Many of us have probably met a woman who wears a fake engagement or wedding ring to avoid advances by men. Often times women will offer up “I have a boyfriend” as a magical phrase to get men to leave them alone and stop hitting on them. It’s understandable that women want to avoid a conflict, especially when men often won’t take “no thank you” for an answer.
But there are disturbing undercurrents to this practice. Women are conditioned to be “nice” and not cause problems. While of course we should all employ basic human decency and politeness, when that doesn’t work it’s often hard for women to be firm and unequivocal when they want to be left alone. There’s an assumptive attitude that some of these men have in assuming that a stranger they just decided to talk to owes them some kind of explanation for not being interested in them romantically and sexually.
I’ve suffered from the politeness syndrome like many women, but at this point in my life I’m over it. I’ve often thought about how I’d rather not use or see other people use the boyfriend excuse, even if it’s true, since it reinforces the idea of owing something to a person who hasn’t invested much of anything in you and is being presumptuous about your response. Which is why I endorse Eberhardt Smith’s piece on abandoning “I have a boyfriend” a million times over:
Yes, this may be the easiest and quickest way to get someone to leave you alone, but the problems associated with using this excuse far outweigh the benefits. There is a quotation that I’ve seen floating around Tumblr recently (reblogged by many of my amazing feminist Tumblr-friends) that goes as follows:
Male privilege is “I have a boyfriend” being the only thing that can actually stop someone from hitting on you because they respect another male-bodied person more than they respect your rejection/lack of interest.
This amazingly puts into one sentence what I have been attempting to explain to ex-boyfriends and friends (male and female) for years, mostly unsuccessfully. The idea that a woman should only be left alone if she is “taken” or “spoken for” (terms that make my brain twitch) completely removes the level of respect that should be expected toward that woman. It completely removes the agency of the woman, her ability to speak for herself and make her own decisions regarding when and where the conversation begins or ends. It is basically a real-life example of feminist theory at work–women (along with women’s choices, desires, etc.) being considered supplemental to or secondary to men, be it the man with whom she is interacting or the man to whom she “belongs” (see the theory of Simone de Beauvoir, the story of Adam and Eve, etc.).