This post written by my friend Rachel Stewart, who writes about all things parenting at Parenting Central Australia.
Women Don’t Owe You a Conversation.
Recently, I went to the Melbourne Writer’s Festival. It was amazing. But in between the amazing, there was some uncomfortable and that’s what I want to talk about. Two men inadvertently made me feel really uncomfortable. I say inadvertently because I think (or hope?) that if they knew, they wouldn’t have acted this way.
In the scheme of things, it probably rates as fairly minor. I’m sure these guys were just trying to be friendly.
I was standing in line for a talk on character writing when the two of them struck up a conversation with me. They seemed perfectly lovely. Both men were polite and tried very hard to keep bringing their conversation back to me. They asked me questions about what I was doing, what I wrote about and what I did for a day job. I was also perfectly polite; I smiled, I answered, I laughed at the appropriate intervals. Both men were well educated – one was a barrister and the one had written more books than years I’ve been alive, so I was also feeling a little intimidated.
I found them a little overwhelming but I was also a little flattered that two highly intelligent men wanted to talk to me. One was talking about some international study he’d been involved in about women being nurturing, but every time he spoke about nurturing, I noticed that he looked at my breasts.
I ignored that red flag because, at this point, the conversation was still fine. I have no issue talked to strangers and I do so pretty often. Talking to people is something I enjoy- when I’m in the mood. But the mood was dissipating.
Women Aren’t Obliged to Talk To Men.
I know that every time a woman brings up that she shouldn’t have to talk to men if she doesn’t want, to some man on the internet wails “WHAT?!?!?!? AREN’T I EVEN ALLOWED TO TALK TO WOMEN?!?!” followed up by some assertion that feminists are all bitter hags with 26 cats who’ll die alone because they can’t even have a goddamn conversation.
Here’s the thing, guys: Women don’t owe you anything. Women don’t have to talk to you if they don’t want to. Even if you think they should. Even if you are being nice. They. Don’t. Owe. You. Anything.
This conversation, although polite on the surface, was becoming patronising. I no longer felt flattered. I normally quite like talking to people, but my heart was hammering anxiously in my chest. My instinct was to move away, but social conditioning is powerful. How could I just excuse myself to go and stand alone?
The doors opened and people started filing in to the room to hear the talk. I’d become silent and the two men were deep in conversation, so I hung back as they headed for the centre of the room. I slipped into a chair near the door, pleased with myself, thinking I’d managed the impossible. I had successfully exited an uncomfortable conversation without appearing rude. My own instincts had been telling me to move away but I was still concerned about being “polite”.
I felt relieved as I started to get comfortable in my seat, getting my pad and pen ready for taking notes. It didn’t last.
Not So Fast.
Moments later, one of the men sat down right behind me. With a room full of available seats. He made some remark about the fact that I’d found a seat so far away. This isn’t even close to the first time I’ve tried to politely leave a conversation with a man I didn’t know and essentially had him follow me -and worse, had him comment on the fact.
Men. Seriously. WHY?!?! When you do this, even if you still just want to have a chat, it feels predatory. It’s obvious we don’t want to talk. You know it, we know it. Women don’t owe you a conversation. Or anything else. We just don’t.
I slipped out of the session early to avoid being forced into conversation on the way out. I shouldn’t have had to, but I did. It’s not the first time I’ve had to leave a venue because a man disregarded the fact that I didn’t want to talk to him. The fact that I moved as far away for him as possible should have been enough of a clue.
Message for Men: Women Don’t Owe You Anything.
Men, can you not? Doesn’t matter if she’s sitting at a bus stop on a train. I don’t care if she’s drinking alone at a bar. Even if she looks lonely or bored, if a woman doesn’t enthusiastically respond to your conversation, AND ESPECIALLY if she moves away- just let her be. Women don’t owe you anything. Your desire to chat, no matter what your intentions or motivations, should not outweigh her comfort or personal security. If you are interested in a woman then discomfort, fear or anxiety should not be the responses you aim for.
Women aren’t obliged to “give you a chance”. Women don’t have to prioritise being “polite” over feeling safe. If you think otherwise, you should really examine your motives.
Has this happened to you? How did it make you feel? What did you do about it?
#IBOT @ Kylie Purtell.