I have a boyfriend.

“I have a boyfriend.”

A sentence that carries a heavy, multifaceted asterisk. Guys hate it, obviously. But few of them discover what truly makes a woman use it to chop them down like bamboo at the wrong end of a katana. I won’t allow discourse to end at “because she’s a bitch,” so here we are. We’re doing this.

Though there are no published studies, social katana-ing happens to enough men and is used by enough women to produce a string of dedicated memes. That’s a valid statistic right?

Myself? Hell yes, I’ve used that line a gazillion times. Katanas are badass. I wouldn’t exactly say it’s my first choice, – rather lacking in creativity – but it has its place in the arsenal. I also don’t use it as much anymore because “I’m married” is the atomic version of “I have a boyfriend,” and the diamond is a blinged-out detonator. (See? I’m making this fun for boys!)

For the forthcoming men who’ve shared their experiences with me, the responses are similar:

That is so rude. I wasn’t even trying to hit on you.

Look man, not everyone knows how to use a katana. But try to understand that while you’re bothered by the adult equivalent of “talk to the hand,” we’re just trying to get home safely and avoid anything that can be filed under “You brought this on yourself.”

It’s just conversation. Why not take the time to hear me out?

The truth is most women hear you out most of the time. If we could get back the time spent in obligatory conversations with men, it would be enough to live another life. Recall that awkward, inescapable feeling you get when you hit the yellow light on the freeway off ramp and a homeless guy is waiting on the corner. One dollar may not be much to spare this homeless guy, but what if there was a homeless guy at every corner? And one behind you in line at your favorite coffee shop? And one who follows you down the street? And one who sits next to you at every bar?

Want to borrow my katana?

It’s challenging for men to truly empathize with women’s defensiveness in public. We almost expect you not to. But experiences like these should trigger deep, reflective thought and it’s troubling when they don’t. What does it say about the culture we’ve inherited, and continue to perpetuate, if women have evolved a million different ways to say ‘leave me alone?’ How come most of us, men and women, can recall an “I have a boyfriend” moment but never discuss our mutual roles in powering the cycle of predator and prey? When sexism is woven so thickly into our lives, there are things we don’t see and things we choose not to see because we’re scared our identities might unravel.

Here’s what I know:

Violence against women is very real, and no one knows this more than women. In our own country, it’s of epidemic proportions and not only is that scary as fuck, it’s also only one of the ways sexist oppression manifests. Because of this, many of us are in the midst of a treacherous self discovery. Navigating this battlefield takes time, education, opportunity, adventure, and solitude – things not amply afforded to women, let alone gay women, Black and Brown women, and women in poverty.

So the next time you dodge a swipe from that katana, don’t focus on one individual’s bad social etiquette. Instead, look around and ask yourself why all the women are armed.

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