Growing up in emotional, financial, and physical chaos, I learned early on that my saying “no” was at worst, dangerous, and at best, ineffectual. I did not learn the social skills of setting healthy boundaries for myself because almost no one around me modeled that behavior. I grew up in a time when boundaries were for property, not people.
Still, at 51 years of age, I am somewhat shocked by how often (frequently?) people will not respect the “no means no” mantra that permeates so much social justice work.
For example, when I tell them “I do not want you to contact me again” – that does not allow an exception for them to get in the last word, make their case, clarify, correct my errors, etc. This seems mind boggling simple to me – no means no. It means I don’t owe you my time, attention, energy, or reaction. Must like I don’t owe anyone a smile, a date, a kiss, a dance, a drink, or sex. I said no. No exceptions. Just let it be. There might be fallout from severing a personal or professional connection, of course, but I understand that.
When the lengthy email hits my inbox filled with all of the words about the thing around which I set a boundary, I shake my head. It is the essential example of toxic masculinity and control tactics. We have been damaged by these things to the extent that when someone, especially a woman, says “I do not want you to contact me again” we find a way to rationalize around their autonomy, their dignity, and their boundary. We tell ourselves we are an exception because, of course, we are good feminists, progressives, and allies. We would never force someone to do something against their will or violate them. We believe that is a different thing because of our intentions, our privilege, our accomplishments.
And it is total bs.
I have been a person who has felt that I deserved a chance to clarify a misunderstanding or clear-up a miscommunication even when the other person has said “no” and I regret that. I’ve tried to make amends. I have been warped by toxicity as much as anyone.
The concept is simple …. no does mean no. If we find it outrageous that a guy in a bar will manipulate or coerce a woman into giving her phone number or force her to use a fake number – why do we think it is okay to call someone who said no to us contacting them? If we find it “stalkerish” that a guy will call, email, text, drop by workplaces, contact friends to try to get the attention of a woman – why do we think it is okay to overwhelm someone like that in our lives because we want/need them to hear our message? A non-emergency situation. An emergency that warrants a flurry of contact attempts is a death, a COVID diagnosis, a child in need of caretaking. Not an argument that we feel remains unresolved.
One of the points of setting boundaries is acknowledging that we get to make the call about our lives. Running over boundaries to meet our own needs is not okay. It is callous and cruel.
When someone contacts me after I asked them not to do so, that’s it for me. I might engage them in the future, I might reconnect with them, but I will never forget that they violated my autonomy with careless disrespect. Of all the apologies I’ve received in life, I have never had someone take ownership of that behavior. Rather, they tend to dig in because they see themselves as good people who would never harass or stalk or traumatize someone. They are misunderstood in the moment and perhaps in the grander scale of things. They cling to their intentions and refuse to acknowledge the impact of their choices.
If someone says “do not contact me again,” don’t. contact. them. Don’t explain yourself or demand an audience. You are not entitled to their time or attention. Decency requires you to respect their boundary, not challenge them.
If you want to contact someone in any situation that is not an emergency, it is not okay to call, text, email, messenger, IG, DM on Twitter, contact two other associates, and so forth. That’s absurd overkill. Leave a message. Follow up to see they received it. Otherwise, you are clearly badgering the person.
If you are a feminist, there are no exemptions you can give yourself.
Substantively, “Crash Into Me” is from the perspective of, well, a Peeping Tom. Matthews said as much about the lyrics’ meaning himself during a VH1 Storytellers. He also said, “This song is about the worship of women.” But he noted it’s also from the eyes of a “little bit of a crazy man.” The kind of person you’d call the police on. It’s about someone watching a girl through her bedroom window.
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