Moby and The Fragile Male Ego Strikes Back

We need to quit demanding that women force smiles to make men happy.

Shannon Ashley
Jun 7 · 9 min read
Photo by Hybrid on Unsplash

Just in case you missed it, Moby finally issued an apology after doubling down on his claim that he dated Natalie Portman in the late 90s.

Hey, I get it. I'm pretty sure that 1999 was the year I went to my high school's Halloween dance as Queen Amidala. One of my high school crushes had a very vocal crush on the actress even back then. And let's face it. Portman is the kind of celebrity who has only gotten better with time.

But Moby's insistence that he dated her is not just problematic, it's way too familiar. And we need to talk about that.

We teach girls to suppress their instincts in favor of being... nice.

Over my 36 years, I have had a number of uncomfortable experiences with men whom I have never dated. By and large, the big common denominator was that these men expected my attention, demanded a certain reaction, and were offended when they didn't get it.

I don't know what's worse--the fact that those expectations started when I was so young, or the fact that society encouraged me to "be nice" when I really wanted nothing to do with the dude(s).

When I was around four years old, my mother, older sister, and I frequented a local grocery store. There was a young bagger, in high school or college, who always talked to me. Well, he talked at me, and I did my best to ignore him.

It drove my mother crazy. She thought I was being rude, but I didn't have a good feeling about him.

Years later, the same bag boy was convicted of a few unsavory things like child pornography and molestation. I don't want to say I called it, but that was certainly a lesson in trusting my gut.

A lesson that society does its damnedest to try to break in young women.

That wasn't the only time I was told to be nice despite my instincts telling me to stay away. I also had a bus driver in preschool who used to tease all the girls and wave our papers and art projects out the window like he was going to let them blow away.

One day, I had enough. He didn't stop when I was nice. Didn't stop when I begged. I finally got so fed up that as soon as he gave me my papers back I hit him as he walked back down the aisle to the driver seat.

No, I didn't feel bad for the guy who was 4 times my size. At 4-years-old, I realized that hitting him with my papers hurt nothing but his pride.

When it was time to drop me off, he yelled out the window to my mother, calling me a brat. Although my mother told him to quit teasing us kids, when I got inside our apartment she also told me that I should have been nice.

Being nice became my duty.

We let some men run wild and terrorize young women.

Back in the late 80s, the Saint Paul Winter Carnival had this very fucked up tradition where men dressed up as Vulcans ran around kissing women and girls with grease-painted lips.

I hated these men. They were inebriated strangers with beards not just invading my personal space, but actually touching me. With their lips.

The only way I knew how to get them to leave me alone was to start crying as if I was afraid of the Vulcans. Of course, I was afraid of them, but simply saying so wasn't enough.

The whole situation with the Vulcans taught me that I had to make a scene just to be taken seriously. And even then, because I made a scene, I was also a sort of party pooper, spoiling the fun for these poor grown men.

What a bitch, right?

I grew up hearing that message, that all I had to do was stand still and be nice. Smile more and like it.

The feeling of strange lips on my face is a memory that still makes me shudder. The black grease paint they left behind often ruined my clothes.

Nobody taught me about consent back then and clearly, it wasn't a cherished thing. I was shocked to dig up the history of Saint Paul's Vulcans the other day, because it turns out that the Winter Carnival officials supposedly "banned" kissing back in 1976.

How effective was it?

Well, I wasn't born until 1982 and my family can attest to the fact that every time the Vulcans came by, I kept pretending to cry until I was about 8 years old. So, it happened to me until 1990.

The only reason I quit pretending to cry was that the Vulcans finally utilized greasepaint pens with kids instead of greasy lips.

Men cross boundaries all the time, and we often blame the girls.

When I was around 12 years old, strange men began to address me in sexual ways. Catcalling, asking if I was a virgin and did I have a boyfriend. All of it felt uncomfortable and inappropriate, yet there was also this feeling that it was my own fault that grown men were coming onto me.

Because I was deeply enmeshed within an evangelical Christian bubble throughout my tween and teen years, the idea that I must have somehow been to blame for leading on men was strong. Dress codes were designed to prevent us girls from "making men stumble."

Even the way we wore our bags was suspect. If the strap rested cross-shoulder, between our breasts? That was unacceptable and overly alluring.

Even into my twenties, there was this awkward line of not wanting to hurt a man's feelings by rejecting him. Along with not wanting to "make him lust."

As a young woman, I was blamed if men had sexual thoughts about me. And I was also ridiculed for not being nice.

Nice, too nice, and not nice enough had no clear lines. It was never up to my discretion, but instead depended upon how the on-lookers or men in question saw it.

I once traveled to Amsterdam with the ministry I interned for, and was repeatedly confronted by my male peers and leaders that I was either too aloof. Or too friendly.

It didn't matter that I wasn't trying to be rude when men spoke to me, and it didn't matter that I had no interest in the guy friends I hung out with.

Of course, all that mattered was how other people read into my behavior.

Apparently, women are too confusing when they say no.

At one point, I worked as a framing associate for Michael's Arts and Crafts. For whatever reason, men didn't bother me much when I was out on the floor working in the floral department, acting as the manager on duty, or handling the cash register.

There was a different attitude when I worked in the framing department. I think men saw it as more casual, when in reality, it was a harder position that required plenty of concentration.

Men would come by the framing department to chat, some become regular chatters, and others would repeatedly ask me out.

Declining dates with strange men always made me feel bad, like I wasn't being nice. Nobody taught me that I didn't owe men my smiles and attention. If anything, I had been taught that I'm supposed to be grateful when a man wants such attention from me.

But I knew enough to understand how wrong it felt. I didn't appreciate being pressured to do anything, and even when I complained to my guy friends about such customers, my friends were quick to interrogate me on whatever "signals" I might have been giving away.

One guy friend said, "Shannon, you have to be absolutely clear. You can't leave even the possibility of an opening or a guy will keep trying to wear you down."

Twelve years later, those words still bother me. Why isn't saying "no" enough? Why do women need long-winded explanations to prove to a man that no means no?

I still hear men complain that women are too confusing. Perhaps, they'd be less confused if they took a no for... no.

But men can't take no for an answer when they let their egos get in the way. A fragile ego needs lengthy explanations that assure a man she's not really saying no anyway.

When women take the blame, men can't be held responsible.

In patriarchal societies, women often take the blame for being too nice and not nice enough. The only way that I can explain it is that men, on a society level, have not been held responsible for their own behavior.

Not enough and not consistently.

Most women understand the situation with Moby and Natalie Portman. Practically all of us have smiled through uncomfortable situations with men we did not wish to date. And it pretty much boils down to wanting to be nice. Or feeling pressured to be nice.

Sometimes, men on social media pay me uncomfortable attention. Maybe it's blatant sexual comments, or maybe it's an innuendo that I'm not exactly sure how to read.

It would be great to be able to say "no thank you" without it turning into... a thing. But even a polite decline typically results in an angry man calling me a bitch. Telling me I'm not nice. Asking who do I think I am.

But it's a helluva lot more complicated and uncomfortable when the man who wants your attention is somehow famous or otherwise elite. There are bosses and certain other people whom you don't want to offend. So you grin and bear it.

In the past, I have had crushes on older men when I was still too young to know how to take their demands for attention. My failure to reciprocate didn't always mean I didn't like them, but sometimes it felt too complicated to navigate.

So we didn't date. And I believed that was my choice to make.

But plenty of people out there do look back on acquaintances as if there was something more happening. Somehow, it's men who have taken on the plight of being ignored or otherwise maligned when a woman either rebuffs their advances or contradicts their story.

I was not surprised to see Natalie Portman contradict Moby in public, because I understand her as a growing feminist who no longer wants to be bound to the cultural script that women must be nice to men at all costs.

Women today are embracing their rights to consent and that means holding men responsible when they do not respect our boundaries. Sometimes, that includes men who force themselves upon us. At other times, we're talking about men who simply see what they want to see.

We have to flip the script for women, and we have to start with our girls.

I am quick to point out that neither I nor my daughter owe strangers our smiles, interest, or laughter. Telling a bad joke does not entitle you to our feigned joy, and that is especially true for men.

Too many girls have been raised from a young age to be compliant and submissive. And often, it starts out with the way we respond to strange men.

It's confusing and it's wrong. We tell our kids not to talk to strangers and then demand girls to be nice to every manner of man. The bag boys, the Vulcans, the musicians, the bosses.

We grow up and hear that it's no big deal if an old man pinches our ass on the job. Hey, maybe he'll give a big tip. Or, one day we might even miss the attention.

Our society makes sick excuses for the bad behavior of men because they can't be held responsible. So, there are still mothers, sisters, brothers, and fathers telling us to settle down.

Lighten up and let the guys have a little fun.

Of course, with men having all the fun and none of the responsibility, it's going to keep costing women their rights to simply say, no thank you.

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Awkwardly Honest

A home for some of my most cringe-worthy tales that have been well-received on Medium.

Shannon Ashley

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Single mama, fulltime writer, exvangelical. It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. Top Writer.

Awkwardly Honest

A home for some of my most cringe-worthy tales that have been well-received on Medium.

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