Most of us are familiar with the fear of rejecting a man’s advances, having to tell them our feelings toward them are strictly platonic. Whether it’s friendzoning a guy, ignoring a catcall on the street, or just not being attracted to every man that’s attracted to us, it’s always a gamble. Women are constantly floundering in the gray area between staying safe and being nice—because we sometimes have to be nice to stay safe.
Rejection has always just made me cry. I don’t know what it feels like to be rejected and go straight to violence or anger, having an ego so volatile that it crumbles under the stress of being dismissed, rejected, or faced with unrequited love. Society doesn’t talk enough about the violence women face when rejecting men—and even if this topic did make more headlines, it would never quite be enough, because there are still so few legal protections in place. Women shouldn’t be in danger when saying no.
The fear that women have when we realize we aren’t into a guy lingers beneath the surface, ever present. It’s not unwarranted: we’re living in a reality where, time and time again, we see violence constantly enacted against women for simply denying advances. Never knowing the reaction we’ll get for displaying autonomy, we often have to make split-second decisions that could be the difference between life and death.
It’s scary to navigate. We ensure our safety every time we leave the house as we grab our keys, taser, pepper spray, or some other means of self-defense. It may not be at the forefront of our minds, but many of us always feel that we need to be ready. The world has raised us this way, because the world hasn’t raised men properly.
Bye Felipe, an Instagram account with over 450,000 followers, documents the disturbing reactions men often display after experiencing rejection. As I scrolled—wide-eyed but not surprised—through dozens of screenshots of men becoming aggressive after being ignored, it was obvious: there are a lot of men out there who are seriously sick in the head. As Margaret Atwood said, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them and women are afraid men will murder them.”
We’re constantly walking on eggshells trying to diffuse situations that haven’t quite become situations yet, attempting to pick responses that will be more palatable to men making unwanted advances. Do we ignore these advances? Hope they get tired of talking to someone who’s unresponsive? Smile politely, (fake) blush and say that we’re running late for something? Say thank you? That we have a boyfriend? Give them a fake number? Give them our real number and block them later?
Is there a solution, besides men leaving us alone when we tell them? I wish I knew. I know many women—myself included—that have used ghosting to protect against rejection violence. It’s a catch-22, though, because sometimes that instigates an even bigger situation: men may persist by stalking or double/triple/quadruple messaging. And then there’s always the fear that, God forbid, we run into a guy we’ve ghosted. Safety is something we strive for but can never quite be guaranteed.
When I asked Lindsey Metselaar, host of the hit dating podcast We Met At Acme, to weigh in on the topic, she said, “Men are such a loose cannon when it comes to rejection—we truly never know what to expect, so sometimes we’re too afraid to even do it. Because of that, I created an ‘anti-ghost’ highlight on my Instagram about politely declining dating someone without being offensive to the fragile male ego.” It’s a sad reality that some men psychologically equate rejection with an attack on their masculinity. Metselaar continues, “More often than not, it’s better to reject a man over text due to fear of some sort of retaliation.”
We’ve been forced to be passive as a means of protection, because rejection violence is very real and very common. I researched instances of violence happening when women said no and there were dozens upon dozens of headlines. I opened the conversation up to my Instagram followers and received harrowing accounts of horrible experiences with men and rejection. One follower told me that when she broke up with a guy he started to stalk her, showing up to her job and home. Another woman said a man spat on her when she refused his advances. One woman said, “He told me I wasn’t pretty anyway and he should kill me.”
To be clear, we as women have autonomy; we have the right to reject anyone we want without feeling the need to tiptoe around impending male rage. But men’s inability to accept and handle rejection leaves women constantly walking a tightrope. Hopefully, we’ll one day find ourselves in a world where the word “no” is never a death sentence for women.
By Chelsie DeSouza
Illustration by Robyn Phelps