60 Minutes: The Scary Side of Online Dating and the Crisis of MasculinityPosted: July 2, 2015
Eds. Note: This post deals with heterosexual abuse focusing on violence against women in online dating.
He started off aggressively. I got the sense that he felt threatened for some reason. It was only the first date and he asked many questions, only to dismiss my answers and making a point to tell me that I had no idea what I was talking about. He was also the fourth guy within a span of five months who had told me – during a first date – that women often lie about rape and abuse.
Scary isn’t it?
When I tell this story, people ask me if the guy in question was either Muslim or “brown,” because you know, this is a “Muslim/brown man’s problem” (*eye roll*). However, these experiences demonstrate that this issue transcends race, culture, religion and citizenship status.
I have seen abuse. In fact most women in my family have suffered abuse one way or another. I have aunts who are survivors of domestic violence. Others have experienced emotional and financial abuse. I also have many friends who are survivors of sexual violence (including date-rape and trafficking) who, aside from the trauma, have had to live with the stigma, the consequences and the taboos.
Abuse was such a common theme in my extended family that my parents made a point of teaching me, since I was very little, about consent and violence. I was lucky enough to have a support system, but growing up both in Mexico and in Canada, such a thing is often a luxury.
Moreover, those of us who have some kind of privilege, whether it is white privilege, class, level of education, heteronormative or/and cissexual privilege or ableism, sometimes think that we are immune to abuse. We think that it won’t happen to us, or that if it happens we will be able to get out of it immediately and by ourselves. Thus, we are often quick to judge women who either do not spot the “red flags,” who stay in abusive relationships or who do not leave when things get physical.
But after six months of online dating and dozens of men later, I have come to realize that, as much as we want to make abuse a black and white issue, it is an incredibly complex relationship of power that starts as early as the first date, and it is facilitated by online platforms.
During my date with the guy in question, I felt intimidated. In the first ten minutes he criticized my job, my choice of degree and even my thesis topic! What is more concerning is that instead of just picking up my things and leaving right away, I kept overthinking the issue. Is it me or is something off? Am I doing something to trigger him? Am I making this violence up in my head? But since it is not physical abuse, and this is a first date, is this violence? I then battled my “politeness.” Would it be too rude to leave after only 20, 30, 40 minutes?
Eventually, I couldn’t take anymore. The guy became aggressive to the point that, as I looked outside the window, uninterested, he asked me if I fu**ing had to be elsewhere. I said yes. I picked up my bag, called him out on his abusive language and intimidation techniques only to be told, that “abuse is a matter of opinion.” I had stayed for a whole 60 minutes.
There is much talk about the “crisis of masculinity” among, but not exclusively, my generation. We are told that meeting strong women who are well-educated, have jobs and know what they want is intimidating for men. We are told that men do not really know what their role is anymore since the “abolishment” of the breadwinner model. We are also told that, as heterosexual women dating heterosexual men, we need to make sure to “make them feel like men.” In fact, if you go to Google right now and search for dating advice, you will realize that women are told not to be too needy or clingy and not to be too independent either. We are told that feminists may scare men, and that successful women with strong personalities can be off-putting for many of them. We are also advised not to pursue the guys we like for the only thing that men like about relationships is “the chase.” (When did women become antelopes? I don’t know…)
And in between the lines of all this advice we are told that we, women, have to cater to the needs of a group of men that has neither been able to “adapt” to new gender roles, nor is willing to recognize that many of them perpetuate violence and abuse in their personal relationships with women. In fact, we call these behaviours “insecurity.” As if such a term justifies intimidation and attitudes that many would say are red flags.
What is more, we, searching women, are put (and not necessarily by ourselves) in a dangerous position. Not only are we unable, hesitant or unwilling to call out abuse because of the ways in which we have been socialized (sometimes we don’t even know it is abuse), but also we are meeting a bunch of random men online who benefit from indirect contact, anonymity, pseudonyms, and the social taboos and stigma around women “hooking up” (even if you aren’t) with men “they barely know.” This is not to say that the people you meet offline aren’t prone to abuse. But, as wonderful as the Internet can be, it also provides an additional element of danger for women who have already been socialized in the normalization of violence and abuse against them.
So, as someone who is in this process, I have had to step back. It scares me that I have become so vulnerable to strange and possibly abusive men through my attempts at dating. Furthermore, it terrifies me that I froze and overthought the situation when I would have told any of my friends to walk away immediately, and swear at the guy on her way out.
It worries me that things haven’t really changed that much… misogyny is still out there along with structures that endorse patriarchal violence. One of the differences is that we call it “insecurity” or the “crisis of masculinity” and let it float freely around on the Internet.
Read more from Eren on our site, here.
Eren Cervantes-Altamirano is an Indigenous-Latin American convert to Islam. She is currently working on her MA in Public Administration (supposedly). Eren’s blog Identity Crisis focuses on her multiple identities and how to reconcile them when they are at odds with each other. She also blogs at Muslimah Media Watch. When she is not writing, Eren can be found baking, knitting and sewing and oh yeah… dating. Follow her at @ErenArruna.