It’s always scary to question something that people appear to be passionate about, but…if we didn’t, nothing would ever get done. Nothing would ever get better. I would never learn if I’m dead wrong, and neither would you.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I want to talk about THIS:

boyfriend1 boyfriend2

There is a very well-written article that explains this thinking, and on some level, I get where it comes from. I see the arguments, and I don’t even disagree that lying to people so they leave us alone is something we should change. But look at that tweet. Look at how over-simplified that is.

“Yep, it’s the patriarchy. That’s it. That’s all.”

Really? No mention of peoples’ feelings, or egos. Of our cultural norms. Of, say, the fact that the word “boyfriend” is actually a relatively new term.

Yeah, that. Let’s talk about that.

The very concept of being able to have a boyfriend comes out of the feminist era. When you say you have a “boyfriend,” you are not referring to some ancient tradition of men-owning-women. You are referring to a relatively new tradition of people-being-committed-to-people.

This chart shows when the terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” entered our vocabulary (based on the contents of Google’s digitized books).

ngram

This may sound strange, but in some ways, it’s actually progress that people accept the “boyfriend” excuse. Today, we generally respect peoples’ commitments to one another, whether they’re gay/straight/young/old/married/dating. We are past the days where an unmarried woman was considered fair game. Now having a boyfriend or a different sexual orientation are very legitimate reasons to reject someone.

Of course, “I’m not interested” or “nope” should also be considered legitimate reasons to reject someone. And I think they usually are. But I get that it isn’t always perfect. I just think we’re wrong about why.

“I have a boyfriend” is more likely to get a guy to back off than “no,” because they respect relationship structures more than individual opinion/attraction. Not because you’re a woman. Not because your so-called “boyfriend” is a man. But because you claim to have a commitment that can’t be moved. Because people respect monogamous relationships a lot, and they respect peoples’ personal judgment less. Simply, it’s a lot more likely for someone to change their mind or their level of attraction as the night goes on than for them to change their relationship status. Attraction is considered nuanced; relationship status is clear-cut.  That’s why it works.

(Not to mention that this rejection is not personal, so no egos get caught in the conversation.)

I’m not saying it’s a good thing. People should back off if they are asked to, and you shouldn’t need to give them a reason to do so. But if we’re going to talk about a problem, we have to talk about the actual problem. I really don’t feel like the male-female dynamic is at the root of this one. I think “not respecting peoples’ jurisdiction over their own bodies/time” is more the issue.

And yes, I’m using the word “people.” I have also seen men use “I have a girlfriend” as an escape maneuver. Hell, I pretended to be a buddy’s girlfriend when a woman was coming on too strong once. It does happen on both sides.

I have always believed that feminism shouldn’t be about battle cries and blame games. It should be about questioning everything you see, looking at it from all angles, considering whether the patriarchy has seeped in, and responding to that.

Let’s be smart. Let’s think with a little more complexity here. Let’s dig deeper.

And then, then, let’s fix this shit.

About Shauna

History/communications student. Blogger. Tour guide. Overly-emotional sports fan. Saturday night enthusiast. Ottawa obsessed. Tweeting @Shaunanagins, brainwaving at shaunanagins.com.

13 responses »

  1. Mary says:

    I agree completely with what you’re saying, but there are still some downfalls to the “I have a boyfriend” idea. I’ve said (ok, lied about) I have a boyfriend. Perhaps I’m a terrible liar, but it doesn’t always work. I’ve then gotten a “Well, where is he then?” retort. Maybe it depends on the situation, but it’s not always a successful cop-out or definitely way to get out of an uncomfortable situation.

  2. “I really don’t feel like the male-female dynamic is at the root of this one. I think “not respecting peoples’ jurisdiction over their own bodies/time” is more the issue.”

    Agreed. I think it’s much more awkward to say “I have a boyfriend/girlfriend”, however, than to physically excuse yourself from the situation (e.g. I have to go find a friend, etc.). I tend to think that most people are fairly reasonable and, if anything, making a point of saying that you’re already taken could exacerbate whatever situation you’re trying to remove yourself from..

    Also, regarding the chart about BF/GF terminology, outside the US, “partner” is a more widely used and accepted term for any couple (including married couples), which I like very much (though I admittedly still use “husband” out of habit).

  3. Stephanie says:

    I think if this were true, “I have a girlfriend” would work as well. It doesn’t.

    • Shauna says:

      This is a fair criticism, and I’ve read a lot of comments on reddit etc taking this position. However, I would argue that it DOES work with someone who respects homosexual relationships as much as they do straight relationships. That is not always the case, which sucks. As I said, a woman having a boyfriend is new. For some, a woman having a girlfriend is even “newer”. Just because some people unfortunately see same-sex couples as sexually experimental or otherwise “unequal” to their hetrosexual counterparts does not negate my point. It just adds another layer of complexity.

  4. this does NOT work! this happened to me recently. i was at a bar, enjoying a beer and the hockey game, wasnt looking like i was interested in ANYTHING remotely related to come talk to me, when a boy, I use this loosely because a man just might stop preceeding when I do say I have a boyfriend, asks me if I’m alone at the bar, I say yes, and he proceeds to sit down next to me and continues to talk to me. im social, i proceed, engage in a few questions he asks, and he just couldnt understand why i wasnt all over him…so he say, you have a boyfriend dont you, immediately AFTER the fact that he proceeded to tell me I “lead him on” by engaging in conversation (simple, nothing to any point where it was a “lets hook up” conversation). So I asked him, would it have made any difference what so ever, if I had said, before anything, i have a boyfriend? he said NOPE! I still would be trying to get your number. No respect. he then proceeded to call, what im assuming was a girl he was interested in, to come meet him, right in front of me, and asked me, does this make you jealous? I said i would LOVE to meet her! and he just couldnt handle the fact that I was not buying his BS…it was quite an interesting interaction AND when I told my bf about it, he laughed along with me and even told me hes never tried that hard…LOL

  5. Owen Eastwood says:

    Omg thank you for writing this – I’m so bored of so called feminists saying that this is a problem. It’s not, and you’re exactly right as to why.

    As a guy, if I get a no – I still might keep trying to at least talk to them, because people’s opinions and situations change very quickly, but if someone has a boyfriend then nothing you can do is going to change that.

  6. curious says:

    Just wondering, do you have any proof for your claims or are you just making this up based on observation? While I might agree with you and your statement here, it’s pretty silly to just claim it’s the truth without any proof of such.

  7. Then how do you explain that when a woman says “no, i have a girlfriend” the reply isn’t usually “oh, ok, you’re in a committed relationship”, but “ahh, can i join in?” or something as offensive. i don’t buy this.

  8. Cris says:

    I usually just say “Sorry, I don’t really like you”. Works great for me, even though some dudes start freaking out.

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