Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why Do Men Care What Women Want?

In my daily (obsessive) traversing of the web, I came across an article by Kay S. Hymowitz; there were many problems with this article, from the idea that we are in a postfeminist world (more on one of the many examples for why that is emphatically not true later) to this idea that men are so cranky with women because The Rules of Dating are no longer set in stone. One of the more infuriating sentences of the article, for me, was this one:
the opportunities for heartbreak and humiliation are legion. Under these harsh conditions, young men are looking for a new framework for understanding what (or, as they might put it, WTF) women want.
Here's what I'm looking to understand: why do you care? Seriously now. Maybe it is just the fact that most of the men I am friends with are in happy, committed relationships (at least, I assume from the smiles and the moving in together that they're happy...), but there is a total disconnect for me in this idea that a guy needs to know what women want. First, there is this idea that a guy could ever know what "women" want, as if we are some monolithic group that holds monthly meetings meant to decide what expectations and desires to harbor. We don't; what I want out of life is different from what the married femmes want. And those married women don't all want the same things either. That is life. But the real question shouldn't be What Women Want. Even if there was a monolithic, monthly meeting, that should never really be a guy's concern - just as What Men Want shouldn't be a single woman's concern.

The real question is "What do I want?" Because without that question being answered, even for the moment, there is no way a person will be satisfied in a relationship. If a man (or woman) tailors his (or her) responses to the opposite (or same) sex companion in order to not be alone, or in order to get some sex, or in order to have a dinner companion, then that man (or woman) will not have their own needs met (unless those needs were simply to not be alone, to get some sex, or to have a dinner with someone). That brings me to this gem of a line:
The woman may be hoping for a hookup, but she may also be looking for a husband, a co-parent, a sperm donor, a relationship, a threesome, or a temporary place to live. She may want one thing in November and another by Christmas.
And if the guy (or girl) in question doesn't know what he (or she) wants, this could be a problem. Not knowing if the girl across the room is looking for a hookup, a husband, a co-parent, a sperm donor, a relationship, a threesome, or just a place to crash is very much a problem if the guy in question is looking to change his response depending upon what the girl wants. But if the guy knows all he wants that night is a one night stand and is upfront about it, half of the hard part is over. Because now, he doesn't have to tailor his responses to what That Woman Wants. He can come to the table saying, "This is what I want", and that is a good thing. And maybe he'll find a woman who wants that same thing that night, and maybe he won't. Maybe he'll find that woman the next night.

The thing is, everyone is going to have bad dating experiences. On a planet with 6 billion people and change, not everyone is going to be compatible, and not everyone is going to want the same thing at exactly the same time. The problem with some of the guys who wrote into Hymowitz to complain about those horrible women is that they seem to be missing the synapse that tells them that. They are missing that bit of common sense that would tell them even if they are looking for a relationship and they find a woman who also would like to pursue a relationship, they may not be compatible. That he may want a housewife, and she's on the fast track to being a high powered lawyer. Or that he's looking for someone with similar aspirations, and her greatest aspiration is to head the local PTA. That's just how life goes.

I think Jeff Fecke says it best when he says,
"The older I get, the more I believe that women and men are a mystery to each other only because we are constantly told from birth that women and men are a mystery to each other, who speak different languages and are unable to actually communicate. It turns out that men and women are a lot alike. There may be minor differences, but nothing that can't be figured out by asking questions. Indeed, much of the trouble in relationships could be solved by teaching our children that if they have questions about that boy or girl they're interested in dating, the best thing to do is just bite the bullet and go ask them. And that if they get asked an honest question, then give an honest answer. Instead, we teach boys and girls that they have to deal with girls and boys through an elaborate system of games and deception. It's a wonder any relationships work at all."
I can't help but agree. And I can't help but think that many of the men who are bent out of shape over the lack of concrete and inalienable Rules would have been bent out of shape over the state of women for one reason or another anyway. Because any group of people who believes that there should be concrete and inalienable rules for dealing with another (incredibly large) group of people obviously doesn't think very much of that second group. Because if that first group acknowledged that women were humans and humans are complex, they would know that there is no single rulebook for figuring them out.


John said...

I think the idea behind the article is that men only want to know what women want so they can appear to be whatever it is without actually having to be it, then they've got the women right where they want them (presumably in bed.) On the other hand, it would be neat to be able to know what any given person wants (in the broad and narrow senses) without actually having to discover it through conversation, but that would feel like cheating to get ahead.

petpluto said...

"I think the idea behind the article is that men only want to know what women want so they can appear to be whatever it is without actually having to be it, then they've got the women right where they want them (presumably in bed.)"

Oh, I totally get that. What I find so amusing/disheartening about these guys and their intense anger toward women as individuals wanting different things is that premise: if most of these guys are just looking to get laid and move on and the inability to quickly and accurately play a woman is what is making them so angry and hateful toward the very women they want to use and disgard, then they have a very real and very large privilege problem where they think they are 'owed' sex from these women.

I don't understand where these particular men - and while they may be a minority in the general male population, there sure seem to be a hell of a lot of them out on the web - get off hating women when what they want isn't really a woman at all but a roll in the hay. That seems to be remarkably absurd, and something that they should recognize as being not just immature but also incredibly obtuse on their part. But I suppose their obtuseness ends up being part of their overall problem...

John said...

Rule #1: You can't tell a demographic's size by its web presence. If you could, Snakes on a Plane would have out-grossed Titanic at the box office.

Of course they're going to be angry with women! They see the woman's individual needs and personality traits as an obstacle to be overcome on the way to the bedroom (or the bathroom stall, or what-have-you,) by any means necessary. If you had to satisfy your TV's emotional needs before you could watch the big game, you'd get frustrated with it too.

Admittedly, there are some fellas out there who really do just want to know the wants and needs of the person they're enamored with. I'll admit that I used to wish I understood "what women want" in the days when I couldn't get a date to save my life. It turns out that I wasn't being specific enough; that getting "a girlfriend" is actually harder than getting "a girlfriend who likes ska music and anything sci-fi/fantasy.")
In general, though, this is rarely a problem for a gent unless the lady ascribes to the "If you don't know, I'm not gonna tell you" school of thought, which is idiotic and poisonous to a relationship. Nothing drives me bonkers quite like that justification for withholding information!

mikhailbakunin said...

You'll be happy to know that I don't care what any of you want, regardless of your gender.