A man’s implicit self-esteem is hurt by a romantic partner’s success, the authors propose, because he automatically interprets her success as his own failure—a byproduct of men’s competitiveness. Another possibility: Her success challenges the gender stereotype that he should be relatively more competent, strong and intelligent than his female partner. A third explanation offered is that the man’s thoughts about his partner’s success trigger a fear that he is not good enough for her and might lose her.
I am no real threat to white women’s desirability. Thus, white women have no problem cheering their husbands and boyfriends as they touch me on the dance floor. I am never seriously a contender for acceptable partner and mate for the white men who ask if their buddy can put his face in my cleavage. I am the thrill of a roller coaster with safety bars: all adrenaline but never any risk of falling to the ground. I am not surprised that so many overlooked this particular performance of brown bodies as white amusement parks in Cyrus’ performance. The whole point is that those round black female bodies are hyper-visible en masse but individually invisible to white men who were, I suspect, Cyrus’ intended audience. No, it’s not Syria but it is still worth commenting upon when in the pop culture circus the white woman is the ringleader and the women who look like you are the dancing elephants.
The worst thing about that When Harry Met Sally quote isn’t that it stereotypes all men as horny teenagers or that it reduces the myriad issues of cross-gender friendship to sexual urges. It’s that it encourages us all to give up before we even begin to get to know each other — when ultimately, leaning into this discomfort is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. And for gender relations more broadly. Not every male-female relationship features awkward sexual tension and culminates in a dramatic New Year’s Eve confession of love. Some of us are content to settle for a lifetime of fulfilling friendship.