If you’ve been following Twitter this week, you’ve probably already seen that a particularly interesting and rather clever hashtag, #WasteHisTime2016, has emerged. What is it? At first glance, it is exactly as it sounds: women tweeting a bunch of humorously cruel ways to lead on a man they are not seriously interested in, before leaving him in the dust and thus wasting his time. “Finally allow him to take you on a date; then after, have him drop you off at your other man’s house,” reads one. “Wait until he catches feelings, and then ask him if his best friend is single,” says another. In reality, and as many have pointed out, the hashtag is a means of giving men a taste of their own medicine. In the words of Complex’s Christopher Spata, the hashtag is a way of planning to do “what dirtbag men have been doing to women for years, decades, centuries.”
One tweet is particularly illustrative: “Get him pregnant, then tell him you can’t be with him anymore.” Obviously, she’s speaking ironically. It is impossible for her to do to a man what may very well have been done to her and has certainly been done to countless women. In that way, her statement isn’t really about wasting a guy’s time but about how some guy royally wasted hers.
As a literary device (Twitter is a legitimate literary medium, right?), I think this hashtag is brilliant. The use of verbal irony sheds a harsh light on behaviors that many women have suffered, and that men have gotten away with, for a long time (and it goes without saying that women are also guilty of leading men on, as I am already aware).
But just to add another layer of irony to the situation, the hashtag also encapsulates much of what is wrong with the way many people approach gender equality today. I seriously doubt that any of these women plan to follow through on their humorously tweeted plans. Many may not be taking the ideas seriously at all. But, as with many jokes, they can be a little too close to reality for comfort. What is said in jest here is a reality in other circumstances; mimicking unsavory or inconsiderate male behavior is all too often precisely how we women deal with apparent gender inequality.
Often, when we point out how men get away with some bad behavior and women don’t, rather than holding men to higher standards, we insist that women ought to be able to behave badly, too. The best example of this is probably sexual objectification. Rampant and disproportionate sexual objectification of women through pornography, advertising, cinema, and even literature has been around for a long time. Rather than holding men accountable for it and encouraging a culture that values people as whole people, women can be tempted to get in on the sexual objectification game. Playboy magazine was founded in 1953; Playgirl followed suit in 1973. Laura Mulvey first criticized the visual arts for being structured around a masculine viewer, thus disproportionately displaying women as erotic spectacles in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” in 1975. Women are no less objectified in modern movies and advertising than they were in 1975 (far more, I would argue)—and now we have films such as Magic Mike to objectify men, too.
Whether it is the use of foul language, making a habit of casual sex, objectifying women, or even the whole “women say sorry too much” debate, our collective response to a behavioral gender discrepancy is often for women to imitate male behavior, for better or worse. The reasoning seems to be that if men can get away it, we should be able to as well.
The problem is that, for many of these behaviors, women have had it right all along. Sexually objectifying others is an inherently demeaning practice and simply not a good way to spend your time. Casual sex is not all it’s cracked up to be. Encouraging women to take up these behaviors in the name of equality is not only a terrible approach to equality but bad advice as well.
As a joke, #WasteHisTime2016 is very funny and poignant. In practice, however, it is terrible advice. If men disproportionately get away with bad behavior, let’s hold them accountable for it. Let’s refuse to descend to their level just to even things out.
Photo Credit: Britt Rene Photography