Jane Austen, Mr. Collins, and Rape Culture

What we call “rape culture” is nothing new, and its roots go deep. The “no means no” campaign on first glance seems to be too obvious to need saying. Except that it’s unfortunately not. This statement is probably the one thing from the whole Nice Guys of OK Cupid thing that stuck with me the most:

A No is just a Yes that needs a little convincing!

To be honest, this is frightening to me. And maddening. The idea that I could tell a man “no” and have him see that as a challenge rather than an answer? Yeah, that freaks me the heck out. And not just for me. For Sally.

But I promised you Jane Austen and I started out by saying that this inability to accept that a woman’s no means no is nothing new. Well, every single time I think of this issue a crucial passage from Pride and Prejudice comes to mind. It’s the passage where Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth – and then refuses to accept that her “no” actually means “no.”

On finding Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth, and one of the younger girls together, soon after breakfast, [Mr. Collins] addressed the mother in these words:

“May I hope, madam, for your interest with your fair daughter Elizabeth, when I solicit for the honour of a private audience with her in the course of this morning?”

Before Elizabeth had time for anything but a blush of surprise, Mrs. Bennet answered instantly, “Oh dear!—yes—certainly. I am sure Lizzy will be very happy—I am sure she can have no objection. Come, Kitty, I want you up stairs.” And, gathering her work together, she was hastening away, when Elizabeth called out:

“Dear madam, do not go. I beg you will not go. Mr. Collins must excuse me. He can have nothing to say to me that anybody need not hear. I am going away myself.”

“No, no, nonsense, Lizzy. I desire you to stay where you are.” And upon Elizabeth’s seeming really, with vexed and embarrassed looks, about to escape, she added: “Lizzy, I insist upon your staying and hearing Mr. Collins.”

Elizabeth would not oppose such an injunction—and a moment’s consideration making her also sensible that it would be wisest to get it over as soon and as quietly as possible, she sat down again and tried to conceal, by incessant employment the feelings which were divided between distress and diversion. Mrs. Bennet and Kitty walked off, and as soon as they were gone, Mr. Collins began.

Believe me, my dear Miss Elizabeth, that your modesty, so far from doing you any disservice, rather adds to your other perfections. You would have been less amiable in my eyes had there not been this little unwillingness; but allow me to assure you, that I have your respected mother’s permission for this address. You can hardly doubt the purport of my discourse, however your natural delicacy may lead you to dissemble; my attentions have been too marked to be mistaken. Almost as soon as I entered the house, I singled you out as the companion of my future life. But before I am run away with by my feelings on this subject, perhaps it would be advisable for me to state my reasons for marrying—and, moreover, for coming into Hertfordshire with the design of selecting a wife, as I certainly did.”

The idea of Mr. Collins, with all his solemn composure, being run away with by his feelings, made Elizabeth so near laughing, that she could not use the short pause he allowed in any attempt to stop him further, and he continued:

“My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish; secondly, that I am convinced that it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly—which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, that it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness. [...]”

It was absolutely necessary to interrupt him now.

“You are too hasty, sir,” she cried. “You forget that I have made no answer. Let me do it without further loss of time. Accept my thanks for the compliment you are paying me. I am very sensible of the honour of your proposals, but it is impossible for me to do otherwise than to decline them.”

“I am not now to learn,” replied Mr. Collins, with a formal wave of the hand, “that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second, or even a third time. I am therefore by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long.”

“Upon my word, sir,” cried Elizabeth, “your hope is a rather extraordinary one after my declaration. I do assure you that I am not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are) who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time. I am perfectly serious in my refusal. You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who could make you so. Nay, were your friend Lady Catherine to know me, I am persuaded she would find me in every respect ill qualified for the situation.”

“Were it certain that Lady Catherine would think so,” said Mr. Collins very gravely—”but I cannot imagine that her ladyship would at all disapprove of you. And you may be certain when I have the honour of seeing her again, I shall speak in the very highest terms of your modesty, economy, and other amiable qualification.”

“Indeed, Mr. Collins, all praise of me will be unnecessary. You must give me leave to judge for myself, and pay me the compliment of believing what I say. I wish you very happy and very rich, and by refusing your hand, do all in my power to prevent your being otherwise. In making me the offer, you must have satisfied the delicacy of your feelings with regard to my family, and may take possession of Longbourn estate whenever it falls, without any self-reproach. This matter may be considered, therefore, as finally settled.” And rising as she thus spoke, she would have quitted the room, had Mr. Collins not thus addressed her:

“When I do myself the honour of speaking to you next on the subject, I shall hope to receive a more favourable answer than you have now given me; though I am far from accusing you of cruelty at present, because I know it to be the established custom of your sex to reject a man on the first application, and perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female character.

“Really, Mr. Collins,” cried Elizabeth with some warmth, “you puzzle me exceedingly. If what I have hitherto said can appear to you in the form of encouragement, I know not how to express my refusal in such a way as to convince you of its being one.”

You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, that your refusal of my addresses is merely words of course. My reasons for believing it are briefly these: It does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy your acceptance, or that the establishment I can offer would be any other than highly desirable. My situation in life, my connections with the family of de Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in my favour; and you should take it into further consideration, that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. Your portion is unhappily so small that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications. As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.”

I do assure you, sir, that I have no pretensions whatever to that kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man. I would rather be paid the compliment of being believed sincere. I thank you again and again for the honour you have done me in your proposals, but to accept them is absolutely impossible. My feelings in every respect forbid it. Can I speak plainer? Do not consider me now as an elegant female, intending to plague you, but as a rational creature, speaking the truth from her heart.”

You are uniformly charming!” cried he, with an air of awkward gallantry; “and I am persuaded that when sanctioned by the express authority of both your excellent parents, my proposals will not fail of being acceptable.”

To such perseverance in wilful self-deception Elizabeth would make no reply, and immediately and in silence withdrew; determined, if he persisted in considering her repeated refusals as flattering encouragement, to apply to her father, whose negative might be uttered in such a manner as to be decisive, and whose behaviour at least could not be mistaken for the affectation and coquetry of an elegant female.

Mr. Collins was not left long to the silent contemplation of his successful love; for Mrs. Bennet, having dawdled about in the vestibule to watch for the end of the conference, no sooner saw Elizabeth open the door and with quick step pass her towards the staircase, than she entered the breakfast-room, and congratulated both him and herself in warm terms on the happy prospect or their nearer connection. Mr. Collins received and returned these felicitations with equal pleasure, and then proceeded to relate the particulars of their interview, with the result of which he trusted he had every reason to be satisfied, since the refusal which his cousin had steadfastly given him would naturally flow from her bashful modesty and the genuine delicacy of her character.

This passage was unsettling when I read it as a teen, and every time I reread it as well. I could feel Elizabeth’s anger and consternation.

The first point to be made, of course, is that Mr. Collins refused to simply accept Elizabeth’s “no” and move on. In the face of this refusal to listen, Elizabeth tries again and again to make it perfectly clear to Mr. Collins that she really truly meant no. In the end, Elizabeth actually gives up on convincing Mr. Collins that she really really won’t marry him, and concludes that the only thing she can do is appeal to her father to make it clear to Mr. Collins that her “no” really means “no.” In other words, Mr. Collins will only accept the word of a man. When it comes to women, for Mr. Collins, “a no is just a yes that needs a little convincing.”

Second, of course, there is also Mr. Collins’ suggestion that for a woman to simply say “yes” without first saying “no” would be immodest and shameful. This idea that a true lady always turns a gentleman down the first time, even if she really actually wants to accept him, and has decided she will eventually. It strikes me how much we see this same line of reasoning when we talk about “rape culture.” There’s this idea that girls who are too “easy” aren’t any good, and that the goal is to find a “conquest” – a girl that starts out demurely saying “no” and is eventually worn down. In other words, women who simply speak directly or exercise their agency in the area of romance or sex rather than remaining passive and shy are portrayed as somehow of less worth.

And there’s a third point to make. Mr. Collins genuinely thinks that many women say no even when they have actually already decided that they will ultimately say yes. In other words, Mr. Collins is not simply refusing to take Elizabeth at her word, he’s suggesting that Elizabeth is playing some sort of game with him. Elizabeth’s retorts are excellent – she points out that it would be foolish to risk her happiness on the hope that she would be proposed to a second time, and that refusing the first offer when she meant to eventually accept would amount to “tormenting” a respectable gentleman. Regardless of whether this was just a cultural trope or whether women did generally refuse the first time, the result is that Mr. Collins not only won’t accept Elizabeth’s no but also genuinely thinks that Elizabeth would say no even when she really meant yes.

Can you say rape culture?

I have no idea when this toxic cocktail of ideas first developed, but it’s seriously time we ended it. If you’re a woman, don’t play coy. Just don’t. Say yes if you mean yes, and no if you mean no. And if you’re a man, accept a woman’s no and don’t assume it’s just a yes in the making. Don’t be that guy. Seriously people, enough.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Christine

    I think that the passage you’ve quoted here gives some good insight into where this sort of belief – that women never mean it when they say no, that men are the reliable ones – can come from, outside of a culture that says “good” girls don’t say yes. There is a lot of arrogance in Mr. Collins’ statement that it does not appear to HIM that he is unworthy. No means no (and yes means yes) is only going to work if women are accepted as people, with a right to their own decisions and own emotions.

    • ERB

      Well said.

    • Skjaere

      Agreed. If we are taught that “good” girls say “no” even when they want to say “yes”, the message boys get is to keep trying and not take a “no” seriously.

      • Anonymouse

        “Good girls say no” is the whole point of that stupid book, “The Rules”, that preaches that only by being lying liars who lie and manipulate will any girl land herself a man.

  • Esteleth

    Compare and contrast this with the other proposal that Lizzie refuses: Darcy’s first one.

    Darcy proposes to her couched in a string of insults concerning her flaws. She refuses him and insults him back by listing his flaws. He is shocked (her refusing him had never occurred to him) but he withdraws, spends some time addressing those flaws and gaining her respect and affection. He then re-proposes, and she accepts.

    When Lizzie refuses Darcy the first time, he is angry, because she refuses him rudely. She retorts that he was rude to her first. They argue, and he stomps out. But – at no time did Darcy deny her right to refuse him or imply that she was unserious.

    In sum:
    Mr. Collins: Lizzy, marry me.
    Lizzy: No.
    Mr. Collins: You’re only saying that now! You’ll say yes later!


    Mr. Darcy: Lizzy, marry me, even though you’re unworthy of me and your family is socially inappropriate and poor and my family will mock me for marrying you and I’ve hurt your sister (and my bestie) by being an arrogant prat.
    Lizzy: No. Jerk.
    Mr. Darcy: Wait, you think I’m a jerk? [later]: See, I’m not a jerk anymore, and I totally love you!
    Lizzy: [marries Darcy].

    • Ibis3

      But – at no time did Darcy deny her right to refuse him or imply that she was unserious.

      And this, even though he had more to recommend him as a husband in terms of wealth and status and so forth than Collins.

    • Amyc

      I want to read some Austen again now. It’s been a few years for me.

    • http://sylvia-rachel.livejournal.com sylvia_rachel

      Yes, yes, yes! Lizzie doesn’t choose Darcy over Collins and Wickham because he’s richer, handsomer, and has a nicer house. She chooses him because he LISTENS when she talks to him, and takes her seriously.

  • Ibis3

    Not only rape culture, but the feminist answer:

    Do not consider me now as an elegant female, intending to plague you, but as a rational creature, speaking the truth from her heart.”

    The radical notion that women are human beings in possession of their rational faculties and full autonomy, rather than toys.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Always my favorite line. I do not have nearly enough Austen-lovers in my social circle IRL. It’s really cool to see how much this line, and this whole scene, resonates with other feminist-minded fans, for the same reason it has always resonated with me.

  • Esteleth

    Also, y’know, when Mr. Collins says that “Almost as soon as I entered the house, I singled you out as the companion of my future life,” he is lying. When he arrived, he fixated on JANE. He shifted his attentions to Lizzy only after being informed that Jane was expecting to be proposed to by Bingley.
    Also, when he stomps out of the house after finally being convinced that Lizzy has rejected him, a parenthetical indicates that Mrs. Bennet is still hoping that he might be persuaded to propose to Mary – and there’s plenty of stuff suggesting that Mary, if asked, would accept. Instead, he proposes to Charlotte Lucas.

    • Katty

      Actually, he is not – technically. That’s why he says “almost”. I always read this as a subtle little reminder that he did not in fact develop any real romantic feelings on meeting Elizabeth, but rather went by hierarchy and looks. Jane is, after all, repeatedly described as a beauty, and Lizzy as pretty, though not on a par with her elder sister. So he first chooses the acknowledged beauty and then, at the slightest hint of an obstacle, settles on “second best”. (Not that I would consider Elizabeth second best at all, I’m just talking about what is said in the book about their outward appearance.)

  • Rachel

    On top of the other day’s post, with the fundamental misreadings of P&P – Mr. Collins is everything that a Christian parent could want, and everything any sane young woman would fear.

    And allowing for this: “From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. – Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”

    No wonder it wasn’t allowed!

  • http://ripeningreason.com/ Rachel Marcy (Bix)

    And then Mrs. Bennet calles Elizabeth “headstrong” and Mr. Collins becomes alarmed, because he most certainly does not want a headstrong wife. Mrs. Bennet may not have understood her daughter very well, but at least she knew she was being serious.

    This scene is so frustrating. Collins doesn’t consider Elizabeth to be a person with her own thoughts and feelings and ability to speak for herself AT ALL. He even basically considered her interchangeable with Jane.

    • KarenH

      Collins never considered ANY woman a person with her own thoughts and feelings–except for Lady Catherine, of course. Even in the scene where Lizzie is leaving the Collins’ home, he tells her “My dear Charlotte and I have but one mind and one way of thinking…” as if that were the pinnacle of marital bliss.

  • Esteleth

    Consider Charlotte’s commentary on her married life: she indicates that she smoothly manages Mr. Collins’ life, and perhaps not-so-coincidentally, it is not uncommon for the two of them to go an entire day without seeing each other.
    Mr. Collins’ response to this? He gloats that the two of them seem to have been designed for each other.

  • Red

    This reminds me of that story in one of the Joshua Harris books where a young woman rejects a courtship proposal and then her dad tells the young man to just wait awhile and ask again later, and she’ll say yes. Moral of the story: Dad knew better than stupid little woman. (The sickening part: she did say yes later, and married the guy…and there was something in there about her changing her mind because she saw what a good masculine leader would look like).

    Anyway, it’s time for me to go mind-vomit now so that I can feel better.

    • Red

      And I guess I should say, I’m not against parents giving their child (of any gender) dating advice, but I think all of us are discerning enough to see the difference between parental wisdom and parental control/disrespecting your kid’s thoughts.

      • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com Basketcase

        It was important to me that my now-husband and my parents got along, that they “approved” of him, so to speak – but their conditions were basically that he made me happy and was self-sufficient. My parents certainly taught me to value equality in a relationship, and I suspect if I had been seeing someone that did not treat me as an equal, they would have had some severe things to say against it – I can only hope I would have listened to their wisdom.

  • http:///krwordgazer.blogspot.com Kristen Rosser

    I love Jane Austen, precisely because of the way she words such exchanges. The reader is quite plainly intended to find Mr. Collins at fault, and to compare his methods disfavorably to Mr. Darcy’s way of listening to a woman as a rational person and taking her seriously.

  • Lucreza Borgia

    When children pester, it’s considered exceedingly annoying. When women pester, they are being catty bitches. Yet when men pester, they are being steadfast romantics. What???

    In my own life, there has only been one time that my husband hasn’t taken my no for no. It was over the most hideous wallpaper you can imagine!

  • Connie

    I used to practice No means No but the logic fails (one too many “Well she didn’t say no” moments) convinced me to find another way. After a bit of research I found the Yes means Yes campaign. The idea is if I’m not saying yes, anyone with me had better behave correctly and respect my boundaries.

    Thank you for talking about this topic. In my opinion it needs to be talked about all over the place until we are all on the same page of the same book written in the same language. No more rape. It can be that easy.

  • MM

    Interesting. As a married man, this really doesn’t apply to me anymore, and I was always such a chicken as a single guy that I never asked out a girl unless I was 100% sure I was going to get a yes. So purely out of curiosity, is the idea of persistence a myth? If a guy asks a girl out and gets a no, is the matter settled? I mean, what if a woman was going through a breakup and didn’t want to date, so she said no, but maybe a month from now she’d be amenable? I guess I always understood, based pretty much solely on movies and TV, that “no means no” when it comes to sex, but that a certain level of persistence was acceptable and possibly admirable when it came to dating. Again, I’ve never had any experience with the phenomenon personally, so I’m just curious with how that works…if I ever have a son, I don’t want to wrongly teach him that if he likes a girl, he shouldn’t give up just because he got rejected..or conversely with a daughter. Does that make sense?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Here’s how I would answer that: I think it depends. You can ask someone out more than once, sure, but if someone says “look, I really really am not interested in you, sorry, I’m just not,” there comes a point where you have to stop or you start moving into stalker territory. Ideally, if we could get rid of this idea that guys are the ones who are supposed to do all the asking, if a guy asked a girl out and she said no, but a month later she decided she was interested in him after all, she would ask him out. That would eliminate any guessing on his part.

      And actually, to bring this back to Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy does ask Elizabeth to marry him twice. However, when he first asks and she refuses him, he doesn’t go all “I know you really mean yes” or “I’ll just have to persuade you” on her.

      So I suppose, if a guy asks a girl out on a date and she says no, he should accept that. Then sure, he can ask her out another time, and if she says no again, he should accept that again. But he should also be aware that she really may not be interested in him. And if she flat out tells him she’s not interested and she wants him to stop asking her out, he should accept that. Although even then, if something huge changes in their lives or relationships, maybe he could give it another go. But until then, he ought to give it a rest. She said no, so no.

      That’s my two cents anyway.

      • Rosie

        My husband and I actually did something like your “ideal”. He asked me out, we went on one or two dates, I said I wasn’t ready for a relationship. I “friend-zoned” him, in the parlance of the PUAs. He hung around for six months, and I still liked him and by then so did all my friends (whose opinion I value highly), so I asked him out. In fact, I pretty much took the lead from that point on; he’d expressed his interest and then he waited for me to decide I was ready.

      • http://ripeningreason.com/ Rachel Marcy (Bix)

        My boyfriend and I had a fairly similar scenario, Rosie. We met while he was studying abroad at my university, and I was in the final semester of my degree. It was a really busy time, so while part of my brain realized he was flirting with me, another part said, “Nope! Can’t deal with that right now. Too much to do!” and I basically ignored it. Now I know he was disappointed I didn’t reciprocate, but he remained friendly and not overtly flirtatious. We ended up in the same city after I graduated, and a couple months later we were dating.

        So sometimes circumstances do change–or you simply get to know each other better–but I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to assume that circumstances will change, because they frequently don’t. And it’s especially not okay to blame someone for not giving you the attention to which you think you’re entitled, because you’re not.

      • Niveau

        Add me to the list of people with similar experiences! My boyfriend and I met at school and became really close, and he let me know that he was falling for me. I didn’t think of him that way at the time, nor was I ready to date anyone at that time, so told him I didn’t reciprocate. He said, and proved by his actions, that he’d be okay with just being friends if that was what I’d prefer. For about two months, that’s what we were, though it was an acknowledged fact that he’d want to date me if I ever became interested. Over the course of that time my feelings and situation changed, and eventually we started going out – we count our first date as being on the day when, while we were hanging out, *I* kissed *him* and told him that I didn’t want to be just friends, either.

      • guest

        There’s a Jane Austen example of this, as well (though in reverse!)–Catherine and Henry in Northanger Abbey.

      • Daughter

        Note also how Darcy proposed the second time. He asks if her feelings have changed since the last time he proposed and she rejected him, and say that if her feelings haven’t changed, he promises to be silent on the subject forever.

      • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

        ” However, when he first asks and she refuses him, he doesn’t go all “I know you really mean yes” or “I’ll just have to persuade you” on her.”

        Worth repeating because for me, one thing that’ll absolutely kill any chance of me changing my mind is pushing things after the initial no. My relationship with my husband was one that started with a ‘no’ (I was ‘dating’ someone else at the time) that later became a ‘yes’, but that was only possible because he didn’t push things in the meantime. Anything that indicates a guy doesn’t care that much about me as a person–asking me out as an introduction is another example–is a total deal-breaker for me.

    • Azura

      My stalker persisted for 2 years after my initial no. I’ve had several other male friends continually pester me every few months back when I was in high school (now I’m not trapped in a small environment with idiots like that so I can just stop being friends with dumb men). It is ok to ask maybe once after the initial “no”, depending on the reason/s she gives and after a decent amount of time (I’m thinking several months to a year), but any more than that is annoying and rude. That sort of crap is only admirable in romantic comedies, which are completely inaccurate to what dating is actually like. Stop listening to TV and movies.

    • Christine

      One necessary requirement (in my books) for it to be reasonable to ask again is that something has changed in the interim. Maybe he asked her after they’d only been friends for a month, and she didn’t think she knew him at that time. Maybe they weren’t close, and then the relationship changes, etc.

      Also, if you ask multiple times, don’t get upset and say nasty things about women if it turns out to be a pity date. (Yes, I knew someone like this. He complained about women turning men down, and about pity dates both.)

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Yes, I agree with this. You should take an initial rejection at face value, no matter what the (real or speculated) reason is for that rejection. But if you are going to ask again–and no more than once more–it should be after plenty of time has elapsed and you can actually think of a reason why the answer might be different–preferably a change in your own relationship with the person. “She’s a woman and women always need to be wheedled into doing anything with men” does not count as a reason.

      • victoria

        “One necessary requirement (in my books) for it to be reasonable to ask again is that something has changed in the interim. Maybe he asked her after they’d only been friends for a month, and she didn’t think she knew him at that time. Maybe they weren’t close, and then the relationship changes, etc..”

        YES, completely agreed. That’s almost exactly what I was going to write before I saw this.

        There are also situations where you’re already close friends with the person and they’ve told you flat-out that they’ll never be interested. In those cases, don’t ask again and don’t try to persuade them otherwise. Trust that they know you and themselves well enough to have identified a fundamental incompatibility or lack of interest.

    • luckyducky

      I don’t think that it is wrong to teach that if you get turned down, regardless of his/her feelings, it is time to move on. If s/he’s really that great, s/he’s interesting enough to **just** be friends with.

      Do not underestimate how threatening it can be to be pursued.

      • Rosie

        And considering that I feel closer to many of my friends than I do to my relatives (parents, siblings), I don’t think friendship is second-best to anything. My friendships have outlasted a lot of romantic interests.

      • luckyducky

        I agree, I was thinking of but did not fully articulate the romantic trope that one person is far too in love with the another to be satisfied with “being friends.” I think it is nonsense.

        On the other hand, I emphasize “just” because I find idea of people intentionally hanging out in the “friend zone” waiting to be appreciated sad if not creepy. Be disappointed that it didn’t go the way you wanted but if you are going to be friends, be friends. Don’t use friendship as a pretense to stick around until you get another opportunity.

      • http://ripeningreason.com/ Rachel Marcy (Bix)

        Yes. I really dislike that friendship can be so undervalued.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      The short answer is yes, persistence is a myth. Movies and TV give us story after story about guys who wait around and keep trying again and again to “win over” whatever woman they want until, finally, that silly woman finally understands that the man of her dreams has been there the whole time. This is how real life works, a truth which many an angry, entitled guy has struggled to grasp as he puzzles over why he his repeated displays of devotion aren’t getting him the pay-off. Hasn’t he been showing her how much he really, really wants her? Isn’t that what women want, to be wanted? I’ve had to cut ties with (and so have many of my female friends) with guys who were being “persistent” before because they just got too creepy and usually hostile in a passive-aggressive way. As far as they were concerned, I was refusing to give them something they’d rightfully earned and they were pissed.

      Persistence may work once in a while, especially since there are a not-insignificant number of women (especially very young women and girls, I find) who really will date a guy just because he keeps on trying and she doesn’t want to be “mean.” But I think you’ll agree that exploiting the fact that women are socialized to always be “nice,” even when it means disregarding their own feelings, and especially where men are concerned, is not something you want to teach your son to do. And anyway, even if, once in a while, persistence actually does genuinely change a woman’s mind (hey, I suppose anything’s possible), that doesn’t mean it’s okay to not respect people’s stated feelings and boundaries. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with carrying a torch, maybe holding out a hope that somebody will change their mind of their own accord, as long as you’re not counting on that being the case and as long you can appreciate the friendship for what it is if it never goes further. But then you should wait for that person to come to you. If they really want to, they will.

      So yes, teach your son to “give up” if he is rejected. It’s not the end of the world. There are other fish in the sea.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        er, this is NOT how real life works, rather.

    • http://dukesofearl.blogspot.com Joy

      Asking out once more after an interval after an initial rejection is OK; persisting in the face of “never ask me out again” is completely beyond the pale. Usually if the woman’s feelings change about a man after her initial rejection, she will make some kind of move to indicate that (whether by asking him out, signalling that she would like him to ask her out, kissing him senseless, or whatever).

  • Kathryne

    I used to actually be somewhat guilty of this– with my first sexual partner, I really really wanted to say yes but I kept stopping him based on cultural messages I’d received about timing, and about what would make me a slut. The rules seemed completely arbitrary and stupid to me, but nonetheless I held myself from initiating anything, and I did indeed push him away and make him stop in the hopes that next time, he would go farther. He did. (I now realize that this was probably one of the first indications that he was a less-than-ethical sexual partner, but at the time, I figured it was perfectly normal. We were only acting out a cultural script.) In later relationships (and towards the end of that one) I came to realize that what I was doing was bullshit. Sometimes I do feel the timing is inappropriate or I want to play coy, but in that case I find that you can say things like “maybe” or “eventually”… and mean them. Sometimes I’m not sure if I want to have sex with someone, but I’m up for suggestion. “Convince me,” or “maybe”, is something that I’m actually feeling. And if I want to do something with someone and they want to do something with me, then by god I’m going to go for it and ignore the little cultural script in my head, which is getting quieter and quieter as years pass. I can’t understand how I thought that pressuring an unresponsive partner or being pressured was somehow sexy. (I have definitely been involved in sexy flirting and messing around that involves some sort of mocking of this concept, but that is made clear explicitly.) This is kind of rambling, but, I guess my point is… this sort of “no means convince me” is a thing, and it’s a problem, because of course it gives rapists a license to operate. And I’ve found that the people who are decent will take you at your ‘no’, and so you get to have sex with a lot less decent people and a lot more unethical douchebags when you try and play this game. But, of course, at the time I thought it was culturally mandatory.

    • luckyducky

      It reminds me of a tidbit, maybe apocryphal, that there was a lot of tension between the US servicemen the locals in the UK when the US servicemen were stationed there in WWII. The US men operated under the cultural narrative that men push for as much as they can get away with and women are gatekeepers of virtue — good girls stop it before it goes further than the commitment they’ve extracted from the man. The partial* reverse is/was true in the UK — the man is primarily responsible for setting the limits on physical intimacy and good boys only took it as far as they were ready to commit to the woman. The mismatch left a lot of jilted women and fatherless children behind in the UK.

      *Partial because the level of commitment is/was still primarily controlled by men.

    • Lucreza Borgia

      Many years later, I’ve come to the conclusion that my first time was actually rape.

      • machintelligence

        Taken at face value, this statement bothers me a lot. While I firmly believe that a woman has the right to say no at any time, it seem to me that crying rape after the fact (years later, in this case) is beyond nonsensical. While a man is not permitted to say that no means yes, should a woman be able to say that “I said yes, but meant no” after the fact? Remorse is one thing, but rape is another.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Machineintelligence – Lucreza never said that she said yes. I think you have to remember that there are lots of times when women are raped but they don’t use that word until years later, because they end up convinced that they must have said something, or done something, to invite it, or that they started the make out session so when it went to full sex even though they said no and didn’t want it, they’d opened the door and thus asked for it. In other words, there are lots of women who were raped but don’t call it that because of all of the rape culture messages they get. There are plenty of women who don’t understand consent, and as a result don’t realize that sex without their consent, even if they kissed the guy first, or were wearing revealing clothing or had gone over to the guy’s house, is rape. There are plenty of women who have been convinced that rape is something that is perpetrated by strangers in back alleys, and as a result don’t see it when it’s staring them in the face. In other words, we’re not talking about remorse. We’re talking about rape.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Machineintelligence , you should maybe learn something about rape before you start dismissively smacking down other people’s experiences with it. Because if we apply your grossly uninformed standards, a huge number of rapes are “nonsensical.” It is very common for women to not not realize that what happened to them was rape until days, weeks, or even years after. During the “consciousness-raisings” of the women’s lib movement in the 70s, plenty of women identified their past experiences as rape DECADES after the fact. What if you are a woman who was repeatedly raped by her husband or boyfriend in an era before spousal or intimate partner rape existed as concepts? How about if you’d been raised to believe that it couldn’t be rape if you’d consented to sex with that person before? Or consented to sex with any person before? Or if you didn’t struggle enough when he pushed you past your comfort zone and didn’t stop? You wouldn’t call those experiences for what they were, no matter how awful they made you feel. Well, I have news for you, plenty of women (and men) are STILL raised to believe all those things and more, as you surely should have picked up by now after following Libby’s blog. For a lot of women, accepting the fact that they didn’t “ask for it,” didn’t “invite it,” didn’t fail to do enough to stop it, that they had a right to stop it etc. is a process. Sometimes it’s a long process.

        And there are other reasons too. It took me months to come to identify my own rape for what it was, mostly because admitting it to myself would mean acknowledging that a guy I’d been friends with for years was capable of doing something like that to me. It would mean admitting that somebody in my social circle, who I could not easily escape, was a rapist. It would mean admitting that our mutual friends were therefore friends with a rapist. That when I watched them slapping him on the back and having beers with him, I was watching them do that with MY RAPIST. That I had, for several years, willingly been friends with MY RAPIST. How could I have done that? What does this say about me? Who would not want to fight these truths and that sense of shame? Oh,how much less complicated things could be if you just stuffed them and made up some rationalization for him? Just do it, it will be so much easier. Pretend this didn’t happen. It didn’t happen.

        Except that didn’t work because I developed this totally bewildering habit of crying myself to sleep after I’d seen Guy-who-totally-didn’t-rape me. Eventually, I had to face all of those things. And, yes, it took me months and for some women it takes longer. And when you consider how many women are raped by men they know, you can conclude that many, many women face similar challenges in coming to terms with what happened. Ignorant people imagine that women are just DYING to twist their consensual sexual experiences into rape (because that sounds like so much fun, I guess?) but, actually, the opposite is true far more often. Admitting you were raped frequently means admitting things that are potentially disruptive to your relationships with friends or family, to your very sense of self.

        So next time you want to accuse a woman of “crying rape” (I don’t know what you think LucrezaBorgia could possibly be hoping to get out of doing such a thing on an anonymous comment thread, what reason you have in your head for why she did it besides it being the truth), maybe stop and think about the struggle that’s involved in coming to terms with having been raped. We ladies don’t just wake up in the morning and go “Oh, I think I’ll go get my hair done and then I’ll make up some false rape claims.” Really.

      • Nea

        should a woman be able to say that “I said yes, but meant no” after the fact?

        Short answer: Yes.

        Long answer: Who says she said “yes”? She could have said “no” and been ignored as not meaning it (quite likely on this thread.) She could have said nothing and it was assumed silence was consent. She could have said yes under duress. She could have been too sick/drunk/drugged or otherwise incapable of giving consent. She could have said “yes” to sex at an earlier point and now nobody asked if the answer was “yes” right now. Sex in any one of those situations is rape, whether it’s called that at the very moment or 50 years later.

      • machintelligence

        Consider me properly reprimanded. I did not have all of the facts in this case, but I must point out that neither do you. I know that my memory has failed me more than once. It probably it isn’t going to be popular, but how about some sort of statute of limitations.

      • Paula G V aka Yukimi

        A statue of limitations means that it isn’t prosecutable not that it didn’t happen. I mean, someone steals my bag with the money for an important payment and I found 50 years later who it was. The statue of limitations has passed but it is still true that that person stole something form you and that person is a thief. In definitive, I don’t understand the pertinence of a statue of limitations to this conversation concretely.

      • http://ripeningreason.com/ Rachel Marcy (Bix)

        I’m surprised, machineintelligence. This isn’t like you.

        I’m pretty sure Lucreza Borgia is talking about processing her own experiences, not suddenly deciding that consensual sex was rape. I’m not sure how or why you read all that into Lucreza’s one sentence.

      • machintelligence

        Sorry if I have disappointed you. This may be a personality difference (possibly gender related?) but I find it harder to believe that someone could be doubtful about something for a period of years and finally reach a conclusion, rather than simply change their mind. Both interpretations are possible. I didn’t mean to accuse anyone of going 1984 and rewriting history, which is why I prefaced my comment with “taken at face value”. People and attitudes change over time and memory is both fallible and biased. We can’t help but see things from our own point of view even if we admit that there are others. The reason I asked for a statute of limitations was not that I believed that the facts might change, but rather that recollection and interpretation would.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Why do you find it “hard to believe” that somebody would come to the conclusion that something was rape after so much time when I, and other on this thread, have outlined for you many reasons why somebody might need that much time. Address those points, please.

        Also, coming to that conclusion after a while IS “changing your mind.” If you are raped but, due to social norms that you have internalized, an inability to process the implications of what happened to you etc., you initially view the encounter as not-rape, but then work through those things and come to terms with the fact that it was rape, you are absolutely changing your mind. But you are not changing the facts of the situation. Seriously, women don’t just accidentally remember rapes that never happened. This is not a difference in personality or gender. This is not ladybrains at work. This is processing truths that were always there but can be extremely difficult to process for a whole host of reasons which have been extensively discussed.

        I don’t at all see why Lucreza’s comment “taken at face value” yields the conclusion that she must some how just be confused and her statement suspect. To me, it just seems like a very common situation of a woman naming an experience that she couldn’t name before because there’s so much working against her doing that. You know when we talk about rape culture and how it involves the normalization of rape and the downplaying of consent issues. Well this is part of it!

        Why would you not take her at her word? Why is the skepticism necessary? This is not a court of law, no man’s life and future is in the balance. There’s no statute of limitations on coming to terms with bad things that have happened to you for your own personal peace of mind. This isn’t about trying to prove some man somewhere guilty, it’s about HER. If a woman says she’s raped, you should believe her. At face value. No interrogation necessary. She’s really probably not making shit up. I don’t know the details of her situation either, it’s true, but I’m just going with the knowledge that false rape claims are rare and rape victims deserve to be taken seriously. (and she doesn’t stand to gain anything from making one anonymously on a blog without even naming any names.) It’s hard to lose with that.

      • Azura


        My first two sexual assaults I identified as such right away. My third took about a week for me to process because it was someone I knew and consented to do fetish play with. My child abuse took 14 years to identify as such, and another 2 years to actually come out and say it to another person besides my sister. I didn’t make it up or “change my mind” about it, as my mother admitted to what she did. If you had expressed similar sentiment to me when I was just admitting to myself what really happened then it probably would have set me back somewhat.

      • Lucreza Borgia

        For many years I internalized it as merely being pursued. I said no softly about a dozen times as he was on top of me kissing me and trying to move my panties to the side so he could stick his penis in me. Finally I just laid there and cried after. The way I dealt with it afterwards was to sleep with anyone and everyone. All at the age of 14. He was 26!

  • Azura

    I get tons of “Nice Guys” messaging me on OKCupid, and the “No is just a Yes that needs convincing” question isn’t even the worst, in my opinion, that I get all the time. Other questions that guys answer in the affirmative to: “Would you take advantage of a drunk friend, even if you knew they would regret it when they sobered up?”, “Are women obligated to shave their legs?”, “Are there any circumstances where a person is obligated to have sex with you?”. Honestly, I think if you get these questions wrong you should be ejected from the planet (I think that may be partially my frustration talking though).

    And speaking of people ignoring when you say no, it’s a short line from that to stalking. My stalker literally had the problem that he thought he could convince me to say yes, no matter how often I said no, and no matter how many times I threatened legal action. It seems to me to be the exact same mindset, just taken slightly further.

    • Carys Birch

      “Are women obligated to shave their legs?”

      If only that were the extent of it.

  • Lucreza Borgia

    It’s not pursuit, it’s pestering! When children pester, it’s considered exceedingly annoying. When women pester, they are being a nag. Yet when men pester, they are being steadfast romantics. What???

    In my own life, there has only been one time that my husband hasn’t taken my no for no. It was over the most hideous wallpaper you can imagine!

  • http://sylvia-rachel.livejournal.com sylvia_rachel

    This is possibly the most infuriating passage in all of Austen. When I watch the BBC miniseries, I pretty much have to leave the room during this scene because it is SO AWFUL. And, I mean, partly it’s just that Mr Collins is incredibly clueless — but a big part of it is that he literally does think of women as pretty much interchangeable. And he has to have gotten that idea from somewhere…

  • Christine

    Totally agree with everything you’ve said here, but I think it is important to delve into a bit more detail about the possible reasons why SOME women do indeed “play coy.” I’m not saying it’s something women should do (it’s really harmful, for reasons you’ve clearly outlined). And men should ALWAYS take a no as a no, no matter whether there’s a chance she’s playing coy or not (it’ s not worth guessing, and if she changes her mind later, hopefully she’ll approach him). But there are some pretty clear reasons for why some women do it, and it’s not enough to simply just say women should stop with no exploration of why they do it in the first place.

    Mainly, in my opinion, it’s because women are taught a few things by our patriarchal society: (1) They are not supposed to want or pursue sex, and to do so makes you a slut, so you can’t simply say “yes” to sexual/romantic propositions — you have to say no at least a few times first to be a respectable person; (2) all men ultimately only care about sex, and if you give it to them so easily or soon they will lose respect for you and abandon you (this one, while hopefully becoming less truth and more myth, is based on many women’s experiences, going back to historical times when a man would not marry a virgin, so if he devirginized her before marriage he wouldn’t bother marrying her); and (3) sex/romantic interaction is a commodity and every time you engage in it, you give a “little piece” away, so you have to be very careful about saying “yes” too hastily to guys or else they’ll think you give away this “precious commodity” frivolously and instead of getting the whole thing they’ll just get a castoff piece of you (i.e. again, you’ll be seen as a slut).

    Anyways, again, I’m not saying women should play hard to get and men should always take no as no, regardless of whether she might be playing coy. But there are some real reasons women do it and it’s not necessarily just because they’re being silly and like to confuse people or play mind games. There are real reasons why they do it and in some cases it’s been a necessary evil in a society that refuses to respect women who are assertive, interested in sex and will be open about what they want.


    • Aighty

      I have also heard a few women espouse the idea that you have to play hard to get or at least limit your availability in order to be more attractive to a guy. I don’t really understand it, but it seems to have something to do with the idea that men like to chase women–it’s just not as fun/exciting for them if you give it up right away. Or something. Then again, at the heart of this, maybe it’s still about the reason you listed as (1). :\

    • Rosie

      I agree there are reasons, but I guess I have little patience for them these days.
      If men always take “no” to mean “no”, the worst thing that can possibly happen is that two people who are attracted to each other won’t have sex that night. Not the end of the world.
      If men always take “no” to mean “no”, then any woman who thinks she needs to play coy will be forced to examine and change her tactics because they’re not working to get her what she wants. And I think that’s all to the good.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    YES YES YES YES YES!!!! This is why that passage is maybe my favorite in the whole book and the one which, in my opinion, offers the most scathing proto-feminist critique of gender roles. So many of the norms and customs of the place, time and class that Austen wrote about seem bizarre to us today. But strip away the Regency prose style and swap out marriage for sex/dating/etc. and you have an experience that so many women can relate to, and which is every bit as frustrating and anger-inducing now as it was to Lizzie then.

  • http://complicatedfeelingsabout.wordpress.com Katherine

    I don’t have time to read all the comments, so I’m not sure if this was mentioned already, but.

    Is anyone else noticing the chilling and disgusting corollary between thing that women ought to say no when they want to say yes out of MODESTY and thinking that modesty is the only way to prevent rape? It’s like we’re setting women up here! You have to act in such a way that insures that your no’s will never be taken seriously in order to be modest, and women should be modest so as they don’t get raped, and if you get raped while you’re being modest? Too bad! Maybe you weren’t modest enough?

    • Rosie

      Chilling indeed. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • Sgaile-beairt

    Mary wollstonecraft (1759-1796, ‘Vindication” published 1792, JA was 17 then….she had a darn sight lot to say, about sexual double standards, in her novels, AND in her letters what we have left of them….and no, she herself never DID settle!!

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

    well said

  • Hilary


    I’ve never been able to get into the Austin books as a girl and young woman – no dragons, no elvin princesses, no magic users, no epic battles between good and evil knights, no magic rings or wands . . . .

    But if you’re interested in a very different look at Victorian England regarding women’s choices, sexual desire, and issues of class and gender, you should give “Tipping the Velvet” a try. There is absolutlely NO WAY this would make any Christian home schoolers approval list, and since you’ve come out as bi, I think that you’ll enjoy it even more!

    The BBC miniseries is a pleasure to watch:

    The book is fun to read:

    And parts of it are on youtube:


    • Paula G V aka Yukimi

      It’s been on my to read list for a long looong time. I might have to bump it up a few places ^__^

      • Hilary

        Oh, yes, you should. And check out the BBC miniseries – totally awesome, and . . . . ah . . . . it doesn’t shy away from anything in the story. IE yeah it’s sexual, explicitly – and wonderfully – so. This is some kick-ass lesbian romance! And it has a great sound track.

      • Paula G V aka Yukimi

        Wow, nice =) Once I’m done with my exams my mid February, I’m so reading &/or watching it.

        Btw, speaking of this, I’ve just remembered that Alex Kingston who plays River Song in Doctor Who is also in the revival version of british “Upstairs, downstairs” (1936 onwards) playing a lesbian Egyptologist and I’ve heard it’s pretty good.

      • Rosa

        it is AWESOME. So are her other Victorian books. I am not as much a fan of the 2 newest, but the Victorians are wonderful.

        They’re also Gothics, not realistic novels like Austen, though.

  • http://thechurchproject.me Tracey

    That stuff about WWII soldiers looking for dates is really interesting. My grandmother is English, married an American ambulance driver and came to the US (separately) after him. She said her pastor and family warned her not to, because he would have to vouch for her once she got off the boat. They feared he might not show up and she’d be shipped back to England. She also tells a few other enlightening stories. Apparently the local Catholic Church made them marry again because they did not recognize whatever Protestant group did it the first time!

  • Dude

    In addition to saying yes or no clearly and with great prejudice when we ask you, PLEASE just ask us some of the time. Really. Most of us won’t be offended. Some of us would be really, really happy. We think you’re wonderful, but we’re often terrified of being rejected. If one of us interests you, please ask.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Um, plenty of women DO ask.

      • Paula G V aka Yukimi

        Indeed! I did (I was rejected but that’s irrelevant XP). Also, in Japan it’s frequent that girls do the confessing (and not only by letter but in person). Gender should have nothing to do with who asks.

      • Dude

        True. But society’s construction of gender encourages women to be passive. This was intended as a general exhortation, because I’m tired of these stupid gender roles. I am not saying you are passive in particular, or that all women are this way. It’s like when a woman says “Men do X” and the “Nice Guys” (bullshitters) say “But we don’t do that!” If it doesn’t apply to you, it’s not about you.

        (Note that women are not an oppressor class categorically. I hate MRAs with a fiery passion. Our problems are our own stupid fault, the products of machismo and privileged ignorance. We might well unconsciously reject a woman who asks us because we’re terrified of our control being taken away and the script being rewritten. This is inappropriate, and a problem we need to resolve.)