An Open Letter To Henry Cavill And Other Men ‘Afraid To Flirt’ In The #MeToo Era

No one is telling you not to flirt. We’re telling you not to be an oblivious, egocentric asshole while flirting.

Dear Henry,

I’ll admit that when I saw your name flicker across today’s headlines, I had to look up who you were. Please don’t be offended – I’ve never been into Superman. So because I don’t know much about you, I’m going to start with a story.

Several years ago, frustrated with my small town’s dating scene, I complained to one of my best friends who offered to let me borrow a book. That book was The Game, former New York Times reporter Neil Strauss’s deep dive into the world of pick up artist culture. My friend had the best intentions. “It’s a great way to see the kinds of games guys play,” he said, “so that you can be ready for their bullshit.” But I didn’t read the book. I essentially plugged my ears. La-la-la, I’m not listening.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to learn. I’m sure that there are pearls of wisdom in The Game, even if readers have to skirt around sections where Strauss falls into the same misogynistic traps that he documents in his peers. (In one section, he refers to women as “false gods;” in another, he dismisses a lover as “all holes.”) I didn’t read The Game because I didn’t want to acknowledge pick up artistry’s existence, period. My best point of reference to PUA culture at that time was Mystery, the guy with the stupid hat on VH1 who trained young male recruits in the art of negging, creating false senses of urgency, and cultivating push-pull dynamics. If I acknowledged that there was an entire throng of men subscribing to this view of women as conquests, I’d have to actually deal with them.

What does this have to do with you, Henry? Lots of men, including some who self-identify as progressive or generally Not a Shit to Women, share your worry over being “called a rapist or something” while flirting in the age of #MeToo. I’m responding to your comments because language is important no matter whose mouth it comes out of, but in your case, you’re literally Superman. You’re the physical embodiment of the first character that boys look up to.

First, you make #MeToo all about you and your fear of romantic rejection, which is exactly the problem that the movement is trying to tackle in the first place. You say that you’re “fortunate enough to not be around people who behave that way,” which conveys an eagerness to put some distance between you and your buddies and Those Other Men Who Behave Badly But Whom I Do Not Associate With, Not Me, No Way. And you marvel that there’s “something wonderful about a man chasing a woman…but maybe I’m old-fashioned for thinking that.”

Every time I hear a man fret over the big bad #MeToo movement potentially preventing him from doing his thing, I think of that old Margaret Atwood line: “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” This is not an exaggeration. I’ve walked multiple blocks, shaking, fumbling for my phone in case of an emergency, dead silent because I don’t want the strange man following me to react violently. I’ve been physically obstructed while trying to leave a house after a date and strategized how to successfully wiggle away. Talk to the women in your life. Listen to their stories. You’ll find that they are not anomalies.

Which brings me to your claim that you do not associate with such men. I find this hard to believe, given that serial abusers and harassers are great at putting on completely different personas for the rest of the world. But assuming it’s true…damn, that must be nice. I would love a shield, an invisible knapsack, if you will, to protect me from being called a bitch on the street or being groped against my will. I would love not to know these people, but since they are everywhere, the probability is high that you know some of them too. “There have been some situations with people I’ve worked with being perhaps over-familiar with some of the actresses,” you said, “But I’ve always walked up to them and said, ‘Hey are you all right? That’s creepy.’” I applaud you for intervening, and hope that you will continue to call out possible misconduct when you see it. I also hope that you will push yourself further to prioritize our safety over men’s egos, holding your friends and yourself to the same standards.

Finally, I want to talk about your notion of dating as a “chase.” Men and boys are socialized to see elements of life as challenges to be overcome. From the time they are very young, like the boys in your Superman fan base, they are taught to value competitive games over cooperative ones. What this means is that by the time they enter the dating scene, they must work against that socialization to see women as people rather than conquests and to approach relationships cooperatively rather than competitively. Respecting boundaries, asking for consent, and training yourself to read body language – basically everything that pickup artistry teaches you to ignore – is all part of that.

As long as you’re doing these things, “the chase” can be pretty fun! There’s nothing more exciting than seeing someone new and feeling your heart skip a beat. But being chased by someone who ignores our verbal and non-verbal cues, who negs and hassles us, isn’t fun at all. Years ago, when a guy in my circle of friends began sliding next to me and fondling me in my sleep at parties, I imagined that he thought this was a chase. He probably thought that at some point, he’d win this “challenge” and I’d reciprocate instead of pushing him away, moving to a different room, or leaving altogether. But it wasn’t going to happen, and in the end, it was me who had to adjust my behavior by avoiding overnight stays instead of him adjusting his propensity for being an asshole.

No one is telling you not to flirt. We’re telling you not to be an oblivious, egocentric asshole while flirting. By the end of The Game, Neil Strauss had mastered as much. “If there was anything I’d learned, it’s that the man never chooses the woman. All he can do is give her an opportunity to choose him.” Give us an opportunity to get to know you, but to do so on our terms.

Chelsea Cristene is an international student adviser, English professor, and graduate student based in Washington, DC. She has been published by the Good Men Project, Salon, xoJane, The Establishment, and MamaMia, and has appeared on HuffPost Live. Find her on Twitter.

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