Last week, a friend of mine posted a story from Jezebel about a cool tool for women, known as The Mary Sue Rejection Hotline. It’s a fake phone number they can give to men who are pestering them for their real one: (646) 926-6614.
When someone calls or texts that number, he’ll receive this message: “Oh hello there. If you’re hearing [or reading] this message, you’ve made a woman feel unsafe and/or disrespected. Please learn to take no for an answer and respect women’s emotional and physical autonomy. K THANKKS.”
Here are some of the comments that ensued from me and two friends of mine – a man named Corey and a woman named Emily…
Corey: This is a neat idea. I wish the app would text the guy the following day and remind them that when they are drunk, they act this way and maybe help them change some of their ways in the future.
It still doesn’t help the fact that in a lot of situations the fear level, for the female, is so high that they have to give a fake number to feel safe.
Emily: A lot of us have a go-to fake name to give out as well. If we don’t feel comfortable we don’t necessarily want a guy knowing our real name, even just the first one.
Me: Out of curiosity only, what makes this preferable to telling him you’re not interested, to buzz off, etc.? Is it for those who don’t get the message? To avoid conflict? Both of the above, and more?
Again, I’m curious, but not saying you need to react a different way. Wanting to understand as an ally.
Corey: I know up in NYC the scene is pretty scary, and with high levels of alcohol and drugs, some cis-men won’t take no for an answer and the only way to get them to go away is to do what Emily is saying. Some cis-men get aggressive and violent.
Me: What can allies do to help? Specifically, wimpy allies like me? And I didn’t ask that to be facetious. I know Emily could successfully beat down many a macho creep, while I have doubts I could do it myself. What other recourse is there when I step in and tell a dude enough is enough, but he laughs it off?
Corey: I think even if the dude laughs it off, that’s enough to let the person being harassed know someone has their back, which is better than most men are doing these days.
Emily: So, there’s a lot to unpack here. The fake name isn’t to scare anyone away, just there to protect ourselves from guys who won’t take every form of “no” for an answer.
There are a lot of pieces about why women do this instead of forcefully telling a guy “no, go away”, but it all boils down to safety. There are too many stories of women who have been assaulted, raped, and even murdered by men who were told no thanks, and even stories about men who were killed when stepping in on a women’s behalf. The less a guy knows about you – especially that random guy in the bar, on the subway, on the sidewalk, etc. – the better.
Women are also socialized to be more passive, less assertive, so many times a guy will approach and the woman will smile and be polite and gently express she’s not interested because that’s how we’ve been taught to act our whole lives, maybe not be our parents, but by all the little messages the world as a whole sends us. The combination of fear and training leads to a paralysis of sorts, so many of us have little safety valves to try and compensate, like the fake name thing.
I’ll use myself as an example. I went to the laundromat by our house a year or so ago, and a guy there started hitting on me. Could I have whipped his ass? Sure. But I read the room, and assaulting a stranger in a laundromat on a Wednesday night is all sorts of weird and potentially comes with criminal charges, especially because there were racial dynamics at play, and therefore going to the Krav Maga was not a good option. So I smiled and chuckled and repeatedly brought up my boyfriend and pointedly kept going back to my crossword puzzle all while he continued to stroke my shoulder and plead for me to meet up with him later. I went so far as to take his number, all in the hopes that “maybe THIS will get him to leave me alone”. I ultimately grabbed my still damp clothes out of the dryer and raced out of there. It still makes me feel gross.
As an ally wanting to help, I’d suggest a few things. Simply being a nearby physical presence can be helpful. Striking up a conversation with a woman is helpful because she can then turn her attention to you which safely gives her an out with someone else. If you are with other women, see if they would be willing to go talk to her. Women can be really good at watching out for one another, even strangers, and might be a more welcome distraction than another man. If you are in a place of business where there are people who could assist, such as a bartender, server, manager, salesperson, etc., you could clue them in to your concerns, as they are often able to assist in a way that’s more organic and will make a woman in a tough spot feel safe. Everything I’ve ever seen about disrupting (potentially) scary situations is to focus on the scared party, not the one being aggressive. That keeps everyone safer.
The conversation continued, but those are the portions that moved me to blog. All of it is important, but I think that last paragraph is the most important. All good ideas for how to help. At first I figured it’s not likely I’ll ever have to help, being 27 years out of the singles scene and not being one to frequent bars. But Emily’s comment about the Laundromat floored me. This doesn’t happen only in bars; it happens everywhere. And it’s prevalent. And guys, we need to make it stop.
I’ll do whatever I can. But yeah, I meant it when I called myself “wimpy.” Corey thought it was funny; I left that side conversation out. But I was being serious, because I know my limitations.
So Emily delivered some solid advice. I plan to remember it the next time I’m watching interactions at a bar. Or at a Laundromat.