When Lucie-Colombe Chailan goes clubbing with her friends she always makes sure the screensaver on her phone – a photograph of her and her boyfriend – is visible. She says it’s the only way to stop men trying to flirt with her or ask for her number. Telling them she isn’t interested isn’t enough, says the 22-year-old. Unless she shows physical proof, they keep on trying.
“It works”, says Chailan. “But I’m frustrated because a clear ‘no’ from me is less meaningful than implying I am the ‘property’ of another man.”
Chailan isn’t the only one – Helen McStravick, 40, previously had to ask a male friend to put his arm around her when she was hit on by a stranger. “The only way to stop him harassing me was to show I was ‘owned’ by another man.” She says lesbian friends of hers have also had to pretend they have boyfriends because mentioning their girlfriend is not enough to send men on their way.
If someone made an advance on you in a night out but you weren’t interested, how would you go about saying no? Would you keep it simple or feel forced to make an elaborate excuse that involved a partner or another commitment? Women have told HuffPost UK they have had to make up fictional partners – or even pregnancies – to make it clear that a stranger’s approach is unwelcome.
This week, actress Jameela Jamil shared a story on Twitter about a similar situation that ended in her being physically assaulted.
“I once said no thank you to man when I was 19 and didn’t have an excuse and he punched me in the face. After that whether or not I have a boyfriend, I say I do. Being a woman is truly, constantly scary. It’s like existing on thin ice.”
Jamil’s story resonated with Shannon Murray, 42, who was called a “moody bitch” after telling a man she didn’t want a drink because she had a partner.
“Women shouldn’t have to tell men that they’re taken in order for them to leave us alone,” says Almara Abgarian, 29. “It sets a dangerous precedent because why is it not enough that I’m single and not interested? These days I’ll only lie if I feel unsafe in the situation, such as when I’ve had Uber drivers hit on me. It’s atrocious we feel the need to do this.”
Sometimes even saying you are in a relationship is not enough: “Even when you say you’re taken they will still try and pursue,” says Lateefah Jean-Baptiste, 25, And Lucy Elisa, also 25, agrees.
“I was with some friends at a bar once a couple of years ago and a guy came up to me and started flirting so I told him I had a boyfriend, which was true,” she says. “He was super apologetic, and I thought, for once, that was relatively painless. Then he took my hand quite forcefully and led me around the corner of this bar away from my friends, put his hand on my waist and tried to kiss me.
“When I reiterated that I had a boyfriend, he was confused and said ‘yeah, but your friends can’t see us now, so they won’t tell him... ’ Then when I was just straight up, ‘I do not want to get with you, I only want to get with my boyfriend’, he was so perplexed, like he did not compute what I was saying at all.”
Liv Cassano, 25, said: “I’ve had guys reply with ‘your boyfriend is lucky’ and then proceed to ask me out anyways. I’ve decided to implement a new technique and tell guys I’m pregnant. Maybe that will work?”
Other women have gone further – Rae Radford, 56, says she used to wear an engagement ring on nights out. “I’d gone through a rough patch with men and just wanted to go out and dance without idiots springing their dreadful one lines on me, so the ring worked well.”
Meanwhile, Grace Cassidy, 29, not only has a fictional backstory but a fake name: Emily. “I’ve been doing it for years, since university – I’m not sure why but I think there’s something really committal in a conversation when you open with your name and who you are to a stranger,” she says.