Women Aren’t on Earth for Your Pleasure and Enjoyment
The blatant entitlement of some men never ceases to amaze me
I got a comment from a man I don’t know on a funny meme I’d posted on Facebook this morning. He asked me to become his friend so that we could get to know each other better. I politely told him in a public comment that I don’t “friend” men I don’t know. I used to but no longer because I’ve had too many bad experiences. I hoped that this would be the end of it. Usually, that’s all it takes, but not today.
This guy decided it was a good idea to try to convince me. “I understand how you feel at the moment,” he said, “But I mean no harm trying to be your friend.” When I replied that he was welcome to comment on my public postings, he thanked me and asked again to be added as a friend, thereby forcing me to spell it out for him a bit more forcefully.
“I’ve already told you that I don’t friend men I don’t know,” I said. “Show some respect! I do not owe you my time or attention.”
The fact that he told me “you look beautiful in your profile picture” didn’t help matters either. Maybe some women find that flattering. To me, it’s a huge red flag — both that he thinks that because he finds me attractive I should make myself available to him and that he probably wants more from me than just to laugh at other funny things that I post.
Studies have shown that men tend to overestimate a woman’s interest in them, based on what she is wearing and how interested he is in her. However, when researchers prompted study participants to actually pay attention to emotional cues such as facial expression and body language, they did a much better job of accurately gauging interest. When men look past their cultural programming that attractive women are there for their pleasure, and actually pay attention to what the woman wants, they are quite capable of grasping if their interest is reciprocated or not, but they don’t always make that effort — in part because the culture doesn’t require them to.
Girls are taught to let guys down easy if they aren’t interested, in part to be kind to male self-esteem but also in part to ward off a potentially dangerous situation. Women who are just hanging out with their friends, or enjoying a glass of wine by themselves run the risk of being cursed, or even accosted if they don’t accept some men’s advances. Some women have been spat on or had beer poured on them and there have been more than a few instances of women being killed for refusing to give their phone number or otherwise rejecting a man’s interest. I think this can only be interpreted as the belief that women exist for male pleasure and enjoyment.
Girls and women are also regularly exhorted to give someone they are not interested in another chance — both by the guys themselves and by society at large, including sometimes other women. No one encourages guys to continue to go out with women they have no chemistry with. That’s because patriarchal norms value male comfort and pleasure more than what women actually want and sometimes women uphold patriarchy too.
I know a lot of guys don’t believe this or understand it, but it is pretty obvious to me (and a lot of the women that I know) that there is still a very strong subcurrent in the culture that tells men that women are here on earth for them. Ask guys about this directly and most don’t have any idea they are acting out this belief but their words and actions speak for themselves and they reflect a dynamic that is largely subconscious although still deeply rooted in the culture.
I see women writing stories about this all of the time, giving very concrete and real examples. It’s not an over-reaction or a made-up issue blown out of proportion. This is still a very real problem and one that is largely under the radar because it is so ubiquitous. Cognitive science says that only a tiny fraction of our thoughts are conscious, around 2%. The rest are just these types of subconscious beliefs and stories that come out of our childhood programming, cultural narratives, media exposure, etc.
My point is not that a lot of men are callous, selfish pigs. My real point is that our culture, despite a lot of progress in gender equality, still teaches men that women are supposed to be help-meets, eye-candy, and to make life more enjoyable. Unless both men and women have actively deprogrammed from that, it’s quite likely that its vestiges are still in there somewhere.
A friend recently told me that her ex broke up with her because she wasn’t making him feel good about himself — and that was what women were supposed to do. Yes, he really said that and believed it to be true, even though she’s one of the nicest, kindest people I know. You can’t make this shit up. It still gets said this blatantly sometimes and reflects beliefs that haven’t come as far as we might like to think.
A mere 60 years ago this was an out and out overt belief in our culture. Women’s magazines were filled with articles about how to be more pleasing, agreeable, and helpful to men, and so it’s really no surprise that these beliefs have perhaps gone somewhat underground but have not actually gone away — both for many men and even some women.
Study after study confirms that even in 2021, women do the vast majority of home care, childcare, and eldercare, something that only got worse during the pandemic. “Married American mothers spend almost twice as much time on housework and child care than do married fathers. Although American mothers — including those with young children — are far more likely to be working now than in past decades, they spend more time on child care today than did moms in the 1960s.”
Women are still routinely told to smile, sometimes even by strangers, and have their appearance commented on in such a way as to indicate that they should make themselves as pleasing as possible. “A new survey found that 98% of women reported being told to smile at work at some point in their lives, with 15% noting the occurrence happens weekly, if not more frequently.”
Besides being a subconscious (on not so subconscious) way to try to exert control, telling women to smile is also a way to reinforce this gender dynamic that women should always appear to be pleasing and accomodating. Smiling makes women appear non-threatening, agreeable, and compliant.
Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher has noted that “a lot of men view smiling as subservient, weak and vulnerable” and that demanding that women smile is pushing them back into traditional stereotypes. During Hillary Clinton’s campaign, she was often publicly told by men (and some women) that she ought to smile more. This is not something that is really ever said to male candidates or to men in general.
Misogyny is not so much hatred of women as it is the belief that they ought to stay in their culturally assigned lanes. Misogynists may not expect women to be overtly submissive, but it is anticipated that they will be “cool” girlfriends, loving wives, devoted moms, loyal secretaries, and good waitresses, etc. The emotional labor and caregiving that are a part of so many women’s daily experiences, both in the family and in the larger community, is unremarked upon unless a woman is notably resisting these functions. Misogyny is the hostilities that arise in the face of such resistance, which may be intended to punish, dominate, or condemn the women who are perceived as a threat to the status quo.
But women are not only supposed to caretake and be devoted to men and men’s interests, they are supposed to look good while doing it and to make that a priority in order to be more pleasing and enjoyable.
Rachael Hope wrote about a personal experience with this belief that women are in the world to look good for men just the other day. A man she met on a dating app told her “Your profile keeps on coming up and I keep swiping left for the same superficial reason.” He then went on to tell her that she was too fat and had a “dorky” smile as if she would welcome these insights from him about how to supposedly get better results. He wasn’t trying to be aggressive. He actually thought he was being helpful, and even thanked her for giving him the opportunity to better understand his own mental processes — as if she was supposed to care about that or whether or not she’d met his metrics for appealability. I mean really!
Ena Dahl has also written about this dynamic. In one story she mentions the distaste that a lover expressed when he ran his hands up her legs and discovered razor stubble. Apparently, she was supposed to maintain immaculate hairless perfection at all times, just in case he happened to stop by. Despite her work, and other priorities as well as raising a child alone, her top thought ought to be whether or not she was sufficiently attractive and pleasing to him.
I saw a thread on Twitter not long ago where a woman was showing off her new multi-color hairdo. I thought it looked fabulous and she got a lot of positive comments, but some guy just had to comment that most men don’t really like that sort of thing and actually prefer natural hair — as if this woman would naturally want to adjust her self-expression and personal preferences to suit what random men, or any men, prefer. My friend with a lot of tattoos often hears the same type of thing.
Guys who complain that women are “gatekeepers” of sexual access but don’t see any issue with they themselves maintaining preferences and standards about who they’d like to be intimate with is yet another manifestation of this dynamic. Incels take this to a ridiculous level, but it’s really just an extreme version of the cultural narrative that women are there for the pleasure and enjoyment of men. Incels are simply upset to have been shortchanged on what the culture has told them that men are owed.
These are just a few examples, but it’s definitely something that I’ve personally experienced quite a bit as well — enough to say that it’s not just a problem with a few guys with issues, but rather an outdated cultural narrative that hasn’t truly died. Not every single man acts this way, but even many who think of themselves as progressive and equality-minded can fall into it at times because it’s such a pervasive undercurrent.
Media continues to feed it to us with a persistent focus on conventional beauty and then motherhood as the pinnacles of American womanhood. Be sexy (but not sexual), be agreeable and pleasing, and helpful. Don’t be angry or aggressive because that’s unattractive, even though it’s a sign of strength and power for men. Stay in the background, and make the man look good. If you make more money or are more educated than he is, minimize that as much as possible so that he can feel good about himself. Put your own needs last, and that of men (and then children) next, and if you don’t you’re really just a selfish, angry, bitch. (I see a lot of women nodding their heads right now, in recognition).
This is a cultural narrative that needs to continue to be dismantled, all the more so because it happens largely unconsciously. Are there women who behave towards men in entitled ways? Sure, but it’s not exactly socially condoned in the same way or happening with the same frequency. As I said above, it’s only been a few decades since these beliefs were mainstream and widely accepted and the only way to challenge them now is to bring them into the light and talk about them so that we can all do better for each other. Plus, I’m really freaking tired of it.
© Copyright Elle Beau 2021
Elle Beau writes on Medium about sex, life, relationships, society, anthropology, spirituality, and love.