Stop Following the Script

How a guy blindly following bad advice unwittingly led to harassment, manipulation, and me questioning my safety.

It began innocently enough: A classmate read my first Medium post and messaged me on Facebook to discuss it. It soon devolved into a debate about the women’s rights movement as a whole, rather than just the aspects I had discussed in my post. This debate spanned several days. I felt as though we were having the same argument over and over, and he eventually said he believed the women’s rights movement was “overblown” and that the glass ceiling was not really an issue.

It kept going back and forth with no end in sight, so I grew frustrated. I don’t have the patience of a saint and having to defend myself over and over against the same arguments was not how I wanted to spend my evenings. I responded to his arguments one last time and said that I didn’t want to continue the conversation.

He messaged me twice more, anyway. The first time, I ignored it. The second time, all I said in response was “stop messaging me”  —  nothing else. The blunt approach didn’t work and he messaged me another time to apologize. I just wanted it all to stop.

I ended up writing a three-paragraph explanation of why I found his behavior disrespectful, which ended with:

When someone tells you to stop messaging them, you respect them. By continuing to message me, you are telling me that you believe that your own wishes (to continue sharing your opinion with me) override my wishes to not be bothered. You are saying that your need to have me accept your apology matters more than my right to not talk to people I don’t want to talk to. […] Stop messaging me. Entirely.

I’m a firm believer in enthusiastic consent, both in sex and in day-to-day interactions. When someone says stop, you stop. When someone tells you to stop multiple times, you’re probably doing something unethical, if not illegal. I wish we taught people that asking for permission is a requirement, not just an option, and that “You didn’t say no” does not justify committing a crime against another human being. Let me make this clear to anyone who needed to hear it: A person who ignores your wishes (in any situation) does not respect you and is putting their interests above your rightsPlease keep that in mind the next time you feel uncomfortable and you’re not sure why. Recognize it for what it is: harassment.

Back to the story. Despite my very unambiguous request to end communication, he messaged me about a day later, explaining the truth: He had had a crush on me for “a long time now” and his friend had given him advice on how to finally make a move:

People like others who are willing to take an opposite stand and fight for it, he suggested. He told me to continue to debate with you about this until we reached the point where you would say something along the lines of “Well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree! Let’s just talk about something else haha.” That would be a good segue into a multitude of other topics which we both enjoy, without it appearing that I just pander to your opinions. Once I actually got a dinner date, it would be a good story how I researched all these opposing viewpoints just to get a chance to talk to you and it would be a good laugh.

Well, I kept going at it with more and more opposing views I made up and researched, hoping that you would soon give me the “let’s just talk about something else haha” line soon. That never came.

I have a feeling that he expected me to understand and consider the whole thing romantic. It’s not. It’s disgusting, it’s manipulative, it makes my skin crawl, and it’s the worst strategy I’ve ever heard. For those of you who like to skim, I’ll summarize his plan again:

  1. Demean something that I’m passionate about until I get tired of arguing and change the subject.
  2. Talk and find some common ground. (Why isn’t this the first step?)
  3. Somehow eventually get around to asking me out to dinner. (This is arguably the hardest part and yet it was noticeably vague.)
  4. Have a big laugh over how funny it is that he essentially harassed me into a relationship.

It doesn’t sound nearly as cute when I put it that way.

After reading his message and feeling disturbed, I responded one last time telling him much of what I wrote here. In spite of all this, I was unwilling to create a difficult situation for our mutual friends (an issue worth its own article), so I could only warn that if he messaged me again, I would block him. He wrote back, “Thank you. Goodbye.”, and I felt so uncomfortable that I blocked him immediately for fear of ever having to interact with him again and for feeling anxious every time I received a notification.

I am over five thousand miles away from this person (for the summer). There is no reason why I should feel afraid. I’m so fortunate because all I got were some unwelcome messages. But I am afraid  —  not of him, but of what the whole situation represented. It served as yet another reminder that people  —  an overwhelming majority of them being men  —  can completely disregard my wishes and there isn’t very much I can do aside from blocking them on the Internet and maybe running away in person. And if I’m being completely honest with myself, I don’t know if I would have the courage to fight back in a physical encounter because I would probably be petrified speechless.

I can’t emphasize enough how awful it is that I, along with virtually all women in any society, have been taught since elementary school to always be afraid, to never go out alone, and to constantly be on guard against predators  —  predators who are more likely to be people we know than they are to be strangers. My conversation with this classmate, in which he ignored my requests multiple times, was far too close of a reminder of that fact.

I didn’t write all of this just to recount a very personal experience or to humiliate someone in a public space. I’m writing this to provide a real example of what happens when someone puts their decision-making skills on auto-pilot and plays out whatever narrative they’ve been told to follow. In this case, my classmate was told that if he argued with me long enough, I would change the subject and somehow that would lead to us dating. If he had stopped following his plan long enough to think about the way I was responding, it would have been obvious that I was not going to say the magic words he was promised I would say. It would have been clear that he was going into harassment territory.

This happens all the time. We tell men not to take no for an answer. We say that resistance is sexy. We tell them that the fun is all in “the chase” and that they need to tame resistant women in order to turn them into purring conquests. We keep using the word conquest, for crying out loud. We feed men the idea that they should ignore what a woman says (she’s playing hard to get) and to assume that a lack of resistance is really a form of approval (she’s just being coy). And I can’t even begin to discuss all the narratives we force upon women and LGBTQ people.

We don’t live in movies. We can change the script. We can’t assume that we know how a story will play out or that a certain series of steps will yield certain results. I urge each and every one of you to approach your social interactions on an individual basis and to recognize when you’re ignoring the potential warning signs right in front of you. Rather than thinking about what you’re expected to do, think about how to respond to each situation. Life is far too vibrant and varied to be forced to fit a template. Stop following the script.

Originally published on Medium.

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