On the gender inequality of “safe”

Our Lady of Perpetual Win, patron saint of internet awesomeness, has written a post on a topic I bet is near to the heart of most male geeks, discussing inequality in how relationships are defined before both parties actually get to weigh in on their intentions.

This is the phenomenon in which a (generally young) woman dismisses her behavior around a guy as “Oh, that’s just so-and-so. He’s safe.” It always sounds like it’s meant to be a compliment, but there’s very little like it to bring out the bitter in a guy even decades after the fact. It took explaining the concept of “safe” to the wife of one of these friends for me to really figure out why.
The men aren’t being asked whether they have any sexual interest and whether they’re okay with it being put on hold. They aren’t being asked where the limits of their comfort with the women’s behavior are. They don’t have an option to say, “No,” except by walking away from the situation. These guys might still choose to engage in flirtatious relationships for the fun, but the choice should be theirs every bit as much as it is the women’s. With the unilateral declaration of “safe”-hood, it isn’t.

It’s another one of those sociological minefields where I suspect the problem stems from blowback from feminists’ reasserting of control (not that I dislike that reasserting, on the contrary), but can sound far too much like whinging. Or sexist. Or merely anti-feminist. Or completely made up. It’s far too easy to dismiss that the inequality even exists, but as someone who’s been declared “safe” before even getting the chance to make any sort of effort at showing romantic or sexual interest, I’m sure it does. I mean, I certainly don’t want to be seen as unsafe. But I want a say in whether I get turned into a virtual eunuch right off the bat, right?

I’m glad Stephanie, yet again, “gets it”. Even if I’m not really sure what “it” is, exactly.

On the gender inequality of “safe”
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9 thoughts on “On the gender inequality of “safe”

  1. 1

    This will continue as long as men’s sex drives are treated as dangerous things to be feared and controlled. It’s the path of least resistance to turn this into a binary decision for any woman who (often through more cultural taboos than she understands) has been lead in some way to believe this.

  2. 2

    Good point, Mitchell. Also, I would say, as long as women’s sex drives are treated as something to be feared. After all, good girls aren’t supposed to inspire lust.

  3. 3


    Thank you for writing this piece. Your continual acknowledgements of “hey, grow a pair” is not the same as “learn communication skills you have been discouraged your whole life from having” has been an inspiration for my day, and added you to my daily reading. Looking forward to more great articles like this. šŸ™‚

    And you’re right, sex positive thinking from females would help this conundrum just as much as it would for males. It’s not going to do much good for women to stop fearing male sexuality if they are still afraid of inspiring it for their own reasons.

  4. 5

    Still waiting for the first guy to get called a slut for padding the shoulders of his suit coat.

    Mitchell, thank you. And now, if one more geek boy thanks me for writing that post, I may just cry.

  5. 6

    Still waiting for the first guy to get called a slut for padding the shoulders of his suit coat.

    If it helps, while that has never been the cause, I have been called a slut for rather a variety of reasons over the years. Including, but not limited to, the time I wore a skirt that showed my ass, without unders (I never wore unders at that point in my life – a regular reason I was accused of being a slut) – it barely covered enough to prevent me from being arrested.


    I am not sure if I count much, because up until, err, let’s just say slightly more than a few years ago, I was actually not considered “safe.” At least not in the context of consensual sex – for anything else I have always been considered particularly safe. Now I am not sure that I am considered safe so much because I am a geek, as much as I am safe because a) I have a partner and b) most of the women I am around are barely that yet. So when sexual discussions come up around the smoke shack, my major contribution is the odd lecture on safe sex, sometimes accompanied by foisting condoms off on people.

    Nevertheless, I am also very grateful for the commentary, as I have a thing about shame. As in it makes me very upset. Being personally rather shameless, but having experienced some shame on a couple of occasions, it makes me very sad to see people stuck living with so much of it and about things that should not be shameful. And while there are a couple of things that are higher on my list, sexuality is the third most horrifying thing to experience shame about.

  6. 7

    Mostly, DuWayne, I’d like to see the enhancement of male secondary sex characteristics to be treated the same way the enhancement of female secondary sex characteristics is. That would have been something to see, though. šŸ™‚

    Also impressive is the female privilege on display in that comment thread. You don’t get to see it like that very often.

  7. 8

    Iā€™d like to see the enhancement of male secondary sex characteristics…

    I had to wear a “prosthesis” in a play once, with very tight jeans. Many of my friends were accusing me of being quite the slut, when I wore it to the club for a poetry slam and made up a poem about having a giant cock (I had recently done a poem about having a small cock when flaccid and how horrifying it was to use the bathroom in gay bars and unisex bathrooms).

    But to be entirely fair, they were teasing friends and I really was a slut.

  8. ik


    Yeah. This of course can be similar to the ‘Friend Zone’, (version B) where somebody unilaterally classes a relationship with somebody else, without really considering the consequences or other person’s desires (Yes, I know that some versions of the friend zone are very problematic).

    More of the Cult of Shitty Relationships, I guess.

    Frankly, I wish that culture provided some set of fairly unambigous symbols or markers (probably in clothing) to indicate what kinds of things one was looking out for. Could clear up a lot of issues, it seems to me

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