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May 03 2013

[guest post] Also Known as the Argument from “Gotta Get Laid, Amirite?”

Mitchell of Research to be Done has a fantastic response to my recent post!

Let’s talk about street harassment. Actually, since Miri has covered the bases very well in her last post on street harassment, let’s talk about something that came up in the comments, and that tends to come up now and then in conversations about accosting or complementing women in public. I’m going to call it the Argument from Sociopathic Cost-Benefit Analysis.

It’s roughly this: “Well, some women do appreciate those compliments from strangers. Sometimes they lead to making a connection, or dating, or sex, etc., putting those of us who don’t accost women that way at a disadvantage with women!” Some people will take it further, and add that this means hitting on women in public is naturally selected for and therefore impossible to eliminate because evolution and such (the “EVOLUTION IS MAKING ME DO IT!!” argument).

Hoo, boy! So there are a few problems with this:

First of all, there’s the sociopathic part. Let’s grant for a moment that men who routinely hit on women in public have the world’s greatest sex lives as a result of it. That doesn’t change the fact that there are lots and lots of women who are incredibly uncomfortable being hit on in public. It doesn’t change the fact that if this is your reasoning for hitting on women in public, you are deciding that your ability to get laid matters more than the discomfort of all of the people that you make uncomfortable in the process. It doesn’t change the fact that your argument boils down to, “I don’t care about your feelings as long as I get laid.” If you don’t care that that’s what it boils down to, then by all means keep making the argument, I guess, but I sincerely hope you aren’t ever mixing it up with the, “But I’m really a Non-Creepy Nice Guy” argument, because newsflash: you definitely aren’t*.

Second of all, no, you are not allowed to say that hitting on women in public is selected for by natural selection. First, you don’t know if it’s heritable. Second, you don’t know how the selective pressures in our evolutionary history might have contrasted with those acting on random people on a city street today. Third, you do (I hope) know that our society in its present state hasn’t been around long enough for such a specific act to be selected for on a scale that even remotely resembles the scale that this phenomenon occurs. Fourth, you don’t have any actual evidence that it correlates with reproductive success in the first place. Fifth, even if you could show that evolution selected for this behavior, that isn’t an argument. It’s like saying that because gravity pulls us all toward the center of the earth, we all have to spend our lives burrowing toward the center of the earth (“GRAVITY IS MAKING ME DO IT!!”). The fact that external forces act on our society and ourselves doesn’t mean we are obligated to do exactly the same thing those forces do.

Third (jumping one level up in the nested iterations of points, here), why are you so concerned with missing out on the things that could happen between you and the particular subset of women who don’t mind being hit on in public? Undoubtedly, there are plenty of women you will miss out on interacting with as a result of being the type of person who regularly hits on women in public, also. Why are you not concerned about missing out on interacting with them? What is it about this one particular avenue of interaction that makes missing out on it so tragic?

There are, in fact, a large number of other ways to meet and interact with women. There are ways that don’t involve nearly so much risk of making people uncomfortable. Invariably, no matter what approach you take, and no matter what context you do it in, your approach will appeal to some people, and not appeal to others (the same way that some people may appreciate getting hit on in public, and other people probably won’t want anything to do with people who do hit on people in public). What is so amazing about hitting on people in public that the interactions you might start that way carry so much more importance, and the people you make uncomfortable carry so much less importance than in other situations where you could meet people?

In summary, the Argument from Sociopathic Cost-Benefit Analysis is sociopathic, not at all based in evolution or science of any kind, and, for a line of reasoning that is apparently about not missing out on interaction with women, ignores the fact that there are plenty of other ways to interact with them, and that no matter how you choose to do so, including hitting on women in public, you’re going to miss out on interactions with someone. In light of that, why not pick a context and style of approach that requires no sociopathy at all?

*You’re basically a less extreme version of the guy who thinks Louis CK should’ve just gone for it on the off chance she was into that shit.

Mitchell Greenbaum is a geeky, poly, kinky, skeptic blogger who writes about social justice, relationships, depression, and chronic pain at Research to be Done, and engages in a wholly excessive amount of… auto-metacognition? Or does it make more sense as meta-auto-cognition? He isn’t really sure, but playing with prefixes is fun and writing bios is hard. True story.

19 comments

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  1. 1
    CaitieCat, getaway driver

    Well-said. Why the “nice guys” don’t seem to be able to get that women aren’t telepathic. There is no way to know, for us, whether you are truly a nice fellow who’s just being pleasant, and a potential rapist making his first move. There’s a complete inability to even imagine why this might be so, to recognize that when you spend all your time warning us not to walk alone at night or in a tanktop and skirt or whatever because maybe rapists, what you’re saying is that “men can’t be trusted to not be animals”.

    And then you wonder why we can’t tell the nice men from the animals, when you’ve spent all kinds of time trying to tell us to beware of men who are, at base, animals and unable to stop themselves from raping.

    But hey, what do I know? It’s not like I’ve experienced much street harrassment or anything. Surely I can’t deny that the right to Maybe-Meet-Cute-The-Manic-Pixie-Dream-Fembot all men were promised, not just for something trivial like letting all women participate in society without having to be constantly pestered by the sexual needs of immature jerks. Perspective is so important.

  2. 2
    Kendal

    Another article filled with wild fantasies. Maybe you too are just speaking of a very particular subset of men, but that was not made as clear is it was in Miri’s post. I guess I’m not very clear on why this turned to the sociopathic man? Could this argument be reversed and made against the xenophobic woman? Or retitled to How To Survive in the Big City when you’re a Traumatized Woman? I am NOT trying to be ignorant, or to start a flame war (see my comments in Miri’s post, #16) if I am way off here , educate me.

    1. 2.1
      Argle Bargle

      Why is it so important for you to compliment a woman on her looks? Why do you feel the urge to walk up to a perfect stranger and tell her she’s good looking? Why is making yourself happy more important than not making a stranger anxious?

  3. 3
    brianpansky

    “Could this argument be reversed and made against the xenophobic woman?”

    xenophobic? argument can be reversed? please make it clear and educate me about the truth of your claims.

  4. 4
    Sercee

    I don’t see any wild fantasies. I see some pretty basic thought processes on why people who think it’s ok to hit on random women in public are, at best, inconsiderate of the person they are trying to interact with. If he is just tossing a compliment with no interest in following up with further contact then he should either be careful how he phrases the compliment or just keep walking. If the compliment is actually meant as some stepping stone to any kind of relationship then he should consider whether he wants to make her uncomfortable or not. If he doesn’t care then he risks that. If he does care then he’ll think of an appropriate way to approach her. The article doesn’t say “guys who do this are sociopathic”, just that it’s a good way to describe the actions of someone who cares more about their immediate self gratification than they do about the feelings of someone else.

    As well, this isn’t some screed just for the victimized. You make it sound like any woman who doesn’t like strangers hitting on her is afraid of everybody and everything. Most people would prefer if the people they have to deal with or share the sidewalk with every day were polite, especially if any of them want to get closer.

  5. 5
    brianpansky

    “I’m not very clear on why this turned to the sociopathic man?”

    no, it’s “sociopathic Cost-Benefit Analysis” (“analysis” is not in the same category as “man”)

    cost-benefit analysis is about deciding action based on what is valuable.

    “sociopathic” here, I think, means placing little value on other people’s comfort.

    1. 5.1
      Brett Childress

      Seconded – the term sociopath sounds so harsh, but when you think about it, it rings true because to the best of my quack/crackpot/limited-to-ed-psych psychological knowledge, one of the main earmarks of a sociopath is lack of perspective taking ability – that is, the ability that most of us relatively healthy people develop to mentally walk a mile in each other’s shoes. So while not all people who do this/justify it in this way are sociopaths, what they are is people who engage in the sociopathic behavior of not considering another’s position before acting.

  6. 6
    Kendal

    Let me be clear about this, I am NOT talking about “hitting on a woman” that’s the fantasy I am speaking about. A man can give a compliment without hitting on a woman. For gods sake it’s a compliment. So many have twisted it around in to something vile and base.
    Sercee, seriously?? “then he should either be careful how he phrases the compliment or just keep walking.” wow, you must live on egg shells then. Yes, I am talking about polite men, I always was. If a random and cheerful compliment offends someone, I have never seen that as the fault of the giver. And I was not saying that all men who compliment were sociopathic, I was just observing the language used in the article. But another leap of imagination is when you say “someone who cares more about their immediate self gratification than they do about the feelings of someone else” Wow. I think you’re mistaken when you think that. I certainly don’t care more about my gratification than someone’s feelings, I just don’t live my life imaging what their feelings are before I know them. If I say something nice, and I am rebuffed to any degree, well I have learned something about that person, haven’t I?
    I don’t have some pathological need to intrude on a woman’s day, or space, or whatever. But, if in the event I am moved to say a nice thing to someone, I don’t really think I am putting my needs above theirs.

    1. 6.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      You really don’t think that complimenting a woman on her body counts as “hitting on” her?

      Do you really think that any woman would interpret a comment about how her body looks–not her choice of clothing, not her choice of hairstyle, but her body that she was born with–as anything other than an attempt to hit on her?

      1. 6.1.1
        Kendal

        I never said her body! See what I am saying about adding things, or fantasizing? If I say something about your hair, or eyes, or the great color of your clothes, it’s not hitting on you!! Yes, if a man says you have great legs, or boobs, or worse, yes it’s wrong and offensive. No doubt. He has objectified some part of your body, and is not seeing you as a whole human being. But some of us don’t do that. I guess I do not need to reply further. I really don’t know why I picked up this banner in the first place. I know who I am, and I am comfortable in my own skin. I know I am not a creep, and have no creepy intentions. If I hurt or scare a woman by saying something nice about her appearance, I will have to live with the karma check-mark on my record. I know I mean no harm, no bad intent, no “hitting on”. (thought, ironically, I am single – I’d better think this over…) jk.
        Peace everyone.

        1. 6.1.1.1
          Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

          Eyes are not a part of a woman’s body?

          And yes, complimenting women on their hairstyle or their clothes is, in my book, okay. I have been saying that over and over in all of these comments.

          Note the title of the original post–it was about telling a woman that she’s “hot.” This also includes “beautiful,” “sexy,” “cute,” or any variation. It includes telling a woman that you like her legs, boobs, ass, or any other part of her body.

          That is what we’re all talking about.

          Clearly, that is not what you are talking about.

          1. Brett Childress

            I think the problem there is that maybe in another time, or in a perfect world scenario, one could compliment another’s eyes, face, or even some other feature in a sincere way that only connoted friendship-type admiration and it would have no sexual undertones whatsoever. The sad truth is that anymore, you really can’t pull that off with a stranger, at least not in my experience. Best to wait until you’re friends on some other basis (mutual interest in table tennis?) to start bringing that hooey up.

          2. Brett Childress

            …And I meant that last to be in line with Kendall’s last :)

    2. 6.2
      shockna

      But another leap of imagination is when you say “someone who cares more about their immediate self gratification than they do about the feelings of someone else” Wow. I think you’re mistaken when you think that. I certainly don’t care more about my gratification than someone’s feelings, I just don’t live my life imaging what their feelings are before I know them.

      This particular article was directly aimed at the people making the “Yeah, but it puts me at a disadvantage if I don’t! Natural selection made me do it!” argument. I.e. those who blatantly are putting their gratification above others. >_>

    3. 6.3
      brianpansky

      “that’s the fantasy I am speaking about. A man can give a compliment without hitting on a woman. For gods sake it’s a compliment.”

      this article is talking about the “gotta get laid” argument. that means it is addressing people who ARE flirting with strangers without context etc, or people who are defending that strategy.

  7. 7
    Vijay Kumar

    Did the man or men say or are saying that “hitting on women in public is selected for by natural selection”? Or are they alluding to the fact that predatory nature of man is naturally selected for?

    For the record I have never went up to a random woman in public and complimented her for her physical appearance.

    1. 7.1
      shockna

      At least one person did. Here’s a direct quote:

      Natural selection teaches us that a small advantage, over time, can lead to reproductive success. Men may be fools, but we can see that if someone, somewhere has good results from random compliments, why not give it a shot? Compliments to random strangers are a relatively inexpensive investment that may lead to a happy outcome.

      It’s like buying a lottery ticket. You are probably not going to win, but hey, it’s only a buck and someone’s going to walk away with a jackpot.

      If a boorish comment did not, on rare occasions, result in a happy outcome such behavior would wither away. Men’s behavior toward women are largely shaped by women’s choices. A man that shows interest, even if it is somewhat aggressive, is more likely to enjoy a woman’s company than one that is always polite and correct.

      The entire “Well, why not? It costs nothing and you might get laid” premise he puts forward pretty directly says “Who cares about the actual women involved? Why not take the chance to get yourself laid?”

  8. 8
    mindkeep

    (Mitchell and I talked a bit about this in person last night.) Just thought I’d point out that I’ve seen the evolutionary/social-selection argument made mostly by pickup-artists. There’s plenty of awful advise with shaky justification in that community, and this falls squarely into that category. To be fair, I also credit that community with a large part of my own self confidence and self worth, but it’s no small feat to pick out the good advise from the bad, given the prevalence of the bad. (For some very limited context: The good can mostly be summarized as “get out and do fun/interesting things so that you have fun/interesting things to talk about” and maybe some body language/posture pointers. There’s plenty more to say, but it would really need its own post.)

    1. 8.1
      Gretchen

      Just thought I’d point out that I’ve seen the evolutionary/social-selection argument made mostly by pickup-artists.

      This is because being a PUA can basically be defined as getting laid via manipulation. Evolutionary psychology as normative explanation for the way things (that is, as naturalistic fallacy) should be is an entirely unsurprising thing to see from people who essentially see hooking up as a sport.

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