Whose job is it anyway?

Every few months I seem to come across an example of a feminist trotting out a variation on the line, “It’s not my job to educate [non-feminists]”. I find this incredible. Do people honestly believe that mass political change is going to be achieved by undecided or sceptical people independently seeking out opposing views, reading them dispassionately and objectively, and then giving up their formally deeply held beliefs with a minimum of fuss? I cannot imagine what tiny minority of people might be convinced in this fashion, but I’m certain it does not include most of the people we wish would come around to our way of thinking.

When people say, “it’s not my job to educate you”, this assumes that the only obstacle to agreement is that the other person is ignorant. The tone of most Feminism 101 articles belies this; those I’ve read may as well be calculated to alienate people who are on the fence. They are patronising. They communicate, clearly, an assumption that all opposition to feminist views is based solely on rank ignorance or self-interest, and that all that is required is enlightenment. They address adults seeking political and philosophical argument the way I would address a child attempting to learn arithmetic. This is hubris.

Disagreements about feminist issues are, in my experience at least, only rarely disagreements about facts. They are far more often disagreements about values and attitudes. Saying you refuse to “educate” someone assumes that what they require is more information, which is often not the case. Most people engaged in political debate aren’t looking for facts; they looking for arguments in support of a position. What you’re actually saying if you refuse to “educate” others is that it’s not your responsibility to defend or promote feminism to skeptics. If it’s “not your job” to present the case for feminist positions in an attempt to convince more people to support feminist causes, then I really have to ask: what is your feminism intended to achieve? What is its goal? Unless they are regularly involved in some form of direct action, I simply can’t see what such people contribute.

A great many people in our society think that the only legitimate work of feminism was finished as soon as women got the vote. They think the extent to which the burden of child rearing continues to fall on women is right and natural, rather than the unacceptable consequence of personal sexism and systematised discrimination. They have attitudes towards women’s sexuality that are mired in the taboos of the 1950s. There are millions of young men out there who truly believe that women are less intelligent than men, less capable of rational thought and responsible decision making, and that we succeed in our endeavours largely through exploitation of our sexuality rather than though talent, hard work, or competence. That’s the state of play. We don’t live in a world full of pliant 22 year old boys taking second year gender studies subjects and reading de Beauvoir to better themselves. We live in a world full of sceptical, subtly sexist young men who might discuss feminist issues with women only a handful of times in their entire lives. Those are the people we need to convince if we are ever to have any success, and they are not going to be convinced by Jezebel.

The young men who would laugh out loud at the content of a gender studies class are the guys who perpetrate street harassment. Those are the guys who consider picking up their own children from school as on par with breastfeeding, something having a Y chromosome renders them congenitally unable to do. Some of them will become managers and executives who discriminate against their female employees. Some of them will commit violence against the women in their lives. Many, many more of them will look the other way when other men do these things, regarding it as the natural order of the universe rather than a system they have chosen to participate in. They can’t be beaten: they have to be convinced.

They’re not going to read Feminism 101 websites, and if they did, they would only be alienated even further. If they are to be reached at all, it will be through conversation with people they have some basic level of respect for. Some of them have strong opinions and want to discuss these issues, even with people who disagree with them. If any of those guys ever show enough interest to participate in a conversation with you about feminism, you have a responsibility to engage with them seriously. You have a responsibility to listen to their views, which may appal and enrage you, and to provide strong, persuasive counter arguments. As long as they appear to be participating in the discussion in good faith, you have a responsibility to be respectful, because nobody is won over while they’re being insulted. This is where the fight is.

A favourite blogger of mine wrote earlier this year that “feminism has to win for the world to be moral”. If you believe this, you have a responsibility to convince others that feminist values are worth holding and defending. There is a multitude out there that is not going to come around on its own. Those people need to be convinced that feminism still matters, that our grievances are legitimate, that justice demands the remaining inequalities in our society are rectified. Those people need their attitudes challenged by people who are willing to engage them in considered and respectful conversation. It’s exhausting, infuriating, boring, confronting work. It has to be done. We have to do it.

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Standing on the precipice.

“You think it is me that you degrade now. It is not. It is you.”
-Servillia, Rome

This time last year I went to the World Press Photo exhibition for the second time. With few exceptions, the photography is both moving and confronting. Some photos were posed portraits, while others featured destroyed buildings in Gaza and Aleppo. The image that affected me most was a candid shot: a girl of seven or eight wailing over the corpse of her father at his funeral, her expression somehow strikingly adult, one of pure anguish.

The caption identified him as one of Assad’s soilders. I will not link to it, but it is an important photograph. I try to view all war through a lens that clearly acknowledges the humanity of all participants. In a war like Syria’s, where from the earliest days the reports were of the systematic torture and mutilation of dissenters and journalists, this is hard. That photo is important. The girl in it matters.

Yet photographs like this disturb me, and reveal perhaps the deepest unresolved conflict between my intuitions and my ethics. I feel compelled to seek out good photojournalism. It seems self-evident to me that one must cultivate an ability to confront the terrible suffering in the world, and a willingness to grapple with the complexity of the situations that bring it about. One must learn not to turn away.

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There are, of course, multiple forms of media through which one might do this, with varying degrees of immediacy. I read more than I look at photographs. I do not watch videos. Even distant film of the tiny figures falling from the World Trade Centre distresses me. I am horrified at the thought of watching James Foley recite his scripted last words, at bearing witness to his degradation and his death. I feel, profoundly, that it would be a terrible violation for me to view that. And yet, as a consequentialist, I cannot explain this feeling. Who would I be violating? He is dead, and past all further harm.

The case is not so simple in that of the Syrian girl. She is, hopefully, still alive. One day she will be old enough to understand what it meant that there was a strange man with a camera at her father’s funeral. One day, perhaps, she will look upon her own face, twisted with grief, and know that thousands of people around the world have seen her that way, at that moment. How will she feel? Will she be harmed? Has she been harmed already? Perhaps such a concern trivial compared to the harm that the photograph documents. I don’t know.

The photographer cannot know the answers to these questions. Some of the most powerful photojournalism we have seen has been taken in situations where the consent of the subject is absolutely impossible. Once the photograph is taken, what are we participating in when we view it? Does it matter whether our motivations are pure or vouyeristic?

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There is a link here, of course, with the issue of looking at leaked, explicit photos of people who have made it clear that they do not want the photos to be viewed. It seems clearer cut – the motivation to view such photos cannot be “pure”, although I would argue that it may take several forms, some more excusable than others. Jennifer Lawrence has, unquestionably, been harmed by what has happened this week. But given that she will never know the number of people who have viewed those photos, is she further harmed by any one individual choosing to look at them?

I don’t believe that she is, and although I would say anybody looking at the photographs is participating in degrading her, I would not go so far as to argue that they are assaulting her. I don’t find that claim coherent. She has been harmed, but her distress does not grow with each additional download. I would argue that the problem with viewing those photos is, perhaps ironically, not to do with its impact on her, but rather in what it reveals about the viewers.

There are, no doubt, simply teenagers out there who have a crush on Jennifer Lawrence and consequently find pictures of her especially exciting. This is the most innocent reason I can imagine somebody might have for viewing the photos, and although I hope those boys will have more empathy and a more nuanced understanding of privacy and consent when they’re older, I’m not especially concerned by that.

What I do find disturbing is what the demand for improperly obtained sexual media reveals, given that the internet contains more porn than anybody could watch if they devoted the rest of their lives to it. The fact that people go to the trouble of hacking women’s webcams for the sake of watching them get undressed for bed in the evenings indicates that there is a strong desire among some segment of the population to get off looking at women who don’t know they’re being watched, and wouldn’t want to be. Making a consequentialist case that those women have been harmed even if they never discover their observation is difficult, but making the case that that behaviour reveals a disturbing lack of empathy in the viewer is not.

We must be very careful. If one values empathy highly, it should be hard to walk through the world press photo exhibit. We should leave feeling shaken and questioning what it means to be human. We should struggle. If you can approach the video of James Foley the same way I approach photojournalism, you should be deeply disturbed, and saddened, by what you see. My suspicion is that a lot of people may have watched that video in a different spirit. Perhaps some of them have come to regret that. When we approach this type of media voyeuristically, whether the content is violent or sexual, we cultivate something ugly in ourselves. We are practicing indifference, slowly numbing ourselves to the humanity of others.

Whatever you do, you do to yourself.

Biological Determinism and The Subjection of Women

Shortly after I started this blog, I put out a call for suggestions regarding topics. A close friend responded with their thoughts on the apparently profound hostility of many modern feminists to biological determinism, and it’s one of those things I always meant to get around to writing about, but I never had a great deal at the forefront of my mind to say about it. However, I’ve spent the last week reading J. S. Mill’s The Subjection of Women, written in 1861, and now I find some thoughts coalescing.

I’ve had an interesting reaction to this book. I agree with almost everything in it, as I suspect most modern feminists would, given that the two strong arguments it presents are for women’s suffrage and the independent ownership of property during marriage. It’s also interesting simply from a historical point of view to see the treatment Mill gives the topic, in particular the supposed differences in natural aptitude between men and women. He makes a series of analogies with reference to slavery, and in one case, the impact of the extent to which some European nations are “by nature more excitable” than others.

I was surprised to notice I have basically the same reaction to his discussion of supposedly natural differences between different ethnic groups – a combination of discomfort, cringe and mild “Oh, how quaint” amusement – as to his discussion of supposedly natural differences between men and women. Here’s the thing, though: Mill refers to the former as though they’re a given, but he’s a self-identified skeptic on the latter. He argues that at the very least, at his point in history, the question remained open as to whether there were any inherent differences between men and women, and he apparently thought it likely that differences in the way women were raised and educated in England at the time accounted for most, and possibly all, of those differences which could be observed.

“Whoever is in the least capable of estimating the influence on the mind of the entire domestic and social position and the whole habit of a life, must easily recognise in that influence a complete explanation of nearly all the apparent differences between women and men, including the whole of those which imply any inferiority.”
Somehow, seeing someone write frankly about biological determinism, even from a skeptical point of view, seems kind of crass. It’s especially strange that I have that niggling reaction, because I am much, much more comfortable with the idea of biological determinism than a lot of other modern feminists. Like the friend who suggested it as a topic, I’m frustrated with the treatment it gets. That quote from Tony Abbott that people bandy around to show what a troglodyte he is provides a great example – simply saying that he thinks there are inherent differences is apparently evidence that he’s a misogynist. Of all the quotes we could use to demonstrate that he’s a fucking caveman, that’s the most popular one? Really?

Now, like Mill, I consider the question reasonably open, even 150 years later. I think a significant proportion of the differences we see in gendered behavior are the result of culture, education, and socialisation, rather than biology. It is almost inconceivable to me, however, that the endocrinological differences between men and women have absolutely no effect on the development of neurology, personality, or thinking. Sex hormones are, to put it frankly, a hell of a drug. Talk to someone who’s taken them as part of a gender transition if you have any doubts. Shit, talk to someone who gets bad PMS – I don’t, but I have friends who report wild moods swings and general horror for a few days a month. Even this feels taboo to say now – some women get PMS and it effects their moods and the way they think while it’s going on. Surely that statement is not beyond the pale? And yet, in the backlash against sexist horseshit about how no woman should be the head of state of a nuclear power because she’ll press the button as soon as she gets a period, I feel weird saying that PMS is a thing.

And I think this is what underlies the profound hostility to biological determinism in general – it’s reactive. It’s a response to a culture in which people like Tony Abbott believe that any inherent biological differences which might exist explain, and are entirely sufficient to explain, why so few women are engineers. I, as someone who’s very comfortable with biological determinism, would not concede that. At the most, I would concede that they are likely to explain some of the discrepancy in the numbers of female and male MMA fighters, but certainly not all of it. And that, again, feels taboo, because so many people are so hostile to the idea that biology explains anything at all about the personalities of cis-women.

And there’s the rub. There is an interesting schism in the thinking on biological determinism on the topic of cis-women and cis-men, and as far as I’ve observed, a great deal more open-minded thinking and discussion on the topic as it relates to trans people. Some of the same people who would go blue in the face at my statements above will be quite comfortable with, and may even fall back upon, the hypothesis that trans gender identities are biologically determined. So too sexual orientation. There’s a lot of lively debate about both issues within modern gender politics, of course, but it doesn’t seem nearly as much a faux pas to say you think sexual orientation or gender identity are, or could be, partly or wholly biologically determined, than to say you think some gendered behaviour in cis-women has a biological basis.

I think, at bottom, this hostility is largely political. I think we fall back on biological determinism for trans and gay rights, because it looks like a defence of their position. “They can’t help it, they just are that way, it’s not a choice” etc. I think that is some problematic and unhelpful shit, but that’s another whole entry on its own. When discussing cis-women, though, the idea of inherent differences is inextricably bound to the idea of inferiority in certain areas, or to oppressive norms about how women are naturally suited to nurturing, motherhood, etc. Biological determinism, in that context, is so bound up with things that are anathema to modern feminism that many of us feel compelled to categorically reject it.

If you’re rejecting it, though, you have to reject it entirely – unless I’ve missed something, gendered behaviour can’t be entirely constructed in cis-women but partially or wholly biologically determined in trans-men. I’m pretty sure about that. But we don’t have to categorically reject it, because it doesn’t have to be married to a concession that women are inherently inferior. If I say that the average woman is less inclined to physical violence than the average man, that’s all I’m saying. I’m not saying no woman will ever be or has ever been as talented as Muhammad Ali, I’m not saying women are weak or cowardly, I’m not saying we need men to protect us. I’m also not saying men are thugs with no self control. I’m just saying men live with a higher baseline level of testosterone and are subjected to significant surges, and women are not, and maybe that has some effects on their respective inclination towards certain behaviours. Read about ‘roid rage. It’s a thing.

This isn’t radical. I would argue that it isn’t even political, although I’m sure I would fail to convince a great many people on that point. We can still talk about culture, and education, and socialisation, and sexism, and the exclusion of women from male dominated disciplines. I just don’t want to have those discussions with this elephant in the room, especially if we’re going to acknowledge the elephant when it’s convenient for trans issues, and render it invisible again as soon as Tony Abbott opens his mouth. Do we really want to give the Tony Abbotts of the world that degree of power over our discussions anyway?

Friendly Fire

There’s a site I visit occasionally which is home to some pretty brash writers. Most of them do a good line in mad ranting, and they’re usually pretty entertaining. A while back, one of them mentioned getting an email from a guy who was like, “Hey man, I really like the site and I enjoy reading your stuff, but I just wanted to let you know that when I’m reading something and you casually drop the word ‘faggot’ in there to deride a guy you’re talking about, it’s like you’ve just reached into my room and punched me in the gut.” That, to me, sums up a lot of the arguments around your desire to express yourself, and other people’s desire not to have their shit fucked with by the people they want to interact with. Not, “How the fuck dare you homophobic piece of shit”, not even, “You shouldn’t use that word”, just, “Hey dude, that thing you’re doing really upsets me, and that sucks, because I really dig everything else you’ve got going on”.

I really enjoy being able to express myself freely. I think everybody does. But the “free speech / anti-censorship” responses to these issues frequently neglect the competing priority, even for someone who prizes free expression: I don’t want to be punching people in the gut. I feel like a lot gets lost when we frame these decisions as being entirely about “rights”. The concept itself can certainly useful as some sort of ethical or political bedrock, and maybe I just need to read more philosophy, but I don’t frame most of my decisions around my interactions with other people as being about conflicts between our rights. This might be some simplistic hippy insanity, but I find compassion a far more useful guiding principle. I’m not really interested in whether you “should have to” give that homeless guy money, whether he’s entitled to it expect it from you or whether you deserve it more. He’s almost certainly having a really horrible time, and you can almost certainly make it slightly better. We can talk about how the government is failing both of you later, but for now, please, give him a couple of dollars?

Our society is still pretty rough to a lot of the people in it. Most of us have a pile of shit that makes our lives more difficult than we’d like; purposeful, hateful shit built up by vile motherfuckers, and insidious, unfair shit that surrounds us and permeates our lives in ways we can’t control. Why contribute to that? Why would I want to casually add to the pile of homophobic garbage that guy has to wade through every day of his life? Why would any of us knowingly cast our lot in with people we despise who perpetuate that shit with hateful intent? Because we “don’t mean it like that”? Some of the things we desperately want to be innocuous turn out to be friendly fire. “It’s just a word” is not an objective statement of fact. It’s “just a word” to you. To the person on the receiving end, the girl within earshot at the pub, the dude suddenly getting punched in the gut, it’s another fucking thing on the pile. It wears people down.

Before running the freedom of expression argument, this needs to be factored in. Your expression has costs associated with it which are not borne by you. You are asking other people to bear them. I’m a woman after Lenny Bruce’s heart – I’d love to live in a world where nobody could make a kid cry with the strategic deployment of a single word. We don’t live in that world, and even if I think the remedy is to desensitise other people through exposure, some girl sitting behind me at the pub? She didn’t ask for my help with that. She may not agree that the Lenny Bruce method is a good one. She may just want to be out with her friends having a good time instead of being yanked out of her comfort zone by my big mouth at the next table. And you know what? I don’t want to be responsible for fucking with her night. So these days, before I crack my appalling off-colour jokes (and I do, regularly and with glee), I try to be really careful about who’s in earshot. I screw it up sometimes, but overall, it’s not that hard. It doesn’t cost me that much. I don’t think it costs a great deal to apologise when you get it wrong, either.

If you run the freedom of expression line after someone has said, “Hey, that thing you’re doing upsets me”, that’s a conscious decision you’re responsible for. “Freedom of expression is important to me” becomes an incomplete statement. The more accurate one is “My freedom of expression is more important to me than your well-being or comfort in my presence”. If that’s a statement you’re genuinely comfortable making, and that’s how you want to move through the world, that’s your business. That decision has consequences, though, and they will not be borne entirely by other people. Your expectation that other people will control their reactions to accommodate your desire to express yourself is no more or less reasonable than their expectation that you control your expression to accommodate their reactions. I would like to make some room for you, and I would like you to make some room for me, because that’s how we can move through the world with the least friction. If you’re really determined to demand uncensored expression, then surely, everybody else is entitled to have an uncensored reaction*. You get to stand up and take it all on the chin. It’s your free speech party.

 

*Given the events unfolding in the world this week, I feel the need to make this caveat: I do not condone physical violence in response to speech of any kind, no matter how hurtful or demeaning.

Fuck The Oppression Olympics

Something I’ve been seeing pop up in left wing articles and blogs a bit recently is discussion of apparently privileged groups “claiming to be” discriminated against. The writer is always, in my experience thus far, a member of a “genuinely” oppressed group, and apparently this entitles them to arbitrate on whether or not other people are truly victims of discrimination. This process of arbitration mystifies me. Apparently the method is simply to count the ways in which your own demographic is disadvantaged, and then dismiss the other person’s concerns out of hand because they haven’t been subjected those specific injustices. We can’t just say that our society is structured in a way which negatively impacts on most of us in some way at some points in our lives. We have to rank oppression by type, frequency, and severity. It has to be a competition. Somebody has to win.

Most frequently it’s feminist writers dismissing any acknowledgement or discussion of the circumstances in our society in which men are disadvantaged (eg. child custody, access to mental health services, substance abuse). The worst example I’ve seen of this has actually been taken down since it did the rounds a few months back, but was extensively quoted on Tumblr before it was removed.

  • “So yes, men have issues. However, in no way, shape, or form are they of the same caliber as the problems and oppression facing women. If he is intent on making feminism about men, or inflating the issues that men face in order to play Oppression Olympics with the women he is conversing and organizing with, he is a fauxminist. Seriously: the minute he mentions the draft just stop listening.”

She’s not talking about men wanting special spaces in universities just because there’s a women’s room. The draft. Young men being forced by their governments to choose between going to prison, where they were likely to be physically and / or sexually assaulted on a regular basis, or attempting to kill people they’d never met while those people tried to kill them. “In no way, shape, or form of the same caliber of the problems and oppression facing women”? It doesn’t appear that she thinks conscription is irrelevant because it’s finished in the West, but there are doubtless some people who would make that argument. I’d say historical examples are relevant because they provide context and, in this case, demonstrate long-standing institutionalised discrimination which differentially subjects men to violence, a tradition which is continued with the modern prison system.

None of the writers I’ve seen make these arguments have seemed to want to seriously address, say, the fact that men in our society commit suicide three times as often as women. They just point out that men aren’t sexually assaulted as often as women and that they tend to earn more, and thus, their privilege disqualifies them as genuine victims of discrimination or gendered mistreatment themselves. “Just stop listening”. Bonus points if you can tell someone with a straight face that, because of their demographic group, they’re not entitled to critically engage with the discussions you want to have about discrimination. Being a man might not preclude you from being a feminist, but apparently it almost always precludes you disagreeing with one. If you’re a feminist and you don’t believe you engage in this type of thinking, try a little thought experiment: imagine your reaction to this post if you knew it was being written by a man. If you honestly think you’d react exactly the same way, congratulations on your objectivity. But if you think everybody else would too, you’re living in a fantasy world.

It seems extremely sad to me when some feminists dismiss negative outcomes for men in various arenas as none of their concern, and it infuriates me when they claim that the people who do draw attention to those inequalities are betraying or undermining feminism. They’re two sides of the same coin. Obviously everybody is entitled to pick their own fights, but I’d think it a rather strange and small-minded if someone campaigning for Indigenous rights dismissed discrimination against North African refugees as not being their problem. I’d be mystified if they attacked people campaigning on refugee issues as enemies of the land rights movement. There’s plenty of injustice to go around, surely. If you’re only worried about and willing to campaign on or discuss discrimination against your own demographic group, that’s your decision, but it seems unbelievably short-sighted to me.

When I call myself a feminist, I mean that I’m concerned about discrimination and mistreatment on the basis of gender. I’m worried about the pay gap and the burden of parenthood. I’m worried about equal access to mental health services and child custody. I’m worried about sexual assault and domestic violence. I’d like to live in a society where none of those issues had a disproportionate negative affect on one gender or the other – where everybody was paid a fair amount for their work and expertise, where nobody was the subject of violence they were powerless to prevent, and where everybody could spend enough time with their children. That’s equity. It’s not the olympics.

The Nerdy Boy Catch 22

Well, when I started this blog a few weeks back I said I might talk about sex at some point. So here we are. It’s entry five, and I want to talk about boys who don’t get laid enough. Ha ha, you say, it’s a tautology! She’s making a funny joke! Alas, I’m serious. Some people get laid way, way less than they would in a just, sensible world where we weren’t all fucked up over gender roles and carrying around baggage from high school. Substitute “have meaningful romantic relationships” for “get laid” if that’s your preference, “get laid” is just my shorthand.

If you’re a nerdy boy who gets laid enough for your liking, congratulations. This post is not for you. If you’re a nerdy boy who doesn’t get laid enough and what follows here comes across as patronising or useless, I apologise in advance. I just want everyone to get laid more, and I’m trying to do my bit. It’s a tough job, etc.

Doubtless most of you will agree that the heinous experiences most smart people have as teenagers tend to stay with us, even once we find our niche among the other nerdy / alternative types as adults. I think the social stuff is easier to catch up on than the sexual stuff – most of us have made a lot more new friends by the time we’re 25 or 30 than we’ve had new lovers. This results in something I recently christened the Nerdy Boy Catch 22.

It goes like this: You don’t think you’re attractive. You don’t notice when, or you’re never sure if, girls are interested in you. You almost never hit on anyone. You don’t get laid much. You don’t think you’re attractive.

The reason it’s the Nerdy Boy Catch 22, not just the Nerd Catch 22, is this: girls, at the very least, will have been hit on by their mid twenties. Maybe only rarely by boys we were attracted to, and probably much more frequently by drunk / creepy / sleazy dudes we couldn’t get away from fast enough, but hit on none the less. We’re still subject to a bunch of toxic shit about beauty and a lot of us are really unhappy with the way we look, but most of us have at least exposed to the idea that some people want to sleep with us anyway. I don’t know if being hit on by people you’re really not into is better or worse than not getting hit on at all, but the effect it has on your self-image is clearly different.

Of course if you’re a gay boy who’s not involved in a gay scene, none of those proactive (mostly straight) boys will be hitting on you either, which I’m sure is at least equally miserable. I don’t feel like I can say a whole lot else about that experience or how to make it better, because I’ve never been involved on either side of it. I am, however, frequently a girl trying to get a nerdy boy into bed without embarrassing myself. Sometimes it requires neon signs and / or rugby tackling. Awkward.

Nerdy boys: You’ve probably been attracted to a bunch of girls without getting the impression they were attracted to you. In some cases you were right, unfortunately, but I’m almost certain that at least once or twice you’ve been wrong. I know this because I occasionally surprise the hell out of nerdy boys by hitting on them – not just because girls don’t hit on boys a whole lot, but because these boys didn’t get that I was interested until I’d put up the neon billboard and hired the singing telegram.

My own nerdy ineptitude probably makes me useless at flirting, but that’s something else to keep in mind: some of the girls you’re interested in are just as hopeless at all this as you are. If nobody gets up the courage to hit on anybody else, we’re going nowhere fast. If the only guys who hit on girls are those sleazy, sexist creeps, nobody’s having a good time. Probably not even those guys. I know you’re most likely a good feminist and I’m glad of that, truly. But even if you are, please, for the love of all that is holy: tell the second wave to leave you the hell alone, and ask a nice, nerdy, third-wave girl out for coffee.

Girls who like nerdy boys: if you think it may be well received, be prepared to hire the singing telegram. Seriously. That guy is just as scared of making an idiot out of himself as you are, and he has the added pressure of really not wanting to be a creepy dude. He might be so scared of being that guy that it’ll take everything he’s got to ask if he can add you on Facebook. If you’re waiting for him to make a move, you may be waiting forever. Be prepared to hit on boys. Just as importantly, assuming we’d all like to live in a world where hitting on people is less scary: be gracious when boys hit on you and you’re not interested. Unless he’s a drunk asshole, hitting on you is hard. Don’t look at him like he just threw up on your shoes. If you’re polite about it he’ll be less scared to hit on the next girl, and she might think he’s a fucking rockstar. In which case, you’ll have helped someone else get laid. Hooray sexy karma!

Nerds of both genders: There’s obviously a risk involved in hitting on people, especially when you’re not great at telling whether or not they’re actually interested in you. That in turn is something you only get better at with practice. Disasters are best avoided by taking baby steps. You don’t need to show up at anyone’s house with a bunch of roses and a hand-written collection of Neruda’s sonnets. (In fact, please don’t.) Just take one more step than you have previously. Does it seem to have been well received? Maybe one more after that.

Don’t convince yourself there’s no way they could possibly be interested in you. Ask them out. It could be awkward, but it could be great. If you feel like a complete idiot trying to flirt, just talk enthusiastically about stuff you both like. Don’t be reticent. Once you’re hanging out having fun talking about stuff, you’re half way there anyway. Be fearless.