not in Primary anymore

she says/he says: women as prey and public debate, or, dating culture at BYU

This She says/He says post between Hannah and Asriel is inspired by the occasional series at Feminist Mormon Housewives found here.  


 She says:

About a year ago, for whatever reason, a lot of dudes at BYU (and a few not at BYU) decided that a woman who speaks up about her questions and frustrations in politics and religion might be interesting to know better, possibly romantically. So I started getting asked out on dates much more frequently than I had previously. I think before that I must have just been awkward and weird/I still am.

For the majority of that time, I was uncomfortable with the dating attention. I was really focused on the political campaigns I was volunteering for, my job, the BYU Democrats, and just doing my own thing, so paying attention to dating and boys wasn’t really first on my priority list. SHOCKING, I know, that dating was not prevalent on my 19 year-old mind; I guess all those Young Women’s lessons were a total FAILURE. But some of these guys were very persistent, and I started to realize that I was attracting attention, and I didn’t know how to handle it. I mostly just turned them down because I really was quite busy.

But after several months of becoming very good friends with who you all know on the blog as Asriel, he and I started dating, and I put my relationship status on Facebook, which ended all dating inquiries.  It was satisfying because I didn’t have to dole out rejections anymore, which was becoming more and more uncomfortable, and I was also dating someone I liked. Win-win, right?

I completely forgot about that whole “guys pursuing me” thing until Asriel and I broke up about a month ago (mutually, hence how we can co-write this blog post). Within a week, I noticed several differences. Maybe these are all in my head, but I think they’re at least somewhat indicative of BYU (and possibly even overall Mormon) culture.

For one thing, guys went in for hugs. I do not remember them doing that before I was dating Asriel.  The presumed sense that I’d be comfortable with physical closeness was jarring at first for me (not unwelcome, just different after months of me apparently being unhugable or something). They asked a lot more questions like, “So how ya doin’? You doin’ good?” They also asked a lot more questions about what my plans for the weekend were, how my weekend was, what’s new? They asked how my relationship was going and then feigned surprise (or at least it seemed that way) when I said we’d broken up. They even followed that up with statements like, “Well, relationships can’t last forever, right?” I even had a guy literally run after me after I left a class in order to awkwardly walk me home.

I began to feel like a hunted animal. It felt like I kept running into these people who had been just friends or acquaintances a few weeks previously, but who were now sort of sashaying into my line of vision, waggling their eyebrows for my attention in an attitude like they should automatically be given credibility simple by virtue of their being male and my being female and my newly single status.

Thus it began to seem like guys felt that they had the prerogative to ask me out and to do so with an attitude that was confident but also borderline church-leaders-have-encouraged-us-to-date-and-I-asked-you-so-when’s-the-date. This expectant and demanding attitude might fly with some women at BYU, but not with me.

To be clear: I have nothing against men asking me on dates. I have gone on many dates (some of which I initiated), I enjoy flirting, and there is nothing wrong with the act of men asking me out. What I do have a problem with is the sense of authority men feel when they ask girls out here at BYU, as if for me to turn them down or act less interested means that I am denying my gender role or even worse, denying these boys the opportunity to fulfill their gender role and successfully take a girl on a date (note the passive role of the female in that last part).

Another problem is the sense of entitlement many of them feel to correct me for my liberal views, which happens frequently. The only outright questions I ever got about my temple worthiness for being a Democrat during the election season were from random male BYU students. I’ve been asked on many dates by men who did so by saying some variation of, “Wow, your opinions are really interesting. I can’t help but feel like you’re missing some stuff though. You know what, you should come to dinner with me sometime and we can talk about it some more. I think there’s some things you haven’t considered.”

Not every guy has done that- but enough of them have that I feel like because I am a woman, many men here at BYU feel that they not only might enjoy correcting me for my “misunderstandings” (who DOESN’T want to chat up a cute but subversive BYU co-ed?), but have a sense of duty to act as a sort of missionary to me regarding my liberal social and political beliefs. I do not think that very many women, if any, would feel the same audacity on a date to correct the man’s ideologies with such gallant overbearance. Perhaps that’s only because in the majority of the cases here, the man asked the girl on the date, so throughout the date she feels subconsciously that she owes him a good time and thus would not be inclined to disagree with something he asserts strongly like a social or political opinion. The men, on the other hand, often try to correct me as they court me, and they do so with the air that I am better off dating someone – anyone! – than being single.

But regardless, as I re-enter the single and dating world, I hope that more men will recognize that I am not a prey to be hunted for their dating excursions, and that I do not hold my views out of ignorance or a naïve attempt to be provocative. I’m not a doll for men to mold to fit their perception of what a girl should be like.

He says:

Before we started dating, Hannah told me that a lot of guys were asking her out. She was busy working on the Obama campaign and with other responsibilities for work and school, so she usually wouldn’t accept those dates. When we started dating, her relationship status on Facebook put an end to getting asked out.
When we broke up I assumed most people I know didn’t notice. I told my parents the next time I talked to them—two days after the breakup—and my little sister I told that weekend. I haven’t told my older siblings, but I figure they’ll figure it out or they’ll ask me about it. People seem to treat me the same. Nobody at school has treated me differently. Nobody at church has treated me differently. On the other hand, I have behaved differently since Hannah and I broke up. I’ve always been the flirty type, so while I was dating Hannah I always tried to make sure I wasn’t sending unintended signals, but after we broke up, I no longer tried to seem not to be flirting. I guess the one case in which I’ve been treated differently since the breakup is that a good friend has been trying to set me up with a sister missionary, but since that sister is currently on her mission, it isn’t like my friend is trying to get me on a date with the missionary anytime in the next few months.

About a week after the breakup, Hannah asked me whether people had been treating me differently, and so I told her that they hadn’t. She then told me that guys had been treating her differently. From her stories, it sounds like these guys were basically just waiting for “the window”. It seems that while I could walk away from the breakup as a single guy and essentially be free from unwanted advances—I really don’t even have to worry about dating until I’m interested in dating again—Hannah is the figurative finish line in a race of interested parties. In a culture where the guys initiate relationships and the girls only respond to the guys’ actions, guys basically have an incentive to be the first one to win the girl.
The difference of experience between men and women in dating (especially in LDS culture) is compounded by the sense of authority many men feel over women. Hannah doesn’t fit the “cookie cutter Mormon” stereotypes and has some unorthodox views, but guys somehow see that as an invitation to “fix” her (in the case of particularly righteous guys, it is not an invitation, but a moral imperative). I’m an unorthodox mormon myself, but Hannah reminded me that some girls are into bad boys, so that is not a valid excuse for why I haven’t experienced the same barrage of attention that she has gotten, haha.

More significant than whether or not girls are into bad boys, though, is that girls rarely verbally try to correct my views. They may be trying to bring me to the light, but if so they are doing it by giving me cookies and encouraging me to come to ward activities. Guys, on the other hand—as best I can tell from what Hannah has told me—seem to feel a sense of authority over girls, and many have no qualms about verbally confronting and seeking to correct her. I’m pretty sure this corrective attitude doesn’t apply only to situations of unorthodox mormon beliefs, either. I’ve also heard of guys feeling comfortable criticizing a girl’s choice of major, job, decision to go to grad school, or what she wears (and I’m sure a host of other things).
At the end of the day, the point is that in this culture, breaking up doesn’t mean the same things for guys and for girls. For guys, it means the relationship is over and he has to deal with his personal response to that. For girls, however, the relationship is over and she has to deal with her personal response to that, and suddenly she is public property again and subject to public debate over how she should live her life.

13 Responses to “she says/he says: women as prey and public debate, or, dating culture at BYU”

  1. rah


    You need a whole series on the “dating culture” at BYU. I think a lot of us have charicatures of it that may be outdated. I am sure it is divided into some interesting subcultures as well.

  2. davis

    Welcome to real life. In our culture, men pursue women. The more confidently they do it, the better their chances of getting a date. If the woman is involved, the number of men that ask her out – or even pay attention to her – drops significantly. Men asking you out has ZERO to do with Mormon culture or BYU.

    In the grown up world, men don’t pursue more female friends. If they become friends with a woman, that is fine, but they don’t go out looking for them. They pursue women to find a partner – in what ever context that word can mean, good or bad.

    So men pay attention to you more, and ask you out, and treat you like flirting with you will not annoy the boyfriend you no longer have. Welcome to real life.

    Please don’t take this comment as one sided. Women react differently to men that are single/recently single also. It just so happens that you – and it seems many women like you these days – are not currently looking for a partner. The other reality is, if a man is single, he is probably looking for one.

    • Asriel

      Thanks for the welcome; it is good to finally be here with you in real life.

      I would say that your comment provides a description of the status quo that many people could agree on. Would you suggest that the status quo shouldn’t change? To me, your comment seems to assume that Hannah and I wrote this because we don’t understand the status quo. I am quite aware of how the dating scene works (Hannah is, too), but simply want to suggest that perhaps the way it *is* is not the way it *should be*.

      If you have ideas about why the status quo should stay, I’d love to hear them. If you have ideas for how gender dynamics in dating should be improved, I’d love to hear them.

  3. Christopher Taylor

    I really like this post. There is so much I could say about why dating at BYU and in Mormondom in general sucks, but instead there is one thing that popped out at me that I don’t think is likely to get much mention. Hannah, you referred to yourself as a “cute but subversive BYU co-ed.” I believe part of this statement was meant as sarcasm, but I also get the sense that you really do think of yourself that way. I just wanted to say it’s really cool that you think highly of yourself. It hit me really hard because the whole time I’ve been with my wife, both while dating and since getting married, she’s felt a lot more negative about herself. Not that she’s anything less than awesome, but for so long she’s been told she’s worth less because she doesn’t fit the mold. I’m very glad to see a woman express publicly how awesome she is, and I hope more and more women continue to see themselves that way even if they’re not how the Young Women’s and Young Men’s manuals say they should be. Thanks.

    P.S. I really hope this doesn’t come off as super-douchey and me telling all women how they should feel and how they’re all wonderful. I just think it’s cool because a lot of women I know wouldn’t feel comfortable calling themselves cute publicly. Let me know if I crossed a line here, and I will reevaluate my decisions.

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  8. Megan

    It’s amazing how many guys are intrigued by and ask out liberal girls, act interested, then just want to correct your opinions and turn you into a stay at home wife. They’re intrigued by you being “different” but don’t want you to stay that way; they’ll put you in a glass box on the high shelf at the end of the day


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