Kai Pilger

Sexuality in Conversation

Why She Can’t “Just Say No,” or the Danger of Male Rejection

Women are always saying one thing when they mean another, hardy har har. That’s a known punch line, but you know what? There’s truth there, and it’s not very funny. A lot of women don’t feel privileged enough to speak their mind directly, especially when it comes to engaging with men. But have you ever taken an extra beat to question why that is without falling comfortably into the assumption of “that’s just how women are”?

I didn’t think so.

One of the most common situations where this arises is when a woman is faced with unwanted advances from men. Whether it be a guy at the bar asking for her number, a stranger trying to grope her in a tight space, or an aggressive partner that makes honest communication a no-go in the relationship—a woman who attempts to keep the peace by side-stepping the situation through indirect responses is instantly ridiculed. “Why didn’t you just say no?” the judgy clergy wails.

Well, because there are men who literally kill women for “just saying no,” so nervously laughing to appease him, trying to give a fake number, dodging his texts and calls, or lying about how we really feel seems a bit safer, don’t you think?

A Dame magazine article from October 2017 titled “Men Are Killing Thousands of Women a Year for Saying No” states, “For every mass shooting on the national news, there are countless smaller gun-related murders the media overlooks perpetrated by angry men who can't bear rejection.”

Additionally, the article credits an American Psychological Association report stating 74 percent of all murder-suicides in the United States involve an intimate partner, and of those, 96 percent are women killed by their partners. One of the most recent examples of this was in May 2018, when 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis opened fire at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, killing 10 and wounding 13 others. His first target? A girl who repeatedly turned down his advances.

“Every shooting that has happened in the last two years has been done by a man with a history of intimate partner violence,” Arielle Egozi, intersectional feminist writer and activist, tells me. “If he’s white, no one calls him a terrorist, even though the reason the Santa Fe shooter shot up a school was in revenge [against] a girl in his class [who] rejected him. These shooters attack a targeted group of people over and over, yet society struggles to see the connection. That’s how ingrained the patriarchy is in all of us.”
There are men who literally kill women for “just saying no,” so nervously laughing to appease him, trying to give a fake number, dodging his texts and calls, or lying about how we really feel seems a bit safer.
“We don’t want to get hurt and we don’t want to die,” Egozie continues. “I’m sure every woman reading this has been catcalled, and has had at least one experience where she’s rejected the harasser only to be threatened, chased, or called a ‘slutty bitch.’ We aren’t even safe walking on the streets, and many of us aren’t safe in our homes. Women have been socialized to be indirect, and men have been socialized to expect it.”

This sentiment is echoed by licensed marriage and family therapist Jessica Gillespie, who explains, “I think one important piece of this phenomenon is that most women live in a chronic state of hypervigilance. Our world looks very different than the world of most men. We need to be alert and scan for danger in even the most benign of situations. This nervousness is not a conscious thought or paranoia. It's the result of women's daily challenges and real everyday danger.”

Gillespie continues, “As women's nervous systems are experiencing daily signals of danger, it would only make sense that when a woman asserts herself, in almost any way, there are some men that will unconsciously signal danger—by a raised voice, cold tone, physical distance or intense eye contact (to name a few). These signals would likely cause a reaction of […] fight, flight, freeze or tend and befriend (a behavior where a woman may nurture or take care of others or engage in close bonds with others when experiencing stress). Research has shown that women are generally less likely to engage in the fight response and more likely to engage in other protective instincts.”

I couldn’t even tell you how many times a “no, thank you,” has resulted in a guy either verbally assaulting me or threatening to hurt me physically. Once, a guy kept going around the bar and grabbing at women without their consent, including a choke-hold on a girl I know as a means to “ask her to dance.” When he came into my personal space (he barely left room for oxygen), I quickly leaned back and put my hand on his chest to create a boundary and said, “No.” He slapped my hand away, got in my face and called me a bitch.

So, of course, this has led to many moments where I quickly have to decide—do I want to possibly start a situation right here and endure whatever this guy ends up doing in response or do I just fake a smile and count the minutes until he leaves me alone? That’s such bullshit.
Most women live in a chronic state of hypervigilance. We need to be alert and scan for danger in even the most benign of situations. 
What is it with male rejection? Sure, nobody likes being rejected by anybody, but the staggering numbers that show just how aggressive and violent men behave when greeted with a less than desirable response is frightening.

WhenWomenRefuse is a Tumblr blog dedicated to chronicling physical and verbal abuse inflicted by rejected men, and just one swift scroll of that page will leave you disgusted at how big of a problem this is. Ignoring the correlation between toxic masculinity and the consequences it leaves only exacerbates the problem. To start chipping away at this, we have to know the very root of where this behavior stems from.

Psychologist Dr. Milo Dodson begins by explaining that, “Masculinity can certainly provide a sense of resilience and tenacity. It can also become dangerously problematic and toxic.” He states, “In my work with individual clients, group therapy, and consulting for athletic teams, I’ve seen masculinity become the defining feature of men’s overall identity and sense of self. Like with many things, if we feel that our identity is threatened or being limited, we become defensive and reactive. When men feel emotionally hurt or wounded due to rejection, it may be because they have internalized messages that ‘to be a man’ they are ‘supposed’ to ‘woo, win over, and conquer women.’ If they are then unable to live up to and fulfill their identity as what they have defined a man to be, then they have become less of a man.’”

Dodson adds, “The fear of failing to perform masculinity overwhelms, leading men to wrongfully view women as physical and emotional targets. That may lead to aggression and violent behavior to regain their sense of control and identity since men receive societal messages that anger and aggressive behavior are socially acceptable forms of emotional expression. Boys and men alike are often told to ‘suck it up,’ ‘stop crying,’ or ‘quit acting like a girl,’ so we don’t express ourselves emotionally. Rather, we outwardly express our inner pain through anger because we believe that it is more normal, acceptable, and may even be encouraged for doing so. Anger is sadness covered up.”

While explaining the truth behind what can trigger such horrible behavior, Dodson is also adamant on noting that it is the man’s responsibility to make sure this type of behavior comes to a halt, not the woman’s, as is often expressed with society.

“It is critical and of the utmost importance for women to feel empowered in their decisions to date or engage in sexual activity. However, the answer cannot solely be to just tell women, ‘Hey, feel empowered to just say no.’ That places the onus on women instead of on men who should actively seek consent. Victim-blaming is not okay, nor is it consensual. To be clear, consent is active and is not passive. In other words, yes means yes and an absence of no does not mean a yes is implied. No means stop, not slow down and start again after a quick break,” he tells me.

“Violence against women is men’s problem to solve, not women’s.” 
 Bruna Nessif, an advocate for personal development & a self-proclaimed hopeful romantic, is the author of Let That Shit Go: A Journey to Forgiveness, Healing & Understanding Love, and the founder of the website The Problem With Dating, a multimedia platform that provides entertaining yet thoughtful pieces about love, dating, self-reflection and spiritual growth. Bruna’s written work has been featured on multiple publications, including E! News, Playboy, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Bravo. She is currently enrolled in the Institute of Professional Excellence in Coaching to become a certified and accredited life coach for high conscious living, specializing in self-love and relationships. Additionally, she has been studying energy work and is continuing her journey to becoming a master reiki healer. 

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