Dave Muscato has an interesting post about the reactions he’s seen from straight men to the news of Ellen Page coming out. (I had to think for a second to remember who Ellen Page is.) It’s not a sign that she’s more available, it’s a sign that she’s less available. So he goes on to wonder what’s up with that. Why are “I’m not interested” and “I’m gay” taken as a challenge while “I have a boyfriend” is more of a discouragement?

Well obviously one reason is that the boyfriend might be a puncher. But a slightly more complicated reason, I think, is that there’s a massive amount of cultural training that “I’m not interested” is the first part of a good story.

It’s one of the core plots, isn’t it? Kitty doesn’t love Levin, she loves Vronsky. Lizzie doesn’t love Mr Darcy, she has a mild crush on Wickham and a liking for Colonel Fitzwilliam but she actively dislikes Mr Darcy. Edmund doesn’t love Fanny (except in a brotherly way), he loves Mary Crawford. Beatrice and Benedict find each other irritating – or pretend to. David doesn’t love Susan, in fact she gets on his nerves with everything she does and says.

So “I’m not interested” could mean exactly that and be permanent, or it could be just how things are at this particular moment but subject to change.

In other words it could be a challenge. It could have the plot-shape of all challenges: quests, rescue missions, escapes, educations, battles. There is something to do. Will the protagonist(s) do it? There’s your story.


  1. screechymonkey says

    I think there’s something to your explanation, but I think that standard plot is also part of the broader narrative that a woman’s “no” doesn’t always mean “no,” or at least is subject to persuasion. Maybe she’s just saying no to preserve her modesty and reputation — “good girls” can’t appear too eager — or maybe the hero just has to win her over. (It’s rarely the female character who has to win over the male; at most, the man just has to wake up and realize that their bickering has really been simmering sexual tension. And when the woman does “win over” the man, it’s usually something as superficial as “wow, she let her hair down and put on a cocktail dress, and it turns out she’s beautiful!”)

    Re that Facebook thread: thank God someone came along to ask that critical question “but what about the menz?”

  2. says

    I know; I think it is part of that; and I also think it’s very deeply rooted, partly because of this story thing. I’m not offering this as an alternative to the issue about refusing to take no for an answer, but rather as an amplification of it.

    The plot is definitely not always about a man overcoming a woman’s dislike or indifference. It can be the other way around, or mutual. That’s why I mentioned Fanny and Edmund, and Beatrice and Benedict.

  3. Gordon Willis says

    Actually, I think that it is simply that women not being interested in men is not in the scheme of things. Women ought to be interested in men. Women ought to hang on a man’s every word. A woman ought not to think for herself but be guided by me a man. She ought not to have preferences, and especially she ought not to reject me-men.

    And that is the nature of the challenge: not anything new to do, not some cause or quest (which is what you do when you know that you are a man and that your task in life is being a man, obviously) but preventing my losing my status as a man to decide what is what and be god almighty in my head. You can’t have women deciding for themselves, because then I would have to depend on her decision, and that would be wrong. My god, wouldn’t that be wrong! My god…!

    Of course, if she’s owned by someone, that’s completely different.

  4. Rob says


    I suspect there is an element of “I have a boyfriend” equals “belongs to someone else (and it may be more trouble than it’s worth to take this one”.

    “I’m not interested” or “I’m gay” equals “available” and “a challenge” and “an excuse” and maybe even “kind of kinky”.

    Very sad. I’ve never actually seen Ellen Page in anything, but I was impressed as hell with her speech.

    Sorry about all the quotes…

  5. says

    it’s a sign that she’s less available

    I never get this. How much less than zero is “less”? I mean, she’s a movie actress who lives in LA (probably, I am guessing) and is not someone any of those guys are likely to bump into on or hanging out at the local starbucks looking for a partner, right? It’s not as if they have less of a chance with her; they never had a chance with her at all – gender preference aside.

  6. Gordon Willis says

    And I think it’s the implication of rejection.

    Rob, why would “I’m not available” represent a challenge?

    I think: you look at someone and — wow, isn’t she sexy! — and then you find that she’s not interested in men — and what happens to my desire? Tough, you might say, and I agree, but I think that a lot of men don’t say that: they get challenged, which might mean angry or confused, but probably does mean full of an instant desire to insist on their own desirability and their right to be seen by the woman they desire — even in a picture, or even in a page of print because the writer is a woman — as someone worth counting. It’s hard for such men to understand that even lesbians think of men as people, because it’s not what they want from a woman. They don’t want autonomy or independence, and they do want not to be rejected: and it’s all about sex — nothing more. And it’s so pathetic I could scream. And it’s so bad for us all, because it underpins society and social interactions.

  7. says

    “interfering with rewardingly plausible fantasy”

    Well, damn! For the price of one, I can fantasize that I have a busload of identical clones of her! And as long as I don’t post about it on a blog or something, nobody’ll even think I’m creepy! Um….

  8. Reggie Dunlap says

    I think it is part of the role men are given as pursuers in relationships. Men do nearly all off it and it is rare for a women to put out a direct signal that says that they are both available and interested. Therefore men playing the numbers game will will interpret many situations as openings. Pretty much anything short of a monogamous relationship or a direct rebuttal will be interpreted as an opening by some men. The act of initiation and the possibility of rejection is a very large thing to overcome for most men. At the point a man has opened himself up to rejection the circumstances and reasons for that rejection aren’t that important. Especially for men who are neither rich nor tall they take the approach to pursue almost any woman, knowing that they will face hundreds of rejections. It is also well established women are more likely to be interested in married men. It seems the economics of pursuer and pursued have something to do with determining which hurdles are possible to overcome in mate selection.

  9. AsqJames says

    I think Rob @4 is on to something.

    If we look at common attitudes to women throughout the ages (and in certain cultures today), we see that they are treated as possessions an awful lot of the time. Even in the most modern & liberal countries in the West, it’s still common for women getting married to be “given away” by their father to their new husband.

    If women are possessions then they’re not really people, because possessions are things which belong to other people. If women aren’t really people then they can’t own things. Therefore a lesbian, even one in a relationship, is just a thing without any current owner which any “real person” (i.e. man) may lay claim to.

    There’s also a sense that the world exists for one’s own personal benefit, and anything which exists should do so in the way they find most pleasing. This attitude is not limited to men (although due to privilege it may be stronger and/or more common for men). An example completely unrelated to gender or sex can sometimes be seen when blog readers tell blog writers what they should be blogging about and how they should do it. I seem to remember Ophelia receiving some helpful advice in this area. “Your blog would be much better if you…”. Sometimes this may be genuinely constructive criticism (e.g. when the blogger has asked for such input), but sometimes it’s not. It’s “I think I’d like the world to be a bit more like this, therefore the world should be more like this.”

  10. Gordon Willis says

    Keep going, AsqJames. In the meanwhile, I, as patriarch and pater familias with power of life and death over my progeny, have been instructed to give someone away in the near future. I have also been asked to compose a choral Bridal March, but how this is to be accomplished I know not. In my experience as a church organist, the average ecclesiastical bridal entry lasts about ten seconds. In a registry office it probably lasts as long as it takes to open a door. Maybe I’ll have to specify that the bride enters at bar 35 and no one should say anything till after bar 37. As she’s a musician she will know what to do, and meanwhile the assembled friends and relations can just enjoy the music or hunt for Small, or someone’s contact lens, as they choose.

  11. chrislawson says


    If you need a 10-second piece and you’re giving someone away (as a loss leader, I presume?), perhaps you could look at arranging an advertising jingle.

  12. Gordon Willis says

    Thank you, Chris, but this is an experience I hope to survive! Unless you happen to know of a jingle vaguely reminiscent of Orlando Gibbons? Also, my dearly beloved and her intended have given up trying to find the lyrics, so I shall have to find those, too. Ho hum. When I die, I shall be buried under a heap of chewed pencils and recyclable manuscript paper. Oh the agonies!

  13. latsot says

    I’ve been married for 15 years or so. From the start I made it clear that if my wife wanted to have sex with other people, she could. Not really any of my business, not my permission to give, not what our idea of marriage is about. I don’t know whether she’s had sex with other people, I haven’t asked.

    The point is that that doesn’t make her more available. It makes her exactly as available as she already was, which is as available as she wants to be. Marriage doesn’t make her either more or less available. My attitude to our marriage doesn’t make her more or less available and neither does her’s.

    That the commitment of marriage is almost always equated with sexual exclusivity bemuses me. I have no claim over my wife’s behaviour. Our promises to each other were to help each other, to look after each other, to support each other. We’ve done that.

    As it happens, I feel that the fact I’m married means I’m unavailable to anyone else. My wife might feel different. Or she might change her mind at any time. She is as available as she wants to be. Marriage doesn’t change that.

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