A while ago, Twisty suggested that women should no longer be understood to be always consenting to sex, but instead have a default position of ‘no’. The simple premise behind this idea was that men had to ask permission before having sex or it would be rape. This would differ from the current condition where women are expected to say no when they don’t want to have sex. Now, I didn’t think this was that revolutionary a concept, because naively I believed that men were supposed to ask permission from the women they wanted to have sex with. But it caused a huge controversy over at IBTP, taking up several hundred comments as people debated the pros and cons. And all the while, I couldn’t get why such a simple idea caused such as fuss. Then, I read a post over at Girly Thoughts, where judgesnineteen talks about the difficulty she finds saying no to men, and it reminded me of a conversation with my mother where she told me about how she had been brought up to believe that if was her role to help anyone that asked, and thus she now finds it difficult to say no.
Now I see the power of NO.
Women are socialised to put the needs of others before their own. As a result, they find it difficult to verbalise their own needs, especially when those needs (like the need to say no) come in conflict with the ‘needs’, or perhaps the desires, of someone else. ‘No’ becomes a word that is difficult to articulate. Furthermore, the act of saying ‘no’ puts you in direct conflict with another person; it’s seen as rude. This is difficult for women who have been taught that it is unfeminine to be assertive and especially aggressive or angry, and then run the double-bind of being described as ‘irrational’ or ‘emotional’ if they appear aggressive or angry.
Having the right to say ‘no’ is part of being human. The iconic symbol of slavery is the black woman or man who responds ‘yessir’ to her or his white master. That ‘yes’ is not true consent; it is the inability to say ‘no’. It represents the lack of power that the slave has within slavery and the removal of her or his humanity. The idea that women have the right to say ‘no’ is frightening because it symbolises their right to be fully human.
Saying NO is powerful. As women, we need to learn to use the word no and to recognise its power.