Lessons for Girls 16: Romance is for Fun. And: Hold On To Your Computer, House, and Car.

Now I am in a post at Historiann’s, which is an honor. Historiann’s title for my post, part of her feminist series Lessons for Girls, is “Romance Is For Your Pleasure and Enjoyment.” I offer a revised and expanded version of it here.

First I have an hors d’oeuvre: since 1986 men have been trying to “fix” my computers unasked, or organize them for me “better than I can.” I have been known to go so far as to put passwords in the BIOS just to keep such people out. I once broke up with someone because he would not stop pressing me to let him rework my file structure as he, not I, saw fit.

Ever since I got a house, men have claimed to know how to fix it. They say I cannot afford to hire anyone, and/or that only they can fix it correctly. They waste my time and energy. I have finally realized, just now, that they are simply trying to use the house to control me, get into my space, make me listen them, get me to jump (and perhaps squirm).

The only two men I have dated since getting my current car have both tried to get control over it. One way or another, they have tried to wheedle keys out of me on different occasions so that they could, ostensibly, drive it to places where it would be convenient to me them to have it me appear.

Notice how in all of these examples they are alleging superior mechanical knowledge, and ostensibly offering favors and free work, when in fact they are really angling to get in my spaces and take control over my things.

That was the hors d’oeuvre; now comes the main course of this post.


Dates and “relationships,” as well as marriages, should be relaxing and pleasant, more fun than ordeal. It is entirely appropriate to be in them for your own sake, as opposed to going out (or staying attached) as a service to the other person. This may seem self evident, but it is not.

I remember that I believed these things in the 8th grade and disagreed with the nun who was called into our public school to teach sex education to girls. She said dating was to find out who you’d like to marry. I had never been on a date but I suspected the purpose of them was to go do something interesting and fun with an interesting and fun person.

Since my mid thirties, however, I’ve had recurrent trouble with men who (a) think one should have sex to serve and please them; (b) are not sure one should have it to please oneself, unless it will also benefit them with some kind of visual show; (c) are convinced women want them rather badly, and that they can therefore get away with various types of poor behavior without being frozen out.

Eventually this shook my sense of reality enough that I stayed in a rather unpleasant relationship out of a misplaced sense of obligation. This caused me some anxiety, for which reason I went to see a therapist. Speaking with this person I soon realized that one source of my anxiety was the gentleman caller’s rather unpleasant behavior, which I had not succeeded in having him stop. There was in addition my sense of claustrophobia. I wanted to end things but had lost touch with the idea that this was my right.

That therapist pointed out that relationships did not have to be ordeals, and that it was justifiable to be them for one’s own sake. Even though these ideas had once seemed obvious to me, it was amazing by that point to have someone confirm that they really weren’t “too selfish.”

Recently I’ve realized that although part of the reason I try to understand these people and figure out what is going on is that I’m the guest in the culture, another part has to do with my earliest, not very feminist upbringing. According to that upbringing, managing an ordeal-like relationship was part of one’s job in the same way as managing events like awkward yet necessary work related social events (e.g. job candidate dinners with colleagues who hate each other) is part of my job now.

So, girls: dates, and “relationships,” should be more relaxed/pleasant than ordeal-like, and it is legitimate and appropriate to be in them because you want to be — as opposed to being there because you have been pressed into  service to the other person. The corollary to this is, beware of advice about how you should “work on” relationships and how they are “work.” Also beware of advice about how you need to compromise more, and how the burden of “communication” is on you.

My friendships do not seem like work and struggle, they seem like pleasure and growth; my better romances have felt like that too. I would really be careful of all the warnings about the “work” of a relationship just because romance is involved. I think these are a trap designed to engage you in serving men and blaming yourself if things do not go well.

Or perhaps that advice has been invented by men who in a best case scenario could be telling themselves that a relationships with other people, including women, do take some effort.


That was the main course of this post; the espresso is a lesson for boys, on the nature of the aforementioned effort. This espresso takes up a theme first introduced in our hors d’oeuvre.

Making an effort is not, for example, asking a woman friend to sacrifice a billable hour at work to come home early so you can do a $50 plumbing job for her on your schedule, rather than allow her to call a plumber on hers.

That is an imposition. It is even more of one if you have expectations of service in return. A better example of an effort toward the relationship would be to do something nice that she would like.


14 thoughts on “Lessons for Girls 16: Romance is for Fun. And: Hold On To Your Computer, House, and Car.

  1. Fascinating points about men insinuating themselves into your computer/car/home. I don’t doubt that the people you refer to had control as at least part of their object–but I also wonder to what extent traditional gender roles may have compelled their performance. That is, a lot of women and men have it in their brains that men are supposed to be in charge of major maintenance projects/home repairs/renovations–when men do this, they may feel compelled to do it to properly perform the role of “boyfriend” or “lover” for you.

    I think you’re wise to take care of your own business, and to hire professionals whose work you can complain about should you need to. You may get a bargain on the free labor, but you’re not getting a great deal in the end.

  2. The gender roles is the excuse they give for it explicitly, but I don’t buy it. My father, for Christ’s sake, is a gentleman and ACTUALLY takes care of things, doesn’t just pretend.

    Someone who is doing the gender roles right would do something useful to help take care of whatever, IF it were necessary. They would not create a problem or worsen one, and then use the crisis as a way to extract something.

  3. I think I am “doing the gender roles” wrong! Check out the damage I inflicted onto the feeder pipes while “repairing” the kitchen faucet last month.


    1. Oh I don’t know — I don’t mean you have to know how to do that stuff right — I just mean that having some guy insist on doing a job “to help” when they don’t know how and really just want to get into your house and take up your time is a real pain.

      I mean I am tired of home invasions undertaken in the guise of support, by people planning to take it out of me in trade.

      I mean most profoundly that I don’t like that patriarchal male’s strategy of trying to weaken women and make them feel indebted somehow, so they can then tighten the noose.

      I mean I get so tired of negotiating with such people.

      I mean also that I am tired of thinking it is a failure in me that they find me — or that I get so tired. I mean that in the new year I want to remember more clearly that patriarchy is like this, and not get so torn up.

      1. The patriarchy is always trying to weaken you because it is an ape. Does it help to view it as a gesticulating ape? — perhaps in evolutionary psychology terms?

        It pays to realise that one has priorities, when it comes to patriarchy and its sundry patriarchs.

        Patriarchy assumes that one hasn’t any priorities other than making out, and therein lies its fundamental error.

        There is one, for instance, on facebook, that used his right wing “common sense” to attempt to critique an intellectual paradigm that I was using, that he hadn’t bothered to familiarise himself with. To others — mere spectators — that might seem like patriarchy just going about its business, but to my mind this patriarch made a significant tactical error.

  4. Priorities, yes. Ape, yes, if one can identify it soon enough. I think my lizard brain is wired to equate survival with handling patriarchs when really survival means stomping them down.

    I have not done too badly, actually, in the current since both times men have tried to get my car this month — my X, for on my birthday, and my friend, for new year’s — I’ve not acquiesced.

    I prefer it become easier, though.

    Good point on the assumption that the priority is making out, and the tactical error therein contained.

    1. I find the best approach in stomping said patriarchs down is not to appear to be doing it. Be very neutral in public — but make a note of the tactical error, and in private (or at a later stage, so that the two events do not seem to be connected) stomp them down.

  5. Yes that IS the answer.

    There’s also something you said earlier in some thread, whose importance is still impressing itself upon me — about how, when you say something objective, they think it’s a moralizing stance. This explains a whole lot, including about my problems with academia.

    (Part of my current funk also is watching my friend here deal with this version of patriarchy, which is not an easy one to handle. She has always resisted, not an entirely easy thing given her background, but pays a larger price than I had realized. She says she admires my “Anglo Saxon freedom” and this amazes me, but I see what she means.)

    1. They do assume you to be moralising, rather than to be analysing. This creates a multitude of problems, because an empirical/analytical approach involves a constant attempt to get closer to the truth by reworking one’s perspectives. You may ask others for help, in order to make a more accurate assessment.

      But from the perspective that anticipates only a moralistic approach to discourse, to either change one’s point of view, even a bit, or to ask another for help in “seeing”, means that you have no moral fibre whatsover. This invites severe patriarchal reproof.

      In reality, the quality of being uncertain, always holding one’s views on the basis of knowing that they are susceptible to falsifiability, is the really rigorous approach. The less certain one is, the more rigorous are likely to be one’s scientific standards. One has more and more background knowledge suggesting that one does not know whatever it is that one might claim to know — at least not 100 percent.

      But the moralist sees in this approach only an impossible kind of vacillating. It seems to them as if you are taking a moral position on something, and then altering your position, and adopting another point of view. They don’t see that you are honing in on something, by refining your perspectives. They think that you are mentally unstable!

      It’s another example of how people make it hard to be a female intellectual, because if you are not being the guardian of morality, they do not understand you at all.

      But neither of us has any interest in guarding society’s morality.

      1. Yes, it is quite tiresome of them and depressing to think about, but important to recognize.

        I keep realizing how really difficult and avant garde my 2 research projects actually are & how it is that the problem above makes them difficult if one allows the intimidation I did at one point.

        Right now I’m reading an article I saved over 21 years ago — here — to deal with when I had the strength. I packed it as something to bring and use during this trip, forgetting where I’d gotten it in the first place.

  6. The miscategorisation of one’s discourse can be genuinely confusing, and may not have as much to do with allowing direct intimidation as one might imagine. I read yesterday an article published recently in some New York newspaper, which illustrated to me that the notion that women are the guardians of morality (in this case through their religiosity) was still at large.

    It can help to become more aware of the ways in which one is being misinterpreted, though. I’m starting to be able to do this quite effectively, because there is often a category error involved, I have been finding.

    I believe that I can now recognise when a misinterpretation is taking place, for instance on the Internet, when somebody’s response to something I’ve said makes me feel vaguely uneasy. I used to, myself, think that perhaps the person was somehow a moral reprobate for deliberately misinterpreting me — which goes to show how deeply the understanding of discourse, as being necessarily moral discourse, goes.

    Now I can see that they have made an error somehow in categorising my communication. Realising this even assists in dealing with Christians, right wingers, and other hard nuts to crack. One need not feel morally affronted by them, so much as point out that they’ve missed the point entirely because their points of reference are hardly the same as one’s own.

    But there is still a tendency on the part of, perhaps the great majority, to anticipate a female’s intellectual and social position as being quintessentially a moral one, and to treat women as if they couldn’t possibly be coming from any other position than one that is directed towards moral criticism or improving society’s morale.

    So, even when I say something that is radically against the status quo, I can still be congratulated by some for affirming their alternative methods and so boosting their morale. This doesn’t please me.

    Really, my efforts are entirely wasted if they are seen to be directed towards making people feel better about themselves. I would rather that they felt a whole lot worse!

    1. I don’t tend to take it as an attempt at intimidation, but I’ve actually been intimidated by it before — taken it seriously, as though my position were actually a moral one and I were blind to it.

      But it’s true, that is what they expect; it’s also true about the uneasiness one feels as a guide … I’ve learned that that’s a reaction to being projected into. (It’s another reason I don’t like being an educator of the masses nowadays. And one more reason why freshmen and sophomores in college should not be in small courses unless they’re honors students — they have to be ridden herd upon by a posse of male and female professors and TAs, and be competing against a thousand of their peers at once, some of whom will not be jokers and will be looked up to.)


      The year just turned and I’m glad I stayed up. there were fireworks all around the bay, drums, cowbells, and samba dancers in white. Not as a show you realize … just what happened. The moon is full and 2009 is gone irrevocably, we are in 2010, 2009 was not bad but still it feels good somehow to be all new!

  7. Well happy new year for sure, this time. I have good feelings about this next decade. I think we are turning to the left.

    I don’t tend to take it as an attempt at intimidation, but I’ve actually been intimidated by it before — taken it seriously, as though my position were actually a moral one and I were blind to it.

    Yes, me too, in a sense. I mean cultural determinations are still a material force, even if you don’t believe in them yourself. Just because others do, they can put pressure on you to see yourself in a particular way.

    … I’ve learned that that’s a reaction to being projected into.

    Interesting that proclaiming that others — who no doubt would often be inclined to project — are actually making a category error in their “reading” of you can suffice to keep them at a distance, so as to stop the projection. It seems that this kind of assertion has authority with my lizard brain.

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