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By Clarisse Thorn December 28, 20101

Being rejected sucks.
Let me tell you about my frst experience with it. Like me, the object of my desire was 13 years old,
and he was the hottest thing ever÷a geek who loved the natural sciences. He seemed like an
awesome match for an Ìnternet-obsessed nerd girl with weird pets. Sadly, he responded to my
overture by saying that Ì could shove one of my pets up my ass. Ì can laugh about this now, but it
sure sucked in my teens, and gave me a complex about asking guys out that lasted through my
20s. Like just about everyone in the world, Ì know about the pain of rejection.
But Ì know how the receiving end can get, too. Ì grew up into a woman who÷like many women÷
routinely manages unwanted advances from men. Some of those advances are not made with good
intent, like the guys who shout gross comments at me in the street. Yet at the same time as that
kind of deliberately invasive behavior is going on, there are also people of all genders trying to initiate
Expected to Make
the First Move?
PHOTO Maxime Guilbot/Flickr
handed the respxonsibility
of initiating dates
or sexual encounters.
Are we ready to
move past these
stereotypical roles?
By Clarisse Thorn December 28, 20102
real, mutual romantic relationships÷often misstepping even when their partner is receptive, and often
experiencing very sad rejections.
Men are usually handed the social responsibility of initiating dates or sexual encounters, while women
usually get the social responsibility of appearing attractive and open enough to convince a man to say
something. The awesome data-crunching blog for the dating site OKCupid notes that men send nearly
four times as many introductory messages as women. Dr. Debby Herbenick, a research scientist at
Ìndiana University and author of Because Ìt Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and
Satisfaction, told me, "While for male-female interactions it appears that men do much of the initiating,
it's really a certain type of initiating÷maybe saying hello frst or asking the woman on a date.¨
Ìn other words, women often work hard to send
approachable signals frst, but it's men who are
expected to express overt interest. Herbenick
adds, "Ì think it's more often when people step
out of their gender roles÷such as when women
don't just settle for nonverbal initiation but walk
up to a man and ask him out÷is when things get
tricky in many (but fortunately not all) instances.¨
Ìn my middle-school case, Ì don't think that
Natural Sciences Boy rejected me because Ì
was the one to initiate; Ì think he wouldn't have
been interested no matter what, because that's
the fate of 13-year-old nerd girls. But now that Ì've grown up, Ì've generally found that it's strange and
diffcult to be a woman who initiates. Don't get me wrong÷Ì like it when guys ask me out; Ì really don't
ever want to be in a position where Ì'm taking all the sexual initiative÷but Ì often fnd that Ì start the
conversation, offer my number or ask for his, suggest dinner, suggest that we go home together, etc.
And Ì often fnd that guys don't react well.
Part of the problem may be that straightforward women are often seen as "sluts.¨ Ìn the blunt words
of Derek L., cofounder of a San Francisco÷based company called Social Savant that claims to help
men improve their romantic lives: "Ì'm not surprised that women don't make the frst move. They have
so much to lose. There's judgment from their girlfriends ('Oh my God, she's such a slut to hit on that
guy'). And she risks judgment from the guy she approaches ('Oh my God, she approached me, must
be a slut, Ì'll just fuck her and dump her').¨
Clarisse Thorn is a feminist,
sex-positive, pro-BDSM
educator and international
explorer who has designed
lectures, workshops and events for a variety
of audiences, including New York's Museum
of Sex, San Francisco's Center for Sex
and Culture, and several universities. She
writes about sexuality for a number of
online venues; blogs , and Tweets.
By Clarisse Thorn December 28, 20103
This forms an interesting contrast to what men experience as initiators. Ì've already written about
some of the romantic and sexual double binds men deal with as part of a previous AlterNet article.
One of the points Ì made is that usually, when men initiate, they don't have to fear being seen as
"slutty¨÷but they do have to worry about being seen as "creepy.¨
Some men, feeling frustrated with those anxieties, claim they would just love it if women would do
all the initiating! And yet those same men will sometimes act as Derek described above÷labeling
women who initiate as sluts÷or, alternatively, simply won't know how to react to an initiating woman.
As Hugo Schwyzer, a senior professor of gender and women's studies at Pasadena College in
California, says: "Men often say that they have no problem with an aggressive woman, until they
actually meet one÷and fnd themselves confused. What might seem fattering and relieving in theory
becomes discombobulating in practice, as some men (by no means all) founder without . a
clear-cut role. Many men claim that it is burdensome to have to risk rejection by always taking the
initiative÷but many discover that they feel equally burdened rather than liberated by having to let
go of the culturally familiar role as dominant partner.¨
Ì've found that in some ways it's useful that
many guys don't react well to me making the frst
move, because a guy who can't handle hacking
our society's gendered scripts is probably not a
great partner for me anyway. But even with less
traditional guys, everything seems to go better if Ì cede the stereotypical initiation role÷if Ì focus more
on looking cute, batting my eyelashes, not seeming too interested, and smiling really widely.
Ìt's confusing, and Ì'd love to have more access to tried-and-true social strategies for how to navigate
these tricky shoals. Surely there are ways for a woman to initiate that feel less threatening or confusing
for men than others; Ì want to learn them. Ì'd also love it if more men in my life had access to good
tactical advice on how to initiate with me. Ìt's not in my interest for guys who could be a great match
to feel paralyzed approaching me because they're not sure how to avoid coming off as a creep.
My relationships are a major topic of discussion with close friends, of course. That's where a lot of
my best ideas come from. Ìt'd be nice to have access to more, though. Supposedly, there's a whole
dating advice industry that could help me with this. But as a feminist, Ì'm quite aware of the faws in
that industry. For women, there are awful stereotypical treatises such as The Rules, which tell us that
the less genuine we are, the better. Men are served by "pickup artists¨ who often give misogynistic
"seduction¨ advice. (Ìt's worth noting that there are pickup artists who recognize and critique the
most unpleasant attitudes within their subculture, and who seek to co-opt its best analysis for real,
non-adversarial gender liberation. As one such pickup artist writes: "There are a lot of problems with
My relationships are a major
topic of discussion with
close friends, of course.
By Clarisse Thorn December 28, 20104
the seduction community that feminists correctly observe, including misogyny, cynicism towards
relationships, and a few tactics that are bad for consent.¨ Unfortunately, none of these guys have yet
written their own pickup guide.)
When Ì Googled "feminist dating advice,¨ not much came up to help me. The ffth hit was probably my
favorite, a one-line blog post that says very simply, "Oh, for Chrissakes÷just pick up the phone and
call him.¨ Well . OK, that's funny, and it can be decent advice, sometimes, in some circumstances.
Something funnier comes from the very frst hit÷an article from the popular site
Step 1: Don't be an asshole.
Step 2: Do whatever you want, as long as it doesn't violate Step 1.
Ì don't disagree. At the same time: what now? Where do Ì go from there?
Many feminists say that it's "not our job¨ to give positive romantic advice÷especially to men. But the
question of how heterosexual men act romantically is extremely relevant to heterosexual women.
There are plenty of honorable men who want to approach receptive partners but have trouble fguring
out how to do so. When we feminists can have a positive impact on that, then we should offer to help.
And after all, it's not like we can't include advice on how to respect boundaries alongside, perhaps,
tactical advice on how to read a woman's signals or how to approach her in a charming way.
Personally, Ì'm not sure Ì'd be the best source of advice for feminist women who want to date main-
stream guys, because Ì don't tend to date mainstream guys. (Ìt's also unclear how many mainstream
guys would want to date me. Many are thrown off by my unshaven legs and discussions of privilege.)
Still, notwithstanding the fact that every man is a beautiful and unique snowfake, Ì could isolate a
number of frequently effective Clarisse Thorn Romance Tactics. Because Ì don't know whether those
tactics work well for me due to other characteristics of mine, or because Ì tend to be attracted to
guys who respond well to them, maybe one place to start could be with an open space for discussing
romantic strategies that strive to be both feminist and ethical÷and also enjoy a high success rate.
One of the most important things feminists can do is give people of all genders more choices in
how we live our lives, and how we interact with the gendered scripts that shape us. Surely, feminist
romantic advice could be a powerful tool for this.
÷This is an edited version. The original frst appeared on AlterNet.
By Clarisse Thorn December 28, 20105
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