Unfortunately, one skill women are often forced to pick up throughout their lives is responding to people who feel entitled to your time. From men who hit on you in pushy ways to parents who don't fully grasp that you have a life outside them, people are constantly claiming women's time for themselves. And since these people don't always back off easily, you sometimes have to defy the gendered expectation to be "nice" for them to get the message.
After dealing with a number of guys who talk at me nonstop for minutes without any effort to make the conversation reciprocal, I've learned one crucial thing: You don't have to be polite to people who are being rude to you. You don't have to indulge people who are treating you like an audience for their monologues. In a subtle way, they're using you, and it's fine to let them know you're not OK with being used.
Similarly, if people are asking for help or company you don't have the time to give, it shouldn't be on you to accommodate them or let them down easy. Every ethical interaction — sexual or not — requires the consent of both parties, so if you don't consent, it's not OK for them to pressure you into something.
But rejecting people's requests for your time is easier said than done, and even though it's not necessary, being polite can make some people more comfortable doing it. Here are some strategies for defending your time from people who feel entitled to it.
1. Say You Have To Go
If someone's trying to keep you in a conversation that doesn't interest you, find a point to jump in and say, "I have to go, but it's been nice talking to you" or "I'm going to excuse myself now. Enjoy the rest of your day." You don't need to tell them where you're going, but if they demand an explanation, you can say, "I've got somewhere to be soon." It may come off blunt, but they're the ones being pushy, so again, you don't owe them politeness.
2. Make An Excuse
If you feel more comfortable offering an explanation so it's less obvious that you're just not interested, say something like, "I need to get up early tomorrow" or "a friend's expecting me." The one danger with excuses is that people can argue with them ("Oh, come on, you don't really need to get up early tomorrow, right?"), which is why the previous method of simply exiting the conversation might be more effective; however, it might still be worth a shot.
3. Express Appreciation For Them
If you want to make sure you create no animosity, make it seem like they're the ones whose time you're thinking about. Say something like, "Well, I don't want to take up any more of your time, so I'm going to head out" or "I'm going to let you go" or "it's been great talking to you." They may not even realize you're the one who exited the conversation.
4. Remind Them You're Busy
Many women have had people ask for free labor from them. If this happens to you, remind the person you're already occupied with people who are actually appreciating and compensating your work by saying something like, "I'm booked that entire day. Sorry I can't be of more help."
5. Make It About The Group
Another thing I and many other women have experienced is people scheduling things that involve us without our permission. In this case, you can emphasize that respecting your time will benefit everyone by saying something like, "Could you run the time by me before you schedule future meetings? I'd hate to have to miss them."
6. Recommend Someone Else
If you're called on to do something you don't have time for, you can let the other person down easy and give them less reason to keep bothering you by telling them who else might have time and be interested. Just make sure that person would actually be free and willing.
7. Just Say "No"
"No" is a complete sentence — or, if you want something less blunt, so is "Sorry, I'm not able to do that." If anyone questions you past that point, they're being disrespectful. You're a free agent, and you never need to justify your decisions about how you spend your own time.