I do plenty of things that are commonly considered bad habits but that I’d argue are Actually Good: eating a diet that consists mostly of cheese, tweeting while drunk, leaving my hair in a topknot for a week instead of washing it–you get the idea. Although some people would say that these tendencies are of debatable social value, they’re all things that makes my life a little bit less tedious. Without a doubt, though, my favorite activity on that list is the proactive infliction of small discomforts on men.
Like cheese-eating and hair neglect, which came to me naturally, making men uncomfortable has always been part of my disposition, even though a lifetime of socialization has done its best to lead me astray. Women are trained from birth to be creatures of comfort-creation, soothing and supporting those around us, often to the detriment of our own emotional needs and especially when the people around us are men. In turn, men use our care-taking as affirmation that their bad behavior is natural and they’re entitled to it, and crushing social pressure and occasional safety concerns often stop women from disabusing them of that notion. It’s not the greatest trick the patriarchy ever pulled, but it’s up there.
On a macro level, I have literally no idea how to solve this problem; I’m not a sociologist. I am a woman who’s been dating in New York City for the better part of a decade, though, so I have some theories about how we can all tackle it in our own, micro lives. Namely, by really, truly leaning in to all the situations in which you might otherwise feel compelled to pull back in order to avoid making the men you’re dating uncomfortable. (This is what that fucking book should have been about.)
Before we go any further, we should establish a definition for “uncomfortable.” I’m not talking about making anyone feel unsafe, physically threatened or even vaguely uneasy about your respect for healthy boundaries. I’m certainly not talking about any sort of stalking beyond a casual scroll through a man’s Instagram feed when you’re bored and feel self-defeating. What I’m proposing is that you do your best to duck out from under the pressure you feel not to “be weird” in your social and romantic interactions with men.
Discomfort is a wildly effective check on bad behavior, and for proof of that, look no further than almost any woman you have ever met. Plenty of us stay quiet when our feelings are hurt, apologize to those from whom we actually deserve apologies and show kindness to people who persistently treat us like shit, all in an effort to avoid being thought of as bitchy or overly sensitive. That’s what happen when things run amok; in more modest amounts, though, social discomfort simply encourages people to treat others with respect, and frankly, it’s high time men got in on that action.
The next time a man takes four hours to return your text when you can see that piece of shit sharing articles about Bernie Sanders on Facebook, don’t just complain about it to a friend on Gchat–text him again. If a man constantly cancels on you, don’t be the Cool Girl who has fallback plans anyway–tell him you think it’s rude and you would prefer to wait and reschedule for a time he knows he can keep. Fave his subtweets. Start reclaiming little bits of your power, no matter how small. They add up.
These actions, when explicated, sound silly and obvious. Of course it should be okay to show irritation when someone is thoughtless. Nonetheless, plenty of women shy away from putting the tiniest screws to the men in their lives for fear of driving them away. That’s not an empty fear; men who are otherwise reasonable humans often turn into giant babies when a woman puts even the most gentle pressure on them, and women have learned to avoid these behaviors for a reason. If you’re ever going to date a guy who treats you like someone worthy of respect, though, you’re going to have to set about the unpleasant job of alienating the men who don’t.