I was walking to the bus stop on my way to school once when a man pulled up beside me in a mini-van, his two young children in the back seat, and offered me a lift up the hill.
It was a 34 degree day. I was carrying a backpack full of textbooks, I was sweating, and my feet hurt. If you’d asked me a minute earlier, I would have told you I’d have given almost anything for a lift up the hill.
I looked into the man’s friendly, freckled face, at his wide, fatherly smile, and said, “No thanks, I’d rather walk.”
I said no because, even at fifteen years old, I understood that strange men don’t offer girls – or women, for that matter – favours without expecting something in return. I understood that once I climbed into that mini-van, I’d owe that strange man something: something indefinable, something that he’d almost certainly never try to claim, but something all the same.
Over the last two days, The Today Show has been running a cash giveaway called “Random Acts Of Cash”. The segment involves weatherman Stevie Jacobs approaching people on the street and handing them ten $100 bills.
Twice in a row, an anxious, bewildered woman has turned down the cash.
Twice in a row, The Today Show, Stevie Jacobs and the rest of the male population have scratched their heads in awe, wondering how two separate women could be so darn silly!
Watch the first woman turn down the money.
But those women aren’t silly, and they’re not alone. If a strange man approached me on the street and offered me $1000, I’d turn it down too.
So would hundreds of thousands of other women who’ve been conditioned to understand that any man who offers you something “for free”, or “no strings attached”, expects something from you in return.
Women are used to functioning in this world of give and take. If a man offers to buy one of my friends a drink at a bar, they turn him down unless they’re prepared to engage with him. It’s universally understood that a “free” drink isn’t free – it comes with expectations, and you never know what those expectations are until you’re standing outside the club with some drunk loser shouting at you because he thinks the vodka lime and soda he bought you gives him an indisputable right to put his hands down your pants.
Instead of buying into this transaction, both women on the “Random Acts Of Cash” segment chose to opt-out: to forgo an obvious benefit in order to avoid whatever would be expected of them if they agreed.
Both times the money was rejected, the hosts of The Today Show laughed, and Australia laughed with them. Look at how uncomfortable these women are! So uncomfortable they’d turn down free money! They must be terrified out of their wits! This is hilarious!
Watch the second woman turn down the money.
“What’s wrong with me?” Jacobs joked after he’d been turned down a second time. “Is it the creepy smile?”
Gee, I don’t know. It could be the way you invaded this woman’s space by sitting down right beside her at a bus stop when she was minding her own business. It could be the invasion of her privacy, facing cameras on her without her permission. It could be the way you commented on her “beautiful smile”, like she should find it flattering that a stranger is making unprompted comments about her appearance. It could be your failure to detect her nervous laugh as she tries to be polite despite clearly being uncomfortable.
It could be your insistence that she participate in a transaction she doesn’t understand, the terms of which are not yet clear, so that she feels beholden to you for money she felt like she couldn’t refuse.
It could be because this isn’t the first time a man has given her something, claiming it was “free”, only to turn around and ask for something in return.
“It’s not known why… [the woman] rejected the cash,” wrote The Sydney Morning Herald, the first time the free money was met with panic instead of excitement.
Because turning down free money would be stupid, right?