The Department of Justice – and common sense – tells us that gender-based violence and harassment is predominantly committed by men against women or non-binary persons.
Bearing in mind that every situation is different, the importance of using your best judgement in the moment, and keeping women’s personal safety at the forefront, learning to use “male-encoded language” can be a highly effective skill.
Broadly speaking, aggressive men best understand communication – verbal and non-verbal – when it reads as “male.” Again, making a sweeping generalization that has some truth in it – aggressive men tend to receive what they interpret as “feminine” communication as irrelevant.
This is not to diminish the power and validity of communication styles that are traditionally “female.” Rather, this is about knowing a few different helpful strategies in case of a confrontation between an aggressive man and a possibly intimidated or subordinate woman, female-presenting or gender non-conforming person.
Of course, the best way to avoid a confrontation is to … avoid it. Leave the scene when you can. Women generally have an arsenal of “polite” exit strategies that allow the aggressive person to “save face.” Unfortunately, there are times in life when that isn’t feasible or possible, so it’s best to have several different strategies at hand if confronted by an angry, aggressive, or otherwise inappropriate person.
When a woman is dealing with a confrontational man, the social contract tells us to be quiet, not make a scene, and try to the encounter end quickly.
We are told, implicitly and explicitly, that speaking up for ourselves makes things worse.
The truth is, being quiet and submissive was always a deeply flawed solution, and when faced with a non-resistant woman, many men will feel empowered to escalate the aggression or violence.
Politely asking an aggressor to stop being aggressive simply doesn’t work.
Although it goes against our collective cultural conditioning, oftentimes the best response to a confrontational or inappropriate male is to be loud and firm, in a tone that allows no room for negotiation or argument.
Even though there is nothing inherently male about speaking in this way, assertive speaking and body language is widely considered “male-encoded” – and therefore, more authoritative.
Consider the difference between a woman quietly saying, “Please stop doing that. You’re making me feel uncomfortable,” versus the same woman saying, “YOU! CUT IT OUT!” while making a sharp jerking motion with her thumb. It’s the difference between politely asking a waitress for a glass of water, and a drill sergeant issuing an order.
The assertive approach accomplishes two things: it puts the aggressor on notice that you are NOT an easy target and whatever he does to you will come with a consequence; and it alerts anyone nearby that you are in a precarious situation and they may need to step in or call for help.
Before you’re ever faced with a situation, think of assertive phrases practice saying them out loud in front of a mirror. Practice until you’re comfortable saying these things firmly, authoritatively, and are able to call them up instantly.
“YOU! CUT IT OUT!” “GET OUTTA HERE!” “BACK OFF!” “HEY YOU! SHUT IT!” and “YOU BACK UP!” are some examples. Drop your voice to a deeper register and deliver loud, firm COMMANDS, NOT REQUESTS, like a military commander – as if you EXPECT to be obeyed, and anything else is unthinkable.
Use male-encoded body language when you issue these commands. Let your posture and facial expressions reinforce your words.Stand at attention – straight, with your feet shoulder-width apart, shoulders back, head up, with a serious face. Look fearless, resolved, and stern. At the same time, maintain your personal space as much as possible, as staying out of reach is always important.
Don’t worry about being rude or making a scene. Go on and MAKE A SCENE. Remember, the other person already broke the social contract; it’s not up to you to maintain the pretense.
Your personal safety always supersedes other people’s feelings.
Using assertive, male-encoded language should always be one of your strategies in maintaining your personal security. Each one, teach one.
– Jennifer Kaminer, January 21, 2017