Men have a hard time dealing with rejection – just ask any woman. Or Google the instances of violence perpetrated by men against women who reject them. The high school shooting in Santa Fe in the US in May happened allegedly because a boy couldn’t accept that a girl had said “no” to him. The sad part is, in the instance of this school shooting, a lot of newspapers took the side of the shooter. They claim he was “bullied” by the girl, and “humiliated” in public. The reality was that the girl had told him “no” repeatedly, and when he still wouldn’t leave her be, she spoke up in class – a place where she felt safe to do so. He was the bully, she was merely defending herself.
It is not unusual for men to take the role of victim when they are rejected by women. I recently read a Twitter thread started by a woman with a list of fake phone numbers which women could give out to men who wouldn’t leave them alone in bars/nightclubs. The response to this thread was typical, but depressing: while all women thanked the original tweeter, the men condemned her. It was clear from the responses that the men thought that women are responsible for the reaction they receive from men.
“Be more polite”, was a frequent response. “Gently let the man down, don’t be a bitch.” As if women don’t already try to be as polite and friendly as possible in order to prevent or minimise harm to themselves.
I can almost understand the men’s view, though. No, violence is never an acceptable response to rejection, but toxic masculinity is still very prevalent, which teaches men they are entitled to women. From an early age, boys are trained not to take “no” for an answer. And this is perhaps most obvious in the medium of TV and film.
I have to admit that until recently I was as oblivious as the next person to the damaging messages in movies and TV shows. However, the more feminist and sex-positive I become, the more I see these damaging messages all around me.
For instance, look at any movie or TV show that features some form of romance. More often than not, the plot is as follows: boy (man) likes girl (woman). Girl tells boy she is not interested (either explicitly or using body language/avoiding boy). Boy doesn’t give up – instead he buys flowers for the girl, creates situations where he can come to her rescue, stalks her and tries to get under her skin. Eventually, the girl gives in and they end up together. This is portrayed as a happy ending.
It is depressing to see how many movies use this plotline. I sort of get it; if the man gave up right away, you wouldn’t have any conflict. If the woman said “yes” right away, there wouldn’t be any conflict. But surely you can create conflict another way…? You don’t have to rely on a man harassing a woman until she finally is worn down and says “yes”. This sets a clear example to all boys and men out there: if a woman says “no”, she doesn’t really mean it. She just needs to be convinced. She doesn’t know her own mind and needs to be shown how amazing the man is. The man deserves a second chance – and he must make sure he gets it. And the most depressing part is that this is presented as romantic, rather than what it really is: intense and creepy harassment.
Often when I bring up toxic messages in movies or TV shows, I am met with “oh, but everyone knows that’s just a movie, no one expects that to happen in real life!” This was said a lot when ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ came out; a story which glamorised and glorified abuse. Well, I disagree. I firmly believe that films, TV shows and books have a huge influence in how we see the world. And the younger we are, the more of an effect the media has on us. If we only show men and women (or boys and girls) interacting in an unhealthy, toxic way, then men and boys are never going to learn to deal with rejection properly. They see a man pursuing a woman, despite her saying “no”, and they see him succeed in winning her in the end. This teaches them not to take no for an answer.
We need to demand more from Hollywood. We need to change the messages we send to our impressionable kids and young people. We need more female directors and producers who can create art with the right kinds of messages. We need to stop consuming movies and TV shows which do not align with our way of thinking. We need to portray healthy interactions between men and women, so we can change the existing narrative that women really mean “yes” when they say “no”.
The way we portray men and women interacting in the media matters. Life imitates art, as the saying goes. We need more movies and TV shows where men accept rejection, leave the woman alone and still get a happy ending. Only then can we hope to change the way men feel about being rejected by women.