Courageous. I was called courageous by a woman for complimenting her skirt. We were standing on a street corner, waiting for the light to change, and I said that her bright red skirt was pretty. She thanked me and said that I was courageous. I was surprised. “Have we really fallen that far?” I asked.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. A recent study shows that more than a third of young Americans believe that complimenting a woman for her attractiveness is a form of sexual harassment. Nearly a quarter of young men think that asking a woman out for a drink is also sexual harassment. These numbers, as you may imagine, are significantly lower among older Americans. Ironically, this trend doesn’t hold when it comes to requesting sexual favors from women.
While still high, the number of people who call that sexual harassment is lower among younger Americans, especially women. No wonder Tinder’s valuation stands in the billions—in many circles, hooking up with someone from a dating app is considered less taboo than striking up conversations with strangers on the street and asking them to coffee.
Increasingly, men are timid and fearful of talking to women and it’s easy to see why. Expressing romantic interest in a person is hard enough—there is always the prospect of rejection and social awkwardness. But if an increasing proportion of the population considers innocuous expressions of interest to be sexual harassment, every interaction carries an additional risk. Blue hair and morbid obesity aside, you never know if the woman you’re about to talk to is a social justice warrior out to smash the patriarchy.
While it is not yet common to see a man’s life destroyed for the crime of asking a woman out, it isn’t too hard to imagine a future where this becomes commonplace. Given the number of “crimes” that are adjudicated in the media based on ex post facto social norms, there doesn’t seem to be any reason that men couldn’t be hauled up in the future for the supposed transgressions that they commit today.
But what happens to the majority? The majority of women (more than men, in fact) who do not think that they are being sexually harassed when they are asked out for a drink? The majority who might actually like receiving a compliment for their looks?
During the 2016 election, the New York Times published a story headlined, “Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved with Women in Private.” The article described a “debasing face-to-face encounter” where Trump asked a young woman at a pool party to put on a swimsuit. Of course, the story was immediately undercut when that woman accused the New York Times of twisting her story. She had repeatedly told them that she had a positive experience with Trump and that she was “very flattered” by his attention. The Times was happy to omit this fact and editorialize that the encounter was “debasing” and crossed the line. The implication is clear—you are a lesser woman if you enjoy that type of flirtation.
From the point of view of many on the Left, not all women know when they are being sexually harassed—in much the same way as many housewives do not know that they are being oppressed. The opinions of these women do not matter to those on the Left. They believe that these women have been brainwashed and are incapable of drawing their own conclusions. This comes from the belief that any rational and enlightened woman would immediately recognize the supposed harassment and oppression in their day-to-day lives. The fact that these women don’t share this view means that they are suffering from a “false consciousness” or have not yet been properly educated.
But never fear! The Left is happy to serve as the white knights (or is that term too patriarchal and racist?) for these women and defend them against the things from which they do not yet desire to be defended. But there are many women who don’t want men to be timid and meek, just as there are many who may find “toxic masculinity” (otherwise known as masculinity) attractive.
We live in an increasingly fearful society. This fear extends far beyond dating and sex. Walk down a street in New York or D.C. and count the number of people wearing headphones, looking at their phones, or averting their gaze. People are scared of talking to strangers because they are worried that the other person will assume the worst of them. After all, many of us have been yelled at by third-wave feminists for trying to hold the door open for them. To them, our attempt to be polite was an expression of chauvinistic and patriarchal oppression. The irony, of course, is that in many cases we couldn’t even tell that these feminists were women and would have held the door open regardless of their sex. When even small acts of kindness can be construed in a negative light, we are all less inclined to reach out to other people on the off chance that they will excoriate us.
But the truth is that the majority of us like interacting with cordial strangers. Think about how you might feel if a nice person struck up a conversation with you on the bus. Wouldn’t life be a lot more interesting and fun if we didn’t have our heads buried in our phones as we struggled to avoid looking at anyone in particular?
Let’s break the culture of fear. Let’s stop assuming that everyone will interpret our actions in the worst possible way. The boring people will continue to do so, but who cares? They are boring anyway. Maybe, if we work hard enough, we can relegate these killjoys to their proper place in the permanent and miserable minority.