It’s an interesting thing, being a lady on the internet. It is a really great, supportive place to find folks to cheer you on, to have great conversations, and to form communities. On the other hand, people sometimes feel really goddamn entitled to your time/attention/sexuality, just ’cause. This is the (hopefully understandable) reason I sometimes ask that conversations stay in the public realm on Twitter, hesitate to give out my email/personal details, and generally give guys (even ones who have not given me any provocation) the side-eye when they ask about taking an internet conversation private. In my experience conversations like the one reproduced below are much rarer when the entire internet can see.
I want to be clear about something: this post isn’t directed at the sort of person you’re going to meet in a minute. If you find yourself in conversations like these, where your conversational partner is reacting like I did, I really hope you take something from this, but you aren’t who I’m talking to here. This post is for everyone who has told me that if I were just clearer about my boundaries that guys would back off or that women just aren’t clear enough about expressing their discomfort.
[NB: these are Twitter DM's so read from the bottom of the image up.]
To be clear, this conversation moved to DM’s after a few @’s back and forth about movies. He asked and I didn’t want to clog up feeds talking about how good the new Batgirl is (THE BEST), so I agreed. In reading this first exchange you may think I was being a little touchy, reading too much into things, but my experience has shown that it is much better to err on the side of caution in these things, particularly since people so love to use that line about women expecting people to read minds about boundaries.
(Ladies, I bet you know what comes next.)
What I look like & my relationship status: TOTALLY RELEVANT TO GAME DESIGN.
What Internet Dude Wants: 3, Boundaries: 0
Now, here we run into something that is really extra not okay: not just ignoring my line but attempts to shame me because I don’t want to do what he wants. The implication here is pretty clearly that I am in favor of/like life being closed (what does that even mean?) because I won’t brook internet sexytalk. Uh, no, I just don’t know you dude.
Seriously. People I know and am comfortable with CANNOT GET ME TO STOP talking about sex. I overshare frequently. Hell, sometimes I overshare here, just read the archives.
So boy, that sure was some passive aggressive bullshit right there about not wanting to hear about how unattractive I find him (don’t worry, there’s more later!), I don’t ever remember saying those words. Not being comfortable with the flirting and shit has nothing to do with attractiveness and everything to do with you REPEATEDLY IGNORING WHEN I SAID NO. That’s called rape culture and it’s not okay.
This bit is particularly interesting to me. I thought the conversation was over given, you know, the whole “goodnight” bit, but I guess not? More passive aggressive behavior, some needling, some justifying, blah blah blah. At this point I’ve decided that responding is just egging him on so I let it be.
At which point he takes it back to @’s to just make extra sure I feel exactly how I have said I feel. I thought I was pretty clear?
Aaaaaand I’m a cunt who lead him on with all my talk about not being comfortable and a Twitter bio that acknowledges I have a sexuality. (People really need to find a better insult. I like cunts.)
So, hopefully this is very clearly some Not Okay behavior. What I want to talk about, though, is what it means for the well meaning advice of “just establish boundaries” and the like. Telling me that I’m just not being clear enough is not only a little paternalistic and patronizing, it assumes that the onus is on me to fend off creepy dudes rather than on dudes to avoid being creepy (NB: I am using gendered language here to speak to my experience, not because this is always how these situations break down).
It ignores the very clear reality that drawing clear boundaries is not only often not enough, it is likely to draw reprisals from the party whose entitled demands are being stymied. I got off easy, he just called me a bad word and deleted all our conversations (yay screenshots!), I’ve had threats of violence, other women have actually had folks follow through on those threats. Telling me to draw better lines ignores all those times when I dread the risks of saying no more than I dread the consequences of saying yes, when I feel like I’ll be hurt more if I say no than I will be if I say yes. It ignores the times when, for whatever reason, no isn’t an option.
It breaks down to this: I don’t just forget about the word no, if it’s available I’ve probably already used it. Talking to me about clear boundaries is saying that you’ve never had to worry about reprisals or had your no’s ignored enough to make them feel meaningless. I envy you, I seriously do, but you need to stop it, it’s insulting and unhelpful. Try telling people to respect boundaries and create non-threatening spaces instead.