I Speak for Myself: Why Men Need to Respect Women's "No"
Summer is here, and short skirts, tank tops, and sundresses are back in fashion. For most heterosexual men, this is a thing to celebrate. Most women are a bit more undecided about their sentiments toward ‘sundress weather’. You see, as the temperatures and hemlines rise, so do cat calls, lewd looks and the occurrences of “let me talk to you for a minute.” As a woman, I’ve come to expect this, and have made a sort of peace with it. What I’ve struggled to do is perfect my method of polite rejection. I’ve written about this before, and I must say, my method has not much improved. Being approached by men can be flattering, but more often than not, it’s frustrating because women are left to figure out how to say “no”, and have that “no” be heard and respected.
The standard response is “I have a boyfriend.” It feels safe and foolproof, or at least it used to, until dudes got wise and started asking why they couldn’t befriend you. But aside from its effectiveness, or lack thereof, I stumbled across another reason why women should stop using their boyfriends, real or imaginary, as a means of rejecting men who approach them. In this article that I absolutely wish I’d written myself (call it writer’s envy), Alecia Lynn Eberhardt explains that using your boyfriend to escape an awkward conversation with a guy who won’t quit hitting on you takes all the power out of your “no.” As she puts it, “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.” Essentially, if a guy is only willing to accept your rejection of him after you tell him that you are “spoken for”, then he doesn’t respect you, he respects your boyfriend. There’s a huge problem with that.
So after reading that article, I vowed to put it into practice. The next time a guy approached me, I promised myself, I would not fall back on the “I have a boyfriend” excuse. I would say no, for me, and that would have to be enough. And then I had an opportunity to do it. It is so much harder than it sounds. This weekend, I was out and about. Two guys happened to walk by me as I got off a bus, and I held my head high and put on my aloof face in hopes of deterring conversation. No such luck. One of the guys approached me, stating that I looked like a nice church girl (in a v-cut tank, no less. Ha!) and asked for my number. My palms actually started to sweat because I had every intention of just saying no. And I tried to, but he pushed, even to the point of telling me he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He actually said those words. And it honestly disturbed and frightened me. So I chickened out and told him I had a boyfriend. He pushed a bit more after that, even offering to give me his number instead, but he seemed more discouraged after I told him about my boyfriend than when I had flat out declined to give him my number. We eventually parted ways, without exchanging numbers, but he had certainly given me a feeling of incredible discomfort and taken the wind out of my sails.
That was Saturday. I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to figure out where I went wrong. I’ve come to the conclusion that I hadn’t made any errors. He, and every other man who can’t respect a woman’s polite rejection, made the mistake. Gentlemen, it is a mistake to assume that a woman who is rejecting you is playing hard to get. When we say no, it is rarely an invitation for you to try harder and persist to the point of making us uncomfortable. Usually, when a woman declines your advances, she’s just not into you, and her body language and tone make that fairly obvious.
I think the advice to women to stop telling men “I have a boyfriend” needs to be coupled with a word of advice to men: Please respect us when we say no. We usually say it because we mean it. Consider how you’d feel in our position, having a woman you weren’t interested in insist on getting your number. Now imagine how scary it’d be if you couldn’t predict how that woman would respond to your rejection. I am always afraid to reject men too harshly as I have been cursed out, followed and otherwise intimidated by men who didn’t understand that my no meant no. It’s frustrating, it’s frightening and it’s disrespectful. This isn’t to say that men should not approach women. In fact, I applaud the courage it takes to walk up to a woman and introduce yourself, not knowing how she’ll receive your advances. But this message isn’t for the polite and kind men who back down when women make it clear that they are not interested in pursuing any kind of relationship. This is for the men who think women owe them anything – their number, their time, or anything else. By all means, gentlemen, feel free to compliment beautiful ladies, and ask them out if you wish, but respect her if she turns you down, especially if she’s polite (and even if she isn’t). And ladies, be firm in your rejection. It is your right to decline advances if you aren’t interested, purely on the basis of your disinterest. If we don’t start standing up for that right, men will continue to trample on it. We can’t have that.