The responses to my public writings about dating have been very varied. I’ve had lovely emails, article comments, and DMs from women and men who support and relate to my experiences about sexuality, gender and digital life more broadly. The trolls, incels, and conservatives who ‘believe in equal rights, just not feminism’ have also crawled out of their lairs to mansplain and misogynize.
Some examples of my non-fan mail, which I have shortened for posterity but kept all original, rather poor grammar intact (the “an” though):
“Men quit. Western women are free to go girl! Really, go. Away.”
“I’m not sure you have learned the most fundamental lesson from using the bumble app: It is hard to approach a member of the opposite sex knowing that most times you will be rejected for reasons not readily apparent…Perhaps we live in a matriarchal society, an hypothesis I suspect you are not willing to entertain under any circumstances.”
“I believe in real equality and wish sexual harassment and all the other related crimes don’t exist. But I can’t get behind this whole man-hating, victim playing movement…I would not hire a feminist that’s for sure. Because the moment I promote a male instead of her, she will play that card, instead of taking responsibility for her shortcomings and put in the work to earn it.”
I have responded to more than a handful of these visionary male commentators. DON’T READ THE COMMENTS—I know, but sometimes I can’t help it! When I respond, some guys backtrack in cowardly silence, while others retort with more lame bullshit. About half of those who reply to my replies come back with pleasantly insightful clarifications of their initial position or just say, basically, thank you.
Given what I have learned about the men who read my work, I didn’t think their messages would continue to bug me. Yet, a seemingly ‘innocent’ one I received two days ago has really irked me. FYI: we didn’t “meet” anywhere and we were among 45 participants in an Equity, Diversity & Inclusion webinar.
Hello Dr. Orchard,
I had the privilege of meeting you in today’s meeting on gender equality, etc. It’s seven months that I am in Canada and I have not been able to find a partner. Reading your research area and expertise, I was wondering if you could help me familiarize myself with the dating culture here and maybe introduce me to any dating platform you deem functional/legitimate or any other means you think works. I hope you do not find this email awkward.
My response to this oh-so-awkward email included the following:
The dating culture in London is complex, fun, and takes time to learn about. Looking for a partner is a very specific aim, whereas dating is more open-ended and what I would recommend when using dating apps or online sites that are more causal in nature- like Tinder, OKCupid, Bumble, Plenty of Fish, and so on. I suggest using broad parameters regarding the distance you will travel (taking Covid parameters into consideration) and the age range of your prospective dates. Use current photos ONLY and mix it up to ensure you are presenting the kind of person you are seeking, whatever that may be (i.e., active, family-oriented, hard- working, cultured, travelled, etc). Include an interesting, original profile that doesn’t just list what you “want” but who you are as a person.
Best of luck
Why has this message gotten under my skin? Because it makes me feel like a service provider. I feel like a purveyor of free knowledge and resources to a male stranger who has not demonstrated what he has done to find anyone. It feels like lazy -and yes, awkward- passive consumption of the dating/erotic capital that I earned the hard way by living it, writing it and incorporating it into my professional life.
Erotic capital is a term that includes experiences related to the sex industry, aesthetics, caregiving, and different pleasure economies (i.e., sex toys, BDSM, travel, leisure, dating). British Sociologist Catherine Hakim (2010) argues that erotic capital is something women participate in more significantly than men (for all sorts of reasons, among them gender inequity), which often leads to its denial in patriarchal culture. This is reflected in the non-fan mail I received, where my dating experiences are decried as ridiculous because I am a feminist and because they violate what men think my dating life and my ideas about my dating life should look like.
[insert history geek] Over 150 years ago, Karl Marx (1867) distinguished between the capacity to do work (labour power) and the physical act of working (labour). The lonely hearts club man in question has the capacity to engage in dating labour but is asking me to labour for him through the ‘gentle’ request for my expert knowledge. You want to know the real pisser? Despite being fully cognizant of the inequitable whir of gender and labour all of this represents; I chose to respond and in such a nice way!
Friends, this is a perfect example of three things: (1) The slippery slope of symbolic violence, whereby structurally-mediated inequities are misrecognized by marginalized community members as their fault; (2) My desire to see if/how he will respond for shits and for professional insights; and (3) I’m nice, too nice sometimes, which is closely linked with the small ‘p’ pity I felt for the guy.
Long story short: If you want to benefit from someone’s experience and expertise, acknowledge their time, energy, and include at the very least a thank you. An indication of how you will follow up with or perhaps reimburse them for their work is also a good thing to do. We see this increasingly on social media platforms, where folks who use sites like Instagram to generate income are requesting that users sign up for Patreon memberships. These memberships range from $5-$25/month and are a fabulous way to pay the people who provide information and entertainment to us on the regular.
None of us are doing it for free, nor should we.
Hakim, Catherine. “Erotic capital.” European sociological review 26.5 (2010): 499-518.
Marx, Karl (1867). Das Kapital: Kritik der politischen Oekonomie. Volume 1: Der Produktionsprozess des Kapitals (1 ed.). Hamburg: Verlag von Otto Meissner.