‘Being a Woman is Scary’: the Unspoken Danger of Declining a Man’s Advances
So deeply is the malaise of male sexual aggression ingrained into our social consciousness that our focus remains firmly on how women should tackle, and defuse, the situation rather than on how we might dismantle male entitlement and abuse in the first place, writes LAURA BATES.
When the actor J. J. (name initialized: YmD) tweeted about her negative experiences of rejecting unwanted advances, she unleashed a torrent of similar stories from other women. Many men, on the other hand, seemed completely shocked.
“Was out at the shops with my friend. Man ogles me. Man then approaches me to give me his number. I explain I have a boyfriend, but thank him for the offer. Man then threatens my career, saying I better remember that I rejected him. And then shouts at me that I’m low class …”
Her experience is the end result of a breathtakingly sexist assumption (perpetuated by media, advertising and our wider culture) that women exist primarily as potential partners for heterosexual men, that they owe men their time and attention without question, and that they are rude, arrogant or ungrateful if they dare to decline sexual attention.
J. later added:
“I once said, ‘No, thank you!’ to a man when I was nineteen and didn’t have an excuse… and he punched me in the face. After that, whether or not I have a boyfriend, I say I do. Being a woman is truly, constantly scary. It’s like existing on thin ice.”
For certain groups in particular, including trans-women, women of colour and sex-workers, it is well-documented that refusing unwanted advances can result in aggression, physical or sexual violence, or even murder.
As a result, it is extremely common for women to adopt coping mechanisms and evasive strategies (such as evoking the spectre of alternative ‘male ownership’ in the form of a boyfriend or a husband) to try to escape such situations safely.
Particularly dispiriting, although not particularly surprising, were the number of replies to J. J.’s tweets containing suggestions of how she could better cope with the situation in future.
This is a telling indicator of how deeply normalized these inequalities are in our society – that our focus remains firmly on how women should tackle and defuse the situation rather than on how we might dismantle male entitlement and abuse in the first place.