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Filtering by Category: Writing

Dating In a Post-Feminist World

Steven Wells

Over the past month, since the Aziz Ansari controversy was launched by an article on the website,  I've grown alarmed by the number of op-eds written by women who increasingly disparage men as dangerous, misogynistic, and irredeemable. Finally, a confusing op-ed in the Washington Post spurred me to write a response. Through sarcasm and humor, I try to point out the uncertainty many men feel about the new rules of dating.  I was not surprised the Washington Post declined to publish it.  Nevertheless, it was fun to write.


Dating In a Post-Feminist World

As a single dad, my days were filled with packed lunches, school drop-offs, and late-night homework, all juggled around a corporate career. Dating was daunting. I longed for intellectual conversation, laughter, and shared physical attraction.

Several women told me they only dated men who practiced total equality with women. One foretold that she wouldn’t sleep with a man until he had some skin in the game. I joked that I had about six inches of skin I was willing to put into the game. She didn’t laugh. After the Aziz Ansari episode, I wondered if I need become a mentalist to fully understand what women wanted.

My on-line dating attempts included swiping left and swiping right, until put off by a request for a full-frontal nude photo. Recently, my company adopted a dating policy, one that stipulated a one-strike rule: you could be turned down only once. A response of “Not tonight,” or “Maybe another time,” counted as “No.” Dating risked unwanted attention from the HR department and flirting was out of the question.

I recently had a date with a single mom, attractive and witty, from my daughter’s school. I used a rideshare to deliver me to an upscale restaurant where a hostess escorted me to a sumptuous, padded leather booth. Elizabeth, it’s not her real name, sat behind a crisp, white tablecloth with a glass of Scotch. I complimented her simple black dress as I slid into my side of the booth and said hello.

I ordered a Scotch, too, and soon enjoyed its warmth sliding down my throat. We discussed our kids, their progress, and our plans for their futures. After ordering our meals, the waiter asked: “Will you be having wine with dinner?” I requested a few minutes.

“What would you like,” I asked Elizabeth, “red or white?”

“You choose.”

“You’re having meat and I’m having fish; we can each order a glass.”

“Go ahead and order a bottle.”

I perused the wine list and decided on a French Pinot Noir. The waiter rewarded me with, “Good choice.”

“I usually drink whites,” Elizabeth said.

“Why didn’t you say so?” I was more curious than irritated.

“I trust your judgement.”

The dinner was excellent, and Elizabeth seemed to enjoy the wine, keeping up with me glass for glass.

After the dishes were cleared and desert menus presented, Elizabeth surprised me and slid around the table toward me. Even more surprising was her foot rubbing against my leg. In response, I briefly placed my hand on top of her arm and told her how much I’d enjoyed our dinner and conversation. Concerned about unwanted touching, I quickly removed it.

After the check arrived, I struggled with who should pay. I was traditional yet unsure of Elizabeth’s expectation. “Should we split it?”

She looked at me with a cocked eye in a subtle expression of disappointment. I placed my credit card on top of the tray.

We lingered over desert and drinks. Elizabeth moved her hand to the top of my leg and gave it a slight squeeze. “You work out?” Her perfect teeth dazzled through a broad smile.

Her hand wasn’t unwanted touching—I enjoyed it. Was she signaling a growing interest in intimacy? How could I know? The HR department had recently presented all employees a module that defined informed consent, a policy stipulating two partners engaging in an amorous relationship must obtain either verbal, or non-verbal consent before any escalation. I felt paralyzed.

After an awkward silence, Elizabeth removed her hand. “I should go.”

“Of course.” I stood, disappointed.

As we waited by the coat check with other diners milling about, Elizabeth turned to face me. She coolly slipped her fingers barely inside the waistband of my pants and pulled me close. “Can I give you some advice?”

“Sure,” I blurted.

“I’m an old-fashioned feminist, and I’ll call out a man for inappropriate behavior. But I also expect he has an ego strong enough to handle feedback. I can compete with men in the workplace, and I bet I could beat you in a 10K. But in romance, I’m looking for something different. I want a man who’s going to order my wine and pay for my diner. Sure, I’m fully capable of both, but when it’s just me without my kids, I love to sit back and let someone do it for me.”

The best response I could muster was, “Women are confusing.”

“Women are intellectually diverse and not all the same. I planned to suggest my house after dinner, but you seemed so tentative, I couldn’t imagine us together in bed.”

“What?” The comment aroused me.

I want a man who will take me into the bedroom and slowly, deliberately, remove my clothes. One who will stroke the expensive fabric of my bra and deftly unfasten it with one hand. One who’s going to show me, with every fiber of passion he possesses, that I’m desired more than anything else in the world at that moment.” She paused and stared into my eyes.

I swallowed hard. “I can do that.”

She released my trousers and turned to take her coat. After buttoning it, and before leaving through a revolving door, she added, “Now that you know what I want, think about what you want. If you’re still interested, give me a call.”

I watched Elizabeth walk out onto the sidewalk and tap on her phone. I assumed she was requesting a ride home. I didn’t need to think about my answer to her question. I was interested. Then I faced the next dating challenge—how long to wait before I call? Marriage seemed far less confusing.

From the Archive

Steven Wells

For this post, I decided to reach into my archive of past writings. As a board trustee of the Microsoft Alumni Network, I've previously written articles about two amazing alumni who have started non-profits with inspiring results. The first is Literacy Bridge, which helps fight illiteracy and improve health outcomes around the world. The second is Pongo Teen Writing, which teaches poetry to help troubled youth who have been incarcerated. I hope the creative and remarkable work of these two individuals will inspire you as much as they have me.

Cliff Schmidt and Literacy Bridge - Full article here

Most mornings at 5:30, when he’s not travelling to Africa, you’ll find Microsoft alumnus Cliff Schmidt working in the Seattle office of Literacy Bridge, the nonprofit organization he founded 10 years ago. By 8 a.m., he’s back home and walking his daughter to the bus stop for her trip to kindergarten.

Richard Gold and Pongo Teen Writing - Full article here

It was San Francisco in 1976. Microsoft alum Richard Gold was pursuing a Master’s degree in Fine Arts. The summer of love would soon give way to news of Patricia Hearst, Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. At least the Grateful Dead had resumed touring. But current events didn’t ignite Richard’s passion, volunteer work at a clinic with special-needs kids did.

Yes Means Yes in the News

Steven Wells

December was a busy time for Yes Means Yes, which was featured in a number of media outlets, including on op-ed on Motherhood Moment, an interview with Cyrus Webb on Conversations with Cyrus Webb, and an interview on Publish with Connie. For your convenience, I've reproduced my op-ed from Motherhood Moment below. Enjoy.

Why did you decide to write this book?
Three years ago, I started researching possible topics for a new novel. News stories about college sexual assault were common. In 2011, the Department of Education had released its controversial “Dear Colleague” letter, requiring colleges to take a more proactive role in eliminating sexual assault on campuses, or face Title IX investigations. Then, the state of California passed a law requiring college students to obtain informed consent before engaging in amorous relationships. This consent must be ongoing, could be withdrawn at any time, and could be non-verbal. The law was nicknamed Yes Means Yes and became the title of my new book. The subject is compelling, timely, and surprisingly complex—the perfect subject for a novel.

How has your perspective been affected by being the father of a young adult daughter?
I raised my daughter in equal custody with her mother from the time she was six. Neither of us remarried during those years before college, and fortunately we lived within miles of each other. My daughter built lasting friendships with a small group of girls in middle school, ones that survived high school and even through different colleges. As I watched my daughter and her friends experience academics, sports, dating, college admission, and early careers, to my knowledge, none of them ever experienced sexual assault.

However, as I researched my book, and began interviewing many young women who were attending, or had recently attended college, my limited view gave way to a realization that many young men feel entitled to sex and are willing to use drugs or alcohol to achieve an encounter. In my opinion, this objectification of women is a strong component behind the issue of sexual harassment so prevalent in the news today. Luckily, or maybe with some degree of successful parenting, my daughter was savvy enough to recognize this problem and seek out men who stood on higher moral ground.

Now twenty-four and living in Los Angeles, she visited me this past Thanksgiving. Over dinner one evening, we discussed details of my book. After I finished describing the plot and the issues of sexual assault described in the novel, she sat back and looked at me with disarming confidence and simply said, “Dad, the rule for guys in college is: Don’t have sex with a drunk student.” She made it sound so obvious. And so easy.

How do you balance messages of safety without inhibiting fun?
That’s an excellent question. During a recent book signing, I fielded questions from the audience. A mother asked me what she should tell her son before he leaves for college. She’s worried by stories she’s read of male students who believe they’ve had consensual sex with a female, then are later accused of sexual assault. It’s widely accepted that in university investigations, if a male and a female are both intoxicated, a notoriously difficult state of mind to measure, have sex, and then the woman later complains, the male will almost always be found guilty of sexual assault. Disciplinary panels consider who initiated sex and whether informed consent was received. A female student cannot give consent if she is intoxicated, and if a male student is intoxicated, the argument goes, he would be physically unable to initiate sex.

My advice to the mother was to encourage her son to know his partner well. If in doubt, wait. If too much alcohol has been consumed, wait. Even for a day. I suggested he have a friend able to testify to the state of mind of both students before and after the event. These personal testimonies are important in the disciplinary hearing. This certainly takes the fun and spontaneity out of such encounters, but when expulsion and being branded an assailant are possibilities, the risk is very high.

Why is the issue sometimes more complicated than "victim" and "perpetrator?"
On a university campus, young adults experience a precarious transition from youth to adult. Most sexual assaults occur during the first four semesters of college, and ninety percent of victims know their perpetrators. The prevalence of drugs and alcohol almost guarantee great decisions aren’t being made. Students who willingly and knowingly enter into a consensual sexual relationship will join prior generations of students. Trouble arrives when legal and affirmative consent is not clearly stated and received.