I recently asked a woman out for coffee. She said yes, we made plans, and exchanged numbers. Then, I received a message at around 2am; she wanted me to know that she was kind of seeing someone right now, that she needed to set boundaries in her life, and that she was sorry if she had led me on. That last piece of the message struck me; she “was sorry if she had led me on.”
My social location, for the purposes of this piece of writing, are that of a cis-gendered, heterosexual man. As such, I am writing from the perspective of a gender-binary; a perspective of vast narrow-mindedness, with implications for all those reading who do not fit into the normative story of male-female; A story we have been taught.
“No,” I told her, “You didn’t lead me on. If you do anything from meeting me, please stop thinking that you are leading men on. I chose to ask you out because I think you’re absolutely gorgeous and want to get to know you better, and you chose to tell me that you’re kind of seeing someone and just want to be friends. Now, if you’re intentionally leading guys on, then fine, whatever. You know what you’re doing. But if you believe that you could be unintentionally leading guys on, you aren’t being fair to yourself.”
We men have been conditioned socially to believe that any number of small, meaningless cues from women are in fact meaningful, and that we have some intrinsic entitlement moving forward to pursue women because of it.
However, the majority of self-criticism felt by women in partner-relationships – this idea of taking responsibility for an action that was not initiated by her in the first place; this “leading a man on” – has so much more to do with men’s underlying, grotesque, and wrongly taught masculinity.
“You didn’t do anything to make me think you felt one way, but really felt another; I was only blown away – the way a freight-train might feel, in the midst of a hurricane – by you, the moment I saw you, and have wanted to know you better ever since.”
Do not let men make you feel ashamed or guilty for having unknowingly led them on (if the leading on was an intentional choice – say, for instance, because you just happened to enjoy being confusing in a relationship – I imagine the guilt and shame would be absent).
Young girls are taught to feel guilt or shame when they experience a disconnection from their parents (these disconnections occur when a parent becomes upset, yells at, or is violent in any way toward their child). In order to survive these experiences psychologically, the young girl must find ways of reconnecting; in essence, both forming their personality, and developing material for their unconscious. These early attachment styles continue on, into complex intimate relationship styles and patterns.
If they (read: men) think they were led on by you, it speaks to their not being able to take responsibility for the social constructions they were taught – in a society wrought with toxic masculinity. This is sexism, male-chauvinism, and misogyny in action.
Men – as part of our privilege – do not need to take any of these oppressive factors into account. In fact, we are able to bypass these issues – and very possibly with an air of spiritual conscientiousness – without any repercussions to speak of. But we sleeping men are mostly children following in our parent’s footsteps.
We boys can either allow ourselves to float through life continuing the violent, abusive values we were taught (read: when isn’t assertiveness truly violence?), or we can wake up, accept that we have been taught to be sexist as part of our normative development; taught that sexism is what it takes to be a man, and perhaps begin trudging down a very uncomfortable road from this new standpoint.
To me, this is what I mean when I speak of Authentic Masculinity. This is the deciding factor between the rote behaviourisms it takes to be a boy, and what it truly means to be a man.
If you think you can lead people on – especially men, and in the context of intimate relationship – it’s because our society teaches us that women are constantly doing this to men; that men are essentially innocent bystanders, while women are some sort of dangerous, calculating, energetic criminal.
Don’t let boys get through life without making them take a look at themselves; at all of the male-chauvinist, misogynistic conditionings leading us to believe that being a man doesn’t mean the raising of masculinity, but instead the pushing down (read: oppression) of femininity.
Don’t let boys get through life without taking accountability for their bullshit actions. And DO NOT LET THEM BLAME YOU FOR SOMETHING YOU DID NOT DO.
“Here is my problem. I only recently got out of an extremely abusive relationship,” She confided in me, prefacing (and unconsciously validating) this information by calling it such a cliche. “I don’t know if I have anything to give to someone who wants more…”
“It IS NOT a cliche that women get into abusive relationships with men. It is an epidemic. An empirical truth; one that few of us are able to take a look at.”
Young women experience the highest number of intimate relationship abuse. At least one in three adolescent girls will be victims of abuse, while at least one in six college women will experience abuse in an intimate relationship. Eighty-one percent of parents do not see dating abuse as an issue, and are not able to identify the warning signs in their children.
At least fifty-seven percent of college students are unable to identify abusive patterns in relationships.
Implicit sexism (or any other form of oppression, for that matter) is one of the worst forms because of its intrinsic subtlety. The vast majority of these violent acts are in fact flourishing, occurring every moment of every day, and so easily swept under the carpet of what is too often deemed appropriate behaviour for men, especially within the dynamics of dating.
What we need is for men to start taking accountability for the subconscious biases they have been taught (sadly, more than likely from their own parents) about what it means to be a man in an age of not only explicit oppressive behaviour, but the ever-more subtle parallels of implicit, socially constructed sexism, misogyny, and male-chauvinism.
We live in a culture of toxic masculinity, and without doing so, we truly will never evolve in relationships.