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Saturday, December 4, 2021

Guest Commentary

Handling unwanted advancements: Being nice or acting out of necessity


“Excuse me, I have to tell you how beautiful you are. Not a lot of women can pull off short hair. Are you single?”

This was the opening line used when a male stranger approached my sister as she walked alone.

“Thank you, that’s very kind. Sorry, I’m not single,” she politely replied — and lied. This exchange took place in broad daylight, but there weren’t many people around.

As a female with very little upper-body strength — or any strength for that matter — my sister felt physically intimidated to be alone with this strange man. She began to walk away, quickly, and he followed.

“I just got out of a 22-year relationship, but I couldn’t let you pass me by without trying,” he said, trying one last time before she faked a phone call and excused herself.

As she relayed this story to me, what upset her most was that she felt it necessary to be polite, to thank him, so as not to upset this strange and physically intimidating man. It is problematic that women are consistently put in a position where their sense of safety is dependent upon the fragile ego of men.

One way this delicate balance of safety and ego plays out is that women are conditioned to apologize — for everything. Just as my sister apologized to that stranger for not being single, most of us don’t realize that we preface just about every statement with an apology in an attempt to avoid a negative outcome.

Just yesterday I was working on an assignment in the library when a man approached me. He said how he had noticed me and wanted to say “hi.”

As he lingered, it became apparent he was oblivious to my disinterest. Immediately I apologized for having a boyfriend and for having to attend to my assignment.

We apologize out of habit, we apologize out of kindness and we apologize out of fear. We apologize out of intimidation. We apologize in the workplace, in the home, in the grocery store and on the streets.

Some people might say, “Calm down, not every man is a going to hurt you,” or “It’s your fault for not being stronger and more confident.”

Of course, not every man intends to hurt women, but it is also true that some men will hurt you — and it’s not the woman’s fault for not being stronger or more confident.

History has taught women over and over again that they are property, a disposable commodity. While we have come a long way in regards to women’s rights, we have much farther to go to achieve true gender equality, true human equality.

This is not to say that every man is a potential threat or that women aren’t capable of perpetuating inequality. This is not to say that every woman apologizes more than her male counterpart or that apologizing is bad.

Apologizing, in and of itself, is an act of kindness. However, there is a point when saying “sorry” shifts from a nicety to a defense mechanism.

We have to apologize due to an institutionalized belief that women are inferior to men, that women must be submissive, kind and nurturing.

I admire the take-no-prisoner-woman who isn’t afraid of backlash, who is confident in her abilities. I aspire to be that type of woman on a daily basis.

Standing at 5’2” has never evoked confidence in my abilities or myself. Admittedly, I sugarcoat rejection out of fear or intimidation; however, I do not apologize for my beliefs or feelings.

We should not have to apologize for being “taken” or for rejecting the pursuit from a stranger.

We talk about gender equality and human equality, but we’re not doing much to advance our agenda. Policies, campaigns and initiatives address our agenda on a macro level that targeted at large communities, groups and states, but what is being done to reach the individual? What are we doing in our every-day lives to advance our agenda?

Contributing columnist Katie Robichaux is social work graduate student and may be reached at [email protected]

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