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Gender is fluid, and our attitudes toward sex should be too

Marianne Kirby is a writer and maker in Orlando, Florida. She is the coauthor of the fat acceptance book, "Lessons from the Fatosphere " and can be regularly found stirring up big fat trouble all over the Internet....

Men and women are from the same planet, but we talk about sex like we're from different galaxies

There’s a lot of online chatter about fragile masculinity these days. As we talk more and more openly about gender and how to define it — specifically how fluid it can be — there is an old cliché we should address: the idea that men and women have fundamentally different approaches to sex, love and relationships.

The incredible success of the mega-seller Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus highlighted this communication gap during the 1990s. The book became enough of a cultural touchstone that studies still namecheck it when rebutting the psychological underpinnings of the book, claiming instead that men and women aren’t all that different. Yet for many, attitudes about gender are still highly prescriptive to the stereotypes we've trapped ourselves in.

Some men are speaking a language all their own, and those men are the ones trying to navigate their own fragile masculinity by asserting gendered dominance. Recently, two coffee shop owners, Jared Rutledge and Jacob Owens, in Asheville, North Carolina, fell into this category and brewed up trouble for themselves when it was discovered that the formerly well-liked owners of Waking Life Espresso were also running a pickup artist podcast called Holistic Game. An outraged community, reacting to material that dehumanizes women by referring to them as plates, has protested the coffee shop and its products, and a local video store, Orbit DVD, has responded by organizing donations to Our Voice, a rape crisis organization.

Articles about the incident quote tweets and podcasts and blog entries to highlight the demeaning and predatory way the two men spoke about the women they had slept with and wanted to sleep with. There is some sense of surprise that Rutledge and Owens could have presented such different faces to the Internet and to people who knew them.

More: Kids weigh in on what it really means to be a man

The store manager of Orbit DVD, Kayla Bott, said in an interview with Asheville’s Citizen-Times, “The problem is not sleeping with people or talking about it. The problem is using women as things to boost your own ego.”

This sums up what many still experience as a gap between the way men and women think about and talk about sex. When Rutledge and Owens talk about their own insecurities and how they are sorry for venting them, they aren’t actually expressing remorse for the things they said — they’re expressing remorse for getting caught, because they didn’t think their anonymous activities would ever be exposed. Rutledge stated in his online apology, “I was naive enough to think it’d stay anonymous, and I was wrong.”

While Rutledge and Owens used sexual encounters with women as a balm to their own self-esteem and vented their frustrations via podcast, anonymous women on the social media site Tumblr have started sharing sometimes explicit, sometimes erotic, but always enlightening, stories of their own on a blog called “How to Make Me Come.” While many of the entries talk about specific sex acts with particular people (all anonymous), the focus is on telling the individual’s story rather than on treating the other person involved like a conquest or prize.

The anonymous women behind “How to Make Me Come” protect their identities, but there’s still a feeling of intimacy behind the entries, whether they’re literal how-tos or confessions of experiences with sexual abuse and victimization. The women are telling their own stories, whereas men like Rutledge and Owens depend on pretending they have stories to tell in the first place.

More: 5 Things parents of boys can learn from #MasculinitySoFragile hashtag

I don’t believe men and women are from different planets. But I do think that prescriptive gender performance ruins everything for everyone and creates the kind of cultural conditioning that produces men like Rutledge and Owens. They can speak whatever language they want — I’ll be listening to the women’s voices behind “How to Make Me Come” instead and sending it to everyone I can.

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