Elephant in the Room: Personal Safety and Your Right to Say No

This is not a brothel...Dear Cora,

Last year I ended my last long term relationship. For a long while I was happy being single but lately I’ve been tempted to “get back on the field.” Recently, a man approached me while I was taking my dog for a walk. He was very complimentary, forward even and asked for my number. I’ve never been socially outgoing and get uncomfortable with that sort of unabashed attention, but I thought that maybe I need to be more flexible so I gave him my number. It also seemed easier to give it to him than to risk confrontation by saying no. Now he’s texting me about going out and I’m not sure about what to do. Is it just me being awkward that is causing my hesitance? Is it okay not to want to go out with him? How do I turn him down if that’s the case?


On the Edge

Dear On The Edge,

Today we are going to talk about two very important subjects – safety and consent. Your letter reminded me immediately of the Margaret Atwood story where she asked a male friend why men felt threatened of women he answered, “They are afraid women will laugh at them.” When she asked a group of women why they felt threatened by men, they answered, “We’re afraid of being killed.”

Unfortunately, we live in a world where women have to confront that fear on a regular basis. It feels to me that you giving this man your number had almost nothing to do with wanting to hear from him again but mostly what you felt would be the safest path to exit the situation. You’re right, you avoid confrontation in the moment, but what you’ve done is invite this person further into your life. Statistically, he was probably just a man on a walk who decided to hit on a woman he thought was pretty and means no harm. However, are we supposed to just live with the risk that maybe he does have menacing motives? No, we aren’t. If you are uncomfortable in the situation you have every right to deny him your number. You can just say no, or even “Sorry, I have a rule that I don’t hand out my number to strangers.” If he persists then you find any excuse to walk away.

If you take one thing away from this article please let it be this: No woman is obligated to give a man her number, no matter how complimentary they are to her. That’s your information, your space and your privacy. You only give it to people you feel comfortable with.

I read an article just yesterday about the phenomenon of “pick-up culture.” It circles around the controversy over a Reddit author trying to get his book – that blatantly encourages sexual assault – published through a Kickstarter campaign. The author’s blatant misogyny aside, it is disgusting when men think that the right combination of compliments or “lines” will lead to sex. It is horrifying when women also buy into it. It has nothing to do with social awkwardness or level of outgoing attitude – if you are uncomfortable with a man’s advances then they are inappropriate, end of story. If you feel safe enough to do so please tell him that he is being too forward or that you are uncomfortable. We can only expect to reverse the current mentality if we start to stand up and correct it ourselves. If you don’t feel safe walk away, keep your keys gripped in your hand just in case. I wouldn’t call you paranoid for having a small bottle of pepper spray on your key chain either.

It saddens me to have to respond to this in such a defensive manner. Not every man that approaches a woman or hits on her is a potential rapist or intending to do any harm. However, as women we have limited options in figuring out a suitor’s true intentions upfront. Your gut instinct is one of those few options. If your intuition is telling you that something doesn’t feel right, go with it. It’s better to be safe.

Don’t believe that because someone compliments you or hits on you that you owe them something. You aren’t going to find a worthy partner out of obligation or the idea that you’re supposed to like that kind of attention. It seems obvious to me that you don’t find that level of advancement to be flattering or charming. That doesn’t mean you’re awkward, sweetheart, it is a personal level of comfort that every person is entitled to.

That being said you have a couple of options to end the situation (because I gather that’s what you actually want.) You can simply not respond to the texts – though I fear that might bring unwanted conversations should you run into this man again. So I suggest texting a simple reply, “It was nice to meet you, but I’m not interested in something romantic right now,” and let that be it. You don’t have to explain yourself more than that.

And this might be my over-protective father upbringing speaking, but look into that key chain pepper spray.

Best wishes,

photo by: Tom Coates