This weekend I went out to a club with some friends (and friends of friends) for a night of dancing. I was having an awesome time dancing when one of the guys in the group who I’d been dancing with earlier in the night grabbed my hand and led me to another of the multiple rooms of the club. Once we were away from my friends he told me that I was sexy and kissed me. I smiled but told him that I wasn’t interested and pushed his chest away with my hand. He tried to kiss me again and I again responded with ‘No,’ but this time with less of a smile and with a stronger push, and I suggested that we go back to join our friends. We had almost reached where the rest of the group was when he tried once more to kiss me and so I told him that I was already going out with someone – and only then did he stop. When I returned, one of my guy friends, noticing that I wasn’t my usual bubbly, partying self, asked me what was wrong. I tried to explain – as best I could, against the thumping electronic music and through the 1am haze – but he just smirked a little bit and told me to chill out and not take things to seriously. Sure, it was just a bit of flirting in a club on a Friday night and, sure, nothing really happened and I was able to control the situation. But how could I make my friend understand that I felt like the other guy had somewhat violated my private space because the kisses were unwanted; that I felt completely disrespected because he only stopped his advances when he thought he was stepping on another man’s turf; and that I had felt unsafe? When, an hour or so later, another guy approached me, I just instinctively and instantly said “Sorry, but I have a boyfriend.”
My mind was immediately thrown back to Alecia Lynn Eberhardt’s excellent article from last year, “Stop Saying ‘I Have a Boyfriend.'” Eberhardt quotes another blogger saying,
Male privilege is “I have a boyfriend” being the only thing that can actually stop someone from hitting on you because they respect another male-bodied person more than they respect your rejection/lack of interest.
Eberhardt then goes on to explain, however, that women are not doing themselves/men/society as a whole any favours by using this excuse:
If the woman in question was boyfriend-free, would she automatically be swooning in the arms of the creep harassing her? Unlikely. So why do we keep using these excuses? We’re not teaching men anything about the consequences of their behavior (i.e. polite, real conversation warrants a response while unwanted come-ons do not). We’re merely taking the easy exit, and, simultaneously, indicating to men that we agree, single girls are “fair game” for harassment.
I couldn’t agree more. But, then, I tried saying no, I tried walking away, and the only strategy that worked was saying I had a boyfriend. Should I have pulled out a full-force debate about patriarchy there in the club, as Eberhardt suggests? Probably. Did I? Nope – I honestly just wanted to get myself out of the situation as quickly as possible. Will I avoid the boyfriend excuse and launch into a gender discussion next time? Hopefully – if I feel that my friends have my back.
All of this begs the question, ‘What are guys to do?’
For guy friends who want to be supportive, you can keep an eye out for your friends, you can speak up when you witness other guys using misogynistic language or harassing a woman, you can listen and try to understand when your female friends tell you they feel unsafe…and, if you happen to be in New York tomorrow night, you can educate yourself at the Gotham Comedy Club’s show, “Dudes Against Violence Against Women – Because DUH.”
For guys who want to be able to approach women without coming across as creepy, Charlie Glick’s recent blog post “Being Bold” has some practical advice. He suggests beginning with an ‘if’ statement (If you’re in the mood/If you’re available/If you’re into it), followed with a statement of your desire (I would like to go out to dinner with you/I’d enjoy kissing you/I’d love to spend the night with you). Glick explains,
These sorts of invitations make it clear that the desire is only there if the other person is into it…If you aren’t in the mood, then I wouldn’t enjoy kissing you. It’s implicit that the desire is present if (and only if) the other person’s consent, interest, and availability are present. That demonstrates a high level of care and respect, and it makes a difference.
And if you can’t be bothered to read the article, you can always fall back on the eternal wisdom of the Flight of the Conchords, who had this whole ‘if’ statement idea down years ago.