Man gives attention to a woman. Woman expresses her lack of desire for said attention. Man immediately turns hostile.
Unfortunately, it's a dynamic as old as time -- or at the very least, as old as Internet chat rooms. And anyone looking at BuzzFeed staff writer Grace Spelman's Twitter feed on Monday saw said dynamic play out as Spelman tweeted her unsolicited, increasingly hostile correspondence with former "MuggleCast" host Ben Schoen.
Schoen initially tweeted at Spelman on August 5 after finding her Twitter feed funny. She "favorited" at least one of his tweets, but didn't respond. He then sent her a lengthy Facebook message (see below), calling her a "special soul," to which she responded kindly, but informed him that she had a boyfriend. She then blocked him on both Twitter and Facebook.
After being blocked, instead of taking a hint and disengaging, Schoen turned angry. He tweeted at Spelman incessantly, insulting her work and her intellect, all the while claiming that his initial attentions were just in the service of advancing Spelman's career. (How kind of him! What woman doesn't want to be flirted with, yelled at and then offered a job?)
Their interactions culminated with Schoen sending Spelman an email. He apologized for making her uncomfortable, while simultaneously demanding an explanation for her lack of contact and telling her that he had drafted a "1500 word diatribe 'putting you in your place,'" which he had never sent.
After Spelman began tweeting their correspondence, Schoen responded on Twitter, claiming that he was "deliberately punching up at a BuzzFeed staff writer and watching her take the bait." He also shouted out to every woman's favorite presidential candidate, Donald Trump, tweeting: "To borrow a line from
@realDonaldTrump it seems @GraceSpelman has blood coming out of her wherever." Charming.
The entire exchange is disturbing, and it's heartening to see people acknowledging that. But what's even more disturbing is how commonplace these sort of dynamics are.
"The whole exchange is pretty emblematic of the inherent difficulties of rejecting men, both online and off," The Cut's Jessica Roy wrote of the Spelman incident and others like it. "Women are frequently made to toe a line between being polite enough to not set off the suitor, but not so polite that their manners are interpreted as flirting."
We see these situations playing out not only in our Twitter feeds, but on our dating apps and television screens. On the most recent season of "The Bachelorette," Kaitlyn Bristowe breaks up with one of her suitors, Joe, only to find him switch on a dime from being intensely lovey-dovey to scarily cold. "I'm not saying sh*t to you right now," he says as they part ways.
More recently, YouTuber Gaby Dunn tweeted a text message she sent to her friend, Allison Raskin, detailing how a man had turned hostile toward Dunn and her friends after they had not appeared overly excited to speak to him for an extended period of time.
I asked women on my personal Facebook if they had ever been in a situation, in person or online, where a man had given them attention that they had declined and then the man immediately turned hostile. "I feel like this is 'women: have you ever experienced being a woman?" quipped one of my friends. Unsurprisingly, I got a whole lot of messages from acquaintances of mine expressing that they had indeed been in similar situations.
Jaime Ames, 28, told me about a man she met a few weeks ago at the pool, who after chatting with her for a bit, asked for her number and told her he wanted to take her out. She made up a boyfriend as a way to politely decline. "All of a sudden [he] started acting like I was the one jumping to conclusions," she told me over email. "[He told me], 'I just meant to hang out! I don't want to date you, you seem like you'd be really bad in bed. I wouldn't do that to myself.'"
Hannah Maté, 26, created Hey Sup Girl, a Tumblr made up of the terrible things men say on online dating sites and apps. She shared a recent exchange with me: “hey, your profile looks interesting, we should try to meet up for a coffee…” (10 minutes later…) “If you were a desirable girl that many men wanted, why would you put up an internet profile? The kind of women who hang around dating sites are ones who have trouble cracking it in a real social scene and would rather sit in a comfortable chair and click through hundreds of emails from average-horny-frustrated dudes."
When a woman receives unsolicited attention that she decides she isn't interested in, she's forced to respond in a way she believes will create the least resistance. And because these situations most often arise between strangers, the woman on the receiving end of the attention usually truly does not know how the man will react. Will he accept her rejection and move on? Will he laugh it off? Will he scream at her? Will he harass her online? Will he turn violent? When we live in a world where a woman can get slashed in public for ignoring a man's advances, women have reason to feel trepidation when rejecting a man.
"As a woman, I'm always on my guard when it comes to rejecting a man," Spelman told me over email. "I err on the side of niceness because I think it's the safest decision. But sometimes even the nicest response isn't enough. And because the man in this case was super entitled, not only was my nice response not enough, but he demanded I give him ANOTHER explanation. Men think that because they took the time to ask you out, you then owe them your TIME and your POLITENESS."
Rejection, romantic or otherwise, sucks. It is also a part of life. Who hasn't sent a hopeful text message and never gotten a response? Or approached someone at a party and been disappointed to realize that he or she just wasn't interested in chatting with you? Or reached out to someone about a potential professional collaboration and never heard back?
In these situations, you're allowed to be disappointed, and even sad. What's inappropriate is hounding the other person, and dominating her personal space (virtual or IRL) to the point where she is forced to acknowledge you.
Women do not owe men anything for their unsolicited acknowledgement. Not their time, not their attention and certainly not their affection.