Sympathy for the Feminist Men Who Used to be “Nice Guys”:
Being lonely is really hard. It’s hard to be single, and to not have close friends. It’s even harder to be single and lonely in a society that has taught you that the only permissible emotional intimacy is between you and your romantic partner. It means that, when you’re single, you have no one that you feel is allowed to help you with your feelings. You live in a world where romantic comedies almost always show the woman rejecting the man multiple times before he wins her over with bigger and more elaborate gifts/favors/declarations of love. And because you don’t have anyone to talk about your feelings with, movies are how you learn about relationships.
So you pick a girl. Single, taken, whatever, you’ve chosen her. She seems to like you – or at least, she talks to you, which is how women show they’re interested, right? So you start being nice to her. You bring her lunch, you listen to her problems (something that only romantic partners do), you drive her places. And maybe she says she isn’t interested in you, but that’s just the first time, so you keep trying, because eventually, you will WIN HER OVER. Spoiler alert, you won’t.
Now, look into the future a few years. If you’re my facebook friend, you’ve probably learned (or a very patient feminist in your past taught you this) that the above is NOT how to interact with women. You don’t insert kindness and automatically receive romance and sex. You’re a responsible, feminist man who understands that “no” is a complete sentence. You know that women face complex issues surrounding sexism and bias. You know that women constantly experience harassment and violence, and that trans women and women of color experience violence and sexism at staggeringly higher rates than cis, white women do. You support your friends who are women, and try your best to perform equal amounts of emotional labor.
But you’re still single. You’re still single and lonely, and that’s really hard. I honestly think that it’s harder for feminist men than it is for men trapped inside of toxic masculinity. Because if you believe that women are stupid for falling for assholes, and that you deserve sex for being nice, you have a reason for being single. The women are stupid, and the guys they’re dating are assholes, and everyone is wrong except you. You’re not getting what you DESERVE, and you can be angry at outside forces for that. It’s easy to be angry, because you don’t have to change yourself. But when you’re single and lonely and a feminist, you know that you aren’t owed sex, and that women are allowed to not want to date you, so it feels like the only reason you’re single is that YOU are the problem.
Now, that might be true. It’s hard to hear, but you can be a feminist and a genuinely good person, and still undesirable to women. I can’t tell you exactly why – I don’t know who is reading this – but it could be that the way you approach women is still not healthy or respectful, or that you don’t bring anything to the table that the women in your life feel like they want. That’s something you can work on. You can try to be healthier in your interactions with women, or to pick up a hobby or trade that people will want to talk about. You can ask feminist women in your life for some advice – AS LONG AS YOU COMPLENSATE THEM FOR THEIR EMOTIONAL LABOR and make it EXTREMELY clear that you’re not just asking to get into their pants. You can put dating on a back burner, and work to improve yourself and your community. Do you know what’s great? A guy who works hard to build safe, intersectionally feminist spaces for the sake of the people inside them, and not just to try and sleep with the people he meets. A guy who elevates the voices of women and people in marginalized groups. A guy who’s safe? That’s someone I want to spend time with.
(Now, it’s really, really important that you don’t start hanging out and working in feminist spaces just to get laid. We all know those guys. We know exactly who you are. It will get you ignored, and you will feel even more lonely and upset.)
All of this seems like a lot of work, right? Now, imagine how daunting this looks to guys who have *juuuuuuust* started to explore feminism. Maybe a partner dragged them through the shitty, toxic stuff. Maybe they did some reading themselves. Maybe they realized that women don’t like them, and want to find out why the women in their life are upset all of the time. And they see that becoming a feminist man means doing a lot of work on themselves, without he promise of sex and dating as a guaranteed reward. “what do you mean being a feminist doesn’t automatically get me laid?!” they cry in disbelief. “What is the incentive to stop blaming other people and start blaming myself for being single and upset?!” Well, there really isn’t one. If you’re not self-motivated, there isn’t a lot of cause to start being angry and sad internally. It’s much easier and more comfortable to treat everyone else like the problem.
Plus, there’s the sex problem. Yup, the problem with communication about sex in feminist spaces. Feminist men learn that they need to approach women as complex, multi-dimensional people, and not just as walking sex toys, so they learn that they’re supposed to hide their desires. Feminist men who are respectful to women will frequently not clearly state their needs when it comes to sex, because they have learned that when a partner has a lower sex drive than they do, that they need to suppress their desires in order to be a respectful partner. That breeds a lot of unhappiness and resentment. It’s hard to navigate wanting more sex than a partner, and especially being a feminist in this toxic culture, and therefore feeling like wanting more sex than your partner makes you a bad person, because pressuring someone into sex is bad.
So feminist men who are lonely, or don’t know how to build respectful and platonic emotional intimacy, or want sex, or want more sex: the reasons who are frustrated and uncomfortable make a lot of sense. The situation you’re in is not easy, and it’s not unique. You’re in a bad spot, and there’s no easy answer. What’s important to remember is that you are probably not a bad person. I say probably because I don’t know you – you might be one of those shit heads who thinks that he’s a feminist, but acts like an asshole to marginalized folks by speaking over them, or harassing them, or demanding emotional labor for free. So honestly, you could be a bad person. Sorry. But you’re probably a great person who was harmed by toxic masculinity while growing up, and now don’t fit perfectly into this feminist culture.
Work on yourself, ask for help (and compensate for it), work on your community, and communicate clearly. That may be the best you can do for now. I know it sucks, and that’s ok. Just don’t take it out on yourself or the people around you. Go to therapy (paying someone is definitely compensating them for emotional labor). Be kind to other people, and be kind to yourself. And for fuck’s sake, use your words.