Red flags

By Amanda Marcotte
Saturday, April 3, 2010 19:53 EDT
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Red flags: So easy to ignore in that first flush of infatuation, so easy to see in retrospect, but so important to see early on, before you find yourself facing down a picture of your husband heiling Hitler while wearing a Nazi officer’s cap, complete with a shit-eating grin on his face. Red flags are a major focus point for the feminists trying to have an honest, cross-blog conversation about dating/fucking while feminist. The Sexist posted an interview with Jaclyn Friedman about her adventures with online dating and feminism, and there were many honest and intriguing responses from Jill Filipovic, Viv, and Chloe at Feministing. There was discussion of standards and compromises when dating straight dudes, and discussion of red flags, those things that bug you a little but seem small, and you’re encouraged to ignore them in order to keep your man, but you shouldn’t, because there’s a sea of bullshit that the red flag is staked in.

I got two big things out of this discussion that are heartening: 1) Contrary to the warnings you hear, straight feminists do not lack for male attention. However, they do struggle with finding men that aren’t poisoned by toxic masculinity and all accompanying entitlement issues. 2) We can learn what red flags to look out for and not waste our time in the future on dudes that are just going to have to be dumped because the bullshit is stinking up the place.

If I may, I thought I’d share some red flags that I’ve learned to avoid through trial and error, and listening to others’ woes.

Ladies, what ladies? Jaclyn noted this one in the interview, and I realize some folks might think it a little harsh. But I’ve never seen this red flag fail to pan out—if a guy can’t think of any female musicians or writers he admires, then he’s a giant, honking sexist and you will regret dating him. The deeper he is into being a fan of an art form, the more women in that field he should admire. For example, if a guy is, say, my age (32) and big into 90s indie rock, if he is not a fan of Sleater-Kinney, do not date him. They were the best band of the late 90s, bar none, and the only reason not to like them if you like music like that is you are threatened by female success. He doesn’t really respect your opinions. I know that some people are skeptical, but I’ve seen this over and over.

What’s funny about this red flag and most others is that you don’t have to be on some hunt for them. These red flags are things men pay very little price for waving, generally speaking, so they see no reason not to wave these red flags. I’ve noticed that guys—even ones that claim to be feminist—don’t often go out of their way to hide their contempt for female abilities in this field or that. Very often, a guy’ll be deep into something, and if he feels this way about women, he won’t hesitate to proclaim it, with lots and lots of bullshit attached. Often of the evo psych variety. I’ve heard men deny that women can rap, that women can really play lead guitar, that women can’t write a great novel or even a sci-fi novel. If a man makes blanket statements about the lack of female genius, this will not work out well. The exception to this rule is that if a man seems to believe women can’t play in the NFL, then he’s just observing a fact. However, I’d monitor how gleeful he is about that fact, and whether or not he stretches this observation to suggest women can’t golf or something of that nature.

This is doing something that inconveniences or irritates you, knowing full well that it will do this, and seeing how much you put up with. It’s hard sometimes to tell if someone is boundary-testing, but if they raise the stakes after you accept it the first time, then it’s often time to act. Boundary-testing is defended, I do believe 100% of the time, by accusing the woman whose boundaries are being tested of being hysterical and overreacting. If you feel like a frog who has an inkling the temperature is sliding up, you may be subject to boundary-testing. I’ve talked at length about this before, but one of the big red flags I’ve encountered is men who make you wait for them, mainly because I had a guy slowly raise the temperature on this until he routinely had me waiting an hour or more past when he said he’d show, with lame excuses. It never starts off as an hour—it’s 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there—but if you buckle when he calls you hysterical, and the time continues to grow, that’s what’s going on.

A big form of boundary-testing that’s not only a red flag for assholery but for abuse is seeing how much they can pull you away from your friends and family. If there’s ever-escalating whining and complaining about the time spent with friends and family—even if he never officially says that’s what it is, but always has some excuse for why you can neither see them together or on your own, it’s a huge red flag. I’m not talking about the honeymoon phase, where a new couple disappears for a couple months and then re-emerges. I mean, if you find that amount of time you have to give friends and family is going down every month, instead of becoming more balanced, that’s a red flag. A big one.

His friends and how he acts around them.
You can learn a lot about a guy from who he hangs out with, and even more from how he hangs out with them. We all have a friend or two that doesn’t mesh with our significant other for whatever reason, but if all his friends are douchebags, he may just be a douchebag and you’re not seeing it. But the big red flag is if the guy you’re with plays along with sexist assholery when he’s around his friends. Or if he’s sweet as pie to you in private, but around his friends he’s indifferent or condescending to you.

Also: female friends. Does he have them? They don’t have to be his best friends in the world, but if he throws a party and it’s a sausage-fest, that’s a red flag.

Your friends and how he treats them. I’ve never experienced this problem personally, but I’ve seen it happen to women. I’m talking about guys who fall short of abusive “separate you from your friends” behavior. This is a different issue—can the guy you’re dating carry on a conversation with your female friends without leering at them? Does he treat your female friends he doesn’t find attractive with the same respect and interest as the ones that are closer to his type? (Granted, it’s not always easy to tell who a guy will find attractive, but still something to consider.) Does he flip out about the existence of your male friends? Does he monitor your every move around male friends and acquaintances? Big red flags all around.

If he pouts when you do better than him in any way, toss his ass to the curb. If you make more money, get a promotion, or even beat him at poker, and he acts like a baby, he’s never going to get over it. If you have opportunities come your way and he is completely negative about them, he’s probably going to pout if you do well. Your boyfriend should be your cheerleader, just like you’re his cheerleader. That’s so basic that it pains me to have to say this. But it’s a common trap, especially since some pouting and dream-killing can be subtle.

There are others you can read about at the links. I’m fond of Chloe’s red flag about a guy who seeks excuses for why you conforming to submissive gender roles is the best idea. I realize some people strongly disagree, but if a guy insisted that his wife take his name because it’s easier that way? Yeah, well. I don’t want to marry, but if I did, that would be a deal-breaker, after all I’ve learned about these things. And others are pretty obvious: Republican voters, racist joke-crackers, dudes who hang out at strip clubs all the time. What are yours? This is obviously written from a straight woman’s perspective, but I’m interested in hearing other points of view.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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