Why Are Women so Afraid to Say No?

say no

The United States is paying attention to feminism and women’s rights in a bigger way than has been seen in a very long time. The coverage of the #YesAllWomen Twitter movement by print, online, and social media in the aftermath of the Isla Vista shootings has been extensive. The personal stories that were shared by users took courage and bravery, something they’ve been rightfully recognized for. Women and their supporters are using the platform, and the world is listening. Questions like How is this okay?  and What can be done? are being asked by more people than ever.

But, for me, the bigger and underlying question is: Why are women so afraid to tell men no? 

If you have looked at the Wikipedia page for the Isla Vista shootings at all, you might have noticed a paragraph at the very bottom called “Debate about Misogyny.” As the days have passed since the shooting, I’ve been keeping my eye on it. The wording and content has changed three times now that I have noticed and I wish I had saved the original paragraph I read.

As of Thursday, May 29 at 10:23am PST it includes this:

Some #YesAllWomen comments complained about dress codes and men whistling at women; Samantha Levine, a columnist at The Daily Beast, argued that such things are not the same as a violent attack, and that women risk losing the legitimacy of their concerns by conflating the two.

On Wednesday evening there was no mention of Samantha Levine or that it was her argument. It read something like, “Comments about dress codes and men whistling at women are not the same as a violent attack and women risk losing the legitimacy of their concerns by conflating the two.” It was stated as a fact.

And, now, I think we get closer to an answer.

Yes, it’s Wikipedia and anyone can go in and make edits. One of the very first lessons I taught each year as a school librarian was how to assess websites for accuracy. I often used Wikipedia as an example when I told my students the story of how, for several weeks, my high school principal was listed on the school’s Wikipedia page as being Batman. Wikipedia is not the place for perfect information, but it is very often the place people come to get basic facts, whether they’re correct or not.

And here some were. Women risk the legitimacy of their concerns by conflating the two.

I can’t get over that sentence. It’s only legitimate if a woman is met with violence? It’s only legitimate if she gets raped or shot at or otherwise assaulted? We risk losing our legitimacy when we make light of the fact that “Make me a sandwich” shirts are okay and our bra straps aren’t? When we speak about how uncomfortable and degrading it is to be cat-called? When we try to talk about these “small” incidents that lay the foundation for rape culture we risk our legitimacy?!

This. This is where we learn to say, “I have a boyfriend”  and not “I’m not interested in you.” This is where fake engagement rings and lies of “My husband is waiting for me” come from. We are taught that our beliefs and feelings are not legitimate. If I tell a man I’m not interested, nine times out of ten he keeps trying anyway. If I tell a man I have a boyfriend, about half of the time he keeps trying anyway. If I tell a man, “Here, this is my boyfriend,” he goes away. It is almost never enough to just say no. That’s not legitimate enough. There has to be a bigger answer, a better explanation.

So we learn to make our reasons “legitimate” or we don’t talk about them at all. Six years ago it was easier for me to say, “I got drunk” than “I was date raped” to even my closest friends. Getting drunk was legitimate, saying I was taken advantage of by a straight-edge “friend” came with questions. “Weren’t you two hanging out? I figured you’d already slept together.” I found it was easier to not talk about it at all, even to the man who did it. Saying “no” did not work for me. And telling the truth only made me feel worse about what had happened.

Are the women sharing stories through the #YesAllWomen hashtag brave and courageous? Absolutely. But, why do they have to be?

Every woman has a story to tell and all of them are longer than 140 characters, but it should really come down to only two: n-o.

No should be enough.

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