In the News

How a Fake Phone Number Teaches Guys About Feminism

Friday, June 13, 2014
Lilit Marcus
Yahoo! News
Washington

This article was originally published on Yahoo Shine.

As long as there have been phones, there have been women who give men fake phone numbers. The Rejection Line, and others like it, play kiss-off messages when would-be suitors call. The person (or people) behind a new fake number had a different idea: every text or call is responded to with a quote from feminist activist bell hooks, such as "Whenever domination is present, love is lacking." hooks is a respected professor, writer, and critic whose best-known book is "Feminism Is for Everybody." She often talks about the intersection of race, gender, and class issues.

The number, (669) 221-2651, was created by an unknown feminist activist and started gaining attention on Thursday. So far, the creator is remaining anonymous, but she has posted a message on Tumblr. "Next time someone demands your digits and you want to get out of the situation, you can give them this number," she wrote. "Protect your privacy while dropping some feminist knowledge when your unwanted “suitor” calls or texts." The page also suggests that fans of the service donate money to the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. Although the NLIRH did not set up the number, a representative tells Yahoo Shine that they're big fans and are honored by the shoutout.

While it may seem mean to give a guy your number only to have it turn out to be a feminist prank, many women have spoken out about the importance of having a fake number. "Oftentimes men become more aggressive when women say they’re not interested," Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, executive director of the NLIRH, tells Yahoo Shine. "[Giving out a fake number] is a safety mechanism to avoid any aggressive behavior."

Sadly, there are many examples of women fearing for their lives simply because they said "no" when a guy asked them out. In April, a Connecticut teen was murdered by a male classmate when she turned down his request to go to the prom with him because she already had a date. Last month, a California man named Elliot Rodger shot and killed six people and injured many others because he was angry about girls not wanting to date or have sex with him.

Holly Kearl, founder of the organization Stop Street Harassment, agrees that many women feel scared to say no to a man. "During one of the 10 focus groups Stop Street Harassment held as part of our new national study on street harassment, a woman in Brooklyn said, 'I’ve seen a guy knock a girl’s head into a brick wall that she was leaning on behind them because she did not want to talk to him. She was gushing blood. It’s unacceptable.'" Kearl reports. "Sometimes the safest way for a woman to get out of a situation is, sadly, to humor the harasser and if he wants a phone number, to give him a phone number."

And for Gonzalez-Rojas, a simple phone line is actually a strong form of activism. "It's a powerful idea to have this fake number, but the fact that they use a powerful feminist woman of color – it's genius." She believes that social media, which helped disseminate the number yesterday, can be a powerful tool of cultural change. "I hope women find safety in this project and I support what they're doing," she says. "But we also want to change society so these things aren't necessary.