[TW: rape, rape culture, misogyny, sexual violence, denial of autonomy, privileged bullshit]
I posted the above graphic on Facebook a few days ago. Social networks being what they are, I wound up receiving comments from an ex-boyfriend that went a little something like this (my ex was responding to a comment from my aunt stating "Sadly, what they're respecting is the other man's PROPERTY!"):
"I've said I have a girlfriend before, am I her property? Cause I thought it was a polite way of saying, "Nothing personal, maybe some signals were misread. I actually am in a happy relationship and not looking elsewhere."...but that's just me. It's true that traditionally men make the advances, but my point is most will accept a "no" when they see one and it doesn't have to be a matter of possession."
This is a perfect example of male privilege: being able to reject an unwanted advance (or perhaps even multiple unwanted advances) without any kind of negative backlash or retaliatory action taken against him, and then being able to proclaim widely that "most men will accept a no when they see one" (read: a "no" by itself, without any sort of buffers such as "I have a boyfriend/husband" involved) when that is simply not the case. I'm glad that he has never had to go through the truly terrifying experience of someone refusing to take no for an answer in the context of an unwanted romantic and/or sexual advance, but the fact of the matter is that I, and most women on this planet, have.
There's a very big difference between a man saying he has a girlfriend and a woman saying she has a boyfriend in order to get out of a situation where there's an interested party and the other person is not interested. There is a power dynamic involved where women, unfortunately, have the shit end of the stick. If we say "no" by itself, we're labeled frigid bitches, and there have been many cases when women have been attacked (verbally and/or physically) for doing so. We say "no, because I have a boyfriend" because many men only respect other men, not women's autonomy and our right to say no to unwanted advances, and because we know we are less likely to be attacked if we use the excuse that there's a man in our lives (the implication, of course, being that the man in our lives will defend us physically, if necessary). We also don't know which men will respond nicely and which men will respond with violence to a simple "No thank you, I'm not interested."
This is where the concept of Schrödinger's Rapist comes into play (which you can read more about in this blog post on Shapely Prose). The fact of the matter is, women have been consciously and subconsciously trained through our social interactions with others, the way we are portrayed in the media, etc., to categorize any unwanted advances as potentially dangerous. We have to be afraid for our safety because the truth is that we don't know which men will not accept a no when they see one. Statistics state that 1 out of 6 women will be raped in her lifetime (and that's only including the ones that are reported: so many more aren't). I found out in the aforementioned blog post that when looking specifically at rapes where the man is the perpetrator and the woman is the victim (which accounts for most rapes), if you take into account that every rapist commits an average of ten rapes, that means that at least one out of every sixty men is a rapist. To put this into perspective, I graduated from Curtis High School in a class of about 700 people (give or take). Assuming the class was 50/50 men and women, that means there were about 350 men in my graduating class. Statistically speaking, 6 of them were rapists. And I have no way of knowing which ones they were.
Over the course of their lives, between the six of them, they will rape at least sixty women.
These statistics are fucking scary by themselves. Combine that with the fact that women are told that we shouldn't have the right to say no, that a no can eventually turn into a yes if the guy tries hard enough, that a no is just a woman playing "hard to get" and she really means yes, etc., it becomes fucking terrifying. My ex may not believe this is true, but there is an element of possession in all of those examples, a belief that women "belong" to men and don't get the option of just saying "no thank you" and leaving the scene without a struggle. This is evidenced by the high number of rapes in this country - clearly a woman's no isn't really taken seriously.
When women are approached on the street by a male stranger, there's a 1.67% chance that he will be a rapist. We have no way of knowing whether or not he is that 1.67%. We have no way of knowing whether or not tonight will be the night we become one of the 1 out of 6 women who will be raped in her lifetime.
There's a reason women instinctively use the "I have a boyfriend/husband" excuse.