Why should I aspire to be different from most girls?

“You’re unlike any other girl I’ve met,” a man told me recently. “In a good way.”

I proceeded to send him “Most Girls” by Hailee Steinfeld. If you’re not familiar with the song, it’s basically about how women are cool and different, and saying “you’re not like most girls” is not a good compliment.

The man responded with, “you really don’t know how to take a compliment, do you?”

I explained that it’s not a good compliment. All women are different. His “compliment” implies that all women are similar and I am the exception, and the fact that I am unlike them is something to be proud of — as if there’s something wrong with being a “typical” woman.

If someone thinks being different from other women is a compliment, they clearly associate various bad qualities with women. I know because I’ve heard it all before. I also know because I’ve been there (thanks, internalized misogyny). I mean, would these guys like it if I said something like, “you’re not like all the other men out there. You’re not a stupid, egotistical fuckboy.” (If you think this is a far cry from what men mean when they give this “compliment,” just know that I asked the guy I’m writing about for specifics and he told me that most women lie and try to seem innocent when they’re not.)

When I was younger, I used to try to disassociate myself from other girls. I liked to portray myself as “one of the guys” because I believed the messages I received from society — that girls are so much more dramatic than guys, that expressing femininity meant admitting weakness, and that guys were easier to be around.

As I grew older, I realized that, more than anything, being dramatic is a personality trait that anyone can possess. I used to try to act like a “tomboy,” but now I embrace the feminine features that I like, knowing that I can be both stereotypically “feminine” and strong. I’ve now spent time with enough men to know that they’re not easier to be around than women. Some women are easy to be around, and some aren’t. The same is true for men. Everyone is different.

After I tried explaining this to the man, he asked, “would you rather me say that you’re all the same?”

Clearly he missed the point. “You’re not like other women” implies that all women are the same — except me, the woman cool enough to be deemed “not like most girls” by some guy. I’m not the same as every other woman out there. That’s because all women are different. Not just me. All of us. But I no longer want to distance myself from other women. Being different from them is not an accomplishment. There are many things that I admire about other women, and I would be honored to be compared to them. I know I must be like the other women he’s met in some ways, and that shouldn’t be meant as an insult. If I’m similar to other women – women who are strong, compassionate, smart, energetic and so many other positive things – I take that as a compliment (because, yes, I can take a compliment — I just don’t accept misogyny dressed up like a compliment. Halloween is over.)

Why can’t women just comfortably get a taxi?

This question occurred to me when I was waiting for the bus the other day and saw a man raise his hand up, attract a taxi driver’s attention and casually sit in the passenger seat of the first car that arrived.

For me, I almost always use an app to book a taxi, where I can track the driver’s route and could quickly call the police. The driver’s information is there. The driver’s rating is there. I cancel on drivers who have fewer than five stars. I never sit in the passenger seat. I often walk home late at night instead of getting in the car with a random man (also note that the area I live in is generally safe). So, why?

If I posed this question online, or to many people I’ve met, they would probably tell me something along the lines of “because that’s just the way things are,” “because women need to be careful,” “because things are not safe for women” or “actually, I am a woman and I’ve never felt uncomfortable in a taxi.”

I will briefly entertain these non-arguments.

That’s just the way things are.

It is, indeed, the way things are. The word “just” in this sentence is so heavy though. The word “just” hurts me every time. “Just” suggests that this phenomenon is inevitable. As if whatever God you believe in created a world in which women should not feel safe, and our duty as women is to suck it up and just accept that this is the life we will live. I get where these people are coming from — societal issues run deep and it can take a lot of time to undo them. But we can undo them — and just accepting it is not a viable solution. This suggestion most often comes from someone in a position of privilege. If something doesn’t affect you, it’s easy to blow it off as just an inevitable way of the world, like how sometimes it rains when you want to go outside. I don’t believe I’d hear a lot of men saying “that’s just the way things are” if the roles were reversed and they didn’t feel comfortable hailing a taxi.

Women need to be careful.

Arguments like these are fun because they always place the burden on women. I understand that, realistically, creepy men are not going to become less creepy just because we tell them to do so. But a little accountability wouldn’t hurt them. Right now, with the “women need to be careful” mindset, creepy men operate somewhat freely, going about their creepy ways without ever hearing “men shouldn’t assault women.” They are free from responsibility. Women, meanwhile, need to be careful. Be careful not to choose the wrong taxi, women! Even though there’s basically no way to tell. Why don’t you just stay home all the time? Know your place.

Things are not safe for women.

A lot of men have tried to take taxis with me or make sure I get home because they recognize that getting a taxi is not as safe for women as it is for men. But this statement can’t be used to justify anything. The world is not naturally and inevitably unsafe for women. Women are not allergic to the makings of this world. Again, this sentence somehow (conveniently) avoids mentioning any of the things that make the going out unsafe for women sometimes. Women should be cautious and safe, yes — but sometimes we have to go completely out of our ways to do so, whether that means taking a very long route to get somewhere, pretending to talk on the phone or finding someone else to go somewhere with us.

Actually, I’m a woman and I’ve never felt uncomfortable in a taxi.

This shouldn’t be the case, but when women try to dismiss gender inequality, it often annoys me even more than when men do it. It’s internalized misogyny. These people think that if something has never happened to them, it must not be a problem. When women dismiss gender inequality, that also gives men the opportunity to say, “look, even this woman says taxis are totally safe and these other women are just playing the victim!” Using a handful of experiences to discount many others is insulting. If a woman has never experienced anything bad, then I’m happy for her. Men also feel unsafe sometimes. That doesn’t mean women face no issues. No one is trying to say that all women feel uncomfortable 100 percent of the time, wherever they go — what we’re saying is that it can happen, and it shouldn’t happen as often as it does. It happens enough to seem normal to us (see “that’s just the way things are”), and I’m tired of feeling like people are OK with women feeling on edge and unsafe being the norm.

So why can’t women just comfortably get a taxi? We’re used to the world being unsafe for women. We’ve become accustomed to women’s discomfort. I give taxi drivers five starts every time I’m taken to my destination, unscathed and alive. I know it sounds dramatic, but truly, being a woman has made me lower my standards — if I’m not murdered or groped or leered at, then five stars.

I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone — let the discomfort and unease that women experience in their daily lives make you uncomfortable. It should. It doesn’t need to feel normal.

Why did you go home with him?

TW – sexual assault

You drank coffee with a man. You agreed with some of what he said as he talked about business, politics and life. He was motivational in a way — he’s accomplished. He talked a lot, and you were drowning in so many of his words that you didn’t realize you’d hardly said a thing.

So why did you go home with him?

At the time, this conversation seemed decent. Vaguely interesting, just like any first date conversation. Now you can only focus on all the bad things, all the little red flags peaking out and revealing themselves to you.

Now, you hear it again and again: why did you go home with him?

You were able to talk about social issues with him, which you like. But then you talked about how men call you innocent. He said it was a compliment. He called you innocent too. “I just gave you a compliment,” he said. “Say thank you.” You were startled by how aggressive it sounded — another red flag — but he quickly laughed and said it was clearly the wrong time to make a joke. Oh, a joke. OK.

Why did you go home with him?

He liked talking to you, supposedly, and he wanted to continue doing so but the cafe had closed. Conveniently, he couldn’t find another bar or cafe to go to, so he asked if you’d mind going to his apartment. You saw his tinder bio blinking in front of you: no hookups. You told him you wouldn’t be having sex.

So why did you go home with him?

You weren’t opposed to making out, but that night you learned something new: how it feels to be nothing more than a body. Lying on the bed, you said “no, no, no, no” and he enjoyed himself. You said, “didn’t you hear me say no?” No answer. In and out, in and out, in and out, flesh smacking against yours as you waited for him to realize he was doing something wrong. “Did you ignore me?” you said.

“Yeah,” he said. “Because I wanted to.” Eventually he stopped. You put your clothes on. He didn’t want you to leave. You ignored most of what he said to you. He told you he didn’t know that you really meant no. He thought you were being shy. “What would you expect someone to say if they really meant no, then?” you asked. He didn’t answer. Exactly.

You walked out, ordered a taxi, and got in. “He’s not coming?” the driver asked, referring to the man who had raped you then followed you out the door. “No,” you said firmly, for maybe the fifth time that night.

Why did you go home with him?

You had the supposedly ridiculous expectation that a man would respect you. Being robbed of that power hurts, but it didn’t hit you right away. You have a way of keeping your cool, and you did that on your way home. The next day, you met your friend for coffee before work. She told you you were raped. She supported you 100 percent. You cried a little. All you heard was why did you go home with him?

You met up with friends after work. You listened to the vague sounds of their conversations. You heard one of your friends say that if you go home with someone, it’s pretty clear that you’re going to have sex. She didn’t say this to you specifically, but the words sank into you. Why did you go home with him?

You texted a friend about the situation, and he told you it might be difficult to take any sort of legal action because you did, after all, go home with him. Why did you go home with him?

You continued to make excuses for him and blame yourself. You thought you were naive, in a way, for expecting him to listen to you when you said no. When you really thought about it, though, you realized that regardless of the situation — in a park, in a cinema, in your bed — you wouldn’t continue to have sex with someone who said no. Most people don’t do that. Rapists do that. Most people listen. You deserve to be listened to, like anyone else.

You still can see the look in his eyes when he went inside you. You still hear the sound of his skin smacking against yours. But you also hear yourself saying no, no, no, no — an important detail.

Why did you go home with him?

You still don’t know the answer to this question, but a couple months have gone by and you’ve finally realized the answer doesn’t matter. You are not the problem. The fact that you went home with him isn’t the problem. Maybe you could’ve decided to have sex with him that night. Maybe you considered it a possibility at first, but then changed your mind. Maybe you just wanted to chill and talk. It doesn’t matter. People can change their minds. People can enter a space, and it doesn’t mean they’re consenting to sex. People can revoke consent. Overwhelmed by emotions, you had forgotten everything you had once believed to be true: no means no means no.

You went home with him because you can make decisions for yourself. You said no, and expected him to listen to you, because you should be able to make decisions for yourself. You drank coffee with him. You listened to him talk. You walked through the door of his apartment. You did not consent to sex.

Why did YA novels lie to me?

I don’t know what ruined men for me — men themselves or men in young adult novels. Novels crafted these dream-like romantic worlds with meet-cutes that I fantasized about as a teenager. Now, though, I’ve experienced those supposed meet-cutes.

But in real life, men are flawed. Actually, no — men in books are also flawed. But books teach us that women can save them. Women can heal them. Women can put the pieces together, fix broken boys and build perfect relationships. Women are 2-in-1 girlfriends and therapists for the beautiful boys who admire them.

Of course, in a relationship, partners should support each other. But there needs to be some sort of balance. Sometimes I go on dates that make me wonder if I agreed to go on a date or provide a man with a free therapy session. I think this is, in part, because many men feel as though they can’t talk about their emotions with everyone. They’re supposed to be tough and unemotional (unless they’re angry, which is totally fine according to the How to Be a Man handbook). A guy I went out with told me this before. He can only talk to women about his feelings, he said. He would never talk to men about that kind of thing (thanks, toxic masculinity).

Additionally, women are conditioned to believe that they can and should fix people. It’s not completely bad. I think it’s good to be compassionate. It’s good to care about people and their wellbeing, whether that person is a stranger or your boyfriend or a Tinder date. Everyone has problems and they shouldn’t have to face them alone. However, at a certain point, it becomes too much for a woman to take on. Besides, we shouldn’t aim to “fix” people. In some cases, it’s downright dangerous. Some women put up with a lot (violence, toxic masculinity, etc.) because we’re conditioned to stick it out and try to help. We’re conditioned to believe that all men can change, are willing to change and will change if we just stick around a little longer.

The novels didn’t prepare me for the rollercoaster I’d ride. They didn’t prepare me for the trap I’d get stuck in sometimes. And they didn’t prepare me for the abundance of “meet-cutes” with men in search of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

In reality, the man who calls you intelligent and enjoys hearing your thoughts about feminism as you sip coffee together spends his free time calling other women sluts and sulking about how they’ve rejected him. In books, the man is a little problematic but that makes him oh so intriguing. He was a slut shamer until he met you — a girl he thought was slutty but shockingly turned out to be intelligent, wow!!!!!

I’m just here to observe toxic masculinity

Since I’m living in China, it seems like I should watch Chinese movies. I fully intended to watch a Chinese movie last week, but because I didn’t pay attention to the date when I booked tickets, I ended up watching Shazam!, which is the type of movie I normally ignore.

It’s not that I necessarily hate the concept of superheroes — but I associate them with toxic masculinity. At first, I couldn’t decide if Shazam! was a movie that challenged toxic masculinity or reinforced the ideas in a convenient little box with slightly different packaging. But, now, I would argue that Shazam! is at least a step in the right direction.

Let’s first look at the villain, Dr. Sivana, in the movie. We first see him as a child, with his father and brother emotionally abusing him and telling him he’s not a real man. His father and brother are the prototype for toxic masculinity, taunting him by telling him he’s weak and that he’ll never be a real man. As I was watching, I thought, “are these characters meant to teach us a lesson about the harms of toxic masculinity, or are we simply meant to accept them as average ‘bad people’ with no connection to larger societal problems? Or, worse, are we supposed to believe that egging a child on and telling him he won’t be a real man is a fairly normal thing to do to a child who doesn’t properly adhere to traditional gender norms?”

I’d like to believe the latter is untrue, because this character later becomes a villain. He’s a terrible and fairly typical villain, but he’s also a human one — he is a villain who is the way he is because of how he was treated in the past. It shows us that people (and in this case, men) are often bad because of past experiences; not naturally. This is important because, often, when men are violent, it is marked off as “just the way men are.” We are supposed to accept that men are just naturally violent and can’t control it. This stereotype is lazy, making us believe that men can’t do any better. It hurts everyone and justifies bad behavior.

In the movie, we see a man who was emotionally affected by his past and isn’t just violent because he’s a man and that’s how men are supposed to be. He acts like this because his family taught him that proper men are this way — strong and violent. He wants to prove to his father and to everyone that he is a “real man,” and the emotions he expresses (anger, primarily) are ones that are stereotypically associated with men. Still, I’d like to argue that the movie doesn’t show us that these feelings and actions are natural for men — they were triggered by his family’s toxic masculinity. If he hadn’t had that influence and experience, we can assume he wouldn’t have been an angry, revenge-seeking and power-hungry villain.

Another important thing to note is that toxic masculinity doesn’t win — the villain loses. A strong, caring family defeats him. Still, I’m not sure how I feel about those people being children. It’s common to see children care for others; but the media doesn’t often show us adult men who are compassionate in quite the same way. However, I was satisfied with the interactions between Billy, the hero, and the villain. Not exclusively relying on violence, Billy talks to the villain and tries to relate to him, with an “I understand how you feel” approach. In this situation, the villain doesn’t simply say, “oh, OK, you’re right — all I needed was someone to talk to.” However, we are still presented with a character who tries to communicate and relate, without simply turning to violence.

Because of who I am as a person, I see gender issues and toxic masculinity everywhere, within everything I do. For many people, this movie is simply a fairly entertaining story, if even that. My expectations were quite low; I didn’t even want to watch it. However, I was fairly satisfied with the messages I could take away from it. I’m not convinced that everyone will leave this movie and think, “wow, toxic masculinity is really harmful,” but at least this movie didn’t normalize the same toxic masculinity that I’ve seen in other action movies. In this movie, toxic masculinity was a danger to men and to society, whether people see it or not — much like real life.

as long as you know you have a problem, the problem basically doesn’t exist

I think this is the life philosophy of a guy I went out with who goes by the name of the Crazy Canadian (no, I definitely gave him this name).

He took me to a park on our first date and tried to kiss me. I hesitated and he said, “what if I’m not asking?” as if to say “I’m too cool for consent.” He asked me what I was doing after the date and I told him I was meeting with a friend. “A guy or a girl?” he asked (which is problematic on so many levels).

“A girl,” I said.

“Good,” he said. “It better be.”

Whenever he said things like this (which was a lot), he claimed to be joking. Kind of. Sort of. Mostly.

I called him out for each time, and without fail, he’d say, “I know it’s a double standard. Things really suck for women.”

But admitting that “things” suck for women does nothing to help the cause — especially when you yourself are one of the things that suck for women.

In his mind, knowing that he had these double standards somehow made them OK.

One night, he told me, again, that things suck for women. People don’t take them seriously, he said. Whenever men see a woman, they think about sex, he said. He had a habit of projecting his own views onto all men. I can’t remember if I said this to him or kept it to myself, but I thought, “now I know exactly how you view women.”

He also said women in business are great — they can use their bodies to manipulate men, he said. As if women are only successful because of their bodies. “Why don’t you just use the situation to your advantage?” he asked me. “Women’s rights are a losing battle.”

I had so many feelings in that moment, but was simply exhausted trying to defend women to this guy who just could not wrap his head around the fact that he embodies and reinforces just about everything that sucks for women.

“I disagree,” I told him, “and I think I can persuade you.”

“You probably can,” he told me. “But only because you’re cute — not because you’re smart.”

For this guy, women are something to look at — not to listen to or learn from. Women should hear, not be heard. Women should agree, not challenge people. He insisted that his views are unchangeable; it’s just the way he thinks and he can’t help it. He knows that things suck for women because he knows how he sees women.

It makes sense that our very short “relationship,” a word I use very very loosely here, ended in a bar when I didn’t get him a drink after he insisted. Though he didn’t say it directly, I got “go get me a drink, bitch” vibes from the request.

“The fact that you don’t want to get the drink tells me everything I need to know,” he said. “It shows that you don’t listen.”

But I heard him loud and clear many times — things suck for women. I know it’s a problem, but I can’t change the way I think.

When translated, this sentence means: I am part of this problem but I benefit from it, don’t truly understand it and am unwilling to change myself. I know it sucks, but I can’t see you as anything other than a sexual object. Now do what I say.