Yesterday, xoJane republished this piece from online mag Luna Luna. Headline: Stop Saying “I Have a Boyfriend” To Deflect Unwanted Attention. Subheadline: Ladies, let’s just learn to say “I’m not interested.”
“UM, K — BECAUSE THAT WORKS,” I snorted to no one, but I gave the piece a chance (see what I did there?). Due to my long, illustrious (giggle) day career as a music journalist, I know that other people write headlines and, if they’re worth their salt, they’ll make ’em nice and grabby.
Alas, this headline was accurate. Literal, even.
The writer, Alecia Lynn Eberhardt, makes a fairly interesting argument informed by her own experiences and inspired by, ostensibly, the following quotation which she had seen making the rounds on Tumblr:
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 goes on to write:
This amazingly puts into one sentence what I have been attempting to explain to ex-boyfriends and friends (male and female) for years, mostly unsuccessfully. The idea that a woman should only be left alone if she is “taken” or “spoken for” (terms that make my brain twitch) completely removes the level of respect that should be expected toward that woman. It completely removes the agency of the woman, her ability to speak for herself and make her own decisions regarding when and where the conversation begins or ends.
At first I was all like, “YEAH!” because ‘taken’ and ‘spoken for’ are also terms that make MY brain twitch, but then I was all like, “Oh. Wait …”
I was given serious pause by this sentence:
And the worst part of the whole situation is that we’re doing this to ourselves.
Hmmm. Are we, though? The creeper who won’t take a hint isn’t the worst part of the whole situation? OK, then.
Since we’re doing it to ourselves, Eberhardt offers up an easy solution. Just tell him you’re not interested! Just keep telling him you’re not interested!
Or you could just do this:
You could even, if you were feeling particularly outspoken, engage in a bit of debate with the man in question. ‘Why is it that you think that just because I’m not interested, there must be an excuse? Why is it not an option that I’m simply not looking for a sexual encounter and/or something about the way that you approached me indicated to me that you have very little respect for women and therefore I would never be interested in having a sexual encounter with you regardless of my sexuality or relationship status?’
WELL. That’s great in theory but it falls way short in practice. Because here’s the thing: we live in a culture in which “I’m not interested” doesn’t always work. We live in a culture in which “I have a boyfriend” doesn’t always work. We live in a culture that, like this article suggests, makes putting a stop to harassment/assault somehow a woman’s responsibility. And we live in a culture that blames victims — particularly female victims who have experienced unwanted sexual attention (or assault). We live in a rape culture.
Yeah, no. I, like the many others who have taken issue with this article, don’t consider harassment a teachable moment. Why is it my responsibility to school a dude who doesn’t get it — and potentially put myself in danger doing so? Fuck that noise. To quote an awesome commenter named Sam: “it’s not my job to make myself uncomfortable and place myself in harm’s way just so some misogynistic creep can learn a very special lesson about respecting my boundaries.” Yeah, girl.
Until “I’m not interested” works, I’ll stick with whatever excuse shuts that shit down and gets me out of there alive.