I’ve tried to write this post numerous times but it’s hard to work out how to adequately describe a frustration which has progressed since about the age of 13/14. Of course, I’m (hopefully) preaching to the converted but nonetheless I’ve always found speaking up about problems and frustrations better than keeping them bottled up, so here goes.I’ve spoken about cat-calling and everyday sexism a fair few times on the blog, but this time I’m narrowing the subject down and talking about the all important word -‘no’. Whether a guy stopping me on the street is asking for my number, to take me out or simply my name, my general response is along the lines of ‘no’. I’ve had people attempt to debate with me about the problems with not speaking to guys on the street, they’ll usually bring up arguments such as ‘not all guys are the same’, ‘it’s good networking’ or ‘you could be missing important opportunities/experiences’. However, the simple answer is I’ve had enough bad and frustrating experiences to cut my losses and shut down any hints of advancement (let alone an actual advancement). Plus, I’m on the street for a reason – I’m going somewhere, I might be busy/tired/upset/hungry, women don’t walk down the street in need of entertainment. I don’t owe anyone my time.
The thing with many male advancements is ‘no’ appears very hard to accept. From the earliest cat-calling experiences I remember I’ve always been aware that ‘no’ is a dangerous answer. While still to this day I would rarely retort a flat out ‘no’ to a cat-caller I do find myself sweetening up my answers of rejection using phrases such as ‘sorry, I’m in a rush’, ‘I’m alright’ and (the worst) ‘no, sorry’. The apologies roll off my tongue like honey as I attempt to sweeten the rejection as if to say ‘maybe, but not right now’.
The apologetic phrases and friendly smiles are both attempts of de-escalation, something young women I’ve noticed are all too familiar with. However, this rarely works. I’ve honestly lost track of how many times I’ve been called a ‘bitch’ having rejected or ignored a cat-caller (because guess what? I ACTUALLY HAVE THINGS TO DO OTHER THAN BE YOUR POINT OF INTEREST). But, of course, ‘bitch’ is only the tip of the iceberg and many of the other more horrible retorts are wiped out my memory the moment they’re said in an attempt to keep a shred of faith in humanity.
So clearly, one girl can only face so many confrontations (and a few quite frankly scary experiences) before she uses her initiative and changes her tune. Social darwinism at it’s finest. A few years ago I started using the line ‘sorry, I’ve got a boyfriend’. It saved a lot of hassle and became an easy excuse. Cat-callers no longer saw my rejection as a personal rejection. While there’s the odd anomaly who retort with ‘that doesn’t matter’, it ended up easily shutting down a whole lot of uncomfortable situations – by the end of it my fake boyfriend had a name, an age and an occupation. I mean, someone even asked if he smoked weed.
Unfortunately, while the ‘I have a boyfriend’ line helps greatly, it’s simply a quick fix. As I got older it suddenly dawned on me that these guys were leaving me alone because they essentially valued another man’s word over a woman’s. They respected another guy (who wasn’t even present) more than my own ‘no’.
I’d love to be able to bravely and strongly say the simple two letter word ‘no’. But, for now at least, I’m sticking to a slightly more wordy response laden with excuses. Although, I hope my rejections can at least be based on my own opinions, not the twisted olden day rhetoric that a woman should be respected if she is ‘property’ of a man.