Not Raising a White Flag on Red Flags: Caution is Okay

In my day to day interactions, especially as a woman, being nonjudgmental is considered a positive trait. Acceptance is paramount, especially among those of us advocating for gender, racial, sexual, and every other equality. I’ve found that in interactions with men both in life and in romantic contexts, I am cautious. I remember the repeated actions that have signaled disrespect or misogyny to come, and when I see them in a new person, I note it. I consider this appropriate, as it might prevent repetition of aggression or harassment I’ve already been through, but men, especially in a dating situation, do not typically agree.

More than once, when I’ve become a little distant when conversation moves in a treacherous direction, I have been chastised for judging men. The things I react to include key words that have indicated the arrival of a genitalia picture or request for one, overtly sexual comments that become aggressive demands, or statements about what women should or shouldn’t do. I feel justified in my caution initially, but because I am concerned with remaining accepting of others, an accusation of unfairness or prejudice is upsetting to me.

A recent occurrence of this led me to reflect. At a random point in text conversation, a man asked, “Can I ask you a question?” Every time this has happened with someone I’ve been on one or two casual dates with, the next message has been a request for a nude photograph or sexual favor. In this instance, when I said simply, “Ok,” with no enthusiasm, the man asked why. He refused to let it go, and when I explained the trend, he accused me of judging him and all men as opposed to trusting everyone as he claimed to do.

Usually, I feel uncomfortable and worried about past repercussions such as threats if I stop the conversation. Men are almost always much physically larger than me, which makes it easier for them to take risks and be less cautious safely. If I do continue interaction with those who exhibit behavior that alarms me, I tend to be proven right. Is it okay to be aware of previous indicators, or is it somehow a problem with me?

I know other women have struggled with this, but I think the conclusion I have reached is clear. I will not prioritize a man’s feeling of innocence over my feeling of safety. I will not lavish praise on men—or anyone for that matter—just because they do not send me a dick pic, tell me feminists are ugly, or say that I don’t get to have trust issues unless I’m willing to disclose the explicit reasons for them immediately. I will appreciate the kindness of another person and grow to trust them over time. The experiences that made me will not go away when I interact with new people—and I’m only facing gendered trauma, not racial as well. I will not expect poor or hateful behavior because I don’t want it to happen—I don’t want to feel powerless or objectified. I will reflect on evidence for my concerns because sometimes they become habits that hurt me and others. I also will not ignore the things that have been red flags in the past because that instinct is a part of me, and it has saved me time and time again.

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