Dear Dr NerdLove,
I am crying as I write this, and I’m very grateful if you received and read this email.
I’m an 18-year-old girl who grew up in a conservative background from an LEDC. I dress very modestly, always wearing long dresses, and I even opt for long skirts instead of jeans when I meet a guy. I thought that it would protect me from being viewed as a sex object, but all the guys who I got romantically involved with in the past cannot see me as anything else but a sex object.
The first guy kept on begging me for nudes. Even though I told him about my background, he still kept asking for it over and over and getting more demanding each time. He said that the reason why I didn’t want to him nudes was because of my provincial background and “internalized misogyny”. I thought he was right because he was from the capital city while I grew up in a very small town. In my country, where you grew up is a status signifier because the wealth inequality between regions is massive. I was ashamed of where I grew up, mainly because my boyfriend kept making fun of my accent. I eventually sent him pictures because he kept on comparing me to girls in his city who were doing “very nice things” to their boyfriends.
I’m now ashamed of what I did, being motivated by such a stupid reason. But the worst part about him wasn’t the pressure, but what he said after receiving my pictures. In my country, the Han Chinese are a racial minority, but for some reason, boys dig for Chinese girlfriends. My ex said he likes my body and skin colour more than his ex’s because I’m skinny and pale-skinned. He also said that he could tell the colour of a girl’s genitals based on the colour of her skin and lips. He said that he liked the colour of my genitals compared to his ex because she was dark-skinned, which influenced the colour of her genitals. I found his comments very repulsive and racist.
It changed the way I viewed my body from then on. I used to not care about my body looked, but now I feel disgusted whenever I look in the mirror. I feel fortunate to have a conventionally attractive body. I feel disgusted not because I feel unattractive but because I realize that all my body represents is some object men lust for. Girls in my country bleach their skin to look like me. I get asked all the time what skincare I use to have pale skin, and I used to think I benefited from these beauty standards. But now I hate being a Chinese girl somewhat.
The second guy I got involved with, I thought, was genuinely in love with me. But after we had virtual sex the next morning, he admitted he had no feelings for me and could only see me as a sex object. He said exactly that with no filter. Some part of me wished he lied to me and ended the relationship using some other reason. But he told me the truth. Stupid me was so in love with him then, since I grew up having little friends that I considered him my best friend, I told him it’s okay, let’s continue being friends. But even while remaining friends, he would often release his anger at me and say mean things that were not true, such as how I was always attention-seeking to guys, etc.
The third guy, despite me dressing like a nun, always commented sexual things to me and one of which was how I was trying to show guys my cleavage while on another day saying I only have “small to medium sized tits”. He does this quite often, saying how I am not sexual enough while slut shaming me on other occasions, even though I dress and act modestly.
To be honest, I am aware of what the problem is, which is I do give in to their sexual requests. But I don’t think I deserve to be slut shamed because they are the ones pushing me to do it, not vice versa. I don’t understand their logic. When “normal” guys ask me why I hate men, I don’t even tell them everything, only briefly that I have dealt with horrible perverts in the past. And their reaction is either that I am bullshitting about my experience or that I must have done something to provoke these men, which is not true.
I don’t hate men just because of my bad dating experience but because I grew up with an abusive father. It is also the norm that my uncles abuse their wives, so the problem isn’t just my dad but my extended family. I grew up around strong women who considered this behaviour normal and just something for girls to accept.
When I told my mom about my dating experience with men, she said I was stupid for making those naive mistakes, and I agreed. But she reasons that men are naturally like that, and women must look after themselves and their modesty. So, I feel torn as I want romance and intimacy, but at the same time, I know if I date a guy, this is what I will get.
I drown myself in manga and third-rate romance novels every day. I thought that one day I would find someone as kindhearted and respectful as the heroes I read about in these stories. But I know it’s a delusion. I would spend hours reading daily, and after I finished the story, I cried because I knew I would have to face reality again. It sounds so dramatic, but fictional literature has consumed my life. At this point, I barely respond to anyone’s text messages.
I feel so lonely with my current lifestyle. But whenever I go out with people, especially men, I feel even more alienated. For some reason, being around other people makes me feel much more lonely because I get reminded of my inability to connect with others. My female friends don’t take me seriously when I claim to have difficulty finding a good guy because I am conventionally attractive and come from a good family. But I wish I were lesbian at this point because the disparity between fictional and IRL men is jarring. Maybe this is just the more socially acceptable version of the porn addict who can only get aroused by perfect girls on screen because I love fictional guys to the point that I find IRL men repulsive.
Some people tell me it will get better once I study and work abroad. But will it? I am always told that men are just biologically horny and violent. Men in books and manga aren’t like that, but these works are written by women. You seem like someone politically progressive and has a nuanced view of this topic. I wish to hear what your thoughts are as a man. My standard for a guy isn’t that he is perfect but equal to me because he takes responsibility for himself and respects others the same way I do.
Thank you so much for reading this long email and for doing the work you are doing!
So right off the bat, I want to take exception to your sign-off. I don’t know if you’re making a play on the term fujoshi – a Japanese phrase for female fans of specific types of manga that translates to “rotten girl” or if this is more in context with your experiences, but I’m a believer of nominative self-determinsim. That is: we tend to grow into the things that we call ourselves, even when we’re referring to it in jest. It’s one thing to occasionally make a joke at your own expense or to use self-depricating humor. But the more someone makes fun of themselves or “playfully” insults themselves, the more it starts to sink in and quit being a joke. So, yeah, it may be an otaku in-group reference, but in context of this letter it’s… well, it’s not a great mindset to have of yourself.
Next: no, you don’t deserve to be slut shamed. Nobody does. But even with your history and the choices you made? No, you absolutely don’t deserve to be slut shamed. The shame belongs entirely to the shitty guys who pushed you and pushed you until you gave in. That is shameful.
Thirdly: the thing to remember about characters in shojou manga and romance novels is that to a degree, they’re idealized figures. Even the more complicated or “redeemed bad boys” that you may run into – especially in more modern and recent stories – are written with an eye to being an appealing fantasy. You’re not gonna find a lot of guys who’re going to measure up specifically to them because these are not people agency and free will; they behave exactly as the authors want them to in a way that matches the stories they’re trying to tell.
HOWEVER. That doesn’t mean that good guys aren’t out there, nor is it a bad to want to find someone who at least is comparable to your ideal fantasy man. They’re going to be rougher, less polished and they will never match up on a 1-to-1 manner to the fantasy, because they’re human… but their flaws are part of what make them who they are.
Assuming that their flaws aren’t things like “being a shitty person.” Which is the biggest issue you’ve been having.
Let me be abundantly clear here: you are not the problem, except in as much as you gave your heart and your trust to people who didn’t deserve it…. which is something everyone can has done at some point or another in their lives. It’s not that you were insufficiently protecting your virtue or dressing in such a way that guys got the wrong idea. I can promise you: it doesn’t matter if you dress sexily, conservatively or if you were to choose to wear an abaya or niqab, shitty people will still objectify you, still sexualize you in ways you don’t appreciate and still try to take advantage. That’s not because of anything you did or didn’t do, it’s because they’re shitty people who objectify women. Assholes are always, always gonna ass, no matter what. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, assholes gotta ass and then they’ll blame you for their assing, because they’re assholes. That’s what assholes do.
Similarly, you have to realize that the fact that an asshole targeted you doesn’t mean that you did something wrong. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t maintain the wards that keep assholes away. They target anyone they think might buy their bullshit, regardless of what their targets do or don’t do. Again: this is just what assholes do. What you can do is not let assholes into your life and, should someone prove themselves to be an asshole, kick them to the curb with the rest of the trash.
The key to this is boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. That means that you draw a very firm line in the sand and say “see this line? There will be no crossing of this line for you. I may – may – give you a warning as a courtesy. But if you try to step over this line, then you’re gone.” Boundaries are how you keep assholes away, because assholes prey on folks who don’t have boundaries, or who don’t enforce them sufficiently.
Let’s take the first boyfriend you mentioned. In this case, a boundary would look like your saying “I’m absolutely not willing to send you nudes. That is not a thing I do, that is not a thing I am interested in and I won’t be doing it for you. Period.” And then you hold the line. What he did the first time you said no was push you into releasing that boundary. His whole schtick about “internalized misogyny” and “girlfriends doing nice things for your boyfriends” was trying to provoke what’s known as JADE response – that is “Justify, Argue, Defend or Explain”. The more that someone pushes you into justifying your reason for having a boundary, tries to get you into an argument about it, to defend the fact that you have it at all or demands that you explain it to his satisfaction, the more likely they are to pressure you into letting them violate your boundary.
And believe me, assholes and toxic people are very good at this. The part about your “provincial upbringing” and “internalized misogyny” is trying to make you feel shame about not being willing to send nudes – essentially getting you to justify it and then establishing himself as the authority who can then out-argue you with his bullshit reasoning. His telling you about those other girls willing to do this for their guy friends is supposed to make you worried that he might go with someone who would send him nudes… so now your defending you boundary becomes a threat to your relationship.
But here’s the thing: once an asshole gets you into a JADE response, then you’re no longer enforcing a boundary. They’ve pushed you into the first round of negotiations. Once you have gotten to a place where you’re trying to justify or explain why you said no, they’re going to have an advantage. Toxic people tend to be very good at recognizing when someone’s got a hole in their defenses and will pick at it until that hole becomes a fissure that brings the whole thing down. They’re being so reasonable you see and everyone else is doing it so clearly you’re int eh wrong here and if you were really X, then you’d do this so now he’s challenging your very identity.
It’s insidious shit, and it’s very, very easy to fall for. Especially if you’re someone with a good heart, who wants to believe that a person they trust and care for is also a good person.
This is why the answer to any of his protestations would be “I said no.” Not “No, because reasons,” not “no, because my parents…” or anything else. Just “No, because I said no.” No, as the saying goes, is a complete sentence. You don’t need to provide reasons for why you said no, nor do you need to justify or explain your decision. The fact that you have decided that this isn’t something you want to do is more than enough. So if he comes back with “well, you’re just so provincial,” the answer is “Yes, I am. I still said no.” If he says “this is just internalized misogny talking”, the answer is “I don’t care. The answer is no, and I won’t discuss this any further.” If he tells you about how all the other girls are doing it, the answer is “that’s good for them. I’m not doing it, and the subject is closed”. All of which can be followed up with “…and if you keep pushing this, then you can go ask someone else because we won’t be dating any more.”
He may say you’re being unreasonable. That’s fine. BE unreasonable. This is a line you’ve drawn in the sand. You have no obligation to be reasonable about it. You can set a boundary where you please, for whom you please, and not set it for others. If you were to send nudes (at legal age) to a boyfriend who was trustworthy and good, but refuse to send nudes to someone else later? That’s utterly fine. You are able to say “this person gets X privileges, THAT person doesn’t,” because this isn’t about “fairness”, it’s about your right to set limits where and how you choose to do so.
Maybe he’ll threaten you by saying that if you won’t, he’ll find other people who will. You say “well, if that’s what you want, then you better go talk to them, then, because I said no.” Perhaps he has a sad, and feels very hurt that you won’t trust him like this. Well, it’s a shame he’s sad, but you said no, and if he doesn’t want to be sad then he shouldn’t keep asking you for things that you said no to already. Maybe he’ll call you a bitch or a prude. OK… be a bitch. Be a prude about it. Be Queen Bitch, Imperatix Bitchius Maximus, The Prude Queen, First of Her Name and he can take a flying fuck at a rolling donut. Because you said “no” and “no” is how it remains.
But what about guys like the second and third examples you mentioned? How do you enforce your boundaries with them? By refusing to put up with shitty behavior from them. The dude who kept lashing out at you, taking his anger out at you and accusing you of things that you didn’t do? Enforcing your boundaries in this case would be to say “Hey, don’t know what your problem is, but I won’t be treated like that. If you’re going to lash out at me, then I’m out of here.” And if he were to do so again or to accuse you of trying to get dudes’ attention (which is a bad thing, why?) then you end the friendship.
Same with the third guy. If he keeps making fun of you or saying things that make you feel uncomfortable, you tell him “I don’t appreciate your talking to me like that. I don’t care for those jokes, I don’t care for those comments and I won’t put up with them. Do it again and I’m leaving.” If he does it again? You leave. Straight up. You told him you would, that his continuing to mock or make fun of you was going to cost him the relationship with you and oh look, he continued and now things are over.
Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it means folks will get mad at you for daring to have boundaries, for refusing to “be reasonable” or because you “can’t take a joke”. But that’s part of having boundaries: enforcing them means that you’re willing to deal with their anger, to risk them deciding to break up with you or to follow through with your promise that you’d break up with them if they kept at it. But while that can be intimidating or scary or upsetting in the moment, the upside is you will not be dealing with an asshole who thinks its ok to push you to do things you don’t want to do.
Incidentally, this holds true of friends, too. You can break up with friends, especially if they’re toxic or treat you like shit.
Now, here’s the thing to consider going forward: you’ve been hurt before. You may well be a little slow to trust for a while. That’s ok. You’re allowed. You have the absolute right to choose to progress your relationships at the speed you feel the most comfortable with, as do the people you may date. If they feel that you’re moving too slow for them, then they’re within their rights to break up with you. If they’re moving too fast for you, you’re within your rights to break up with them. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in the wrong or that they are; it just means that you two have different, conflicting needs, and you weren’t right for one another.
However, someone who pushes you and pushes you to move faster than you feel comfortable with? That person is marking themselves as an asshole, and they’re pushing at your boundaries.
Sometimes you’ll run into folks who do dumb or bad things but generally are good people. You can tell these folks from the assholes because they’re the ones who, upon being informed that what they’re doing (or trying to do) is some assholery, they’ll apologize and actually change their ways. They will go forth and ass no more because they realize nobody likes assholes. Assholes are the ones who will tell you that you’re wrong for having that boundary, wrong for calling them out and wrong for refusing them. Assholes, as a general rule, will show themselves to be assholes… often at the first sign of resistance or not getting what they want.
Over time, you may decide that you’re ok with doing things you weren’t comfortable with before. You may reach a point where you feel ok about sending nudes to a partner who’s proven that they’re worthy of your trust. That’s absolutely fine to do, if you decide that’s something you want to do. Or you may not. That’s also perfectly fine. You may decide to not dress as conservatively. That’s cool. You may continue to do so. That’s also cool. Dressing modestly isn’t inherently better or worse, for you or others, any more than dressing scantily or sexily. Those are just choices that people have made that was right for them.
Being more conservative or modest doesn’t make you less deserving of harassment or assholery any more than dressing sexily makes someone more deserving of it. Nobody deserves to be treated like that by assholes, regardless. Again: the people who are at fault are the assholes.
Now the last thing I want to say going forward: there are good guys out there. Guys who respect boundaries, who treat their partners with respect and who aren’t shitty assholes. Part of the problem you’re having is that you’ve had far too many of the shitty guys around you and people who assume it’s ok for shitty people to be shitty. You need a better class of friend and family of choice across the board, people who are examples of good, healthy, nurturing relationships. And don’t buy the bullshit idea that this is just how men are. Guys aren’t inherently horny or violent. Those are just excuses for other people’s bad behaviors. That’s taking the choices they made and saying “well they can’t help it.” Except they absolutely can. If they’re not, say, sexually propositioning female cops or female authority figures, or people for whom they may face consequences for harassing? Then they can control it. If they’re somehow only getting violent with folks who can’t fight back or who don’t pose a risk to them? Then they’re absolutely choosing who to get violent with.
You don’t need to rush out and find people to date or connect with. You have gone through some shit, and it would be a good idea to give yourself time to heal and recover. I realize it may be difficult, but if you can find a therapist who doesn’t buy into bullshit ideas about machismo or rigid gendered behaviors, talking with a therapist or counselor may be helpful. If and when you’re ready to date again, take things at the rate you feel the most comfortable. This may be slow. That’s ok. Give people time to prove themselves to you, to earn your trust and demonstrate that they’ll respect you boundaries and wishes. Those are the folks who will show by their consistent actions that they’re good guys and worth your time.
They may not be your shining shoujo prince or bonnie Scottish laird… but they’ll be better because they’re real.
Yeah, there’re shitty people out there, and I’m including the people who say you’re somehow at fault for how other people treated you. But there’re good people too. Don’t let the assholes convince you that they’re the only ones around. Don’t give the assholes so much as a toehold in your life and you’ll make it that much easier for you to find the people – friends and lovers and family – who’re worth your time.
This post was previously published on Doctornerdlove.com.
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