Takedown: All Guys Need to Read This

This week’s crapdate shows up in all sorts of ways, in a variety of forms, and it’s the kind of post that seems innocuous and silly. The more of them I see, though, the more they rub me the wrong way. This one showed up on my feed this week:

All guys
All guys need to read this! All of them!

The reason this seems harmless is because it is so far removed from anything that makes any sense to me that my instinct is to not pay attention. Therein lies the danger, though. I pay it no mind because it is so absurd; it is so popular because other people (apparently a lot of other people) think it is pure truth. And that “truth” is frightening.

The crapdate itself is nothing if not a reflection of our current culture, and it speaks volumes about the assumptions and beliefs held therein.

As a linguist, language is the first thing that jumps out at me. The word “guy” refers to human males past puberty, whereas “girl” has no lower age limit; this crapdate is discussing women of a sexual age, and the language within it infantilizes them. Imagine if it were titled “all boys need to read this,” or if it said “Women, SHARE This” at the end. It would have an entirely different feel. This is not the fault of the graphic, but instead, a reflection of our culture. In the very language that we use, women who have hit puberty are still treated as children, while men who have hit puberty are no longer boys.

The very concept of the crapdate – that all guys should read something and learn how to make all girls happy – tells us what society expects from “guys.” Not all men are interested in women. Not all men who are interested in women are interested in a list of arbitrary rules that paint every woman as wanting and needing the same thing. By starting out with “all guys need to read this,” the crapdate poster sends a clear message that any guy who might think differently is not a valid guy. The crapdate poster thinks that they are addressing all men, but what this really shows us is that they are blind to the fact that not all men are heterosexual, or sexual at all, or believe in strict gender roles, or think that there is a formula for relationships. If you aren’t the kind of “guy” who wants to read this, you are invisible. Invisible to the crapdate poster, yes, but apparently also to society, since this nonsense is so prevalent.

Some of the pieces of advice are not terrible, if you can get past the fact that this is supposed to be read by all guys and wanted by all girls. “When she tells you a secret keep it safe and untold,” and “Treat her like she’s all that matters to you”: decent advice for anybody who is in a monogamous relationship with one other person. If somebody trusts you with a secret, better not to tell it. If you love somebody, better to treat them like you love them. I’ll grant those.

The rest, though, fall into four categories, ranging from stupid to downright frightening in what they say about our culture.

Category #1: Wants and needs are universal

The entire post is based on this idea – that all guys can read this, do this, and then all girls will be forever happy. Some of the statements don’t take it any further than that. You’ve seen movies, right? So has the creator of this graphic. Kiss-me-in-the-rain-spin-me-around-win-me-a-toy-at-the-fair-live-happily-ever-after. “Kiss her in the pouring rain,” “When she grabs at your hands hold hers and play with her fingers,” “When she looks at you in your eyes don’t look away until she does.” I got caught in a rainstorm today, and if somebody had tried to kiss me in the middle of it, I would have been highly, highly irritated. Rainstorms are irritating.

The truth is that there is no formula for happiness, there is no formula for romance.

Category #2: Girls play games and are manipulative

This next category is mostly just annoying. Bitches are crazy, amirite? It’s a tired trope, and the fact that it is peppered throughout this crapdate shows that it is still prevalent in society. Even with Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Even with Angela Merkel as the Chancellor of Germany. Even with more women earning PhDs than men. Girls play games! They are manipulative! But don’t worry, guys can outsmart them. “When she steals your favorite hoodie let her wear it,” “When she says she’s ok don’t believe it,” “When she says that she loves you she really does mean it.” Girls! They lie! But sometimes they don’t! Luckily this graphic helps you decipher their games.

Category #1 was superficial, category #2 is tiresome.

Category #3 Boys do boy things and girls do girl things

Category #3 is when we start venturing into dangerous territory. “When she’s scared protect her,” “When she runs up to you crying, the first thing you say is: ‘Whose butt am I kicking baby?'” “When you see her start crying just hold her and don’t say a word.” Men protect women, men rely on physical strength, women cry and are emotional.

Stereotypes in and of themselves are not dangerous, but when they permeate society, they become so. The flip side of the “boys do boy things” coin is that “boys who do not do boy things are unnatural/uncool/unfit to do XYZ.” Men face a lot of pressure in society to be macho; these beliefs provide fertile ground for violence and hatred against those who don’t fit in. Want your day to be ruined? Look at the Wikipedia page about violence against LGBT people in the United States. Then come back here and think again about how dangerous Category #3 is.

Category #4 No means yes

And it gets worse. Category #4 is an integral part of rape culture. “When she pulls away pull her back,” “When you see her walking sneak up and hug her waist from behind,” “When she’s mad hug her tight and don’t let go.” No. NO. When I pull away, do not pull me back. I’m pulling away because I am a human being with my own agency, and if I want to be pulled back, I will let you know. Do not sneak up on me and hug me from behind, not unless we have a very clearly established relationship and we are in a safe spot, because you know who sneaks up on people and grabs them from behind? Attackers. And I do not want to be made to feel like I am being attacked because some Internet meme told you that it would make me feel romantic. And that last one? If somebody is mad, and you hold them tight and refuse to let them go, that is what is known as assault. Men tend to be stronger than women. What feels romantic to an unwitting strong man can easily feel like assault to an angry, less strong woman who is powerless to stop it.

This last category is so awful that I can’t believe it’s being paraded around as romance. It is not romantic to hold somebody weaker than you and not let them go. It is an abuse of physical power, and it is disgusting.

I’ve always discounted these “everybody wants a man who” type of memes. But the thing is, I’m not the only one seeing these. 13-year-old boys who share these are using them as checklists, learning “how to be romantic,” figuring out “what girls want.” 13-year-old girls who share this understand that this is how boys are, this is how boys show you that they love you, and it is one more message telling them that men who are physically controlling you are really just doing it because they care.

There is no formula for being the type of “guy” that every “girl” wants. It is not possible to go through a list of actions and suddenly become the man of everybody’s dreams. But these messages are not just absurd; they are dangerous. They feed the beast, add cement to the status quo, make it harder for people to question strict gender roles. They also encourage people who are prone to using violence as a means of control to continue to do so, and for victims of said violence to see it as a form of love. All guys do not need to read this graphic. Nor do all girls. Or all men, or all women. As long as this stuff is being liked and shared, it is an indication of how far we still have left to go.

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Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

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