(The Root) — A very well-meaning article was posted on xoJane.com about how women should react when a hopeful suitor gives them unwanted attention on the street. For many women the quickest, most effective way to get out an uncomfortable situation is to say that they're already in a relationship, whether they are or not.
Alecia Lynn Eberhardt, author of the article, cautions against this tactic, saying that "the idea that a woman should only be left alone if she is 'taken' or 'spoken for' … completely removes the level of respect that should be expected toward that woman." The declaration of another man's claim over a woman should not, she argues, be the thing that inspires a pest to bug off.
Instead, she says, women should be honest with their pursuers, saying only, "I'm not interested" in hopes that, one day, men will stop respecting another man's "ownership" of a woman more than he respects that woman's wish to be left alone. This is a very romantic, ideal solution to a not ideal problem.
What the author doesn't seem to understand is how quickly unsolicited interactions can turn hostile. Not every approach happens with a man trying to buy a woman a drink or pay her a compliment at a bar. Women are often approached on the street by aggressive men who are far less than polite when turned down; a woman being verbally or physically assaulted for turning down a man is not unheard of. Why wouldn't someone say whatever she needed to say to escape the potential danger of such a situation?
Eberhardt also incorrectly assumes that "I have a boyfriend" will stop a man who has already decided not to take no for an answer. It won't. Too often, the way you respond to a man's approach only helps him decide how to proceed, not if he'll do so.
Women do what they have to do to ensure that they get out of threatening situations, and they should not be shamed or blamed for doing so. (The author says that she refuses to tell a man she's in a relationship in order to be left alone so that she knows that she "gave [herself] all the respect [she] deserves" — as if women who choose to do otherwise lack self-respect.) A bar or a street, however, isn't exactly an ideal place to engage a potentially hostile pursuer in a conversation about women's autonomy. The only goal: Stay safe.
The only article that should be written about how to end or curtail street harassment is one aimed at men, telling them to learn to take no for an answer. Expecting women to change in order to change the inappropriate behavior of men is unfair, illogical and futile. Many women on Twitter spoke out, some sharing harrowing examples of how talking back — no matter what they did or didn't say — didn't work.
— Deesha P (@DeeshaPhilyaw) September 10, 2013
Tracy Clayton is a writer, humorist and blogger from Louisville, Ky.