D. Too Many Rules, Not Enough Respect
The woman who handed you this chapter has heard more advice about what not to do than you will in your whole life. Don’t pile more expectations onto the stack of rules she’s supposed to live by. Instead, consider pushing back against all the negative messages. Women are told all the time that they are to blame for the hardships in their life—rape, unwanted pregnancy, partner abuse, poor wages, you name it. Their behaviors are weighted with expectations and judgment: They’re either too friendly or not friendly enough, and too emotional or histrionic if they get justifiably mad at someone. As a result, women tend to second-guess themselves.
The most obvious and devastating example is rape, and our culture is filled with all kinds of advice for women about how not to get raped. Advice like “walk to your car with your car keys in your hand,” which of course only addresses stranger rapes, which are far less common than ones perpetrated by someone the victim knows. Others, like “don’t go out alone at night” may be terribly limiting or impossible. And some, like “don’t dress provocatively” or “don’t drink” impose obligations on women not to do things they may enjoy, and definitely have a right to do. Worse, these messages often get trotted out right after a media report that a woman got raped, which tells women that no matter how it happens, if they get raped, some guys (and women) will say they should have done something differently.
Many of us say this stuff because we want to protect the ones we love, and we think it helps. But it doesn’t help. Making up rules for women doesn’t actually protect them. Most of this stuff, like telling women what not to wear in public or checking the back seat of the car, is made-up nonsense with no data to support it, basically superstitions about crime prevention. The rest, like telling women not to drink or be alone with guys, is telling them not to live their lives just because the world is dangerous. Don’t be that guy. Everything in life has risks, from taking a shower to driving to work to snowboarding, but men don’t tell each other to stop living their lives because of the risks. So don’t do it to women.
And “rape prevention” advice is only the tip of the iceberg. Self-help articles abound, telling women they need to be more aggressive in negotiating for better salaries; while others say that women who do this actually make out less well because people react badly to women who are too assertive. The media says women should achieve, but if they do they won’t find partners. Just look around—you’ll start to notice these double binds and unfair rules everywhere; it’s systemic sexism. Just seeing it and knowing is the first step to fixing it.
DO THIS: Think back to a piece of advice about how women should do something important—something like rape prevention advice, career advice, or parenting advice. Now write down every piece of advice you’ve heard on this topic. Make them a set of rules. How many of them are rules that you’ve heard applied to men in similar situations? Are some of them contradictory? Are some of them nonsense? Are some of them rules that you’d take offense at or think were unreasonable if they were directed at you?