Why Is It So Hard for Women to Reject Creeps?

As someone who suffers from social anxiety, I’m not fond of going places alone. I don’t like interacting with strangers; I’m never sure what to say or how to react and it makes me nervous as hell. However, when my friends are with me, I have a lovely social buffer — they handle the stranger talk; I stand by and stare off into the distance. It’s a good system.

There’s another reason why I don’t like to go places alone — and it has nothing to do with my own failings. I’m afraid of being approached by men who want to chat me up, or ask me on a date. I don’t know how to reject them — the fact is, it doesn’t matter how polite I am, things can turn dangerous in a split second.

The Threat

When women receive unsolicited attention, we’re forced to respond in a way we believe will create the least resistance. Hell, we’ll even apologize for not being interested! It’s a horrible, disgusting truth, but we live in a world where we can be violently attacked for rejecting a man’s advances. Call me a femenazi if you want, throw out your not all men hashtag, but women have every reason to feel apprehensive when rejecting men.

What’s more, violent reactions aren’t only relegated to face-to-face interactions. Dating has undergone a metamorphosis over the years, and when so much correspondence happens via Facebook and Tinder apps, harassment is bound to follow it into the technological age. Look no further than the site Bye Felipe (NSFW) to see the special brand of cruelty hurled at women who dare to say no online.

I’m not one to consider my experiences and opinions to be the absolute truth, so I reached out to a few of my female coworkers to as why they had trouble rejecting men.

“I don’t necessarily have a hard time rejecting them, but I feel like I have to be nice and sweet about it or just kind of brush them off, even when they’re being exceptionally rude. It’s like I can’t stand up for myself, whereas I would definitely yell at a guy if he was treating a friend of mine the same way,” explains Allie Koyle. “I think it comes from a place of fear. I know that if I say the wrong thing or if the guy ends up being slightly crazy he has the physical advantage over me and could hurt me if he wanted to. So I feel like I have to keep them happy even when I’m saying ‘get the fuck away from me.’”

Danika McClure thinks it has a lot to do with empathy and how we’re socialized as women. But she too mentioned the possibility of violence being a factor.

“It’s also hard to say no to men because sometimes men don’t take rejection well. There is the potential that they will become violent, aggressive, mean, etc. I’ve had interactions on Tinder where I’ve politely said no thank you to people’s advances, and had to get progressively more mean because they don’t pick up subtle ‘no’ signals. It’s hard saying no sometimes, because yeah not all men are violent, but some men are, and it’s hard to tell which ones are going to go fly off the deep end and say mean or degrading stuff, or take it one step further.”

The Emotional Aspect

When Danika mentioned how we’re socialized as women, it struck a chord in me. Women tend to be more emotionally empathetic than men. We honestly care about people’s feelings — even when those people are throwing out unwelcome propositions. I saw this paralleled in many of my coworker’s responses.

“I find it hard to reject men because I didn’t like hurting their feelings; I have a hard time drawing the line between being friendly and being direct,” says Kimberly Brown.

Trisha Miller echoes Kimberly’s sentiment in her response.

“I find it hard to reject men that are polite. If men are aggressive or too forward I have no problem being absolute in my rejection. However, someone who is being polite and seems like a nice person is hard to reject because I imagine how I would feel working up the courage to ask someone out on a date and being rejected – that feeling can be devastating.”

However, Ashley Nielsen sees our tendency to be in touch with our emotions in a different light.

“It’s awkward that they would put you in this sort of social position in the first place. I guess men feel it’s necessary because they tend to require more direct communication while women pick up more on feelings, social cues, etc. While we feel we’re making it obvious that we’re not interested or only want to be friends, men think that we are in fact interested and showing our interest,” she explains.

The Lives We Lead

No matter where our reluctance to reject men comes from, it’s clear that society has conditioned women to adjust to silently living in fear. We ignore street harassment, rather than confronting it. We gently turn down unwanted advances as if we’re defusing bombs. We slip our keys in between our knuckles when walking alone — just in case we need to fight back. We do all of this because we know the world we live in.

We know that 65 percent of American women experience some form of street harassment in their lifetime. We know that one out of every six women in the U.S. have been the victim of completed or attempted rape. We know that one in three female homicide victims are murdered by an intimate partner. We know this, and it’s harming us more than we could ever imagine.

It’s not easy to come up with a solution. It involves educating the entire adult populace, and hoping they care enough to change/do something about it. It requires teaching our sons that anger and violence are never an acceptable answer to rejection, that street harassment is degrading and terrifying to those on the receiving end, and that the only person to blame for rape is the rapist. More than anything, it means dismantling the rape culture, and I’m afraid we may have a long way to go before we see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Until such a time, I will continue to travel in a pack, avoiding contact with strangers in bars and Target alike.


Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Liz Greene hails from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. She’s a lover of all things geek and is happiest when cuddling with her dogs and catching up on the latest Marvel movies. You can follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene or delve deeper into her internal musings at InstantLo

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