I notice that conversations about desexualization are particularly prone to people misunderstanding each other. For instance, many people seem to round any conversation about desexualization off to telling people that they have to have sex with people they don’t want to have sex with, and then say something along the lines of “didn’t the gay rights movement prove that no one should have to have sex with people they don’t want to have sex with? Rapist!” Many other people assume that the first group’s concerns are a smokescreen for not wanting to deal with their own bigotry, and thus assume that they could not have any reasonable concerns about compulsory sexuality.
I don’t have a lot to say to the second group at this time (although theunitofcaring’s Meditation on Boundaries, which has been recently going around again, is excellent, and I endorse her statement that all conversations about desexualization need to begin from the baseline that people should promptly say “no” to intimate activities that they don’t want). But I recently found an article from a few years back that I think might help explain the second group’s position to my readers who are prone to the “rapist” thing. (Please note that the author of the article is pretty mean to techies, and if you don’t want to read that you may want to skip the quoted bit.)
Here’s an excerpt:
You might think an abundance of men is a great thing, but as a wise woman once said, “The odds may be good, but the goods are odd.”
“I’ve lived in Seattle for seven years, single most of them,” Annie Pardo, a 31-year-old freelance event and communications consultant in Seattle, wrote in an email. “The only thing that has changed is the increase in men I’d never want to go out on a date with.” She added, “Can’t believe they actually strap on those new employee book bags.”
For Reifman, the number of men versus women presents a challenge for guys like him—he can’t seem to get a date or hold the attention of the women he’s courting because, presumably, he’s got so much competition. But the reality is that all he has to do is have a personality. I’m serious.
The exact same scenario has been playing out in San Francisco for the last few years. One woman, Violet, a 33-year-old who has lived in the Bay Area for eight years, with one of those in the “belly of the beast,” Palo Alto, experienced many of the same things I and other women did. They had money, but they were boring. They had a lot to say about their job, but their development as a complete human being seemed to be stunted. And they exhibited little to no interest in the other person at the table.
“There were a lot of tech men. I could talk a blue streak about them. I don’t have much positive to say. The biggest thing, the thing that bothered me the most is I felt like my intelligence was greatly devalued,” she wrote. ”I am a smart woman. I have a master’s from Berkeley in philosophy. My brain is very abstract, though, the exact opposite of so many men in tech who have very concrete/literal brains. They interpreted information as intelligence. I constantly felt like I wasn’t seen or valued by them, even though I experienced a lot of them as having a very limited view of the world.”
Carla Swiryn, a matchmatcher for Three Day Rule, a start-up that offers curated online dating services in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, said that her female clients are often hit with a double whammy: “I often hear women say they either date A-holes or nerds—or if they’re really lucky, both in one,” she said. “They feel like they’re dealing with someone who has poor social skills, not a lot of style, and isn’t that attractive, or is decently good-looking, successful, or cool, but by default knows it and acts like it, with a huge ego and selfish mind-set in tow.”
One woman, Bridget Arlene, spent three years in Seattle for graduate school, and said that she actually moved out of the city, in part because of the type of available men—most of whom had computer science or engineering degrees and worked for Google, Microsoft, or Amazon. “The type of person who is attracted to these jobs and thus to the Seattle area seems to be a socially awkward, emotionally stunted, sheltered, strangely entitled, and/or a misogynistic individual,” she wrote in an email. Arlene said that she was once contacted by a Microsoft programmer on OKCupid who required that she read Neuromancer before “he would consider taking me out on a date. He was not joking.”
It goes on like that for a while, but you get the general idea.
So here’s my guess on the reaction of most of my readers to this article:
- You are totally allowed to have a preference not to date nerds, but it is neither kind nor necessary to write thousands of words exploring exactly how undateable you find us.
- There are lots of women who want to date nerds, actually? Maybe you shouldn’t assume your own particular sexual preferences apply to every fucking woman on the planet? Lots of women don’t find “socially awkward with a poor fashion sense” to be a dealbreaker. Lots of women are socially awkward and have terrible fashion sense themselves!
- You are not actually entitled to a dating market that only has people you find attractive in it. People you don’t find attractive are allowed to try to find love too. “Asking you out while being incompatible” is not something people are doing to you.
- Obviously everyone is allowed to have their own dealbreakers, even if some of their dealbreakers are kind of stupid. But god, maybe you could try being a little more open-minded? You might be swept off your feet by a really great guy who happens to wear a new employee book bag. Also, fashion sense is totally a solvable problem, you can say to your new boyfriend “give me a $500 budget and I will buy you clothes that fit.”
- Good fucking riddance, lady, if you’re going to be this much of an asshole we don’t want to date you either.
In particular, that last point is something I want to highlight. It is desirable that the author of this article become less of an asshole, in the same way it’s desirable that any person become less of an asshole. Presumably, if she became less of an asshole, she’d be more open-minded about dating people that she currently considers to be emotionally stunted sheltered man-children with poor fashion sense and an aversion to spending money on messenger bags. But that doesn’t mean you want her to skip the “become less of an asshole” part and start dating techies right now. For one thing, then some innocent techie would be saddled with a girlfriend who hates him. For another thing, being open to dating techies is a predicted consequence of the thing you actually care about, which is her not being an asshole. If she kept her preferences once she became less of an asshole, but no longer wrote long articles about how horrible people she happens to not be attracted to are, then this would also be a fine outcome. “If you did X morally good thing, then you would probably also behave like Y” is a different claim from “you should behave like Y.” You don’t actually want people to date people they despise.
And in my experience those points are what most people who talk about desexualization in an anti-oppression context– whether it’s about race, transness, gender expression, disability, or size– are actually saying. There are legitimate complaints one can have about another person’s sex-related behavior, which are not the same thing as trying to make them have sex they don’t want.