I felt annoyed. I didn’t want to be bothered at the bus stop. I didn’t want to have to strategize how to handle myself in an awkward and intrusive social encounter. But I did have to, and I handled the situation poorly, at best.
In the Luna Luna article, “Stop Saying ‘I Have a Boyfriend’,” Alecia Eberhardt discusses the negative social implications of using this excuse when attempting to dismiss unwanted attention, whether the advances are intrusive or not. She shares the quote:
“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.”
As women, we all know that a quick and easy way to get rid of unwanted attention is to tell the pursuing subject that we have a boyfriend. It is efficient, well received, and it spares him his feelings. Not to mention, it works. This method also bolsters the particular nuance of male privilege that Alecia sites in her article, and validates a generation of men who are ill prepared to deal with rejection in an appropriate manner.
Over Labor Day weekend, I was in a crowded bar in East Lansing, Michigan when a group of men came up to my friend and me. They sat right down in our booth with us, invaded our personal and intellectual space, and demanded our attention; with no regard for the fact that we were engrossed in a deep conversation with each other. As an individual, I do not appreciate it when either men or women impose their presence upon me when I am engaged in an intimate situation with a friend. I find it tactless and disrespectful, and on this particular night, I wore my feelings of annoyance and disgust right on my sleeve.
One of these men was clearly very attractive and had been receiving a lot of female attention all night long. He started sitting closer to me, so I moved away. He started touching my face and my arms even though it was clear I did not give him permission to touch me. When I rejected his advances, he described me as the, “human equivalent to NyQuill.” I was verbally insulted and physically invaded and yes, my feelings were hurt, and yes, I probably could have brought the situation to an end much sooner if I had told this gentleman that I had a boyfriend.
But I didn’t. And later that evening, as my friend and I were walking to a new location, we ran into these men in a dark, deserted part of the street. Still enraged by having been rejected, he yelled out, calling me “that boring whore” as he grabbed onto his crotch and advanced toward us. I was scared and I felt threatened, but thankfully his male counterpart pulled him away, and we were safe.
This response to female rejection is way too common in our society, and is much more violent, and much more devastating in other parts of the world. There are over 1,000 acid attacks each year in India, and it is estimated that 80% of these attacks are driven by a man’s response to the rejection of a marriage proposal.
It cannot be ignored or denied that the “I have a boyfriend excuse” is often driven by fear: fear of a violent or aggressive response, fear of awkwardness, or fear of hurting someone’s feelings. And while these fears are certainly valid, we can no longer leverage this tactic. We must take the hard way out.
We must also recognize that when a man approaches us and leads with, “Do you have a boyfriend?” he is not, in fact, doing so out of respect. To respect a person of the opposite sex when attempting to make advances, an individual must view his or her person of interest as an autonomous, gender/orientation-defying individual. THAT is respect.
It is no longer effective to let our pursuers down easy or to leverage the “boyfriend” excuse to get out of an unwanted situation quickly. By doing so, we are perpetuating an inequitably gender-normed society that caters to male-privilege as well as pervasive ineptitude when handling rejection. Instead, we must be FIRM and HONEST. We have to stand our ground and send a message that it is perfectly okay, normal and respectable to simply be uninterested.
So no, man at the bus stop. I do not have a boyfriend, but I am also not interested.