No Means No, It Doesn’t Matter How Women Say It by Amna Saleem was immediately familiar to me as soon as I read the article. As she described the persistent attention of a man who approached her with offers of a drink, despite the fact that she was reading a book and repeatedly declined politely, I was nodding along. I remembered various situations both when I was younger and older, and reading about the mocking responses of the irritating would-be suitor, I also remembered those I had heard myself, among them such as “Don’t you ever smile?” and “So what’s your boyfriend’s name?”
But the article and the author’s mention of some of the nicer Tweets she got from readers got me thinking on another topic. How can a man talk to a woman reading in a public place without seeming like a persistent creep? Or how would the non-creeps do it? Here’s an opinion.
My heartfelt suggestion to men who really want to speak to a woman reading would be to follow this example of what to say to her:
Excuse me/ sorry, hi, sorry to bother you, but I just noticed you are reading * insert name of book here * and I’m thinking of getting it for my father/ mother/ sister/ brother/ cousin/ friend. Could you tell me if it’s good/ what you think of it so far?”
If she answers your question, but doesn’t offer anything else, thank her, wish her pleasant reading and BACK OFF.
If a conversation follows, participate, but don’t overdo it with attention or suggestions, drop a bookshop tip or two, or ask her.
A woman reading in a restaurant, cafe, on a park bench or anywhere else outside of the home that’s sufficiently lit is not looking for a way to mask that she is alone, nor is she self-conscious about sitting by herself. Even if she is, that’s her business. She isn’t begging for persistent, even aggressive attention. She might be waiting for someone, she might have had a long day and just needs an escape for a while. Or she just wants to read, dammit.
The point is, she chose this space, this time and this book by herself, for herself. This needs to be respected.
I love to read and I make a goal out of taking myself somewhere beyond my home to do this. I like to interact with the outside world just as much as I like to withdraw from it sometimes. I need to look up from my book after a while, I most certainly need to eat and drink. Like the author of the article, possibly, I also enjoy looking at something other than my phone to fill my time.
It’s not that a woman reading in a public place, or anyone, can’t be approached at all. But this is a specific situation that merits thinking about.
If she’s reading, she intends to concentrate. The only person who is allowed to break that concentration is the one she might be waiting for. Unless they are both meeting up to read together. The fact that she has a book with her means she’s occupied. She picked something to do.
Anyone being approached by someone deserves politeness and respect, as well as some amount of distance at the beginning of communication, especially when it’s about talking to strangers.
That’s it. And no really does mean no.