Sep 29th, 2019, 04:19 PM

The Gender of Rejection

By Lauren Nanes
The Gender of Rejection
Image credit: Creative Commons
Does gender influence how we deal with rejection? Better yet, should it?

As a straight woman, I have found that there is a pattern to my expectations and interactions during early dating. I do not just meet men by chance, I wait for men - at least the ones that I am interested in - to approach me first. I might stare or try to engage in eye contact, but the closest I get to making the first move is channeling some imaginary force to make the guy come to some realization and ask me out. Being proactive and a "go-getter" is not my norm and is definitely not in my realm of comfort - and I am not the only one. A study conducted by researchers Frieze and Rose found that strong sexual scripts were extremely common between men and women when initiating a relationship. When beginning a romantic relationship men were found to be more comfortable exercising proactive power, such as making the first move, while women were more comfortable exercising reactive power, such as accepting or rejecting romantic advances. If this rings true, even in the most general sense, the question remains: Why does gender seem to correlate towards whether we are more willing to be proactive when dating? 

Making the first move. Image credit: LexScope on Unsplash.

The same study supports the idea that male dominance and control of dating is simply expected, and that the notion of a woman breaking that norm would naturally produce insecurity in "unfamiliar territory." That unfamiliar territory being rejection. Alessandra Grassi, a sophomore at the American University of Paris, was able to shed some light on this theory. When asked whether she expects men to initiate romantic relationships she responded, "I do not expect it, but I do think that I fear the possibility of being rejected so usually I am not going to put myself out there. I think that for me personally, I fear [rejection] because I internalize it to a large degree. I feel like if I am rejected it is my character being rejected or devalued." A recent article from the Huffpost quoting Resnik Anderson, sex therapist and clinical instructor of psychiatry at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, also claimed that women are more likely than men to take rejection more personally. It seems as though our general lack of exposure to rejection as women - be it because of sexual scripts, social dating norms, or a misguided side effect of gendered learning - has resulted in a tendency to be ill-equipped when dealing with rejection.

American University of Paris student Santiago Rodriguez revealed a different understanding of rejection, responding that he does not take rejection personally. "You cannot take it personally because it has nothing to do with you. You have to assume that the other person has a whole different life behind them." Yet, this healthy and detached framework for dealing with the word "no" was not always the case for Santiago. He explained, "Younger me would have told you that getting rejected is a bummer for the night and that your night is over. It used to take me a couple of hours to recuperate." 

Although there seems to be a gendered pattern for whether men or women can properly deal with rejection, the reason is not because of gender but simply due to exposure. Not all women are shy and reserved when initiating romantic relationships just as not all men are well equipped to deal with rejection. The difference is often, men in the heterosexual domain simply tend to get more practice at hearing the word "No." They are privy to the experience of having to deal with rejection; women are denied that learning experience.

Dating is not a hetero normative experience. Image credit: Tomas Robertson on Unsplash.

Rejection in dating is not just a hetero-normative experience. The classification of gender roles, of course, is easier to study in a heterosexual paradigm where gender and sexuality categories are more heavily defined, but the results only defer to more generalizations. Christoper Turner, a twenty-year-old student at the American University of Paris and openly gay, revealed some underlying issues with associating gender to the way we deal with rejection. "Gender is a construct in the first place. I do not really agree with attaching any traits to gender. Of course, the studies on gender roles do ring true in a conceptual sense, but I do not believe there can be a completely accurate way of applying human traits or characteristics to gender."

Ultimately, gender influences our general, socially-accepted norms for behavior and maybe even opportunity -- the keyword being "general." There are too many variables, inconsistencies, and gray areas in real life to definitely attribute a human response to something as indefinite as gender. While our gender might be a building block that informs us on what to expect and how to act in a social space, something as personal as how we deal with rejection cannot and should not be gendered. Everyone can and should be given the opportunity to learn how to deal with rejection. We must learn how to depersonalize "No," starting with exposure.