Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of conversations about how men treat women and two stories keep coming to mind. While neither of these incidents felt like harassment and I didn’t feel unsafe, both made me feel like these men felt completely entitled to my time and attention.
I was nineteen and working in a twenty hour convenience store in my small hometown while on my summer break from university.
One afternoon, a regular came in to pay for a tank of gas. He was my dad’s age. He was crying and I asked if I could help. A friend of his had died. I offered condolences and told him that his coffee was on us.
He came in a few nights later when I was working the graveyard shift. I was making deli sandwiches for the next day and he asked if he could buy one and hang out for a bit. Umm, sure. Ok. I kept working and he kept eating. He ate three foot long subs and stayed and talked for a couple of hours. I figured he needed someone to listen so I worked and listened.
He came back a couple of nights later and did the same thing. He paid for the sandwiches he ate and listening to him didn’t slow me down at all. Then he came back a third time. Hmmmm. I began to mention my boyfriend. A lot. This guy came back a few more times and I started to say things like “yeah my dad likes that music/tv show too” just to subtly remind him that he was a lot older than me.
After a couple weeks of this, he asked if he could take me out for dinner. I said no, that I wasn’t comfortable with that. He argued that it would just be as friends and I repeated that I didn’t want to.
His parting words? “Yeah well I hope your boyfriend is the kind of man who gives you at least two orgasms before he’s done.” He shouted that across the store and in front of other customers. Then he called the store to give me one last chance to reconsider.
The second story took place a few years later. I was working in a cell phone store and we had to run credit checks for anyone who wanted to sign a contract. A man came in and his first words to me were “I just went bankrupt from an ugly divorce, how much will my deposit be for a new plan?” I offered to check and, when he presented his driver’s license, I mentioned that he was born in the same year as my dad.
His bankruptcy hadn’t posted with the credit bureaus yet and he didn’t need to pay a security deposit. So, we selected a plan and a phone for him. As I began setting up his account, he told me about his divorce. Then he asked to take me out for coffee. I replied that I didn’t date customers. He turned to my co worker and asked if he could set up the account instead so that the two of us could have coffee.
I said that I still wasn’t interested and kept working on his account.
He proceeded to tell me why dating him would be a great idea and I politely and firmly kept declining. (My co worker was with another customer and I just wanted this guy processed quickly and gone. Our manager would have been furious if I’d have turned away a sale.) I finished his account quickly and handed him his phone.
He helped himself to one of my business cards (we all had ours in a stand in the counter) and asked when I worked next. I wished him a nice day and turned away to help the next customer. He responded by promising to call our store every day until I said yes.
As he was leaving the store, he called out that he’d call the next day and that saying yes to him would be “the best thing you’d ever do in your life”.
He did call. And I politely explained that any further calls would result in a call back . . . from our corporate security department.
I’m in my late thirties now and this doesn’t happen nearly as often to me now as it used to. But I see some of my younger friends having to deal with this and it’s frustrating. No means no, guys. 0129-18
The OP of the above story is clearly communicating “No” to these men early in the conversation and consistently. There is no ambiguity as to what she is saying and it is incumbent upon the men to honor that clearly stated message.
Contrast this to another story that hit the news media about the same time this story above was submitted. It was regarding the alleged sexual harassment of a young woman named “Grace” by actor Aziz Ansari.
In a 3,000 word report published on a feminist blog, “Grace” recounts, in detail, her date with the Emmy award winning actor which she describes as “the worst night of my life”. Grace and Ansari meet at a 2017 Emmys after party, exchange phone numbers, he calls her to arrange a dinner date which they have. After dinner they retire back to his apartment where things get frisky enough that they are now both naked and he obviously wants to move forward into penetrative intercourse. It is only when he suggests sex in front of a mirror that Grace FINALLY uses the word “No”. Ansari promptly backs off, suggests they get their clothes back on and they watch an episode of Seinfield after which he calls a taxi for her. The next day he sends her a complimentary text to which she replies that last night may have been fun for him but it was a disaster for her. Ansari apologizes.
Bari Weiss of the New York Times wrote a fiery response to the article in a piece titled “Aziz Ansari Is Guilty. Of Not Being a Mind Reader.” (The link to the original story is embedded in this article, btw.) Excerpts below…
If you are wondering what about this evening constituted the “worst night” of this woman’s life, or why it is being framed as a #MeToo story by a feminist website, you probably feel as confused as Mr. Ansari did the next day. “It was fun meeting you last night,” he texted.
“Last night might’ve been fun for you, but it wasn’t for me,” she responded. “You ignored clear nonverbal cues; you kept going with advances. You had to have noticed I was uncomfortable.” He replied with an apology.
Read her text message again.
Put in other words: I am angry that you weren’t able to read my mind.
It is worth carefully studying this story. Encoded in it are new yet deeply retrograde ideas about what constitutes consent — and what constitutes sexual violence.
We are told by the reporter that the woman “says she used verbal and nonverbal cues to indicate how uncomfortable and distressed she was.”
Weiss concludes her article citing examples of clear communication regarding consent that would have had no occasion to be misunderstood:
I am a proud feminist, and this is what I thought while reading the article:
If you are hanging out naked with a man, it’s safe to assume he is going to try to have sex with you.
If the failure to choose a pinot noir over a pinot grigio offends you, you can leave right then and there.
If you don’t like the way your date hustles through paying the check, you can say, “I’ve had a lovely evening and I’m going home now.”
If you go home with him and discover he’s a terrible kisser, say, “I’m out.”
If you start to hook up and don’t like the way he smells or the way he talks (or doesn’t talk), end it.
If he pressures you to do something you don’t want to do, use a four-letter word, stand up on your two legs and walk out his door.
The solution to these problems does not begin with women torching men for failing to understand their “nonverbal cues.” It is for women to be more verbal. It’s to say, “This is what turns me on.” It’s to say, “I don’t want to do that.” And, yes, sometimes it means saying goodbye.