Most Online Dating Advice is Terrible

Online Dating

In my guide to OkCupid, I included the following:

PROTIP 2: DO NOT TRY TO MAXIMIZE THE AMOUNT OF MESSAGES OR DATES YOU GET! Most online dating advice will give you tips on how to broadly increase your appeal. Don’t fall into this trap. I’ll probably write a full post on this topic later, but for now, remember: you are a unique person, with strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and weirdness. Don’t try to make a profile that appeals to everyone. Instead, try to make a profile that appeals to only people who would actually be good partners for you. In other words: be honest about who you are. Instead of trying to make a good impression, try to make an accurate one. To the right people, that will be a good impression. You’ll also waste less time on bad matches, because they’ll all be scared off after finding out that you’re not what they’re looking for.

There is plenty of advice out there that advises the opposite. The first offender is Amy Webb. Webb created multiple fake profiles and crunched the numbers on 72 different data points. She took all of her data and created the most appealing profile she could. She offers ten pieces of advice. Some are ok, but most are terrible, and will virtually guarantee you bad matches. Webb got lucky and met a guy she actually likes, but I guarantee you, unless you have no personality, these suggestions will not help you meet the right people:

Amy Webb's TED talk

Amy Webb’s TED talk

5. Don’t use specifics. Avoid mentioning specific comedians, shows, books, musicians or movies unless those are top-tier attributes on your list. It’s possible to be generic about what you like while still being specific enough to sound interesting. Just because you like Louis C.K. or Kid Cudi doesn’t mean that a potential suitor does. Unless that comedian is one of your deal-breakers, leave him or her off your profile.

No. Seriously no. Remember in high school, when you would ask someone want bands they like, and they would say “I don’t know… what bands do you like?” Don’t be that person. Say what you like. That sort of thing really matters to some people, so it’s better to tell them sooner rather than later.

6. Avoid taboo topics. If there’s something in your life or personality that may be controversial or taboo, leave it off your profile. Perhaps you are an avid NRA member, are passionately Pro-Choice, or a strong advocate for medical marijuana—you may want to leave out things that someone could potentially interpret that information in a way that disadvantages you. Odds are you may turn off more people than you attract.

This is the single worst piece of advice I’ve ever seen. This is basically advising you to hide what you care about until you’ve already “caught” your mark. If you’re passionately pro-choice, why on Earth would you want to date someone who has a problem with that? Ideological compatibility is important! And OkCupid is one of the best tools for figuring it out! This advice will not help you meet people who like you. It will help you meet people who don’t like you, but just don’t know it yet.

7. Save your accomplishments for later. If you’ve won a Pulitzer or climbed Mount Everest or for some reason own a jet, this is wonderful news—just don’t share it online. These are the types of details to work into a conversation on your first or second date. If someone introduced himself to you at a party, would the next thing out of your mouth be items off your resume? Of course not, so don’t act that way online. Let your personality win someone’s interest, not your bragging rights.

This… offends me. This advice seems obviously gendered. Webb’s experience is as a hetero woman, so her advice is most relevant to hetero women. Men are notoriously threatened by women who accomplish more than them. Webb’s advice? Just downplay your accomplishments! Then you can land yourself a nice, patriarchal, head-of-household to father your children! Barf.

9. Use the 20 hour rule. If someone instant messages you while you’re online, go ahead and IM back if you want. Otherwise, wait 20 to 23 hours between e-mail contacts for the first few messages. Webb found that successful daters waited that amount of time and as a result still seemed eager without coming off as desperate.

Don't be this guy

Don’t be this guy

I’m gonna let Urban Dictionary take this one: “a rule used by douchebag guys who think that waiting three days after a date to call means that the girl will want them more, when really it just pisses them off.” But hey, now it’s for women too! Don’t play these games. If you want to message someone, message them.

Offender number two is Chris McKinlay. McKinlay was having trouble meeting women online, so, being a mathematician, he decided statistically calculate (with the help of several sockpuppets and bots) how to appeal to women. He focused on match percentage. To his credit, he answered all questions honestly, but he manipulated the importance ratings to boost his match percentage with the right demographics. He ended up with over 10,000 90+ percent matches in L.A.

Bad dating advice, now with math!

Bad dating advice, now with math!

Next, he wrote a script which would cause his profile to visit 1,000 profiles per day. Users can see who visits their profile, so this got him a lot of attention. He started getting hundreds of visitors per day and tons of messages.

Here is where you can tell that McKinlay’s strategy is hare-brained: he started going on dates. Bad dates. He started cramming in 2-3 dates per day, and still had no luck. Ultimately, he went on 88 first dates. Out of 88 dates, he had four second dates, two third dates, and one person who he was still dating a year later.

That… is not a good track record. Out of 88 dates, he had 4 second dates. That’s a success rate of 4.5%. That’s terrible! And it’s exactly the kind of thing that happens when you try to appeal to large amount of people instead of only to the right people. I’ve been on OkCupid for about four years, and I think I’ve only been on about 50 first dates. That’s about one first date per month. If I’d needed 88 to meet a good match, I still wouldn’t have made it! However, almost none of my dates have been unpleasant, over 50% of those have led to second dates, and a substantial amount of them are people that I’m either still dating or are friends with. The reason is that my profile only appeals to people who have a good chance of actually liking me (and vice versa).

McKinlay wasted huge amounts of time on bad matches because his profile wasn’t designed to scare away people that don’t like him. So what happened was neither he nor his date were able to tell that they weren’t into each other until actually going on the date. For a guy who is all about efficiency, that seem terribly inefficient. Unless you’re really into going on bad dates, it’s much better to let those people sort themselves out before they even write to you.

The actual effective part of McKinlay’s strategy was that his profile visited 1,000 women’s profiles per day. Anyone could do that and end up with a lot of interest. If he’d only designed his profile better, his matches probably would have been much better, and we wouldn’t have needed to invest so much time in bad matches before meeting the right one.

If you want some good advice, read Erica Jagger. Jagger wanted casual sex. So she made a profile that hinted at her desire for casual sex, until some dickhead wrote to her about how “unseemly” it was for a 50-year-old woman to openly have an interest in sex. Not one to be bullied, she added a section to her profile making her interest in sex absolutely explicit.

Adding this clause did exactly what it was designed to do. It has given men who are really just looking for sex permission to contact me and say just that. It has attracted men who have a sense of humor and who respect a woman who owns her sexuality. It has prompted conversations about the wasted time and hurt feelings caused by the lack of sexual transparency. And, I’m happy to report, it has not elicited a single outraged response from a man who thinks he has the right to regulate my sexuality.

Owning my sexuality, both on OkCupid, and in real life, has been profoundly empowering. It’s a gift that has come with age. I was so crippled by social conventions when I was young that I compartmentalized my sexual persona — a move that killed the chance for true intimacy with any man.

The only regret I have about coming out of the “good girl” closet is that it took me until I turned 50 to do so.

If you’re reading online dating advice, go with the person telling you to be yourself, not the person telling you to pretend to be someone else. You’ll meet better matches, you’ll waste less time, and you’ll have an overall better experience.

Consent-Based Relationships

As part of this year’s Beyond the Love polyamory conference, I gave a presentation on relationship anarchy. Most of the content has already appeared on the blog in my previous posts about relationship anarchy, and it drew heavily from my posts about rules and decision-making.

The presentation closed with a discussion of how anarchic relationships actually work in practice. The main idea is that anarchic relationships are completely consent-based, down to the smallest details. This is how I visualize it:
anarchic relationships

As you can see, the idea is that “a relationship” consists of the activities that both people genuinely want to engage in. Anything that I want to do that you don’t want to do, we don’t do. I either do that with someone else who consents, I do it alone, or I just don’t do it.

This can sound somewhat harsh, but in practice it isn’t that far from what most people believe. What I want to do is infinitely changeable. The fact that a partner wants to do something can easily move something into the “I want to do that” category. There are many things I do with my current partners that wouldn’t be enjoyable without them. Just knowing that something would help a partner to be happy is often all the motivation I need to do it. But sometimes it isn’t, and that’s ok too. And that’s the key difference in a consent-based relationship. When your relationship is based on consent, you will affirm and support a partner’s decision to say “no” to you.

I don’t actually know too many people who disagree with this outlook. But I know a LOT of people who will get angry at a partner for not doing what they want. My theory is that the anger is inspired by the fact that their happiness is not a sufficient motivating factor. I also think that people are very good at fooling themselves into believing that their partner is acting free of coercion, when really their partner is just doing what they want to avoid a fight or other negative consequences. It’s easy to say “I’m angry because you wouldn’t come with me to my cousin’s wedding.” It’s more complicated to say “I’m upset because my happiness wasn’t enough to motivate you to want to come to the wedding.” In the former, the solution is easy – just go to the wedding! With the latter, there is no clear solution, and you may just need to adjust your future expectations to reflect the reality of the situation.

Despite that, however, I think it’s a good idea to affirm the general idea that a consent-based relationship involves only activities that both parties genuinely want to do. If you find yourself doing things that you don’t actually want to do, it’s worth thinking about why you’re doing them. If fear of consequences imposed by your partner is motivating you, it may be a sign that there is a problem in your relationship.

It is my firm belief that all ethical relationships are consent-based. Coercing a partner into doing what you want is never an ethical thing to do. Just as consent is the foundation of sexual ethics, consent is also the foundation of relationship ethics. It forms the base on which all other relationship ethics are derived. Relationship anarchy is about ensuring the maximum freedom for everyone, and that starts with respecting everyone’s consent.

Adventures in Therapy: Is that Strawberry Alarm Clock I Hear?!?

As I mentioned, I went to the doctor yesterday to talk shop about changing/adding meds. She agreed with my assessment and we decided that I would keep the Zoloft going at its current dose and add the lowest dose of Wellbutrin to see if it can help counteract some of the side effects. I’m seeing her again in a month and we will continue to figure out the best course of action (will I be lowering the Zoloft dose? Is this the right additional med for me” etc).

So, it’s Day One of a new medication and that old familiar adjustment period is here. I was told that this stuff is activating. Somehow, I thought that it wouldn’t be too noticeable because of the Zoloft, but I was wrong about that. I took the pill around 7am and by 8am I was feeling pretty zippy. It reminded me of the first time I took Sudafed for congestion…but without the congestion and background illness. This extra energy felt a little like anxiety but not overwhelmingly or primarily so and so far that aspect has been nothing I can’t handle.

I had to hop into action doing various things and it was a little harder to concentrate than usual, but I managed. Then around 10am, I found that it was becoming increasingly difficult not to stare off into space or pass the time by poking myself in the face. By noon, I felt pretty stoned.

This is, at least for me, par for the course now when adjusting to meds like this. Granted, my only other experience has been with Zoloft, but seemingly my body/brain has a relatively predictable pattern when responding to chemical changes. I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry, so I went and wandered around Target for most of the hour. I was drawn to all sorts of things, and was enjoying inspecting the soft, fuzzy blankets for sale now that the weather is getting cold. I wandered all through the store, being fascinated by pretty much everything and laughing at myself for how aimless the entire trip was. In short, “stoned” is a good way to describe it. Slightly delirious is another good way to describe it.

At some point, I had an inkling of a thought that I was hungry and figured I should eat, so I grabbed a sandwich and went on with my day. I’m still out of it but I’m functioning.

It’s times like these that I am really glad I decided to get my education in chemistry. Sure, I hated school, like, a whole lot BUT I am grateful for the way focusing on chemistry wired my brain to think about the world and my body. It makes responses to medication like this not so scary. “Some of your subroutines are being rewritten. Your feelings are nothing but a bunch of molecules in various states of imbalance or equilibrium.” It’s quite calming and while wandering around like a jackass in Target I could rest assured that it was simply because of a reaction running its course and that everything would reach a baseline soon enough.

Whether that baseline will be the baseline I want still remains to be seen, but in the meantime, everything is A-OK. One of the things I really appreciate now is that I’m not stigmatizing myself for needing medications like these to be the best version of myself. I take other medications for other bodily needs and I don’t see these as anything different. I’m still doing all the other work to be my best, but in the end none of that work can shine through with all that chemical noise in the way.

Since it’s Day One, I can’t really say if it’s doing what I need it to yet, but I can say that I’m not experiencing anything nasty. I’ll take it. An easy day on the journey, ey?

Beyond the Love: the Midwest’s Only Polyamory Conference, and One of the Best Anywhere

BTLlogoBanner800x180This past weekend (November 7-9, 2014), I had the good fortune to be able to attend Beyond the Love, a three-day polyamory conference in Columbus, Ohio with Gina, Jessie, and Amber. Jessie I attended the first-ever Beyond the Love last year, and were totally blown away. The organization did a great job putting together an engaging and enjoyable program, and they exceeded expectations yet again this year.

The con started on Friday night with an Intro to Poly orientation. My partners and I arrived shortly afterward, and participated in the human scavenger hunt meet & greet, which was a variation of what they’d done last year. They gave us a list of ~20 items such as “someone who has performed in a burlesque performance,” “someone who can juggle (prove it!),” and “someone who has the same birth month as you.” The idea was to get people talking to each other and asking questions, and it works great. Everyone got up from their seats and moved around the room, interacting with everyone else. It’s a great idea, and I’d like to see it used more often.

Opening ceremonies were next, where Sarah Sloane gave a terrific keynote. Highlights included:

Opening Ceremonies
This was followed by a poly speed mixer. We were all divided up by our dominant love language, and sat across from each other. After a few minutes, one side would shift down a seat. I got to meet a bunch of interesting people. Between the scavenger hunt and the speed mixer, I’d somewhat effortlessly been able to meet a good portion of my fellow attendees, which is always appreciated by out-of-towners like me.

The BtL staff also did two other things to encourage flirting amongst the attendees. First, they offered red, yellow, and green stickers that attendees could put on their badges to indicate that they were open to flirting, unsure, or were not open to flirting. I sometimes worry that those kinds of systems can backfire, but this one seemed to work well, and nobody (that I know of) took a green sticker to mean that consent wasn’t important.

The other innovation was the flirt board! Attendees could write their name on an envelope and tack it to the flirt board. Anyone else could write something on a scrap of paper and drop it in their envelope. It’s an incredibly simple system, but people had a lot of fun with it, and it was a very low-pressure way to signal interest in friendship, flirting, or any kind of interaction with a person.

After the opening ceremony was the relationship styles summit, where the staff put balloons around the social space with different relationship styles on them. You could hang out at the balloon that represented your style, or you could go around and try to learn about other styles. It was kind of a cool idea, and I had fun hanging out at the relationship anarchy balloon and fielding people’s questions.

The last activity for Friday was a burlesque show, by Big Girl Burlesque. I only caught the first few numbers, but Jessie saw the whole thing and loved it. After the show, I was able to spend some time with some new friends and some friends that I’d met last year. I didn’t get to sleep until 4am.

Saturday, classes started at 9am. I attended Billy Holder’s class “Coming Out Poly – Why?” Billy runs Atlanta Poly Weekend, and was recently featured on several news outlets. He told us about what coming out meant for him, and what it might mean for us. I’ve been out for years, so I didn’t need to be convinced, but I really liked Billy’s message. Highlights included:

Coming Out Poly

For the next sessions, I jumped around between a few classrooms. I started in “Poly as an Avenue for Growth” from Michelle Vaughn. She had some good things to say about how nonmonogamy can inform our values and change us as people. Then I jumped over to “For the Love of Labels: What Does it Mean to be Poly?” from Dr. Antoinette Izzo. I was only there briefly, but it ended up being one of my favorite parts of the con. Dr. Izzo discussed how labels can mean something to us on multiple levels, reflecting knowledge, feelings, identify, and practices. I often struggle to identify with people’s attachment to labels, and Dr. Izzo was able to shed some light on that for me.

Next, I went to Jessie’s presentation: “Healthier Hierarchies & Communicating Compatibility.” This was a two-part class exploring hierarchies in relationships and how they affect our partners. Part two was focused on metamour relations. Some highlights:

Healthier Hierarchies
After Jessie’s presentation was my presentation on OkHacking: OkCupid for the Polyamorous. I’ve done it a few times before, including a Beyond the Love last year. It went well, apart from a few brief technical difficulties getting the projector to work (I’ve since ordered a TouchPico, so I shouldn’t have those problems in the future). If you’re not familiar, it’s in written form here.

After the class session, VIP ticket holders were invited to eat with the presenters, then there was an evening program where people were invited to ask any questions they liked of the presenters. The audience didn’t seem to have many questions, but such is life. We then moved on to Rent a Presenter! Staff and presenters had been given “Love Bucks” at the start of the weekend, and were encouraged to hand them out for good deeds, participation, and otherwise beneficial behavior. Saturday evening, attendees could use their Love Bucks at an auction to rent a presenter for a 15-minute Q&A session. It was a cute idea, and people had fun with it. I volunteered (of course), an I was rented by a very cool woman going by “Snu Snu.” I traded her OkCupid tips for Muay Thai instruction.

Saturday night was the masquerade ball, which finally gave us an excuse to wear the Carnivale masks that Jessie and I got for everyone in Venice on our honeymoon. The ball was great. The dance floor was in heavy use, song selection was good, and everyone seemed to have a great time. Afterward was more socializing. This time, I stayed up until 5am.

Sunday had some great-looking classes at 9am… but they were at 9am, so there was no way that was happening for me. At 10:30, I gave my Relationship Anarchy presentation. I had a great audience (standing room only!), and after a few more projector difficulties, the workshop went great. This was the first time I’d done that one, and I wasn’t satisfied with how my RA presentation went in Atlanta, so I was nervous. It ended up going very well, the audience seemed engaged, and I had a few people tell me afterward that it really gave them a lot to think about. If you’re curious, my writing on the topic is here, my presentation slides are here, and a Relationship Anarchy Facebook discussion group is here.

We had an 8-10 drive ahead of us, so we had to go shortly after my presentation. On the weekend, I had only two small disappointments: first, nobody presented on consent culture. Polyamory as a community is still in its infancy, and now is the time that we’re going to decide what kind of community we’re going to be. Top priority for me is that we end up being a consent-focused community. There was some great discussion of what that would mean at Atlanta Poly Weekend, and I was disappointed that Beyond the Love didn’t include it.

Second, most of the classes that I and my partners attended seemed rather beginner-level. Nothing was exactly Poly 101, but there also wasn’t a lot that was that informative to someone who’s been active in the community for 4+ year (though I did find Dr. Izzo’s class on labels to be very relevant). Next year, I’d love to see some more advanced concepts that assume the audience is familiar with more intro-level ideas. I’m already trying to think of presentations I could give that would appeal to the more experienced crowd.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend, and I’m still riding a bit of the con high. I got to see some old friends, I made a lot of new friends, and I got to spend the weekend talking, communing, and flirting with like-minded people. I would recommend it to anyone who can make it next year.

Adventures in Therapy: A Change of Scenery

Over this past weekend, Wes, Jessie, Amber, and I went off to Columbus, OH for Beyond the Love, a polyamory conference in its second year. Wes and Jessie went last year and came home with rave reviews so I was looking really forward to my chance to go this time around. All in all it was a really well done and well run conference. It was a nicely structured event with lots of time built in for socializing and meals. The classes were good, though the subject matter for most of them was geared more towards people new to polyamory, so I’m hoping that in the coming years more “advanced” stuff will be presented.   They also debuted some great things for consent culture at the event. First, they had a red, yellow, green system for each person to be able to declare how open they were to being approached/flirted with. It seemed like it worked well and I’m hoping they got a lot of good feedback. They also had a “Flirt Board” which allowed attendees to pin an envelope with their name on it and people could leave them little messages to flirt, compliment, say hi, whatever. I thought that was brilliant because it took so much pressure out of that aspect of the conference. I hope they do that again too.

Overall I had a great time. I spent most of the weekend hanging out with Amber which is generally a pretty great way to spend a weekend (or a weekday or anytime really). The only thing that struck me as odd was at the end of everything when it was time to say goodbye, I didn’t really have anyone to say goodbye to (other than the people I already knew). I had participated in lots of things at the conference, but I hadn’t really connected with anyone…I didn’t really make any new friends. This experience showed me how introverted I have become in the last year.

Luckily for me, Amber is a self-proclaimed introvert and we were able to be at the conference together and weren’t focused much on finding new people to hang out with. It’s just that I’m not historically an introvert. I’m definitely more on the extrovert side of the spectrum, but over the last year I have noticed that I have more energy loss when I go into social situations with a lot of people I don’t know. I needed multiple trips up to our room or out of the conference to recharge.

I’ve been thinking about these kinds of things a lot lately because I’ve been thinking about changing my medication. See, when I was first put on Zoloft I was so happy to have not experienced any of the acute side effects associated with it and it really has helped me. But over the last few weeks I have been feeling like another raising of the dose might be necessary soon (Zoloft historically does not keep working without increases). While dosage increase is certainly an option, I have also started to wonder how many of my current frustrations are related to this no longer being the right chemical for me. While I didn’t see the side effects initially, I have been on Zoloft for 2 years now and I am thinking that certain things I am observing are Zoloft related.

For instance, over the last year I have gained 25 pounds. I didn’t start eating more or having less energy when I started Zoloft and if anything I eat much more healthily now so I don’t think that my weight gain is so much about my diet as it is about a latent effect of the drug. Another example is the fact that I experience depression more now than anxiety. Anxiety was certainly an issue when I started Zoloft but I think that the symptoms coming out of the woodwork now are more depression (lack of focus, motivation, a sense of hopelessness here and there). I also have pretty much lost the entirety of my libido which has been somewhat of an issue for a while but it has gotten worse over the last year. I also get headaches all the time (I go through ibuprofen like it’s about to be discontinued) which has been something I have had to deal with since day one of Zoloft.

Back in June I got a full round of bloodwork to see if anything was amiss. At the time I was having a lot of trouble staying awake when doing somewhat mindless activities like watching television, going to movies at the theater and, worst of all, driving. A friend at the time suggested getting the blood work done and I’m quite glad I followed her advice. At the very least I would get a baseline for myself and at best I would discover a glaring problem. Much to my happiness, I didn’t have a thyroid issue or any other major problem. What I did have was a vitamin D deficiency. The doc wrote me a prescription for a weekly mega dose of vitamin D that I was supposed to take for 12 weeks and then I could take a daily supplement after that. I was skeptical that this was the root cause of the issue (it’s an issue I’ve had for a very long time…it was just getting more severe at that point). But I did the treatment and hot damn if it didn’t work! I’m not scared to drive long distances anymore and I stay awake through movies and such (unless I’m already really tired of course). So that was an easy fix.

The doc was concerned over the amount of weight I had gained. I hadn’t seen him in two years and it shocked him to find out that I had put on most of that weight in that year alone. I take that with somewhat of a grain of salt since I’m pretty sure it’s in doctors’ contracts to freak out about weight gain and my blood work and other vitals came back in healthy ranges. But if I’m just holding onto weight because of the Zoloft and Zoloft isn’t necessarily the right med for me anymore, it would be nice to check and see and maybe shed some of these empty not-muscle pounds.

In the cases of weight gain and lack of interest in sex, it would be fine to me if these were just things about me now but it would be a good idea to do some experimentation to see what the variables are. I have an appointment with my nurse practitioner on Thursday and I’m going to talk to her about options. At one point before I tried bringing my dose down and when we talked about that I asked if there were any downsides to staying on Zoloft long term. She explained (as I mentioned above) that it won’t continue working at current doses and will have to be increased periodically until you max out (I’m at 100 mg now and the max dose is 250 mg). When you max out, you then generally go to a different medication. At the time she mentioned Wellbutrin which is completely different chemically. I have been looking into it and it sounds like a good option to try and address the side effects I am seemingly experiencing. It’s generally prescribed for depression and is very activating and it seemingly historically has none of the side effects of Zoloft and other SSRIs. It has its own stuff, of course. The activating aspect of it can be unsettling and can cause you to be pretty manic and can also cause anxiety. But the activating feeling might be something I can deal with (it was something I liked about Zoloft) and I’m hoping that a change in meds will help me find the motivation to get fit (not for weight loss, but for overall health and strength).

Based on what I’ve read, this is likely what she will suggest and I think it’s a good avenue to explore. I’m not entirely sure what the process is to switch medications (like, do I need to cut back the Zoloft first and then start the other one? Do I take them concurrently while lowering the Zoloft dosage?) but I’ll be able to talk about that on Thursday.

So yeah, it might be rough for a while and I will likely document my experience if I do switch as I have done with Zoloft. If the nurse is against it, then I suppose I will not be switching, but she will probably agree with my thoughts and there’s no harm in trying (I don’t consider the adjustment discomfort to be harm. It’s just something you have to deal with for a month to see the medication’s true effect…unless I feel like becoming an ax murderer…then I will, you know, not take it anymore).

So, on to the next adventure!

Altruism and the Patriarchy

eleanor-roosevelt-2“If anyone were to ask me what I want out of life I would say- the opportunity for doing something useful, for in no other way, I am convinced, can true happiness be attained.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt

It is taken as a given in our society that the highest good is the transcendence of selfish desires and the service of others. Our paragon on virtue is Mother Teresa, who lived in poverty in order to dedicate her life to work in service of the poor (and pushing her religion, but we overlook that). Selfishness is generally considered the worst of all sins. Heroes sacrifice themselves to save their loved ones. Villains say “greed is good.” Our dominant religion is centered around the story of a man sacrificing himself for the good of mankind. The greatest evil is an angel who selfishly sought to exalt himself above god.

Above all, we are told that shallow, selfish desires lead to life devoid of meaning:

Baumeister and his colleagues would agree that the pursuit of meaning is what makes human beings uniquely human. By putting aside our selfish interests to serve someone or something larger than ourselves — by devoting our lives to “giving” rather than “taking” — we are not only expressing our fundamental humanity, but are also acknowledging that that there is more to the good life than the pursuit of simple happiness.

The relationship between meaning and happiness was the subject of a recent study. In the study, researchers surveyed 397 adults about how happy their lives were, and how meaningful. The terms were not defined, which allowed each study participant to interpret them as they wished.

The study found, rather unequivocally, that a meaningful life is not a happy life. The study gave the lie to the Roosevelt quote above, and found that when we put our own desires aside and focus on helping others, we end up less happy. This finding reinforces the previous finding that having children does not make people happy. The study found that “meaning” is actually largely achieved through trauma and misery.

Emily Esfahani Smith at The Atlantic, through some bizarre reasoning, spun this finding as proof that people should focus more on living meaningful lives and less on being happy. Smith’s article is heavy-handed in its suggestion that everyone would be better off to pursue meaningful lives through sacrifice, not “mere happiness.”

Smith’s position is not only diametrically opposed to my ethical position that the most ethical decision is often the one that makes the decision-maker happy, but it also reinforces the cultural status quo outlined above, where righteousness is only found in the service of others.

So, according to the conventional wisdom, which Smith reinforces, the way to be a good person is to sacrifice what you want in favor of devoting your life to the service of others. Individual desires don’t matter. What matters is the service of others. Anything else is shallow and selfish.

This is a problem because one of the patriarchy’s main tools of oppression is its ability to convince women that their desires don’t matter. In addition to the “everyone should serve others” meme pervading our culture, there is a complementary meme that says “women should be subservient to men.”

That dominant religion I mentioned earlier? Its scriptures explicitly instruct women to be subservient to men. Women’s reproductive rights are continuously under assault because women’s needs aren’t seen as important. Women’s sexual autonomy is constantly under attack because women’s desires are seen as less important than men’s. The male gaze is constantly catered to. The vast majority of our leaders, from CEO’s to elected officials, are men.

There are thousands of other examples of how the message is sent every day, that women’s desires don’t matter, and that they should be happy in subservient roles. Implicit in this message is the message to men that our desires ARE important, and that we should get what we want. We are told to “be a man,” and to stand up for ourselves. We are taught to be confident and even violent in pursuit of our own happiness.

So men end up receiving two conflicting messages: one is that our individual desires don’t matter, and that we should serve others, but another that we should get what we want and be aggressive and tenacious in pursuing it. Receiving both messages gives men options about how to balance our own individual desires vs. the desires of others, and generally facilitates healthy decision-making. It’s not the best system, of course, but it does have some flexibility. Generally, men are permitted by our society to display a wide range of selfish and altruistic behavior and still be considered acceptable.

Women have no such luck. Because there is no countervailing message, women ONLY get the message that being subservient is virtuous. On one hand, they are told to be subservient to everyone. On the other hand, they are told to be subservient to men. There is no message (except a small-but-growing message from the feminist movement) that what they want as individuals matters.

So it’s no secret why the vast majority of rapists are men, women end up doing most of the housework and child-rearing, women ask for raises far less than men, and men generally make fewer sacrifices than women.

So when I see an article like Smith’s, which denigrates and demonizes the pursuit of individual happiness as “selfish” and “shallow,” I see it for what it is: an oppressive tool of the patriarchy. I think there’s a place for encouraging altruism in our culture, but not at the expense of individual happiness, and not in a way that suggests that anyone trying to make themselves happy is a bad person. People can take the pursuit of individual happiness too far, but the answer is balance. People should be encouraged to balance their individual desires against those of others (or, even better, shown how their individual goals can be served by helping others). Rather than be taught, as they are now, that everyone’s happiness matters except theirs, people should be encouraged to view everyone’s happiness (including their own) as equally important. People should not be told that the only way to live a good life is to sacrifice what they want. People will listen, and most of those people will be women.

This is the main reason I push back so hard against the dominant cultural idea that virtue is found only in sacrifice. I’ve seen first-hand the devastating effects that such ideas can have, particularly on women. As a staunch advocate of Ask Culture, creating space for people to voice their desires is a top priority for me. And step one of that process is encouraging people to value their desires.

Home Improvement Makes Me Happy

I suppose this post doesn’t really have much to do with the general themes of this blog, but whatever.  This has to do with improving the house that all the writers of this blog live in, so, um, it’s totally relevant.

Yesterday I took on the unpleasant project of removing the urine-soaked carpet in the back room of our house and replaced it with new, stench-free vinyl tile! Seriously, the puppy is adorable and often hilarious, but it’s like she’s having a personal pee party everyday all day and, while we are all apparently invited, we are not in attendance willingly.

I began the project by myself initially by starting to lift the carpet and yank it off the floor. There were staples and other pointy sharp things, but the most terrible part was the wave of eye-burning odor I was hit with as I progressed.

It was at this moment that I learned that there is something that is the opposite of aromatherapy.  Aroma-torture?  Aroma-needling-and-nagging? The cloud of putrid aroma instantly stressed me out, made me sad, and had me spiraling in a negative feedback loop of epic proportions. I was questioning various life decisions that brought me to this juncture and was honestly afraid that “Urine-Soaked Carpet Maven” was going to be the value I represented to everyone.

I’m being a bit hyperbolic of course, but I definitely had a mini-meltdown and cried for a while. Jessie found me staring helplessly at the pile of offending textile on the floor with a tear stained face.

Jessie often has a way of finding me when I’m having one of these moments. Last year when we rented a little house in the mountains for Wes’ birthday, I managed to forget my meds for the weekend. I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal, but by the last day I was truly not in my right mind. At one point, I was vacuuming various rooms while in full throttle weeping mode. I feel like a weeping woman vacuuming is the perfect embodiment of the 1950’s. Jessie found me though and calmed me down. She did the same thing yesterday. She’s pretty awesome.

After that, I was talking with Jessie, Wes, and Amber and we came up with the thought that it was the pee that threw me off my rocker. Then I got to thinking that the permeating aroma of decomposing waste had likely been making me generally less happy and calm for days.

I pulled it together and went off to brunch with everyone and when we got back, Jessie helped me roll up the carpet and underlayment and get it outside. It was gross, but freeing to get that awful stuff out of the house. I then cleaned the floor underneath with Nature’s Miracle, followed by some heavy duty floor cleaner I got from the tile aisle, and then I put a sealer/primer down so that rogue pee molecules could not escape from the wood. Then I put down the vinyl tile, covered the gaps with trim, and the back room looks fabulous AND (most importantly) the stench is gone. I spent a while back there just breathing happily.

As it turns out, while there are other offending spots in the house (all of which are on my list to fix with various cleaning and floor coverings), the back room was supplying the bulk of the stink to the whole house. By fixing that, the rest of the house was remarkably not awful in the smell department.

As you can tell, I am quite proud of myself. Wes took me out for dinner and drinks to celebrate the floor project. All in all, with shopping for supplies included, the whole project took about 6 hours to complete and cost us about $200. About $50 of that was made up of tools that we will use again and again, and some supplies that I didn’t use much of and can use next time (since this project is a big one). And it looks like this:

Back Room Floor

Pretty neat, huh??? The improvement is amazing. With the stench gone, I am way less angry to be home. It’s also much easier to clean (since the puppy is still being a jerk about ONLY going outside), which is a plus. The next project is the stairs! This is much bigger and more annoying project (I think) but it will be awesome when it’s done. After that, laminate flooring in the living room. Then? Who knows???

Adventures in Therapy: New and Improved

I went to Lowes today at lunch to scope out floor replacement options to continue work on undoing the pee-havoc that the puppy has wreaked on our various carpets. My initial solution was going to be self-adhesive carpet tiles. That’s still something I’m going to do on the stairs, but I have to order them online and if I know one thing about myself is that there are certain types of things I almost always do on a whim. When I decide that I want to do something in certain categories, I want to be able to go to a business and get the materials/services needed. For instance, a few weeks ago I decided I wanted to cut my hair short, so I went to a Hair Cuttery on the way home and had it chopped off. I have gotten sudden impulses to paint murals on our walls at home and…so I do. In the context of this particular home improvement project, I found nice looking vinyl self-adhesive tiles that are readily available in abundant quantity at the store, along with all the tools and shit I might need right there in the aisle next to them. Solution found, and I’ll be working on that this week in the room where that kind of solution is appropriate. HOT DAMN.

As I wandered around the store, and then subsequently as I walked outside towards my car, I was suddenly aware of how calm and generally “fine” I was feeling. I remarked to myself that this feeling of general calmness and okayness was what I have grown to expect from myself. It is my new normal. I then realized that it has been 3 years since I began my Great Journey to Mental Health: Extreme Makeover Edition, 2 years since beginning the search for a therapist and going on Zoloft, 1 year since winning the epic wages increase battle of 2013, 8 months since ending a relationship that was not doing anyone (especially me) any favors, and about 4 months since some other rather unfortunate stuff happened resulting in the end of a friendship I cared deeply about. In hindsight though, everyone is better off with the way things turned out. Sometimes people and lives are not compatible and it’s important to find that out earlier rather than later.

I honestly never believed that this general feeling of personal wellbeing, of calm, of Fine would be normal for me. Sure, I’m still on Zoloft but Zoloft (and other meds) didn’t do all the work required for me to get here. Zoloft is a tool for wellness and one that I still use and need for balance. There’s no shame in it. I’ve worn glasses every day of my life for the last 20 years because my eyes don’t work properly without them. The chemicals in my body are imbalanced, so I do what I need to in order to correct that and lead a happier, more productive, highly satisfying life.

But before and since medication, I have done an immense amount of work on myself to find the person I want to be hiding underneath. The biggest change I have experienced is that the things that are important to me have shifted. It used to be that being well-liked, or more to the point, having no one be upset with me, was pretty much my main social goal. This backfired, like, all the time in terms of people treating me well and my getting anything I wanted or needed. But I did achieve the goal of no one having an issue with me. In my younger mind, this meant that I would never be voted off the island. But that’s because I was the most obedient mule around and I would work tirelessly to pull that water wheel…or whatever it is you would need a mule for on an island. Pulling a cart full of coconuts? I’m mixing my metaphors I think. The point is I figured that if I was indispensable as a friend (through the services I would do for them), no one would leave me in the lurch! It was a substitute for actual trust in people.

The problem was that I was constantly being left in the lurch because I wasn’t communicating anything accept acquiescence. I was selfless in the fact that I never, ever put myself first for anything but it wasn’t altruistic. I got a sense of security from it.

I am still a helpful person but I have learned to pay more attention to what is a reasonable thing for me to be asked to do. This might seem like a small step, but I wasn’t doing this AT ALL before. And the scenarios in which I have to do this range from the mundane (“Come pick me up at a location 10 miles out of your way even though I can totes take the train”) to the fantastic (“Lie to me about your feelings…better yet, don’t talk to me about your feelings”). Both types of scenario are things that I have said no to and life is better for doing so. Saying no when you honestly want to say no is better for everyone in the long run. If there is backlash, it can be weathered knowing that ultimately this is the system working. Holding your wellness and happiness as central goals is better for those who love you and those who don’t.

I’ve learned a lot about what I want, what I need, and what I’m worth to myself. It’s still a struggle to express those things and sometimes I falter. But the underlying change in focus is there. I have a lot more to say about that and the things I have learned and am always trying to act upon, but for now I celebrate this peace time after so much war.

Tonight, Wes and I are going to have a few drinks at the Franklin Institute and learn about the science of gross stuff (Happy Halloween!). The Science After Hours series has been so much fun and is pretty much the best idea ever. I have always loved the Franklin Institute and the fact that they are making kids in adult bodies events after the work day is so very cool.

The rest of the week will be spent working, celebrating 10 years of employed bliss at my company’s Employee Appreciation Dinner (I’m totally getting a mug. I just know it), knitting a hat (my first project with double points needles…gasp!), coloring drawings, and replacing urine soaked carpet. I definitely did not save the best for last in that list.

So life is good overall. The happiness baseline is at a good place. The sinusoidal nature of the human experience notwithstanding, I am satisfied with the amplitudes of the highs and the lows. As for the frequency of the waves, well, that’s getting longer and more mellow all the time.

OK, that was just a pretentious metaphor. What am I even talking about here? Am I failing at mule AND math metaphors? Look, my point is, I’m doing well and I’m happy being me. What a novel concept!

Much Obliged, Madam

I’ve been thinking a lot about failure.

Now, before you go thinking that you’re going to need me to talk me of a ledge or something, I don’t mean for that to sound like such a bad thing. I spend a lot of time thinking about success too, but we have to think about our failures in order to sow new success, yes? And I have also learned that much success is not a one time thing, but rather a state of existence that needs to be maintained.

Success and happiness are the same in this way (and are pretty interrelated, obviously). To me, success is a part of happiness. It is a necessary part for everyone, I think. It’s just that the definition of success is different for different people.

So yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about failure recently. Part of this contemplation has included thoughts on friends I have lost, or more to the point, friends who have lost me. There were communications failures. There were failures to vet properly and there were red flags ignored. But whatever, that’s life, right?

What I’ve been thinking about more these days is my inability to fulfill obligations to myself. I don’t even want to call them obligations. I have great trouble making my own personal goals, desires, and needs a priority in my own life. It is pretty much an automatic habit I have to deprioritize mine when there’s someone else I could spend my energy on.

This isn’t a new realization and anyone who knows me well is all like, “No duh”. It’s true that in the last several years, I have learned how to prioritize myself more and I have gained the confidence to speak my mind and demand decent treatment. But I did that to improve the quality of my relationships. This is important to do, most certainly, but it has a component that is for other people, not just myself.

The frustrating thing for me is that I just won’t put the same kind of value onto things that benefit me almost solely. The two biggest examples are eating right and exercising regularly.

I know the truth already: There is a way of eating that makes me feel a lot better both emotionally and physically. I don’t have allergies or intolerances (I don’t think), but a more “paleo” diet makes me function better and feel healthier. Exercising regularly makes me feel more confident and healthy and does away with any body image issues I might have. If I did both, I would feel incredible.

You would think that with that evidence, it would be easy to prioritize these things for myself. What would prioritizing things like this look like? An early morning yoga class a couple times a week, stopping at the gym on the way home from work, a Pilates class once a week, walks/jogs on the weekends. It would look like meal planning for the week and shopping for what I need for those meals. It would mean not using the time after work stopping at the grocery store or at Home Depot or a million other places, instead of working out. It would mean more “make ahead” meals that would allow me to throw it together in the morning and have it start cooking while I’m out doing things for myself. It would mean cooking even when I don’t feel like it. It would mean scheduling workouts like they are things I can’t miss (like work). It would mean not worrying so much about everyone else’s preferences and let them fulfill those on their own.

It would be me taking an interest truly in my own wellbeing. This sounds really simple but I am currently just not wired that way. But it’s a circuit worth getting.

These things take a lot of time (as in time to exercise and time for preparing healthy meals) and definitely a lot of energy. These things also take clear communication to others. Like, if I’m going to make meals that don’t include starches and other things that make me drag and feel lousy, then all I need to do is communicate what I am making and people who want more can add what they want for themselves. Part of my problem is always trying to anticipate what other people want and feeling obligated to accommodate them, even if it means compromising my own goals.

The bottom line is that I need to see the value in working as hard for myself as I do for other people. I honestly don’t know how to do that. How do I hold myself accountable to myself? Clearly, I still don’t know quite how to value myself without external validation. I am assuming that this is a skill I can learn. I know I can always work harder, but at some point I’m going to need to work smarter too.

Good thing I have therapy on Monday!

Self-Interested Feminism

Recently, Emma Watson delivered a speech at the UN pleading for men to get more involved in the cause of feminism:

Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.

Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society despite my needing his presence as a child as much as my mother’s.

I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less “macho”—in fact in the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49; eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either.

We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.

There has been some pushback to this idea. Many people feel that men should support feminism out of a sense of altruism. Anne Thériault had this to say at Feminspire:

Rape culture is something that men should care about not because it might affect them, but because it affects anyone at all. Men should care about women’s safety, full stop, without having the concept somehow relate back to them. Everyone should care about everyone else’s well-being – that’s what good people are supposed to do.

I find altruism of that variety unreliable at best, illusory at worst. Either way, I feel that the most ethical things to do is often to prioritize our own well-being over that of others. There is nothing unethical about trying to make ourselves happy, so long as we are not doing disproportionate harm. Nobody has to be a hero. We are not morally required to work to change society, even if we acknowledge that society is unjust.

As much as I’d like to claim otherwise, I’m not a feminist because I care deeply about all of my fellow humans. I’m a feminist out of self-interest. I’m a feminist because my personal goals align with the goals of the feminist movement. And I think that most men, if they rationally examined the situation, would agree. Patriarchy, rape culture, and male privilege suck for everyone.

I. The Patriarchy Hurts Men Too

This is not actually my most important reason, but it is a reason. This point has been so well documented that it’s nearly self-evident. Here is Katie McDonough at Salon:

Women and girls make up the majority of victims of sexual violence, but a culture that straight up says that teenage boys can’t be raped makes it almost impossible for male survivors to come forward. Destructive ideas about sexual male entitlement are at the heart of rape culture and the reason that so many women and girls are victimized in their lifetimes, but they also feed into this idea that men always want sex, which makes men who have been victims of rape question whether or not what happened to them even counts as a crime. It took a really, really long time for this to even become a crime. These same norms also encourage men to have really warped relationships to desire and sexual satisfaction. This stuff hurts women the most because of the violence it engenders, but it hurts men, too.

The ridiculousness of rape culture is to the point where we actually have articles with titles like “Can Boys Be ‘Coerced’ Into Sex?” Spoiler: they can. Here is Charlie Glickman:

One of the primary reasons that boys and men gay bash and bully queers is that they need to perform masculinity in order to show the world that they’re in the Box. And since very few guys can always be in the Box for their entire lives, the trick is to act like you are in order to cover for any lapses. In effect, the performance of masculinity requires constant vigilance to make sure that nobody sees any missteps. Since the logic of the box is an either/or, you’re either all the way in or you’re all the way out.

"a good captain needs abilities like boldness, daring and a good velour uniform"

“a good captain needs abilities like boldness, daring and a good velour uniform”

Glickman’s article, which I encourage you to read, discusses how masculinity is a performance that men must keep up at all times, or else they’re not real men. This form of toxic masculinity proclaims that men are violent, unemotional, and aggressive, or else they are weak and womanly.

Men’s Rights Activists, though deeply confused about the causes, also tend to notice the ways in which patriarchy hurts men. What they tend not to realize is that these things that they label as “female privilege” are actually benevolent sexism, stem from exactly the same places as women’s oppression, and that reverse sexism is really just a necessary result of ordinary sexism.

Concerns like those noted above have been a problem for me as far back as I can remember. One of my most vivid memories of elementary school is the experience of being terrified to tell my best friend that he was my best friend, because that would be “gay” or something. I never told him, and throughout my young childhood, I was always insecure about how much he liked me because I was too afraid to talk about it with him.

Patriarchy harms men in general, and me personally. I struggle against the need to perform my masculinity daily, and feminism is the only movement that supports me at all in that struggle.

II. Patriarchy Makes People Awful

In Part I, I reviewed several of the ways that patriarchy hurts men. Many of those same forces encourage men to be terrible people. The need to perform masculinity encourages men to be aggressive, violent, competitive, and unemotional. This naturally hurts men who don’t conform to their prescribed gender role, but it also hurts everyone else, who are forced to deal with a bunch of men who either are, or who are pretending to be, aggressive, violent, competitive, and unemotional. The fact that most men effectively perform masculinity is the primary reason why I dislike most men, and have trouble forming male friendships. Would you like someone who fits the above description of masculinity? I wouldn’t.

Patriarchy also teaches women to behave in ways that I don’t like. Harriet J from Fugitivus has a good list of the problematic ways in which patriarchy encourages women to behave:

  • it is not okay to set solid and distinct boundaries and reinforce them immediately and dramatically when crossed (“mean bitch”)
  • it is not okay to appear distraught or emotional (“crazy bitch”)
  • it is not okay to make personal decisions that the adults or other peers in your life do not agree with, and it is not okay to refuse to explain those decisions to others (“stuck-up bitch”)
  • it is not okay to refuse to agree with somebody, over and over and over again (“angry bitch”)
  • it is not okay to have (or express) conflicted, fluid, or experimental feelings about yourself, your body, your sexuality, your desires, and your needs (“bitch got daddy issues”)
  • it is not okay to use your physical strength (if you have it) to set physical boundaries (“dyke bitch”)
  • it is not okay to raise your voice (“shrill bitch”)
  • it is not okay to completely and utterly shut down somebody who obviously likes you (“mean dyke/frigid bitch”)

The result of all this conditioning means that women are overwhelmingly encouraged to resort to Guess Culture, subtlety, and indirect communication. I hate that style of (non) communication, and I hate that our patriarchal culture punishes women who communicate directly. In our efforts to move toward Ask Culture and encouraging direct communication, patriarchy is our enemy.

III. Feminism Means Better Sex

Just today, Miri Mogilevsky posted about how feminism can make you better in bed. The whole post is great, but here is a relevant quote:

Of course, if you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. But if you do want to do it, you should never have to feel guilty or abnormal just because your desires don’t conform to gender roles. Sex is a lot more fun when you don’t have to measure yourself against invisible, constantly-shifting standards like “Real Man” or “Real Woman.”

I also favor sexual promiscuity, and think that people should be having all the sex they want to have without fear of stigma or judgment. Patriarchy opposes this goal, and feminism supports it:

In a time when nonheterosexuality is close to losing the status of ‘alternative,’ transgender people have scored Medicare coverage for gender-confirming surgeries, Fifty Shades of Grey has made it clear that kinky desires are as mainstream as it gets, and open relationships are more visible than ever, there is one sexual lifestyle that remains imbued with stigma: unbridled promiscuity. Accepting promiscuity—having lots of (mostly) casual sex with lots of different people—as a valid lifestyle choice is perhaps the final frontier in creating a sex-positive, open-minded, sexually tolerant society.

Dan Fincke, of Camels with Hammers, also argues in favor of what he calls the Sexual Utopia:

By sexual utopians I mean anyone who wants us to get as close as is reasonable to a world of maximal guilt free sexual pleasure with no irrational hang ups or needlessly burdensome restrictions. People who dream of the day when we can indulge more freely in positive sexual experiences, unencumbered by arbitrary moralisms. Nudity is natural and good. It’s aesthetically pleasurable and not even always sexually. We should celebrate the beauty of the human form rather than hide it. Everyone should love and have sex with whomever consensually wants to have sex with them. Alternative sexual orientations and genders should be celebrated, not merely tolerated. Kink that doesn’t harm anyone shouldn’t be seen as immoral. Whatever floats your boat so long as no one gets hurt. People should be able to negotiate the terms of their own relationships rather than have adultery defined in some absolute way that forbids any sexual openness among committed people. Friendships can incorporate a dimension of sexual enjoyment apart from romantic commitments. Even entire friendships can be all about two people’s enjoyment of having sex with each other if that’s what they enjoy. Young people should be empowered to make wise sexual choices instead of repressed with abstinence-only fear-mongering. And there should be no stigmas about making or consuming porn or engaging in prostitution or patronizing a prostitute, etc., so long as everyone involved is treated respectfully and is kept healthy. And, of course, if you’re asexual or a celibate or abstinent or a strict lifelong monogamist, etc., then that’s okay too!

How do we get there? Feminism:

Only in a culture where women aren’t punished for sexuality, aren’t commodified and treated like objects to be traded, and don’t see men trying to sexually exploit them around every corner will they be empowered to choose sexual utopia. But so long as rapes are excused and so long as sexual exploitation of their images is dismissed as irrelevant (and only theft is acknowledged as a real harm) and so long as their feelings about sex are going to be disregarded in moral calculations involving them, they have every right to become protective and restrictive. Women will and should only expose themselves to more risks of sexual openness when men prove more responsible not to regularly exploit them, dismiss their feelings, and blame them for all the consequences.

Smashing the patriarchy, dismantling rape culture, and doing away with male privilege are the only ways that I can think of to encourage people to feel safe having the sex that they want to have. And when people are having the sex they want to have (and not the sex they don’t want to have) that makes sex better for everyone except people who want to have sex that doesn’t involve enthusiastic consent, and I do not think the desires of such people should be taken into account.

IV. Male Privilege Is Not Worth The Cost

Mia McKenzie, of Black Girl Dangerous, feels that telling men to be feminists out of self-interest is disingenuous, because it ignores the ways that men actually benefit from a patriarchal culture. Her list of benefits:

1 out of every 5 American women has reported experiencing rape in her lifetime. For American men, it’s 1 in 71.

White (cis-gender) American women earn 78% of what their white male counterparts earn. Black (cis-gender) American women earn 89% of what their Black male counterparts earn and 64% of what their white male counterparts earn. Latina (cis-gender) women earn 89% of what their Latino male counterparts earn and 53% of what their white male counterparts earn.

Only 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEO’s are women.

Of course, the gender pay gap exists everywhere in the world, including the UK. And so does rape.

For starters, the only arguably zero-sum benefit listed is the one about CEO’s, and I certainly wouldn’t be upset if we had more gender balance in our CEO’s. I’m not planning on being a Fortune 500 CEO, so increasing equality in that sense wouldn’t harm me in any way that I can see. The gender pay gap is not zero-sum at all. Equal pay doesn’t require that men’s pay be reduced, it requires that women’s pay be increased. The assumption that monetary gains for women would come out of men’s paychecks doesn’t seem obvious to me, especially when corporate profits are rising at the same time wages are falling. While there might be some balancing effects by which employers pay men less in order to pay women more, there are plenty of other sources for that money to come from, most notably from corporate profits.

Statistics about rape are definitely not zero-sum. The fact that one in five women has been raped is not an advantage to non-rapist men in any way! There is definitely no need to increase men being raped in order to decrease women being raped. If suddenly, only one in 71 women experienced rape in their lifetimes, I think most men would be happy about the reduced numbers. Certainly, being a man means that I experience the privilege of being much less likely to be raped (or cat-called, or harassed, etc.), but that’s not a benefit I lose by dismantling the patriarchy.

Sometimes, I do receive benefits that come at the expense of women. When I’m applying for a job or a promotion (or elected office), I’m favored over female competitors. When I want to make my voice heard, it’s easier for me to do so over competing female voices. Patriarchy makes it easier for me to convince women to do what I want. I probably got more attention from teachers as a child than my female classmates. But I would gladly give up those advantages in exchange for the advantages of an egalitarian society that I’ve outlined above. Most other manifestations of male privilege can be equalized by expanding male privilege to women, not by denying it to men.

V. Conclusion

The feminist movement, as it currently exists, has some serious issues. Those issues may be serious enough for reasonable people to abandon the movement altogether. It is not my intention to argue here that people should all go out and donate to mainstream feminist nonprofits or read mainstream feminist writings (thought I can’t say those are bad ideas). My intention is simply to argue that a more egalitarian society will help all genders, including men, and that creating a more egalitarian society is the explicit goal of the feminist movement. Reasonable people can disagree on tactics, but I feel that the majority of men should be able to agree that the patriarchy should be smashed, rape culture dismantled, and male privilege be destroyed where necessary and expanded, where possible, to include all genders. These are the goals of feminism, and I feel that men have compelling, self-interested reasons to support them.