A Woman Got Punched In The Face For Turning Down A Guy – Is It Any Wonder We Pretend To Have Boyfriends?

'No thanks, I've got a boyfriend' might not be true, but there's a reason women say it

Gabrielle Walsh was punched for rejecting a man

by Rebecca Reid |
Updated on

As soon as girls start to look like women, they have to contend with male attention.

Some of it is exciting - a crush from someone in your class at school or kissing a stranger at a friend’s party. But other parts of it aren’t so nice.

Around the time that you start to receive male attention, you also start to learning how to handle it. It’s a strange, unspoken art which comes from observing other women, and reading clues about how to keep yourself safe.

No one ever told me that it was better to say ‘I have a boyfriend’ to a man who is coming on to you in a bar. I don’t remember a PSHE lesson where the teacher told us that it’s safer to say that you’re a lesbian than to tell a man that you’re not interested in sleeping with him.

But somehow, despite the fact that it’s not a part of the national curriculum, many of us do it. We reach for the words ‘Sorry, I have a boyfriend’, as if the only reason we’re not taking our knickers off RIGHT NOW is that we’re shackled to another man, rather than just telling the truth.

Last week, 18-year-old Gabrielle Walsh was punched in the face, so hard that it knocked her unconscious, when she told a man outside a Manchester night club that she wasn’t interested in him. She didn’t opt for the feeling sparing lie, she told the (very reasonable) truth. And in punishment for that, the near stranger smacked her in the face.

Discussing the incident in the Manchester Evening News, Gabrielle said: ‘I’d taken my shoes off and this guy came over and said ‘I like your feet’. I just said OK and we tried to walk away. They kept walking behind trying to talk to me. Eventually, I turned around and said ‘I’m sorry, I’m not interested. They kept harassing us, then he hit me – he fully knocked me out.’

‘I’m not a rude person, I just said ‘sorry I’m not interested’,” she added. “I think it was a jealousy, ego thing because I rejected him in front of his friends. Girls feel like they can’t say ‘no’. They feel like if they say ‘no’ then [men] might hurt you and in this case it was true.’

There’s a joke that goes: A girl with a boyfriend, a vegan and someone who went on a gap year walk into a room. Who tells you first?

On the veganism and the gap year, it’s maybe a fair cop. But laughing at women who tell you that they’ve got a boyfriend when you start talking to them rather misses the point.

We don’t say 'I have a boyfriend' to show off, or for fun. We do it to keep ourselves safe. Men in bars seem to respect the idea that we are someone else’s property far more than they respect our right to say yes or no.

Gabrielle Walsh’s experience is not an isolated one. In fact the price for rejecting a man who you’re not interested in can be even steeper. Bianca Devins was murdered, allegedly by a man who she rejected romantically.

In 2014, Elliot Roger comitted a mass murder at a californian university, citing the romantic rejection of multiple women as his reasoning. One of the first victims of the Santa Fe school schooling was a young woman who had romantically rejected the shooter. The list of cases where a woman has refused a man and then paid for it with her life goes on and on and on.

Gabrielle did the 'right' thing when she told a man she didn’t fancy that she wasn’t interested. But sometimes doing the right thing has horrible consequences.

In a perfect world, we’d stop sugar coating our rejections. There is no good reason that we should feel obliged to say we have a boyfriend, instead of telling the truth. But sometimes we have to be pragmatic. Sometimes we have to do the wrong thing for the right reason.

So don’t feel guilty if you put a ring on your left ring finger to avoid unwanted attention, if you pretend that a male friend is a boyfriend, or use any other diversion tactics to escape. It’s not right and it’s not fair. But there is nothing more important than your personal safety

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