Misogyny, Misandry, Respect, and Dating Etiquette: Rebecca Watson Continued

Guidelines for mutual respect in dating interactions.

Posted Jul 15, 2011

Welcome back to The Attraction Doctor

I'm continuing to take a break from providing my usual "light advice" and weigh into heavier topics in this article because I believe they are essential to resolve for healthy dating. More than that, I am personally saddened by the unhealthy trends, disrespect, and "bullying" that occurs in pockets of modern social interactions between women and men. I hope for better for both women and men. I also continue to believe that, down deep, people are good and desire to do the right thing. Therefore, I continue to offer my perspective to both men and women, in the hope that we all can untangle this current mess for a mutually-beneficial resolution.

Earlier this week, I wrote an article entitled "Dating Tips for Confident, Assertive Men: Learning from Rebecca Watson". In that article, I endeavored to provide advice for men navigating the often judgmental and hostile world of modern dating - while still maintaining their self-respect, assertiveness, and masculinity. Essentially, I discussed methods within their control, whereby they could adapt and prosper, while also honoring women's important needs for safety and respect (and avoiding the "critical responses" of some women). When I advise women, I take the same approach - instructing them to take responsibility for what is under their control to modify, and learning to adapt to (or avoid) situations where men might be critical or judgmental with them. To interject a bit of psychology, this would be promoting an "internal locus of control" (Rotter, 1954; 1966) and an "incremental theory of lay dispositionalism" (Chiu, Hong, Dweck, 1997). Both of these perspectives have been shown to improve coping and performance in harsh or difficult circumstances.

However, there is a difference between providing advice and perspective to weather a bad situation (which is my aim), and "blaming the victim" for how they are treated (which I don't condone). While men and women may sadly "have to" learn skills to avoid hostility in the short-run, I sincerely hope we can eventually evolve to a state of mutual respect and "dating etiquette" in the long-run. To move that solution forward, below I will outline some of my own suggestions regarding this "dating etiquette" for both men and women. I hope this will be a beginning towards diffusing some of the unfortunate and reactionary misogyny and misandry that appears to be occurring in pockets of modern dating and relating. I will also continue to evoke the example of the "Rebecca Watson Incident" in this article, as it serves as a very salient, modern, instructional model of both appropriate and inappropriate dating behaviors.

Respect for Individual Perspectives and Personal Boundaries

Two powerful therapeutic concepts that I find helpful in fostering positive social exchanges are "respect for individual perspectives" and "personal boundaries". I find that these are often important building blocks for later social skills and "dating etiquette". In fact, they are sometimes noted as essential for healthy and productive adult social functioning. So, I will begin by explaining each more fully:

Individual Perspective - Due to our genetics, learning history, and personal experiences, each of us has a unique way of seeing the world. We have our own personal perspective. While we often share commonalities with others, we can never be quite sure whether our particular interpretation of the world is the same as their interpretation. Therefore, each person's thoughts and feelings about a situation will be "true for them" - but they are not necessarily "true for everybody".

These "individual differences" lead to two points for promoting social functioning.

  • First, no one can assume that any other person shares their own unique interpretation of a situation. That is, until we accurately communicate with someone and get them to convey their own perspective, we can never be 100% sure what they are thinking or feeling. Until then, we are guessing - and should keep that in mind. Don't "assume" you know...ask.
  • Second, because each person's perspective is unique, it cannot be generalized to others. For example, I have a friend who dislikes pizza (her perspective). She is entitled to her individual perspective (and should be free to choose not to eat it). However, she would be remiss to assume the whole world dislikes pizza because she doesn't like it. Furthermore, she would be employing faulty logic to say, "I am a person, I hate pizza...therefore all people hate pizza". This would evidence at least temporary sub-optimal perspective-taking and logic.

So, for healthy social functioning and to respect others, it is helpful to realize that their perspective may be different than yours, be open and attempt to see the world from their different perspective (especially when communication with them seems "off"), and not to generalize a personal perspective beyond yourself.

Personal Boundaries - As defined from Wikipedia, " Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for him- or herself what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her and how he or she will respond when someone steps outside those limits." Essentially, boundaries are each person's personal judgments about situations, which often link to responses designed to protect their "self" and freedoms.

Personal boundaries, however, can take many forms including "soft" (easily walked all over), "rigid" (doesn't let other's close), "manipulative/narcissistic" (infringes, manipulates, or invades the boundaries of others), and "healthy/appropriate". Healthy boundaries perform the following functions:

  • They allow and entitle each individual to experience his/her unique thoughts and feelings about a given situation. They protect the individual inside the "boundary" and allow him/her to judge what is "right" for him/her specifically. For example, my friend's boundary protects her "not liking pizza" and allows her to keep that opinion against outside attempts to change it.
  • They provide an "appropriate behavioral response" to protect each individual's personal freedom. Essentially, this allows the individual to help ensure their personal needs, rights, and perspective will be respected. Thus, my "pizza friend's" behavioral response is to refuse pizza when it is offered to her. If she is pushed, she further explains why "she personally" doesn't like pizza. She also may avoid dining at places where pizza is the primary food.
  • They DO NOT infringe on the personal boundaries or freedom of others. Healthy boundaries are "individual" constructs. When they bleed over, infringing on the rights, goals, and feelings of others - they have become manipulative, controlling, and maladaptive. Boundaries are protective walls or fences around the individual...not cannons. If I put a fence between my neighbor and I, that is a boundary. If I put a fence half-way into his property, annexing his lawn, that is threatening, bullying, and assaulting.

Dating Etiquette

Now that I have "defined my terms", I can put forth what I would consider to be courteous guidelines for dating etiquette. Per the guidelines, this is my opinion...and you are entitled to differ. But, I offer them because I believe they could be helpful to promote respectful dating and create win-win interactions for all :)

1) Your individual preferences, opinions, needs, and feelings (that occur within you) should be respected by others. In other words, you are entitled to your own "individual perspective" - your feelings, thoughts, and reactions. No one else has the right to tell you "how to feel". No emotional reaction is "wrong". You may choose or have a reaction that it isn't "optimal" - but you can certainly feel whatever you want that is "inside" you (within your boundary).

2) You also have the right to pursue your interests and defend your personal boundaries. If someone infringes on your personal boundaries or rights, you certainly have the right to protect them. This predominantly comes in the form of "choice". You should always have the right to say no or choose not to do something. Someone attempting to force you beyond that point is coercive and rude - if not criminal.

3) You further have a responsibility to respect the perspective and boundaries of others. Dating is a transaction...a "two way street". To get respect is to give respect. You are free to feel as you please and do as you please, as long as it isn't stepping on anyone else or making assumptions about them. Essentially, you can do as you want in your yard, and defend your fence, but you should also respect your neighbor's yard and not trespass either. Or, more to the point, it means you are free to decline their requests (your boundaries) as long as you turn them down nicely, respecting their thoughts and feelings in the process (their boundaries).

Applying The Guidelines: Revisiting The Rebecca Watson Exchange

I will now assess the "exchange" between Rebecca and the "elevator man", to illustrate these "etiquette guidelines" and tease apart the clutter of this exchange. Again, this is my personal analysis.

First, let's look at Rebecca. She had a particular personal reaction to a man's request on an elevator, because of her own personal feelings about the time, location, and manner in which he approached. She is certainly entitled to that internal reaction (point #1). Based on that internal reaction, she also chose to defend her personal boundary and say "no" to the man's request. She is also free to do so (point #2).

Ideally, the story should end there (as it does for many people every day). However, my individual opinion (and applying the points above) is that her "boundary defending" reaction went on (just slightly initially) to invade the man's personal boundaries (and violate point #3). In other words, I believe it might have been better for her to have kept it "personal". That doesn't mean silent, or even not blogging about it...but it does mean not universalizing it. For the most part, she does do an excellent job in the initial video. Earlier on, she even shows good perspective taking on another issue when she states, "I don't assume that every woman will have the same perspective as I have". Further, most of her speech about the "incident" keeps it personal by saying what "she" didn't like. She is certainly entitled to let the world (and any male suitors) know her preferences. However, to me, she did cross a boundary when she said, "a word to the wise guys, don't do that ". At that point, she universalized his behavior, taking it out of context, and labeled it as "bad"...not just "bad to her".

The saddest part of the situation is, while Rebecca might have slightly stepped on the man's boundaries initially...I hold that primarily her "supporters" (and some of her subsequent remarks) have trampled them. To be fair, it sounds like some of the rebuttals she received were not exactly "boundary-respecting" either. But, two wrongs don't make a right. Heated debate doesn't justify publicly shredding some unknown man (or woman), especially with completely fictitious statements. Again, it isn't a problem to voice an individual perspective. If Rebecca or her supporters wanted to blog about how "they and only they" dislike that particular treatment "as individuals" and "personally" consider it sexual objectification, you wouldn't hear a peep out of me. But, universalizing it and saying that his behavior IS DEFINITELY sexualizing and ALL WOMEN hate it, is vilifying him - which is incorrect and bullying. So, it fails point #3 above. By the way, if the guy's identity had been included at all, it could also be a potential crime of slander or libel.

As for the guy... I hold that he is entitled to his opinion of liking her (point #1). Within his personal internal boundary, he is even within his right to find her sexually appealing (that is making the assumption that it even was sexual). He is also entitled to make a polite request (point #2). He was NOT pushy, vulgar, or rude. Finally, when she defended her boundaries and said "no", he respected her choice (point #3). If he had not respected her feelings, boundaries, and choice, then there would certainly be cause for concern and sanction. Also, if he had been "pushy", I would be on here giving him advice on boundaries - as I hold the same standard for all. But, he didn't coerce or even badger her. So, his "etiquette" was in check as far as I'm concerned.

The "worst" thing we can say about the guy is that (perhaps) he may be a little socially unskilled (not a crime). But, it is not a RIGHT to expect someone else to read your mind...only to respect your preferences after you communicate them (which he did do). Social skill and "mind reading" of a partner is an attractive feature for sure, but it is not a crime to lack it. In fact, most actual "boundary invading" behaviors are already real crimes - with on-the-books laws that define them. So, it might be prudent to only universally condemn those behaviors that are real crimes...and relegate the rest to "personal preference" (A. Novy, personal communication, June 14, 2011). Or, just respect point #3.

Conclusion

I hope my perspective helps both men and women to find a common ground of respect. I also hope it helps us all put the arguing and mudslinging to rest. Most men are not raging misogynists. Most women are not violent misandrists. The majority of both are just frustrated because of unfair social treatment, occasionally go "too far" in asserting their boundaries, and just need a little compassion and respect.

If that is too "nebulous" a concept, something more concrete would be to rely on actual criminal behavior as a guideline. Is someone actually stalking, threatening violence, or assaulting? Are they defaming, slandering, or libelous? If not, then they are respecting your boundaries and choice. So, have your "personal" reaction within yourself, cut them a break, leave politely...and find someone else who suits you. To me, that is good dating etiquette.

As for the "elevator guy". If you're out there buddy, don't despair. Please disregard the venom and go about your life. Know, at least from my personal and professional opinion, that you didn't do anything that deserves the harsh criticism, bullying, and vulgar treatment you're getting. Please stop treating this guy so badly. In fact, while we're taking that poor guy off of the gallows...let's stop flaming Rebecca too. That isn't respecting her boundaries either and it is doing nothing but generating further reactionary unkind behavior from her supporters (which is beating the poor guy more too). Write her respectful and thoughtful comments if you are so motivated, trying to get her to see where her behavior was hurtful. Heck, soliciting an apology for crossing a line is even warranted. But, gross and angry comments are not persuasive...and not helping to change her perspective of men (or some other women's perspectives either). You're just confirming the worst that she already thinks and backing her into a corner. The solution again, isn't to lynch someone and violate their boundaries (on either side) - but rather to calmly and repeatedly explain your perspective and boundaries until the other hears, understands, and self-corrects. That advice goes for both sides of this issue.

So, everybody, think about following my suggestions above. At the least, don't let bad behavior in others drag you down to their level. Instead, stay respectful and communicate intelligently with others. Sometimes, be the bigger person and apologize first...hoping others will follow suit. Maybe then, we can all stop throwing stones, find some mutual respect, and enjoy dating again.

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Until next time...happy dating and relating!

Dr. Jeremy Nicholson
The Attraction Doctor

Previous Articles from The Attraction Doctor

References

  • Chiu, C., Hong, Y., & Dweck, C. S. (1997). Lay dispositionalism and implicit theories of personality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(1), 19-30.
  • Rotter, J. (1954). Social learning and clinical psychology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Rotter, J. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs, 33(1), 300-303.

© 2011 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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