I’ll Stop Citing a Boyfriend When My Consent Starts Mattering

I’ll Stop Citing a Boyfriend When My Consent Starts Mattering

Before I started dating, I knew and listened to a lot of men. One of their biggest complaints was that women aren’t honest or straightforward enough. “Why don’t women just say no?” they lamented. “I waste all this time pursuing women who don’t want me because I don’t know for sure that they don’t want me!”

It sounded right to me. I believe in honesty, straightforwardness, and directness. I believe in telling people the truth and communicating how you feel as clearly as possible. It seemed absurd to me that all these women weren’t just saying no when no was what they meant. Sentiments like those found in this article, which was posted to xoJane and made the rounds yesterday, could’ve been snatched from my lips in those days.

I think the solution is simple — we simply stop using excuses. If a man is coming on to you (and you are not interested — if you are, go for it, girl!), respond with something like this: “I’m not interested.” Don’t apologize and don’t excuse yourself. If they question your response (which is likely), persist — “No, I said I’m not interested.”

Just be honest and all will work out better, right?

no__9gag__by_hujikari-d51hu4l

You guessed it: wrong. It’s not always so simple for all women.

In my experience, many men take any kind of response from a woman they’re hitting on, any kind of reaction at all, to be good. The theory that all publicity is good publicity is not lost on those kind. By saying “no” to a man like that, a woman is acknowledging his presence and the fact that he is hitting on her, which, alone, is a win for him. He could take it as a challenge, a reason to engage and pursue, an opportunity to debate the woman as to his merits as a man.

Other men take it further and believe that a no is merely a yes in disguise. A “no” will mean escalation, often into the physical: cornering, following/stalking, groping, and so on. Still other men take it even further, interpreting the “no” as a challenge to their manhood and a personal insult to them. Reactions range from insults (“you’re not even that hot! no wonder you’re single, turning down a good dude like me!”) to threats (“I’ll show you what a real man is!”) to physical violence (grabbing, pushing, shoving) to various forms of sexual assault (so-called “corrective rape” is an extreme, LGBT-specific example of this).

All that for daring to express a lack of interest in a particular male someone.

The alternative? Lying in a way that those types of men understand. Men with such sexist views will be more likely to leave a woman alone, or at least not harm her, if she tells him that she’s “taken” by another man. It’s similar to street harassment: a woman is far less likely to be hassled by men on the street if she’s accompanied by one or more men. Obviously, not all men are like that, but women often have no way of knowing if a man is that kind of man until after that fact, and some of us are not okay taking that chance.

honesty_by_alyde

Honesty is only the best policy when it’s a two-way street, when your word is fully accepted as honest by the other person. In the case of some men with some women, such is hardly the reality of the situation. Feminist theory is all fine and well until, say, there’s a man much larger and stronger than you trying to grab your shoulders and force you to kiss him.

The idea that a woman should only be left alone if she is “taken” or “spoken for” (terms that make my brain twitch) completely removes the level of respect that should be expected toward that woman.

It completely removes the agency of the woman, her ability to speak for herself and make her own decisions regarding when and where the conversation begins or ends. It is basically a real-life example of feminist theory at work–women (along with women’s choices, desires, etc.) being considered supplemental to or secondary to men, be it the man with whom she is interacting or the man to whom she “belongs” (see the theory of Simone de Beauvoir, the story of Adam and Eve, etc.).

And the worst part of the whole situation is that we’re doing this to ourselves.

It’s gross, and it’s messed up, but alas, this is the world in which we live — which is why that last line makes my brain twitch. Some of us aren’t “doing it to ourselves,” we’re making choices based on reality. I’d love to quote Simone de Beauvoir to some sexist who can’t take no for an answer, but unless it’s online, to do so often represents far from the safest choice.

It disgusts me to my core that I have to use my partner as a shield against men who can’t take no for an answer. It upsets me that those men don’t respect my consent, my agency, and my ownership of my body. It infuriates me that my word is not taken seriously. Every time I use such an excuse, I’m angry. Unfortunately, in the end, my anger is safer for me than some man’s.

Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

25 Comments

  1. Absolutely, Heina. I completely agree with this. I have an inside joke with my husband (it’s really not that funny, when I think about it); we call it: “I need the patriarchy to save me from the patriarchy.”

    In an ideal world, women could be respected simply for being people, but until that day arrives, I will be attaching myself to a man to protect myself. The ideal world is not here yet, and it’s not safe to behave as if it were.

  2. Yeah, I find it really disgusting when men even insist that women be “more straightforward”…it’s a manipulation technique, nothing more. It’s like a prison guard insisting that a prisoner have no secrets, or an adult telling a child in that way. It’s a means of control, as though women are not allowed any defense mechanisms. Furthermore, many women are simply socialized to protect men’s feelings, and not many of us are comfortable rejecting them or telling them our honest feelings anyway.

    • I think the socializing to protect men’s feeling is very confusing at times and not helpful most of the time, at least not for the guy. Not the part of the ‘no’ that is easy to get (“you’re nice, but..” = clear no, no point in asking again); nothing to argue about. What some of us are after is improvements where needed. Let’s say the reason she says ‘no’ is simply because the man was never punctual. He should know that that was the reason, so to work on that fixable ‘flaw’. With small things like that, one should be open. Not arguing here to simply tell some random guy with who no previous rapport was established.
      Knowledge of the actual facts, be them feelings, is helpful in many ways and constructive for many of us.
      With these said, I agree there is a problem and I think it has to do not only with the way we were raised, socialized and educated, but it has to do with out own ego “How dare she say no? Can’t she see how awesome I am?”. Many of us, sometimes I included, feel shame in ‘defeat/rejection’. For many is a matter of pride, for others plays on deep routed insecurities that most likely come from education and social contexts “why did she said no, am I not good enough? am I ugly? do I smell?”. It might be not something we can understand or act against on the spot, therefore the stupid follow ups.
      In my case for many years it is very simple as I tend to take the first answer as it is, in both offering and receiving.

  3. “Stop playing hard to get!”

    “Good idea. So, wanna fuck?”

    “SLUT!”

    • One of the things that really surprised me when I transitioned was how difficult casual sex is for women. Some of the guys that won’t take no for an answer are not, in fact, looking for a yes and will straight up flip out and start calling you a slut if you actually indicate interest.

      I was kind of shocked how with just a few incidents my dating behavior quickly fell right in line with the cultural standard. Personally, I’d prefer to date down and have sex on the first date but guys that don’t put effort into their appearance are often really bitter and misogynistic and there’s no way I’m going to be putting myself in a sexual situation with a guy without making sure he knows how to respect boundaries first.

  4. Thanks for writing this. But I have to ask, does this actually work? I remember in my younger days, I would tell someone who was bothering me that I had a boyfriend, and it rarely deterred them. I’d get comments like “well, you’re not married, so you can’t be that committed to him.” And on more than one occasion, I’d be with a date, he’d get up to go to the bathroom, get a drink, whatever, and some other guy would come over and hit on me, saying something like “if I were with you, I’d never let you out of my sight.” Which is super creepy, like I’d want to be with someone who didn’t trust me.

    I do agree with you that it should be enough to just say you are not interested. But our culture (movies, etc.) tell us that a man can get any woman if he tried hard enough, whether she is single or not. In fact, these men are shown in movies as being brave, instead of the creepy dudes they are. And any woman who rejects a man who does whatever lame things he thinks is enough to impress her is shown as being a total bitch. ughh

  5. The sad thing (or another sad thing) is even this doesn’t always work. I knew a woman who cited a boyfriend to try and get some guy to back off. Apparently the guy told her to let him know if she broke up with the other guy, and occasionally asked about how the relationship was going. It was seriously creepy.

  6. Dead on.

  7. Usually a mention of the husband is enough to get guys to back down, but I have had to resort to punching when that didn’t do it. And I will. I hit like a freight train. A lot of women don’t have my muscle mass to back up their words though.

    Also, any time some dude asks why you said no, it is just a manipulation technique to get you talking so he can try to “reason” you out of your no. Just say no. Don’t explain, outside of you, “Because you’re obviously the kind of asshole who ignores boundaries and keeps asking stupid questions,” if you feel safe enough to do that..

  8. This actually happened to me.

    Me: Thank you, but I’m not interested.
    Random man I don’t even know: Bitch we had something! Stop acting crazy!

    That’s the one I remember most. I’ve also been told “whatever, you are fat/ a whore/ugly anyway”

    One man followed me from my community college almost all the way home, even though I made it clear I had a boyfriend (I did). He kept touching on me. It was disgusting.

    I’m sorry, I don’t know how to tell who is a good guy, and who is going to do some awful shit to me. I’d love it if there were an app for that, but there isn’t. I just end up being very cold and distant when out by myself in a vulnerable position. Better someone’s hurt feelings than being violated in some awful way.

  9. This reminds me of “Don’t feed the trolls”. Does that work? Does ignoring these guys work? Maybe sometimes, but how do you tell? Ignoring them could be worse. Or telling them the truth, a plain and simple “no” might work, or it might be treated as a challenge and lead to escalation. Or lying might get rid of them, or it might not. There is no good option, except to keep chipping away at the entitlement and the desire to play power games and dominate other people that I think lies at the heart of this attitude.

    Keep up the good fight, Heina, even if it might sometimes seem useless! :-)

  10. The last time I was direct and straightforward with a strange man regarding how I felt about his approach to me (the words “fuck” and “off” may have been uttered), I was threatened with a punch to the face – and I don’t mean he said “I’m going to punch you”, I mean he drew his fist back. So yeah, there’s that.

    • This is a response that I’ve been confronted with too. Thankfully both the bartenders and bouncers were friends of mine and the guy was removed, but that didn’t make the walk home any more comfortable.

  11. Ugh. I can remember thinking that sort of thing in my youth, wondering why girls weren’t more straightforward. It was years before I began to understand that they were afraid, and years more before I really understood *why* they were afraid (since I’m not scary, right?)
    On the other hand, being an actual shy type back then, I took any brush-off as a ‘no’ and didn’t go pestering, groping and so forth.
    Because that’s how actual shy people act. Also, decent people.

  12. Nice. I noticed from my male view that many guys do;’t even care if you are married. They assume if you’re alone or talking to them you’re willing to consider the alternative. Indeed, I have found for myself it’s dangerous to talk about my own relationship in any negative way. It seems to be code for “I might be available” or even “I am available, talk to me.” Kind of like everyone knows “come up for a cup of coffee means” is code for possibility. It all sucks. I mean flirting is fun but it has become so damned unsafe on all levels. there seems to be some notion that if you are unhappy in a relationship you are seeking a new one. Hell, no! I’m, just looking for commiseration and someone who has an idea or maybe just random venting. Maybe I’m just taking a break away to cool off, reflect, or feel like I am valued, matter, in some way I don’t feel now. It’s sad we have to announce whether we are attached or not at the beginning of a conversation to plumb the depths of possibility. Like clearing the air of suspicion. Sadly it also means we have a terrible system of meeting potential partners versus just friends in our society. Good luck!

  13. Ah, yes. I have long since lost count of the number of times I’ve been called a fat, ugly, stupid, frigid slut/cunt/bitch, and even “old” (at age 26) for daring to honestly rebuff men’s advances (usually but not always online). I enjoy replying/trolling them to point out that they were the one trying to get into the pants of this fat, ugly bitch not 15 seconds ago but thank you very much for revealing your true character with little-to-no prompting, and good luck trying to attract women with your winning personality, you poor, butt-hurt crybaby. *le sigh*

  14. This article captures the “problem” of being honest in these situations perfectly. It’s always easy to say that women should vocally stand up for themselves, be shining beacons of the feminism, etc. but it’s more an idealistic view than a realistic one in the current social climate.

    On the idea of always being honest: Actually, my honesty is reserved for those deserving of it. Pushy, aggressive, chauvinistic dudes certainly don’t make that list. (Sorry, guise. You no fun to be around.)

  15. LOL. Making Amish Pbutter Bars for my daughter and had thot and had to make quick post. It’s easy for men to insist on honesty because they are in power; it’s all to their advantage. When I met my partner she remarked how she liked the old courtier system where everything is private amidst much conversation, drinking, and dancing–all to protect oneself from revealing too much. Our penchant for letting it all hang out and nothing is private is perhaps not to the best advantage of those who most need privacy. In a more non judgmental, or monolithic, society we may begin to consider honesty as norm. Meanwhile back in reality… I’m really sorry. I’m knew to these posts and it makes me sad to hear this shit.

  16. So I totally forgot the Pbutter so now oatmeal-nut bars. This post has salience because of our 13 yr old daughter who is so damned kind she puts others before her and I am conflicted about her getting what she wants. Fearful to let it go as how easy is it to take advantage of a pleaser yet maybe that’s just the way she is and if I try to make her state her desires more she may react against that. My other daughter is naturally rebellious and takes care of herself but I worry about the other. Yesterday, I said it was good to say what you want, good to ask for what you need and she demurred– but it doesn’t really matter to me. I have to be so careful with her as she will second guess what people want rather then asserting herself or if she does she caves in to any objection. She totally doesn’t care about truth or not–it’s all about comfort and being kind and not feeling discord. This whole honesty thing goes beyond how to deal with asshole men but also how to ask for what you want and not hide it if there’s a flutter of disagreement. But I am done in that I don’t want to change her she has the right to be who she is and she already knows I think. Sheesh.

  17. I had a girlfriend who told me that her father said that if a boy asks her out, she should say no until he has asked 3 times. On the third time, if he hadn’t been chased away by her turn downs then it showed that he was really interested in her and not just sex. She obviously thought it was bullshit because she said “yes” the first time I asked her out; and I don’t think that it was because I was irresistible. But, I started thinking about this later, and wondered if he had also been telling her brothers the same thing, “if she says no ask her at least two more times before giving up!” How many dads teach this to their sons? That’s what disturbs me, and perhaps leads to the idea that men shouldn’t take no for an answer.

    I have had men hit on someone I was dating, RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, so sometimes even that dating someone else doesn’t stop them. I just want to go around knocking some of my co-genders in the head until they get this respect thing.

  18. Skepchick, I don’t read your blog, so if you’ve already answered this, I apologize. What do you propose as a solution to his? For me, it seems it would have to start in middle school or high school with teaching boys to accept a “no.” Unfortunately, that excludes a lot of people who are already adults.

    • Well, this particular Skepchick thinks that consent should start mattering more in general. Combating attitudes around women “asking for it” and otherwise being culpable for harassment and assault is something that can be done socially and is, in fact, more effective when done by one’s peers than taught through schools. Plenty of men who do respect women and women’s consent do not speak up when people they know and with whom they are interacting make comments that denigrate women and consent. That’s one place to start.

  19. Yeah, when I’m in this situation…

    Okay, I guess now is a good a time to clarify this if any time is and this seems like a relatively safe place. I’m a “trans woman,” “pancho ruiz” is a pen name I used to write under and it made more sense to write under a male name to discuss a life where people were treating me as a male. If I start commenting under another name anyone who cares will know what’s going on, not that I really think anyone will.

    Anyway, I have heard of street harassment sense the days of yore but have had less direct experience of the type women typically face. Now that it’s happening to me more I would love to be able to call these guys out and explain the scumminess of what they’re doing, but they tend to specifically do it in situations where it’s less safe for me to do that, when I’m alone and there are less passerby’s near. I don’t see this as any kind of coincidence. Then of course there’s the added fear that they might look at me a second time and decide that I “tricked” them, so anything that can get me out a situation quickly seems like a good idea. Mix in some verbal communication problems and PTSD-type issues and I am just not going to get into an argument with some guy on the street about why I’m not going to kiss his friend as a birthday present. “I have a boyfriend” is acceptable, a locked door is even better.

  20. I do see what you’re saying – on the other hand, is this purely a feminist issue?

    If a guy comes up to chat, I will happily chat along out of politeness, and you can actually have a good conversation. However, I feel obliged to slyly slip in somewhere that I am taken (“Yes, I saw that film with my boyfriend”) – just in case the guy is really looking for that special someone (or to get laid), I don’t want him to waste his romance-searching evening with me. The chat continues for a little longer, then he makes his excuses. No hassle.

    In these situations it’s not feeling of threat that makes me mention my boyfriend. I just feel it’s decent to mention that I’m not available, whether I have a boyfriend or girlfriend. In fact, I remember chatting up a guy once, who later in conversation mentioned his girlfriend. I respected him for that (though was slightly disappointed): that he didn’t string me along, and that he wasn’t out to cheat on his partner.

    If the guy’s annoying or just butts in at a bad time, I can’t recall mentioning my boyfriend, I’ve used a neutral brush-off which they’ve accepted without a quibble and left. Maybe I’ve been lucky, or maybe it’s a cultural thing, since I’m not American…? Or maybe nearing middle age just helps you forget the jerks of past!

    • I’m not sure what you mean by asking if it’s a purely feminist issue. In any case, the conversations you’re describing aren’t really the kind that I’ve discussed. Specifically, what I’m talking about are interactions that involve men who aren’t polite and don’t really want to have a conversation — they make it clear that all that they are interested in is the possibility of sex. Culture might have something to do with it, sure. Race might, as well. Women of color in the US are often treated as exotic sex objects rather than respectfully as people.

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