One joke ruined a whole talk for me.
“So if you like a girl, don’t give up so easily. Persevere. Try and try again, even if she rejects you at first.”
It was my pastor and he was talking about having the right attitude for success. It was a good talk with a lot of useful advice I could apply in my life. He was talking about passion perseverance and maybe was just trying to be relatable.
Somehow I missed all of the good, because of that one joke. It says a lot about the world we live in now, about men and women (and those in between) and the #MeToo movement.
I was, quite frankly, appalled.
The thing is, I know this man. I know him to be a good man. He’s not some “dating guru” that dolls out creepy, misogynistic tips on how to pick up babes at the bar. He’s a good husband, a good father of two kids, an upstanding member of society. He’s not a sexual predator, as far as I know. He has a good character.
But somehow he was tone deaf enough to deliver a joke that basically suggests men to be creepy stalkers. A joke that basically says it doesn’t matter how a woman feels about you. It doesn’t matter what a woman wants. What she wants is irrelevant. The important thing is that YOU MEN keep trying.
I know that most people when they read this – including women – will probably think I’m exaggerating. Come on, it’s a harmless joke. And, yes, maybe I did react too strongly to it, especially when I know that he meant no harm. But as a woman who has had her share of stalkers, online and offline, I don’t think anyone – especially those with a public platform – should be making this kind of joke, because, one, it’s not funny; and, two, it doesn’t send the right message.
I have had to change my phone numbers many times because of my stalkers. I have had to wipe my online presence and kept all my social media accounts private. There were times when my heart would race whenever my phone rings and I don’t recognize the number. I was so glad when landlines were made obsolete by cellphones, because that meant no one could figure out the area where I live from my number.
Traumatizing as it was, my experience is nothing compared to other women’s experiences. My stalkers weren’t violent, or at least they never escalated to that point. They would just call me numerous times a day, refusing to take “no” for an answer.
After several number changes, and after eventually moving, the stalking stopped completely. But it was still terrifying enough that to this day, I would still quicken my steps whenever someone walked too close behind me.
Some women aren’t so lucky. Some women live in fear that their stalkers will hurt or murder them. This is the society we live in.
Why do men feel like they are entitled to a “yes” all the time? Because that’s where the joke actually stems from, isn’t it? Men feel like if they are interested in a woman, then that woman is obligated to be interested in them as well. Women don’t really have that entitlement. Most women don’t.
When we are interested in a man, most of us immediately assume that we are going to be rejected, and that’s why we harbor intense crushes that go nowhere. That’s why most women have at least one unrequited love story. Not to mention we live in a society that pretty much slut-shames women who make the first move. And when a man is not interested with us, we are expected to accept it with grace, because what a man wants or doesn’t want matters. What he thinks matter. What he feels matter. He’s not interested in you, so move on. It’s not ladylike to chase after a man, anyway.
Sure, it's not always men who do the stalking. Yes, some of those intense unrequited crushes turn into unwanted attention, even for men. And in the social media and online dating era, it has never been easier to be misunderstood and be perceived to be stalking when you're not. We've all heard those stories.
And, yet, somehow, when we are not interested in a man, what we want, what we feel, what we think – none of that matters. When we say no to a man, he feels entitled to disregard our “no”, and keep trying. He feels entitled to change our minds. He feels entitled to try and try again, ignoring our wishes to be left alone because he’s a man, dammit, and he perseveres.
Sure, it's not always men who do the stalking. In the '80s classic flick Fatal Attraction Glenn Close’s character stalked the married man she was having an affair with, played by Michael Douglas, giving us the charming phrase “bunny boiler.” Yes, some of those intense unrequited crushes turn into unwanted attention, even for men. And in the social media and online dating era, it has never been easier to be misunderstood and be perceived to be stalking when you're not. We've all heard those stories.
But there's a different power dynamic for women. Glenn Close's “Bunny Boiler” became a meme for crazy women. Our languages, Indonesian and English included, have more words for crazy or undesirable women than for men. Before #MeToo an obsessed guy might be written off as going through a phase, or “just being a guy,” but if a woman does it she's a “crazy ex-girlfriend” or a “psycho bitch” forever.
Then there's the issue of violence. Exceptions aside, the reality is most men are physically stronger than most women (though not emotionally, or psychologically, of course). A biggish man can overpower a medium or smallish woman with ease. That's why we have separate competitions in sports. So when a woman stalks a man, he feels little physical threat. It’s just not the same the other way around.
In this #MeToo era, the word “CONSENT” has become all too familiar. No doesn’t mean yes, no doesn’t mean maybe, no doesn’t mean fine, I will if you would just stop pestering me. No simply means no. When a woman says no, whether it’s to a sexual relationship, or just to a coffee date, she means no. And, yes, the same goes with men too.
Dear men, any men who has stalked, or even just pestered a woman, she has her reasons to say no. You’re not entitled to know her reasons. You’re also not entitled to change her mind. You’re not entitled to keep pestering her until she can’t take it anymore. Consent is everything. If you don’t have a woman’s consent to date her, don’t try to take it away from her. Perseverance doesn’t mean disrespecting her decision. Sure, it’s important to never give up on yourself, but it also calls for a deeper look inside to see how you can improve yourself.
I realize my little rant doesn’t make for a good joke to tell, but maybe it will make for a better society.
One can only hope.
Illustration by Adhitya Pattisahusiwa