When Women Say No: Airbnb Hosting, House Rules, and Women’s Control of their own Space

women say noWhat’s the one area in short term rental hosting where there is the most overt bigotry, judgement, and intolerance in the host community?

No, I’m not talking about discrimination based on race or sexual orientation — those issues that take up so much space in the news these days, those matters we are fervidly obsessed with in our discrimination-obsessed popular culture.  Rather, I am talking about something much more innocuous, something much more benign — which draws a surprising amount of what one may describe as sheer bigotry in response.  I am referring to the rageful responses  to women saying no.  

I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon in my years in participating in the hosting community:  a good number of fellow hosts and guests alike seem to have significant difficulty with women saying no.  Difficulty with women, in essence, who are trying to control their own space, an intimate space, the space in which they themselves live — by setting certain house rules for guests to follow in that space.  It seems that both fellow hosts and guests too (of both genders!)  can sometimes become enraged when women say no.  I think it’s worth reflecting on this phenomenon, because I believe it might point to a level of entitlement, and perhaps male expectation of female accommodation of them and all their needs and wants.

We as Airbnb hosts are offering accommodations, and as such, it is expected that we will be accommodating to guests.  This “accommodation” , when it applies to female hosts, fits into a context, and that context is that women (much more than men) have historically been expected to be accommodating.  Historically, men demand accommodation, and women are the ones who accommodate.   So all female hosts are in a sense “set up” by the expectations generated from the context of male-female relationships through thousands of years of patriarchal history.  The expectations of guests (both male and female) may be conscious or unconscious, and while many guest’s expectations are reasonable for someone offering “accommodations”, others are not, and unreasonable expectations or demands may fit right into this long history of expecting women to be accommodating, and (male) rage as a response when women are not accommodating.

Here’s a blog in which the author asks whether women are more accommodating than men:  Are Women more inclined to be accomodating .

mother and children

Mother: everyone wants a good one!

There is a powerful psychological issue related to our expectation that women be accommodating:  the mother complex.   Female hosts readily accrue a projection, from their guests/renters, of the “mother” archetype, particularly by those with a powerful mother complex.   The mother archetype is very strong, very powerful — many people have powerful “complexes” (Jungian term) about “mother”. Eg — they themselves had a cold mother, absent mother, bad mother, breast-denying mother, critical mother, misattuned mother, etc. For everything that they did not get, in their psychological development, from a mother who couldn’t provide it, some people are “programmed” (just like computer programming!) to subconsciously “seek out” mother in the world.

I say this as someone who has just such an issue myself, by the way– the key difference being — I’ve been aware of it, so I can work with it, and be aware of the “mother” I have long sought out in others.  (Being aware of this helps a lot in finding good mother “substitutes”!)

Women in significant roles of authority, or those providing some need, such as — employment , housing, accomodations — are easy fits to people’s (both adult men’s and women’s!) “mother complex” and thus, such people may lash out at the woman who essentially “is not a good breast, offering sweet milk”.

mother archetype

Careful: It’s easy for people to expect any woman to be the Goddess herself

As additional important context on this issue — in First World nations even as in Third World countries and places where sexism and patriarchal values are more entrenched,  men are much safer in public spaces than women are.  The simple fact is that everywhere in the world, weaker people, those less capable of defending themselves, are more vulnerable to criminal predation, sexual harrassment and sexual abuse.  Men may also have to worry about being robbed when walking home on dark streets at night, but women have to worry , as well, about being sexually assaulted.  Men can ride public transit without much worry about their safety, but women are often leered at or groped on public transit.  This happens a lot in Japan.  It happens so much in Mexico, apparently, that there women have begun a  campaign   to install “penis seats” on trains and create videos and more videos showing unsuspecting men having their asses prominently photographed, to try to help men become more aware of the level of the problem.

Indeed in some nations,  women aren’t even allowed to go out alone, and can be attacked if they do.  Men can generally feel much more confident and less fearful of travelling alone almost anywhere in the world, but women are much less likely to travel alone, and more likely to be fearful if they do.  As a woman, even as a particularly independent woman, I recall losing a relationship because my friend could not accept that I would go hiking alone at night.  women dont' feel safe

I mention these things because, to the extent that women feel less safe in public spaces, their own home — a space which they can control  and make safe —may become vastly more important to them by comparision.  Men who dont’ experience feeling so unsafe in public places may have trouble empathizing or understanding the significance that this creates for women, and the great importance, of being able to control their own home  space.  Which may mean, if they are an Airbnb host, or have any renters in their home, coming up with “rules” and policies such that they can continue to guard and protect and keep safe their own private space.  Men (and some womens’ ) inability to understand or respect a woman’s need to control her own small corner of safe space in the world can range from simply a failure to empathize, to smug dismissals of the right of women to engage in any hosting at all (a contemptuous and curt :  “if you have such hangups , you’re not meant for hosting ” ) all the way to expressing contempt and even rage, and sometimes, even seeking to create laws which would violently intrude upon this private space by legislating open access to it.

One of the reasons, for instance, why I oppose all anti-discrimination laws as applied to private homes, is because such laws represent and in fact re-enact a patriarchal demand by males to access women’s space, and reify a patriarchal society in which women are forced to be accommodating, even if at the expense of their own sense of safety.

I am not saying that women have to be able to engage in illegal discrimination in order to feel safe.  What I’m saying is that the boundaries by which a woman creates a safe zone in her home, and the methods of screening renters that she uses to remain safe, are violated by patriarchal laws which seek to appropriate her own property from beneath her, — to define it away from her by claiming that, in essence, if she is so financially unfortunate as to require renters to be able to afford her housing, then in essence her home is no longer hers and it becomes a public space that others  — such as men — have a right to make demands upon.  Such laws  allow others to violently demand access to her home.

It took a while for me to see the phenomenon of hosts attacking “women who say no” in their own community.

The first sense I had that there was something curious going on, was the exceptionally strong response that some guests, as well as fellow hosts, had to hosts  — particularly female hosts  — who had “strict house rules.”  Many hosts, including some who often bragged about their liberal orientation, their tolerance, their acceptance of “diversity” and different kinds of people, simply could not accept the diversity and difference implied by hosts who had more house rules, or ones that they didn’t like.  Hosts could apparently accept guests of all ethnicities, all nationalities, different sexual or political orienations…but a host who wouldn’t allow guests to have their relatives over to visit? This was unacceptable to many hosts, who responded with belitting comments.  In one recent situation on a host community board, a host revealed that she didn’t allow guests to have visitors, and  posted that she was angry because a male guest yelled at her in response to her attempt to enforce this rule. Instead of recognizing the inappropriate behavior of the guest in this instance, fellow hosts berated her over her house rules.  woman saying no

Fellow hosts chided this host with statements such as: “you need to relax” or “rules rules rules over the top and in the first hour…hosts need people skills “(implying that this host did not have people skills).   There were demands that she explain herself:  “Why such a strict rule?”  and hosts felt free to dismiss the idea that the host may have had this specific rule for a reason, instead empathizing with the enraged guest who booked a place without reading the rules, and then demanded that he be allowed to violate the rules:   “As a parent I’d be pretty miffed too, to be told my child wasn’t allowed in the house”.  Other hosts seemed unable to take in the problem created by a guest yelling at the host demanding to violate her house rules  —“I dont’ see the problem” , even after the host explained the problem.    Several hosts said things like “I think you should bend your rules a little”, which again shows an inability to respect this female hosts’ right to run her house as she saw fit, to realize that her house rules were most likely not created randomly or by accident but with intention, and to imagine that there is probably a good reason for every one of them.
Another host said “You made the choice to be confrontational”, which is a form of victim-blaming — like telling the woman who said no to the panhandler, and then got hit over the head by him, “You made the choice not to be nice. Now look what happened to you because of your choice. Can’t you just give him some change?”  women say no again

The response of guests to “strict house rules” can be even more intense, enraged, and antagonistic.  I recall reading an article by an Airbnb guest, directed towards other guests and giving instructions on how to find a place to stay, in which that (male) guest ridiculed hosts who had “a lot of house rules”.  Then, instead of urging guests to find a listing which had house rules which suited them, he urged guests to simply violate the house rules when they booked a place that had ones they thought excessive.  Two trends may coincide here: we live in an “entitlement culture” where an increasing number of people feel that they should be entitled to all kinds of things, and there is the old uncurrent, from ancient history, of men demanding that women accommodate their needs. And at the juxtaposition where those trends meet, is the female Airbnb host who says NO   — and ends up excoriated for being so “rude” as to run her own home as she wishes, and control her own space.

One of the ways that a patriarchal, sexist culture dismisses women who try to control their own space and stand up for themselves, is by dismissing them as “crazy”.   Some women attack other women who are trying to control their own space, by referring to them as “digusting control freaks”  — and worse.  Here’s a particularly venomous message that someone felt compelled to send to me, when they read my “Goodbye to Roommates” series:    nasty message

As evidenced here, the language that some hosts use to excoriate other hosts who are simply trying to feel safe in their own home can be appallingly judgmental.  Men are judged too, but based on my own experience with renters, and what I’ve seen in the host community, I am inclined to believe that the most atrocious judgment is directed at female hosts/landlords — and it’s both men and women who can be so intolerant of women trying to run their home in their own way.

One has to realize that with such intense intolerance, even to the point of rage, there’s something being triggered in the attacking host, by a woman who simply says no.  Apparently this is an extraordinarily loaded thing to do. Which is why I suggest that more women do it. Women need to take up more space — their space — and I invite you all to do it. Of course, the biggest way of saying no is not having any renters at all, but many women have renters not because they want to be obedient to sexist demands that they accommodate, but rather, because they are in financial need.  Women still earn only about 75% of what men earn for doing the same job.  (See here ) And women have historically figured largely as proprietors of guest homes, lodging houses, pensions and boarding houses — in fact, this has been “women’s work” to such a great extent, that I also think it’s worth reflecting upon the extent to which the prevalent “anti-Airbnb” sentiment/activism in our culture, may be in part a sexist phenomenon, since most hosts are women (middle aged or older actually).  Is there a significant degree of social intolerance regarding women controlling their own space, and other’s access to it?

When women are  both inviting renters/guests in and also drawing boundary lines to protect one’s private space and the environment there, where it  the world gets up in arms and outraged about just what lines women draw where in their own home.

After reading my articles about struggles that I had with renters who were exceptionally defiant of and disrespectful towards my (somewhat strict) house rules, one fellow host began using terms such as “crazy” to dismiss me and my efforts to control my own space. There’s a way in which male entitlement can only view women who refuse to accomodate them, as “crazy” or “mentally ill”, when in fact it’s the entitlement mentality, the unreasonable and invasive demands that men (as well as women, in a patriarchal culture) make of women, which is the actual dysfunctionality in the situation.  Consider whether we are likely to call  men “crazy” when they try to control their own space  — no, we’re more likely to call women “hysterical” if they demand access to space that men control.  But shift the genders, and when women saying “no” leads to male “hysteria”, suddenly it’s the men who are viewed as reasonable in their entitled demands, and the women who are setting healthy boundaries are being defined out of the realm of rationality by depicting them as crazy, nuts.

Apart from a rage when women depart from the accommodating role that men demand them to remain in, what could fuel this level of intolerance towards female hosts who show that they want to control their own space, and demonstrate, with their house rules, that they are quite capable of doing so?

I think one factor involved is the inability of many hosts to recognize that there may be power struggles involved in the guest-host relationship, particularly if the host is a female who has signified in some way, (such as with “strict” house rules) that she intends to control her own space, and the guest is a male (or a woman conditioned thru the patriarchal culture to expect other women to be accommodating) who is threatened at some level (could be subconscious) by women who are controlling their space and may say “no” to them at one or more levels.    Women tend to be more sensitive to power struggle issues, and intuitive about them, and so we can sense when a guest might be defying our rules intentionally, out of some deep need to reject our authority, versus little slip ups or omissions which everyone makes innocently.

It seems to me that many hosts are simply oblivious, or perhaps in denial, about the way such power struggles may unfold, and the potential importance to the host, of not allowing the guest to bully her in subtle ways. Because, like it or not, a guest’s continual and intentional defiance of a certain house rule, may amount to an insidious bullying.  And each host has the right to respond to such bullying (or encroachment upon their own space, as the case may be) in the way they think best.  Different personality types may result in different responses to the same phenomenon.  No one style is right — there’s only what’s right for you.  Why do some hosts have so much trouble tolerating someone else’s right to use their own style?

Some hosts may find that their preference is to just de-escalate the defiance by ignoring it, and allowing the guests’ actions to become futile in that they do not succeed in “getting a rise” out of the host. In other words to win over a guest’s attempt to subvert their authority by pure peaceableness.  However, another host may feel that it’s just not workable for her to ignore continual intentional violations of house rules, even if they pertain to a relatively “trivial” issue.  This may be doubly important if it’s not only the host who is bothered by these violations, but also another guest. (As far as that goes, let’s admit that more than one serious fight in a marriage has likely been started by no more than “socks on the floor” — which I mention to indicate that “everything is relative”, even fairly trivial situations).  Power struggle 2

For instance, I recall a post on a host community board, where a female host discovered that one of her two guests was violating the rules about keeping their personal items stored in areas designated for personal storage, and was continually putting their personal items elsewhere around the house.  The extent of this was minor, but the host wanted the rule followed, quite likely because she was aware that the placement of the guest’s personal items around the house was not simply accidental, but had a symbolic meaning, and related to the guest “staking out territory and marking it” in the hosts’ home — much as a dog pees at corners of its territory to mark what it owns. Problem being, that the guest didn’t own any territory in the host’s home, outside the guest room she had booked.

When the female host posted about this situation on the host community, there was a surprising amoung of backlash from other hosts, against the host for enforcing a rule over a “trivial” issue, again including the sexist assertions that she, the host, was “crazy”.  These hosts inappropriately judged and demeaned this host for handling a situation with insight and in the way she thought best.  In fact, as that particular guests’ reservation drew to a close, the guest violated a couple other house rules in a more egregious fashion, with a likewise exceptionally entitled attitude — and this demonstrated to the host that she had been right about the undercurrent of defiance of authority involved with this guest.

A fellow host expressed her view of the guest- host relationship in this way, which I thought appropriate:  “You as the host need to be the Alpha (as in — the Alpha dog, the head of the pack) in your home.  If not, all is lost.”  This comment demonstrates that beyond the simplistic and facile, superficial and sometimes cutesy-cloying depiction of the host as an “accommodating” person offering “accommodations”, there is another theme/issue potentiallly involved in the host-guest relationship, that of power issues and potentially a power struggle.  This may not be there at all if the guest is a decent, respectful person and has no deepseated need to defy authority, nor any issues about going into uncontrollable rage when women say “no.”  In fact, I have very rarely sensed a “power struggle” going on between myself and any of my guests.  But I think that is in part because I’ve already done so much to communicate, via my listing description and house rules, that I am the Alpha Dog  — albeit a kindly one.  So my guests are already coming with that understanding.

But if there is a power issue involved, shouldn’t it be up to the host to decide how to handle that? Is it appropriate to judge the host about how she deals with power struggles in her own home?

My intention with this blog is to suggest that there is a relationship between how some respond to  “strict house rules”, and how they respond to women who say no.  And that with its themes that correspond to the long history of male demands that women be accomodating, this issue bears more thought and reflection than facile dismissals and judgments of women (or really any host, male or female) who have more house rules than you do.

hell no

3 thoughts on “When Women Say No: Airbnb Hosting, House Rules, and Women’s Control of their own Space”

  1. Most guests are decent people, trying to infringe the least possible on the host’s life. Some may not be good at it, but show good will. With others, there is immediately a tension, which is a grab for power. As many women as men, but some aspects are different.
    I can’t imagine a guest yelling at me – very few people dared that, ever. I’m a control freak and with age, not ashamed of it any more. If someone litters his/her things around, I put them in their space in passing, even without noticing it, if it’s not much and happens only once.
    What I notice in the shared space is the bed. My rule says to make the bed during the day and decent people do it anyway. Lazy people may forget it once. In such cases, I throw a cover over all of it, rumpled bed, cables, loose items. With a sweet reminder in the evening, that the bed has to be made, also in their interest, as the parrot loves open beds and cables. That usually helps. If it does not, it’s a power struggle and that means: No more favours, extra services, company during dinner and certainly no free meal.
    Some people expect hotel service and judge their chaos as lack in hospitality. So be it. I guess I don’t want that superhost badge anyway. That would be like the “accomodating host” remark in the reviews. If that appears several times in a row, I give an ironic answer to one of them, to tone it down.

    – Thinking about it, there are 2 different guests: visits of temporary friends, where rules are very loose, as I also profit from their ideas how to organise life, their company etc. And people, who will stay strangers and I would not mind if they don’t come again. Rules are for those strangers, to contain their ET notions.

    On the CC are some very foolish people, who act like a clique, enforcing their foolishness. Hosting not as a business, but as some wild dream of submission. Ugh.

    That said, I see the whole thing much less as a gender problem. I get as many bitches as machos 😉


  2. I noticed in the host forums that the majority of problem, low-reviewing guests tended to be females rating female hosts. I’ve observed the same pattern in my own home (I’m female) and I always get anxious with a new female guest. That’s why two of my more rustic listings are male only.


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