Stop Saying “I Have a Boyfriend”

girls-drinking

I enjoy “going out.” I like dancing, I like music, I like drinking, I like spending time with friends. And I like meeting new people, chatting with them, making friends. I also understand that many people (men and women) go to bars and clubs in hopes of meeting a romantic/sexual partner, and of course, there is nothing wrong with this, in theory.

That’s why, if someone attempts conversation with me, I try not to immediately write them off as a “creep.” I welcome conversation and believe that the more people in my life with whom I can converse, the better off I’ll be. However (as most women know) there sometimes comes a point in a conversation with a man where it becomes necessary to draw the line and indicate that you are in no way, by any means, at all interested in pursuing anything further. There are also times when it is clear that friendly conversation is not in the cards (i.e., those men who substitute grabbing your hips and attempting to “dance” with you for a polite introduction). This is about those times.

If you do a Google search for “how to avoid being hit on at a bar,” you’ll get several articles with “helpful” tips on skirting conversation with men you are not interested in. The majority of these list pretending to have (or actually having) a boyfriend/fiance/husband as the number one method for avoiding creeps (second to “pretending to be a lesbian” or “pretending to be crazy,” a la Jenna Marbles). In response to my complaints about men creeping on me at dance clubs in college, an ex-boyfriend of mine used to get cranky that I refused to whip out this cure-all excuse (one of many reasons he is an ex).

Yes, this may be the easiest and quickest way to get someone to leave you alone, but the problems associated with using this excuse far outweigh the benefits. There is a quotation that I’ve seen floating around Tumblr recently (reblogged by many of my amazing feminist Tumblr-friends) that goes as follows:

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.

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. It is basically a real-life example of feminist theory at work–women (along with women’s choices, desires, etc.) being considered supplemental to or secondary to men, be it the man with whom she is interacting or the man to whom she “belongs” (see the theory of Simone de Beauvoir, the story of Adam and Eve, etc.). And the worst part of the whole situation is that we’re doing this to ourselves.

This tactic also brings up the question of the alternative. If the woman in question was boyfriend-free, would she automatically be swooning in the arms of the creep harassing her? Unlikely. So why do we keep using these excuses? We’re not teaching men anything about the consequences of their behavior (i.e. polite, real conversation warrants a response while unwanted come-ons do not). We’re merely taking the easy exit, and, simultaneously, indicating to men that we agree, single girls are “fair game” for harassment.

So what can we do? I think the solution is simple–we simply stop using excuses. If a man is coming on to you (and you are not interested–if you are, go for it, girl!), respond with something like this: “I’m not interested.” Don’t apologize and don’t excuse yourself. If they question your response (which is likely), persist–”No, I said I’m not interested.”

“Oh, so you have a boyfriend?”

“I said, I’m not interested.”

“So you’re a lesbian, then?”

“Actually, I’m not interested.”

“You seem crazy.”

“Nope, just not interested.”

Et cetera. 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?” (Or, ya know, switch it up as you see fit.) Questioning them back (if you have the energy) puts you back on an even playing field.

I’m not saying this is easy. I’ve gotten into my fair share of arguments with men during what were supposed to be fun nights out with friends over whether or not I have the “right” to tell them to buzz off, boyfriend notwithstanding. However, there are a few reasons I continue: 1. So that maybe, possibly, the man I’m speaking to, or other men observing the encounter, may learn something about the agency of women, 2. So that maybe, possibly I might be inspiring other women observing to do the same so that one day, we can be a huge kickass collective of ladies standing up for our right to go crazy on the dance floor without being hassled, and 3. So that I can go home that night, sweaty and tired and happy, and know that I gave myself all the respect that I deserve.

Alecia is a logophile and a library bandit wanted in several states. In addition to feminist rants, she also writes essays, short stories, bad poetry, recipes and very detailed to-do lists. She currently resides in a little blue cabin in Woodstock with one fiance, one Dachshund and one pleasantly plump cat. Find her tweeting @alecialynn.

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