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May 05 2014

On Women Who Lie About Having Boyfriends

[Content note: sexual harassment and assault]

Lately one of those articles has been going around again about how women should stop saying “I have a boyfriend” to deflect unwanted male attention. I’m not going to link to it, because I don’t want to make my entire post about that one article. I’ve seen that argument made in many different ways and from many different perspectives.

One I often see from men who date women, who are either not feminists and do not recognize the reality of systemic male violence against women, or are, sort of, but only recognize that reality to some extent and in certain contexts–never ones involving themselves, of course, because they’re good guys.

Another I often see from women, many of whom are feminists, who believe that it is each individual woman’s duty to uphold the author’s vision of Feminist Principles regardless of the individual woman’s priorities or needs.

Here’s the first argument, steelmanned:

It’s wrong to lie to people without a very compelling reason. If a guy is interested in you but you’re not interested back, just tell him so honestly. I’m a decent and respectful guy and I always back off when someone says they’re not interested. Besides, if all you say is “I have a boyfriend,” I might assume that that means that you’d be interested if that relationship ended, and it’s really hurtful to find out that you were lying and I got my hopes up for nothing.

Here’s the second one, also steelmanned:

Women have the right to have their desires and preferences respected. The reason you shouldn’t keep hitting on a woman who isn’t interested in you isn’t because she “belongs” to another man, but because she isn’t interested in you. If we keep using the “I have a boyfriend” excuse, men will never learn to respect our agency as individuals rather than as someone’s girlfriend. Being honest with men you aren’t interested in about the reason you aren’t taking them up on your offer is the only way to promote this feminist goal.

I resent both of these arguments. Both of them, even the second one, place the individual woman’s needs last and instead prioritize other needs: the man’s need for honesty, the feminist movement’s need for women to stand up for its ideals. Both of them expect women who are being harassed to just shut up and take it for someone else’s good.

Let’s start with the first one. I think we can all agree that, in general, lying is to be avoided. I think we can also all agree that sometimes lying is preferable or necessary. Where I think we disagree is where that line should be drawn. And I would argue that the person who stands to lose the most in a particular interaction is the one who is more qualified to determine where that line goes.

It’s like Schrödinger’s rapist. And I know dudes have so much trouble grasping the rape version of this principle, so I don’t expect them to have an easy time grasping the sexual harassment/unwanted flirting/whatever you want to call it version.

Say I am approached by a dude at a bar. Ignoring all of my signals (looking away, checking my phone, answering monosyllabically, desperately pouring my drink down my throat), he keeps trying to chat me up and hit on me, perhaps even propositioning me directly. At this point, I could say, “Actually, I’m not interested in you and I don’t want to keep talking to you.” Or I could say, “Sorry, but I have a boyfriend and I’m not available.” Which should I choose?

Given that this guy has already showed an apparent lack of interest in my desires and preferences by not reading my nonverbal cues, and given the wealth of experience I have with these situations (“Come on, why do you have to be such a prude?” “Fucking bitch, I was just trying to be nice.” “What are you talking about? I’m not even interested in ugly sluts like you” “Yeah, right. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t trying to get some.” [insert sexual assault here, and yes, groping is sexual assault]), I’m not likely to have a lot of confidence in this guy’s ability to take it well if I politely tell him I’m not interested.

Sure, this guy could be different. He could be perfectly nice! He could politely say, “Oh sorry, my bad, have a great night”! He could clarify that he’s not interested in anything sexual and we’d have a great conversation and maybe even become friends!

And that’s what men making this argument always say. “Yeah well how do you know he’d take it badly if you just told him the truth?” Exactly, I don’t know that. If I did, I’d have cleared the fuck out of that bar as soon as I saw him walking up to me.

I don’t know that, but I live in a world in which it can be very dangerous to assume that I can know that before it’s too late.

Now, a lot of men making this argument will sorta-grudgingly include the caveat that, well, if the woman is afraid for her physical safety, then of course she should do whatever she needs to do to get out of the situation! But otherwise, lying is not okay.

So. Why are we prioritizing physical safety over emotional safety? If you accept that ending up assaulted or raped is bad, why do you not accept that ending up feeling violated, terrified, or even traumatized is also bad? How much emotional pain and damage is worth avoiding hurting a guy’s feelings by lying to him? (Don’t ask me how telling a lie that he’ll never know is a lie hurts him more than saying “I’m not interested in you,” but ok.) How much emotional pain and damage is worth fulfilling some bullshit philosophical ideal of Not Lying?

Things impact different people differently–a point I’m always trying to drive home in all mental health-related discussions. Personally, I got over my sexual assault rather easily. What I still haven’t gotten over is feeling like a fucking piece of meat, a deer being chased by hunters no matter where I go. That’s the feeling I try to avoid on those rare occasions when I feel compelled to say, “Actually, I have a boyfriend.”

As for the “feminist” argument that we all, as individuals, have the responsibility to Uphold Feminist Principles in our daily lives at all times: I’ve already dealt with this more generally here. Specifically, the feminist movement will not be destroyed by some individual women choosing to prioritize something other than feminism at certain points in their lives. I promise.

Besides, any feminism that prioritizes The Good Of The Movement over individual women’s safety and happiness is no feminism of mine.

Of course, if we’re ever to get these remaining men who harass women and on whom “Actually I have a boyfriend” works to stop viewing women as property, we have to speak up. But we, as individuals, get to decide where and when and how we do that. Demanding women to turn every bar outing into a one-woman feminist protest is puerile beyond belief.

I completely understand that some women choose not to lie about boyfriends and husbands, and they find this empowering despite the risk. That’s great. Where I start to get irritated is when they translate this into “…and therefore all women have to do this too.” Your empowerment may be someone else’s trauma.

Some misunderstand this as some sort of convoluted Choice Feminism (not actually a real thing, by the way) about how All Women’s Choices Must Be Respected Because They’re Made By Women. It’s not. It’s an acknowledgement of the fact that choices are not made in a vacuum, and nobody has more information about a given choice than the person who made it.

I wish people who preached at women about not lying actually listened to the words of the women who do and tried to understand the circumstances that might lead someone to do something that most of us agree is usually wrong. For instance, from a piece at Shakesville by Ana Mardoll:

I live in a community where I have on more than one occasion been forced to haul out the words “because my husband doesn’t like me to” in order to get out of situations where I was being bullied and pressured into doing things that I didn’t feel comfortable doing. After saying firmly and repeatedly that I didn’t want to do these things, that I wouldn’t do these things, and that I didn’t feel comfortable being repeatedly asked to do these things — all to no avail — I dragged out the magic words that I hate-hate-hate to use. “My husband doesn’t like me to” is the mantra that evaporates every objection in my community; a protective cloak that I resent being forced to wear by a community that considers my own consent to be meaningless even as it values my husband’s consent not for who he is but for what he represents. (And, for the record, my husband respects my consent even when our community does not. I have his consent to use him as an excuse when I am forced to navigate these social hurdles.)

And because I am a feminist and because I care about the social messages involved in this daily navigation and specifically because I have entrenched issues with being Hard On Myself, I frequently feel guilty for making the compromises I have to in order to navigate safely through a conservative patriarchal environment. And I feel cowardly for not being more vocal, more obvious, more “out” — and professional and personal consequences be damned.

But then I remember how much I need my job and my health care just to survive and how strongly I require a robust social network in order to live with my disability, and I remember all over again all the reasons why I don’t say the F-word, why I don’t openly and vocally identify as a feminist in facespace: I can’t afford to. It’s too risky. It’s too dangerous. And so I creep back undercover and long for the day when my online activism can meet my facespace movements without fear of reprisals.

Ana isn’t talking about the exact sort of situation I’m talking about, but it’s similar enough to warrant a mention. Namely: not everyone always has the privilege to be honest and open.

Most people don’t lie for the fun of it; they lie because the alternative doesn’t seem reasonable. Others may judge them as taking “the easy way out,” but again, I’d question why there’s anything morally superior about subjecting yourself to sexual harassment and possibly violence.

It’s not surprising to me that people who don’t have a personal stake in this often start discussing it in grand abstract terms like Ethics and Honesty and Morality. Here’s the reality on the ground: I’m at a bar, some dude won’t leave me the fuck alone, and I’m scared and uncomfortable. Maybe you want to philosophize, but I want to escape this situation however I can.

And incidentally, for anyone who’s worried that I’m somehow abdicating my responsibility as a feminist by inventing a fake boyfriend, believe me when I say that I’ll be a much more effective activist if I take care of my mental health and emotional safety before I try to do activism.

The fact is that many women apparently feel like they can’t escape men except by lying to them. I would think that more of the responsibility for this should be allocated to the men who won’t accept any answer besides “I have a boyfriend” than to the women who feel they have no choice but to say it. And if you’re a guy who’s more concerned about the fact that women sometimes lie to you about having boyfriends than about the fact that women are subjected to constant sexual harassment just for existing in public, you’ve got your priorities pretty screwed up.

~~~

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58 comments

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  1. 1
    Kele Lampe

    Absolutely. If the system requires that you appear to be attached to a man to be safe, use the system. I use my husband’s authority to help me out of unwelcome situations ALL THE TIME and I feel ZERO compunction about it.

  2. 2
    Fail Blue Dot

    “It’s wrong to lie to people without a very compelling reason.”

    That by itself is enough to show the extent to which these commenters are living in a different world, and being completely detached from reality. Because either the trauma or danger does not exist or it’s not “very compelling”, in other words victims should “get over it”…

    1. 2.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Yeah, and that’s why they’ll sometimes include, as I mentioned, the caveat that if you REALLY think it’s physically dangerous, okay, you can lie, I guess. As though that’s the only type of danger there is, and as though we can ever assume that that’s not a risk.

  3. 3
    beauchette

    I read some articles on that subject out of curiosity. if I wasn’t told in the 2nd paragraph of yours, that I’m, in fact, even unknowingly, at best, a stalker / rapist / murderer. May be I would have finished it.

    1. 3.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Huh?? You’ve gotta work on your reading comprehension, buddy.

      1. 3.1.1
        beauchette

        English is not my mother tongue, after rereading it, it seems I misunderstood what you wrote.

        anyway, when I was young, I totally understood that it wasn’t the right place to meet someone (I mean bars, clubs, that type of places) but sometimes, it happened that I try to talk with some girl I found attractive. Usually, I didn’t question the fact that she wouldn’t want anything to do with me. I wasn’t socially inept enough to think that the answer was not the truth. I generally got the idea quick and retreated awkwardly it was for me a matter of not disturbing anymore. I think I have something about that, not disturbing people. Well, I had friends, usually, they were more daring than me, but I have yet to see anything violent happen. Of course life isn’t a disney movie, and bad things happen.

        On another topic, I’m really shocked by this bit about this whole My husband doesn’t like me to thing. I live in France, I never ever heard a woman using that kind of alibi, that would sound like the 19th century. Is this common where you live ?

        1. 3.1.1.1
          beauchette

          I wasn’t socially inept enough to think that the answer was the truth, it can sometimes be obvious when you’re being lied to, even if you don’t know the person at all.

    2. 3.2
      hoary puccoon

      Yikes. Beauchette, sweetie, everything in the world isn’t about you, personally. Nobody here knows you. Nobody in the bar, if you strike up a random conversation, knows you. Women use the, “I have a boyfriend” line for the same reason they lock their doors– They don’t know whom they can trust, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

      Do you automatically assume that if your neighbors lock their doors they’re thinking that you, personally, are a burglar? Do you suspect that everybody in the cars you see on the road wears a seatbelt because they’re terrified that you, personally, are an unsafe driver? If you really are making those assumptions, you need to talk to someone about it.

      But if you aren’t assuming all your neighbors think you’re a burglar and all the drivers on the road with you think you’re a traffic hazard, all you have to do is assume that women in bars who lie about having a boyfriend aren’t thinking anything much about you, personally. They’re simply acting in what they consider to be prudent self-interest. It’s nothing to do with you, personally, at all.

      1. 3.2.1
        beauchette

        read my message just up, it answers you too.

        1. 3.2.1.1
          hoary puccoon

          J’avais passee plusieurs annees en France. (Et je sais que mon francais n’est pas parfait. Pardon.) Oui, il-y-a des femmes francaises qui disent choses comme ca regardant leurs epouses. Mai elles parlent de ca avec les amies, et pas forcement avec les amis. C’est peutetre pourquoi j’avais entendu ca et vous, non.

          1. beauchette

            Nice french ! apart from 2/3 spelling mistakes, which I suppose I do more frequently in english, your french is very good.

            Back on the subject, I guess that, of course, being a man, I suppose women don’t confide as much as they would with a female friend. I just based that observation on what I saw.

            As for the argument in itself, I thought about it again, and I’m using it myself : let’s imagine a party with colleagues, they’re not really friends, they’re colleagues, if I don’t want to drink too much, I use my wife as an excuse, “my wife won’t be happy” is stronger than “I don’t want to drink anymore”, I heard spouses use that argument regardless of the gender, and more importantly without without any sexual somination background, just using family as an excuse, that works well.

            Of course now that I have children, it’s even easier : “I can’t drink too much : I have to take care of my daughter tommorow” would be the mother of all excuses.

          2. Marnie

            @beauchette

            if I don’t want to drink too much, I use my wife as an excuse, “my wife won’t be happy” is stronger than “I don’t want to drink anymore”

            Personally, this makes me a little uncomfortable.The idea that women are terrible harpies who don’t let their husbands have any fun, is a pretty tired old trope. This seems to feed right into that mentality.

          3. beauchette

            I’m not sure. I don’t mean it that way at all. Would I be happy if my wife got wasted with everything that implies ?
            being late to work / letting me handle the kids / letting me handle kids transportation to school or nanny.

            well, no. the fact that there is another person involved in me drinking too much, whatever gender / age is the excuse in itself. At worst, I don’t think they believe my wife is bossing me around, and even if they do I don’t care.

          4. Marnie

            @beauchette

            If you happen to be with people who shame you for not keeping up with the drinking and that’s the only answer they accept, then I’m not going to say you shouldn’t use the excuse, I’ll just say that from my perspective, it sounds a lot like the tired tropes about woman staying home, being grumpy and not letting their husband have fun and the browbeaten husband who can’t do what he wants because his wife won’t let him.

            You aren’t obliged to use a different excuse I just want to point out that it isn’t really the opposite of the woman saying her husband doesn’t allow her to do X, it’s more of the same sort of idea that men have one role and women have another role and everyone is expected to follow it, as opposed to a situation in which each person has autonomy and the trust of their partner to make the right choices for themselves.

            Ideally, none of us would have to blame a partner to avoid having to do something we don’t want to. It sounds like, in your situation, you feel compelled to do so when it comes to drinking and that’s unfortunate. I wouldn’t like feeling like that and I imagine you don’t either. People should respect that you know when you’ve had as much as you want but if they don’t use the excuse that you need to.

    3. 3.3
      WithinThisMind

      Responses like this always bring to mind a saying of my grandmother’s:

      If you throw a stone into a pack of dogs, the one that yelped is the one that got hit.

      1. 3.3.1
        suttkus

        I’m adding that to my list of Southern Grandmother Sayings. I hope your grandmother is, in fact, Southern, but that’s classic.

      2. 3.3.2
        beauchette

        In this particular case, I find it more logical to be upset when you feel accused of doing things you don’t.

        But who am I to contradict your grandmother’s wisdom.

        1. 3.3.2.1
          Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

          And when you feel accused of doing things you don’t, the logical thing to do is to step back and ask yourself whether or not you actually are being accused of doing things you don’t.

          1. beauchette

            that’s exactly why i used feel

          2. NickName

            I can honestly step back and say that I don’t think I’m the kind of person that should feel accused about behaving in that sort of way.

            What I can say, however, is that I feel a little upset that by association, I am apparently lumped into the kind of dogs that one would throw a stone onto.

            That by creating an atmosphere that some men are something that must be protected against, that we are stepping toward an environment in which ALL men, by association, must be pre-emptively protected against.

          3. Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

            Well, in my ideal world, no men would be “something that must be protected against.” But in this world, one out of every five women are raped in their lifetime, almost always by a man. That rate is astronomically higher for women of color, women with disabilities, and so on.

            If you want to feel upset about something, I’d suggest feeling upset about that.

          4. WithinThisMind

            Then I suggest you strive to ensure dogs that deserve a stone thrown at them are not welcome in your pack.

        2. 3.3.2.2
          WithinThisMind

          Beauchette:

          Here are a couple more of my grandmother’s sayings that you should listen to –

          “When you hit bottom, stop digging”
          “It is the height of arrogance to assume everything is always about you personally”
          “Stupid is not an ideal you should strive towards”

          Suttkus – She was initially from Arkansas, though she got the hell out of the south at the first opportunity.

          1. beauchette

            and I feel like I’m falling for it, but what is the relation between :

            Responses like this always bring to mind a saying of my grandmother’s:

            If you throw a stone into a pack of dogs, the one that yelped is the one that got hit.

            and my post ? I mean, I misunderstood the author, I thought she said that at one point any man can be violent towards women. My bad. I’d really like to hear the relation you see with your saying.

            anyway, if you feel like not posting irrelevant sayings, read comment 107271

          2. WithinThisMind

            —-I thought she said that at one point any man can be violent towards women.—

            That is what she said. Not all men are violent towards women, but any man can be. And a violent man tends to look just like any other man until the violence begins, so how exactly is a woman supposed to know that this man is going to shrug and go on with life and that man is going to start harassing and assaulting her?

            An excellent warning sign is when the guy ignores all the hints (closed body language, trying to use a book or headphones as a shield, non-committal answers, attempts to withdraw from conversation, non-response, etc…) and keeps blithely going on and trying to get himself laid. Thus, guys that take it to this level are more likely to get the ‘I have a boyfriend’ response because it’s a solid way for a woman to protect herself from a guy that has already shown a disregard for her feelings and boundaries.

            You posted with a ‘omg hitting on girls doesn’t make me a creepy stalker’ response. And I posted my comment because in my experience, the guys who start immediately going ‘how dare you call me a creepy stalker’ are the ones who are engaging in the creepy stalker behavior, know they are engaging in the creepy stalker behavior, and don’t like being called on the creepy stalker behavior.

            In the future, instead of being a smarmy overreacting asshat, I suggest you follow the very good advice of ‘shut up and listen’. Instead of getting extremely defensive because you perceive some minute chance someone is trying to stop you from getting your penis attended to, try realizing that we are trying to defend ourselves against the 1 in 4 chance we are going to be sexually assaulted and then told it was our fault because we didn’t throw our drinks in your face or whatever bullshit is the ‘advice’ these days.

            So follow my grandmother’s advice – when you hit bottom, stop digging.

            You were wrong. That’s not our fault. Stop blaming us for your failure to actually read what was written before jumping to a half-assed conclusion.

  4. 4
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    There is another factor
    It puts an extra burden on women who are not in heterosexual relationships. As a married woman I can simply drop the existence of my husband into the conversation to the exact same effect, for the exact same reason, I.e. I have a legitimate owner, yet nobody asks me to hand back my feminist card.
    Also, how far does the notlying extend? I remember being in public during my study abroad with a bunch of girlfriends and being constantly subjected to street harassment. Some time later I visited a male friend in the exact same place and life was so much nicer because the guys on the street took my male friend for my boyfriend. Is going out with a male non boyfriend so you can actually enjoy clubbing without having to fight off creeps unacceptable lying, too?

  5. 5
    boogiecat

    I just want to say, thank you for writing this. It is outstanding.

    1. 5.1
      hoary puccoon

      And yes, Miri, this is outstanding.

  6. 6
    Kevin Kehres

    I travel quite a bit, and most often dine alone. Nobody ever bothers me or approaches me for any reason other than wait staff for the purely professional reasons to refresh my drink or bring me my food.

    In my business travel, I will often have a female traveling companion (they’re the ones who hire me). And I see the same thing over and over again. Guys’ heads turn when we walk by. Alone, I’m invisible. With a woman, I somehow magically appear. And I always get the sense that guys are trying to discern the relationship to see if they can wedge themselves in somehow. My role is “companion and protector” in this dynamic.

    I always feel like if I were to leave for some reason, there would be a general swooping down on my companion, like hawks on a rabbit. I find it very disconcerting, and it’s not even me who is the object of their attention.

    Occasionally, my traveling companion will demur from going out to dinner. She always, always, always has room service delivered (different women; same response). Me, I just go out by myself to pick up a quick bite and become invisible again.

    Do whatever it takes to make you feel comfortable. A while back, one of my women friends wore a wedding ring even though she was single because it cut down on the unwanted approaches. Do that. Or invent a jealous boyfriend. You don’t owe random pick-up artists anything other than whatever ends the interchange as quickly as possible.

    1. 6.1
      Xaivius (Formerly Robpowell, Acolyte of His Majesty Lord Niel DeGrasse Tyson I)

      I concur. I’ve noticed much the same. I also understand that if I’m talking to a woman and she says she has a ‘boyfriend/husband/Significant other,’ I smile and take it at face value, usually with a quick “oh, should I leave?” just to be sure I’m getting the hint. :)

      An amusing aside: The reversal of this is always amusing to me, such as one wonderful woman at a con I was talking to about novels, and she suddenly mentioned that the ring she was wearing was ‘Her wedding ring from her ex, but she wears it to keep creeps away.’ I felt a bit happy there that she decided I wasn’t, apparently, a creep! :)

  7. 7
    WithinThisMind

    I guess this is the part I don’t really understand…

    YOU made the choice to approach me. YOU made the choice to begin the conversation with it’s potential risks. YOU forced me into this interaction. So why should I place YOUR feelings over mine?

    Guys, if you don’t want to be ‘lied to’ and consider yourselves ‘nice’, why don’t you learn to take a hint? I guarantee that before the object of your desire trotted out the ‘I have a boyfriend’ line, she gave you at least a half dozen signals that she wasn’t interested, all of which you blithely ignored.

    You are entitled to NOTHING from me. You are not entitled to my phone number, attention, or honesty. If you don’t want to take the risk that I might lie to you, I highly suggest that you leave me the fuck alone then instead of trying to insert yourself into my life without invitation or welcome.

    1. 7.1
      Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

      Here’s the basic idea: Guys could, for a change, try to approach us as potentially interesting people who might turn into potential dating material. Seriously, anybody who is only interested in talking to me if he’s got a chance to fuck me can fuck right off. Why would I be interested in a relationship with such a shallow person?

      1. 7.1.1
        WithinThisMind

        Wouldn’t it be great if they viewed us as people/equals?

        I mean, a guy wouldn’t go over to another guy with closed body language who was reading a book, had headphones on, and turned away when he approached and say, ‘hey, buddy, lets be pals?’.

        No, they get what all those signals mean, they just choose to ignore them if they think there is a chance some attention could be paid to the almighty penis.

      2. 7.1.2
        BrainyOne

        Yeah, I don’t know if you’re going to like the solution though.

        The reason why “I have a boyfriend” works is because the woman doesn’t actually have to reject the man if she’s “taken”, and therefore doesn’t have to “insult his manhood” or whatever by so doing and showing she doesn’t find him attractive and therefore not “worthy”.

        Men should simply stop caring whether women, or any particular woman, find them attractive, realizing that it has nothing whatsoever to do with their worth as people. Want a relationship, but don’t get real signs of interest or so-called “mixed signals”? Just move on.

        Giliell:He might not want to or agree to be “just friends” That doesn’t make him a shallow person.

        WTM: It would really be great. But equality comes with a price, and equal is as equal does. You might start by refraining from referring to male anatomy in a derogatory manner.

        1. 7.1.2.1
          Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

          Brainy One
          There’s a lot to unpack here

          The reason why “I have a boyfriend” works is because the woman doesn’t actually have to reject the man if she’s “taken”, and therefore doesn’t have to “insult his manhood” or whatever by so doing and showing she doesn’t find him attractive and therefore not “worthy”.

          No, I don’t think that this is entirely correct, because the experience of many women is that you can signal that you’re totally not intertested in a billion ways and he’s just going to ignore it. Because your own wishes and desires are simply ignored, but the interests of a fellow man have to be respected. What I hear from lesbian friends is that “I have a girlfriend” doesn’t work that well, it’s more like now there are two potential fuckmates.

          Men should simply stop caring whether women, or any particular woman, find them attractive, realizing that it has nothing whatsoever to do with their worth as people. Want a relationship, but don’t get real signs of interest or so-called “mixed signals”? Just move on.

          Absolutely. There are probably 15 million men in my country who fall into an approriate age-range for me to have a relationship with, but I guess that at least 10 million of them fall into the catrgory of “men I could not be in a relationship with and vice versa: for most men I would not be a person they could be in a relationship with. This doesn’t make any of us “bad people”, but just people who cannot be together and be happy.

          Giliell:He might not want to or agree to be “just friends” That doesn’t make him a shallow person.

          Sure, but see above: People are different and complicated. If he’s not interested in getting to know me as a person in order to find out whether we might make a good couple, but solely goes by how I look, then he’s a shallow person. Not all my friends would make good partners for me, but my partner is also my best friend.
          If one is just looking for a quick fuck then this doesn’t matter, but there are only a few places where chatting up strangers for a quick fuck is ever appropriate and a bar or café where somebody is reading a book isn’t one of them.

          1. BrainyOne

            …the experience of many women is that you can signal that you’re totally not intertested in a billion ways and he’s just going to ignore it. Because your own wishes and desires are simply ignored, but the interests of a fellow man have to be respected.

            This explanation is correct but too simplistic, since it ignores the underlying cultural context and narrative. That’s what I’m trying to get at. The cultural narrative is that women should “play hard to get” because if they say yes too soon they are “easy” and a “slut” with no real value and they should make the man “prove” himself, and that men should pursue the woman until the end of the earth to show his “devotion” (because that’s what all the knights in fairy tales do), and if he doesn’t he’s not a “real man”. For instance, have you noticed all the dating “advice” given to women telling them they should wait for sex in a new relationship NOT because THEY don’t feel ready for it yet BUT ONLY because a “real man” should be willing to wait and this is how they make him prove he’s a “real man”.

            What I’m saying is, to get to a place where women’s wishes and desires are respected, both women and men need to say, fuck that shit.

            If he’s not interested in getting to know me as a person in order to find out whether we might make a good couple, but solely goes by how I look, then he’s a shallow person.

            Thanks for the clarification, I agree with you.

        2. 7.1.2.2
          WithinThisMind

          *WTM: It would really be great. But equality comes with a price, and equal is as equal does. You might start by refraining from referring to male anatomy in a derogatory manner.*

          Yes, but why is it always women that have to pay the price?

          If what you took from my post is ‘she referred to male anatomy in a derogatory manner’, I really can’t help you.

          —-Men should simply stop caring whether women, or any particular woman, find them attractive, realizing that it has nothing whatsoever to do with their worth as people. Want a relationship, but don’t get real signs of interest or so-called “mixed signals”? Just move on.—-

          It’s got nothing to do with ‘she doesn’t find me attractive’, and everything to do with the fact society teaches men that they are entitled to the woman they want, therefore the only ‘acceptable’ reason for a woman not to want to date them is another man got there first. Watch any romantic comedy, especially those directed at teenagers.

          —The cultural narrative is that women should “play hard to get” because if they say yes too soon they are “easy” and a “slut” with no real value and they should make the man “prove” himself, and that men should pursue the woman until the end of the earth to show his “devotion” (because that’s what all the knights in fairy tales do), and if he doesn’t he’s not a “real man”.—

          Gotta love that good old patriarchy.

          —What I’m saying is, to get to a place where women’s wishes and desires are respected, both women and men need to say, fuck that shit.—

          We are. I suggest you look up ‘elevatorgate’ for an example of the consequences of women saying, even incredibly politely, ‘fuck that shit’.

          It would be absolutely awesome if guys at least tried to meet us partway.

    2. 7.2
      suttkus

      Well, from the other side, the male has put his self-esteem on the line by opening himself up to the painful possibility of rejection. Nobody likes to be rejected. Which is why the response to “I’m not interested in you” can become harsh. It’s stepping on the self-esteem.

      Now, a mature individual should be capable of dealing with a bit of rejection. But one of the serious flaws in our culture is that male-privilege means it’s far easier to navigate our society while being immature if you’re male.

      So, I can’t see why lying isn’t working fine for both sides, honestly.

      On an unrelated note, all this talk about the morality of lying reminds me of a Ken Ham screed wherein he condemns the people who hid Jews from the Nazis because they lied to Nazis. You see, lying is a sin, and that’s not flexible! God’s law is absolute! You can’t lie, not even because you’re trying to save lives from one of the most evil groups of people ever. Nope. Lying is always wrong.

      This is your brain on fundamentalism. Any questions?

      1. 7.2.1
        BrainyOne

        Well, from the other side, the male has put his self-esteem on the line by opening himself up to the painful possibility of rejection. Nobody likes to be rejected.

        Well, nobody likes it, of course, but my point is his self-esteem shouldn’t be on the line and it therefore shouldn’t be that painful. If a woman rejects you it means…. nothing. It doesn’t mean you’re somehow not a real man. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It means nothing. Move on.

        But one of the serious flaws in our culture is that male-privilege means it’s far easier to navigate our society while being immature if you’re male.

        Yes, but I’d also say another flaw in our culture is that our very idea of what maturity is in a male is skewed.

        1. 7.2.1.1
          WithinThisMind

          —-Well, nobody likes it, of course, but my point is his self-esteem shouldn’t be on the line and it therefore shouldn’t be that painful. If a woman rejects you it means…. nothing. It doesn’t mean you’re somehow not a real man. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It means nothing. Move on.—

          It’s interesting that it remains about his self-esteem. And yet all the women he rejected by not even noticing them somehow manage to go about their lives.

      2. 7.2.2
        Serina

        “Most men fear getting laughed at or humiliated by a romantic prospect while most women fear rape and death.”
        ― Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence

        His fear of getting his self esteem stepped on should not be prioritised over her fear of rape and death, and yet it is. No woman should feel like they owe anything to a strange man approaching her, other than the basic courtesy and politeness which he also owes her. If he ignores all her signals that she wants to be alone, he has stepped over that politeness boundary, and she owes him nothing. If she had to trample his self esteem into the ground in order to be safe, I don’t see the problem, but that’s not the way it happens, is it? She has to protect his fragile ego in order to protect herself.

        If you’re more worried that women will lie to you, than that they occasionally get killed or raped or otherwise sexually assaulted for doing what you’d prefer and being honest, you have fucked up priorities.

  8. 8
    Ann

    I actually had this happen on a city bus a few years back. This guy was hitting on me hard, even though I never looked up from my book or acknowledged his existence. He started getting more and more aggressive and I pulled the “I have a husband” card. He then told me “He can watch”.

    I didn’t know what else to do, so when the next stop came up I gathered my stuff, got out my keys and got ready to leave the bus. I watched the guy out of the corner of my eye, do the same. I made sure he got off the bus before me and then I stayed on. I saw him looking for me on the sidewalk after the doors closed. I waved as the bus pulled away.

    I haven’t left the house without mace since.

    I seriously don’t know how to deal with people like this. Or what thought process makes them think this is okay.

  9. 9
    Uncle Ebeneezer

    I wonder if any of the (mostly) guys who fail to understand this concept have ever lied to a beggar/window-washer on the street that made them feel uncomfortable, by claiming they had “no change” etc. Or are there times when our ethics/honesty/morality can be temporarily placed on the back-burner?

  10. 10
    Marnie

    Thank you for writing this. A guy friend of mine, posted the article in question with a comment to the effect that he is a feminist and respects women’s boundaries but he wants honesty and my response was basically that in a perfect world, that would be fine, but some people don’t take rejection well and being followed to my car, home or an isolated location by someone who feels I didn’t know my place isn’t a risk I’m willing to take. I certainly strive to be straight forward but I’m going to put my safety before honesty, every time.

    I actually just finished reading Sam Harris’ book “Lying” and pretty much everything you say here could be applied to my issues of his premise. While he concedes that people should put their safety first, he feels you are a less capable person for not being able to use honesty to redirect someone else’s behavior. To him, lying is still wrong even if it’s done for your own protection, but he accepts that people will choose that as an option. It’s intensely patronizing and suggests he’s never had someone larger and stronger than him, get a look of pure rage at being rejected, even nicely. He’s never had someone who can clearly overpower him, look at him like prey, and demanding his attention. I want that for everyone. I want everyone to feel like they are free to be their true and honest self, but that’s not reality for many of us and having someone tell me what a terrible person I am for it is not helpful.

    1. 10.1
      smrnda

      Yeah, that strikes me as a very armchair privileged critique of people lying for reasons of safety.

  11. 11
    seraphymcrash

    I’m of the opinion (which has already been expressed above) that people don’t owe strangers any details of thier life. If you press a conversation into an uncomfortable place, then you have no right or expectation of truth.

    She lied about having a boyfriend! Why do you think you are entitled to that information in the first place?! Here’s a hint: you aren’t.

    I’m a guy, so I’ve never had to fend off wouldbe partners, but I’ve had to deal with people who seem unable to take a hint, and I feel no remorse for lying to them. They are the ones intruding on my space, I owe them nothing.

  12. 12
    scenario

    When I was in the dating mode many years ago, as a guy all I was looking for was an honest, reasonably polite yes or no. It can be nonverbal or verbal. In my generation, women were taught to be overly polite. I have a boyfriend was a polite way to say no. Most guys knew that it may or may not be true but the woman was trying not to hurt your feelings. I consider I have a boyfriend to be essentially an honest answer because basically it just means I am not interested in you.

    What I usually got was, “I’d love to but….” If I asked a few days later, the same thing. It could go on for weeks and I was never totally sure if she was really busy or trying to blow me off. I’d much rather have what used to be called a white lie than dragging it out for no good reason.

    People who think that everyone should always tell the truth are living in a dream world. There are many social situations where a small lie is much better than a hard truth.

  13. 13
    Jody Nagel

    I think Miri lives in a dream world. You have made it so difficult for males to have fulfilling heterosexual relationships by all your p.c. “rules,” that all your doing is increasing the number of boys who give up and then “discover” that they’re gay, increasing the number of girls who set standards so high, that, when unfulfilled, decide to become lesbians with some girl more “their equal,” decrease the number of women available to those decent guys that are out there, and increase the stresses of our bizarre society which leads statistically to more rape because guys eventually go crazy when forced to be permanently unsatisfied, thanks to people like you. Women have made it simply too difficult for boys. You do not acknowledge 5 million years of natural selectivity and male and female natural tendencies. WHy should males be the ones that ALL must change to suit your idea of what men should be? WHy not the other way around? You know, I am an out-spoken atheist, far-left politically speaking, and have always assumed that my 14 years of post high-school years of education had placed me squarely on the feminist side of the fence. But you have gone too far. The species will go extinct if all males have to act the way you think they should. Why don’t you take a break and just keep your mouth shut for awhile? Whether you think of yourself as male, female, transgendered, or non-human, you are no friend of mine.

    1. 13.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      I was going to delete this but then it was way too hilarious not to allow my readers to see. You’re welcome!

      1. 13.1.1
        Serina

        Wow….the major, crashing wrongs in that comment, where do I even start! I didn’t even realise it was possible to be such an idiot and so confused and so close-minded in such a short space without a lifetime of bible-beltism.

        Good grief.

        1. 13.1.1.1
          Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

          Look, you just need to understand that I am capable of single-handedly turning all men gay and all women into lesbians, and thus ending the perpetuation of the entire human race. No big.

          1. oolon

            Thanks for solving global warming! I didn’t know feminists were such super heroes :)

    2. 13.2
      DaliParton

      WOW.

      It’s really awesome that your personhood and it’s needs takes precedence over mine and the rest of the female gender’s; I’m super sorry I didn’t get the memo about how everything with a uterus is required to give you validation in bars or social settings, especially when your attention was clearly unwarranted and unwanted. I’m sorry you’ve watched so much pornography that a female person being nice to you is equivalent in your head to an invitation for a facial. How dare you even suggest that sexual violence is somehow the punishment for women collectively not meeting men’s needs. I just. I can’t even. Nope.

  14. 14
    thetalkingstove

    The relentless way some men approach women seems to happen in online dating too. I’m a man but have lady friends who online date, and often talk to women I date myself about their experiences. From what I hear, very often men will persist in sending messages (often increasingly unpleasant) even after being ignored or flat out told that the woman is not interested.

    And she doesn’t even have the option of pulling the ‘husband’ card in that scenario, if her profile says she’s single.
    Fortunately most sites have a ‘block’ option. It’s a shame this isn’t available in meat space.

  15. 15
    Lauranne

    I think most of us have played the ‘boyfriend’ card to try and get away from guys who just can’t take a hint. However, I would never let the fact I have told a lie bother me. I would only use it is all my other attempts at hinting I was not interested were ignored. I would not think that using it makes me feel any less of a feminist. on occasions when on a dance floor if I have unwanted attention i will cozy up to the person I am dancing with regardless of their gender!

  16. 16
    serena

    Another great article Miri, thank you!
    I had a persistent suitor just a few weeks ago; a classmate who overheard that I play video games for entertainment and struck up some conversation. I explained how I require a minimum of 6 hours daily, that I intentionally don’t go anywhere (both by desire and for the fact that I live with elderly parents – so I have no private space for guests), and described the last 3 boyfriends I had were met playing video games. I said something to the effect of “Guys meet me playing video games then wonder why I want to spend all my time playing video games…” and chuckled about how I had ultimately dumped them because I didn’t want to devote much attention to them. (I’m not exaggerating – I once told a guy, after sex “Yeah I’m done, I’m gonna go play now. You can hang out and watch if you like, or go home *shrug*”.) So for every explanation of exactly why I don’t go anywhere or have anybody over, he had some idea of how to get around it. When I said I couldn’t go anywhere because I am not my own ride (which is 100% true, and like hell am I bothering to take a bus to go out when I don’t even want to be out at all), of course he offered to pick me up (which is, of course, a perfectly nice thing to offer) and when I countered that with “well but I’m still on my parent’s schedule, I have to serve dinner, do chores etc” he says “Oh that’s okay, you can just spend the night!”. Which makes me repeat the “no I don’t go anywhere”, which gets the response “How bout after school? I can give you a ride home and we can stop for a burger on the way” and I say “No, my mom is already scheduled to be here then” so I get “well call her and tell her not to come” so I say “no she’s not good with schedule changes” and oh god this went on for 5 days in a row. Not once did he attempt to get to know me any better than “she plays video games”. Finally, on a smoke break during class, amongst a large group of colleagues, he starts on it again. Opens with the assumption that I have indeed agreed to go out with him, but we only need to sort the details; “I got my xbox in the truck, I figured I could just give you a ride home and we could hang out.” (And to me, this is borderline offensive. If he knew anything about me even as merely a gamer – let alone a person, he would have known that bringing me an xbox is like bringing a bicycle to a hotrod race. PC 4 lyfe, yo!) So, being fed up I repeat with an exasperated tone that I intentionally don’t have friends I meet anywhere, that THIS (being at school) is the extent of me going out, and no I don’t want to go anywhere after class. When I finish (with several people watching in silence) he looks dejected and I turn away to walk back into the building, hoping to avoid any response. I return to my seat and a few moments later the lady who sits next to me returns as well, having witnessed the whole incident. She tells me as she sits down that when I walked away he said “I just lost all respect for her” and I rather loudly snort “It’s clear he didn’t have any in the first place! He just proved my “no” right! Hah!” and she laughs along with me (whether out of social graces or genuine understanding I have no idea, as this is a pretty nuanced interaction).
    He hasn’t spoken to me since, outside of sharing a lighter on break or whatnot. I certainly don’t expect him to continue to pursue, and am grateful that he hasn’t, but I’m amazed that he never even attempted to approach me on a friend level. Get to know me on any level. The only point of relation we had was the video games, and he didn’t even try to have games-centered conversations. Did he know I hold the world’s record for Tomb Raider 2 completed with the harpoon weapon only? Nope, and maybe I shut him down too hard to have had the chance. Or maybe 5 days is plenty of time, my world’s pretty tiny (again, intentionally so). I just think it’s pretty damn telling.
    When mom picked me up that day, I told her about it (knowing it wasn’t the best of ideas but whatever). Her first response was “well you gotta think how hard it is for guys to gotta be the one to ask…” which made me burst out with a “HAH that’s HIS expectation, not mine!” I was equally amused as I was outraged, because I don’t expect a progressive or feminist view on anything from my mother. She did however concede that since I wasn’t wanting a relationship, it’s hardly my responsibility to give him one. Plus my relationship with her is much better when I’m not trying to have relationships with people anyway.
    This whole scenario played out pretty benign; everyone walked away only slightly miffed (as far as I can tell). But this is what happens when you say no but remain friendly. I spent a few days afterwards debating to myself “so which is it, am I supposed to be a bitch right off the bat?” I’m still fuckin confused; what was I supposed to say, that first day, to protect this man’s ego? Was there ANY thing I could have said that wasn’t “ok, got condoms?” And why is it my problem how this random person’s ego feels?!?!?!?!?!
    Moral of the story: Damned if ya do, damned if ya don’t

  17. 17
    serena

    Holy crap my editing, I’m sorry for wall o’text, I thought I put paragraph spacing in there -.-

  18. 18
    Philip Bone

    Excellent post by Miri. I entirely agree with her stance.

    There is a paragraph in the chinese “Book of Changes” (I Ching) that goes : “The Wise Man —in this case : The Wise Woman— always rides out unharmed when he/she uses the arms of the enemy to get safe”

    In ‘heavies’ and dumbos’ mind, for a woman to belong to someone else is an indisputable pretext to “leave the battlefield” (!) with head held high !

    Thus, there is no shame with getting them at their own game…

  1. 19
    How many “No’s” does it take to get to the center of an antisocial bitch? | Rena's Rants

    […] is a comment to a post written by the awesome Miri at Brute Reason discussing the troubles with navigating persistent propositions. My comment ended up being a longer […]

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