A friend once told me that the worst thing you can say to someone – worse than “you smell” or “is that what you’re wearing?” – is “stop showing off”. The reason “stop showing off” is so terrible is because there’s no satisfying way to come back from it: your options, essentially, are “No, I’m not!” (which makes you sound like a toddler), “Fuck off” (which makes you sound aggressive) or “Takes one to know one” (which makes you sound like an idiot). Your options, therefore, are to either stop talking or show off so much you get offered a role on Drag Race.
Today, it came to my attention that there’s a male version of “stop showing off”, and it’s this:
“She’s not going to fuck you.”
I’ve been noticing this popping up a lot in online discourse. A woman is being attacked by men online; a few men wade in to either defend her or to give sympathy; other men then respond with some version of “she’s not going to fuck you”, a statement that is liked and retweeted into glory. Search the phrase on Twitter and you’ll discover that it’s used as a response to men who defend women being slut-shamed (she’s not going to fuck you, dude), who tell other men they’re not being respectful (she’s not going to fuck you, dude) or tweet positively about Hillary Clinton (she’s not going to fuck you, dude). There’s a whole world of language that exists on either side of this statement: men are accused of being white knights, cucks, of “putting on a cape” to save Lois Lane. What’s implicit, of course, is the certainty on the speaker’s part that the woman is wrong.
Like most online trends, it’s comforting to think it’s just happening online. That it’s the same “little boy shitting in the sandpit” energy that makes up so much of this internet camp, one that has been built around Reddit, rejection and watching endless YouTube videos of Jordan B Peterson.
Sadly though, I don’t think this is just an online thing. I think this happens all the time in real life, in much subtler ways; I think men are being frightened out of feminism – not even feminism, per se, but simply empathising with women – by crappy peer groups that don’t allow for a diversity of ideas. I think that to side publicly with a woman is to be caught playing Barbies, and to forever doom yourself to the weaker world of the effeminate.
I think that to side publicly with a woman is to be caught playing Barbies, and to forever doom yourself to the weaker world of the effeminate
I have had so many male friends who, when we’re in private, are full of empathy, solidarity and concern for what women go through, and I’ve seen it disappear the moment we’re in mixed company. I’ve had boyfriends confidently tell me that they’re a feminist, and as soon as I say “well, he’s a feminist” to a doubting herd of his friends, he’ll vanish on me. I feel like Martin Prince, confidently assuming that Nelson will save him from bullies (“Spring forth, my burly protector! Save me!”) only for him to appear a few minutes too late, with a reluctant “I would never hang out with her, normally.”
When you google “toxic friendships”, the bulk of the articles are from sites like this one: your Refinery29s, your Stylists, your Bustles. Women are very good at realising when their friendships are bad for them and we tend to agonise a lot over the emotional health of our own peer groups. You don’t get as much of this in male groups, which is one of the reasons that, in late middle-age, men often find themselves with a diminished social group.
“Men’s friendships are more often based on mutual activities like sports and work rather than what’s happening to them psychologically. Women are taught to draw one another out; men are not,” says Jacqueline Olds, a psychiatrist who studied friendship in the 1980s. This, I think, is what makes it so hard for men to align themselves with women, both socially and publicly. If all of your friendships start from a place of competition and being on one another’s “team”, then siding with another team – a physically weaker team, too! – is taken as the worst kind of mealy mouthed betrayal. That these men who side with women are like prison-house snitches, desperately trying to win favours in the least honourable way possible.
Perhaps it’s a reach, but it’s the only thing that makes sense to me: I see men disagree about politics, music, films, football, Love Island and at what point, exactly, The Simpsons started being bad. They can be passionate, sure, but there’s never a sense that by preferring Oasis to Blur you are somehow trying to fuck Noel Gallagher. I’ve never heard someone say, “Corbyn’s never going to have a pint with you, mate!” as the ultimate put-down. Men will gladly square off with one another to defend a girlfriend’s honour, but never her ideology.
It needs to change. Not just because I want to win more pub arguments, but because I’m simply not convinced by a feminism that doesn’t include and embrace men. The very fact that men are so afraid of agreeing with women is precisely why they need feminism as much as we do.