Britain is keen to point the finger at states, mainly Islamic, that still uphold male guardianship. Male guardianship is where women must obtain permission from men (generally fathers or husbands) to do anything: work, study, travel. There’s anger for Saudi Arabian women who can’t drive, or Yemeni girls who are married off as children. Yeah, it’s really backwards and totally undermines women’s rights.
Needless to say, guardianship is underlined by the principle that women are men’s property.
Legal male guardianship is virtually extinct in the UK. However, socially, we’re still dipping our toes into the 1800s. From assuming that a woman should always be accompanied by a man when walking in public spaces at night, to not believing she’s uninterested in casual sex unless, oh, of course- she has a boyfriend – the concept of male guardianship is thriving.
From experience, I’ve found that one of the (almost) failsafe ways to deflect a man’s advances is to simply say “I’m sorry, I have a boyfriend”. Sometimes, this comes as the frustrated last resort after a string of “No thanks/ I’m not interested/ I’m not looking for anyone right now/ No.”. Sometimes it’s just thrown out immediately as a relatively painless way of communicating to a man that he can simply get out of my face.
Underneath this is the assumption that a woman is available and potentially interested unless she has a male guardian. There is also the assumption that all women are in want of a man (“What do you mean you don’t want to be in a relationship? You just haven’t met the right man yet” ). Don’t get me wrong, I’ve witnessed lots of respectful young men back away and say “fair enough” after I establish I’m simply not interested. I recognise it’s not all men that take such an irritatingly persistent approach. A few times, these encounters have led to some great conversations and also friendships where we can laugh at it.
However, I’ve known far, far more men to persist until the point where I have to say (be it true or not), “Look, I’m actually with someone”. In the latter, any retreat on their part is prompted not from respect for the woman’s wishes, but respect for another man’s property. For me, be it true or not, it feels horrible to have to resort to that to get rid of unwanted attention.
If a woman says “I’m not interested in men/ I’m a lesbian/ I have a girlfriend”, there is also the chance that the romantic knight in question will disbelieve her. I’ve witnessed blokes saying, sometimes jokily, sometimes defensively: “you’re making that up/ you don’t look like a lesbian”. All of these again, come from the failure to recognise that some women don’t want or need a male guardian. The horror!
My friend Chris says that he is happy to be ‘on call’ for his female friends in the local area if they find themselves unable to escape any male harassers in a bar. He’s been asked to walk women home because they don’t feel safe that a previous accoster won’t follow them. He’s had to explain to strangers that buying a woman a drink does not buy her rights and preferences. Because they wouldn’t listen to a woman when she said that.
I have never been cat-called or harassed in the street whilst accompanied by a man.
I’ve seen it time and time again – unless there is another man somewhere on the scene (even if he’s fabricated), a woman’s rejection is entirely meaningless/ subject to debate. Her voice can be overridden because she simply isn’t accompanied by a man.
I don’t want to be listened to because I am (or pretending to be) a girlfriend, but because I am a human.