Last semester, my young, beautiful, female TA gave the girls in our class some advice: buy a fake engagement ring. It was the week I turned eighteen and a few girls and I were talking about how well the phrases “Oh, I’m seventeen” and “I have a boyfriend,” fend off the overly predatory boys that approach us at parties. Overhearing this, my TA interjected, “Use ‘I’m seventeen’ for as long as it lasts, and then buy yourself a fake engagement rings. Always works.” Class began and we said nothing more of the issue.
What keeps coming back to me, though, is the fact that I, nor any other woman, should have to pretend to have a boyfriend or fiancé in order for my “No” to be acknowledged as legitimate. Unfortunately, when girls turn down guys at bars or parties without an accompanying excuse as to why, the result is often one of two reactions: 1) They will be asked again, usually multiple times, “if they are sure,” as if the first rejection was a mistake, or 2) The guy will walk away irritated as if they were entitled to a “Yes” because there were no other men in the picture.
This situation raises an integral problem in the way that men and women interact on Grounds. I want to avoid implying that every man is a sexual offender or lacks respect for women, but the sad reality is that the decision of a woman alone appears to be worth less than the imaginary man she makes up to excuse her actions. Despite UVA’s pride in being a “Community of Trust,” it is unsafe for me to walk home alone at night from 14th Street to my first year dorm without a male friend accompanying me. His presence alone is enough to deter any other man who might approach me in some inappropriate manner, but my consent alone is not enough.
As a Community, this University needs to stop commoditizing women as if their value is automatically tied to the man to which they belong. Throw away the fake engagement rings, tell people your real age, and if you are single and not in the mood to mingle, say no, say it firmly, and together we can work toward increasing the weight of that word until it outweighs any need for excuse.