Thursday, March 26, 2009

Feminism, Sexual Revolution, and "Getting the Milk for Free"

Are men really from Mars after all? I kinda doubt it, but last night I got a comment that seemed to come straight from outer space. It appeared on a post I wrote last month on a study that suggests kissing alleviates stress for men and women. Amy wrote:
Sunglold, I don't know what rock you have been hidding under... but there is a massive difference in the way men and women think and feel about sex (and kissing).

In my experience, men and women are worlds appart when it comes to sex!

Men have at least 10 times more testosterone than women, and testosterone inhibits bonding and increases interest in casual sex and sex with a variety of partners. ...

Women strive for attatchment, bonding, love and commitment. Women can't understand why men don't have more feelings for them. But put simply, men just don't have as many feelings as women. [my emphasis]
I'll agree that in most Western societies, men are socialized to be less expressive with their feelings. That's not the same thing as not having feelings, however. Most of the men I've been close to have stories - sometimes over a decade old - about being painfully, painfully dumped by an earlier girlfriend. Most of them now have children and love them just as fiercely as any mother.

Denying that men can feel deeply amounts to denying men their full humanity. And they say feminists despise men?!

Women can get hurt in casual sex. So can men. Women can get their hearts broken by a lover. So can men. It happens to virtually all of us who aren't celibate. It even happens to celibate people, too! (Some of my worst heartbreaks came during my virginal teen years.)

Where Amy and other anti-feminists blame feminism for bringing on the sexual revolution and leading directly to the shattering of young female psyches, the history is much more complicated, and most of it has little to do with feminism. Heartbreak goes back at least as far as Sir Lancelot and Lady Guinevere. The sexual revolution on the 1960s had its roots in youth culture, drugs, and rock and roll. The advent of the birth control pill in 1961 enabled young women to try out sex - whether in hippie communes, bars or with a committed boyfriend - without fear of pregnancy paralyzing their pleasure.

Second-wave feminism was generally chilly toward the sexual revolution, at least as most young heterosexuals were experiencing it in the 1960s and 1970s. Nowhere in The Feminist Mystique did Betty Friedan suggest that the path to women's liberation required shagging anything that moves. By 1970, Anne Koedt was assailing men's sexual incompetence in "The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm." The Redstockings saw men as well-nigh irredeemable; why would you want to sleep with the enemy? While the Redstockings Manifesto (1969) didn't go so far as to repudiate all relations with men, within a few years political lesbianism and separatism became a major current within feminism. Needless to say, none of these women were advocating casual sex with men, either. Third-wave feminism has generally repudiated separatism and criticized slut-shaming, but that's not the same as positively advocating hookups and casual sex for all women.

Where feminism made a difference was, of course, in opening up historically new educational and economic opportunities for women. These made it possible for women to defer marriage and to enjoy sex without bartering it for economic security. This, to my mind, was the real sexual revolution. It's just not the one people mean when they blame feminism for the failings of the hookup scene.

So yes, in a materialist sense, feminism enabled casual sex. But more importantly in the long run, feminism has opened the possibility of for us (men and women alike) to have sex only when we want to, not under duress, and not for economic security or survival. In a perfectly feminist world, no one would stay married against their will, for example, or submit to a spouse's unwanted advances. We don't live in that world yet. Plenty of people stay married for economic reasons. (Some of them are men.)

For those of us who aren't trapped by economics, feminism allows us to say no to the sex we don't want, and an enthusiastic, lusty, happy yes to the sex we do want. That's revolutionary, all right. It's just not identical with "the sexual revolution." It's also antithetical to the idea that anyone needs to participate in hooking up.

Contrast this with the bleak view of sex and men that Amy expresses at her blog:
Casual sex makes men LESS likely to commit, he’s not going to buy the cow when he can get the milk for free. At least the whores are setting the price for sex! Casual sex means no flowers, jewellery or chocolates. Engagement rings, marriage and kids will be even further out of your reach. Always wait as long as possible before sleeping with a guy; because once they get you, they don’t want you anymore.

(More here, including advice to flatter a man, then knock his ego back.)
Viewing sex as a commodity is almost certain to lead to heartbreak. I can buy my own chocolate. I can't buy love at any price.

And then there's a pesky little Kantian ethical issue with regarding sex, and by extension one's partner, as a mere means to an end. I don't much care whether the end is "getting some pussy" or "getting married." Either way, it dehumanizes and disrespects one's partner.

Amy expresses a lot of frustration with men who are users and losers and just general douchebags (my word, not hers). She has apparently had a run of bad luck, and I'm sincerely sorry to hear about that. She's also young and has a lot of time to meet someone who's kind and warm and interested in a real relationship. I hope she'll find her heart's desire.

My advice (not that she asked)? Stay away from the bars and the hookup scene if what you want is a relationship, because it's true that among college-aged people, more men than women will want to keep it casual (see Kathleen Bogle's Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus.) Don't play games; any guy worth loving is one who won't be impressed by manipulation and scheming. Avoid casual sex unless it appeals to you. If you do have casual sex, remember that you don't need to justify it by immediately deciding you're in love (thus preordaining later heartbreak). Be true to your own desires and respectful of your partners'; you might still get your heart broken, but you won't end up embittered.

And have patience. I was 28 when I met my husband, 30 when I married him. He was more keen on having children than I was. Fifteen years later, he may be getting the milk for free (or maybe it's the other way 'round?) but he's absolutely not a user or a loser. He feels as deeply as I do; he loves as deeply as I do. This isn't a fairy tale (and lord knows we've had our share of bumps and woes). It's just one example of how we don't have to be trapped by ideas that denigrate one gender or the other. For that, we can thank feminism's real sexual revolution.


amy009 said...

"Where feminism made a difference was, of course, in opening up historically new educational and economic opportunities for women. These made it possible for women to defer marriage and to enjoy sex"

This is where the problem is, I do want marriage, but it's very hard to find commitment in today's society of "hooking up". Women are often just getting used under a false sense of "liberation".

I wouldn't ever put career above love and kids.

And the part where you say men are socialised by society to not show their feelings is FALSE.

Sex differences are INNATE, NOT the product of "social constructs" as the fems like to claim.

Men innately have less (romantic) feelings than women. And if they do develop romantic feelings they take longer to develop than women's feelings do. Women have more feelings of attatchment and love. Testosterone INHIBITS bonding and promotes casual sex with a variety of partners. Men have at least 10 times more testosterone than women.

This also explains how women with high testosterone levels are more easily able to engage in casual sex than women with normal levels, because they don't get attatched as easily by having sex.

amy009 said...

Also sungold, there is a generation gap between us. For people of your generation, marriage was a lot more common (and easy for women to find!), people also married at a younger age on average. The age of first marriage has continued to rise steadily since the 80's and 90's.

Don't expect things are the same for people born in the 80's, if anything, it's got even harder to find committment from men.

amy009 said...

Also, i'm not Anti-feminist. I just don't think the feminnists got it right when they were fighting for equal rights.

They seem to be advocating that men and women have to be the SAME to be equal, but the DON'T have to be the same to be equal.

When they were fighting for equal rights, they advocated casaul sex, i.e. "sexual freedom" and discouraged marriage. This simply lead to sexual exploitation of a lot of women.

A society which accepts casual sex is a society which accepts sexual exploitation.

Sungold said...

Hi Amy. Taking your comments in reverse order: It's simply not true that all feminists argue that women and men must be the same. A minority would like to see "gender" disappear as a distinction, but most would be perfectly happy to see all genders valued equally.

Many feminists have criticized marriage; some have rejected it entirely. Most heterosexual feminists do not reject marriage altogether, however. Even Gloria Steinem eventually married, saying it had become possible (by the early 2000s) to marry without it being oppressive.

Sexual freedom *can* mean sexual exploitation. But what feminists advocated casual sex? Please name names! Even someone like Victoria Woodhull (a late 19th c. advocate of "free love") did not prescribe casual sex as a path to liberation; rather, she meant sex outside of marriage.

Whether a short-term or long-term sexual liaison is exploitative depends on the power dynamics between two people. This is not wholly limited to gender, but certainly gender plays a role. Insofar as feminism strives to level the playing field between men and women, it works directly *against* exploitation.

As for a generation gap? The average age at first marriage has risen by a year or two over the past couple of decades. This is true for men and women alike. But even when I was your age, in the dark and distant 1980s, very few *educated* young people wanted to settle down at 21. Most of my friends got married between their late 20s and early 30s.

Believe it or not, hooking up was more common than dating when I was in college. I don't know if that was true everywhere, but it surely was at my school. I recently wrote about this here. Finding a well-matched partner was not necessarily any easier in the 1980s than today. Then, as now, it required some patience.

Not wanting to marry at age 21 is not evidence for a person's inability to commit; in most cases, it merely means that he or she wants to finish their education, start a career, and explore their options before making promises for a lifetime.

Anyway, if you're in a hurry to get married, you'd be wise to date someone older people. You also need to try to meet men outside of bar/hookup situations - whether through friends, online matchmakers, or whatever. If you keep meeting guys who are jerks or just uninterested in a relationship, you need to look at what other options you may have.

As for sex differences being innate? Some may be. But if they're *all* inborn, then why do we have so many rewards and penalties enforcing the norms?

On the point of men having fewer feelings - I already addressed that in my post. It's selling men's humanity short to claim that they are *innately* emotionally stunted. The "science" purporting to show this is deeply flawed and driven by an ideology of traditional gender roles (much of evolutionary psychology, for instance).

The role of testosterone is far more complicated than you credit it as being. If it is so antithetical to attachment, how do you explain the fact that the vast majority of heterosexual men eventually marry?

BadTux said...

I love it when women talk about what men are like. It reminds me of when blind people talk about what the color 'red' is like :-).

The feelings of men about sex are pretty simple compared to what women apparently feel. For men, it's something they do that's fun to do. That's all. There's not all that romantic clap-trap built up around the act of sex like there is in all those bad romance novels, it's just a biological act, like eating or peeing. For men in a committed relationship, it's just one more thing they can do with their partner within that relationship that's fun to do, and that's how men view relationships in general -- as a connection with someone else who is fun to do things with. All this talk talk talk stuff... well. Hot air. It's the enjoyment that counts, not all this talking.

On the other hand, to say from there that men do not have any emotional feelings at all is ridiculous. Men very much do become attached to people, places, and pets, enjoy the company of their loved ones, feel loss when they lose loved ones, and otherwise have emotions. They just generally are more interested in doing emotional relationships than in talking about emotional relationships, thus, I suppose, the reason some women apparently don't think men have emotional relationships. Well yeah, we do. We just don't spend all our time nattering about them. I suppose it's that whole socialization thing where men are socialized to be action-oriented, and women are socialized to be talk-oriented -- just watch an elementary school playground, the boys are out there doing stuff, the girls are mostly clustered in pairs and small cliques talking with each other. But that doesn't have a dadburned thing to do with testosterone -- boys that age don't have any more testosterone than girls that age, for cryin' out loud!

amy009 said...

Many feminists have supported and promoted casual sex, for example, Germaine Greer jumped on the sexual band wagon, enthusing that yes, sex should be about the "physical" not the emotional, and that women shouldn't be possessive about their conquests.

I think her statement is ridiculous, and women who buy into that, which many would/still do beleive her, and they are set up for a great deal of emotional devastation.

I simply do NOT beleive in casual sex, i think it is immoral and it exploits a woman in the worst possible of ways.

I am shocked and appalled how much it goes on, and how many misleading messages about casual sex are sent out to young girls, for example tv shows like 'friends' and 'sex and the city' both promote and glamourize casual sex without showing any of the grave emotional and physical consequences.

Even my sex education teacher at high school was advocating casual sex to all the girls. She was a butch female P.E teacher who was thrust into the role of sex ed, but she shouldn't have been teaching about something she was so ignorant about!!

If I have children, boys or girls, I will make sure to set the record straight about how much girls are being exploited in hooking up. And about how boys should be careful how they treat girls. I would give them very good advice, which I was definitely not given when I was a teenager.

I will also set the record straight that sex differences are INNATE, Not the product of "social constructs" as the fems like to claim. Boys are born masculinzed with a masculine brain and girls are born with a female brain due to the hormones they are exposed to in utero. People are BORN with the stereotypical sex differences, i.e. boys prefer 'things' and girls prefer 'people', that many people like to claim are "socially constructed", but they are in fact, INNATE.

amy009 said...

"I suppose it's that whole socialization thing where men are socialized to be action-oriented, and women are socialized to be talk-oriented -- just watch an elementary school playground, the boys are out there doing stuff, the girls are mostly clustered in pairs and small cliques talking with each other. But that doesn't have a dadburned thing to do with testosterone -- boys that age don't have any more testosterone than girls that age, for cryin' out loud!"

* Posted by BadTux

Actually, you're argument is ridiculous... Baby boys are exposed to androgens in utero which masculinizes their brain before they are even born. The fact women like to talk more and are more 'people' orientated and men are more interested in 'things' is because men are innately different to women, it isn't socialised. They are different from the moment of birth, when newborn baby girls prefer to look at human faces, while newborn boys prefer to look at a mobile.

amy009 said...

I made a new post about how sex differences are INNATE, not the product of "social constructs", refer to my blog link above.

Sungold said...

Badtux, thanks for weighing in. I appreciate a man's perspective. In general, what you describe is the pattern I've seen. But I do know plenty of women who (at least during certain phases of their lives) have enjoyed casual sex for what it is and no more. I also know men who have little to no interest in casual sex, and not necessarily for religious reasons; they just want a deeper connection.

Amy, you characterize Germaine Greer fairly. But generalizing from her to all of feminism is a huge leap. She was always something of an outlier, and that's exactly what accounted for her celebrity. You could also name Erica Jong, with her portrayal of the "zipless fuck," as an early proponent of casual sex for women, though Jong now says that *Fear of Flying* was never meant to be prescriptive.

I agree that there are some innate sex differences. Testosterone does affect the brain, even prenatally. One very good piece of evidence for this is intersex people who are XY genetically but are androgen insensitive, and thus grow up looking *and feeling* like women.

However, there's a huge cultural superstructure built up to reinforce and greatly exaggerate whatever innate differences exist. Why else would people feel compelled to wrap baby girls in pink blankets and baby boys in blue? Also, if you look at gender differences cross-culturally, you see men wearing robes in some cultures, whereas most Western men wouldn't be caught dead in a skirt. That's not biology. That's culture.

I'm not willing to further entertain oversimplified, dichotomous arguments. People are free to hold whatever beliefs they like (and Amy, your blog is probably the place for you to express those beliefs in detail - the comments section here is a rather quiet corner of the intertubes).

Myself, I'd rather spend my energy on ideas that are more nuanced and accurate. I see little evidence that the world is divided into two sub-species of human facing off in bitter enmity. Instead, I see two genders that have some differences but even more commonalities.

BadTux said...

I don't see any problem with the notion that there are innate differences caused by biology between the sexes. But regarding the research referenced in prior messages, I'll just point out something that I noticed in grad school -- most social sciences research says more about the researcher than about the subject. I.e., it's designed to produce the results that the researcher wants in order to "prove" his or her dead horse, rather than as part of a genuine search for truth, and thus tends to exaggerate small differences into large differences and overgeneralizes from one subset of a population to the entire population. Add in the fact that all too many of these studies are done upon captive populations of professors' kids in university lab schools, and it becomes even more ludicrous because professors' kids by definition aren't "average"...

So anyhow. Just wanted to bring in the doing vs. talking thing here. Sorry about provoking someone to beat a dead straw horse, just wanted to point out the silliness of someone who has never been a guy saying that guys don't have emotions -- it's like a blind man who has never seen colors saying that his favorite color is blue. How the heck would he know?!

amy009 said...

I would like to think that I have more connomalities with men too. But I don't. Men are completely different and they want different things. The guys I meet are concerned with 'things', they don't want to form intimate relationships, they want casual sex. They don't want marriage and they arn't interested in kids. Of course there are occasionally exceptions, like if you find a man with low testosterone he may be more feminine. But I think I will always struggle to find men that are like me/like being with me. Because we are so different.

figleaf said...

Hi Sungold.

This is the best, most coherent articulation of the relationship of feminism and it's socioeconomic and political relationship to both sexuality in general and the "sexual revolution" in particular.

Seriously, I'm in awe.


@amy009: no one's arguing that there are no innate differences *at all* between men and women, just that very often we're either encouraged or discouraged to exercise them preferentially. Sungold's example of regretting lost love resonates sharply and personally for me. I attempted suicide when my first partner left me, not because I didn't have someone to have "regular" sex with (we didn't) but because I had a giant aching emptiness in my heart where she had been and I couldn't imagine feeling that way about someone ever again.

True, I was told, repeatedly, to "shake it off" or "there are other fish in the sea." And between that and the general "boys don't cry" upbringing I learned to put on a "happy face" about it. Well, except for the trying to kill myself after months of not feeling any better part. But I *will* admit that I never *admitted* I tried (my attempt wasn't discovered.) And so I could see how from *your* perspective, Amy, it would appear that "men don't feel." And I could even see how you could say it was all my testosterone that made me not seem to care.

But... unless you're saying that *unlike* men women *don't* feel loss when their first partner breaks up with them then I'm going to have to say men and women are probably more alike than you're claiming.

Just sayin'


figleaf said...

@amy: also, men and women aren't things. Although that's a pretty constructed masculine-instrumental way to look at it.


Sungold said...

Badtux - your point about "research subjects" is a really important one. I served as a psych guinea pig multiple times when I took Intro to Psych in college. It was required in order to get full course credit. I'm not sure if this would even be allowed today. (My prof was Zimbardo, who was well past his prison experiment, lucky thing for me!) Anyway, I know that my attitudes toward love, sex, and men are *not* identical to those I held as a 19 year old. What worked fine for me then doesn't work for me now.

Amy - you seriously need to meet some different guys. Seriously! I'm not snarking. I'm thinking about a dear friend of mine whom I met when I was 28 and she was 23 (which was a meaningful age difference at the time). We were both new to a big foreign city. She met a lot of guys who made her unhappy because she hadn't yet figured out what she wanted, *and* her main route for meeting people was through her job in a bar where she worked. She married one of him, divorced him five years later, and finally met someone who actually makes her happy when she was in her mid-30s. That might have happened sooner for her if she'd met men through some different channels.

Sungold said...

Figleaf, I'm very glad to hear from you, but oh am I blushing! Bright pink! You flatter me, my friend. I *did* overlook Germaine Greer, after all. :-)

I was aware that you're one of the men I know who's been hurt *very* deeply in love - and more than once, too. I didn't realize that things were quite so horrible for you the first time around. I'm so, so sorry. I would like to be able to time travel and give the young figleaf a huge hug, even though I realize the problem must have been much deeper than friendship or touch could solve.

I haven't lost track of your more abstract point (and I totally appreciate the support, and I *really* agree about the evils of instrumental thinking) but right now I am just flayed by the vividness of your pain even after all these years.

amy009 said...

Men can be hurt, i never said they couldn't. I just said that all the guys I've met are much less interested in forming intimate relationships and are slower to develop any feelings in the first place.
Men like to "hook up", whereas I like intimate/personal relationships. Just the way it is, and I will always struggle to find guys that are like me and want similar things to me.

amy009 said...

I should also mention that most guys I meet are *assholes*. They are incredibly selfish and self centred and predatory and only care about how they can take advantage of other people especially in regards to using them for sex.

BadTux said...

Girl, get a hobby, preferably one that has more guys than gals. Guys are into doing. And if the only place you go is meat markets, the only guys you'll meet are those who are into meat markets, i.e., guys who are into doing casual hook-ups.

A young woman shows up at one of our Jeep club meetings, the general response is support and advice and any assistance she wants and will accept in getting her Jeep fixed up and her off-roading skills up to snuff. No casual hook ups, no "let's have sex" (for one thing, the older guys in the club who have daughters would slap silly any younger guy who tried to do something like that), just acceptance and support. Same deal with motorcycles, go-karting, and any other male-dominated hobby I've been a member of, with the possible exception of those hobbies that attract guys with particularly poor social skills (hmm, science fiction convention, anybody?) and even there the only danger is that guys will act like total idiots because, well, they are idiots when it comes to personal relationships, not that they're going to try to hump your leg when you walk in the door.

Finally, regarding career, love, and kids: One of my favorite persons ever is an ex-Marine who was a co-worker of mine at the public library. She was very no-nonsense and straightforward, rather than beating around the bush like a lot of women, and rather gung-ho action oriented. After a certain point in time it became clear, though, that we were going different directions. She was going to Oklahoma for grad school to become a physical therapist then was moving to the Denver/Boulder area because she loved to ski, I hate the cold and was heading to grad school elsewhere for a completely different and incompatible career in a much warmer clime, so we said goodbye. To say that your attitudes towards career, love, and children are those of all women is to demean the women who make different choices.

amy009 said...

Bad Tux. If you read my blog recently you might understand why I find it difficult to meet the right men and why I don' have much in common with men.

Mark said...

Hey Sungold, I just read this post. Wow! That's one stunner of a well-written piece! Well said!

It's a shame that for most people the word "feminism" has come to be equated with "man hating" or similar.

These days, I like to use the word "egalitarianism" as a less ambiguous way to describe my philosophy. For me, that is what feminism has always been about, and to that extent, it is a movement that (as you suggest) liberates men from the traditional demands of gender roles, as well as liberating women.

Sungold said...

Amy, you might consider the possibility that it's not all bad to be "slower to develop feelings." Perhaps we women could take a page form men on that - and not give away our hearts prematurely. It's one way to avoid repeated heartbreak by people who don't treat us well enough to deserve love.

Also, feelings that are slower to develop may be deeper and more persistent. Not always - I don't want to generalize.

If you're meeting assholes, then you need to try something new! (Am I repeating myself, yet?) Badtux has some good points. If you're not a Jeep or motorcycle enthusiast (I'm sure not) maybe there are other interests you can cultivate that would allow you to meet guys outside the pickup scene. You could look for an activity within your university - most of the guys I met when I was your age were through music groups, or were friends of friends. Or you could start a study group and invite some classmates (men and women) that you don't know but who seem smart and interesting and nice.

Sungold said...

Badtux, I love your example of your ex-Marine friend. Sorry it didn't work out for the two of you, but it sounds like you've still got a lot of mutual affection and respect. I see such a variety in what my students want - male and female alike. Generally speaking, the young women want relationships before the young men do, but there are so many exceptions. In one class I taught, out of 35 students there was just one person who wanted kids ASAP - and he was a guy.

Mark, thanks so much for your kind words. I'm going to stick with feminism, myself, because it refers to the ideas and the movement that have consistently tackled inequality. But the ultimate goal - as I've written before - isn't female dominance. It's not matriarchy. That would suck hugely in its own way! The goal is equality. So if the tag that works for you is "egalitarianism," I'm good with that.

Jake Young said...

Alright. I want to start by saying I'm a college Junior and former student, so everyone is clear of my perspective. Now, Amy has a view about men that I see out of a lot of girls my age. But I think your advice is about as good as any. Look for a man somewhere where the bad guys won't be as likely found. I'm going to use myself as an example again. I hate playing games with relationships, and those games have burned me in the past. I was the guy that would go on a date, have a good time, and then when she didn't return my call by the next day, I'd send a message or call again, and I wouldn't let up, and finally the girl would give me the line, "I'm really busy right now. I'll let you know when it will work." And then I'd never hear from her again. This probably happened to me about 5 or 6 times my first 2 years of college. I finally learned what I was doing wrong, but all it really did for my dating was that, then I couldn't even get the first date.
Anyway, I finally found a girl that wasn't going to play games with me. She laid everything out on the line the first few times we dated, and I really appreciated that. She told me about her career goals and the fact that she was going to make her own decisions and that at least for now, I would be second to her career unless she decided we had something really special. I like being top priority, and in my own head, my significant other is top priority for me, but her telling me that at least let me know. That way I didn't find out where I fell priority-wise when the girl just decided not to call me.
There are a lot of guys that hold in their emotions and act like they're not there in order to get what they want, but to say that's just a trade of guys is to grossly underestimate the male race. I mean, would it be right for me to say that all women are blubbering babies?? Maybe I should tell my girlfriend that. She's seen me cry more than the opposite. HaHa.
I don't have any profound points to make. I'm just trying to say that if people would just be honest with each other and discuss their intentions up front, things would be a lot easier. It's never going to happen, but if the games were just put back on the shelf in the back of the brain, and people would be honest, there would be a lot more happy couples out there. Maybe the fault should lie with my own race, though. The deception of some guys toward unsuspecting girls brought about the games so the girls could regain the upperhand. I guess I vote that people just wear signs from now on saying, "Relationship," "Sex," "Make Out," etc. to indicate what they want. Sound good??

Jake Young said...

Let me also add quickly that I would be a bad student to leave "male race" in my post. It clearly should be "male sex." To use race would be to further separate men and women and weaken my own points.

Sungold said...

Hi Jake! Thanks so much for adding a needed generational perspective. As you say, you're just one person, but your story - like the one Badtux told about his Marine friend - shows again how hard it is to squeeze people into cramped little boxes labeled "masculine" and "feminine."

I do think your experiences show that men have more latitude to express themselves than, say, men in my father's generation. My dad cries easily, but he was always an anomaly (he's 77 now). We still have some goofy cultural ideas about men needing to be emotionally self-reliant but guys don't take them quite as seriously as they once did. Also, a man can be emotionally literate and intelligent and still not want to talk about emotions as much as his female partner does. And I think that's just fine.

It depresses me that there's still quite a lot of game-playing in heterosexual courtship. What you describe doesn't sound a whole lot better than it was 20 years ago. I don't think it would all disappear in a perfectly egalitarian world, because we'd all still have some fears of rejection. Love, sex, and romance leave people vulnerable, and so people do all manner of things to protect themselves - some sensible, some self-defeating.

Maybe you should make up a set of those signs and sell them on the Internet? :-)