Monday, February 15, 2016

Turning Down Men's Sexual Advances

"Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them." - Margaret Atwood 

While I have seen this quote previously, I came across it again in the comments of a news article I read recently reporting on the murder of a young Wisconsin woman. Last week, a twenty-four-year-old woman named Caroline Nosal was shot and murdered by her co-worker, Christopher O'Kroley, after she had turned down his advances. Two weeks before Nosal's tragic death she had complained to the store manager that O'Kroley had been harassing her. This led to O'Kroley's suspension and eventual termination. O'Kroley later returned to the store where he fatally shot Nosal in the parking lot. After being apprehended by the police, O'Kroley confessed to the murder and said that "it was easy to kill" Caroline because she had "ruined [his] life." This young woman who loved books and animals, who was "wonderful and sassy" and who had her whole life ahead of her was killed because a man apparently thought that he had more of a right to her time and her body then she had a right to continue living. 

As tragic and horrifying as this murder is, it is sadly no longer shocking or unexpected to hear of (largely) women being harassed, abused, or killed when they exercise their freedom to turn down the advances of men they are not interested in. Indeed, a Google search of "men killing women who rejected them" produces a horrific amount of hits. There is even an eye-opening Tumblr page titled "When Women Refuse" which collects the stories of violence inflicted on women who reject someone's sexual advances. It includes many stories, such as that of women who was killed for refusing to talk to a man at a bar, a man throwing a woman's puppy out of a third story window after she rejected his advances, and a man locking a young women in a walk-in freezer until she would talk to him. There are even stories about men targeting all women or specific groups of women for their perceived general rejection of him. 

Obviously not all men become violent when they are rejected. Most men in my experience do not. However almost all women have some personal story in which they turned down the advances of a stranger, a friend, a co-worker, or an ex and their "No" was either ignored, mocked, or used as an excuse to threaten or harm. Additionally, you hear the stories of your female friends and family (and obviously the news stories) about what can happen when you reject a man incapable of understanding and accepting a woman's right to not entertain their advances. These are the experiences that I believe are behind the sentiment in Atwood's quote. Even if 99 out of 100 men accept your "No" and calmly move on, you are always aware that there may be one man that will not and you have no idea who to firmly identify him from the others. So, out of a sense learned self-preservation, I believe that women have been taught through their own experiences and the stories of those around them to be inherently wary of rejecting men and sadly I have no idea what to do about that.

3 comments:

Courtney Hatchett said...

This post reminded me of other issues surrounding people being rejected from sexual, or even emotional, advances. Notably, the perseveration of some people to continue making advances after a hard “no” is a topic recently brought to light by critics of the modern rom-com and young adult novels (see: https://bitchmedia.org/article/all-too-often-films-stalking-seen-romantic).
Particularly troubling was when I once heard a teen discussing Twilight mention how “romantic” it was that one character would just watch Bella sleeping, and that refusing to take “no” as an answer just meant that a guy really loved you. These characters are recognizable to most people. One party (often a young man) is rejected by their crush, but then proceeds to pursue the crush by showing how dedicated they are to this love by repeated phone calls, flower deliveries, happening to be at all the same places, or other similar behavior. Some may say “how romantic,” but the real response should maybe be “how creepy” or “what a stalker,” and perhaps “wow, that behavior would qualify for a restraining order.”

See also: http://www.gamesradar.com/50-romantic-movie-heroes-who-are-technically-stalkers/

Kate said...

Your post is powerful because it comments on a shared experience and fear that many women live with, as an almost natural part of life. Beyond physical attacks on women, many men choose to ferociously attack a girl's reputation when rejected or even, on the flip side, when they are "successful". It reminds me of a comparison that my high school boyfriend made in a conversation we were having about one of his "player" friends. It was clear to me that this boy was worshiped by all of the other boys because of his success getting girls into bed; somehow the girl always got labeled a slut at the end of the day. "There's just something superior about a key that can open any lock," my boyfriend insisted. The idea that women control sex made it alright for girls with sexual curiosity to be labeled sluts, while boys got high-fives and increasing popularity. I believe the idea of violence against women can even be expanded to include these hateful experiences, and only reinforces the culture of oppression that can cause women to fear for their personal safety.

RC said...

I am constantly baffled by the inability of men to take “no” for an answer. As Courtney mentioned in the comment above, a lot of these gender dynamics are essentially built into our culture from an early age. A boy being mean to a girl or invading her personal space is explained by many adults as a “crush.” That is just one of many seemingly innocuous things in our culture that aggregates into a normalization of invading a woman’s boundaries.

This also reminds me of fan reaction to the movie “(500) Days of Summer,” where the woman is the one who says she’s not looking for a serious relationship, the man seems to think of their relationship as more committed than it really is, and the misunderstanding leaves the man angsty and devastated. Audiences react to this movie with sympathy for the man and contempt for the woman. But I can only imagine the reactions if the roles were reversed; a man not looking for anything serious would be celebrated and admired for his honesty, while the woman wanting more from their relationship would be written off as clingy as desperate.