Male rejection no laughing matter

A Newcastle pub is red-faced after a “blokes” parody of a sign designed to ensure women’s safety received widespread criticism for tone-deafness.

The sign, which appeared in the men’s bathrooms at the Crown and Anchor, read “Blokes, are you a) On a Tinder date and she looks nothing like her photo or her description?... c) On a first date and she won’t stop talking about herself?”. The sign gives instructions about a “coded” drink order that will signal to the bartender to help the man leave the date.

The first use of this sort of sign was in the women’s bathroom in a cocktail bar in London, though the original purpose was to help women safely leave a threatening situation, not to humour men. 

“Tinder date gone wrong? If anyone is bothering you or making you feel uncomfortable, please tell us. We will discreetly move them away and, if necessary, ask them to leave,” the sign read. 

The motivation behind the sign was to help women dodge the anger that a rejection can elicit from a man, something women routinely deal with.

An Instagram account called Bye Felipe curates hundreds of such exchanges from around the world, with up to 20 submissions a day from women who have experienced a “nice guy” going rogue after being rebuffed. One recent post reads “Hey … I’m just curious, did I do something wrong? I like u but u weren’t really into me. I hope everything is cool … sorry if I wasted your time”. to which the woman responded “No nothing wrong. I am just giving a relationship a chance with someone. Sorry.”

“OK cool choke on his cock dumb bitch!” was his response. 

Crown and Anchor’s sign feels particularly misguided when the venue has been one of the first in the area to put a sign up in the women’s bathrooms encouraging women to approach staff if they are uncomfortable, and train their staff to react appropriately to these potentially dangerous situations.

The author of the male parody belittled the venue’s good work with this attempt at humour, which indicated at best a misunderstanding of the seriousness of male violence and at worse a disregard for it as a serious issue that women grapple with.

The contempt that drips through the sign, from suggesting “calling the police” is an appropriate reaction to being disappointed with your date’s looks, right down to the male sign co-opting the very serious final line from the female sign (“We will handle things discreetly and professionally”) feels like just another way that women’s very real fear of threatening men is undermined. 

A society where women can safely evade threatening situations can only mean lower rates of physical and sexual violence against women in the long run. These sorts of initiatives should not be made light of with parodies. 

The pub has since taken down the sign and offered an apology, saying they had “not intended to be disrespectful in any way towards campaigns that promote sexual violence awareness and personal safety”.

There was also a missed opportunity with the macho tone of the male sign. There are instances where men do go on dates and feel uncomfortable or intimidated to leave, and framing the sign that way would have provided what was originally intended – an appropriate male equivalent. It is a depressing reality of bro-culture that the author’s default equivalent of sexual or physical intimidation was “less attractive than you thought” and “annoying”. 

As Margaret Atwood put it: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Emma Elsworthy is a Fairfax journalist.