This post was originally published at Restructure!
In Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, chapter You Just Ask Them?, Richard Feynman frequented a bar and desired to have sexual intercourse with the women there. He discovered that the women in the bar did not provide sexual favors in exchange for monetary compensation in the form of drinks. Although he gained a reputation for spending money on drinks for women, he was frustrated at the fact that the women did not consider alcoholic drinks to be payment for sexual services.
Feynman felt he was being cheated, and complained to his two friends from the bar: a female nightclub entertainer and her husband, the master of ceremonies. The master offered Feynman lessons on how to ensure that a woman he meets in a bar has sexual intercourse with him:
“OK,” he says. “The whole principle is this: The guy wants to be a gentleman. He doesn’t want to be thought of as impolite, crude, or especially a cheapskate. As long as the girl knows the guy’s motives so well, it’s easy to steer him in the direction she wants him to go.
“Therefore,” he continued, “under no circumstances be a gentleman! You must disrespect the girls. Furthermore, the very first rule is, don’t buy a girl anything -- not even a package of cigarettes — until you’ve asked her if she’ll sleep with you, and you’re convinced that she will, and that she’s not lying.”
“Uh… you mean… you don’t… uh… you just ask them?”
“OK,” he says, “I know this is your first lesson, and it may be hard for you to be so blunt. So you might buy her one thing — just one little something — before you ask. But on the other hand, it will only make it more difficult.”
In other words, instead of treating a woman like a sexual service provider to be purchased with alcohol, the master suggested that a man “disrespects” a woman by being honest and asking for sexual consent. Feynman takes his advice, and consequently trains himself to think of women as “bitches”:
Well, someone only has to give me the principle, and I get the idea. All during the next day I built up my psychology differently: I adopted the attitude that those bar girls are all bitches, that they aren’t worth anything, and all they’re in there for is to get you to buy them a drink, and they’re not going to give you a goddamn thing; I’m not going to be a gentleman to such worthless bitches, and so on. I learned it till it was automatic.
Then that night I was ready to try it out. I go into the bar as usual, and right away my friend says, “Hey, Dick! Wait’ll you see the girl I got tonight! She had to go change her clothes, but she’s coming right back.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I say, unimpressed, and I sit at another table to watch the show. My friend’s girl comes in just as the show starts, and I’m thinking, “I don’t give a damn how pretty she is; all she’s doing is getting him to buy her drinks, and she’s going to give him nothing!”
After the first act my friend says, “Hey, Dick! I want you to meet Ann. Ann, this is a good friend of mine, Dick Feynman.”
I say “Hi” and keep looking at the show.
A few moments later Ann says to me, “Why don’t you come and sit at the table here with us?”
I think to myself, “Typical bitch: he’s buying her drinks, and she’s inviting somebody else to the table.” I say, “I can see fine from here.”
A little while later a lieutenant from the military base nearby comes in, dressed in a nice uniform. It isn’t long, before we notice that Ann is sitting over on the other side of the bar with the lieutenant!
Later that evening I’m sitting at the bar, Ann is dancing with the lieutenant, and when the lieutenant’s back is toward me and she’s facing me, she smiles very pleasantly to me. I think again, “Some bitch! Now she’s doing this trick on the lieutenant even!”
Then I get a good idea: I don’t look at her until the lieutenant can also see me, and then I smile back at her, so the lieutenant will know what’s going on. So her trick didn’t work for long.
A few minutes later she’s not with the lieutenant any more, but asking the bartender for her coat and handbag, saying in a loud, obvious voice, “I’d like to go for a walk. Does anybody want to go for a walk with me?”
I think to myself, “You can keep saying no and pushing them off, but you can’t do it permanently, or you won’t get anywhere. There comes a time when you have to go along.” So I say coolly, “I’ll walk with you.” So we go out. We walk down the street a few blocks and see a cafe, and she says, “I’ve got an idea — let’s get some coffee and sandwiches, and go over to my place and eat them.”
The idea sounds pretty good, so we go into the cafe and she orders three coffees and three sandwiches and I pay for them. As we’re going out of the cafe, I think to myself, “Something’s wrong: too many sandwiches!”
On the way to her motel she says, “You know, I won’t have time to eat these sandwiches with you, because a lieutenant is coming over…” I think to myself, “See, I flunked. The master gave me a lesson on what to do, and I flunked. I bought her $1.10 worth of sandwiches, and hadn’t asked her anything, and now I know I’m gonna get nothing! I have to recover, if only for the pride of my teacher.”
I stop suddenly and I say to her, “You… are worse than a WHORE!”
“”You got me to buy these sandwiches, and what am I going to get for it? Nothing!”
Ironically, Feynman believed that Ann was a whore because she did not return sexual favors in exchange for sandwiches. Literally, Feynman claimed that she was worse than a whore because he did not receive sexual compensation, perhaps implying that at least a whore would reciprocate with sex. However, it is clear that if she did agree to have sexual intercourse with him, he would not have become upset and called her a “whore”. This means that Feynman thought she was a “whore” because she did not behave in the way that he desired, not because her behavior actually resembled that of a prostitute.
“Well, you cheapskate!” she says. “If that’s the way you feel, I’ll pay you back for the sandwiches!”
I called her bluff: “Pay me back, then.”
She was astonished. She reached into her pocketbook, took out the little bit of money that she had and gave it to me. I took my sandwich and coffee and went off.
After I was through eating, I went back to the bar to report to the master. I explained everything, and told him I was sorry that I flunked, but I tried to recover.
He said very calmly, “It’s OK, Dick; it’s all right. Since you ended up not buying her anything, she’s gonna sleep with you tonight.”
“That’s right,” he said confidently; “she’s gonna sleep with you. I know that.”
“But she isn’t even here! She’s at her place with the lieu —”
“It’s all right.”
Two o’clock comes around, the bar closes, and Ann hasn’t appeared. I ask the master and his wife if I can come over to their place again. They say sure. Just as we’re coming out of the bar, here comes Ann, running across Route 66 toward me. She puts her arm in mine, and says, “Come on, let’s go over to my place.”
The master was right. So the lesson was terrific!
Feynman, like most self-professed Nice GuysTM, “learned” that women want to be disrespected, instead of learning that a woman’s sexual consent is not bought with money. Unfortunately, most of the male geeks who read his book will use this anecdote to rationalize calling women “bitches”, “whores”, and “worthless”. (Of course, a man who wants intellectual justification for disrespecting women thinks that women are “worthless” when they are not sexually available to him. The non-sexual worth of a woman never occurs to him.)
When I was back at Cornell in the fall, I was dancing with the sister of a grad student, who was visiting from Virginia. She was very nice, and suddenly I got this idea: “Let’s go to a bar and have a drink,” I said.
On the way to the bar I was working up nerve to try the master’s lesson on an ordinary girl. After all, you don’t feel so bad disrespecting a bar girl who’s trying to get you to buy her drinks — but a nice, ordinary, Southern girl?
We went into the bar, and before I sat down, I said, “Listen, before I buy you a drink, I want to know one thing: Will you sleep with me tonight?”
So it worked even with an ordinary girl! But no matter how effective the lesson was, I never really used it after that. I didn’t enjoy doing it that way. But it was interesting to know that things worked much differently from how I was brought up.
Feynman initially assumed that if a man bought drinks for a woman, she owed him sex. After these experiences, he assumed that if a man “disrespected” a woman by not buying her anything, she provided him with sex because she was stupid or masochistic.
Sadly, in both these cases, he never considered the possibility that a woman’s sexual consent and worth should not be monetized in the first place.