What would this look like in real life? How we would actually go about teaching the four steps of rejection would vary between settings. I’m going to use the example of a partnered dance activity, and go step by step.
- Tell students clearly that they all have the right to ask other students to dance, regardless of gender. This is not Victorian England. If we want to address the issue of men being overpredatory and women being overmeek, how about we stop endorsing the whole man-the-hunter-woman-the-prey thing?
- Tell them the appropriate formula for asking for a dance. Do you ask by mutual looks and nods? Do you walk up to someone and ask verbally? What is the protocol in this particular setting?
- Tell them that they all have the right to decline a dance by using the magical words “thank you, but no.”
- Tell them that, if they are rejected, the correct response is a swift “thanks anyway”, followed by backing the hell up and leaving the person alone. Explain that nobody has the right to demand an explanation, plead, insist, persist, make sad puppy eyes, or do anything else to try and push another into dancing.
- Tell them that if they are turned down three times on a row by a potential partner, to take the damn hint and stop asking. If that person ever wants to dance with them in the future, they can ask themselves.
- Tell them that if they believe they are being rejected overmuch, they should talk to a teacher. There may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.
- Tell them that if they habitually reject a lot of partners, they might find themselves sitting out a lot of dances. And that’s entirely their call, if that’s how they want to play it.
- Actually make them go through both asking and rejecting at least once every session. Point out to them how the world did not in fact end either when they rejected, or when they were rejected. Make rejection a normal, everyday fact of life, rather than some kind of climactic event.
What we are doing at the moment also gives women an inaccurate sense of their level of responsibility and power over the overall interaction. By teaching people that rejection is a two-person, multi-step process, we can stop putting an undue burden of responsibility on the actions of a single party in a single step. By looking at the entire process, we could accurately identify where the misstep took place, and what it indicates about the people in question. Ultimately, teaching only one half of a two-person script that routinely fails – and teaching that to the person who is often enough not the cause of sad failure – seems an exercise in futility.
The only way for everyone to be on the same page – and the only way to weed out for definite those people who are not – is for everyone to know what the damn page is. Yes, we could rely on the fact that people should know… but, let’s face it, we’re doing that now, and it isn’t working. By actually telling everyone what’s what we can make sure that everyone is adequately informed. This will eliminate the possibility of people misbehaving because “they don’t’ know any better”, or pretending to do so. It will also enable a fast and uncompromising response to misbehaviour when appropriate, and save everyone a lot of bother along the line.