The Price of Rejection

Too often, women pay a price for refusing the sexual advances of men. 

A few weeks ago, I had to explain to a male friend why flirtatious and/or sexual advances made towards me in the workplace make me uncomfortable. It isn't because I'm a "cold bitch" or because I think I am better than those trying to hit on me. Not at all. It's because more often than not, I am not interested because I am either currently in a relationship with someone else, or I'm simply not attracted to the man in question, which means I will have to reject these advances. And that almost always has negative consequences. 

‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. ‘I mean,’ I said, ‘men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power. ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed’, they said.
— Margaret Atwood, Writing the Male Character (1982)

Almost every woman has a story (or ten) of a once healthy relationship with a male friend that turned sour once she rejected the possibility of sexual intimacy. The fact that a guy is no longer interested in hanging out with you because you won't have sex with him is hurtful, especially if you've been friends for years.

You can tell a lot about a man by the way he handles romantic rejection. Men who possess an inherent sense of entitlement to women and their bodies typically react to rejection by lashing out at the woman by accusing her of leading him on or of putting him in the "friend-zone." I can't tell you how many times my friendly demeanor and common courtesy have been "interpreted" (by men) as flirting. As if being nice to a person is an automatic open invitation for sex.

When this dynamic occurs in the workplace, the retribution for rejecting a romantic advance could have far-reaching professional consequences, hence my discomfort. Thankfully, not all men react this way when their advances are not reciprocated, but the reality is that we never know how a guy will react until it actually happens. 

Elliot Rodger

Elliot Rodger

Whether it occurs within or outside of the workplace, sometimes this enhanced sense of male entitlement has tragic consequences. On Friday, May 22nd, 22-year old Elliot Rodger murdered six people and injured seven more before killing himself. He called this his "Day of Retribution," and the primary motivation for this rampage was his perceived victimization by women who did not find him sexually desirable: 

All I ever wanted was to love women, and in turn to loved by them back. Their behavior towards me has only earned my hatred, and rightfully so! I am the true victim in all of this.

His 140 page "manifesto" is filled with statements like this. And this one, which is particularly chilling:

It's not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don't know why you girls have never been attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it.

Generally, we socialize boys and men to believe that if they behave in a certain manner, they deserve the attention and affection of women. In almost every television show, video game and movie, women are prizes to be won for completing whatever quest that was set before him. The guy "always gets the girl" and the damsel is almost always the man's reward for rescuing her from distress. 

There are countless movie plots involving a male best friend who does everything right and who is a "super nice guy," but, alas, never gets the girl (see friend-zone, above). The audience is almost always encouraged to view this situation as both horrible for the man in question and misguided and selfish on the part of the woman. The fact that a woman could reciprocate friendship with anything other than sex never enters the equation. Rodger expressed this exact sentiment in one of his YouTube videos:

I don't know why you girls are so repulsed by me. I am polite. I am the ultimate gentleman. And yet, you girls never give me a chance. I don't know why. 

When we teach boys and men to believe that if they behave in a certain manner (read: like a decent human being), that they deserve the romantic attention and affection of women when they want it, when they don't get it, they feel wronged or cheated. And they react accordingly. With the help of the Men's Rights Movement, Rodger's anger at being cheated out of female affection evolved into full-blown misogny. He stated in his final video:

All those girls that I've desired so much, they would've rejected me and looked down upon me as an inferior man if I ever made a sexual advance towards them...I've wanted sex, I've wanted love, affection, adoration. But you think I'm unworthy of it - that's a crime that can never be forgiven. If I can't have you, girls, I will destroy you.  

While it would be easy to dismiss Rodger's actions as that of a lone individual in dire need of psychological intervention, the feelings he expressed about his struggle to attract women are not new. His inability to comprehend why common courtesy and respect (not to mention his good looks) failed to garner him the female attention he felt he deserved is a sentiment expressed by many a lovelorn lad. Rodger was a product of his cultural upbringing and while his reaction was grossly disproportionate to that of most men, the sense of entitlement that bred his initial hostility is still a problem that needs to be addressed. What does it say about our culture when boys and men feel entitled to sexual gratification simply for being nice? What's wrong with being nice just for the sake of being nice? 

Contrary to what Rodgers eventually came to believe of women, men are not beasts. They are autonomous human beings wholly capable of self control. As a society, we need to accept that how we raise little boys from day one has a direct impact on how they interact with the opposite sex as well as how they perceive those interactions. This means taking a close look at the media they consume, the toys with which they play, and the behaviors they choose to emulate and observe. Because no one should have to fear for their personal safety when politely declining dinner and a movie.