I’ve been writing about creeps a lot lately, so people have been sending me lots of creep-related goodies. One of the main type of goodies I’ve been getting are articles aiming to teach women how to turn men down. Please note that the gendering is from the articles themselves, not from me: that’s how the articles I’m getting are written.
Although they all purport to be teaching women how to say “no”, in reality the articles vary so much in their intent that it’s hard to compare them. Some aim to teach women how to turn someone down without ruffling any feathers whatsoever. These articles suggest methods so subtle, so gentle, that the men in question might not even realise that they have been turned down. Others aim to teach women how to punish men for daring to approach them, regardless of the context or manner of this approach. These articles concern me because they might cause unnecessary escalations. There are plenty of articles sitting between these two extremes. Some even oscillate from one extreme to the other. All the articles, however, have something in common: they all look at the women’s boundary setting as if it were the only significant element in the rejection process. They completely ignore what comes before and after. In doing so, they entirely overlook two key factors:
- Women do not say “no” in a vacuum; their rejection is part of a longer process.
- It’s not always the “no” that is the problem: the process can fail at any point.
It seems to me that in order to teach how a rejection should work, we need to look out at the entire rejection process, and from both sides. We need to look at the whole social request dance, not at a single step in it. For the dance to be completed successfully, with no bruised toes or egos, all the steps need to be completed adequately by both partners. A failure on either person’s part at any point will result in someone’s toes getting stepped on.
The Social Request And Rejection is a dance with four main parts:
- Person A makes a social request;
- Person B accepts or rejects the request;
- Person A responds to the acceptance or rejection;
- Person B responds to the way Person A responded.
What we are doing now is teaching a quarter of a dance – one-eight part of a dance, in fact, because this is a dance with two partners.
Furthermore, we ignore that the rest of the process affects how women set boundaries, or fail to. Women are often reluctant to state a clear, calm “no” because, in their experience, it’s common enough for men to either brush by it, or flip out in response. We could play a chicken-or-egg game with this: what comes first, women’s reluctance to reject, or men’s reluctance to take rejection on the chin? By focusing solely on women’s ability to reject, we’re overlooking the other half of the equation.
When my male acquaintances bemoan that some women are too unclear or too hostile in expressing their rejections, I encourage them to create a fake female profile on a free dating site – a very naughty thing to do, but a great educational experience. In no time at all, they discover how often a woman can turn down a man in a considerate, clear fashion only to be met with a stream of weasel tactics, emotional blackmail, insults, and even threats. Maybe, just maybe, women’s apparently inexplicable, aberrant behaviours would be less common if perfectly good “nos” didn’t blow up in their faces quite as often.
One thought on “It takes two to tango, or not – 1. Intro.”
You’re absolutely right about some guys’ reacting badly to being rejected courteously but directly. I’ve gotten it more than once on the street when I just wanted to be left alone.
So if someone — perhaps especially a girl or woman — wants to start off with a gentle, indirect rejection that’s fine by me.
But it’s both counterproductive and rude to leap from passive to aggressive. The fact is, some folks don’t get subtlety but are more than happy to leave you alone if you ask. Why jump down their throat if you don’t have to?
As Marc MacYoung has pointed out in his (and Chris Pfouts’) Safe in the City and elsewhere, if you blow up at someone who’s just approached you, if he is a bad dude you’ve just made things worse by (1) giving him an excuse to attack you (or even just plain provoking him if he’s unstable) and (2) showing you don’t know where the boundaries are, so how can you protect your own?
Rory Miller suggests what might be called a three strike system. Tweaked a bit, it can go like this:
After strike one (Subtle rejection fails, or the guy does something actually out of line): “Leave me alone.” (Maybe add a “please” if you can do it with resolve.)
Strike two (anything but leaving you alone): “Leave me alone or I will report this to the admin/your provider/your boss/the Title IX Office*/etc.”
[*] Most U.S. colleges and universities by now have Title IX Offices dedicated to handling things like sexual harassment.
Strike three (ditto): “Hello, Title IX Office? So and so is harassing me. I told him to leave me alone on this time and date and this time and date too, clear as you please, but he keeps bothering me.”
Do not try to negotiate with the guy or explain yourself.
Remember, most people — predators most of all — respect a growling dog much more than a barking one. There’s a reason we don’t say “All growl and no bite.”