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No Means Nothing

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013 by

TW: sexual harassment, mentions of rape. I wrote this a year ago, and never got around to publishing it. Sadly, it is still relevant.

It’s three thirty, in the afternoon. Broad daylight. I’m on my way to meet a friend for coffee, and I’m anxious because I’m running late. I’m hurrying down the street, and that’s when he comes up beside me and walks next to me, his elbow jutting out towards me, just a little too close for comfort. My heart starts to race and I think to myself that I’m imagining things, that it’s nothing and he’ll go away without confrontation. I quicken my pace and turn the corner, hoping that he won’t follow. No such luck.

He sticks his elbow even further towards me, almost in my face. “Hey, take my arm,” he says. I can smell alcohol on his breath. “No,” I tell him. “Let’s go get coffee,” he says. “No,” I say. “How about lunch?” he says. “No,” I say. “I don’t want to.” “You busy?” he asks. “Yes,” I reply. “How about the rest of the month?” “I’m busy for the rest of the month.” “How come? Why you gotta be like that?” I stop and sigh, and I think I really don’t have the energy for this and so I give in. I play it. The trump card.

“I’ve got a boyfriend.”

“AWWWWW MAN!” he screams and veers away from me, pounding his fists on a nearby truck to vent his disappointment and displeasure that the thing he wants is already claimed by another. I scurry away down the street, feeling scared and for some reason I can’t quite pinpoint, ashamed.

I parse things out later, the source of my shame, my feelings of weakness. This experience, while not violent, has reminded me that I don’t own my own body, that my male partner does. That if I don’t want to have sex with someone, it’s not my call to make.

This is entitlement culture. This is the culture that we live in, that we operate every day in, that says that a woman’s refusal for reasons of her own autonomy, her own wishes are invalid. This is the culture that we live in, where I walk down the street and I wear my headphones even if they aren’t plugged into anything, so I can pretend not to hear that cat-calls and propositions that come my way, so I can pretend not to feel threatened. This is the culture that we live in, where my male friend touches my body without permission and then laughingly asks for forgiveness, because, you know, that’s easier than asking for permission.

This is why I will speak out in defense of victims and against victim-blaming. This is why I give them victims, not abusers, the benefit of the doubt. This is why I make sure that consent culture is covered in the sexual health panels that I participate in. This is why I listen to Kitty’s story, to Maggie’s story, why I listen to your story, and why I tell mine. This is why I am a proponent of consent culture. I don’t care if you find problems with it, I don’t care if you think it creates “conflict” or “drama,” or that it stirs shit up.

We need to stir shit up. We need to create an atmosphere where people can feel safe asking for “yes,” where people have to ask for “yes.” Because in the culture we live in right now? I’m saying “no,” but no one is listening.

5 Responses to “No Means Nothing”

  1. Leo says:

    I sort of disagree with the idea that “I’ve got a boyfriend” works because (people who are read as) women are seen as belonging to men. Why can’t it simply be a matter of politeness? “Your shirt is ugly” means nothing about the shirt, it means “I dislike you and want to openly insult you”; to convey “Your shirt is ugly” you say something like “I think that other colour looks better on you”. Similarly, “I have a boyfriend” means “I’m not interested” and “I’m not interested” means “I’m playing hard to get”. As long as everyone understands this, communication is clear. (Admittedly this isn’t always the case, it took me an embarrassingly long time to learn.)

    • Fizz says:

      Even if I agree with your premise (which I don’t especially), that usage still relies on the premise of monogamy. I’d rather not be an active part of poly erasure.

    • Chaos says:

      I’m not sure I understand how you can get much clearer than stating your intentions outright. It’s totally possible to say “I’m not interested” in a polite, respectful manner. Do you think that people who are single ought to use “I have a partner” in this manner as well?

    • ~“I’m not interested” means “I’m playing hard to get.”

      You know what ^that^ means?
      It means you’re that guy.

  2. Chris O'Sullivan says:

    When someone is not interested I want to hear that quickly. The mentality of “just making sure” and persistence in the face of resistance adds to the culture of entitlement that encourages playing hard to get. If someone is “playing hard to get” the simple answer is to play hard to get with that person as well. This serves two purposes, If they are not “playing” then you disengage and may for the moment not be “that guy.” The second purpose is to discourage that behaviour if they are “playing.”

    When a woman, or a man says “I’m not interested” or even earlier just plain “no” what that really means is that I am not interesting to that person. So, I should go live my life and be more interesting to myself. I have an expectation, maybe a requirement that anybody that is interested in me should have a reason that isn’t just to use me. If I have that expectation for other people I should also have that expectation for myself.

    That doesn’t mean that I should not ask someone to dance or to have a cup of coffee but that I should have a larger reason in my life for interacting with someone than to pursue them for a specific use that they might not be interested in. A real authentic set of goals that gets me awake in the morning and has me stay awake at night. Too many people have no such goals in their lives, they’re really not that interesting. They’re the people I say no to. They have time and energy to “play hard to get,” I don’t.

    If more relationship could be based on people finding mutual interest and value then the relationships that form will likely have a chance to mature.

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