I am not a Puzzle Box

Monday September 10, 2012 @ 12:53 PM (UTC)

Background

There’s been a lot of talk recently about sexual harassment at spec fic conventions, and in fandom generally. A case of harassment at Readercon and mishandling of it brought this discussion up from a simmer. There have been amazing related posts like Captain Awkward’s response to two letters about creepy acquaintances, which did a great job of explaining the links between seemingly innocuous creepiness and obvious sexual threat. Another great one was John Scalzi’s Incomplete Guide to Not Creeping, which tried to address the defensiveness from many male geeks on the topic and show that not being creepy isn’t rocket science. That defensiveness is predictable: it’s a dynamic I, and probably most geek feminists, are familiar with.

This is all happening against a backdrop of gender- and race-fail in fandom, backlash against women in fandom (have you heard of “fake geek girls”?) and of course, the charming War on Women in the wider world.

Metaphor

A long time ago, I used to hang out on a discussion forum for gamers, in the general geekery section. There were recurring discussions about geek gender relations — about straight male geeks’ sexual frustrations, and about female geeks’ profound discomfort in many situations. In short, the same topic online fandom is mulling over now, with the same cast of characters and list of motivations and conflicts.

This is the metaphor I came up with then, to explain why I (and other women) get creeped out, and how behavior some men think is innocuous seems creepy or even threatening to the recipient:

Some men see women as puzzle boxes.

As far as they’re concerned, inside every woman, there’s a tasty Sex Treat™, and there’s some way to get it out. Some combination of words, of behaviors on the man’s part, some situation will pop that box open and the treat will be his!

Like every belief, this one has implications and consequences. A puzzler may continue to try and try and try to get a woman to sleep with him, testing different approaches and permutations, sure that the perfect solution exists — when in fact, he’s just being terrifyingly persistent in hitting on someone who he’s already completely alienated. He may learn generalized techniques from pickup artist websites or books, which make perfect sense to him because they use the same sort of puzzle/treat logic — and then find that real women he interacts with don’t respond as he anticipated, or even get offended, when he tries out his new techniques. A frustrated puzzler may stay in a platonic relationship with a woman hoping to stumble onto a way to get the treat, when he isn’t interested in the friendship for its own sake.

And here’s the thing. While she may not know what to call it, a woman can often sense that a man believes her to be a puzzle box. He’s breaking Rule #4 in Scalzi’s post, “Acknowledge that other people do not exist just for your amusement/interest/desire/use.” He is talking to her, but thinking about how to get her Sex Treat™.

There are two big problems with the Puzzle Box model of woman. The first one you can probably guess, and I’ve just implied it when I note that women can tell a man’s thinking of them that way:

Women are people, not puzzle boxes.

Women don’t like being treated as interchangeable, or as the means to an end, or an obstacle in the way of someone’s desire, any more than anyone else would. Most puzzler-types would scoff at the idea that they’re treating women as interchangeable, but no, the fact that you value the sex treat or the victory more highly if the box has an attractive exterior, or if it hadn’t been opened before, or if it was particularly tricky, isn’t flattering. You are treating a sentient individual as an instance of a game. It’s disgusting.

The second problem is a little more subtle, but its power is why I like this metaphor so much (besides the precise way it describes the feeling I get when a guy is talking to me but his brain is obviously listening to imagined tumblers in my locking mechanism).

Sex is not an item.

Sex is not a treat, it’s not a prize: it’s an activity people do together. When a man (or anyone else) focuses on it as an object to win, he is constructing his sexual world in a flawed and unethical way. If all that matters is that he wins, that he finds a way of getting that treat out of that woman, then the quality of her consent doesn’t matter to him.

I’m not trying to be hyperbolic here, and I’m not trying to be vituperative: but logically, the Puzzle Box approach is on a continuum with rape. Each puzzler has a toolbox they use to approach a new puzzle box. One has flattery, pokes at self-esteem, dares, intense eye contact. One also uses pushing of physical boundaries, false teaming, buying her a couple of drinks, telling her she’s leading him on and owes him sex. One also uses the implied threat of his large and imposing frame, isolating her, getting her drunk. One also uses drugs, and social threat, and his strength and greater weight… You get the picture.

When a woman senses a man sees her as a puzzle box, she does not know if he is a harmless guy with some stupid notions, or a self-taught pickup artist steeped in internet misogyny but who has a rudimentary ethical compass, or a guy who will rape her if he has plausible deniability but not otherwise, or that self-aware serial rapist who posted on Reddit.

She doesn’t know whether he’s just going to annoy her with a constant attempt to load his save-game and retry with a bunch of corny lines and pushy suggestions; or stalk her on the internet trying to figure out the cheat code to open her pants; or grope her in an attempt to break her boundaries; or rape her. She does not know what he’s willing to do to get the treat. All she knows is that he sees her as an obstacle and her sex as an object. And why the fuck would she want to spend any time with him, even if he’s harmless, knowing that?

Takeaway

If you’re reading this and you have a puzzle box mentality, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. I’m not saying you’re a rapist when I say this mentality is part of a continuum with rape — I’m saying you’re part of a society which enables and includes rape. We all are. We don’t grow to adulthood in individual stasis boxes, creating all our attitudes ourselves. The idea of women as puzzle boxes — which is related to the ideas that women don’t actually want sex and just have to regulate men’s access to it, and to the idea of women as the sex class, the people whose bodies carry sex and mean sex — is embedded deep in our culture.

Stop thinking about sex as a prize. Start thinking about it as something fun you’re doing with someone else who wants to have fun too. Don’t think of consent as something you can win either — or as a lid you’ve managed to get open. Consent should be desire and enthusiasm. Consent should be active and joyful. It isn’t complicated. You’re not looking for a cheat code, or a combination, or a series of moves that reveal the shortest way to the end of the puzzle. You’re looking for a human who wants to have fun with you — which actually makes this way easier because you can have fun with people before sex ever comes up, so you don’t even have to focus on sex as a goal. Fun is your goal — your fun and other people’s, which can be mutual and amazing!

I think most of us would rather live in a world of people than of puzzle boxes, anyway.

Edited 9/16 to add: Comments on this piece are now closed due to the time constraints of my offline life. Thank you to everyone who contributed and shared!

Comments

I responded to Ellen Datlow’s tweet on the topic by saying “This is why I love Seattle’s Geek Girl Con so much!” Indeed, instead of feeling slightly awkward or out of element (as I might have at ComicCon and WonderCon or RadCon) I felt completely 100 percent in my element – that I was in a celebration of my element and that I connected with many people with the same values and beliefs – guys and girls – that I still correspond with seems amazing and like something to be treasured. Yes, we had Buffy or Star Wars or Last Unicorn or Jane Espenson fandom in common, but also an intrinsic respect for women and willingness to treat women as human beings.
Why do we still need something called Geek Girl Con? This is why.

Can I share this on FB?

Thanks for this, Felicity.

I don’t know whether my son took my granddaughter to the Portland ComicCon in costume . . . or not. He probably worked all weekend. But either way, I want a better deal for my granddaughter.

Segmenting in smaller groups does not help with a problem. There should not be a geek girl con any more then there should be a Boy Geek Con. It would seem better to put your energy into having honest discussions about this instead of segregating and creating some arbitrary line and creating some sort of false dichotomy between people who ‘get it’ and ’don’t get it’.
Should we segregate schools because some people are jackasses and make racist remarks? or should we make an effort to minimize both the remarks and the people making them?

Fascinating Post. I find it interesting the way our culture encourages the sex treat view rather than the mutual indulgence view. For example, in sex ed classes, the question was always when you will have sex, not with whom. Indeed, “fuck” is the only word I know in English that takes the sex partner as a direct object. All the other words, like our culture, focus on the act, not the person.

Felicity,
I’d like to share some thoughts coming from the other side of the divide. I’d also like to not jam your blog with potentially unwelcome commentary. Are you cool with open discussion and contrary opinions?

This is brilliant! Thank you very much for articulating the puzzle box problem so well! It’s the perfect metaphor to describe creepiness, PUA stuff, and the continuum with rape culture.

Brilliant article, Felicity. I’ve done a lot of study about the power of cultural metaphors, and this hits the nail right on the head. I’m passing it on.

Thanks for writing this. :) Will pass it along!

Sadly, I find little to disagree with in this post. I would add that this phenomenon demeans the mutual discovery that is such a source of joy in any authentic relationship (not just dating/romantic). It leads to constantly having to ask, “Is he really curious about me, or is he just probing for a lever?”

There’s something to be said for the virtues of epistolary romance, or hours spent on the phone.

Another side effect of seeing women as a puzzle box (which is a brilliant metaphor on so many levels): if the puzzler can’t get it to open, it’s all to easy to see the puzzle box as broken. “THIS ONE IS JAMMED. I’ve tried everything and I can hear Sex Treat™ rattling around in there but the damned thing is stuck! I hate this broken toy!”

And how does anyone treat a broken toy? Best case scenario: shelved. Worst? Punishing it by banging it on the floor or whipping it against the wall before throwing it away.

Oh god, this is what happens when I procrastinate on commenting on my blog. :) Great to see so many voices!

Jeannine — I’m really sorry I was under the weather and couldn’t do GGC this year. It sounds amazing.

Jan — I don’t think the phenomenon is confined to fandom, of course, though that’s where this big conversation is taking place at the moment. (I remember a memorable occasion when a guy in a literary context decided I wasn’t a puzzle box worth wasting puzzling time on — it was like a weight of pressure had suddenly been lifted. And it was because he’d realized how geeky I was!) There are reasons it’s particularly important for fandom to get it right — lofty ideals, for instance — and reasons it’s easy for it to get it wrong — the way socially awkward people of all genders are often drawn to fandom. That said, I really really want a better deal for your granddaughter too. I hope we get there, and soon.

Geekoid — Like I mentioned in responding to Jeannine, I haven’t been to Geek Girl Con. But you’ll notice she mentions lots of guys were there too. There’s such a thing as institutional culture, and while focusing your con on women from day one is a pretty obvious way to shape that con’s culture, a lot of established cons are working with a history of having been established for a largely male fanbase at a time when, for instance, Isaac Asimov insisted on inspecting female fans’ breasts. I don’t think segregation is the answer either — but I don’t get the impression that’s what GGC is attempting. It’s easier to establish a con with a different culture than shift the entire culture of fandom at once. But this is sort of tangential to this particular post :)

Colin — I hadn’t thought of it like that. There are so many words — with varying degrees of cheesiness — that have been appropriated for that purpose: take, do, et c. But it’s also worth noting that some people think “fuck” makes no sense aimed from a penetrated subject to a penetrating object. Which just makes it all the more disturbing! I have noticed the inadequacy of the “have sex with” construction to reflect consent: it’s a recurring complaint of feminists that in an attempt to not pass judgment (by using the word “rape”) journalists say “Mr. Statutory had sex with Miss Fourteen-years-old”, which reinforces the idea that sex can exist without viable consent. Ugh.

King Turnip — I have so seldom hosted vigorous discussion on my blog that I don’t have a robust commenting policy. I’d say, go ahead, post contrary opinions, with some caveats:
1. Please make sure you’re arguing with what I posted, not what you think I said (for instance, I had a comment elsewhere that I was saying all men were like this.) or what other people said elsewhere in the discussion.
2. Please be respectful and understand that this is my blog, and I reserve the right to stop responding or delete comments with or without an explanation. I don’t delete people for merely disagreeing with me, but I can imagine a case where someone thought I had, and I wouldn’t want to get into a meta argument about it.
Thanks for asking!

Liz – Thank you so much! I have read a lot of blog posts by you over the years (and shyly fangirled at you at San Jose World Fantasy once) so it is extra-cool to hear you liked my post :)

Juliette — Thanks for passing it on and commenting here too :)

Trista — Thanks!

Rlyeh — Yes, it’s an unpleasant phenomenon all around!

Kimberly — Yes, very true! I didn’t get into it, but a woman being puzzled at also doesn’t know if the puzzler is going to go Angry Guy when she manages to brush him off. I can’t recall where the best discussion of that is, but that is definitely a major factor in how women react to objectionable behavior. Even the less violent version of the Angry Guy who just suddenly starts yelling that you’re a bitch. Because after all, we’re the only ones being made uncomfortable by the creepiness, but what if our calling him on it makes him yell and threaten and swear and make other people uncomfortable? We’re pretty strongly socialized to see that as our fault for “escalating” things somehow.

blush thanks!

OMG, so many people just retweeted my link to this. I need to put it on the Geek Feminism Wiki… unless you want to do it!

One must wonder if those with the women-as-puzzlebox mindset have ever seen ‘Hellraiser’. >D

Oh, I’d be awful bashful about posting something there that I wrote myself — if you think it’s notable, please do!

Geekoid is desperately wrong because the two groups are not equal in society, nor do they stand on an equal playing field. As long as some groups are treated as disempowered minorities, there will be a need for that group to be able to gather away from the view of the empowered oppressor. Thus: women-only spaces, LGBT-only spaces, trans-only spaces; voluntary groupings of people who experience racism the way no white person ever can, or ableism the way no abled person ever can; and whatever is needed for the disempowered to take back their power by sharing experiences, and planning how to approach the very real problems caused by the given majority group.

I think the puzzle box analogy is very cool, and applies in many cases. It makes sense to me that someone who plays a lot of games thinks this way, because this is how you tackle getting through a difficult level in an old school type game.

“As far as they’re concerned, inside every woman, there’s a tasty Sex Treat™, and there’s some way to get it out. Some combination of words, of behaviors on the man’s part, some situation will pop that box open and the treat will be his!”

“Like every belief, this one has implications and consequences. A puzzler may continue to try and try and try to get a woman to sleep with him, testing different approaches and permutations, sure that the perfect solution exists — when in fact, he’s just being terrifyingly persistent in hitting on someone who he’s already completely alienated.

I just wanted to say that this is an AWARD WINNING POST! Just great thinking, explaining, and writing. I think that any Nice Guy who reads this will ACTUALLY get it! What being a Creepy Guy is, and how to cut it out.

A real contribution to the Feminist Library!

Very nice article! I like it so much that I post a link to it over on bookcrossing.com. I hope your article gets shared on sites all across the internet.

This is a brilliant analogy, and it seems that “woman as puzzle-box” is such a repellent idea that people who didn’t previously grasp other arguments might be struck by it. I’ll be sharing this post all around the internets.

As much as I might want to deny it, I totally regard women as puzzle boxes sometimes. This might even, on some subconscious level, be the default view for women I find physically attractive, before I get to know her as a person. Now at no point am I thinking, “So hot, must fuck!”, nor does that become a serious goal, but my decision on whether or not to engage her socially, and how I go about it, is certainly influenced by her attractiveness.

I’ve often said of men that almost anything we do for women is out of some visceral desire to have sex with them – including holding a door. It’s subconscious because no reasonable person actually expects that a minor gesture will be rewarded with sex. but I think it’s still operating beneath the surface at all times.

It takes no time at all for a woman’s status as “puzzle box” to be displaced by her personhood – either a self-check, or a few seconds of conversation, but that process is still at work in the background. What I mean is that I’m not sure that “woman as person” and “woman as puzzlebox” are mutually exclusive.

I recognize this as a problem, in that it’s a behavior geared specifically towards women, meaning that I’m not treating them equally, but I’m not sure if it’s a way of thinking that can be avoided so much as suppressed or diverted or “checked” by a basic sense of decency. But even that can be a part of it – playing the “long game”, so to speak.

I never come on strong. I suck at flirting to such a degree that women who have been interested in me thought that I wasn’t interested in them. I am also terrible at identifying the threshold between “platonic” and “not”, and always err on the side of platonic. So I do simply engage women as people, in spite of the fact that these sex-driven mechanisms are at work in the background.

Great post. The puzzle box analogy is spot on.

I think this is great and very useful, but two quibbles:

1) “I’m not trying to be hyperbolic here, and I’m not trying to be vituperative: but logically, the Puzzle Box approach is on a continuum with rape.”

This is only true if you also say that harsh language is on the same continuum as murder. While I would agree that theoretically it is, I don’t think it’s a helpful statement. I think it is more helpful to make the point.

“When a man treats a woman as a puzzle box, she has no way of knowing how far he will go to open that box. This creeps her out.”

2) As a gay male, I can tell you this is more an issue of male sexuality expression than anything else, because it happens when men pursue men too. One of my epiphanies as a young gay man (quite a few years ago now) was that there was, in fact, no magical thing I could do to make a guy I liked like me back. It seems obvious as heck now, but back when I was young, had raging hormones and a heart that ached to be touched, it was not obvious to me.

But I think all these validate the fundamental premise of this piece.

Someone will like you or they won’t. There is no magical approach that will cause someone to suddenly decide you’re the one they’ve been waiting for and cast wide their arms. Stop looking for the key. There isn’t one.

Give up the illusion of control and just be.

I’ve been on both sides of this. What you describe is certainly true – I’ve sort-of-dated hordes of guys who followed the same patterns, ignoring what I or did except for scripted reactions to cues they took to mean “go further” or “slow down”. Dude, I’ve been droning on about Golgi bodies for ten minutes, I know you’re bored, it’s obvious you’re following the “Act interested until you get points for listening and proceed to the next stage”.

On the other hand, I think many women are too quick to see this attitude. I understand why – it’s safer to assume everyone is a pig, especially if you’re not all that interested to begin with. But many people try mechanical approaches because they don’t feel at ease, and follow the scripts they know. Getting angry at rejection, or claiming to be happy to be friends but constantly pushing, are clear-cut signs. Changing approaches because they don’t get you laid is a lot like changing approaches because they don’t get you friends: a normal part of socializing.

The sort of personality you are describing often comes from a really messed up home life and/or a culture that can not imagine a platonic relationship between a man and a woman.
If you were not a woman you would find out that just because you are a man does not mean you could have a good relationship with one of these people.
Instead you would find that you are just a different sort of lock box from which they want to extract a different sort of treat. These folks just USE people and are self centered. They very quickly sort others into those that can be used and those that won’t acknowledge their glorious superiority. They take credit for other’s at work and they are usually world class moochers and slick at avoiding a check at restaurants and bumming a $20 ‘until payday’.

“not being creepy isn’t rocket science.”

This is exactly why I won’t help “nice guys” with their girl problems, and I’d like other women to stop doing it too. Men know perfectly well when they’re being asses, when they’re being creepy and threatening. “Helping” them does nothing but help them DISGUISE what they’re doing. Do a sistah a favor and don’t help them get closer to an unsuspecting victim.

As a guy this is fascinating, spot-on, and solves a major male conundrum. Send this to your guy friends, the second paragraph of “Takeaways” will do wonders for a) their ability to get laid and b) the quality of the sex they and their partners have.

Sadly there isn’t more writing like this out there. Possibly one of the greatest causes of the Puzzle Box mentality is mass media romance and (above all) romantic comedies of the “guy wants the girl” variety. That’s a ton of brainwashing to undo!

Maybe ask your gay friends to help. See, gay sex doesn’t have this problem. If you’re a guy fucking a guy then there is no puzzle box, you know what he wants, both of you know it’s for the fun of it, and no gender-political-sex-is-wrong-and-shameful subtext clouds your judgment. (Except in the sense that gay sex is doubly forbidden, but that’s an external social thing that goes away once both people have established their mutual same-sex interests)

Maybe that’s why many women find gay sex hot. If you’re mostly paying attention to the emotions, gay sex is one of the few places where guys have this kind of emotional freedom. (Which is a bloody powerful thing, maybe that’s why religions of various sorts have sought to ban gay sex and encourage the objectification of sex.)

I just read Ryan’s post above. It’s interesting we’ve had such different experiences. In retrospect I’ve certainly felt that from other guys (where no sex happened) and heard about similar but much less overwhelming phenomena from lesbian friends, so he’s right that the puzzle box mentality happens in same-sex relations too.

My bad.

AA:
I’ve often said of men that almost anything we do for women is out of some visceral desire to have sex with them – including holding a door.

This is why feminists say that women don’t think all men are rapists, rapists do. Well, women don’t think all men are puzzlers, but puzzlers sure do. No, not all men do this with women. Because, strangely, most men don’t want to have sex with every woman they meet. And when you tell yourself that, really, deep down, all men do that, you are excusing your own attitudes and behaviors. Cut it out.

What I mean is that I’m not sure that “woman as person” and “woman as puzzlebox” are mutually exclusive.

Treating a woman as a puzzlebox and treating her as a person are definitely mutually exclusive.

I recognize this as a problem, in that it’s a behavior geared specifically towards women, meaning that I’m not treating them equally, but I’m not sure if it’s a way of thinking that can be avoided so much as suppressed or diverted or “checked” by a basic sense of decency.

Funny, I know lots of men who manage it. Men who were never puzzlers, or who used to be puzzlers and realized it was wrong (both factually and ethically) and stopped. You are, again, making excuses for yourself. Stop.

So I do simply engage women as people, in spite of the fact that these sex-driven mechanisms are at work in the background.

Really? Because I suspect that there are at least some women you have known who would disagree. Oh, they might not be willing to tell you so. They might not be willing to speak to you at all. But you sound like a classic Nice Guy, and it’s very, very likely that you’re creeped out plenty of women who just don’t hang around you anymore.

Leo:
On the other hand, I think many women are too quick to see this attitude. I understand why – it’s safer to assume everyone is a pig, especially if you’re not all that interested to begin with.

If you understand why it’s safer, then you should understand that it’s not “too quick”. And guess what? If the particular guy in question isn’t actually a puzzler, or won’t actually do something scary, and really he’ll change if we just give him a chance (and BTW, telling us so is a tactic used to pressure women into putting up with harassment), we still don’t owe him our time or attention. We get to decide when we don’t want to interact with someone any longer, for any reason, and it’s none of your business if or why we do.

Love this analogy of the puzzle box. Too often people don’t understand when we say women are treated as objects, or subjected to instrumentalism. This makes it more concrete. However, telling someone who thinks like this they are “not a bad person” is not the point. Quite a few don’t care, won’t change, and in fact will seize upon your observation to absolve and excuse themselves. It’s much more important to raise awareness with those people who DON’T want to share this mentality so they can stand in solidarity with women and police the offenders. It’s also important for women to read your post and raise hell when needed, because a big part of the problem is we don’t do it enough.

This is absolutely outstanding.

A great many men don’t want to be that creepy guy, but they are socially inept, and, believe it or not, simply don’t know what it is that they are doing wrong.

While (I hope — I really hope) I’m not a creepy guy, I wish I’d been told this, in just these words, when I was a teenager.

This should be handed out to teenage boys when they hit puberty, printed out and put on mens’ room walls, and most of all (which pretty much amounts to the same thing) this should be spread far and wide on the Internet.

Alright, I don’t usually post on blogs like these and this is my first time here but I found this topic hit me a little close to home so I’m going to add my two cents.

Pretty much every single reply has been patting you on the back, telling you how right you are and that most men are pigs who just don’t ‘get it’. So I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate for all of you and take the unpopular stance that maybe women are failing to ‘get it’ on some levels as well.

To give you a little background on myself so you know where I’m coming from, I’m a 29 year old male from the south US, a place that isn’t exactly known for it’s progressive tolerant views. Since the time I hit puberty and started getting interested in girls I have hit this invisible wall when it came to trying to understand and make a connection between myself as a man and any of the girls/women I have been interested in over the years.

Let me first make the statement to all you ladies out there that men are, deep down, only interested in you because our genetic programming tells us to be. It also tells us that we should get together with you so that we can procreate and make new little people who will continue this cycle. So, yes, men want sex. Always, all the time. That will never change and we should never have to apologize for it.

In the same vein as this, men are attracted to women because our genetics tell us to be. We are attracted to specific things – your hair, your body shape, the size of your breasts, the color of your skin, even the tone of your voice can be a turn on/off to us. So we will naturally pursue women who excite us mentally. That means the first time a man walks up to you to introduce himself it’s probably because he finds you physically attractive. There are those men who are entirely undiscriminating but they’re usually the bar-cruisers who’ll take sex anywhere they can get it, from my experience.

Now, on the topic that men don’t understand women, I think women need to step up and share the blame here. If I walked up to a women and told her that I found her attractive and wanted to know what she was interested in to see if we could get along well enough to potentially take a relationship to the next level, I’d probably get slapped or at the very least told to get lost. Yet, I came forward with no guile, no false pretenses, no ‘cheap lines’, and all the things that women constantly claim they hate to see. So you force us as men to play these games where we have to pretend to be interested in you because you won’t just come out and tell us what you’re about. It’s only natural that, should it turn out we don’t give a flying flip about your new shoes, or what your co-worker said at work the other day or whatever mundane things are going on in your life, that we’re going to get annoyed that we ended up wasting our time.

Also, let us consider what is expected of men in the modern relationship. Despite women constantly clamoring for equal pay, I have never once met or seen a couple where the men was not expected to pay for everything. I know for a dead-solid fact had I told the girls I dated in high school to pay for their own movie tickets or dinners they might have done it once but they certainly wouldn’t have opted to go out with me a second time. In bars, women sit around waiting for a man to buy them a drink because that’s how they know we’re interested.

However, I think women fail to see what this implies. Men are expected to cough up some of our hard earned cash for the /privilege/ of your company. If we can’t even be bothered to pay for a drink we’re obviously too poor to be worth your time or not committed enough even though we’ve never actually spoken to you. So, while I don’t agree with it, it’s completely natural that most men will see you as an investment. They paid for your time, why shouldn’t they get something out of it?

If you really want respect and equal treatment you need to stop acting like an entitled maiden in distress. Next time you see a man you’re interested in because you think he’s cute, or funny, or rich or whatever it is you desire in a mate – go buy /him/ a drink. I guarantee it will get his attention.

@Siren

Let me first make the statement to all you ladies out there that men are, deep down, only interested in you because our genetic programming tells us to be. It also tells us that we should get together with you so that we can procreate and make new little people who will continue this cycle. So, yes, men want sex. Always, all the time. That will never change and we should never have to apologize for it.

So, this is only really true for men who don’t see anyone who happens to be female as having anything of value to say. It’s as if guys like you think that good ideas come out of the penis instead of the brain. The fact that you don’t think a platonic relationship between a man and a woman is possible indicates something about YOU, not about society as a whole. Mostly, it indicates that you’re creepy.

Being interested in sex is certainly fine, everybody is. But having it be the only objective in any social interaction with someone of the opposite gender is sexist, rude, and just plain stupid.

You probably also think of any girl who would actually go for the “Hey, you’re pretty, let’s have sex” thing as a “slut,” and any woman who would buy a man a drink as “forward.” You, sir, are the reason things aren’t changing and will continue to be sucky for years to come.

Vin, please do not go making wild assumptions based on your own viewpoints. And keep the personal attacks in check, I am trying to have a civil discussion here, not a flame war.

Men are driven to interact with women on an instinctual level based on our need to procreate and continue the existence of the species. It’s not a trait unique to humans. However, we have something that animals do not, sentience, which allows us to rise above our base needs. They are, however, still present and influence our actions.

I never stated anywhere in anything I said that I, nor anyone else, valued women only for sex. That was a pretty massive leap in logic on your part, you might want to take a look inside and see where all this anger you have is coming from. Men have emotions and desire companionship the same as women. I have had many female friends in the past and do not view every woman I see as a sex-machine that needs to have the proper button sequence inputted as the original poster suggests.

I also did not say that I thought walking up and asking for sex was a good idea. I said if I walked up and asked what a girl’s interests are because I was seeking a potential relationship, that would likely be viewed as rude and ‘creepy’.

This got reposted to reddit.com/seduction, and there are a few people disagreeing with you. One of my favorite points from the rebuttals:

“Since when is understanding someone’s motivations, desires and underlying psychology dehumanizing?

http://www.reddit.com/r/seduction/comments/zxqxq/women_are_people_not_puzzle_boxes/

@Siren
Why the hell shouldn’t she make “wild ass assumptions”? You certainly did. All over the place.

When you say, “men are, deep down, only interested in you because our genetic programming tells us to be,” you are in fact saying that the only thing interesting about us, according to you, is sex. That’s not an assumption, it’s what you just said. If that’s not what you meant, then you should be clearer. But you in fact told us that men are not, deep down, interested in our thoughts, our feelings, our knowledge, hanging out or having fun. Deep down, men are interested “only” — direct quote there — in sex. You said that.

“Men are expected to cough up some of our hard earned cash for the /privilege/ of your company.” That, on the other hand, is a wild ass assumption. Because guess what? Lots of women are perfectly happy to pay for their own drinks, dinner, and tickets, and indeed even to pay for their dates’. I know for a fact that I have paid for more men’s meals on dates than I have had meals paid for by men on dates.

“They paid for your time, why shouldn’t they get something out of it?” If that’s what they want, then they should go find a sex worker, who is in fact paid for this purpose. Most women are not sex workers and are not interested in being sex workers. If a man buys me a drink, I assume that it’s because he wants to buy me a drink — which is exactly what I want when I buy a man a drink. His expectations are not my problem, and I do not owe him anything for that drink. And if I were a sex worker, it would cost a hell of a lot more than the price of a single drink to cover even the briefest and most simple of sexual contacts.

You complain that you don’t want a flame war, that you’re not making personal attacks, that you’re just playing devil’s advocate. What you don’t get it that this is actually personal for us, and that you most certainly are making actual personal attacks on us with this bullshit. You can deny it all you want, but that’s the reality.

Ah, I think I see where some of the misunderstandings being made here have started. I perhaps should not have used the word ‘only’ when I mentioned the bit about genetic attraction as you seem to have latched onto that and taken it to the extreme.

Allow me to clarify – male attraction to females in the sense of a paired relationship starts on a programmed desire based on sexual attraction. For some men, that attraction is to other men, for most it is to women. I don’t know if you remember your youth very well, and I mean around age 10 or so, but boys act /very/ differently at that age in regards to the opposite gender. From what I’ve seen most of the time, we either treat girls like just another kid to play with or we are completely uninterested. Boys are into space ships and robots and soldiers, I don’t often see many girls who have the same interests.

That all changes when we hit puberty and our hormones kick in and suddenly for no reason we suddenly have this strange attraction to women. There’s no logical mindset change here, we don’t sit down one day and decide it’s time to pursue a relationship. That’s programmed instinctual behavior and it is the root cause of men being interested in you as anything other than a friend.

To reiterate so we don’t get these wires crossed again, I am not saying men do or should see women only as sex objects. But the sexual drive is there and is a driving force for men wanting to date you, not hang out with you. So telling us to simply pretend like it doesn’t exist and that seeking out satisfaction for this desire makes us somehow ‘bad’ is outright ridiculous. It should not be the /only/ goal but it is a legitimate one.

As for the paying for your own food and such, that really doesn’t happen where I live but that could just be a cultural difference based on the region of the country we are in. In the South, it’s all still very old fashioned. The man pays for everything. Just how it is down here. I’m certain there are women here who would be happy to pay for themselves as well but at the same time if she wanted to, she could make a big deal out of it should I ask her to and it’s just not worth the public embarrassment to try and guess which women are progressive thinkers.

And you’re right, if a man buys you a drink expecting something that isn’t your problem – however, you just wrote an entire article about what you expect from men. You expect us to act a certain way and not another way because you want something from us. You want emotional stimulation and to feel like you matter and aren’t just another conquest. But at the same time, maybe the guy doesn’t want that. Not everyone is interested in long-term relationships. Some people don’t like the idea of being with the same person all the time and just want the thrill of intimate contact. This doesn’t make them bad people, as long as they don’t try to lead you on differently, they just value different things than you do. It’s perfectly acceptable to reject someone if you’re uncomfortable with this and anyone with decent manners will accept that. That’s obviously not everyone.

As for your last comment, I have not pointed a finger at any one in particular and nor blamed anyone for anything, both of which are requirements for personal attacks. I am simply putting forth ideas from a different perspective. Having an opinion different than yours is not an attack. Sorry that you feel so oppressed that you think it is.

Siren, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that people who agree with this article tend to think that NOT treating other people like puzzle boxes is just decent human behavior. So when you say this article is about what she expects from men, well, yeah, I expect and hope that (and I assume most people expect) men, and every other human I come into contact with, will act with the bare minimum of decent human behavior. It’s an implicit part of being in society.

Do you really think treating people like very interactive NCP’s is a decent way to treat others? You seem to say it is, due to your paragraphs explaining the sexual impulses straight men experience from puberty onwards towards women. You’re going to have to provide a better reason for that to convince anyone. I’ve been experiencing sexual desires since puberty also and I don’t see how it translates to assuming people are a set of obstacles I need to overcome if i want something out of them.

“But the sexual drive is there and is a driving force for men wanting to date you, not hang out with you. So telling us to simply pretend like it doesn’t exist and that seeking out satisfaction for this desire makes us somehow ‘bad’ is outright ridiculous.”

This is a strawman!! No one is saying this. No one here has said, “sex is bad, don’t try to have sex with women cause it’s BAD.” People are criticizing a questionable method we see quite often that is used by some men to pursue women, they are not telling guys they’re bad for wanting sex.

So when you say,
“… however, you just wrote an entire article about what you expect from men. You expect us to act a certain way and not another way because you want something from us. "
and then talk about emotional stimulation and long term relationships, you are assuming that the author even wants these things. What she actually says is “Stop thinking about sex as a prize. Start thinking about it as something fun you’re doing with someone else who wants to have fun too.”

How did you get long term relationships and emotional intimacy out of that sentence?

Also, did you really miss MadGastronomers point about “They paid for your time, why shouldn’t they get something out of it?”? You go on to say that women paying for their food doesn’t happen where you live. So does that mean if someone doesn’t pay, they do owe the payer some recompense (e.g., sex?)

I wish we didn’t have to worry about this, and that men were “after” something and that the same men could be potentially dangerous. But the fact is, many women are raped, harassed, even killed by stalkers. It literally is in the news every day, a girl who has turned down a guy and then the guy decides he has the right to kill her (and her family members, or boss, or whatever) for this perceived insult.)
I have three wonderful brothers, a wonderful husband, and a father who taught me I could program computer games, shoot a gun, or be President. People sometimes ask me “why I hate men” because I write feminist poetry – that is, poetry from the viewpoint that women are in fact human beings, with, you know, ideas and thoughts and stuff. I always say I don’t hate men, but neither do I ignore that for a lot of women, men are dangerous threats, both in history, mythology, comic books, and contemporary life. This is not how it should be, but how it actually is.
There is a “Family Guy” scene that always stays with me – from the episode where Brian goes to college, and they’re sitting in an orientation talk about the dangers to college women of rape. An attractive blonde woman character sits between two average nice-looking male characters. As the person drones on about rape dangers, the man on the right says “Don’t worry, I’m not going to rape you.” And the man on the left says “I might.” The reason this works as humor is because it’s true.
The fact that some men here in the comments are fine with saying “I see women as sex objects and nothing else because of evolution” and think that is just fine is pretty scary all on its own. Did they not read the original post?

Loved the article. Thanks! As a male university student I see guys act this out over and over again. Also they break my dishes when I call them out on street-harassing joggers.

@pouly

I get what you and the author here are saying and I’m not disagreeing with it entirely. I personally have never treated women the way she is complaining about but I am trying to enlighten all of you to what I have witnessed other men talking about and how they act over the years when no women are around. I am saying that I think the reason she feels she’s being used is that she doesn’t quite understand a fundamental mindset difference between many men and the women they’re after.

We, as men, are taught as we grow up that is it our job to pursue women. We’re supposed to be the dominate ones in a relationship, the king of the castle, the hunter. They are, infact, a prize that we have to work at. Men judge other men based on their relationships from the attractiveness of their mate, how many they’ve had, and how hard it was to win her over. I’m not supporting this as good or condemning it as bad. I’ve seen many women who enjoy playing the game of cat and mouse just as much as the men.

So the next time a man starts trying to ‘solve your puzzle box’ take a step back and realize that he might not even know he’s offending you. Men are very much pack animals on the large scale, we operate based on what we are taught, so if you have a problem with this you have to tell us.

Unfortunately, lots of men act out aggressively when they’re rejected because we’re usually not as good at dealing with emotions and social awkwardness. Especially younger men. And there are also the jerks and assholes of the world no matter where you go.

Also, to touch on the rape subject for just a moment. Now, don’t go assuming I’m saying rape is cool here, it’s totally not, but women do not have to put up with testosterone. Let me tell you that is one hell of a curse, especially during our teenage years. It can literally warp your mind, make you do things you would never do to get at that natural desire to sleep with women. So if you’re dealing with a man who’s coming onto really hard he could be suffering (and yes I will call it suffering) from a chemical assault on his brain. Some men can’t control themselves as well as others against this. So I do feel extremely sad that women feel they have to be afraid of me because they don’t know if I’m like that or not.

So, yes, men can be callous and mean and sometimes treat you poorly but when you see this happening try to remember that it might not be their fault and sometimes we just need a good wake-up call to point it out to us.

As a final note so people will stop assuming the absolute worst about everything I say here, I’m not advocating treating women like machines, npcs, puzzle boxes or any other inanimate object containing a prize to be won. I’m not painting you as sex bots or saying that men don’t act the way you’ve described at all. Just, look at what we have to deal with from other men and our own bodies before you go deciding most men are just jerks who don’t care about you or your feelings.

Siren —

Yes, there do seem to be some cultural differences at play here. By which I mean you’ve come onto the blog of a female science fiction writer (which you could be forgiven for not knowing) and read an article that explicitly states a background in geek culture (which it says right at the top) and said things like “Boys are into space ships and robots and soldiers, I don’t often see many girls who have the same interests.” Hi, I’m the author of this article (MadGastronomer is just an incredibly awesome commenter — thanks for being here, MadGastronomer!). I like space ships, robots, and stories about soldiers, although I prefer if the soldiers are space marines, broadly speaking. I’m pretty sure many of the women who read and comment here also like some of those things. Because I write about them.

That sort of blunder is pretty representative of your post. You’ve come here proclaiming your special insight into the mindset of women (hanging out in pickup bars, apparently), and men (based on your analysis of yourself) and making sweeping easily falsifiable generalizations. You’ve admitted your experience is geographically limited and yet you can’t see the other ways in which you’re generalizing to an entire gender from an incredibly small set of anecdata. And to what end? To argue it’s okay to be a puzzler? To say some women are screwed up, too? Okay. How does that invalidate my post, which outlines a metaphor to help women understand what they’re feeling (that’s why I made it up) and men understand what behavior is offensive and why (which is a big issue in geek culture’s current discussions, and other subcultures might benefit from too.) If men don’t want to change, they don’t have to. You, on the other hand, want to seem to convince us that change is impossible, that this is “natural” — if you hadn’t so strenuously informed us that you’re not like this, I’d say so you’re trying to convince us so that we’ll tell you it’s fine that you are just how you are and offer you a cookie. Since you’ve told us you’re not a puzzler, I don’t really understand what the dog is that you obviously have in this fight.

No, women are not “prizes [men] have to work at.” Yes, there are parts of society that will judge a man based on the mainstream-attractiveness of his wife, probably the same part of society that expects her to read Cosmo religiously until marriage and then switch to Woman’s World. There are also parts of society that will judge you based on the stylishness of your shoes, whether you eat non-organic food, or on the basis of your astrological chart. Not all men judge you based on how attractive they find your “mate”. You are accepting and participating in that system of values, which means yes, shockingly, you’re the one saying the thing you typed, that women are “prizes [men] have to work at”. And shockingly, women who haven’t accepted that system and are still aware that they are people, not objects, are likely to find that offensive.

You have choices in life. Right now, you can choose to think more deeply about the system you’re accepting for defining worth and value in the world and the relationships between men and women. You can stick with the “the way we think it was a few decades ago is obviously the eternal truth because [bullshit evolutionary psychology we made up]” or you can try to understand that the world of men and women is broader and weirder than you think, and try to start widening your mind and thinking about people as truly sentient and infinitely varied, not a bundle of anxieties and justifications wrapped around a common instinctive urge or two.

I’d suggest that whatever you do, you read this post about the Myth of the Boner Werewolf (content warning: has fairly explicit description of heterosexual intercourse at the beginning) because no, testosterone doesn’t control men. Erections don’t control men. Testosterone doesn’t rape people. Sentient humans who don’t care about other humans’ consent do. Even if you are a Great Guy™, that stuff you’re saying about men not being able to control themselves is rape apologism. When men who rape hear you, they feel safe and warm and accepted and think you are on their side.

I think the lovely commentariat here has given you a lot of discussion and I hope you’ll leave it there. Please don’t comment again.

Sketch — Oh dear. I keep starting to try to pick that apart and suddenly I’m back in literary theory. Yeeees, “understanding”. Thanks for the heads-up!

Thanks to all the lovely commenters! Scott — I hope you’ll continue challenging this culture wherever you see it, even if it continues to cost you crockery (very mature response from your fellow students, there. Sheesh.)

Jeannine — I think they read the main post and took it as attacks on them. Which is pretty amazingly defensive. I also had someone elsewhere claim I was saying all men are like this, while including the bolded quote with the word ‘some’. I guess this sort of discussion is reeeeeally threatening to some people, so threatening they don’t read what’s actually there and project all over it. Whoda thunk?

Ah, I think I see where some of the misunderstandings being made here have started. I perhaps should not have used the word ‘only’ when I mentioned the bit about genetic attraction as you seem to have latched onto that and taken it to the extreme.

It’s not a misunderstanding, except in the sense that you yourself do not understand the implications of what you are saying. When you start talking about genetics, you are being essentialist, and you are saying that men can’t help themselves and see women basically as sexual objects. It is wrong, and disgusting.

As for the paying for your own food and such, that really doesn’t happen where I live but that could just be a cultural difference based on the region of the country we are in. In the South, it’s all still very old fashioned.

Actually, since I’m from the South (even though I live in Seattle now), I know you’re completely full of shit. I’ve had more meals paid for by men in Seattle than I ever did in Florida, by a factor of two or three. Your experience: not universal.

And you’re right, if a man buys you a drink expecting something that isn’t your problem – however, you just wrote an entire article about what you expect from men.

No, I didn’t. WTF.

What I demand from men is just what I demand from women and agender and genderqueer people: to treat me like a person, not an object. That’s all. And I won’t put up with people who don’t.

As for your last comment, I have not pointed a finger at any one in particular and nor blamed anyone for anything, both of which are requirements for personal attacks.

Bullshit. When you talk about “women” this and “women” that, you are talking about me, personally, because I, personally, am a woman. You may not get that, but it’s true.

I personally have never treated women the way she is complaining about but I am trying to enlighten all of you to what I have witnessed other men talking about and how they act over the years when no women are around.

Funny. Everything you’re saying is actually treating us this way right now.

We, as men, are taught as we grow up that is it our job to pursue women.

And it is your job as human beings to teach yourself otherwise.

So the next time a man starts trying to ‘solve your puzzle box’ take a step back and realize that he might not even know he’s offending you.

Since every fucking time we try to talk about it, assholes like you come out of the woodwork to tell us so, we really can’t avoid knowing. That’s why we keep talking about it: to tell you that it’s offensive. And men like you keep insisting that it’s perfectly normal and natural for you to treat us this way anyway, and we should be more understanding of that and not get so upset about it.

Now, don’t go assuming I’m saying rape is cool here, it’s totally not, but women do not have to put up with testosterone.

Yes we do. Women have testosterone, too.

A “chemical assault on his brain”? Wow are you full of shit. Way to justify rape. This is absolutely classic rape apology.

Seriously, I have bipolar disorder. I have chemical assaults on my brain on a regular basis. It doesn’t excuse anything. Men are responsible for their behavior. Period. Stop saying they aren’t.

As a final note so people will stop assuming the absolute worst about everything I say here, I’m not advocating treating women like machines, npcs, puzzle boxes or any other inanimate object containing a prize to be won.

Here’s the thing: What you are saying is actually that, and is actually horrible. We’ve had this conversation many more times than you have. We’ve seen what effect words and attitudes exactly like yours have, and we’re telling you what they are. You’re just not listening.

Felicity: MadGastronomer is just an incredibly awesome commenter — thanks for being here, MadGastronomer!

You’re welcome! Thanks for writing the piece, and being an awesome host!

MadGastronomer — You’re very welcome indeed :)

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