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Holden Shearer @HoldenShearer
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Seeing some folks I follow circulating a point that's worth drawing a bit of attention to. One of the oldest canards in low-denominator comedy is that women are inscrutable and men can't understand them. There's a reason for this and it ain't funny.
By the time a man reaches adulthood he has probably heard that women constantly say one thing and mean another, and that they are impossible to understand, at least a thousand times. To some extent he probably believes this to be true.
And to a degree it is. Women VERY frequently say one thing and mean another, display expressions or reactions that don't jibe with their feelings, and so on. But it's actually really easy to decode once you understand why it happens. It is survival behavior.
While some men choose to become skilled dissemblers, men are not -required- to learn very much subterfuge at all-- looking calm while you'd like to strangle your boss is the biggie. Women face a completely different situation.
Women spend their lives surrounded by people who are, on average, bigger than they are, socially privileged over them, both more inclined to immediate anger (testosterone is a hell of a thing) AND more socially encouraged to express it, and best of all? Cherry on top?
Some of these dudes around them are extremely dangerous, others are not, and most of the time it is impossible to tell the two apart on sight, or even from extended contact. Often the only way to find out is to say or do something that might make a man blow up and see if he does.
This is not a great way of finding out what kind of guy a woman is dealing with for the same reason we don't use pogo sticks to test for buried land mines. It's often the only one available, though. So, VERY SENSIBLY, women will generally just opt not to run the test.
What that means is smiling at a man's flirting in a closed or isolated space, or laughing at an uncomfortable joke because the room is full of men and all of them are laughing.
Men are not only -not- required to learn dissembling, they -are- taught to seek affirmation of self-worth from women. They take these reactions at face value because they very much want to. And this can build uncomfortable or dangerous cycles and relationships.
Lemme be real clear on this point: Women do this because the way our society is currently set up, they have absolutely no better option available to them. They quite rightly value their safety over offering legibility to people who might seriously hurt or even kill them.
So while this may be frustrating to guys, it is not on women to behave differently as long as the social baseline for masculine behavior is a toxic stew of lionized violence and anger. They're gonna smile and laugh as long as a huge % of men present a serious potential threat.
But let's say that you weren't raised by fucking spiders and your reaction to this isn't annoyance but instead serious concern, because you DON'T want to freak women out but now you realize you might have been reading "oh god go away" as "yes chat me up more in this elevator."
A few simple tells that you're doing something that's putting a woman's hackles up, which will follow outward affirmative signals: She leaves the area; she changes the subject; she moves herself or the two of you toward other people, esp. other women; she doesn't flirt/joke back;
or, her rejoinder doesn't match what you put out there-- a compliment, for example, eliciting "Thanks" or "haha" rather than a return compliment. All of these have a good chance of translating to "you are overstepping my boundaries but I don't feel safe saying so."
There's a good chance that when you spot this, your first instinct is going to be to say something like "Am I making you uncomfortable?" or "Did I say something wrong?" That's what a good dude would ask, right? Welllll it's not the worst response but it's not a good one, either.
Those questions have a very good chance of getting back a response calculated to calm you down rather than an honest answer, because you have STILL offered no real indication you won't blow up when rebuffed. You see, those are also questions an irritated dude would ask.
It puts the woman on the spot and makes her pull off an immediate calculation-- is this guy actually concerned or is he feeling offended because he realized that wasn't a real laugh? Am I in more danger now, or less?
If you are in doubt it's usually best to back off, provide some breathing room, and then once the situation has a low threat index (non-confined space, potentially supportive people nearby), boot up honesty.exe:
"Hey, if the jokes about clown dicks are over the line, please let me know and I'll cut that out." Not just interrogation about her real feelings, but proactive information about the reaction that an honest response will provoke from you.
That's not some kind of cheat-code to human interaction, mind. People are complicated as fuck and women don't come off an assembly line at a factory.
But it's generally a better base-line set of guidelines for social navigation than either taking everything at face value or assuming the female mind was forged from the same inscrutable mystic bullshit as Harry Potter's wand.
Oh and this should go without saying but if you put forward the promise that you're not going to blow up, for the love of fuck, STICK TO IT. Offering a guy candor is an act of trust, be worthy of it.
tl;dr: Women have simple needs (safety) and live in a more dangerous world than men, which requires more precautions to maintain safety than most dudes have to worry about. Mocking them or getting mad at them for exercising basic safety precautions is an asshole move.
Understand the world you're part of, practice empathy for people who got dealt a different hand in the game of life than you did, and don't be an asshole, the world has too many of those already. It's not that hard once you know what you're doing. The End.
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