It’s a question that’s asked a lot. Sometimes it’s not even asked, but rather asserted as being true. Online many men seem to feel that dating is rigged in women’s favour, that all the heavy lifting is done by men and women simply soak up the validation that comes from being attractive. In its most extreme form, we see this taken to its limits with the incel community: where men bemoan their lack of attractiveness and their supposed genetic failure, raging misogynistically at women who have so “unfairly” overlooked them with their sexual shallowness. How true is the notion that women have an easy time in the dating world while men suffer with large bouts of loneliness, and go long periods without any sexual validation at all?
First thing is whether we mean ‘dating’ or simply ‘receiving attention’ as those two things are not the same. The onus of approach is primarily placed on men. A simple reality is this: women can actively choose not to seek out partners and still have options coming their way, men who don’t take the initiative are unlikely to have any real chances. There’s a lot more male ‘wizards’ (sexually inexperienced people over thirty) than there are female ones. For anxious and socially awkward men, this turns into a frustrating cycle. The desire to meet women is set against their struggles to communicate interest, and their discomfort with social settings. Men are culturally expected to be the initiators. For men, dating is often an experience of weathering rejection after rejection, many gentle, some not so, until somebody ‘clicks’ with them.
If we’re speaking of ‘receiving attention’ then women certainly get more of it. Women are not conditioned to approach men. Some do, but those women come to face their own social stigmas: being perceived as whorish or desperate. I’ve seen men online assert that women cannot relate to wanting someone, but being unable to talk to them, and I wonder if these men have listened to music popular with teenage girls before; the experience of unrequited love, of wanting a chance with someone who they can’t get to notice them, and who they can’t even approach or talk to is a fairly popular and relatable topic in a lot of young women’s music. In fact, women are ‘taught’ to need a relationship to feel valuable in a similar way men are ‘taught’ to need sex to feel valuable. Likewise, men are taught — expected — to go after the woman (or women) they want and feel despair when they can’t do it, or fail attempting to do it. Women are taught to hope for a chance.
The truth is that meeting ‘the right person’ is not an easy venture for anyone. Women also go through the rejection cycle, with men never calling back, with bad date after bad date, wondering how to make a good impression. Being the approached person does not stop women from experiencing the low-points of the dating world. Looking at it, in some ways, the ‘initiator’ role is the better one. In it, you can choose who to approach, when you approach them, and control the pacing of the conversation. But men often struggle to see it that way. Rejections build. Men look on women being flirted with, approached, danced with, complimented and envy it. They envy so much the attention the opposite sex gets because, for them, if they struggle to push forward and make a move, they get next to none of it. Some Tinder experiments find that men can get one or two matches per month, whereas women are often getting dozens upon dozens a month. For a woman who wants to find a date, the options are lining up. For a man who wants to find a date, he has to figure out how to approach women in a way that might actually work.
So far the ‘receiving attention’ part has been framed the way the male discourse tends to view it. Now I want to dismantle that. Another truth is that most women do not particularly like the much of the attention they receive. One reason being that so much of it is not pleasant at all. Women, when they go out, are cat-called, leered at, groped, fondled and followed. Women have drunk men trying to touch them up at bars. Young women have men older than their fathers trying to hit on them. Women have men trying to sneak ‘creep shots’ from under their dress on the dance floor. Women are verbally abused by some men for rejecting them. Women who pass construction sites are frequently whistled at, tsked at, and shouted at. Once, on a site I worked on, a woman in a large coat in winter was hollered at by one of the scaffolders to “Open that big wooly jacket and show us if you’ve got your hairy muff out!”. Sometimes women have such an aggressive pursuer they have no choice but to leave the venue to end the encounter. Then there’s the often ignored experience of women who are not ‘conventionally attractive’ who are described as ugly, disgusting land whales by men. Women who are so ‘unappealing’ that men grumble they ought to be ‘grateful’ for their approach after they’ve tried to get with her, assuming she’d be an ‘easy lay’ out of projected desperation. Some ‘unconventionally attractive’ women who approach men are mocked for it and seen as desperate. Sometimes the same men who bemoan superficiality in women behave in the exact same way when placed in that position.
The reality is: a large bulk of the attention women get is negative. And it happens every day.
Men, for the most part, don’t experience that, and when they do it tends to be an anomaly in their lives. It’s not a daily grind of disrespectful, abusive, and exasperating mistreatment that leaves them feeling discomfited in environments they want to feel secure in. Furthermore, many women also point out the difficulty in being valued purely for the way they look. They feel their interests, intellects, experiences, and other important traits are often diminished in favour of judging their appearance. Many of women’s interactions with men feel generic as the men in question try to win them rather than know them. The validation of their looks becomes invalidating of their personhood.
So while there is truth that the cultural set-up places significantly more pressure on men to approach, and women are the ones receiving the attention, it’s a significantly murkier territory than simply being ‘easier’ to get a date. In some cases the set-up leads to egotistical men. Sex becomes a barometer of male worthiness. Women become the equivalent to a fast car or an expensive watch; something for the man to ‘brag’ about. The better she looks, the more he can boast. Women are often bearing the brunt of male insecurity in the course of their everyday lives.
Sexual inexperience feels humiliating to men. It’s something that men are judged harshly by. Many inexperienced men fret about others discovering that they are a virgin, or have little sexual experiences. In less shaming behaviour, some men go out of their way to try to ‘find’ someone to absolve their friend of his lack of sex. There is a valorization of sex amongst male groups that cripples them emotionally. Incels, the most extreme of all disgruntled men, seem to have genuinely bought into the notion that having sex would be the cure to all their woes. Sex is the key to escape the prison of their inferiority. But many won’t try to meet women; they’ve internalised their inferiority so deeply that they believe they are doomed to a life of virginity. The mistake such men have been conditioned to make is to think “Fix my sex/dating life to improve my emotional life!” when the real pathway is to “Fix my emotional world to improve my interactions with others!”.
The ‘wizard’ type men tend to fit a pattern. They often do not have particularly compelling social lives, they often are depressed and downtrodden. Not all are outright misogynistic, but many are. I think the problem such men have is that they’re often too comfortable where they are. Their rejection sensitivity is such that they prefer aloneness to being told “You’re not my type,” by someone. Many have come from invalidating, disordered, or dysfunctional families. For them, the issues run deeper, deep into the very core of their emotional world. For them, they gave up trying long ago and settled on the answers that came readily, “Women hate me” “I’m just not attractive!” “I’m ugly, worthless and nobody could see my otherwise!” “There’s a feminist conspiracy to keep me undersexed!”. Other men externalize their hurt and rage at the women who turn them down.
Something I seldom see mentioned in feminist discussion is how much is often riding for men when it comes to meeting women. Such a heavy mixture of cultural expectation and personal baggage. Men really don’t have a lot of people complimenting them or validating them, or even asking them out; they have to work hard to get a slice of it. Often their over-reactions are the unfair and unfortunate end point of a seemingly dark spiral of rejection, invalidation and rising depression. Not all rejections are kindly done. I once approached a woman at a bar, she was very drunk, and when I told her she looked nice, she rolled her eyes and asked why, “One of the ugliest boys in here has to talk to me?”. Ouch.
These issues might — might, mind — be alleviated by changing the social scripts we live by. In a world where we do not demonize sexual inexperience in men, these issues would be less fertile breeding grounds for bitterness. In a world without slut-shaming, women might express and explore their sexuality more freely and the pressure of approach might be more balanced. As the current structure goes, traditional gender expectations are reinforced: men act, women react. Men approach, women receive. Men lead, women follow. The stresses of the dating world reflect the outcomes of the historic Western patriarchy we once lived by, where women were commodities to men. Where paternal purity was of great importance and women’s sexuality must be policed; sexual freedom was not tolerable. Change the culture, and maybe dating will be easier for men. Which leads us back to…
Is dating easier for women? Not really. It’s just different.