The Word That Can Get You Killed

If you’re a woman, that is

Rebeca Ansar
Jun 19, 2019 · 4 min read

I have a distinct memory from back when I was in college and hadn’t yet perfected my stony resting face.

I boarded a bus with the full intent of minding my own business. As I sat there, the male bus driver started chatting with me. I politely responded to him but kept my answers short. Truth be told, I didn’t really want to talk to anyone at that time.

He noticed my demeanor and decided to give me a bit of unsolicited jovial advice. I bet my female readers out there already have an inkling about what’s coming next.

He said…“You should smile more!”

From what I recall, I didn’t respond to his comment, but it left an indelible mark in my memory. It wasn’t the first or the last time a man instructed me to do something in order to align my existence with his view of how the world should be.

Today, as a woman in my 30s, if a man made the mistake of telling me how to use my face, I would likely say one of the following:

Him: You should smile more.

Me: You’re not as pretty when you open your mouth.

Him: You should smile more.

Me: You should Venmo me for wasting my time.

Him: You should smile more.

Me: You’re such a clown I should be straight up laughing right now.

A lot of women have told me over the years that I should avoid escalating these kinds of situations.

“Nothing is gained from escalation,” they have warned me, “and who knows? He could be shockingly psycho and respond even more drastically.”

This is a 100% valid concern.

Saying “no” to a man can get you killed.

Here’s a fact sheet documenting incidents in which women were killed by street harassers when they declined the catcaller’s advances.

Number 16 on this list documents the September 2008 murder of a woman who was eating dinner on her own front porch. She died from gunshot wounds inflicted by a man after she rejected his advances. He left, returned with a gun, and took her life because she said “no” to him.

When I read or hear stories like this, I feel rage. I feel a hatred for the status quo.

I’ve grown into an assertive person, and I can get aggressive very quickly if I feel the situation warrants it. I am not one to mince words or put effort into protecting the male ego.

This makes me wonder-am I putting myself at risk?

The answer is yes.

During my 20s, I experienced entitled men hollering at me on the street, and grabbing me as I walked by, and stalking me on public transportation, and even trying to overpower my body, all the while saying “you want this,” while I continued to say, “no”, wondering if this was the night I was going to get date-raped.

I remember one assault in which a stranger grabbed my waist and became so enraged when he was told to stop touching me that he lunged toward me. His friends held him back. I jaywalked across the street to get away from him, shocked by the magnitude of his anger. Since he couldn’t get to me with his fists, he yelled all types of gendered insults at me.

I guess this is the part where I would offer disclaimers to convince someone that none of this was my fault or my responsibility.

This is also the part where people would ask questions to judge how much I deserved what happened to me.

What was I wearing? Was I in a rough neighborhood? Did I look at him a certain way? Why didn’t I leave fast enough? What time of day was it?

The demand for disclaimers and the incessant questions are just ways to hold women accountable for the actions of men. Hard pass.

A man who harms a woman strips away his own dignity. He is the one who should be ashamed. We as a global society must stop telling women to carry the ponderous burden of the heinous actions of toxic, abusive men.

These days, I keep a large pocketknife and pepper spray with me whenever I’m in public spaces. It helps me feel less like prey.

I wholeheartedly agree that a woman’s first and foremost priority should be her safety. With this in mind, if a situation presents itself where I can show some amount of mettle and push back, I will still do it.

This is less an ode to my bravery and more of a testament to how sick and tired I am.

Toxic men rely on the status quo to continue invading the space that I am entitled to as a human being.

They take up a disproportionate and unfair amount of physical and non-physical space. Each time someone speaks out and takes action against them, they lose some of that space. A re-allocation of social space is important in creating an equitable and safe society.

I know assertiveness can be a dangerous attribute for a woman to possess, and it isn’t fair that we have to fight for our fundamental human rights. However, I can’t make my peace with the way things are.

Society must change, and I am galvanized to do my part by the stories of brave women who did say “no.”

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment.

Rebeca Ansar

Written by | blog and articles in An Amygdala

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join thousands of others making the climb on Medium.

Rebeca Ansar

Written by | blog and articles in An Amygdala

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join thousands of others making the climb on Medium.

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