Well here it’s rant week!
Ok, you’re right, I give. Rant week is every week when I’m at the keyboard.
I never thought I’d actually have to write a post about this, but certain recent events (New York City and its social dynamics being one of them) have got me thinking.
Men: women, romantically speaking, do not owe you anything. Zilch. Zero. That girl you took out to dinner? She doesn’t have to go out with you again. The girl you’ve been emailing or flirting with? When you get down to brass tacks and finally ask her out, she doesn’t have to say yes.
You know how, at a party, you generally get to ask for the girl’s number, and are allowed to vanish into the night with it, sometimes never to be seen again, and if the girl gets your work email and uses it to ask why you didn’t call, you can meet up with your friends for drinks and talk about how crazy she is? This is like that.
No one owes you any romantic engagement beyond what they have actually consented to. You consented to ask for the girl’s number; she consented to give it. You consented to ask her on a date; she may or may not consent to accompany you.
And here, I know, for a certain sampling, is the real kicker–you don’t get to know her reasons. You don’t get to know if it’s logical, if it’s insulting, if it’s the most deathly soul-searching or the most unserious whim. You are not entitled to an explanation of her social or erotic choices.
Women, you do not have to explain your “No.” You do not have to say that your cat just died, that you just got out of a bad relationship, that you and your friend are wearing matching 90s floral print dresses because you’re lovers (ahem), that you’re slammed with work. You have to say these things as much as men have to write you apologetic emails explaining why they won’t be calling this week or ever. All you have to say is, “Thanks, but no thanks. Have a good day.”
And no, this does not make you a bitch. It does not make you mean. Mean is saying “No, because the way you chewed your food on our first date grossed me out so much that I couldn’t even pay attention to the heinous politics you were spouting.” Gratuitous explication of another’s failings is cruel; a polite no is just a polite no.
Is it rejection? Is it often stinging and humiliating? Yep. That’s life, especially the part of life involving the highly charged and vulnerable quest for a mate. It’s painful to be rejected by someone you liked. It’s painful when the crush who finally asked for your number never calls and starts dating your roommate a few weeks later. All these countless scenarios of hope and rejection are painful and humbling, but they do not arise from cruelty or injustice.
You are not available by default. Young working women, you do not owe a debt to the handsome respectable men who deign to ask you out. Bright-eyed college freshmen, you do not owe a debt to the handsome lacrosse playing seniors who deign to summon you to their beds (and then expect you to fake an orgasm because several years of porn have not prepared their poor sensitive masculine egos well for the fact that bedding only a blurred succession of anonymous women tends to make one an incompetent lover).
Women are born into a world that treats them as subjects and property of men–ancillary others who exist to support and smooth things out for the main players to whom they belong–to be always sweet and conciliating and, above all, available. Hanna Rosin can write about the rise of the matriarchy till her fingers fall off, but as long as we have the spectacle of grown women twisting themselves into apologetic knots over daring (daring!) to decline someone’s sexual interest in them, women remain second-class citizens.
And yes, of course this cuts both ways (which is one of the reasons I’m always leery about the perennial angst in Catholic circles over everyone’s failure to marry everyone else). But no matter how many articles on men’s romantic failings get published, personal campaigns of harassment and bullying seem rare. I don’t very often hear of women refusing to take no for an answer, of calling and emailing and texting after clear negatives and requests for space, of debating the soundness of the decision or arguing that the objects of their interest should be flattered, of deploying words like “bitch” and “slut” when they don’t get what they want.
This seems mainly a male problem, probably because men have more power to abuse.
The presumption of female availability keeps rape culture alive and kicking; but even before we get to that point, it creates a hostile, unhealthy environment in multiple spheres of life–the erotic is just the most obvious.
And I for one, am sick of it. I am sick of quiet women, or meek women, getting walked over by men who see a gentler no as an invitation to try harder. I am sick of outspoken women meeting waves of fury and obsession from the men they reject. The domination and entitlement is a male problem; men can help solve it. Until then, rest assured that if you harass a woman I know, or make her cry or duck out of parties early, or make her feel unsafe, or simply exhaust her into submission, I am coming for you.
Update: tangential but related