I can't tell you how many times I've heard a guy complain about women not being bluntly straightforward: "they play games," "they don't say what they really mean," or the despicable, "she led me on".
Male friends have complained to me about women gently ghosting them or hemming and hawing about busy schedules rather than refusing a date they're uninterested in—google "rejection hotlines" and you'll see 669,000 results referring to numbers that exist solely so women (or anyone straight men perceive as female) can give what seems like her real number to a man. When it comes to anything that seems like rejection, women and anyone who grew up socialized as a female don't seem to do it straightforwardly.
I get the frustration. I really do. If I asked a man out and he seemed interested but then gave me a fake number, I'd be miffed too. Why, I had hope there for a hot sec! You just led me on!
Either women are just playing games with men, or there's some valid reason that they're unable or afraid to be straightforward. (For the record, I am NOT talking about when women are actually playing games out of an intent to manipulate or control. I am not talking about when a woman is emotionally, verbally, or even physically abusive or manipulative. That can all happen and needs to be addressed in its own right. I'm talking about the very specific social situation when women don't reject men [or do it straightforwardly] out of fear.)
Why don't I equally get frustrated when women demur, beat around the bush, and even lie with my friends?
Because the societal power dynamics are so entirely different it's like another universe, and my being attacked last month highlighted that.
Last month I was in Mexico for a dance event that went till dawn every day. I left at 2:00 am and began the 20-minute walk back to my hotel. I'd walked this street multiple times before; bars and restaurants, still open, covered over half of the length of the street. I felt reasonably safe.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a guy in front of a crowded bar cross the street to my side. Quickly I continued walking, turning my head slightly to keep a surreptitious eye on him as he came up behind me and passed me.
Except he didn't pass me. He came alongside me and then matched my pace, speaking to me in Spanish. I don't speak much Spanish at all - I know colors and numbers and how to ask for the bathroom and that's basically it - and I also did not want to talk to this strange man. The man kept insistently asking me if I spoke Spanish or English, and how I was, and what was my name, so I finally responded, "No hablo español," and shook my head to his ongoing words.
He continued to keep pace with me and speak to me, and I forced a smile when he got insistent and loud with his words but shook my head, didn't make eye contact, and didn't talk to him—trying to strike the delicate balance between being "nice" enough to acknowledge him and not make him angry and hurt me, but also clearly show I didn't want to engage with him and I want to be left alone.
After over a block of this, I began very politely saying to his words: "No thank you. I want to walk alone. No thank you. I want to walk alone." I choose English rather than my broken Spanish because I didn't want to offer any additional opportunities for him to try to engage further with me, and "no" is quite clear enough in both languages. I said this over and over and over, like a broken record, for another five minutes, and the man continued to walk with me, practically touching shoulders, and continuing to gesture at me and talk.
I dropped my pace significantly, and he stopped to match me. I sped up, almost jogging, and he did the same.
I could now see my hotel down the road, and I did not want him to know where I was staying. I came to a dead stop from my fast pace, and he kept on for several yards before realizing I was stopped and turned back toward me.
I stabbed my finger away from us, pointing to the street, and said loudly, "NO. I want to walk ALONE. Leave me ALONE."
The man began walking back toward me and I almost stepped back but then stopped myself and planted my feet, not wanting to show any fear. I kept my arm pointing out and demanded, "NO. Leave me ALONE. Go AWAY." The man stopped a pace in front of me, elevator-gazed me, and I don't need to know Spanish to know what sort of thing he was saying when he leered at me before he stepped quickly forward and tried to grab me.
I yanked my hand away from his grasp and my first flash of instinct was to run but I decided it against it: predators chase fleeing prey, and the last thing I want is for him to catch me from behind. My second instinct was to get as big and aggressive as I could—if I'm going down (which is likely because "as big as I can" is still not very big) it is not without a fight, you are going to hurt for it—so I threw out my chest, flung my arm out again, got as big as I could, and shouted, "NO, you don't f*cking touch me! Leave me alone!"
Then he grabbed my wrists and pulled me against his body while pushing me back against a tree. I began shouting—lots of f words —and managed to get my hands up on his chest and shoved him backward. I broke my wrists out of his grip as he tripped back. I didn't run for the same reasons above: I was too far from the hotel to make it if he chased me. The man advanced toward me, stopped, looked around, and began running away. Within the moment a police officer on a motorcycle pulled up, asked me if that man had hurt me, and then went after him as a second cop pulled up next to me. He told me they had been one block over and had heard me shouting. (Which frankly, is a miracle.)
The officer tried to take a statement from me, but his English was broken and the little Spanish I knew had totally fled my mind; I could feel the beginning signs of shock manifesting in my body. I was able to communicate that this man was a stranger, the location where he had started following me, and that I was physically unharmed (save for bruises on my wrists), but I was beginning to shake pretty badly.
A taxi had been driving up and pulled off the side of the road at the same time as the police officers had come up, and a woman got out of the taxi, came over, said she had seen what had happened as the cops pulled up, and had asked her taxi driver to pull over. She offered to me and the officer to take me back to my hotel, and the officer nodded, said his partner had caught the man and he'd go there now and let me go. The woman brought me back to my hotel and I went inside, and all's well that ends well—except, not really.
I was so angry. I had done all the right things. I had struck the perfect balance between not being "a rude bitch" and aggravating him, but also not engaging with him; then I had politely but very clearly insisted on being left alone; and only when I dropped the politeness and was straightforward and forceful did he become physically forceful with me. And "all the right things" still didn't work. The man still attacked me.
I want to say, I'm incredibly proud of myself for getting loud and getting violent back: I've been through enough trauma that I know how easy it is for your body's instinctive reaction to be freeze or flight or giving up in the face of physical violence, and science has only been confirming this more and more.
But did you notice the first time the man dropped his friendly chatty façade and made a physical move against me? I walked for blocks with him and he didn't try to grab me. For blocks, when all I was doing was either smiling (neutral engagement) or politely but non-demandingly ask to walk by myself (presumably clearly, he thought there was still hope, a chance he could get what he wanted or convince me otherwise), "all he did" was walk with me and talk to me. But the moment I clearly stood up to him—the moment I made it one hundred percent clear that I wasn't going to go along with whatever he wanted—the moment I was unmistakably straightforward, with zero room for him interpreting me in the way he wanted—that's the moment when he dropped his nice trying-to-chat-me-into-it exterior and decided to just take what he wanted because he could.
And before someone dismisses this as "Well, that's Mexico—that's not really relevant to men here in the States"—no. This only happened to happen to me in Mexico. But its similarities and correlations to what happens to my sisters in the States are undeniably identical. I don't have enough fingers to count the times my friends, or their friends, have had a man get verbally violent, physically threatening, or physically violent to them upon being rejected, upon not getting something they wanted.
And don't dismiss this as a one-off: an unusual circumstance that I'm just dramatically blowing out of proportion to make a point. This is by no means the first time this has happened to me: it is merely the most recent, most dramatic, and most suitable for a story. I don't need to blow up a one-time rarity to make a story. The story is already happening; I'm just a footnote in its pages.
Don't believe me? This is easy enough to google. Scientists and scholars are corroborating what women/afab people already know: if you straightforwardly reject a man, you run the not-low-enough risk of violence.
If you have women in your life, I guarantee you they have these same sorts of stories: this has happened to them or their friends. (Although if you're reading my story scoffing at it and resolving to go to other women to "prove" that this isn't really a thing, you might not be the sort of person these women will tell these stories to begin with.)
What would have happened had I continued to smile and walk along till I got to my hotel? There would have likely been a person at the desk. I could have gone in, gone up to him, said, "I don't know this man"—and had someone there to help me deal with it. Yeah, the man would have known where I was—but it's a big enough hotel, I could have been careful to not leave by myself for the rest of the trip, it could have been fine. Had I continued to smile and not straightforwardly reject this man, he would probably not have gotten violent—and I could have been fine.
That is not to say that I am to blame. The blame of an immoral action rests 100% on the perpetrator. Always. I want to be very clear about this for myself and for every single human reading this who has ever been blamed for the wrongs done to them. I did what I thought was best—and it was objectively Things Women Are Told to Do in Bad Situations—and even if it hadn't been, being attacked is always on the attacker.
This is to say: dudes, are you still complaining that women aren't straightforward with you? You're still upset when they don't say what they mean? You're angry that they play games?
If you want us to be able to be straightforward, stop attacking us for it. If you want us to be direct, make your fellow man stop hurting us for it. If you want us to say what we mean, make a space where we can know we won't be lashed out at or killed.
And it can't be just you. It can't even be you and all your friends. Are you a great, consent-focused guy? Do you only surround yourselves with great, consent-focused men? Great. I'm glad. But as long as we live in a society where violence against women is not only possible but common—we won't be able to trust "even nice guys" easily—or at least, not without great risk to ourselves.
Men, you've been given a voice. In many of these social and feminist issues, you have more power than women do.
You want us to be straightforward with you? Great. We do too.
Create a safe space for us to say no. In your personal life, bend over backwards to ensure you let women speak and you listen and don't attack or derail; you don't even just respect no's, you only accept enthusiastic yes's - anything less is a resolute no - you affirm and support women who speak up, even if it's disagreeing with you.
When fellow men don't do this, stand up to them: loudly, vocally, clearly. Let us see you standing up. Call out the rape jokes. Call out the douchey comments. Don't let men trivialize feminism and sexism. These things are, for us, sometimes matters of life and death.
When that's the world we live in, maybe then you'll get the world where women as a whole consistently straightforwardly say what they mean, even when it involves rejecting men...and maybe then, we'll get the world where we can finally freely say what we want to say, too.