Today an incident inspired me to finally put this post together. A little spur of the moment I’ll admit, and I did have some dreamy, travel posts lined up, but this just seemed so important and pressing I had to write.
I want to talk about how “no, means no”. I want to talk about how often that two-letter word falls on deaf ears. Today I allowed myself to be intimidated and pushed into a situation I did not feel comfortable with. Now I wish I had been brave enough to stand up and make myself heard.
~Lets rewind a little to around 12.00pm today~
I was at my gym, mid-way through a new workout that I was pretty stoked on. I’d nailed a 5km HIIT run and was now trying out a Pop Pilates workout that was a killer. Every now and then, as I changed position- frog hop to single leg squat, pike hop to plank – I noticed a young guy continually walking back to the water machine, catching my eye as he did.
No big deal though, he can watch me if he wants to, looking doesn’t bother me, nor can it be blamed when I’m throwing shapes around like these.
As I finished up, he approached me. He asked me what the workout was, was it Pilates? Do I come here often? At the same time or different times?
A fairly good-looking guy: brown eyes, a gap between his front teeth when he smiles, sandy, swoop-cut hair.
The questions got more invasive.
What is my background? Where do I live?
I’m vague with my answers; say I’m moving soon anyway.
“When are you moving? Where to? Do you like walks on the beach? At sunset? I live near the beach here.”
I try to back away.
I have to leave. My workout is finished. I have plans with friends.
What plans? And where? Had I ever been to his neighbourhood? Did I want to go?
The awkwardness is rising in my chest, and I know I have to get away. But I don’t want to cause a scene. Like most women, I’ve been brought up to be polite. Plus, I can read body language easily, and his trembling hands showed me his nervousness as he stalked his prey. What he may have seen as innocent flirting made me feel like a rabbit being followed by a fox, paws padding rapidly, backing me into a corner.
I really have to go. “Could I get your number?”
He hasn’t even asked my name. I try to say I’m not comfortable giving out my phone number. I try to suggest social media- Instagram perhaps? My account is private; maybe once his request comes in I can just delete it. No feelings hurt. No awkward tension when I go to enjoy my daily workout. He doesn’t have Instagram and I don’t want him knowing my name for Facebook. He tries to grab my phone.
Okay, okay, I’ll take his number. That way the ball is in my court, I don’t have to contact him, and I can get away. “Let me text your number to me”.
This part I hate myself for. I always hate using the ‘I have a boyfriend line’, because I don’t see why that’s more valid than me just saying no- that I have to use the threat of an imaginary partner as my method of escape when my voice isn’t loud enough. I try not to use it, and so instead I said: “I can’t, I’m sort of involved with someone.”
Not really, but…
Well I’m not proposing marriage.
He takes my phone. “Whats your name again? So I can send it to myself.”
He hadn’t even asked my name a first time.
I was just an object.
The more time that has passed since this incident the angrier that I feel. Yes, this was a lucky situation. I was safe and giving him the benefit of the doubt, I’m hoping he was a genuine guy, but the narrative was all wrong.
Who is this guy to think he can approach me during my daily workout? To cut my workout short because I feel so uncomfortable I have to run away from my gym, a place I usually feel at peace. Who is this guy to not accept my obvious attempts at rejection?
And this isn’t the first time. I’m not stupid; I know that there are men that find me attractive. And I’m small and blonde and I look like an easy catch. Sometimes I wear short skirts, and makeup, and I will chat to you if you chat to me, I’ll smile, I am pretty outgoing. Easy prey.
It happens in the LCBO, while I’m trying to check out. A man who could be my grandfather approaches me. On my way to work in the winter at 6:00am, on the subway, a drunken homeless man reaches for my face. In a club, a guy brushes his hand across the small of my back. I pretend I’m married to my friend. It happens to my friend Grace, a persistent guy tells her to “come for a drink.” No. “Just one”. NO! Or sharing a bed, a guy puts his hands on a girl while he thinks she is asleep. Sleeping bodies can’t say no. Imagine his face when her eyes flick open. She wasn’t asleep.
I read an interesting article by Sian Norris on The-Pool.com about so-called “romantic gestures by spurned lovers”. About men seeking out women who had said no, and making a public display of them- about how society and the media have taught us this is romantic. As Norris rightly states: “…there’s nothing romantic about refusing to accept that a woman has a right to leave you. It’s not a love story when a woman tells a man “no” and he demands she change it to a “yes”.
Furthermore: “Men who try and coerce women into staying with them, who try to emotionally manipulate or violently threaten women into staying with them, are not romantic heroes in a love story – they are men who refuse to recognise that women are subjects. They refuse to respect that we have our own autonomous wants, desires and lives.; that we have our own voices with which we should be free to use to say no. Instead, these men see women as objects, demanding we subordinate our own wishes and instead fall in accord with their wants.”
And while today’s situation was a fairly light one in the grand scheme of things, they can turn much darker, as this poignant video by broadly displays.
Now, I know not all guys are like this; in fact I like to believe the vast majority of you aren’t. One of my best friends is a guy, and he has more respect for me than many people. When he heard this story he wasn’t impressed. Or my mum’s partner is another great example, a man who has been enraged by unwillingness to accept that I have been mentally abused and manipulated by boys in the past.
And now my cell phone keeps buzzing, as the guy from the gym repeatedly calls me and leaves voicemails. And while I wanted my no to be enough, I couldnt escape his abusive messages until I said I was involved with an invisible man. And then I was told “I need to get it together instead of blaming other people for my choices.” This behaviour is wrong
If you are a guy reading this, I’m not blaming you, or pinpointing you. But if you see an ounce of recognition in this scenario, I hope this can switch the viewpoint for you.
It is all of our jobs: women, men, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, teachers, co-workers, friends- it is all our job to change this narrative.
No means no.