(Note: There’s an excellent essay over at Feminist Critics that touches on some of the themes of this post: Is “Confident” the Male Analogue to “Thin”?)
One response I’ve heard to the “nice guy” lament is that there are women interested in sexual relationships with shy or “less dominant” men, but these men choose to focus instead on a narrow group of conventionally attractive women. As Dee said, in reply to my last post:
In my experience, almost all men think that they deserve a perfect woman, however they define that – and it almost always includes the kind of appearance that will impress their friends. You may not have noticed that there are women out there who have all kinds of wonderful qualities but who are also not getting laid. They may be shy. They may be not put a lot of effort into their wardrobe and makeup. They may be fatter or skinnier than is fashionable.
There’s more than a few grains of truth to this. Here’s Dan Savage:
I’m reminded of an experience I had when I was nineteen, the summer after my first year of college. I was sitting around with a group of friends, having one of those late-afternoon, desultory conversations about nothing in particular. Someone (might have been me) mentioned the possibility of dating “big girls,” and “Nick” – a friend of a friend, not really a “friend” – smiled and said that “fat chicks are like mopeds, fun to ride, but you don’t want to be seen on one.”
At the time, I didn’t see what Nick had said as particularly offensive. He was just offering a bit of banal, received wisdom – stating the obvious, and doing so with a smile. And that’s the interesting thing about the enforcement of social norms. More often that not, it’s done gently and with a smile. You don’t realize any “norm” is being “enforced” except in retrospect, from the distance of many years. At nineteen, my self-concept was of someone who didn’t really care what other people thought. But of course I did care. And looking back, to my teens and twenties, I remember that on occasion I’d meet a woman for whom I could have cultivated an attraction, but who I didn’t pursue because she was not the conventionally attractive woman I sensed I was supposed to be attracted to. Despite my independent-minded self-concept, at that age I still would have felt embarrassment dating a woman who was fat or not conventionally attractive, despite my own feelings of attraction to her. And that’s unfortunate.
What I’m not saying is that my sexual preferences were created by social pressures. Regardless of what my friends said or what I saw on television, I’d still have been drawn to the “conventionally attractive” women I’d longed for in my youth. But my sexual preferences were narrowed by social pressures. And I suspect that the sexual preferences of women are narrowed by social pressures as well, to the detriment of men who are shy or sexually inexperienced.
And here’s where I’d like to clarify something. In my last post, I wrote that “both men and women have instinctual, biological influences on their behavior, and for many young women this often leads to a preference for socially dominant men.” What I’d written would have been more accurate if I’d said, “both men and women have instinctual, biological influences on their behavior, as well as social influences on their behavior.” Harmful social influences can be changed if we understand them. So, if I’d spelled out that social pressures can influence women’s sexual preferences in a negative way, then perhaps more readers would have seen my post as written for the purpose of furthering a dialogue that might open a few minds, rather than as an attack on feminism and an attempt to “blame women,” as Hugo and others seem to have interpreted it. To give a counterexample, when feminists say that men should change their behavior – e.g. quit making cracks about “fat chicks,” because, you know, that’s harmful – such a suggestion isn’t properly labeled as a “blame men” approach.