative phrase here is "I have a lot more success when I don't try and be pro-feminist". I'm guessing the problem here is not whether or not he's pro-feminist, but how visibly he's trying. He'll have more success when he doesn't try to be anything.

My boyfriend is pro-feminist, but it didn't come up in our first conversation. It didn't come up until the topic was relevant. He might even have paid for a meal here and there.

If you approach a girl and essentially say "Hi my name is Pete and I'm pro-feminist"... well, it's not really appealing. By putting that front and center, you're indicating that you see her primarily as an instance of the category "woman", when she probably just wants you to interact with her as one individual to another (which would be the truly egalitarian thing to do).

It's unclear to me in what ways he "tries" to be pro-feminist, which makes it hard to evaluate what is going on. Wearing a t-shirt that says it is not going to reel in women, and it's not particularly genuine either. However, listening, not interrupting, trading off on decision-making, acting like her opinion really matters and not making a point of doing those things because that's what you should be doing anyway... is that really hurting his dating prospects?

As you pointed out, confidence is appealing. And abandoning a pro-feminist approach to life, or otherwise changing your behavior in order to please potential sexual partners is not a particularly confident thing to do. If he does the good feminist guy thing and, for example, confronts other men about their attitudes even when there are no women around, I don't see how this is going to make him less sexy to women (since, you know, they're not around when he does this you'd think it would have no bearing). To do so, thought, takes an underlying confidence, which *is* appealing.

I dunno... I think you let him off easy. He still has the ideas in his head that 1) pro-feminism is making him unsexy and 2) being sexy is more important. He's wrong on both counts.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

But one he's doing is pretty clear: he's relating to women and thinking about women's reactions as potential girlfriends or lovers, period.

True. That and the expressed desire to be a "player" are the things that bug me on Pete's end. The business about his having less success with women when he tries to be pro-feminist may just mean that he's more awkward about whatever he's doing to try to be pro-feminist.


From the rest of the discussion, it's pretty clear he sees 'pro-feminist' as 'being a dull wimp'--as though the only choices are to push women around, or let them push you around. Lovely.


You know, when women approach an all male group and challenge them on their misogyny, we're called man-haters, ball busters, dykes, and harpies. Don't kid yourself that a man challenging other men is brave or exceptionally impressive.

Q_Grrl, I would suggest that you approach them in a less antagonistic way. If I "challenged you on your misandry" you'd probably feel outraged about my assumption. I just think you're framing the debate in an aggressive way to immediately call somebody a misogynist/misandrist - the debate is inevitably going to spiral downwards from that point on.

I wear "personality specs" when I talk to people. I focus on their personality below the bluster of performance. Their gender/race is noted the same as the clothes they wear - arbitrary facts. Honestly, it works. It really does. I get on with people I never thought I would because I choose not to base my opinion of them on their gender/class/race/other arbitrary factors.

Delurking for a minute

I agree with Q_Grrl's (and mythago's) thoughtful responses. As a 23 year old woman, I don't buy one bit the excuse that there aren't any girls digging pro-feminist men (non-patriarchal men). And I certainly don't accept the argument that all or even most young feminist women just want a guy who bosses them around and disrespects them -- metamanda says it right there.

On another note, Hugo, I'm suprised you mentioned the ethnic composition of students at your school that way -- it seems you were insinuating that ethnic diversity makes the school less likely to have many feminists. Who do you think is reading bell hooks, gloria anzaldua, patricia collins, etc etc? White people aren't the only feminists.

Q Grrl

Hugo, I came up with a one-sentence summation of my thoughts yesterday while weeding the dahlias:

Pete should not judge the strength of his morals and convictions upon the weakness of other's.

Nor should he be guided to do so. He is clearly confused as to why some young women are not feminist and want "bad" guys. That last thing that should be suggested to him is that those young women should be the bedrock for his current or future feminism.

Q Grrl

Perplexed: the words, "approach an all male group and challenge them on their misogyny" were from Hugo's original post. I did not specifically mean to suggest that Pete (or Hugo) was/is misogynistic. Far from it, actually. I am attempting to challenge Hugo in his role as a mentor to young men. He holds considerable power, as I assume that he is even more engaging and thoughtful in person, with students that he has spent time with. There is a very fine line when mentoring, which if crossed imparts no new knowledge and serves to solidify the confusion that the student brings to the mentor, with the end result being a codification of ideas that the student subconciously sensed were not healthy or right.

Pete knows that his convictions vis-a-vis feminism are right -- the crux for him is that those convictions hinder his perceived, and age-specific, needs for dating and sexual encounters. My criticism of Hugo's approach is that Pete was quite tacitly encouraged to forgo his convictions in lieu of Hugo's experience that time matures us, often with a strengthening of character and morals. Unfortunately Hugo and Pete seem to take the approach that feminism only affects those women that they are intimately involved with: mothers, sisters, wives, or romantic interests. Meanwhile, there is a conservative political agenda hammering down the doors of the political progress that women have made over the last 80 some years. Women can no longer count on safe and legal abortions, women can't get emergency contraception when needed, the CDC has created governmental guidelines that encourage healthcare providers to view all women between menarche and menopause as "pre-conceptive", women's political needs, in 2006, are still seen as special interest or identity politics -- even by the progressive wings of American politics.

So, I find it difficult to swallow that Hugo's advice suggests that time will heal Pete's confusion and wavering conviction, allowing Pete to focus solely on his ego need for romantic and sexual intimacy, hoping that once Pete learns that these needs are rather ephemeral, he can then return to the matter of women's humanity and the political climate that is working so hard to deny this to women.

It just doesn't add up very well for me. I can't afford to fight politics on one hand and soothingly pat confused male egos on the other. I choose politics; Hugo chose the comfort. And I thank him for that. But I feel he skirted a very dangerous negotiation of priorities, and I told him so in my typical aggressive, take-no-prisoners way.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

FWIW, on the "women like bad boys" matter, the only sense in which I've ever liked "bad boys" is that I would go for the good singer, guitar player, poet, or would be writer over the guy who seemed headed for the high salary career path. And, when I was younger, being just a little bit (but functionally) druggy wasn't a drawback. I've never liked "bad boys" in the sense of wanting guys to dominate or mistreat me, and I haven't known a lot of other women who have, either.

Likewise, "alpha males" can be attractive if "alpha" means a guy with energy and ideas who can inspire a whole room full of people. If "alpha" means "will boss me around," the guy's attractiveness goes way down real fast.


As far as the ethnic composition of the college is concerned, I certainly don't wish to reinforce the notion that feminism is a "white woman's thing." But there is a particular suspicion towards feminism among women from far more conservative cultures.


You could say "82% non-white, many from very traditional, conservative cultures" to clear that up in the future. :)


I will -- my phrasing was poor. As I often say "mea culpa"!


How is Pete - being "non-feminist" with young women? IF it is not bringing up Feminism directly in a first conversation, that seems fine to me. IF he's being: "tough" - in ways that disrespect young women that is simply wrong. IF he needs to be assertive, that's good to know, while that needs to not be at the expense of listening to and respecting women.

I think that Pete's ties to other young men is important. He needs to listen to and talk with other young men who have similar feelings and struggle with them - NOT - "how to score", but how to relate in ways that are positive.

It may be hard to find such men, but that is a good challenge.

I think that Pete also needs to seek friendships with young women (as well as with young men). He sounds isolated - needing friendships in general that aren't pressured. Most of them may not turn out to ever be romantic - tough - having friends is a horrible thing to be stuck with!

Many good points have been made by many of you here!



A few observations.

This whole discussion has been very much like one of those old psychological exercises in which one looks at an inkblot and tells what one sees. The original encounter was so vague that everyone projects something different into it.

Hugo and I both projected into it aspects of our own personal relational struggles in our youth, aspects that may not apply at all to Pete given that he defines himself very differently. And the social groups, cliques, assumptions of today are probably very different than when we were younger.

I really don't understand the whole social background of the whole "nice guy" cliche as it is expressed today. It did not really exist in that form when I was younger, and Lynn Gazis-Sax's equation of "bad boys" with poets and "nice guys" with the "high salary career path" surprised me. I almost would imagine it the other way around!

I have been noticing, in these internet discussions, an asymmetry between men and women in how they view the "personal is political" imperatives of feminism vis-a-vis relationships. Men, who in this culture have to take more of the initiative in starting sexual/romantic relationships, tend to worry inordinately about how to go about doing this -- and worry about being able to apply feminist ethics to it (especially if they feel these might not "work"). Women, on the other hand, seem to apply feminist ethics more to behavior within sexual/romantic relationships which are already formed, or of course, outside the dimension of these relationships and in the wider society.

Although gross generalizations are never correct, to the extent that this one is, let me just say that in these latter dimensions, the ones I seem to see women bringing up, I don't personally cut anybody any slack for not being "feminist" yet (which I see as a matter of applying basic human decency to people you profess to care about, or even to those you don't).


Q grrl wrote...

Don't kid yourself that a man challenging other men is brave or exceptionally impressive. It's not even virtuous. More precisely, it's a base-level human reaction to injustice -- and no man should be given kudos for simply rising to the least common denominator.

If Pete has a choice then reading the above would suggest the path of least resistence is to follow the jerk and consult Ross Jeffries. Why not? There would seem to be no incentive to do otherwise would there? Christianity rewards the sinner for repenting and the rewards extend to eternal life. It could be argued that these rewards are greater than any earthly rewards and hence choosing to be a Christian is the best choice as, I think, Pascal reasoned. No virtue in doing the right thing?

A woman challenging a man, in this respect, may be no big deal, a man challenging a man could be a very big deal. Seeing things from anothers POV often provides a different perspective which is not at all as obvious as it may appear at first glance.

Q Grrl also wrote...
can't afford to fight politics on one hand and soothingly pat confused male egos on the other. I choose politics; Hugo chose the comfort

I am not sure Hugo has chosen comfort. I agree with his choice. Confused any person's ego sometimes needs a pat. Are dichotomies really choices?

be well.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

and Lynn Gazis-Sax's equation of "bad boys" with poets and "nice guys" with the "high salary career path" surprised me. I almost would imagine it the other way around!

I was guessing that, if women are saying themselves that they prefer "bad boys," they might mean "guys my parents or grandparents wouldn't want me to go out with." Hence the equation of "bad boys" with poets. I can see how guys who your elders don't like could be extra sexy, and how it could be fun to feel cool and defiant together, but I can't imagine why anyone would want to date "bad boys" if "bad boys" actually means guys who are bad to you.

On the other hand, maybe the "women prefer bad boys to nice guys" meme is mostly guys dissing their successful competition.

I think you're right about it being like looking into an inkblot and trying to figure out what it looks like.

Men, who in this culture have to take more of the initiative in starting sexual/romantic relationships, tend to worry inordinately about how to go about doing this -- and worry about being able to apply feminist ethics to it (especially if they feel these might not "work").

I tend to think of feminism in the initial approach only as applying to those approaches that are actually threatening and scary: the drunk who walks up to me in a party, puts his arm around me, and announces he'll beat up any other guy who tries the same (the only guy I ever pulled the fake number stunt on, out of concern for my own ability to get away from him safely), the guy who comes on to people whose salary or grades he controls, the guy who refuses to stop his approaches when told to buzz off. Anyone who is "successful" by those kinds of methods should of course still knock it off, since chances are good that the woman is fearful rather than willing.

Other than that, I mainly apply feminist ethics to relationships already formed.

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