On most nights, I like to listen to music and walk around my building for some movement and exercise. I usually go a little late into the night, when it is quiet and peaceful and everything is dark. I enjoy the solitude of the night. How the night is uninterrupted by anything. Anything, except well… entitled men.
A few days ago, a man came up to me while I was walking. He stood before me stubbornly until I removed my earphones. I was already irritated, why would you approach a person listening to music, unless it’s an emergency?
He went on to tell me that he had noticed me walking around the building many times, and that he found me attractive and liked how ‘fit’ I looked. I was a bit put off by this stranger commenting on how he thought my body was ‘fit.’ He even told me that he had asked the security guard about my identity and learnt which college I went to. Creepy! But I smiled and tolerated it for a while, then I said ‘thank-you, but I’ll continue my walk now.’
I was polite. Clear. That should’ve been the end of the conversation. But… It wasn.’t. He started to badger me- asking me for a walk, for a date, for my flat number, for my phone number. This went on- I said no multiple times, while he persisted. Finally when I refused in a more rude way, he looked offended. I then walked away and didn’t let him follow me. While he thankfully didn’t see me after that night, the event stuck in my mind.
Sexual entitlement is exhausting. This man thought that because he saw a woman he fancied, he was entitled to interrupt her walk, talk to her and demand a date with her IN SPITE of a repeated no. When we call for sexual liberation, it is easy to get confused and prioritize your sexual needs over the comfort/ boundaries of others. To be clear, I wasn’t upset that he told me he found me attractive.
I was angry that he kept insisting after I made it clear that I wasn’t interested in him. This man’s aim was to persist and exhaust me until I gave a ‘yes.’ And that’s not real consent.
Real consent for anything- for sex, a date, a job, or anything else, always has to be free and informed. It should not feel pressured. This is why we need to normalise rejection! In a free society, people should be able to freely and openly communicate something as normal as attraction. That’s fine, but we also have to be considerate of other people’s boundaries and comfort zone. But you might be thinking- sometimes it is hard to tell if someone is really interested or not, especially in the early stages of conversation. How do we avoid making someone uncomfortable? Well, here is a guide!
–No means no. But a NO can look like many things. If you are flirting with someone and they look uncomfortable, is trying to avoid eye contact or looks scared- you should probably stop, even if they haven’t said no.
-Asked someone on a date? And now they are saying things like- ‘not now,’ ‘I don’t know,’ ‘I don’t think so’ ‘umm.. I’m not sure?’ Then that’s most likely a no, unless they clarify otherwise later!
-Ask yourself- are they in a position to say no? If you are in a relationship of power/ seniority with them- where you are a boss/ teacher/ mentor/ supervisor, they might not feel like they have the agency to say no. In such dynamics, avoid pursuing romance/ sex at all.
-A no that turns into a yes is probably still a no. If someone declines you at first, and you keep badgering them into giving you a phone number or talking to you more, they might just agree out of compulsion. This is coercion, not consent!
-If in doubt- just ask! “Hey, I’m really into you, I know our last conversation was a little flirty. I enjoyed it, but if you’re not okay with it, please tell me! I’ll understand.” Always ask, don’t assume! And if it’s not a clear YES, don’t go forward with it!
We need to understand that the people we are interested in, might not like us back. This is human and ok. In a society that sees romantic relationships above all other relationships, rejection feels like a failure. And this is all the more complicated by gender- we often think of sex or a date as something that a wonan ‘gives’ and that a man ‘takes.’ When we think of it this way, men often feel entitled to ‘take’ what they want at any cost, sometimes even turning violent. This is why we need to conceptualize love, dating and sex as entirely equal. Something that both people participate in as equal, free, informed members.
It is easy to obsess over people, think of them as objects of our desire and fantasy. But at the end of the day, they are human. But for our affection to be truly meaningful, we must respect their choices. So- allow yourself to be human. To feel attraction and rejection. And allow others to be human too- to have choice, space and freedom. If we can all live by these rules, the world becomes an easier place!