Can We Avoid a Terminally Awkward Future?

Neil Sinhababu’s post here — and, even more so, the four-year-old post he links to — seems to have a lot in common with that greatly maligned Kay Hymowitz piece from last month. Which means the latter might be worth revisiting — or at least recasting in a light that doesn’t put quite so much emphasis on blaming women for “making life harder” for guys.

I think Hymowitz touched on a couple of important truths: It is manifestly true that feminism tore down a lot of the (antiquated) rules of everyday etiquette regarding romantic interaction, and failed or refused to build new ones in their place. And it is experientially true (at least as illustrated in the xkcd comic, Neil’s posts and Hymowitz’ article) that the guys this hurts are the guys who are insufficiently full of themselves to blunder on without knowing what constitutes appropriate behavior.

The question, of course, is where we go from here. I’m with Hymowitz’ critics in recognizing that there was a reason we threw out the chivalric code, and if that were our only alternative, awkwardness would be a small price to pay. But I don’t think it is the only alternative. Creating a new code of etiquette would eliminate the guessing game for nice guys and allow for the punishment of the pseudo-nice-guy brutes who emulate pickup-artist behavior because they claim it’s the only way they can get women’s attention.

A lot of liberals seem to view any social code as intentional or unintentional discrimination in disguise, which is an attitude I don’t necessarily share. But given just how lost the “nice boys” seem to be, I wish people would give just a little more consideration to creating a new, egalitarian social code, instead of assuming that awkwardness is a necessary consequence of equality. The alternative is watching variations on this xkcd strip get reused year after year, each time provoking a wistful sigh from thousands of nerds who think they’re unlucky in love but are actually just timid.