Do I scare you? Do I? Go on, you can tell me. I will never, literally, bite.
An email dropped into my inbox this week linking to an article entitled “Are women intimidating to men?” and I nearly fell off my chair. I would certainly have actually fallen off my chair if I hadn’t heard this question before. If I hadn’t, on numerous occasions, been told to my actual, scary face, that I am ‘an intimidating girl.’
What makes a woman intimidating?
I’ll admit it – I’m not your average quiet type. Despite getting quakingly anxious when I have to meet new groups of people, for the most part I’m loud, opinionated, and usually ready to down two pints then give you an angry list of exactly what can fuck off.
I’m also tall, which I know doesn’t help matters. My tallness, broad shoulders, face piercings and angry frown combine to form a physical GOTN that is just as likely to blend into the background as the verbal GOTN: i.e. not.
So when people tell me I’m intimidating, I usually take it on the chin. I do not scream at them, I do not punch them, I do not launch a fly-kick at their face in the way I might if my life were directed by Quentin Tarantino. What I do is ask them: “why?”
Because more often than not their statement is only half-formed. They don’t think this dude to my right (a UKIP supporter holding forth on why immigration is a real problem for this country) or this guy to my left (a gigantic rugby player three pints into a game of pub golf) is particularly intimidating. Or at least, if they do, they have not decided to say so.
If you can tell me – to my actual face – that I’m intimidating, I am clearly not. What you really mean is: “you’re intimidating, for a woman, yet because you are a woman you cannot possibly scare me enough to prevent me from telling you.”
Women: know your limits
When I clicked on the article in question (I am not going to link to it), I expected to see a discussion of why people find women intimidating when they happen to display the same behaviour as men, possibly with commentary along the lines of ‘hey guys, equality isn’t scary, just chill the fuck out.’ But I did not find that, as you can probably tell by the steaming rage emanating from every single dot and pixel of this page.
What I found was a guide for women on how to appear less intimidating in order to get chatted up by more men. It included such advice as
“It’s a great sign if you are single and view yourself as smart, independent, happy, successful and fun. However these very traits can make you seem too intimidating for a man to approach you if you are not consciously acting open toward meeting a great guy.”
Oh, shit, sorry dudes! Did my independence scare you away? Are you twitching like a frightened rabbit because I am too fun and successful? I’d better start ‘consciously acting open’ lest my happy behaviour leads you to think I am a terrible, shrewish bitch.
It’s OK to be scared
I’m not saying it’s easy to approach someone. Talking to new people is hard, especially in an environment where your “hello” may easily (and often correctly) be interpreted as “you look like the sort of person I might want to get naked and roll around with.” You’re not a bad person because you’re intimidated by chatting people up.
But holy Christ, do I really need to point out that changing women’s behaviour is the wrong way to go about solving this problem?
Most of us are intimidated by chatting people up. But the solution is not to make the people we are chatting up less intimidating – to knock down people who are successful, funny, loud, or whatever. Because then we’d end up with a world in which all of us were quiet and demure and politely responsive and there’d be no variation in personality at all. Women would be a homogenous mass of smiling geisha, easy-to-please and inscrutable, yet never fully present or interested because they’re so busy worrying that their laughter might be too loud, their jokes too witty, or their opinions too different to your own.
Are you a straight guy who’s thought to yourself that you’d love, for once, if women took the upper hand and asked the guys out? It’s not as common as I’d like it to be (although I’ve chipped in for my cause by stamping up to guys I like a few times and saying ‘fancy a fuck?’ to less success than even I expected) and if you’re a straight guy I imagine you’d like something cool like that to happen to you. But it’s rare, and for that you can thank words like ‘intimidating’, ‘bossy’, and all those subtle ways you tell us to sit down, bite our tongues, and laugh along with your jokes. Those times when you interpret “smart, independent, happy, successful and fun” as “intimidating traits” and call us scary for having the gall to be all of these things without your permission.
“Oh, but GOTN, you’re being scary right now. You’re doing that angry rant thing you do where you rip something to shreds then stand cackling at the sky like an evil feminist supervillain.”
Sure. I am ripping this ridiculous notion to shreds. But is that actually intimidating to you? Are these words so terrifying that you have to look away? That you’ll cross the street to avoid them late at night or cry yourself to sleep as you remember them? Bollocks. I’m having an opinion. I’m not wielding a samurai sword, backed up by a motorcycle gang, and – despite the wish I made when I cut my birthday cake – nor do I have an army of dragons.
Ironically, one of the things I find most intimidating is people who tell me that I’m scary in front of a large group of people, thus leaving me anxiously double-checking every statement, joke, and noise I make for the rest of the evening in case my scary self starts ruining everyone else’s fun. So, next time you meet me in a crowded bar, or even a dark alley, before you police my behaviour consider whether you are genuinely intimidated by me. Are you worried that I’ll punch you? That I’ll shout at you? That I’ll humiliate you in some way? Or, in telling me that I’m intimidating, are you actually just telling me to shut the fuck up?