I spent most of my life identifying as a cisgender male named Robert. And as Robert – a man who tried desperately to fit into the male gender role – I was an inexplicably angry person.
Nowadays, whenever I see misogynistic men spewing vitriolic sexism, I’m completely disgusted – but I also recognize their behavioral patterns.
I used to think and speak about women in a similarly hateful fashion, and I didn’t realize at the time that holding onto my false ideas about women was killing me inside.
When I came out as a transgender woman named Robin earlier this year, I became on the receiving end of the same type of men’s bigotries, putting me in the unique position of understanding the perspectives of both the perpetrators and the victims of misogyny.
And what I’ve found is a common thread of these false ideas: the presumption that women are constantly confused and/or lying about their wants and needs, which leads to misunderstandings and mutual resentment.
Not only are these ideas harmful to the women who are victimized by sexism, but they also lead many men to develop feelings self-hatred, internal anger, bitterness, and loneliness.
In essence, holding onto these ideas means that everybody loses.
I understand how initially kindhearted men can begin developing these narratives early on in life and never challenge them, leading them down a road where they become increasingly bigoted towards all women. I recognize how years of unresolved anger can turn people into monsters. Because that was me.
But I also have a newly found understanding of how scary it is to receive death and rape threats, which are messages that I now receive on a regular basis. I understand now how infuriating it is to have men constantly talk down to, patronize, berate, and demean other women and me.
But instead of only focusing on these men’s behaviors – which should not be completely absolved or forgiven – I’d like to focus more on how toxic masculinity develops these thought patterns. And I hope I can help anyone holding onto these beliefs understand how misguided they are.
I’d also like to help people who have been victims of sexism to have a fuller understanding as to why certain men act this way (without excusing their behaviors), because I believe it’s a perspective that’s missing from this conversation.
It wasn’t until I rid myself of these false ideas that I began living a fulfilling life, and by divulging my past mistakes, I hope that I’ll help others see the light as well.
1. Women Are ‘Crazy’ and Need Men to Tell Them What They Want
I was seven years old when I heard a stand-up comedian make a joke about how “women are crazy” because “you never know what they’re thinking.”
The audience laughed uproariously, which I took as complicit agreement.
His routine concluded with his hypothesizing that since women were “crazy,” they needed a good man to be the objective reasonable one in the relationship. The implication here was that women were damsels in distress and overly emotional beings that had no control over their faculties.
To my impressionable young mind, this idea about women was a universal truth which guided my behavior for many years.
My male friends regularly echoed similar sentiments. “You know why you’re single, Robert? Because you aren’t manly enough,” they’d tell me. “You gotta man up because girls need you to take care of them.”
I’d take their words as gospel because the guys bestowing these ideas on me were the ones who had girlfriends. In junior high, these dudes were studs.
I sat on the sidelines, single and depressed, wishing that I could be “manly enough” to find a girl to love me one day.
I became increasingly embittered towards females, wishing that I were reborn as a buff football player, insisting to my female friends that girls only liked jocks.
Unbeknownst to me, there were several girls who had feelings for me those junior high years, but I ignored them because they didn’t align with the narratives that I’d internalized. I viewed these girls as exceptions and not rules.
I briefly had one girlfriend in high school. She claimed to love me for how sweet I was, but my male friends warned me that she would eventually leave me because I wasn’t “in control” of her.
Whenever I’d talk about her, my face would light up. She made me feel so giddy. And my male friends hated it when I acted this way. They’d always make fun of me by saying I was being “gay.”
This was strange to me for two reasons: 1) I didn’t think there was anything wrong with being gay; and 2) I didn’t know how expressing feelings for another woman could make me “gay.”
One of my friends in particular told me, “Chicks are crazy, dude. They need you to tell them how to be happy. You have to be the man here. You can’t keep acting like such a pussy.”
As a result, we didn’t last as a couple. I pushed her away because I felt like she would inevitably break up with me based on what I’d learned about women.
She repeatedly told me that she didn’t care about my lack of masculinity, but it was her word against all of my friends’. I also felt like she deserved better – a “real man” who would tell her what to do, because I didn’t have it in me to control another person.
We were both heartbroken. And in hindsight, the breakup was all for nothing.
Had I only believed her when she told me that she loved me for who I was, our relationship wouldn’t have ended so abruptly. I would’ve been able to love myself for who I was instead of trying to fit into some mold that others created for me. I wouldn’t have beaten myself up so much for not wanting to control other women.
I would’ve learned to trust my own instincts and realized that my initial reactions to these toxic ideas was the right response, which was that controlling another woman, or trying to control any other human being, was wrong and menacing.
2. Women Are Only Interested in Men Who Are Jerks
In 11th grade, one of my classmates took me under his wing and introduced me to the wonderful world of the “pickup artist” community.
For those unfamiliar, this was a group that read books and utilized tactics on how to “date women” (meaning how to “get laid”).
I was extremely hesitant in utilizing these strategies because they felt gross to me, but the pressure from my male friends was overwhelming, and I just wanted to fit in.
One of the key elements from these pickup artist books was to be “cocky and funny.” There were fake dialogues demonstrating how women swoon when men “put them in their place.”
The thought process was that women are always dealing with men who are “pussies,” so when a cocky guy comes along, it’s a welcome surprise. Basically, they like when men put them in their places because “they aren’t used to it.”
Another gem this book would bestow to the reader was to practice having confidence by making direct eye contact with other women and not turn away until she turned away first. It was a power play.
I tried this several times at the mall one day, and the women I stared at looked so uncomfortable. I felt like a complete creep. To this day, I still regret trying this technique and remember their horrified faces.
Instead of getting upset at my friends – and the culture of patriarchal toxic masculinity – for putting so much pressure on me, I continued to beat myself up.
“I must’ve done it wrong,” I thought as my resentment for women grew. “Why can’t they fall in line with what this book says they’ll act like?”
I didn’t realize at the time that this book was teaching me how to dehumanize and mistreat women.
This is around the time I developed my “nice guy” entitlement. “I’m a nice guy! Why can’t they just like me for being nice? Why do women have to be like this? This is too much work!”
Unfortunately for me, while I was utilizing these tactics, I pushed away a woman who initially had feelings for me.
“I really liked you, but you started to act kind of mean,” she told me. She stopped talking to me and ended up dating my friend who treated her more nicely than I ever did.
They’ve been together for over ten years and recently got married.
Not only was I acting in a manner that made me internally miserable, I was also employing childish tactics that did real damage to my love life and my perception of women.
I wish I had just embraced my genuine compassion and generosity for women instead of pretending to be a jerk, because it didn’t work on any level. I was hurting the women around me. And I was hurting myself.
3. Women Are Lying About What They Want in a Spouse
I used to spend endless nights on the phone with one of my female friends who would constantly tell me that she just wanted to settle down with a “nice guy.”
With my “nice guy” entitlement fully intact, I’d huff and puff, angrily thinking that I’m a nice guy, and she doesn’t want to date me, meaning she was lying and didn’t know what she wanted at all!
In the course of proclaiming her romantic preferences, she was also infatuated with her ex-boyfriend who had regularly mistreated her.
This was further evidence to me that women had no idea what they were talking about, because I had heard similar sentiments from my other female friends who were also infatuated over men who mistreated them.
It turns out that I was right in some ways, but I failed to factor in some key elements:
Age is important. Most people in their early twenties (and younger) don’t know what they want in a significant other because they’re still discovering themselves.
Gender is irrelevant. The idea that it’s only women who are inconsistent with their romantic preferences is false. There are plenty of people of all genders who struggle with self-discovery and love at a young age.
I’ve found that most people who claim to want a kindhearted and decent person actually do mean what they’re saying, but it’s a proclamation done with hopefulness: Their hopes are that one day, they’ll get to the point in their lives where they’ll be accepting of that love.
It’s hard to accept person’s affections if you don’t treat yourself kindly, and it takes years for most people to learn how to do that. For some people, it’s a lifelong process.
It took my aforementioned female friend several years to stop her infatuation over her ex-boyfriend. Years later, in her late twenties, she started getting her life together, found herself a nice career, built confidence, and began seeking someone deserving of her love.
She finally found someone that she loves who treats her well. She ended up with the kind of person she claimed to want. I know people of all genders who’ve had similar experiences.
Personally, I didn’t find the love of my life until I was 27 years old. Before then, I had only been in relationships where I was mistreated because that’s what I thought I deserved.
As my self-esteem and confidence grew, so did my standards.
I always said I wanted to be with a brilliant, compassionate, wonderful woman, and that’s exactly what ended up happening.
4. Women Always Like it When Men Are Persistent
My delightful “pickup artist” friend told me that women like persistence.
It was an easy narrative for me to believe because it was in sync with old television sitcoms. The most common staple of these programs was the male protagonist who tried to win a woman’s affection for years, and eventually, as a “reward,” she caves in and begins dating him.
Any rejections in the meantime were seen as cute banter between the two. There was never a realistic interaction where she would say, “Please leave me alone and take ‘no’ for an answer.”
After all, Steve Urkel from Family Matters does end up with Laura Winslow in the last season. All those thousands of times she said “no,” and she finally gave in.
In reality, I’ve practiced persistency to disastrous results.
A few years ago, I went to Starbucks every day for almost a year to make small talk with a barista that worked there. In hindsight, it turns out that she was always uncomfortable when I visited.
This wasn’t a sitcom. This was real life, and in her mind, I was an obsessive stranger she barely knew. She never once indicated that she was interested, but I didn’t care because her feelings were the least of my concerns.
Eventually, when she found a new job, she finally blocked me on Facebook.
I was embarrassed, and I wish I could take back all the uncomfortable moments I put her through. It seems so obvious now that she was disinterested, but I was made ignorant by the narrative of remaining persistent.
There may be instances when women do like men who show interest, but they usually give obvious signals and cues, such as sending an occasional text message, smiling, laughing, and showing other positive body language.
Some women admire the persistency if there’s no pressure for her to actually go through with anything, especially if the woman is not ready for a relationship but thinks the innocent flirting is fun.
The key here is to not have expectations and to treat women like actual people instead of just potential sexual prospects.
Ridding myself of these deep-seated false ideas is the best thing that ever happened to me.
I’m currently in a relationship with the love of my life, and I would’ve never been this happy if I had held onto these toxic beliefs.
Dismantling these old ideas was extraordinarily difficult since I had been indoctrinated with them at such a young age, but I realize now that the people bestowing these ideas were going off false information provided to them by the misogynistic society we live in.
The cycle of sexist beliefs will continue if they go unchallenged. I hope that I’ve helped others see that these ideas are nothing but sexist lies, and we would all be better off without them.
Robin Tran is a standup comedian and blogger, and she holds a BA in English from UC Irvine. In early 2015, Robin came out as transgender woman and has written about her firsthand experiences ever since. She has performed at the Improv, Mad House Comedy Club, and the Comedy Palace, and her articles have been published in xoJane and Time.com.